I came to this town to get pregnant. I achieved that. Thirty years ago, roaming Gringo Road with my cattle dogs and a baby, I looked across the valley to Red Mountain. She has the profile of a sleeping, pregnant woman, and I thought that she was my patron saint, La Santa Roja Sueno, the one who watches over single mothers and their babes.
Unfortunately, the beautiful red color of Red Mountain is the geological result of its copper and mineral content. Karma is coming for the mountain, and for me.
I want to tell you the tale of a horned toad. We have a special species in Santa Cruz County. They are a little redder than others. One toad lived on a nice gently sloping hill several miles from the town of
Patagonia, surrounded by mesquite trees and oaks, with plenty of ants to eat. He had a nice view of the rocky peaks across the canyon. All was well. Until…
One day a woman came walking up the hill. She stopped on the gentle rise and admired the view. I could live here, she thought. I’d build my dream house with a big rock fireplace, and every morning I would look out my big picture windows at the rocky peak. My children and grandchildren would play here. The oaks below would be perfect to walk the dogs. A raven would nest in the tallest oak. The only sounds would be the wind. Only two other houses could be seen, far across the canyon. Yes, I would love to live here.
And so it came to pass. She bought the land and planned a road leading from the oaks and the creek below up to the gentle slope. She met the horned toad. They had always been her favorite animal. When she was a kid in Durango and Farmington, she would catch them and rub their stomachs, putting them into a coma.
She caught this toad, rubbed his stomach, and told him that she was glad he lived on this beautiful hill.
Then they graded the land. Not a lot of it, just enough for the house foundation.
And the toad was never seen again.
I am that woman, fortunate to live in the canyon with the oaks and the ravens.
But I have never seen the horned toad again, and in all the years I have lived in Flux Canyon, in all the walks up every canyon and ridge for miles, I have never seen a horned toad again.
The horned toad had a great place to live. He was king of his hill. But I was bigger, and stronger, with money for a bulldozer. He had to go.
So now there’s a mining company up on Red Mountain. They want to dig a mile deep into the earth above our town to pull out zinc and lead and copper. They want to provide 500 jobs for people from other places to come here to our little 1000 person town. The investors will make money for 20 years, and then the jobs and the money will go away.
But in the meanwhile they will take the water out of Alum Canyon, just above my dream house, for a pond to run their operations, drawing nearly a million gallons a day. When they are through processing the ore with their chemicals, they will leak their acid mine drainage (“treated” of course) into Alum Creek. This is the creek that runs through my property, down beneath the oaks.
My water will be sucked dry. The oaks are already stressed from drought and global warming. They will die, one by one. Whatever else is still alive will be poisoned by the acid drainage. I asked the mine manager if he would come drink my “treated” acid water, and he said of course. But he will be long gone by then. (He’s already gone.)
The Arizona Departments of Environmental Quality and Water Resources have issued permits for the water and the acid. I ask them how can they do that, when we all know you can never replace water when it’s gone, and the acid will be there when humans are gone from the earth.
But the Mine, they are bigger and stronger than I am. They have the Mining Law of 1872, and an administration that wants to use all resources regardless of environmental damage, behind them. They have foreign investors with money. They have bulldozers.
Today I am the toad. Karma has come full circle. There will be no more horned toads, no more oaks, and no more dream homes, in my canyon. The sleeping woman weeps.