Mark J. Hainds records his experiences on a 1,000 mile walk along the Texas – Mexico Border in a new travelogue: Border Walk.
Mark’s easygoing narrative is funny, educational, and relevant given current border issues in the U.S. and Mexico. Not only did he come through unscathed by border violence, but Mark illustrates the true nature of this culturally diverse region as quiet, rural and friendly. Even the big border towns of El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville–maligned by tweeters and journalists as dangerous hell-holes–are shown to be relatively benign and mostly friendly. Mark gives statistics about the lower rates of crime in all three cities compared with past decades. While he does observe border-crossers, some with backpacks purportedly filled with illegal drugs, it is just a small aspect of the life of families, border patrol officers, and small business-owners along this infamous border.
Mark’s exceptional observations emanate from his knowledge of rural areas of America. He grew up on a small farm in Alabama the state where he resides with his wife and children, and where he served as a Research Associate at Auburn University and Research Coordinator of The Long Leaf Alliance. Mark is a forester, hunter, farmer and explorer.
The book is filled with stories of weird events and strange sights such as the business in the middle of nowhere that sells Prada shoes and bags. However, the merchandise if filled with tarantulas! It’s a spoof manufactured by some locals with a strange sense of humor who Mark later meets.
Mark notices the condition of the land and wildlife and shares his knowledge with us along the way. We are introduced to the ecology of the landscapes and its geology as he advances step by step over its contours. Usually walking about 20-25 miles a day, we learn about the daily toll that takes on feet, joints, and mental stamina. His support crew, the Compadres, are friends from around the country, some are naturalists, others outdoorsmen. When he is at his last ounce of energy– hot, tired and aching–they show up with a cold beer. Man, what a sight for sore eyes!
The Compadres come in waves to meet up with Mark, drive him to a hotel, hot shower and deadman’s sleep. These intrepid friends scout out the roads and trails, provided sustenance, and generally serve as a back-up crew. There are a lot of notable meals and merry-making along the way–much of it provided free by community people who are thrilled about Mark’s long walk and his interest in knowing the real communities and people who make up the U.S. – Mexico border region. After a while the Border Patrol and locals have already heard about the man walking the border, and they are ready with information, food, and offers to put him up for the night. The outpouring of friendliness is recorded in spades throughout the book. It makes you feel so good about the border people on both sides.
Why the differing attitudes on safety and life along the border? From my limited experience in the border cities, where the vast majority of the population resides, reality did not match up with perceptions held by the rest of the country. The statistics simply didn’t support the perceived threat. from Border Walk, p. 238
Mark shares data from an FBI report that lists four cities with the lowest crime rates in 2010: Phoenix, San Diego, El Paso, and Austin — all four border states! Mark does point out that people living along active smuggling corridors perceive crime to be very high. But these are far and few between the vast stretches of land that comprise most of the border region. He laughs at the thought of a border wall as he struggles to climb the peaks and plumb the valleys of remote regions where there are no viable roads needed to bring in materials to construct such a monstrosity.
Like the border areas, Mark’s book is quietly profound. In its readable pages, a general impression dawns slowly in the reader’s awareness: the border if NOT what we think it is. It’s a truly unique part of both countries, and families living along it go back and forth on a weekly basis sharing resources and appreciating each country’s food, language, and ways of life. A huge business exchange takes place all along the border, and its mostly not drugs.
Mark’s next book will continue the saga as he walks from the Texas to California border regions. On that segment I was privileged to be part of Mark’s support team in Southern Arizona along with my friend Tom. See Mark’s Facebook Page.