Sabal Palm Sanctuary: Greeters and Witnesses at the Border–A Pandemia Chronicle

[I somehow lost the previous entry of this post and have tried to reconstruct it here. Of course, there has been some time that’s passed in between, so, I have given it some additional thoughts. I believe the essence of the original intent remains. I hope you agree.]

Much about borders has been ado about drama of invasion. Never mind that most–well, all–humans who inhabit the lands we call “America” and the lands we call “the Americas” have witnessedassault and invasion, conquest and su the millenia we like to call history. It seems we like to violate each other’s boundaries as a matter of course. It shouldn’ surprise that settng up boundaries–a perceived right to privacy where we can conduct whatever busness we believe we should conduct; egregious, laudable, mostly self-absorbed–is tantamount to saying “we are the real people”, everyone else is our guest or, more likely, enemy. And, it shouldn’t further surprise that we have been very good setting up proper boundaries for ourselves where we are always clear about who and how others violate them, but less clear when we violate others, especially when it is we’ve felt slighted in their recognition of our own.

What a piece of work we are; a tangled web we weave designed in practice to deceive. . .ourselves.

I visited the Sabal Palm Sanctuary, a place that has witnessed human capacity to create boundaries, borders where only a river teeming with life all around it existed. Sabal palms of the kind here are unique old growth palmetto mexicana, the only ones of their kind on this side of border of the Rio Grande River. For millenia, these trees witnessed a flowing river, were nourished by its waters and sheltered multitudes of fauna, migrating birds, quadripeds large and small. The first humans to come here were likey the Atanaquaypacam, one of many groups of Northern Mexico and Southern Texas eventually named Coahuiltec by the Spanish and who lived in this region. Coahuiltec is a word from that language meaning “people who live in between the trees and among them”.

The Spanish called this region “El Seno Mexicano”, Seno is a word for “breast”; fitting, especially for the lower Rio Grande as the river seems to nourish the land much like “mother’s milk”. I can imagine the Atanaguaypacam living in between and among the palm groves benefitting from the river and the land it nourished. Indeed, the Sabal Palm was a source of food for humans on the river. It’s core root, the “heart of palm”, like other palm trees, is edible and is now a delicacy enjoyed throughout the world.

The Sabal Palm groves are an idyllic place, calm as they seem to watch over the river and its history. People like the Atanaguaypacam lived mostly to survive and like their counterparts across the region, were often encroached upon by various “empires”, the Huastecans, Mayans, Aztecs from the south and, in later times, the Apache and Tonkawa (pressured by the Comanche) from the north. Of course, the greatest source of destruction in this region was the coming, first of the Spanish and then all the other iterations of Europeans. All empires seeking to “do better” with the land that these early “Paleo-Indians” (as they are now called) inhabited for many centuries if not thousands of years.

And, the Sabal Palms have born witness to this slow turning of a river of life into a line in river sand demarcating which group of later immigrants have laid claim to which side of its banks.

I grew up here at a time when the border was much more . . . .flexible in its conception. Like the stream of water flowing into the sea nourishing the land through which it passed, a stream of humans would pass across into each other’s “lands” conducting the business of commerce, loving. . .living.

The harshness that the palms have come to witness is palpable with rising of metal “vegetation” sprouting out in front of them like spikes impaling land and sky. And, now the river can only be enjoyed through those prison bars. The palms incarcerated in their role as greeters, witnesses to the mark of hatred holding the world out and keeping people who seem to find solace in their boundaries in.

There remains a light of hope: There are bridges. Those bridges can become gateways. I think the gateways are best seen as windows to bring in light to an ever darkening world beset by the fallacy that we are not one people when in fact we are. The palmetto mexicana may yet witness a better day. Where the light may return to the dark and the sound of welcome joins with it.

6 thoughts on “Sabal Palm Sanctuary: Greeters and Witnesses at the Border–A Pandemia Chronicle

  1. Hi Manuel, I read some of the posted comments, and I want to say that I did not interpret your writing about Sabal Palm Sanctuary in the same way that Vivian did. I did not see any personal “swiping,” just your honest commentary about something I happen to agree with you about. Also, I did not see the “doesn’t seem to fit the rest of the peace” either. I happen to believe that a person can write about the same topic with different points of view or different emotions in whatever way they choose. For me, it doesn’t necessarily create conflict. Just different perspectives, which is wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Darlene I appreciate the way different people look at my work and see it in different ways.
      Ultimately, I am flattered by the kind of reactions I receive from my writing. I also think that it is fair to see this post from a more personal perspective. It was a part of my point that historical antagonisms can arise in our personal interactions, especially when people interact across often contrary even counterposing world views and different experiences. I do know that my writing is much affected both by what I’ve experienced personally and what I’ve learned socially and historically. This new journey is very much about these intersections and how I hope to grow as well as to learn.


  2. Thank you for the response, Manuel. I understand what you are saying. I agree that the personal perspective is a part of the whole, and very important in your writing.


  3. Good Lord. What a piece, Manuel. The things these palms have witnessed, and give witness to still. “something there is that does not love a wall. That wants it down.” There are people who respond to their constant fear by erecting walls against the “danger” which is most often illusion. There are others, however, who risk everything to reach out beyond their fear, and they are the ones to build the new world. It’s the time of monsters. We have to stare them down. You are a builder. And it is an honor to know you.


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