The bank was much higher on this side of the river. Night was coming on and a few bats were taking flight. Behind us a murmur of music and laughter came from the bar. Cold beer and the pool table drew people from both sides of the river.
Just upriver a man waited in a little boat, ready to ferry anyone who had the modest fare across. The river wasn't very wide here and not all of the bank was high like the cliff where we stood. You could just make out the few houses on the other side below in the darkening twilight. The streets there were dirt and there didn't seem to be a way to get there from the countryside behind the village. As if the only tether to the outside world for them was this side of the river.
Looking out across the river here, it was easy to imagine it was 150 years earlier and Woodrow Call was standing there beside us, keeping watch for Pedro Flores. The village on the Mexican side, nestled up against the mountains there, looked as if it was unchanged since then.
Off to one side of us a little line of buildings designed to look like old Western storefronts sold clothing and recreational items, things you would need if you were heading down the river or camping out in the dry countryside.
On the other side were the small units that made up the little hotel there. We were staying in one of the rooms and had walked over to the riverbank. Plants we weren't familiar with then, like the native candelaria and ocotillo, grew next to the buildings.
It was 1993 and we had come to visit Big Bend National Park and the area. It's an amazing, with a capital "A", place as everyone that comes will surely agree.
But when I think back on the trip, this is the moment that slips into my mind. Standing there on the bank, looking across the river in the low light. Only that and the bar exists in my memory, that and the old man with the rowboat. A feeling comes over me, like some memories have the power to evoke, a hot dry breeze blows over my skin; the ghost of a cowboy cradles his rifle as he settles in to watch for the night. The desert smells surround me, the night sounds slowly begin. The call of the poor-will, the rustle of the bat wings, evening sounds from the houses across the river.
I'm hesitant to leave, to break the spell.
I haven't been back there since then. I understand there is a big resort and a very green golf course there now, looking as out of place as anything can. I don't know if the rowboat still operates with all the changes about border crossings.
In my mind it all remains unchanged, aided by the fact I haven't returned. A link to the days of the Old West, a time when the circle people there lived in was small although the countryside was big, before spas and golf courses moved into the Chihuahuan desert.
I wonder if the cowboy's ghost is still there or has he felt the changes and moved further down the riverbank. Does anyone come to stand beside him, to keep watch with him, to look across the river and remember old times, old friends, old adversaries. To remember him.
I hope so. I know I'll be thinking of him if I go there again, standing still in the twilight, waiting for the night sounds to begin. And to wonder, just a little bit, if one day someone will feel my presence in a breeze that blows softly, in a place I once loved.