The Dodge Ram scrambles over rocks and rain-hewn ditches; water gallons and bean cans jostle in the truck bed. I gaze out the window, stretch my pointer fingers and thumbs then hold my hands catty-corner to pretend I’m making postcards. Snap!—everything gold, gilded.
The sinking-sun landscape looks like one of those photo essays from Arizona Highways I leaf through in the library. The Altar Valley is amber with cholla and prickly pear, acacia and mesquite trees. The dusk casts miniature, scattered mountain ranges in vermilions and mauves. Baboquivari’s cuspate peak stands sentinel above it all, so backlit that it looks like its cut out of black construction paper.
Golden hour is seductive enough to lure me towards forgetting. I pull myself back, remind myself that the recent history of this desert is a catalogue of predacious desire for aurum, Au, the metal that shines like the sun:
1540: Coronado (arrogant, silver-plated) searches the Southwest for Cíbola, the legendary city of gold. He finds no such city but still plunders towns and villages, leaving death and destruction in his Spanish wake.
Pima County, 1774: Manuel Lopez, a Spanish holy man, forces a group of Tohono O’odham to extract gold from the Quijotoa Mountains. Thus begins gold mining in Arizona.
1877: White settlers open the Montana Mine in Ruby, Arizona. Until 1940, when it’s abandoned, residents extract gold, silver, lead, zinc, and copper from the mine.
(Ruby is now one of the two best-preserved mining ghost towns in Arizona according to Wikipedia, twenty-five-odd buildings scattered on a hillside below the gaping mine mouth. The mine is home to thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats that swirl into the darkening summer sky, going north-south-east-west in search of bugs, disregarding the nearby cattle fence that splits two countries like a wound.)
Then there’s my own white, middle-class childhood. 1994: I’m five, in a pink-painted bedroom just north of New York City, thousands of miles from this dusty border. My father reads to me from My First Book of Fairy Tales. The illustrations are full of golden objects–the giant’s eggs in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. After he finishes a story, my father asks, “What’s the golden rule?” and I respond, well taught, “He who has the gold makes the rules.” It’s his favorite punchline. We laugh, oblivious to how it implicates us.
The princesses in the volume have locks so burnished they seem incendiary–like they might, at any moment, burst into flame.
This Editor’s Note was written by Tiny Donkey Founding Editor Wren Awry. Photograph by Margaret KIlljoy.