Adrian Sabom grew up surrounded by the wide-open spaces of her family’s South Texas Ranch, a place where she learned to love the outdoors. As a child she spent every weekend during quail season in the field with her family, a passion she now shares with her husband and children.
“Quail hunting and nature go hand in hand,” she says. “You are outside all day long. You see quail, you see dove, you see deer. Spending quality time with your family and your friends, just enjoying being in the wilderness.”
More than 700 miles away in El Paso, it is the wilderness of the Chihuahuan Desert and the Franklin Mountains that is the touchstone for artist Xochitl Rodriguez. She grew up romping in the arroyos and trails of the desert and mountains with her mother and grandmother. Today she shares that passion with her five-year-old daughter Calista.
“Like my mother did with me, I am sharing life’s adventures with her,” said Xochitl. “I first strapped Calista in a backpack for a hike when she was four months old. I am teaching her, and she is teaching me, to appreciate the pulse of the land and trails. It is such a beautiful thing to share.”
Their passion for the outdoors, and especially for sharing it with their children, is one of the reasons the two women were tapped as ambassadors for Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s We Will Not Be Tamed campaign. The campaign calls us to appreciate the wildness of Texas, the vastness of our Texas spirit and why we should be inspired to conserve it.
The two women met for the first time earlier this year at the launch event for the campaign. They connected immediately over shared interests, though their outdoor experiences are vastly different, reflecting their respective family’s culture and the strikingly different landscapes they call home.
“Xochitl had never shot a gun and she couldn’t fathom that. I had been hiking, but nothing like the hiking Xochitl does, and I had certainly never hiked in the Franklin Mountains,” said Adrian. “So, it evolved into maybe we should each do each other’s thing.”
Adrian made the trek to El Paso in early summer, at a time when temperatures can soar to the century mark.
“I was a little intimidated,” she said. “I have been hiking before but not in this environment, in this arid, rocky terrain. I was very concerned about hydration.”
They got started by 7:00 a.m. the following morning, each carrying six liters of water.
“We’re going to summit today,” declared Xochitl. “We’re not just going to do a little hike, we’re going to summit!”
With 48 pounds of Calista strapped into a backpack on Xochitl’s small frame, the two began their journey to the top of the Franklin Mountains.
“I love it out here because you get a sense of how vast the world is, and you can’t help but be quiet and be humbled in that space that’s much bigger than you are,” said Xochitl. “It’s a beautiful and powerful thing to experience.”
As they trekked, they enjoyed the sights and sounds of the desert, and each other’s company. But then something unexpected happened.
“It started out as Adrian getting to the top of the Franklins, which is spectacular in and of itself because you can see so far,” said Xochitl. “You can see the border between Mexico and the US. But you can also see New Mexico and Texas. It’s this really crazy spot in the world where so many things come together. And I wanted her to see that. What we didn’t expect was that Calista would hike to the ridge alone that day. For the first time ever.”
As the two paused for a rest, Xochitl took Calista out of the backpack to explore, something she does every time they hike. But this time, Calista did not want to get back in. She insisted on hiking the rest of the way on her own, her little legs taking two strides for every one the adults took.
“You could tell she knew she had accomplished something,” said Adrian. “Especially when we got to top. She was like: ‘I did this!’ She was proud of herself. She is a strong individual, just like her mother.”
It was a tearful moment for Xochitl.
“I didn’t expect that I would have to let go of her that day,” she said. “It was overwhelming. And silencing and humbling to watch her do it all by her big self.”
Sharing the experience with Adrian made it all the sweeter.
“At that time, we knew each other and had shared some things, but we were still somewhat strangers to one another.” said Xochitl. “But I believe that when you are with someone who is a mother, those things are easy to share.”
Several weeks later, Xochitl and Calista made the more than 700-mile journey to the South Texas ranch that has been in Adrian’s family for generations. On tap for the day was exploring the ranch, including horseback riding and shooting sporting clays. Xochitl had been on a horse twice before, but Calista had never been around them.
First stop was the horse stable, where Adrian’s cousin, Henrietta, introduced them to the colts frolicking in the corral. Calista was enchanted, but wasn’t sold on the idea of getting up onto a horse. After watching Adrian and her mother climb on their mounts, Calista somewhat reluctantly agreed to be lifted onto the saddle in front of Henrietta. As she got more comfortable, Henrietta dismounted, and Calista rode the horse all by herself.
“It made me tear up, and I didn’t expect that reaction,” said Xochitl. “It was just amazing to see her up there. It’s so beautiful to see your kids do things so quickly that it’s taken you your whole life to get to.”
In the late afternoon, the group met Adrian’s family in a pasture with a sporting clays set-up. This would be Xochitl’s first experience with a gun.
“I was terrified,” said Xochitl. “Literally shaking. I have never been around guns. Literally never. Guns have not been in my life, or even on the periphery of it.”
Adrian is as comfortable around a shotgun as Xochitl is on a 20-mile hike in the desert. She walked a visibly nervous Xochitl through a gun safety lesson and coached her every step of the way.
“If you learn how to hold a gun and how to treat a gun from the get-go, that’s a good starting point,” Adrian said. “So, we started there and then we advanced to shooting a clay target on the ground, then we went to the flying targets.”
Xochitl nailed the targets on the ground, surprising even herself. As the clays started flying, Xochitl began to relax. She missed the first several passes, but when her shot found its mark and the target blew apart, she was simply delighted. Calista watched her mom progress from nervous shakes to confident shooting.
“It matters that she saw me scared, and it matters that she understands that I didn’t know how to feel about guns,” said Xochitl. “I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to transform my understanding right before her eyes. She saw me shaking. I would look back at her and she would give me thumbs up. The roles were reversed.”
“The difference is learning,” said Adrian. “Xochitl learned how to handle a gun, which is much different than just staying away. It’s like hiking in an extreme environment. You are not just going to go out there with no understanding of what to expect.”
“After this experience, I know that guns are things to be respected and to be utilized,” said Xochitl. “My only frame for guns before now was one of violence. I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this.”
After an evening meal and some ‘smores around a campfire, Calista and Xochitl joined Adrian and her family in the field the following morning to watch bird hunting dogs flush quail from the brush. Adrian will be out here in the field quail hunting with her family during the upcoming holidays, a cherished family tradition. As the ranch visit wrapped up, Xochitl reflected on some lessons learned.
“There is always more to everything than meets the eye or the heart,” she said. “We all have decades-old traditions and connections to the wild. It is possible every step of the way to reach out into the void and experience something you don’t know anything about. More importantly, it’s totally possible to reach across Texas and fall in love with a place you really didn’t know anything about and truly appreciate and admire someone you didn’t know existed a year ago. Adrian has taught me that this thing I’ve always known is in me, and it is an openness to experience things that push me to levels of discomfort. Fears that I’ve managed to conquer in the simplest acts of exploring outside, those fears exist in every other space, and they are conquerable there, too.”
Adrian and Xochitl’s adventures were captured by a Texas Parks and Wildlife video crew for a segment that will air statewide on PBS in mid-November. The segment can also be found on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department YouTube channel.
Learn more at WeWillNotBeTamed.org