March 31, 2017 – Warrior Spirit

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During the beginning of Semana Santa, I got to witness the interesting mixture of the Tarahumara’s indigenous spiritual beliefs with the Catholicism that was brought by the Spaniards in the 16th Century. The whole community pours into the courtyard in front of the Mission Style church and prepare for a night-long procession. Men and boys, painted as demons, run around the church, chased by other men and boys armed with spears to drive the demons away.

It’s a sight to see, and it’s nothing I ever expected to see in Mexico. For a few moments, I felt like I was much further away from home than I actually was, and the tribal nature of these rituals seemed outlandishly foreign to me.

It made for some interesting photographs, though.

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March 30, 2017 – Tarahumara Mother

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The Rarámuri are believed to be descended from the Mogollon culture. Never conquered by the Spanish conquistadors or fully converted by the Jesuit missionaries, their history is filled with stories of resistance, flight, and warfare against European conquerors. In the early 17th century, the Spanish had established mines in Tarahumara territory and made slave raids to obtain workers for the mines. The discovery of the mines of Parral, Chihuahua, in 1631 increased Spanish presence in Tarahumara lands, bringing more slave raids and Jesuit missionaries.

In 1648, the Tarahumara waged war against the Spanish, destroying several missions. The Tarahumara of the northern territories formed the strongest resistance, driving the Jesuits and Spanish settlers from the area.

There is a stoicism to the Tarahumara people. They live simple lives and work hard. They are peaceful, experiencing little-to-no violence or crime in their ranks. They have survived against crushing odds and maintain their own unique traditions, spirituality, and language, which is no small feat considering the history of the territory.

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March 29, 2017 – Tribe

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A bumpy truck ride, hitchhiking through the hills outside of Urique, I made my way out to a location called Guadalupe Coronado. Along gravel roads and through some terrifying curves rests a small Mission-style Church and a cluster of makeshift houses. One could scarcely believe anybody would live in this remote location, and it’s hard to image how a church of this size was built here.

Sipping a thick, creamy-looking sludge from plastic one-gallon milk jugs, another hitchhiker in the bed of the pickup handed me his beverage and insisted I take a sip. It smelled like a freshly-opened can of corn, and I was told that this is a special drink made for Semana Santa (holy week) in the Copper Canyon Region. Called Tesgüino, this is a fermented corn beer made by the Tarahumara Indians of Sierra Madre. The Tarahumara people regard the beer as sacred, forming a significant part of their society. It’s estimated that the average family spends at least 100 days per year directly concerned with the growing and manufacture of tesgüino, and Semana Santa is an event where a majority of their stock is consumed.

It didn’t taste very good, but I was honored that I was invited to imbibe with a group of strangers.

Outside the church, a group of men and boys are painted in black and white to serve as symbolic demons who want to attack the church. They whoop and holler and dance around, and rush into the church. Another group of young men, holding spears, then chase the demons out of the church. This is the beginning of holy week, and the tableaux goes on for several hours, until nightfall, when a candle-lit procession begins, and the whole community walks a specific route in and around the church until sunrise.

I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

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March 28, 2017 – Storm on the Salt River

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Last night we found ourselves somewhat stranded. Cracked radiator on the short drive from dinner in Show Low, Arizona to nearby Pinetop. Angry hissing under the hood when we arrived, with an engine running hot. This morning was a scramble of phone calls and worry, trying to get the vehicle repaired so we could get back on the road, and back home to our jobs, our lives, our responsibilities.

Dark clouds descended in the early hours of the morning, dumping sleet and snow and unexpected cold. Thrift store jackets kept our unprepared asses (somewhat) warm, and we huddled against the circumstance, resigned to what was being thrown at us. And out of the frustration and cold, an unbelievable number of kind and generous people entered our lives, sparing us long walks through the snow, giving us advice and warm food, and wishing us luck on our return journey.

Sometimes bad luck is just good luck in disguise. This short little trip didn’t go as planned – not in any way. Instead, we were thrust, vulnerable, into the arms of strangers, only to be reminded how wonderful and kind people can be. We got the Jeep repaired and made our way back south, with the winter storm on our tail. The snow turned to rain, but the dark clouds were chasing us all the way through the mountain passes and rugged canyons. The image above is the salt river canyon, right around the time we finally outran our shabby luck.

We drifted into Tucson at sun-down, purple light igniting the back-end of Mount Lemmon. It felt like we’d been gone for two weeks, instead of just two days. It was a ride. But it always feels good to get back home, even though we spend most of our time wishing we were away.

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March 27, 2017 – Pinetop Trails

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During the first (and only) full day in the Pinetop region, we were disappointed to see that a lot of the roadways were closed off. Many of them are closed down during the winter due to heavy snowstorms. We weren’t able to go to a couple of the locations we wanted, forcing us into an impromptu day-trip. Rather than following an itinerary, we drove where the mood took us.

“Should I go left or right,” she’d say as we approached a fork in the road.
“I dunno. How ’bout left?”

It’s a surefire way to see things you wouldn’t expect, including one of the most depressingly impoverished towns on the indian reservation, White River. It felt like an industrial purgatory, and it was sad to see huddled beggars kicking stones in the parking lot, asking shoppers for food and money as they brought their groceries to their car.

But in these small communities, and in the outlying primitive roads, there’s a lot of old-world beauty. As I looked through my photographs at the end of the day, I was struck by how timeless many of them looked, reminding me of old photographs I’ve picked up at estate sales, or dug out of of my grandparent’s shoe-boxes. The image above was, in particular, reminiscent of a lot of old west photographs I’ve stumbled across in my years living here in Arizona.

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Wrong Eye, Carl – The Walking Dead

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Ever shot a gun before? No? Well let me speak an obvious truth – you need to be able to look down the sights in order to hit your target. In this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, titled ‘Something They Need,’ we see a wee-little mistake, as Carl Grimes looks down the barrel with his dominant (right) eye, which doesn’t actually exist – he lost his eye after a rogue bullet glanced his face while the group was attempting to navigate through a horde of walkers in season six.

In a show celebrated for its attention to detail, this is one little example of where they dropped the ball. It’s not an indictment – it seems to me that the stance of the various characters in the scene was designed for the director of photography, for visual composition. It might not look realistic if a naturally right-eyed and right-handed actor had to pantomime or pretend at being newly handicapped, but these are the details that hardcore fans notice.

I would also reference how insanely accurate Shane was, in season two, firing his sidearm at a swinging log while trying to train Andrea – rest her soul – how to shoot. He hit his moving target, with a 9mm handgun – a moving target, at distance – every single time. A well-trained officer might be able to achieve this, but it feels unrealistic how quickly he turns from admonishing her timidity, then draws his weapon, and effortlessly & with no time to aim, hits his target –  all in a fraction of a second.

Few people are that accurate with a handgun.
Just sayin’.

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March 26, 2017 – The Road To Globe

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In another diversion from ‘Mexico in March,’ I need to break from the theme for my short little trip to Pinetop, Arizona. But hey – in an abstract kind of way, this territory was, once-upon-a-time, Mexican territory anyway.

On the long road north through Oracle and Catalina, the state route winds through a series of small mining towns, the first of which is a nearly-dead little hamlet called Mammoth. Several years ago, the smokestacks from the local smelt were dynamited and razed to the ground. Aside from local sheriffs patrolling the main roads and taking advantage of speed traps, there isn’t much here to speak of. Abandoned cars, heaps of illegally dumped garbage, and two gas stations represent most of what remains.

Once upon a time there was industry here. Today, it’s a way-station, a dusty relic from the early years of the twentieth century. Double-wide trailers and rusted pick-up trucks dot the landscape; plywood panels obstruct the busted windows of the failed and abandoned old-world businesses.

It has been about fifteen years since I passed through this territory. Even though the garbage, collapsing buildings, and general despair, I think this is a uniquely beautiful place. The trailers are rotting beer cans in the desert, corroded and sinking into the earth. The unforgiving landscape is slowly reclaiming the territory. The cops are bored and the locals, even more-so. But the expanding valley, stretching out to the north, still provides some of the most glorious sunsets a human being can witness.

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