Bird the dog went ballistic this afternoon at the door. I looked up from my desk and saw three guys with backpacks on my porch. This is strange for at least a couple reasons. First my place is 3/4 mile from the highway behind a locked gate. Second, we had experienced three guys with backpacks coming through here a couple months ago but they weren’t hikers, they were almost certainly drug smugglers. These guys were white and looked benign but you never know. I opened the door and they said they were lost. They said they had been trying to find the quaking aspen trees on the Nature Conservancy preserve and got lost going back to their truck, which was parked at Madera Canyon roadside park. They said they had been walking for 8 hours, that they had to stop and rest under a Ponderosa pine somewhere up canyon. They were wearing tennis shoes. I gave them water and told them I’d drive them back to their truck. Still… I put a pistol in my pocket as I got my keys. On the way to the truck I stopped and said, “I just gotta ask: You guys didn’t have a map?” “No” “A compass?” “No… I guess we didn’t think it was that big a deal… We were kind of unprepared…” While driving them back I told them they were lucky nobody took a shot at them, that we have had smugglers in this area and that there was an article in the paper this week about a rancher in Hudspeth County who shot two guys trespassing. That they would have been fine had they gotten permission from the Nature Conservancy, checked in and got a map. They were lucky nobody got hurt.

It’s amazing to me how people get out in nature and have no idea what to do, how to prepare, how to get out of situations. You hear about it on tv all the time. Sometimes it seems like people have lost a certain human know-how that we, from another generation, seem to take for granted.

Renewing the Pioneer Spirit

Editorial in the Jeff Davis County Mountain Dispatch following the Rock House Fire of 2011 – May 25, 2011

About 50 yards from my home in Elbow Canyon is an old abandoned telephone line. Two wires on a 10- foot pole lean almost to the ground. The wires run up and over the hill back towards Fort Davis and across the ridge in the opposite direction to points west. I like to think of the conversations these wires carried half a century or more ago, the news they brought––joyful and sad, the wonder and satisfaction of hearing a voice on the other end of a handset for the first time. The men who set the poles were almost certainly ranchers putting it together on their own, no phone company involved, literally bringing the future to their homes, tying the ranches, town and families together. Creating community.

A few evenings ago our town displayed something very different from that spirit of community. Rather than utilizing the opportunity at our Town Hall meeting to honestly and constructively discuss, analyze and learn from the many things that went right and the few things that went wrong during the Rock House Fire, we apparently chose instead to re-enact the familiar yet worn-out theater of “locals vs. newcomers”.

We should ask ourselves: How many years does a resident of Jeff Davis County have to call this place home to be seen as a legitimate member of the community? At what point does their voice matter? Five years? Ten years? Fifty years? If so, perhaps we ought to make that number known to families thinking about putting down roots here. Or maybe there isn’t a number but only some intricate web of family ties and acres owned that bestows the crown of legitimacy on a citizen, like the feudal societies of the past.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I always thought our system of representative democracy was designed so all citizens could have a voice and that every voice matters; that the decisions of our elected officials were supposed to be made in transparency for the public good and with the public’s involvement in the process, and that asking questions of our representatives is not only a right but a duty. You know: “Of the People, By the People, For the People.”

A common chorus in the above-referenced theater is “This isn’t Houston/Dallas/Austin/whatever.” I believe newcomers understand that, and I don’t believe people who move here want to see this place become like those places. After all, they come here for a reason. At the same time does that mean we should close the door on progress? Certainly there’s a conversation to be had as to what progress means and how that should manifest, and by having that conversation we are then working together towards a common goal, not alienating our neighbors and perpetuating divisiveness in our community.

Honestly, look at our main street. How many businesses have come and gone over the last decade or so, or are struggling to survive today? How many buildings are idle or underutilized? How many of our kids have had to leave to find simple work, let alone careers? Sure, times are tough, but we cannot be willfully blind to economic decline while trying to put the brakes on “change.”

One thing is certain: change is inevitable. It can either be for the better or for the worse. We can’t stop change; we can only try to influence it in a positive direction. As sad and tragic as the wildfires have been for our area they also brought us an extraordinary opportunity to renew and revitalize our area by articulating a vision of the future and working together to achieve it.

Regardless of where they settled, when our ancestors laid the first rock for a home’s foundation, drove the first fencepost, dug the first well, cleared the first road or built a rural phone line, they were all creating change––bringing “progress” to an area that benefited from their vision and hard work. When we cling to the unattainable stance of “I like things the way they are,” we are, in truth, failing to honor the pioneer spirit and very real efforts of our forebears, who toiled and bled to make a better place for their children and their children’s children. Isn’t that what we all want? A place that’s better tomorrow than it was yesterday because of our efforts?

Our tomorrow can be a model of community with our feet firmly placed in the rich and proud past, our eyes looking forward and our hands working together today.

The only thing we lack is a renewed pioneer spirit for Jeff Davis County––an attitude that welcomes the energy and expertise of people who want to call this land home, who have come here to build their lives and a more vibrant community––like our ancestors did so many years ago. The people of our county––at this moment––have an incredible opportunity to renew the pioneer spirit that built this wonderful country and to share a common ground of respect. Let’s start today.

The Social Network

Just saw The Social Network. Not only is it a well-crafted film but it is a snapshot of our American culture today. Where riches are made overnight on an “Idea” (and in this case someone else’s idea!) – not by years of hard work, or actually making something you can touch, see or hear. Zuckerberg’s character comes across as pathetic, lonely, no social skills, impressionable by the “cool guys” and quite probably amoral, perhaps bordering sociopathic. If there is a human villain in the movie it is Sean Parker’s character, who is yesterday’s news trying very hard to remain relevant and sees an opportunity. But the true villain is greed. Greed for power, status and money of course.

It’s a brilliant social commentary and you don’t have to be a computer nerd to get it.

Like I’ve said before we have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. If there were another open-source place that did it right it would leave Facebook in the dust. With Facebook you are not the customer, you are the product and don’t ever forget it.

Sharon & Kelly

Goddammit, we’ve lost two friends in the last week.  I just heard that Sharon Faulkner, friend and local paramedic, was killed in a air ambulance airplane crash last night.  Our hearts go out to Jerry, Casey, Seth and all her family.   Last week Kelly Fenstermaker lost her long battle with cancer. Kelly was my next door neighbor before we moved to the ranch and a co-volunteer at Marfa Public Radio.

Both of these were treasures of human beings.  They both touched humanity in their own ways.  Sharon literally made people right, helped them through the hardest traumas.  Kelly was a window to life and the land and people.

When my daughter told me of Sharon’s passing today she texted, “ok, well now i feel the need to tell you how much i love you and i’m incredibly thankful to have you in my life.”

Whether it’s by text, by phone, by a handwritten letter, or looking them in the eye, it’s never too late to tell those who matter to you, even those with whom you are just friends, that you care.

It’s Sunday.  If your mom is still around give her a call.