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  • This 1998 story takes place in Batopilas, Mexico. The pueblo has a silver mining legacy and was founded in 1709, in the Sierra Madre region of Chihuahua. It lies at the bottom of a canyon four times as large as the Grand Canyon, yet deeper. Batopilas was completely off the grid back then, and it was necessary to navigate over 400 switchbacks to descend 6,000 feet on a dirt road. There were no guardrails as one traveled from pine-studded ridge to dry river bottom. Two vehicles couldn’t pass one another without resorting to infrequent turnout opportunities, not that one would likely encounter opposing traffic. My family headed out from Batopilas to hike 4 miles to Rancho Camuchin, accessible only by a rustic trail. The following recollection is the music I heard there, as sung by the “dueño de casa.”

    “Since you favor us with your visit, let me tell you something about this place, built long ago, deep within the canyon. You will find Rancho Camuchin a soothing relief from walking the dry riverbed with its cascade of heat-shouting stones. Come, rest your pack under this canopy of grape leaves, for the sun is high and will pull the sweat from your soul. Go Jessica, mi hija, fetch chairs!

    Now then, make yourself comfortable beside me. Take this aged wooden chair with its seat laid paint-bare from time's brush. Do not mind if it mutters and rocks like the abuela that sits among us, it's only age taking your measure.

    Well then, that’s better. I lament that it is not later in the year, for in a short time, standing right here, we could pluck great bunches of fruit with a stretch of the arm; the purple grape, milk-tinged like a newborn, and with that powdered talc feel that announces nature never-before-touched. And when each taut orb of a grape is set free from its cluster, you would know that I do not lie when I say that it would eclipse the face of your wristwatch.

    Imagine how your mouth and tongue would negotiate such a grape. Born between parted lips, its disconcerting roundness would evoke tongue-tip exploration. Cupped by the mouth, and compressed by the tongue, first one way, then another, the grape would spin and evade capture.

    What I tell you, my traveler, is that these are not grapes for the hurried and vacant-eyed to throw at their mouths like shriveled raisins. No, these are grapes for the patient. They should be cultivated with care, so that embedded bitter seeds of disappointment can be pried loose from flesh and expelled.

    I have heard it said that there are grapes that come without seeds. I would sooner expect that I should remove stones from my field, over a season's bent toil, and not find more breaching stones when next plow is wed to mule.


    How do you find Batopilas? It has been days since we have packed our burros with produce for the two-hour journey. I have never been one for town life, but it surely beckons the young and buries the old.

    I marvel at how many stalks of broom are expended to sweep clean the narrow sidewalks, and how many buckets of river water are carried, two at a time, to dampen the clay-packed streets. Each resident and shopkeeper along the town's single road tends his stretch with a care born of necessity. The pilgrimage of provision-laden trucks kick-up great wakes of dust that shrouds all in a dim brown vestment. So the daily plaintive scratching of broom continues, as does the periodic casting of water, as if it were a fisherman's net.

    The dirt before my door, beneath our feet, is firm and clean, and no foot or hoof will cause the least inconvenience. I take up iron hoe over broom, and all that we cast are seeds to fatten our chickens. Work here is to produce nature's bounty and not to banish the tailings of what some would consider progress.”

    Image by R.A.S: Rancho
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