There is no established trail, and no one has ever before walked this passage—or at least none of whom he’s aware. But on October 27, Southerner Mark Hainds will begin a journey that originates near El Paso, walking the length of the Rio Grande River where it borders Texas. The approximate 1200 mile trek will provide material for his second book, revealing both an environmental and a cultural look at the area from the Chihuahua Desert, to the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
The “Tex-Mex Compadres,” a dedicated team of volunteers will shadow Hainds from their vehicles on nearby roadways, providing him with logistical support as he walks 20-23 miles a day. Also joining the 53-60 day excursion will be Rex Jones, a Producer/Director with the Southern Documentary Project. Film footage gathered by Jones and his crew will result in a full length film documenting Hainds’ remarkable trip for PBS. Jones’ wife wants him home for Christmas, so Mark will push hard to complete his journey by December 23.
Cormac McCarthy and John Grisham are at least partially responsible for the trip. Grisham’s The Testament sent Hainds off on trips to the Amazon and Southwest Brazil, and reading McCarthy inspired his interest in the Southwestern region of the United States. Hainds has a history of intrigue with remote areas where he can “reset,” and his deep respect for nature and the environment sends him on countless voyages of discovery.
Approaching Mark at the Pensacola Farmer’s Market, one would hardly guess that this unassuming man would have such remarkable and diverse interests. Mark J. Hainds is a research associate with Auburn University and research coordinator for the Longleaf Alliance, located at the Solon Dixon Forestry Center in Andalusia, Alabama. With a B.S in Forestry, and a Master’s in the study of the long leaf pine, Mark works diligently with the Alliance to bring the existing 3,000,000 acres of the pines back to the original 90,000,000 acres the trees once covered.
Hawking, herbs, jellies, jams, wild berries, mushrooms and fruits at the Palafox Farmer’s Market in downtown Pensacola was initially a way to fund his Florida fishing expeditions. The 49 weekends Hainds will spend this year at the market however, leave him too tired and with little time for leisurely fishing.
Mushroom logs which produce Shitake, Oyster, Nameko, Lion’s Mane and Reishi mushrooms for example, along with about a dozen varieties of wild mushrooms that he forages, are popular items at his booth. He also sells uncommon varieties of wood for the purpose of smoking on the grill, and eggs from free range chickens boasting richer, darker yolks that are slightly flavored by what the birds eat.
Wild hogs, not native to this country, threaten large areas of the U.S. ecosystem. In his first book, Year of the Pig, Hainds, a hunter but also a serious preservationist, provided a first-hand look at the hunting of feral hogs with language that was acceptable to hunters and environmentalists alike. With intelligence and humor, he presented discussions of hunters’ ethics in the pursuit of the animals, with a hard look at environmental concerns and ecological ideas as well.
His planned route for his upcoming walk is very “risky” because of the threat posed by smugglers. During his encounters securing permission from the Border Patrol and landowners, however, he has determined that day travel is safe but he will need to camp near urban areas in the evening.
The lack of humidity in the Southwest will be a welcomed relief to Hainds after having trained for the trip in the Deep South humidity. But his regiment has prepared him well, and his enthusiasm at the prospect of experiencing the unfamiliar territory is palpable. Mark has been awarded an Artist in Residence position for the month of February 2015, at the renowned Escape to Create near Seaside, Florida. His goal is to “hammer out a good first draft of his manuscript from the Texas-Mexico border walk” during his stay at the retreat. The resulting book and the PBS special will be an exciting conclusion to this Southerner’s Southwest journey.
For more information visit Mark J. Hainds on Facebook / All Images except first at top are courtesy of Mark J. Hainds
Also check out “WALKIN TO NEW ORLEANS,” a May 19, 2015 article about a North Westerner walking in the South Eastern U.S.