JUAN MATA ORTIZ
Elevation: 5,059 ft.
Ecological niche: desert riparian, Chihuahuan Desert scrubland
Ownership: ejido, municipal government, private
Location: south of Casa Grandes, Mexico
Mata Ortiz – Chihuahua, MEX
October 16, 2005
Today begins with un viaje a las montanas para collejir barro blanco y rojo. All 14 of us piled into Hector’s pickup, Bill in the cab with Hector and the rest of us heaped in the back. We bump along the road out of town under un puente naranjo through the river, which nearly covers the tires. Erika points out that the graffiti on the bridge has increased in the past year, however the majority of the haphazard lettering is devoted to romance, not slander. There are statements of love and even a short love poem. Nick hangs off the tailgate, but has to pull his legs in while we drive through the river. We muck our way over the rutted road dotted with puddles. Hector is a good driver and manages to get us all up into the foothills without any mishaps. The world looks clean, and freshly washed from the rain. We pass fields of yellow flowers, water pooled along the road, kids on burros and a slender white bird taking flight.
Hector led us up a small trail on his land (his allotted portion of the “ejido” or communal land) to the small clay deposits. The small dugout areas are almost unnoticeable until we’ve reached them. We collect the red clay first. It is tradition for the men to dig, first Hector, Bill, then Nick. They fill a sturdy sack with about 80 lbs, then move on to the white clay location and do the same. Nick loads the huge sack onto his back. We stop on our way down and retrieve the sack of red clay and heave it onto Buck’s back. We caravan down the hill, back to our vehicle and climb in.