chapter 25

El Indio

    El Indio is a town on the Rio Grande River about 20 miles south of

Eagle Pass. It is one of those places that would have to be on the short list

for the title, "The End of the Earth." It would rank right up there with

Timbuktu, and Perth, and Dutch Harbor. Only it is smaller, and more

obscure than any of those places. In fact, El Indio would have to be on the

short list of towns for the title, "Places at the end of the earth that nobody

ever heard of."

    It was one of my favorite places.

    El Indio seemed to me to be more of an irrigation network than a town.

There was some sort of legal entity that had built a network of irrigation

canals for miles along the river. This organization controlled the water,

and sold it, and managed it. There probably was some kind of store at El

Indio, but I don't remember one. I never thought of El Indio as a town. To

me, it was always a general location along that part of the river. A little

farming community spread out along a narrow line of asphalt, along the

Rio Grande.

    That little line of asphalt that ran through El Indio fizzled out after six

or eight miles. Over the years, the tail end of that little strip of asphalt

had become the acknowledged landing strip for whatever wandering

crop-duster pilot could be bribed into showing up there for work.

    Compared to other farming areas up and down the river, El Indio was

not at all thought of as choice territory for a spray operation. There wasn't

anywhere near enough work there to support even one airplane full-time.

    So through the years, for 30 years before my time, other pilots had

come to that little tail end strip of asphalt to work for a day, or two, or a

week. And then they had moved on, perhaps to return at a later time,

perhaps not.

    I met two or three of those men, the old-timers who had flown those

fields before me. But there had to have been others. Men who had flown

Travel-Airs, or Wacos, or maybe even Jennies. Men who had come there

many years before me. Men whose memories, whose stories, have passed

on forever.

    I was fascinated by the lost stories of those men who had flown those

fields before me. I wondered if their lives had been as varied, as

complicated, and as uncertain as my own. What compulsion, I wondered,

had brought them into the fields along that river.

    I will always wonder why those other pilots came to El Indio. Why

would any man come to that little spot along the Rio Grande, set his tires

upon that narrow tail-end strip of asphalt, and play out a few days of his

life flying over those raggedy little fields of cotton, and corn, and grain?

    I often wished that I could talk to those men. I wished that I could learn

the barest little bit about their lives. The barest little bit about their

thoughts. The barest little bit about the reasons that had brought them to

that singular place where one day I too would come to use up a few days

of my life.

    And in writing this story that I call "El Indio," it is not because I have

anything of particular importance to write about. I have no strange tale to

tell. No big adventure. No story of love, or tragedy, or of human conflict. I

have really no story at all.

    But I do have a clear memory flowing in my mind. A memory of many

years ago. A memory of my youth, and that lonely, soul-satisfying strip of

land nestled there along the river. For I left a few days of my life along

that little strip of ground. A few days each year, for several years.

    Perhaps someday another man will find his life leading to that place

called El Indio. Perhaps he will fly an airplane across those fields, or walk

along that river, or drive along that little road that loses itself in the wild

country to the south. Perhaps he will come that way, living up the days of

his life, and wonder of the man who might have passed that way so many

years before.

    And the man he will be wondering about will be me.

    And I am writing these stories for him.

    I am writing for the man who might someday find himself drawn along

such back roads of the world. Perhaps if he can learn how my life turned

and twisted and somehow led to that forgotten little stretch of river, he

will be better able to understand how he too came to be drawn into that

lonely land.

    So my story of El Indio is really no story at all. It's just a memory of

how I used up a little bit of my life in one of those places at the very end

of the earth that nobody ever heard of.

 

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