Hailey Walls

Civilization is the wild river

I. The Holiday Inn parking lot is narrow, angled, and packed with quiet, drowsy people, sipping coffee in that 6am way. Our bags are scattered on the asphalt with their matching yellow tags. Someone steps over a duffle bag or two, throws open a van door, and starts making sense of the madness, stacking bags, all efficiency and certainty. I shuffle inside to raid a continental breakfast I have no right to.

Outside on a bench, I eat a biscuit and sip coffee, waiting. My mom is sitting next to me and says “I ran into a red-head lady in the lobby. She said they’ll take good care of you.” There is sweet, first-day-of-kindergarten feel to it all, I think later, after the coffee kicks in and we are already on our way.  

II. The border crossing happens inside this blue and gray building. It’s half complete but feels distinctly governmental. We stand in line for our visas on fresh concrete, between unfinished walls. Colorful wires connected to nothing at all spill out of the ceiling struts every few feet. The Mexican flag is unfolding itself slowly, over and over, against a gray sky. 

III. I settle into the van, staring out the window and soaking up everything. I am soothed by car trips, like a fussy baby might be. Another deep rooted childhood pattern emerges and I start in with the “why?” and the “what’s that?” – we’re calling it “inquiry” in this van and I’m happy to pretend it’s graduate school skill building and not my inner 8 year old and a failure of impulse control. I discover after not long that I picked the seat next to our stash of field guides. I suppose it’s polite to switch seats at times, but I keep coming back to this one so I can frantically consult the bird guide about every feathered thing that flashes past my window. 

IV. Like the border building, much of what we pass is half done, frozen in a state of eternal progress. 

V. We eat at a place someone tells me translates to “Restaurant Cyanide” in El Rosario. I suspect that’s not quite accurate and in any case the food is delicious enough I would eat it even with a bit of cyanide. Midway through dinner, we are introduced to the owner and his wife. The owner talks about a dance contest in town, and shows us his moves. He laughs joyfully and often. He introduces us to his friend, El Capitan of the check point up the road. We ask him about his life and how he feels about his job through one of our spanish speakers. He says he likes to help people and he gets to do that in the military, but he doesn’t seem overly attached to the whole thing.

He turns to me and ask me a simple, conversational question in Spanish. I understand it and start to answer, but twenty people are watching and his gun holster is right at eye level. My months of conversation spanish practice dissipate in an instant. He moves on to someone else with friendly ease. I turn back to my food and try not to think about how red my face must be.

VI. The next day we start early and head south. Meghann, who promised to take care good care of me, buys me a pan dulce on our way out of town. It’s a concha rosa, the kind I loved when I was young.

VII. At the Catavina boulder field, we hike up the hill and eat breakfast in the shade. Soaking in the view, we talk about this place and why we are here. We talk about the missions, our 4th grade class projects, the history in the boulders we sat on. When the discussion group splits up, we take turns crawling under an outcropping of rock. Sheltered from the burning sun, we sit in quiet awe. A canopy of cave paintings is spread out, covering the rock with red, yellow, and black symbols. The story they spell out is unknowable. One picture certainly seems to be of the sun though. It feels like something was frozen in time here too.

Frozen, but complete.