Category Archives: Environment

Talking about the weather, terrain, flora, fauna, etc…

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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A bittersweet ending

After arriving home in Indiana, the same bittersweet feeling always seems to settle in my chest. You have this feeling of accomplishment but at the same time you think about the work that still lays ahead and the accomplishment feeling dissipates and anxiety sets in. I use the word anxiety in a non-negative way, I use the word anxiety because I am anxious to keep going. I hate having to wait for another field season in order to continue participating in this humanitarian effort. This is such an amazing experience to be a part of and each field season I come away feeling that I’m actually helping.

This field season was different from all the others.  Although each field season was unique in its own way. Some of the challenges I faced were more weather related than some of the difficulties I had faced in Rio Grande City and Falfurrias. The cemetery that we were working in was located in the middle of an open field with no protection from the wind. The wind would be calm in the morning when we would start our day but in the afternoon there would be wind gusts of up to 20-30 mph. This would cause dirt to blow into our faces and make shoveling nearly impossible. We would come home in the evenings with our faces covered in a layer of dirt. Although this made shoveling and moving dirt harder than it needed to be, we were still able to persevere and get a lot of work done.

Overall photo of the cemetery
Overall photo of the cemetery

This field season was supposed to be an ‘easy’ one because we were told where we could find unidentified migrants. What we didn’t know was that the unidentified migrants were also buried amongst people who were identified but had no grave marker. This made our job more challenging because we had to make sure the individuals we were recovering to take back to Texas State University were unidentified migrants and not positively identified individuals. Thankfully, the persons who were identified had paperwork with them stating that they were identified. If they were identified, then we would not remove them and at the end of the field season gave them a grave marker. One thing that meant the most to me was being able to place flowers at each grave marker. We may not know who these people were but it is important to me and to our group for them to know that they are loved.

A quick snapshot of how dirty we got in the field!
A quick snapshot of how dirty we got in the field!

This field season could not have been accomplished without our amazing team members along with the amazing Texas State University team. This was my first time working in the field with some of the UIndy group and I was pleasantly surprised at how well we worked together. Our group communicated so well in the field which is probably one of the more important things to have when working in a group setting. I loved how in the evenings we could plan how we were going to tackle our quadrant the next day and then execute that plan without a hitch. This was a really spectacular group that we had this field season; honestly, I’ve never been to Texas without an excellent group to work with so I hope this trend continues.

Jessica

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Placing flowers during a dust storm

Day 9: A Day of Closure

Leann, Sammi, Jessica, and Jordan
End of day 9: Leann, Sammi, Jessica, and Jordan

As our last day comes to a close, I cannot help but think about the people I am going to miss. I will miss Dr. Spradley, Dr. Gocha, Deputy Don, and the many others who volunteer their time to assist in identifying the individuals who exist as a mere number in the legal system without this humanitarian effort.  I will miss Joe and Luis, who not only came to the cemetery every day with an eager outlook and a focused mind, but proceeded to bring us donuts, fried chicken, fruit, or pistachios to show their appreciation for the hard work we put in. Today has been full of various emotions. Dr. Latham said this has been considerably different than the final day of most previous field seasons. This time, the groups are not working to quickly, carefully uncover the final few individuals before cleaning up and leaving the site. The UIndy team has finished thoroughly investigating every open area of our quadrant for the remains of the unidentified migrants we are searching for. This time, our final day is a day of closure.

Joe filling our pit with dirt, using the back hoe
Joe filling our pit with dirt, using the back hoe

As Joe and Luis worked on filling in the large pits we had excavated within, everyone else supervised and cleaned up the site. Texas State came back with coffee, so Joe took a break and came over to our group. During this time, he shared some of his experiences living and working close to the border. It was powerful to hear the sincerity in his voice as he reminded us that people walk enormous distances to cross into the United States in search of a safer life and higher paying jobs, yet die of heat exhaustion, starvation, and dehydration as they journey through the state avoiding checkpoints. This was the most I had interacted with Joe during the trip, but it was valuable to receive a local’s perspective about those suffering in this crisis.

Placing flowers around the marked burials
Placing flowers around the marked burials

Once the surface had been entirely leveled out, we gathered plastic flowers, trimmed the grass around grave markers, and stuck the flowers in the ground or tied them in place in front of every burial. Every single burial received at least 3 flowers, thanks to Leann. Leann essentially became the self-established site florist for two hours as we finished marking burials that had been missing a sign. It is so important to Texas State University and University of Indianapolis to show our respect and leave the cemetery even better than we got it. This felt like the perfect final gesture to end the exhumations with a small gift.

dsc_0015I have been very touched by the events of our final day. I was able to see the site in stunning condition before we left to drive back to our hotel for the last time. There is still much to do. Leann and I have some mapping to work on over the weekend, and a long day of travel ahead of us tomorrow. However, I have been absolutely amazed by the amount I have learned from this experience. Texas has been extremely good to the Beyond Borders team this year, and for that we are grateful. We are very fortunate that Dr. Latham’s involvement with this project has allowed us to participate another year and provide students with the opportunity to help provide closure to many families who have lost their loved ones.

Day 9
Day 9

Sammi

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