“Check out G.K.Chesterton, the early 20th century essayist. ’You can tell a man by the books he reads and the jokes he laughs at…’ I add the twentieth century variation: ‘…and what he puts on his refrigerator.’” ET Collinsworth, cowboy, firefighter, and voracious reader, has a refrigerator covered in wisdom. His favorite is, “Stories are all the human race has got. You just got to find the one you like and stick with it.” (James Lee Burke). ET is rich in stories.
ET graduated from Antioch College in 1972, “just when it was beginning to slide. I was one of five majors in business rather than Marxist history.” He bought a new yellow pick-up truck, which he still owns, came to Tucson and started punching cattle along the border. He lived on the ranches he worked until fourteen years ago, when he bought a three room partially finished house along a power line gravel road outside of Portal, AZ. Since then, he’s added a room, finished the interior, completed a deck and installed a pellet stove. “I’ve got it just the way I want it.”
I sat in ET’s kitchen drinking homebrewed hefeweizen while he boiled spaghetti, skilleted red sauce bolstered by a quart bottle of Tabasco, and shared insights of a life lived out of doors and a mind enriched by reading.
“In 1910 Arizona was dry. Phelps Dodge ran a Friday night excursion train from Douglas. Workers from the smelter came to Rodeo, New Mexico, which was wet, for the weekend. There were shootings in front of the bar and fornicating behind it. Then the train returned to Arizona on Sunday. The cathouse in Rodeo is now a church.
“I don’t know who I’m going to vote for. I can’t vote for a clown like Trump but I don’t want Hillary. The fact that we take Trump seriously tells you where we’ve come.
“Phoenix is the future now. Isn’t that scary.
“I had two chances to marry. One spoke English, both wore shoes.”
“Live somewhere you can piss off a porch, kick in your TV, butcher your own beef, and brew your own beer. That’s Edward Abby.”
ET’s father was a Southern gentleman who attended Harvard Business School and married an immigrant he met in New York City. ET was conceived in Cambridge but his parents returned to Knoxville so their son would be born in the south. “I’m half Southern Baptist and half European Jew, which is just great for me. They cancel each other out.”
In 1990 ET augmented his cowboy work by becoming a mule guide for the forest service. Then he became a wildland fire fighter, and more recently a medic. ET was in northern California fighting the fires I rode near this summer. “We all knew those were going to happen, the conditions were ripe.” ET attends fire training every February in Missoula, MT. “This year, at the end of training, everyone said, ‘see you this summer on the West Coast.”
ET lived in Mexico for two years, and feels he can always go back there. “The two countries are connected. We are married to each other. Do you know that throughout the US, the consumption of salsa is greater than ketchup?”
ET has a complicated blend of compassion and anger toward illegal immigrants. “Phoenix is the termination point in this area for illegal immigrants. There are all sorts of safe houses and ways to migrate further north from there.” When ET first worked with illegals, seventeen years ago, the coyote fee to get from Aqua Prieto to Douglas to Phoenix was $200 to $300. Now it is $4000 to $5000.
Last year ET got a call to go to a campground in Coronado National Forest and found a young woman with a broken ankle. “She was perhaps 22 and strikingly beautiful, with sharp Mayan features.” The Border Patrol did not arrive. (According to ET, they have a habit of not being first on the scene when someone is injured, to avoid being responsible for the illegal’s medical treatment costs). ET was cautious, there could be others nearby, but it turned out the woman was alone, abandoned two days before by a coyote and fifteen others when she got hurt. ET took her to the hospital in Douglas. She was from El Salvador, wanting to get to New Jersey. The woman remained stoic throughout the ordeal until ET asked how much she’d paid the coyote. ‘Four thousand dollars in El Salvador,’ she replied, ‘and four thousand more at the border.’ “When she told me that, she finally broke down and cried.” So did ET. As he told the story, tears streaked his weathered skin.
Nonetheless, ET made sure I locked my bike to his porch rail, despite being three miles to the nearest house. “All kinds of people pass through here at night, especially when the moon is full.” He explained how when he first moved here he gave passing illegals food and drink and directions that skirted Border Patrol. “But they’ve broken in five times. Now, I greet them with a shotgun and give them directions that I know will send them toward the Border Patrol. But I still give them water. You cannot turn a human being out in the desert without water.”
He feels the Border Patrol’s hands are often tied. “When Border Patrol apprehend groups traveling through the desert, the officers often ‘know’ who the coyote is, but they can’t prosecute without two material witnesses, and none of the illegals will identify the coyote, in fear of reprisals to their families back home.”
ET thinks it’s unrealistic to think that United States policies can influence life in Mexico such that people no longer want to leave. At the same time, he thinks our current approach to illegal immigration only makes the situation worse. “They don’t want to be here long term. But today, it is so difficult to cross the border, illegal immigrants who land here must remain.”
It’s also unrealistic to think that we can function without the work that illegal immigrants do throughout our country. ET favors a worker’s permit program. “We had Bracero back in World War II. It wasn’t perfect but it was the right idea. Let them come, work, and go home. Now, our immigration policy requires them to stay. They hole up in Stockton or Fresno, lay over, and use our Emergency Rooms.”
“For too many people, life sucks. I know enough of Mexico that if I was a Mexican I’d leave.”
ET’s father’s mother died when he was young. He lived with various aunts and became a conventional success, eventually leading a Fortune 500 Company. Now ET’s father is 94, in assisted living in Sarasota, FL. At this point ET eyes tear once more. He’s taken a very different path than his father and only ET can determine whether it constitutes an improvement over the accomplishments of his old man.
The following morning, ET raised three flags: the United States flag on top of the third flag of the Confederacy on top of the flag of an independent Texas. “My family fought for all of those flags.” He explained as he waved me off toward New Mexico, with a tear in his eye.
How will we live tomorrow?
“Do what you can as an individual. Donate to charities, put a face on it. Give a scholarship to a kid. Tell stories. Collect stories. This idea of a global village, started by Marshall McLuhan, is catching.”