Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Before the Rodeo Fire

A few years ago, I passed through the part of Arizona that later became briefly famous for a major forest fire.

It was such a big fire that it had a name - it was called the Rodeo-Chediski fire. It became a poster child for the then-important debate over forest management practices.

Of course such issues are on hold while we decide whether the abrogation of the Constitution will be made formal or merely continue de facto, but they were important in the West before the TV noticed, and they are still important today, at least to the people who live around there.

Someday America will get back to a state where land use can return to our collective radar screen, and we'll have the luxury of thinking about wild places, mineral rights, grazing, forest fires, and guys with trailers, pushing on through the night.

We were on our way back from California (where we had visited Disneyland and the Sunset Strip) by way of the Grand Canyon (where I had held my little girl's hand too hard). Dropping out of the high piney mountains through Show Low, AZ, we were amazed at the neatness and prosperity of the little town of Eagar, which sits in a rolling plain of thin grass and low scrub. Ranchland, I guessed, but no herds could be seen.

We pulled over in the high flatland outside of Datil, NM to read the plaque explaining the surreal ten story dish antennae sprinkled profusely over that plain. There was a truck with an empty horse trailer parked there ahead of us, and the driver, a rugged guy with a droopy handlebar moustache, smiled and waved before pulling out. We lingered awhile, wishing we had time to tour the Very Large Array facility there. We did not, so off we went into the eerie desert mountains above Magdalena, with their ghostly dusting of snow.

At Socorro, we stopped for the coffee, mints, and gasoline we needed to survive. There in the lot of that gas station was our compadre from the VLA pullout. He greeted us like old friends, and as my kids slept in the car and my wife bought provisions, he and I chatted.

Turns out he had just gotten a job on a ranch up there outta Springerville. That's right by Eagar, and I noted that it seemed like a fine place to be. Yessir, he agreed, and he was looking forward to working a huge spread spanning all the way over the New Mexico line with just one other guy. He told me how big it was in sections, but I must've misheard him. It couldn't possibly be that big, could it? Big enough for the herds to get lost on, anyway...

That area is the site of a Mexican Grey Wolf reintroduction project that has created a lot of heated controversy, but we didn't talk about that. Neither of us raised a brow at the deep booms from the guns of mule deer hunters in the twilit hills above the gas station. We talked about his wife. He was on his way down to Wetherford to get her and her stuff - to move her up to Springerville (where there are elk, and mountain lions, and now, wolves). I thought she might like it, because nearby Eagar was such a happy looking place.

"Well" (he shook his head), "it's full of Mormons. I don't mind, I can get along with anybody, but she's a Predestinarian Non-Denominational, and to her, those Mormons are a cult."

"Ah", said I.

"I don't pay much attention, just let everbody be and the Lord will sort things out, I say", he said, and I agreed.

"I see you're travelling with children, are you going to stop tonight?", he asked.

"Yeah, we'll probably hole up in Brownfield", I told him.

"I just talked to my wife on the phone, and she said it's snowing from Abilene to Wetherford right now."

"Well, we won't make it that far tonight."

"I'll be pushing on through. I have chains for the truck, and chains for the trailer. It's no stop for an old cattle hauler like me."

My wife came out of the store then, so he and I wished each other good travel.

I really hope his wife is happy in Springerville. Funny, eh?

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