Some years back I journeyed into the limoncillo forests of south-central Tamaulipas, Mexico where I spent several days camped on a sandy playa along the shores of a hidden river. Above me, looming overhead like the great face of an old woman, was a mountain called, La Viuda. I reached my camping area via a canoe and my only means of communication to the outside world was a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with a flare. In effect, I was alone. I wanted to climb La Viuda and I spent several days in the attempt. But along the way, I met a family who lived up river a few kilometers. Others might call them “squatters,” but I could not think of them in that way. They were indigenous people and they have dwelled on this land for over ten thousand years. Their cultures, languages, myths, hopes and even their names were destroyed by European religion and greed. Even so, they have persisted and, in fact, their numbers have grown.
The family lived in a simple way—perhaps the best way—in a huddling of jacales, those mud and stick dwellings with thatched roofs so common in many parts of Mexico. By-the-way, a jacal (ha-cahl) makes an excellent hot weather home. The thick walls, nearly a foot wide and the heavy thatched roof have a high insulation value.
The book that resulted from my journey into that unique ecological region is called, Keepers of the Wilderness. I was lucky that Texas A&M University Press decided to publish the book. It went on to receive honors and other accolades. I think one of its most endearing qualities is its portrayal of that secret land, a wilderness you cannot find in the United States, as well as an insight into the minds of those who live quiet lives amidst the forests.
My hope was to save that land from the ravages of modern life with its pursuit of profits and exploitation no matter the end results. Now, Mexico is in the throes of a great war: A battle over the right to supply the United States with drugs. The state of Tamaulipas is in disarray and over 50,000 people have lost their lives in this war in just the last few years. We hear of the conflict in Syria because that’s where the business and political interests that command the news media want our attention directed. Only now and then do we hear about the greater war (Yes, it is a much more brutal war than what is going on in Syria) going on in Mexico. Just two weeks ago 49 people were found decapitated and mutilated on a road near the city of Monterrey in the state of Nuevo Leon that borders Tamaulipas to the west and abuts the USA as well. The news media touched on it but nowhere near the coverage about Syria. Last summer in a town across the river from Rio Grande City in Starr County, Texas about 40 people were killed in one afternoon. Much of the town was destroyed. Daily, there are killings, fire-fights, explosions and violence in thousands of ways on both sides of the Rio Grande and yet beyond the immediate border most Americans are oblivious to the war in Mexico. Some US officials (in an attempt to safeguard their cushy jobs) have tried to downplay the spill-over violence on the US side of the border. Those of us who live in the region think of them as nothing more than overpaid and disingenuous bureaucrats. Another anecdote: A friend who is a school teacher in Brownsville in Cameron County, Texas tells me that on several occasions she has been forced to scurry her students inside because bullets were landing on the playground from firefights across the river in the Mexican city of Matamoros.
When I wrote Keepers of the Wildernes the so-called “drug war” was already ongoing. But when I was camped on that tiny beach at the river’s edge the war and all the other problems associated with modern economic life seemed far away. Those of you who yearn for the quiet of nature, who revel in knowing about primitive living and whose personal ethos leans towards frugality and simplicity in life will find Keepers of the Wilderness a motivating read.
At the following site you can read an excerpt from Keepers of the Wilderness
Amazon Ebook, Keepers of the Wilderness
Texas A&M University Press