Alive in the Land of Myth

 

by John Tyler Connoley

April 20, 2004

 

I've met Cain and Abel. They're alive and well, and living in New Mexico. I stayed at Cain's house last weekend, and I'm sad to report the two are still fighting.

 

Abel, as you may remember, is a rancher. At one time he herded sheep, but now he raises cattle. He lets them run free-range across the New Mexican landscape. It's a good life, though hard. God seems to favor him, and he's prospering. Unfortunately, his cattle tend to range a little too far sometimes. The black ones have been known to wander onto the highway at night, which can be a problem in this day of fast-moving automobiles. All of them have a tendency to break into yards and eat things they're not supposed to, which is Cain's main beef (pun intended).

 

Cain, as you know, is a farmer. He retired to New Mexico because he's tired of roaming. He's been working the earth around his house (a former mining claim) for the past ten years and he has a pretty good garden going. Of course, it's hard work growing a garden in New Mexico. He has to capture the runoff from his gutters and recycle his bath and dishwater. The drought has made things even tougher and the crops haven't been great, but Cain is proud of what he's accomplished. That's why he doesn't want Abel's cows messing things up. As Cain puts it, "If that damn rancher doesn't keep his cattle under control, I'm gonna do something about 'em myself." I'm pretty sure Cain doesn't have homicide on his mind this time, but I wouldn't put bovicide past him.

 

New Mexican license plates claim this is the Land of Enchantment, and it's true there's magic in the earth out here -- in the shimmering deserts, the bubbling hot springs, the rising mountains, and the craggy red outcroppings. However, my impression of New Mexico is that it's the Land of Myth. This is a place where myths (those stories that are more real than history) continue to live and be told. It's not just Cain and Abel; it's the whole ethos of this nearly wild country.

 

Out east and in Europe they have History, capitol H. They have Magna Cartas and Declarations of Independence. But here on the edge of the developing world -- so close to prehistory -- we have stories that are bigger than mere fact. In Silver City, we have Billy the Kid, Madame Millie, and all manner of mining stories -- tales that remind us who we are and what we believe. That's the mythic nature of the Old West.

 

Take the Old West story of Hidalgo, for instance: Most reviewers writing about that Touchstone picture missed the truth of it. They got sidetracked by whether Frank T. Hopkins really could have participated in a 3,000-mile race across the Middle East. They argued that the portrayal of the Sioux massacre wasn't historical, and that Hopkins was really just a Philadelphia ditch digger with a big imagination. But any New Mexican cowboy could tell you that Frank's stories were real, whether or not they were exactly factual. Fact is, those stories happened, happen, and will always happen out here.

 

In the movie Hidalgo, old-world purebred stuffiness gets beat by American mongrel ingenuity. That's true in Hidalgo County, NM, as well. In the movie, grit and love overcome money and power. Yup, that's true too. And the government can't be trusted, whether it's American military or Islamic fiefdom. Well, that goes without saying. Which brings us to a truly New Mexican tale -- the Roswell incident.

 

Again, this is a story that's bigger than mere facts. The people out here tell, retell, rethink, and tell again the story of the alien crash landing and the government cover-up because it's true, not because it's factual. Who knows what really happened in that field in 1947? What we do know is that there is something more intelligent than us everyday humans -- at least we certainly hope so. And that intelligence, if it's not careful, will be whisked away by the powerful to laboratories and secret underground facilities where it will be used for nefarious purposes. It may not have happened exactly like Mac Brazel told it, but you can be sure it happened, and will happen again. Cain understands that, and so does Abel, but I'll bet their younger brother Seth doesn't.

 

Seth moved to the area fairly recently. You probably don't know much about him other than his name, so I'll give you a little background. Seth was born much later than Cain the farmer, and Abel the rancher. He's one of those modern industrial entrepreneurs. He doesn't go in for stories and such, but he sure knows how to move money around and make things happen. He likes hard facts, and statistics that he can manipulate with a spreadsheet. He's been lobbying to do some natural gas drilling on Abel's land, and he's planning to build a retirement community down the road from Cain. There's some trouble of mythic proportions brewing.

 

Too bad Seth doesn't believe in myths -- only history -- and he doesn't seem to see what's coming. Of course, the rest of us in this Land of Myth know how the story ends. We've heard it before, and we're pretty sure we'll hear it again.

 

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Copyright 2004 by John Tyler Connoley

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