On the way up from Mexico one time and feeling the need for more connection with my ancestral roots, I stopped in Mogollon, New Mexico where my great-grandfather and grandfather worked a silver mine at the end of the 19th Century. Mogollon—pronounced the New Mexican way as Moh–gah–yówn (as in “own”)— is a ghost town with something like seventeen full-time families, down from 3,000–6,000 during the boom years. It lies in a rugged canyon tucked in between the Apache-Sitgreaves and the Gila National Forests.
I walked around alone, listening, looking for messages, signs my people might have left for me. I picked my way through the rotten timbres of miners’ cabins. I worked my way up onto the side of the canyon and looked down at the town, trying to get a sense of my history from above, brooding, sweating,and suffering from ancestor-deficit disorder, when I saw the biggest goddamn rattle snake I have ever seen, picture books included. (I attribute this sudden outburst of miner’s language to possibly the only influence left behind by these two male ancestors.)
The snake lay coiled and twitching a few feet in front of me–just about where I was planning to plant my next step. He wasn’t as thick as my wrist, but very close to it.
A chill slid up my back, my face flushed–both, I think, from the kind of embarrassment one feels when nearly making a fatal mistake. I had almost not seen him, and so I quickly studied the ground around me, fearing I might be standing in a nest of his brothers and sisters. When I established that he and I were alone, I back up a step and took out my camera—documentation for my family tree?—and took a photo of him. The view into the ancestral canyon no longer interested me. I put the camera away and carefully picked up two long branches that, over the years, had fallen from the pines around me. And with these, like a blind man, I tapped the ground in front of me as I chose my retreat.
I was a man of my own purpose now, snapped out of my brooding and hoping to put distance between me and all of them–the snakes, as well as my mute ancestors. The Fathers who left no traces.
I think something like Coincidence–coiled and impersonal–had chosen to intervene, perhaps to give me a signal that I should wake up and pay attention to where I was going, get along with my life, and stop moping around on the sides of hot wet canyons, where I didn’t belong any more than my grandfather and his father had, back then, at the turn of century. In the time of silver, and no knowledge of me.