Kirsten soared in the stiff breeze on a floating sky island, 1500 feet above the surrounding mile high mesquite desert, smiling as always. We had been invited to run some publisher workshops for the Cochise College Creative Writing Celebration the last weekend in March. Finished with our duties, we said good-bye to some great new friends and went out exploring the local environs. Cochise County sits on the Mexican border of Arizona in the southeast corner of the state. It is a thriving county of about 100,000 folks, all of them obviously happy to be there. The terrain from Phoenix and Tuscon has climbed back up to around 5,000 feet, is about 20 degrees cooler on average, and is dotted with these sky islands above the mesquite flats. It had been a little hard to believe, but we had been promised running surface water, migrating humming birds, forests of pine, fir, sycamore and locust trees at the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Preserve.
We were met at the visitor center by uber-friendly Debbie Arbenz who, without drawing a breath, welcomed us and talked us into a discount from the already low entrance fee. We did promise to re-up our membership with TNC, I think. The visitor center is a gift and book shop, well stocked save any titles, yet, from Torrey House Press. The preserve was as promised and more. By the time we hiked to the overlook that Kirsten is pictured in here, she was wishing that maybe she had worn her hiking boots instead of her Chacos, but she only says so if you ask. We saw humming birds, running water, riparian areas, birds of prey soaring the surrounding cliffs, numerous deer and a restoration pond trying to save the endangered Chiricahua leopard frogs.
I may be a bit of a curmudgeon, some say, but I was surprised by Cochise County and the college there. Our hosts, including our own Jay Treiber, author of soon to be released Spirit Walk, were generous and universally effusive about their home. Spirit Walk is beautifully set and portrayed in Cochise County and northern Mexico and I was eager to see this landscape for myself. I see why everyone loves it. The desert is always beautiful and enticing and dangerous and menacing. To see a black jaguar in such a place would be life amplifying. It was for Jay’s characters, some of whom even put their guns down after sighting such a creature. The allure and danger of the place is captured too in Erec Toro’s Zero to the Bone. Erec was one of the conference presenters and tells in this memoir of how his life was permanently altered after being struck and massively poisoned by a rattle snake. I had a chance to chat with Erec just long enough to know he gets the wild thing, as in it is the preservation of the world. As Erec says, he got a taste of wild snake when it got a taste of him. Erec and I are going to have to talk some more.
While talking about the amazing people we met I must mention Cecelia “Ceci” Lewis. Ceci is an instructor at the college’s English department. She is a year older than me, Latino, and always gorgeously attired in southwest clothing and turquoise. We had a chance to talk to Ceci about modern life and I mentioned how the white, male, Utah Taliban-Republican politicos are spending millions of dollars to “take the state back.” Ceci’s immediate response was, “From?” For the first time I heard the phrase, “I didn’t cross the border, the border crossed me.” We spoke a bit about her experience and her family. As she pronounced her siblings’ names it struck both Kirsten and me that she was singing. I remain smitten and charmed.
A final hello to Beth Colburn Oroxco and her pal and fellow author and presenter, Ann Wertz Galvin. Check out Ann’s latest novel and her upcoming one, A Dog Year. Beth, fabulous conference, hope to see you soon, and write on. You all looked great in the land of the sky islands.