I grew up afraid of the desert. I was taught to be afraid of the desert. On TV and in the movies it is a vast, dry, waterless expanse, devoid of life, a No-Man’s Land never to be entered under any circumstances. It is a place where crawling, dying pioneers gasp for water with their last breaths. It is a place best crossed as fast as possible, in an air-conditioned car or, better yet, at thirty thousand feet above sea level. If your car breaks down and you step out of it, the moment your foot hits the ground, you die and, like in a Road Runner cartoon, be instantly turned into a cow skull.
I was introduced to the actual desert on a camping trip with my wife before we were married. One day we were on a hike and found an old plaid shirt lying on the ground. I wondered what it was. My wife said it was probably shed by an immigrant working their way north from Mexico.
I felt my old fear of the desert coming back stronger now and my imagination began to take over. I imagined myself in that immigrant’s shoes, walking just a little farther north. I imagined seeing more cast-off clothing. Except this time the clothing was not cast off. It was still occupied. I imagined running to the person in the clothing and offering them my water, to rehydrate them, to save them, but the person didn’t need the water, because they were dead.
For that person, hiking was not exercise or recreation, and survival was not a let’s pretend game. That person’s story needs to be told. All the stories of people’s lives severed by borders need to be told.