I’ve got a buddy who spent his career safeguarding the Southern Border working first with the US Border Patrol and then US Customs. When he retired he didn’t sit on his laurels and fade away but instead spent several years working as a hunting guide in West Texas. After that he drove an 18-wheeler for a year crisscrossing the country in all sorts of weather. He told me he just had to give it a try. At the time he was already in his sixties and how he was able to accomplish that feat driving in blizzards and big cities and on crazy freeways is beyond me. I’ve determined he’s at least twice the man I could ever hope to be and I admire him greatly. The way I see it my old friend represents what makes this country great because like many others he perseveres no matter what the challenge. There are hundreds of thousands of people like my friend and I consider them the backbone of America. These are folks who go to work everyday rain or snow or blistering heat and who never give up and who love the land and will fight to preserve it. My old friend has a heart of gold and an inner strength that leaves me in awe. I first met him over thirty years ago when I was traveling a back road heading to a little town called Brackettville in Southwest Texas. When I stopped at the Border Patrol checkpoint this slender fellow walked out and just as he approached my truck I said, “How does my canoe look?” I was toting a Sportspal canoe and he seemed a bit surprised by my question. I opened the truck’s door and stepped out and for a moment he looked startled. “Will you let me check the ropes?” I asked. He smiled and said, “Sure, why not? And by the way,” he added, “I’ve got a Sportspal canoe too.” We spent a few minutes talking about those great little aluminum canoes, perfect for fishing small lakes. The conversation was far too short but I liked the guy right off. A few years later I too was working the border but in a different capacity and I ran into the fellow I’d met years before at the checkpoint. He had since transferred to US Customs and was busy pursuing smuggling cases. He was a no nonsense guy. All business, dedicated to his job and willing to work long hours if need be. We kept close until he was transferred for a two year stint in Washington DC where he pushed paper and stayed miserable. You see my buddy was of the sort who just wanted to be in the woods. In fact, he’d garnered a reputation as a master sign cutter and tenacious tracker. I was the naturalist woods roamer journalist and he was the tracker and federal agent—two unlikely sorts who needed the woods to survive. But after the two year stint in DC we sort of drifted apart. He’d call me now and then saying how much he hated working in the big (congested, over-crowded) city but all I could think of was how much I admired him for never giving up—even in a situation that was decidedly not his “bag.”
At last he returned to South Texas but by that time I was living in the Hill Country about 340 miles to the northwest. After a while I returned to the Brushlands and we did our best to stay in contact. A few years before he was transferred to DC my family and I were living in a little casita in the woods, a place we called The Good Earth Cabin. My buddy would drive out to the cabin as often as possible and then go woods roaming on his own. He wasn’t the kind of guy who needed any sort of assistance in the brush. He could read sign a week old and could stand in one spot like a statue watching a deer or a long-distance-traveler and neither the deer nor the campesino would ever see him. One night we were trekking along a sendero and it was pitch black and I spotted something on the ground in front of us. I held out my hand and motioned for him to stop. “What is it?” he asked. “Snake,” I said. And sure enough it was a snake crossing the trail. He said, “How in the world did you ever see that snake?” Of course I was proud as hell having spotted the snake and even prouder he’d recognized the Old Woods Roamer’s talents.
When my old friend went to work as a hunting guide it was not so much for the job but to be in the wilds. He needed the brushlands and the desert as much as he needed air to breath. I more than anyone he knows can relate to that feeling. We communicated as often as possible but each was busy with things related to family and work. Then not too long ago he and his wife moved to the Big Bend region in West Texas which is about as out of the way as one can get in the state. Still, not a day goes by that we don’t send text messages that invariably end up in ferocious arguments over who exactly is destroying this country. We agree more than we disagree but the bottom line is to communicate and to know that neither one will ever reject the other.
These days I seldom get to see my old pal but we always stay in touch. Just a few minutes ago he sent me a couple of photos of the snow covering parts of the West Texas desert. To me he serves as a near perfect example of a man who has been through the fire and come out the finest steel. His strength, both mental and physical, astounds me. He’s seen it all from firefights along the Rio Grande to arduous pursuits after bad guys in the Arizona desert and West Texas. But of course there are tens of thousands of others in this country just like my longtime friend. Just like my buddy they are men (and women) who never shy away from work. By the way, before my friend joined the Border Patrol he spent a number of years on a nuclear submarine working for the United States Navy. Folks, I’m here to tell you they don’t get much tougher than that. The Old Woods Roamer could never spend days, weeks, months shut off from the sun and trees and birds and the land. But my pal somehow managed. And you know what? It doesn’t matter whether they call themselves Conservatives or Liberals or Independent As Hell they keep this country going. It’s not the billionaire aristocracy nor is it the politicians or the spin doctors who spew hate and assorted BS everyday on AM radio or through the television. No, the real heroes are the common folk; those who just go out and do their job without whining or bellyaching. As far as I'm concerned you're the real America. And I salute you.
Andy in years gone by working the Southern Border