What a day! Today our group of five split into two groups, each with different goals. I went with Dr. Latham, Angela, and Deputy Don to begin searching a 1,500 acre area of a Ranch, while Erica and Rachel went with Eddie to repair the first water stations that were placed on the Ranch in 2013. The South Texas environment is very unforgiving. It is extremely harsh. This morning at 7am, it was 77 degrees Fahrenheit but 92% humidity making it feel much warmer than it was.
We started conducting line searches in one pasture of the Ranch at about 8am. The goal of a line search is to spread evenly apart and search a relatively large area of land for bones. All of the areas we were to search today were quite heavily wooded, and thus it was extremely difficult to stay in a straight line. We made several passes across the pasture and found various animal bones. After feeling like we had covered the first area, we moved on to the second across the street. This area was more heavily wooded than the first. Again, we spread evenly apart and attempted to conduct a line search. Our efforts to stay in a straight line were futile, however, due to the large amount of trees in the pasture. At one point I actually found myself lost in the brush. I couldn’t tell which way was out from the brush I was under and I couldn’t spot any of my team members nearby. I couldn’t hear them talking either. I saw a path, which is frequented by migrants, and began following it. I quickly found myself on the road several meters away from my teammates. While I was in absolutely no danger because I had water and teammates who care about me nearby, I felt a slight panic in the pit of my stomach. I cannot imagine making the journey that a migrant makes. When you are standing in the middle of the Texas brushlands with the sun relentlessly beating down on you, it is extremely difficult to imagine making a long journey without any sense of direction, let alone such a journey without any food, water, and the fear of being seen.
Dr. Latham, Angela, Don, and I walked for about an hour and a half before we had to take a break because we felt like we were going to pass out. We drank bottles and bottles of water and Gatorade and we were still extremely uncomfortable and totally exhausted by the end of the day.
This experience in South Texas thus far has been extremely eye opening and wonderful, but at the same time heartbreaking. Every step we take on the Ranch, we wonder if someone could be near us hiding, dying, or deceased. We wonder if our attempts will be successful or not. And I am constantly thinking about my future. I admire Dr. Latham for many reasons and one of those reasons is her tenacity. She doesn’t give up when it is 120 degrees and 99% humidity. She doesn’t give up when we don’t find anything on our first try. And most of all, she doesn’t give up hope; hope that we are helping in this migrant crisis both at an individual level, and a crisis level. When I traveled to South Texas last May with Dr. Latham, I learned so much about the dead. I enjoyed my time a great deal. This May, however, I have learned so much about the living. It is one thing to talk about a crisis, and an entirely different thing to walk through it.
Tomorrow we will continue our searches on the Ranch with renewed hope and excitement and recharged batteries!