El Indio Days
I always thought that "El Indio" was about the prettiest name you could have for a little town, even if it wasn't much of a little town. I never learned what it meant.
One of the best things about El Indio was the folks that I met there. They were good people and I got along fine with all of them. It helped that I couldn't speak their language, which relieved me of the social obligation of having to politely engage in meaningless conversation. That was just fine with me, since talking to people was something I could happily do without for days on end.
The local diet consisted of various kinds of meat, eggs, and beans, all rolled up in flour tortilla. Cold beer and jars-full of jalapeņo peppers always supported this fare. That suited me right down to the ground.
The chemical dealer who contracted my work at El Indio was Dealin' Don, whose acquaintance I had made during the infamous herbicide incident. A man of bountiful good will, a child-like sense of forgiveness, and an eagle's eye for business, he had made his peace with me and provided me with a considerable amount of work south of the Balconies escarpment and east of the Rio Grande. He always referred to my operation on that tail-end strip of highway as "El Indio International Airport."
When I inherited that skinny little tail-end strip of asphalt leading into the brush country south of El Indio, I immediately set about making improvements. I cut the weeds and chopped down a few bushes along the edge of the road, and set claim to a turnoff that led through a broken gate to a mesquite-infested little ranch. That old ranch road made a perfect place for me to set up a mixing rig and park my airplane. That little turn-off road became my base of operation, my headquarters.
The road that led through that gate had long since been overgrown, but I could still see where it led to an abandoned ranch house about half a mile off the highway. It was setting on a slight rise of ground, and half-a-dozen ancient live oak trees spread out their massive limbs over its corrugated iron roof. Flying over that old ranch house I could see that it had been uninhabited for years.
One afternoon I walked up that road and paid a visit to that old house. I wandered through the four rooms, and puzzled at the few scant scraps of life that had been left behind. I stood in those barren rooms and wondered those things that all of us wonder when we visit old abandoned houses. That front porch was deep, and stretched all the way across the front of the house. The porch was bigger than any of the rooms, and it drew a gentle breeze along its full length.
The yard fence was broken down, and the barn and corral were tumbled and completely grown-up with brush. A wooden wind-mill tower still stood erect, but the blades of the wind-wheel were broken and folded over double.
That was a fine old ranch house. It was stout and barren, without pretense of luxury, with only the wind to stir the memories through it's bare and empty rooms.
I sat on that long front porch and leaned against one of the cedar posts that supported its roof. I felt strangely at home. I sat there for a long time and felt a sweet peace of warmth and quietness slowly pass across my mind. Looking off to the west I could see where the broken pastures sloped down to where the river meandered behind wooded banks. Beyond, the plains of Mexico stretched into the misty foothills of the Sierras. A warm summer breeze moved softly through the live oak trees and brushed against the hairs of my barren arms. Unexpectedly, I felt a deep sense of belonging. I felt as though I had returned to a place for which I had known years of homesickness.
That old ranch house wanted me to come and live in it. And as I sat there on that barren porch I felt a deep longing to remain, to turn my back upon the world and come to that little ranch along the Rio Grande. I felt an overwhelming desire to yield to the call of that empty house, to bring my lonely life to live inside those lonely rooms.
But I did not remain. I walked back down that overgrown road and continued to live the life of a tramp crop-duster pilot, following the seasons, working the crops, making a livelihood as best I could.
If I had had good sense, I would have found me a sweet little Mexican girl and settled down for life in that old abandoned ranch house right at the end of my own private EL Indio International Airport.
But I didn't. Either one.