In the Arroyo
“When I commit to You my life and each of the challenges I face, I am not only released from the tension of living on my own resources, but also a mysterious movement of Your providence begins. The company of heaven, plus people and circumstances, begin to rally to my aid. Unexpected resources are released; unexplainable good things start happening.”
My grandchildren came to visit me in Albuquerque. I live on the west side, meaning west of the Rio Grande, the great divide. The Rio bisects New Mexico — starting from the top, it slices straight south to the border with Mexico, where it turns eastward and eventually becomes the border between Texas and Mexico. The word slice creates a pretty good image, because in the far north of New Mexico, the Rio Grande has cut a steep gorge into the plain not far from Taos. You can see this prominent slice from an overlook just outside of the town. You can drive over the slice at the Taos Bridge, a single-span structure hundreds of feet above the water. You can even hike down the sides to the river, but it’s awfully steep. You can also hike down to the river via a well-made trail further north, at a location called Wild Rivers Recreation Area. We did that once a few years back, in June when it was very hot. My two young grandsons, Bryan and Darby, took a little swim in their underpants in the cool green water, and they thought it was lovely.
By the time the Rio Grande reaches Albuquerque, it has flattened out. So when I drive home from I-25 to the west side of the river, the Rio is just a sedate meander. On this particular day, it was in the cool of the evening when I asked Kara and Jaden if they wanted to come look at the arroyo, which eventually joins the Rio Grande. Kara was twelve and already looked like she would someday join the Miss America Pageant with her turned-up nose, and gorgeous gray eyes. Jaden was eight, a rough-and-tumble little guy unafraid of anything—all energy and force.
“What’s an arroyo?” Kara asked.
“It’s a dry riverbed,” I replied, “one that flows only after a local rainstorm.”
We had to walk only a few hundred yards from my home to the arroyo. It is several houses wide and about one house deep and filled with nothing except sand, gravel, bluebush, rabbitbrush, and other flowers and weeds. There are no trees at all. They might have called it the Nullarbor Arroyo, after the famous plain in Southern Australia, which is as flat as a pancake until it drops off via sheer vertical cliffs into the Great Australian Bight. There are no trees on the Nullarbor Plain either, which is what makes the drop-off even more impressive as you stand there watching the great whales dive and surface. The famous country-and-western singer Casey Chambers spent growing-up time with her father on the Nullarbor Plain, when he was a fox hunter sleeping in his car.
We traipsed around the sand and bushes for a while looking for tracks from small critters. The kids had not studied these before, so we learned which way the critter was moving and something about his size from the length of his stride. Suddenly, a roadrunner scampered out of the bushes.
“What’s that?” yelled Jaden.
“It’s a roadrunner,” I said. “He usually doesn’t fly but just runs.”
They are indeed sprinters. After stopping to look at us for a moment, this one zoomed away like a rocket, beak and back and tail in a single streamline, with not one feather out of place.
It was a pretty evening, the clouds turning pink as the sun lowered itself to the horizon. I let the two kids play, sliding down the steep, sandy side of the arroyo, while I gazed at the sunset from the rim. Suddenly, I heard a scream, and my heart thumped as I followed the sound toward the kids. Kara was being held by a man, while another stood by, and Jaden was scrambling up the side of the arroyo toward me. I ran to Jaden, grabbed his hand, and hustled toward Kara. One man, who was holding a knife, had a snake tattoo, matted hair, and a ring through his nose. He was thin and looked mean. The other man, who was pinning Kara’s arms, was a little obese, and sweating profusely. Kara was crying softly.
Through my shock I blurted out, “What do you want?”
The knife man answered with a sneer, “Money.”
I replied, “I don’t have any money with me.”
He said, “Well, you better go find some quick, because this little doll is gonna cost you five hundred dollars.”
I wasn’t sure I had five hundred dollars in the house, but I figured I could go to an ATM. He said he would be on the other side of the arroyo and pointed to where a road came down and a beat-up red car was parked.
I recalled hearing that if you were accosted in a parking lot by someone with a knife or gun, you should never get in a car with the guy, because that greatly limited your chances of surviving. So I was reluctant to let them take Kara and do what the knife man ordered—we might never see Kara again. I was responsible for these kids. I was a take-charge type and could usually think up some options in any given situation, but here I was stuck. I was not a fighter – the most physical thing I had ever done was play Australian rules football forty years earlier. I wasn’t in any condition to fight, even if I had known how to. I whispered a silent prayer.
The knife man hissed at me as he pointed the knife menacingly at Kara, “You better get movin’, because if you aren’t at the car in thirty minutes, you won’t be seein’ the girl again.” My heart sank at this threat.
I said to Kara, “I’ll be right back, sweetheart. I promise.” I was trying to encourage her. Still holding Jaden’s hand, I turned to go up the arroyo.
Suddenly, a strong voice came from the left. “Hold on!”
I turned my head. Out from the rabbitbrush strode a woman dressed in khaki pants—the ones with pockets up and down the sides. As she came out from the direction of the setting sun, I could see that she had black, wavy hair, which fell to her shoulders. She also wore sunglasses.
As she came up, she said coolly to the two guys, “I saw what happened. I called nine-one-one, and the police are on their way. You have two choices: release the girl and run for it or stay with the girl and be apprehended.”
Now the two men had to consider their options, but not for long. The knife man grabbed Kara from the other man and turned to run, keeping the knife in his right hand. Kara screamed again, as she was dragged stumbling through the underbrush.
Before I could think of what to do, the woman had picked up a sizeable stone and thrown it hard at the fleeing men. Unbelievably, the stone hit the knife man in his right leg, behind the knee, and over he went with a howl of pain, releasing Kara as he fell. While he was trying to get up, the woman was on him, pushing his face into the sand and twisting the knife out of his hand. His buddy took one look at the situation and took off running up the arroyo.
The sirens and the police arrived shortly afterward, and they cuffed the knife man. After we relayed the story to the police, they took the sullen man away, requesting that we come to the station later to file charges.
The woman knelt down and gave Kara a warm hug.
“How are you feeling, princess?”
“Okay,” she replied timidly.
“Will you be all right?”
“Suuure.” Kara extended the word in a cute and natural way.
Although I was still shaking, she seemed to be fine except for a badly scuffed knee.
The lady, who was attractive and looked to be about fifty, introduced herself as Michelle.
I could not see her eyes because of the sunglasses. I noted she had no rings on her hands.
“You must be Grandpa.” She smiled as she shook my hand.
“Popper,” said Jaden. “He’s Popper.”
“Okay, Popper. You have good-looking grandkids.” She winked, and Kara grinned shyly.
I thanked her profusely and asked her where on earth she had learned to throw like that. She said she had played softball, and I had an instant recall: Morgan, an older granddaughter, could throw a softball at tremendous speed from third base to first base with pinpoint accuracy and with her right arm essentially vertical. Michelle’s throwing action was the same.
Michelle said she lived in Santa Fe. Since it was almost dark by then, I gave her my card and suggested that she call me sometime, knowing that a single lady almost never calls a single guy back. I walked home smartly with the kids. As we entered the house, I felt like a punctured balloon. Although I was emotionally drained, the kids seemed okay and we all took turns telling the story.