October 13, 2018

Angel Peak

Angel Peak

This week, I met a great many things for the first time.

I met the drilling pads. A flat concrete pad, large metal cylinders to hold the winnings, stovetop pipes sticking out of the ground fanning nearly invisible waves of methane into the air, one or more compressor fans droning day and night. The well itself is a small tangle of pipes, mostly massed invisibly underground with long horizontal legs driven into the broken rock, reaching out to siphon strange blood out of stone. Once you know how to see them, they are everywhere.

Tucked mostly away from the highway, along the side roads you will start to see drill pads behind every hill, around the bend of every mesa, just behind those junipers, just over that rise, right next to that grandma’s house, near the church, next to the cornfield, and alongside the sheep pasture. Everywhere. If you get out of your car, you’ll hear them before you see them.

Or, more likely, you’ll start to feel them. A headache will creep up on you from seemingly nowhere. You will start to feel nauseous, like you can’t get a breath of fresh air, but not be able to figure exactly what’s wrong. That’s what happened to me in just one day spent around the wells. Imagine the situation for those who live every day right next door.

I met a toxic tangle of historical racism, violence, and injustice still playing out today, the ground for dirty industry made fertile by a continuing legacy of fear.

I met guides, protectors, teachers, and activists. People of this place by ancestry, tradition, and spirit, who love its juniper infused vistas, organize their lives around the patterns of the stars seen from within its wide sky, and want good, healthy lives for their elders and children.

Several days in to learning about and meeting these realities, feeling firsthand the keen and vibrant life of the Greater Chaco region along with a fraction of the pain it must be to experience your home being destroyed around you every day, I also met a tarantula.

I had been running down a dirt road, away from other people. Not running particularly well, especially given my bare feet and the coffee cup from camp breakfast that morning that I was still clutching in my hand. I don’t have much practice with bare-foot-coffee-cup-running on sand – I’m sure I looked like a bizarre white scarecrow being chased by invisible phantoms out into the field. That is to say, like a goofball. But I had to run because I was so dang angry that otherwise I would punch something.

Everyone around me at that moment was much too nice to punch, and anyway we had been talking all that week about the importance of peaceful activism. So, I wound up running like a scarecrow just to get out some of that rage. Being an utter failure at sand running, I eventually slowed down and stopped, sat down on the road, and tried to put things in perspective. Why I was there in that place, the responsibility that I felt to try to contribute something positive to the efforts of the protectors – to amplify but not gentrify their work – and what I could do about it. As I sat in the sand, I could see two drilling platforms to my North and Southwest. I could hear another just beyond the rise. I tried to tune them out and focus on the warm sand in the cool morning air, the resilience and beneficence of the plants still thriving in a trammeled land. I calmed down.

I stood up to walk back toward camp, and that’s when I met her. A big, fuzzy tarantula beauty, marching one leg after the other after the other (march march march; march march march; three on each side, all in rhythm!) down the road. We were heading in the same direction, so I joined in. March march march, march march, march march march. I tried to match my two-legged stride to the spider’s six.
Calm, quiet resolve emanated from this determined creature. I don’t know where the tarantula was headed, or really where I’m headed either, but for a while we just walked along the road together. And I thought: this is exactly what we need – this calm determination, this peaceful but implacable movement forward. One step in front of the other, one zine, one letter to a congress person, one protest, one friendship made, one alliance made, step by step by step, by step, by step. Continued, caring, focused, unflappable motion.

Eventually the tarantula turned away, their direction lying more to the North than the road cared to travel. I waved goodbye and said thank you for the lesson, a lesson I will keep trying to hold in my heart and acting out, step by step. A lesson that the protectors of Greater Chaco have already learned and are generously teaching others who also believe in the importance of a living land and sustainable society – step by step, always focused on creating better lives for all.


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