But those stories are for another time. Today I want to tell you about a tree I encountered in the desert. On Sunday our group took a hike on some migrant trails. We were walking in the footsteps of those who are fleeing to freedom in the US. These migrant bands are often led by a guide from the Mexican Mafia. Our guide was Fr. Pete, who had spent the last 9 years exploring these paths and seeking to understand the migrant journey. Our group of 8 struggled to keep up with him as we passed through thorny bushes, overgrown grasses, and sandy riverbeds.
We finally arrived at a space that looked like it was once an overnight camp for a band of migrants. There were backpacks, sweaters, tin cans, and other debris all around us. As we took in the scene, we imagined what could have happened here and who could have been here. What were their stories? Why were they crossing? Did they make it? I noticed a little girl's pink sweater by the tree and thought, someone brought their daughter. The rusty cans told us they ate here, and the black bottles were a sign they had water with them. But why did they leave their things here? Did they get caught? Did they need to lighten their load to continue the journey? How would I decide what to leave and what to take with me?
As I played these scenarios in my mind and continued to take it all in, Fr. Pete also commented on what could have happened in this space. "We will never know what really happened here, but I do know that this was an overnight camp because when I first found this place there were women's panties and bras hanging on that tree." I looked where he pointed and found a tall-for-the-desert tree, about twice my height. It was gnarled and had some low hanging branches parallel to the ground. Its bark was dark and textured and all of the leaves were gone from its branches. Fr. Pete continued, "that is probably what we call a rape tree." The name "rape tree" tore through the sacredness of the space and I closed my eyes to brace myself for the next words. I guessed what would come next, but I didn't want it to be true. "The guides lead bands through, and when they stop, they rape the women and put their undergarments on a tree as a kind of trophy."
|The "rape tree"|
|The tree is weeping.|