By Robert Samuelsen

The southeastern corner of Pima County is the dividing line of four different ecosystems – the Rockies, the Sierra Madres, the Sonoran Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert. While the dividing lines aren’t distinctly obvious, each biome has its unique characteristics. It’s interesting to be living in an ecological melting pot of biodiversity, because Vail is the four corners of ecosystems. Similarly, the intersection of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona mark a geopolitical four corners which is visible on maps but not on the terrain.

There is another dividing line, the International Boundary, which used to be north, but is now south of Vail. The line moved in 1854 with the Treaty of Mesilla signed by James Gadsden, US ambassador to Mexico and Antonia Lopez de Santa Anna, President of Mexico. Geronimo, the renegade Apache marauder of the Apache wars, quickly learned about this same imaginary line over which pursuing armies would not cross. Using it to his advantage, if he raided north, he would escape to the south and if he raided south, he would escape to the north. Each time, the troops would conveniently stop at that invisible line allowing for a graceful escape for him and his band. Over time, Geronimo learned that the line was the International Boundary between Mexico and the United States, which neither army could cross.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time exploring the area of the Gadsden Purchase. Whether I’m exploring mountains, mines, or watercourses, inevitably I find evidence of geopolitical, cultural, and racial diversity in that same borderland. Some years ago, I spent a day gathering hundreds of pounds of discarded backpacks, water bottles, jackets, and shoes from a nearby riverbed. As migrants are picked up, they leave behind their sole possessions at the predetermined rendezvous point. Another time while hiking I came across bleached and scattered human bones from a victim of the treacherous migration. More recently while traveling through the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Preserve, I saw the commercial evidence of migration entrepreneurs who sell packages of camo-clothing and carpet shoes (shoes with carpeted soles that don’t leave tracks) to migrants wanting to blend in to avoid detection.

I observed the officious efforts by the border patrol to outwit the clever coyotes (“coyotes” are human traffickers) with tire drags, detectors, and optics. I also witnessed the awkward association between Homeland Security and humanitarian aid groups. Weirdly, there would be an electronic surveillance tower next to a benevolent barrel of survival water. Somehow, they coexist!

It was because of this cognitive dissonance that I thought about the invisible lines of Vail’s ecological four corners. I pondered what might happen if we put walls between the biomes, hired paramilitary to thwart cross contamination, and sequestered violators. How dare that saguaro seed venture into the Chihuahuan grasslands! Is it not part of nature to creep, adapt, and crossbreed?

As I travelled through the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Preserve, I also followed the border wall. That same invisible line Geronimo used to his advantage is now visible as far as the eye can see – a fifty feet tall barrier of posts and steel. It’s a formidable obstacle to genetic diversity of the endangered Sonoran Pronghorn and its predators, yet it is a minor inconvenience to the savvy refugees who traverse it in seconds with grappling hooks and ladders. Paradoxically, the visible line defeats the biome but fails the purpose for which it was constructed.

As brutal as it is, the predator-prey relationship keeps the herd strong and the predator healthy. This may be true for ungulates and humans alike. Ross Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety states that we need as much variety in our armory as may threaten us. The question is whether we’re winning or not.

Note: This is not meant to be a political statement. It is merely a thought-provoking observation by one who sees too much and knows too little.

Rob Samuelsen is an executive and adventurer supported by his long-suffering but supportive wife!

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