I might have been born in the blackest part of
the night in a train car rattling across the Sierra Madre Occidental. The
night was like a tunnel around the train, the train moving through the
night or the night rushing past the train.
The mathematics of the human body
defied my mother, she, who found all logic in numbers on a page. It was
evident to her that she was going to have her baby on the train. She was
alone and without companion, but for an ancient Mexican woman, swathed in
the coarse black rebozo of widowhood.
The old woman was not happy. She
made it clear that my mother must wait, she must do anything possible to
have the baby after the train reached the next town.
"A baby born on a train is
born restless," she muttered, or so my mother, with her classroom
knowledge of classical Spanish translated.
Regardless of my impatience, she
held my mother's hand throughout the ordeal, and was the first human to
touch my blood-wet skin. The birth was easy; the women delighted. It might
have been three generations meeting for the first time.
Perhaps it was the crushed herbs
the old woman fed my mother from beneath her desert-dusty, black
wrappings, but when she told me the story it was not quite clear in her
mind...the train, the high desert sky ablaze with the cold light of
ancient stars, the old, old woman, and the warning.
The train was only a foreshadowing
of the vagabond life to come for me. I spent the early part of my life
trailing along in the wake of my father's quest, a geologist following the
precious metal trail. My mother did not look up from her calculations to
realize that as he searched the arid canyons of exotic lands, I was
surrounded by an addictive influence I would never recover from.
How could they guess, even suspect
that the arroyos and plateaus told me secrets that had nothing to do with
soil tests and lab reports? All their lives they looked at me and wondered
what had happened; how could any child of theirs spring so far from the
technical and scientific?
What did they expect of a child
born to be restless, a child whose feet could never be tied to the earth?