Magical Realism

It’s Tuesday morning, my day with the Samaritans at el comedor. I look out the window and there are a couple of inches of snow on the ground. Big fluffy flakes are falling, and the desert is transformed into a surreal fairyland of silver and icy blue in the early morning hours. The day is fraught with the usual mayhem, as I rush around looking for my passport, scraping snow off the windshield, and rummaging through drawers searching for gloves and a warm hat. It is so quiet outside. Even the birds are silent with their feathers all puffed out to twice the size. They look like fluffy marshmallows sitting in the branches of the palo verde tree. Facing east on this crystal morning, they wait for the sun.

snowfall at the ranch

snowfall at the ranch

Driving out the gate of our ranch I spy two coyotes just meandering through the desert mesquite. They appear healthy and fat, their furry coats thick with a reddish cast. These wild creatures stop, give me eye contact, and just stand there twenty feet away. I roll down the window and we spend a moment gazing at one another until they silently stroll off into an arroyo and disappear.

I think about what draws me to living in the Sonoran desert. There is a mystical feeling to life here. Today I am seeing the world as if in a dream. The mundane and commonplace seem awesome and inexplicable. There is no logical or psychological explanation for this awareness, but my connection to the coyotes and to the beauty of the snow-covered desert this morning feels as tangible as the frozen ground beneath my feet. Reality has taken on a supernatural keenness. There is an element of surprise in the air.

Hot breakfast on a cold morning

Hot breakfast on a cold morning


Walking to the comedor today with my Samaritan colleagues is a cautious, circuitous trek through ice and mud. Construction workers are bundled up continuing their work on the expanded port of entry and the ongoing building of the wall. The digging and building and disruption is endless. Carefully making our way through the maze of temporary pedestrian paths, we hang on to each other and the barricades that are sporadically placed along the way.

When we reach the comedor, there are space heaters cranking out as much heat as they can muster, and a group of migrants are huddling inside the shelter looking cold, wet, and hungry. Many have blankets draped around them. Sister Lorena plays a short video film projected on the wall–a snow scene with Bambi and some deer frolicking in the snow. Everyone laughs at the incongruous scene of snow and deer, and it feels good to be in this room of people making the best of an uncomfortable situation. The mood is upbeat as we pass out the plates of beans, eggs, and a chicken pasta dish.

Clean up after breakfast

Clean up after breakfast

Then Sister Lorena turns on the CD player and “Ode to Joy,” the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, fills the room. To my surprise, most of the migrants hum along with the melody. The whole room seems elevated as we work alongside the migrants cleaning up the breakfast dishes. The comforting smell of coffee permeates the damp cold. The migrants leave the shelter wearing the gloves, socks and jackets that we have brought this week. The sun is beginning to peek through the grey of this frigid morning. There is magic in the air. My ordinary life today seems extraordinary.

Mexican, Not Hispanic!

Mexican!  Not Hispanic!

I think about a man I met a few weeks ago. His story was one that transcended the normal boundaries of reality. I first noticed his t-shirt which boldly stated “Mexican! Not Hispanic.” In tiny letters the t-shirt read: “Hispanics are the people of Spain—European.” My migrant friend was eager to discuss the politics of Spain and Mexico and how he views these differences. He was affable and wanted to talk about his near death crisis in the desert.

His name was Alan, and he told me he was “pure Mexican” from Veracruz. I asked him how he came to be at the comedor, and his story exceeded the boundaries of my normal, everyday world. He took my Samaritan colleague, Ricardo, and me aside to a quiet corner and with great emotion began to tell us about his experience while lost in the desert. He was abandoned by his coyote guide after four days because he could not keep up with the group. One member of the party had died a few days before, and he tremulously spoke of passing by the body laying on the ground. The weather was freezing at night, and Alan had run out of water and food. Things were not looking good as he stumbled alone through the desert looking for help.

Alan, the man from Veracruz

Alan, the man from Veracruz

Alan was no longer able to walk and fell to the ground. He woke up in the early morning and saw the migrant who had died “running in shorts and a t-shirt” beside him along the migrant trail. There was a dusting of snow on the ground. He saw the dead migrant’s footprints. The spirit migrant told Alan to “go home to your family.” Alan did not heed these words, and continued on. Soon “an angel appeared to me and told me to turn back and return to my home in Veracruz where my family awaits.” When he looked ahead, he saw a road and “la migra,” the Border Patrol. The angel stood beside him and the Border Patrol did not see him. He was invisible to the agents and was protected by this guardian angel. Alan ignored the angel’s commands to return home, and continued on the migrant trail alone.

After several hours he spotted the coyote guide that had abandoned him, standing beside a waiting van. The angel appeared at this moment with his arms folded, disappointed that Alan was not paying attention to his directives. The angel told him, “Your service is now to God and your family. Go home!” Again, Alan ignored the angel’s command and joined the coyote and migrant group, getting in the van.  Alan tells me this with certainty and punctuates each word with his fist.  I got the feeling that Alan knew this was a wild tale and difficult for us to believe, but he was absolutely grounded in the reality of his experience.  He described his ordeal in detail.  This was his truth, and the truth penetrates to the heart.

Looking for jeans

Looking for jeans

Eventually, Alan, the coyote guide and the migrant group were picked up by the Border Patrol and taken to a detention center. He was deported to Nogales and sought shelter and counsel at the comedor.

Posing as the angel, he balanced on one foot to show me how the angel stood on a rock. Then he physically assumed the posture of the running spirit migrant who died. It was a magic tableau which came to life over in the corner of the hectic, busy shelter. The drama of the event was reenacted for Ricardo and me, as Alan showed us how he touched the wings of the celestial being out in the middle of the desert just a few days before.  Alan was trying his best to put into words the spiritual essence of his experience.

We helped Alan purchase a bus ticket back to Veracruz.  He finally acknowledged that the angel was right.  He must go home to his family.  Our migrant friend was tearful and emotional when we wished him a safe journey. I took a photo of him in his political t-shirt.

Ricardo and the street peddlers

Ricardo and the street peddlers

So I looked at Ricardo, and asked, “What do you think happened out there?”

Ricardo, an avowed non-believer in such things as angels and spirits, answered, “Well, he was probably hallucinating from no food or water and the freezing temperatures. I think he almost died. But something must have happened that helped this man survive certain death.”  We were both quietly shaken with Alan’s story.

I surveyed the room taking in the 100 or more migrants shivering in the morning air, and thought about all of the stories of survival and miracles that every one of them could tell us. There are 100 books in this room waiting to be written.

Kitty on a sack of beans

Kitty on a sack of beans

I am witness to tragedy and miracles each time I come to the comedor. There are so many stories, I don’t know what to do with them all. I will remember Alan’s energy and vitality when telling me his tale of survival. His is a world that promises not only joy, but a fair share of misery as well. He has taught me to look at the world with new eyes. It is the world of Mexico and the borderlands.  It is magical realism.

And I love being privy to the magic of it all.

Find out more about the Green Valley Samaritans on their website:

The Kino Border Initiative is the binational organization which directs the humanitarian activities at the comedor.  Their website is:

The Santa Cruz Community Foundation supports the cultural, humanitarian and economic programs of the U.S./Mexico borderlands.  Bob Phillips, the director, can be reached at: (520) 761-4531

I endorse the activities of these organizations.  They are all angels.   Peg can be reached at:


~ by Peg Bowden on February 15, 2013.

12 Responses to “Magical Realism”

  1. Your Blog is very impact-full and poetic. I’m doing a mini workshop on “Spiritual Aerobics”, the pause that refreshes. Your morning is a wonder-filled example of just that. It too is a “border”, the border where the physical and the mystical unite.
    Bless you and the work you do. Chris

  2. Dear Peg,

    Another beautiful piece. I think the content is even more spiritual than magical. It’s like God is trying so hard to humanize we poor gringos with all the beauty of the Mexican people. And yes it is magical.

    I drove from Patagonia to Nogales the night of the snow. It was absolutely magical and beautiful. The flakes were huge and filled the area illumined by my headlights. I was alone on the road and drove slowly in a lower gear in order not to slide. Even light grades seemed steep. I prayed gently for protection but mostly soaked in the beauty. I thought frequently of the exile of the Baha’i prophet Baha’u’llah over the frozen mountains in winter with his family, unprepared and poorly clad.

    God bless you. For all you know you have succored angels unaware 🙂

    Thank you,


  3. Having just been to visit el comedor last Friday with our small group from Desert Skies UMC, your blog was especially meaningful to me now. I have always treasured them, but now that I’ve been there in person, it’s all so much more meaningful to me. So thank you for writing your blogs, and for including me on your list of recipients. And thank you for being a good samaritan!

    Peggy Dunlap

  4. This is one of my favorite posts, Peg. I love that you’re finding magic in the desert.

    As for Alan, I believe he saw what he saw. We all have to live our miracles amongst terror and fear.

    I have a book recommendation, if you don’t mind. “The Wood Wife” by Terri Windling dives right into the myth and magic of the landscape of the desert, set in Tuscon… I recently reread it and was reminded of your tales. Something tells me you’d really love it.

    Sending blessings.

  5. great job! We are so in awe of your work!

  6. Raquel,
    I have read “The Wood Wife,” by Terri Windling, and was fascinated with her tale. Living here is like stepping through a veil at times. Reminds me a lot of the Castaneda books so many years ago. Hope you are settling into the East Coast and your new life. –Peg

  7. Dear Peg, Thank you from my heart for another holistic multi-media experience. This valentine was well worth the wait.

  8. Peg,
    I don’t know what to say. This writing has a mystical quality. I am with Riccardo in terms of my own beliefs, yet something must have driven Alan. I wish I had been with you to share last Tuesday. Deep down I don’t understand the cruelty that we impose on these migrants- the US and Arizona government, the border wall, the Border Patrol- we make these wonderful people aliens. How can our Senators and Congressman rail on about Border Security?
    Best wishes,
    John Hemann

  9. “Magical Realism” is a very special Blog. I am convinced that consciousness of our Spirit identity provides this human species with the guidance it needs. When we are unaware of the Spirit dimension of this earthly experience our behavior is misguided. This is why, as a species, we find ourselves on a path to self-destruction and the destruction of the planet. I see mysticism as synonymous with Spirit consciousness. The great teachers are mystics. What they teach is not religion. They teach us to get beyond the temporal identity of time and space. They teach us to be in the world but not of the world. Anything that reminds us of that, as your words do, is dearly needed.
    Richard Calabro

  10. A beautiful post Peg. The desert is beautiful with snow, but there is indeed a sureal quality about it. It is impossible to read about the people you are helping and the people you work with in the comedor with dry eyes. I wish your blog and other stories that bring awareness to the humanity of the hundreds of desperate migrants could somehow reach the mainstream media. Once aware of our shared humanity could we maintain an uncaring stance towards our neighbors who suffer so much?

  11. Dear Peg,

    Your writing is so poetic and very inspiring. Your blog is such a product of who you are, and your wisdom and kindness. You are a great writer and a terrific person. Your blog should be required reading for our legislators and our school children. Keep up the good work. Ann

  12. Beautiful,

    As a shrink I think what he said is exactly what happened!



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