All posts by rockh

Footprints on my heart

A path: A way beaten, formed, or trodden by the feet of persons or animals. Paths consume our lives. We walk down paths to jobs, houses, families. And each person’s path is different. Some of us walk slowly, while others run. Sometimes we encounter road blocks along the way, maybe the size of a mesquite tree or a prickly pear cactus. Sometimes we get a thorn stuck in our leg and we have trouble walking and sometimes we feel weary and like we can’t walk anymore. Paths cross and twist and turn and hopefully, through perseverance, hope, and a goal, we reach our final destination.

A path formed by migrants
A path formed by migrants

Most of us are afforded help along our journey. Help can come in the form of a friend cheering us on or giving us advice. It can come in the form of a hug from a beloved parent, friend, or animal. It can come in the form of a story, a hardy meal, a drink, a conversation. Help comes in a variety of forms. It shapes our paths and our stories. My story changed this past week.  In my life I have experienced great joy, happiness, and love. I have also experienced heartache and loss. Some would say I am lucky because I have not experienced the loss of a family member or close friend. On March 18 I experienced the loss of my beloved dog. I cried myself to sleep each night for 54 days wishing I could get my best friend back. This loss changed my life. My path shifted. I felt lost.
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I have walked down countless paths in my life, both consciously and unconsciously. Each path has been my own though until this past week when I walked down somebody else’s path or rather, many persons path. While in South Texas, we had the incredible opportunity to conduct foot searches for missing migrants on a 64,000 acre ranch. We walked through what seemed like hundreds of spider webs, changed our paths to preserve spider webs, ran into low hanging branches and lost our hats and sunglasses, drank bottles and bottles of water, searched the ground for rattlesnakes, bones and any signs of human presence. We struggled to walk through miles of sand and attempted to guard ourselves against the Texas sun, ticks, and the thorns of cacti and mesquite trees. We walked along paths trodden down by individuals attempting to seek shelter and make a better life for themselves. We saw personal belongs left behind by these individuals.

A path through the woods
A path through the woods

In our time in South Texas, we also had the unique opportunity to help build water stations to hopefully help save the lives of migrants walking through the area. We built 13 water stations and serviced 66 additional stations. We dropped 160 gallons of water in total.

One of the 13 water stations we built
One of the 13 water stations we built

For me, this trip was life changing. I saw with my own eyes, the remnants of individuals traversing through the Texas ranchlands. I experienced the extreme heat of the Texas sun coupled with 90% humidity and above. I walked 23 miles in sand, through thick brush without knowing what was ahead of me and putting all of my trust in Deputy Don White. I heard countless stories that would break anybody’s heart. I was able to experience a tiny portion of a migrants journey, and it changed my life.

Deputy Don giving us instructions on our search for the day
Deputy Don giving us instructions on our search for the day

I returned home to my 423 square-foot apartment in Indianapolis with a heavy heart. I am so happy to have been a part of this Beyond Borders trip to South Texas and I am so proud of the work we were able to do while we were there. However, I am deeply saddened to think about the individuals walking through South Texas right now as I write this as well as those families who have not found peace yet because their loved one(s) is missing. I wish them peace, safety, hope, and happiness. I wish they could know that without meeting even one of them, they have changed my life for good.

Sunset on the border wall
Sunset on the border wall

Haley

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Draining Our Batteries Under the Texas Sun

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.

Sunrise on Cage Ranch
Sunrise on the Ranch

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.

Conducting a line search
Conducting a line search

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.

Taking a quick break to cool off
Taking a quick break to cool off while           driving through the Ranch looking for      our next search

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.

Walking back from our search
Walking back from our search

Tomorrow we will continue our searches on the Ranch with renewed hope and excitement and recharged batteries!

Haley (with contributions from Angela)

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Day2: Footprints in the Sand

It’s 10:30am in South Texas and it is 77 degrees Fahrenheit with 87% humidity. It feels like 90 degrees. There is a slight cool breeze, which feels remarkable. Soon the sun will be straight overhead and it will be beating down on all who cross its path. The paths along the ranches are pure sand with weeds. You have two options: walk along the sand in the open, or walk through dense brush and leaves without knowing what is lurking below. There are snakes, scorpions, spiders, lizards, and sticker burrs below the forest floor. The brush is so dense it is impossible to get through without getting scratched. When you get to a fence, you have to maneuver yourself over it somehow, with barbed wire at the top. All fences are much taller than waist high. Getting over them requires bending the fence. Ranch owners don’t appreciate bent fences so they leave ladders. The ladders that are strategically placed along the fences aren’t used because coyotes tell the migrants that the ladders are booby-traps.  Water stations are not utilized even when they are essential  to living because the coyotes tell the migrants they are a trap. Overhead,  an aerostat looms watching for any body heat below.

Two wooden ladders along one segment of fencing on North La Copa Ranch
Two wooden ladders along one segment of fencing on North La Copa Ranch

There is little room for error in a migrant’s journey from Latin America to South Texas. Trouble is everywhere. Today we walked along the paths of North La Copa Ranch and experienced a very small portion of a migrant’s journey. Needless to say, it was tough. We walked for roughly 2 hours searching for any migrants, deceased or alive, and by the end of our walk, we were drenched in sweat with little water left in our water bottles. We were fortunate because we had water, protection from rattle snakes, good boots, good gloves, sunscreen, and hats. We knew what was ahead of us and behind us. We had Deputy Don and his huge gun to protect us. We were most certainly safe. We had very little to worry about along our walk.

Notice our gear and Deputy Don!
Notice our gear and Deputy Don!

I think each of us experienced different emotions as we were conducting our search this afternoon. It was an extremely powerful experience. In 2 hours, we walked less than 1 mile of North La Copa Ranch. We didn’t climb any fences, we could walk wherever our heart desired, and we had water and at the end of our walk, we knew we would have air conditioning and food. At the beginning of our walk, it was pleasant. The humidity was high but it didn’t feel very hot because the sun was behind clouds and there was a breeze. By the second hour of our walk, the sun was beating down on us and as a result, the temperature had risen dramatically. By the end of the day, it was 98 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature coupled with the extreme humidity is almost unbearable. Our walk today made me understand why so many migrants give up along their journey. We have talked a great deal with Deputy Don and Eddie on our trip so far, and they have both said that when a migrant gives up, they are done for. They will die. I tried to immerse myself in the landscape as we were walking. I tried to imagine what it would be like if I was a migrant traversing the land. It is certainly enough to totally break a human. The choices one must make along the way are difficult. The terrain is unforgiving. The environment doesn’t care if you give up or not. Walking through South Texas requires a great deal of hope and a whole lot of will.

A sandy path on North La Copa Ranch
A sandy path on     North La Copa   Ranch

After a morning and afternoon of difficult realizations and a strenuous search at La Copa Ranch, we spent a wonderful evening at La Mota Ranch with Peggy and Bill Clark (Lasater). They invited us to their beautiful home to swim in their pool and eat a delicious meal with them. We had so much fun swimming in their cool pool after a hot day and talking with them about the history of their ranch and their many interests. We also had the opportunity to see the turkeys and peacocks they have on their property! Who knew peacocks can fly?!

One of Peggy and Bill's peacocks up in a tree
One of Peggy and Bill’s peacocks up in a     tree

Today was a powerful day. I learned a ton today about myself and South Texas. But at the end of the day, we are all just footprints in the sand.

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Haley

 

 

 

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