Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Wild Keeper Redux: On the Road

(I've written about Carlos and his inspiring ranch here before, but I put up a short piece on my public Facebook page, The Monster's Daughter and Company, so I thought I'd post it here, too, along with some photos.) 

One winter while conducting research for a book, I sat alongside Carlos Robles ElĂ­as, a Mexican rancher, in his silver truck as we raced toward his land (El Aribabi Conservation Ranch) in the Sonoran Desert. The pickup shook so badly I was certain it and we were going to crash and burn at any second. Carlos kept looking at his Blackberry and texting while he drove and talked to me. I looked back at Mario sitting behind us to make certain he had on his seatbelt. I whispered to the Universe, “Keep Mario safe,” and then I looked down at my notebook and continued taking notes and trying not to worry. 

We drove deeper into the desert, and our progress slowed (thankfully). We wound around the low desert mountains, and Carlos talked about his 10,000 acre ranch. He had sold all of his cattle and was now restoring the land and doing all he could to encourage and protect wildlife. He pointed out barren ground where other ranchers were overgrazing the land and talked about the attitude of many of the ranchers: They killed predators, no questions asked, in an effort to protect their cattle. He was trying a different way.

Carlos was protecting the predators on his land, including a male jaguar. For years, I had been researching the jaguars who had been spotted recently in the American Southwest, and that was why I had come to Mexico and this particular piece: At least one male jaguar had been photographed on Carlos’s ranch. 

Carlos, Mario, and Sergio (a Tucson biologist who met us on the ranch) spent the day driving and walking in an environment that was so stark, so desolate and wild, that is was almost incomprehensible to me. I was completely captivated—and I admired what Carlos was attempting to achieve. He still hadn’t figured out how to make a living while running his ranch sustainably, but he working at it.

Just before we left the ranch at the end of the day, just before Carlos was about to drive us back to Nogales, I was standing by the truck and I noticed a tear and threading on the front right tire. I realized that was why the truck had been shaking so badly. I showed the tire to Carlos. He had taken the truck to a shop just before he’d picked us up—because of the shaking—and they hadn’t found anything. It was nothing short of a miracle that we hadn’t had a blowout on our way to the ranch.  Soon enough, Carlos and one of the men who worked on the ranch were trying to take the tire off and put on the spare. Mario and I used the opportunity to wander around by ourselves, keeping close to the house, feeling lucky and happy as we watched the sun turn the desert wilderness into gold.  

We made it safely back to Nogales and across the border, just after dark. I missed the wilderness almost immediately.

Although I still haven’t written the jaguar book, I did write about our visit in the essay “The Wild Keeper” which is in Under the Tucson Moon. 
Mario & Carlos looking out at his land

Sergio, Carlos, and I in a dry riverbed.

The land

The tire

The ranch house

Dusk

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