We all know the saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.” That saying doesn’t seem to apply on the U.S.-Mexican border.
In 2008, I traveled to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, a paradise for botanists, bird watchers, photographers and ordinary nature lovers, like me. Jagged mountains offer incredible vistas of saguaros and organ pipe cacti that fill the landscape. The desert preserve seems to stretch south without end.
But there is an end to the park, a stark one. A stretch of fencing divides the U.S. portion of the ecosystem from the Mexican portion, cutting through the national monument.
The U.S- Mexico border fence is an enormously expensive project that certainly hasn’t won the war on drugs or stopped illegal immigration. A simplistic approach to a complicated set of problems.
Sure, it’s stopped some illegal immigrants but not in the way anyone wants. Border crossing deaths have increased dramatically because the fence has caused people to seek out alternate routes into the U.S. Many travel across long stretches of inhospitable desert, and, every year, some die while attempting that crossing.
The border fence is an environmental disaster, too. Wildlife corridors have been broken, threatening many species of animals. Fragile ecosystems have been scarred. The border fence interrupts water flows causing flooding and erosion.
Still, in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, rangers must deal with illegal border crossing attempts, including not just hopeful immigrants, but also drug traffickers, some of whom are violent. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has been described as the most dangerous park in the country. I’m sure many rangers like the border fence.
Or maybe they’d much rather see the federal government implement a more nuanced and more effective solution to the border challenges in the National Monument. A solution that doesn’t threaten the fragile ecosystem which has been designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Fortunately, the Obama administration has put the brakes on border fence construction and some mitigation funds have been provided for environmental impacts associated with the fence. The border fence is much less in the news today than it was just a few years ago. Still, the border fence continues to cause problems. In 2011, forty feet of the border fence fell over in Organ Pipe National Monument after a heavy rainfall.
That might be cause to celebrate, except the collapse damaged the environment, and, as far as I know, the fence was reconstructed.
If you’re interested to learn more about the border fence, I recommend The Sierra Club Borderlands Project ( http://www.sierraclub.org/borderlands/ )and the Defenders of Wildlife report “On The Line” (http://www.defenders.org/legislation/borderlands).
I’m sure, for a lot of people, a pseudonym makes sense. The minister who writes erotica. The high school coach who writes horror and kills off all the jocks in Chapter One. It wouldn’t make sense for me though. I’ve written environmentally themed fiction and I’m an environmental lawyer with a wide network of tree-hugger friends and colleagues who read books.
I was tempted to hide behind a pseudonym though. Writing has always been a private pursuit and suddenly my work is going public. Sure, I’ve read my writing in workshops and I’m not shy about speaking in public. I’m not shy at all. But, most of the time, I’ve spoken publicly on behalf of someone else, on behalf of a cause I believe in. Self-promotion is just plain awkward.
Apparently, to find readers, though, you have to tell people about your book.
In Drowning Cactus, Gordon, a college-drop out attempting to earn a few bucks, is caught attempting to steal a cactus from a national park. The media pegs him as an eco-activist, rather than a bumbling thief. Reluctantly, Gordon agrees to be interviewed by a T.V. reporter.
“Gordon, you picked Organ Pipe National Park, a park on the US- Mexico border to take your stance. What’s your take on US- Mexico relations?”
“I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. The border is a tough place. I mean, obviously, it’s a desert, so that has its challenges, and even if you get past the desert and get into this country, well America’s a tough place, too. If it were up to me, we would be welcoming people who come into this country, making things easier for them. We should probably make it easier for the people who are already here. Not just the immigrants. For everyone.”
“So, was the cactus you moved into the road a symbolic welcome, a beacon for immigrants?”
“That wouldn’t be much of a welcome. People crossing the desert don’t need a cactus. They need water, right? And food. Then maybe a place to stay, a job or whatever. The same stuff the rest of us need.”
“Cut,” the reporter said to her cameraman. “Look,” she said, facing Gordon directly for the first time. “Can I give you some advice? If you want to do something with this, you’ve got to get your message straight. No one’s going to hand you a book deal just because you put a cactus in the road. Get your story straight. Then call me.”
“I don’t want a book deal,” Gordon said. “I just want to get out of here and back to my life.”
I feel a little bit like Gordon right now. I want to get back to my life. I’d rather be writing a new book instead of blogging about an old one.
But Gordon has a special place in my heart. He’s inarticulate and camera shy and prone to getting lost. He’s the last person you’d pick to champion any cause.
Gordon’s journey in Drowning Cactus from unwitting hero to national icon is funny and touching. It will make you want to trek out into the Sonoran desert. I’d love it if Gordon lived in a few more imaginations and if Organ Pipe National Monument suddenly became a vacation hot spot.
So, no pseudonym for me and no obscurity for Drowning Cactus.
Commencing social networking and blog.