Some years ago, I had one of my famously odd dreams. Normally I wouldn’t share them with anyone outside of my family, but this one is rather hard to shake. It sticks with me to this day.
So with your indulgence, here it goes…
I was returning from a trip to Dallas in an airplane and we were beginning our final approach to El Paso. Now, everyone who has flown knows what the view is out the window as you begin to descend into the Borderland, but this time it was way different.
As I turned to look out the window as I normally would, I noticed that I was much MUCH older. The reflection that greeted me in the oval window was more like my paternal grandfather than me, but that was just the first stunning thing I saw.
Looking past my 90-something reflection in the window, we were just clearing the mountains northeast of Guadalupe Peak. Instead of being greeted by a wide-open desert, there were homes. Thousands of homes, and streets, and businesses and even a light rail line. The plane then banked slightly right.
As I looked across the aisle, past the empty seats and through the other window the same dull gray criss-cross stretched to the horizon, topped by a brown haze. As the aircraft continued to descend, I could make out individual homes and apartment complexes. Acre after acre of solid development.
Crossing the ridge line just north of Horizon City, there stood the two wind turbines, surrounded by homes. East Montana was a blur of beige boxes, with the occasional huge blue-green roofed big box or strip mall.
Surrounded by these small boxes, Hueco Tanks stood out as a reddish-brown landmark, with homes on either side of the road leading to the park. I believe I even spotted a high school, replete with a football field about a mile from the park.
It was at this time that I lowered the shade on the window and felt a profound sadness.
As I sat on that nearly-empty airplane flying into a truly bustling and booming El Paso, my thoughts were to try and recapture the city of my youth. Of being able to be stuck in a traffic jam on I-10 and Lee Trevino and being able to look up and see sky.
In my mind’s eye, in that future airplane ride, I struggled to remember the sand hills that existed before the Tinseltown Movie theaters did; or the sandy ridge that once looked out over the city before Cielo Vista Mall was built.
I could hear my long-dead Grandfather talking about hauling gravel and sand from the pit that became Bassett Place. And how he told me of the long drives through the desert and cotton fields just to get to Ysleta, and then to El Paso.
But now there was no desert, no scrub. Just concrete and boxes and fake grass. Even the once empty training fields of Forth Bliss, dotted with creosote bushes and bisected by dirt roads was gone. Forever.
On that plane, as it banked and rapidly approached the multi-story, multi-runway jetport known as El Paso International, I wished there was some way I could go back and tell myself to enjoy the desert one last time.
I turned back toward my window and sadly raised the shade. There, on the nightstand, was my alarm clock. In my mind, I could still see my reflection gazing back at me with sad eyes and worried hands. Wishing for one last stroll or drive through the desert.
I’m all for progress and expansion, but we really need to take stock now. The desert isn’t empty nor is it something to be pushed and plowed over simply because there’s room to grow.
We need to stop and think about where we’re going now, before we wake up on that far-away plane and realize that we lost a lot of things along the way.