Monday, 17 May 2010

Rio Bravo Love -- by Sally Bishop Merrill

Sally Bishop Merrill belongs to Rio Grande Valley Friends Meeting, in Harlingen, TX, two hours east of Roma)

Lower Rio Grande, one of the richest wildlife areas in the continent:

I was thankful to have been among Twelve Sierrans and ‘No Border Wall’ Activists who -- as the April meeting of our local Sierra Club -- canoed the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) from Fronton to the lovely 18th C. city of Roma, Texas, at the high bluffs of the River, on April 18th, in 6 canoes provided by the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge’s NGO arm, the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor.

click on map for clearer view

We in the Rio Bravo/ Rio Grande Delta enjoy and treasure the river that narrowly survives frothy dry spells near Laredo, … is sometimes contaminated with agricultural chemicals and rubbish, but not as badly as the Arroyo Colorado (an original branch of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo in the delta, now with a separate watershed.) Its rich history is fun to discuss, and we did that, as the 12 of us birded, canoed, sang, fell out of the canoe, looked for those fear-inspiring “drug gangs” with their big weapons ( supplied by U.S. arms dealers?). We saw not one boat, not one human, but two Mexican cows.

green heron: courtesy of Larry Ditto

This time, (unlike prior years) we did not hear singing from the Church on the other side, and so this time, could not sing along. But we saw a handsome pair of small Green Heron, in their courtship orange kneesocks and head treatments. One of the Green Heron went to their nest, and the other went with us, for about a mile downstream. We had a tailwind some of the time, thankfully, but the River was low! Though it rained and stormed the five nights before in the areas in the Valley farther east, or lower, than the stretch of river we canoed from Fronton to Roma, that water flowed into the Arroyo Colorado and the Laguna Atascosa through Rio Hondo and the National Wildlife Refuge, …so the Rio Bravo/Grande was LOW … I have a permanent picture in my mind, not only of the rear end of Miguel, one of the other Ph.D.s (one of two Border Anthropologists with us) who fell out of my canoe when we ran aground on an uneven bottom, on pebbles, but also of the six feet of deep roots of lovely native trees like Rio Grande Ash, holding the border, guarding the river.

Altamira orioles: courtesy of Fred Walsh

Birds of significance included, in addition to our Green Heron escort, Great Kiskadees, bright red/brown and gold, flashing, several Kingfishers who nest in the higher banks, a Raven, Olive Warbler, and many others ornithological, but also Professor Cecilia Balli of University of Texas at Austin, Visiting at UT Brownsvile and writing a book on the murders in Juarez and border violence historically, currently, and for the hoped-for different future. I suspected she was hoping to be kidnapped, survive and write about her extended interview, but was relieved that the waters were so clear for us that day. Several of my colleagues had warned me not to go, as Camargo, not far from Miguel Aleman, the MX city across from Roma, …. Was heavily taken over, as have many Mexican towns in which my students’ grandmothers live or were driven from last week, (some of the drug cartel warriors had compassion and strategic planning skills, organizing to evacuate the towns so that they would not be killed in crossfire, which is more than US troops did in Vietnam and elsewhere, destroying whole villages with their inhabitants in order to “Save” them).

Some of the eco-tourism entrepreneurs some of us knew confessed to actually having “had beers” with some of the people they believed to be Mexican cartel figures. As we lunched in lovely historic Rio Grande City, we enjoyed the Mexican dark beers. We learned from Cecilia that formerly the Drug Cartel leaders met with even Mexican federal representatives, and divided up territories. But not these days, which leads to chaos. How it will be resolved is murkier than places we ran aground. The need to help Mexican cartels reach consensus and create a social contract (since they will clearly not be subsumed or forced into one) rushes as forcefully and unpredictably as the unexpected rapids we went over. Hold us in the Light, Friends, on the border, as we face troubled waters, often without a paddle.


I am also a founding board member of Jay Johnson Castro’s Border Ambassadors, a 501(c)3 you could donate to: at 45 Hudson Dr., Del Rio, TX care of the Villa Del Rio to promote positive bi-cultural and multi-national efforts in environmental care, commerce, cultural arts and education along the US/MX border. We collaborate, just as Quaker Earthcare Witness does with UN-affiliated NGOs, with many other groups and fun projects, on the border: Laura de la Garza’s wetlands water purification projects, river recreational kayaking and canoeing, fishing, birding, and wildlife protection. We hope any of you who feel moved, or overstressed, will visit. The eco-tourism here is inextricable from our concerns for real diplomacy, for people to people ordinary bi-cultural connection through families and commerce.

Contact Sally Stueber

Further references and pictures: on Texas birds, National Wildlife Federation Birding in the Texas Tropics, World Birding Center, et ornithomedia en francais.

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