Cenizo Journal Winter 2023 | Page 8

“ She managed the operations for many years but was unable to adapt to the changing nature of border commerce , and , eventually , they all lost the fort to lenders . Juana returned to Mexico , but her sons and their descendants continued a violent vendetta in a decades-long and failed confrontation to reclaim the fort .”

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“ Yes , y ’ all . I ’ m sure you ’ d enjoy it .” “ Ha , of course , I would . But just sounds like it ’ s old friends and private ,”
I said . “ Well , I ’ ve been looking at you since I was at the county , so I reckon you ’ ll be okay .” “ Sure , we ’ ll go , assuming we can bring our gear ?” “ That ’ ll be fine .” I had long loved the river but had never passed beneath the walls of Santa Elena . The Rio Grande was a mysterious transition zone to me , where countries and cultures and geographies merged into a unique landscape nearly impossible for an outlander to comprehend . I had wandered its reaches , though , from the Rio Grande Gorge in Northern New Mexico to Boca Chica Beach where it emptied into the open water at the Gulf .
My fascination began when we were young and newly married ; my employer had ski parties on his boat down where the river passed under the international bridges connecting the two countries . The day he invited us I hardly noticed the turgid water , but I saw the tall Washington palms and sugar cane on shore . Children sat on the muddy south bank and watched us with hungry eyes as we passed carefree into the sun . I saw them staring when the boat trailer was backed down the ramp and the craft was reeled up to be towed home . I see them still , their brown skin and muddy clothes , plastic bags of modest belongings shuffling back toward the brush where parents waited on their haunches for darkness , as if they were poised to leap into the unknown .
We later moved up the river to Laredo and lived in a trailer on a ranch


Cenizo Winter 2023 about a half mile from the Rio Grande and sometimes at night the immigrants , still dripping with water , came to our doorstep to ask for a drink or food . There were often children , silent and frightened , and they followed their parents out toward the Interstate highway and the railroad tracks . I did not understand what they were doing but the rancher who was our landlord said the immigrants walked north between the rails through the night and before sunrise they crept off into the brush among the prickly pear cactus and rattlesnakes to sleep during the day . San Antonio was 120 miles distant . Nights later , I might be on the TV news where I worked , reporting on black and bloated bodies caught in root tangles under the river ’ s edge . These were , not infrequently , drowned children .
All rivers are mysterious , but the Rio Grande has always been particularly vexing to me . The valley of its passage has certainly known joy but existence within the watershed is often more unforgiving than happy . I suspect the role of international frontier changes the character of a river with commerce and immigration and the pull of two cultures and economies tearing at each other while they also try to stitch together a simple way of being .
The union of two rivers can even be mystical . After it drains a watershed almost the size of the Mississippi River Valley , Mexico ’ s Rio Conchos meets the Rio Grande at Presidio and Ojinaga . The sere earth was made green and fertile by floods over a plain that came to be known as “ La Junta de los Rios ,” the junction of two rivers . Recent archaeological digs have turned up detritus from ancient civilizations at La Junta that indicate it may be the oldest continually occupied location in North America . Indigenous peoples known as the Jumano , and later the Comanche and Apache , lived thousands of years by taking wildlife , fishing , gathering nuts , and picking