Wendy Glenn died the other day. Since almost none of you have any idea who she was, let me say that the Glenn family was when I met them, and still are today, in spite of the attrition of time and that implacable laughing jokester, Death, quite the most remarkable family I have ever met.
I first met Warner and Wendy and their daughter Kelly while working on a movie in Tucson. They were, and still are, ranchers on the Mexican border in extreme southeastern Arizona. This is the rugged, harsh, infinitely beautiful and infinitely delicate land of the Peloncillo and Chiricahua Mountains, home once to the last of the Apache Indians. Warner’s grandfather had started a ranch in the vast, empty land east of Douglas (Arizona)/Agua Prieta (Mexico) and with the stubborn endurance and hard work that once characterized America, he made a go of it. Well, he made it as successful as any man can make any ranch in a part of the world as vulnerable and unforgiving as that land.
One of the obstacles to ranching in that area is the ubiquitous mountain lion, just as the wolf is an obstacle in the northern-tier states along the Canadian border, and Warner’s grandfather imported some hounds from back East and hunted the cats to keep them in check. Warner’s father continued the tradition and was so successful that he began supplementing his ranching first with predator control for his neighbors, and later with guided hunts for hunters from other, softer portions of the country, where mountain lions are not as prevalent. So when I first met them, back in the early eighties, Warner and Wendy were running the ranch, while Warner and Kelly and Warner’s father, Marvin, were running their hounds for hunters to help supplement a rancher’s always uncertain income. I had never had any desire to hunt mountain lion, but I was so impressed with them that I signed up on the spot. And how could anyone not be impressed?
Physically, they are impressive. Warner is six-six or six-seven, with bones like steel girders and the body fat of a T-post. Kelly is at least as tall as I am, pretty as a picture—literally: she was for many years the Ruger Girl, the model and spokesperson for Ruger firearms. Wendy was the smallest, a mere five-eight or five-nine, with a smile like many stars grouped together, and that indefinable combination of qualities that made up the idealized mothers of television shows in the fifties: nurturing; complete but kindly honesty in every word she spoke; no-nonsense or misbehavior tolerated; everyone welcome in her home until the moment they crossed her lines of behavior, and then Nelly-bar-door. Others have described her as the glue that held the family together, but it is only true if you think of glue as a restless, endlessly busy, driving force as fiercely protective of her family and her piece of the earth as any of the cats that roamed the mountains and preyed on her cattle.
Personally, they were impressive. All of them, and Marvin too, when I later met him, had the easy, open, confident friendliness of people who know themselves and trust their own judgment of the world and its inhabitants.
Intellectually, they were impressive. I no longer recall if any or all of them had gone to college, but as Henry Fielding once pointed out, it is as possible for a man to know something without having been at school, as it is to have been at school and know nothing, and all of them had the kind of intelligence that enables people to see and recognize both opportunity and—equally important—the right and wrong within opportunity.
For that was how they most impressed me, back in my wild and arrogant youth, drunk with my own success in the riskiest crapshoot of profession there is, surrounded by oily opportunists on one side and smiling, smiling villains on the other. The Glenn family radiated a quiet integrity the way other people might radiate fear or danger. I knew, within moments of having met them, that if one of them had shaken my hand and agreed to do this or that or the other, all of them would have died before they let a promise made by any one of them go unfulfilled. That kind of bone-deep integrity.
And when Randy Hall, my stunt double, and I went down to hunt mountain lion at their Malpai Ranch the next spring, I discovered yet another quality that impressed me just as much, a quality that very, very few people in today’s world even comprehend, let alone have. I could sum it up by saying it is a deep and abiding love of their world, the land they inhabit and work and earn their living from, but it’s more than just that. It is love and curiosity and desire to learn and desire to preserve, all wrapped up in one.
Consider this: Warner and Wendy, probably Marvin too before them, discovered endless caves and hidey-holes throughout their land where for a thousand years or more Native Americans had left signs of their passing, or cached weapons and implements for some future need they never returned or perhaps even lived to see. Typically, being Warner and Wendy, they set about working with the University of Arizona to preserve these artifacts, donating their knowledge of the land, their time, their apparently inexhaustible energy, to help the university find and catalogue the wealth of the past. And more: at their own expense they built a small museum (small is a relative term; it is by far the biggest room in their house) onto their own home to house the overflow the university didn’t need or want.
Consider this: In 1996 Warner became the first person to see and document a Jaguar on American soil since the animal was officially declared extinct in America back around World War One. Not merely to see and document it, but—Warner being Warner—to document it up close and personal, so up close and personal that no one would have blamed Warner if he had shot it in self-defense. Instead, he risked his own life to get his hounds away safely and to let the cat go. You can read the account he wrote, Eyes of Fire, with the extraordinary photographs he took, by contacting him at P.O. Drawer 1039, Douglas, Arizona, 85608.
But above all, consider this, Señor and Señora: Warner and Wendy, Wendy and Warner, two names for a single being, were the original founders and the driving force behind the Malpai Borderlands Group. All of you well-intentioned people sitting in your urban homes and dreaming idly of wild places and wild things, and naively donating your money to organizations that promise much and do little at best, and frequently more harm than good, know that the Malpai Borderlands Group has done more to preserve and protect more of the fragile southwestern landscape than any other single organization. They have achieved this through a unique and selfless collaborative effort that brings together ranchers, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Department of the Interior, the US Department of Homeland Security, a raft of state agencies and institutions in both Arizona and New Mexico, including scientists and biologists and fish and game departments and professors, as well as some other non-profit organizations, bringing them all together in a cooperative effort to protect and preserve what might otherwise be lost forever, from the perishable land itself to a predator as rare and mighty as the jaguar. If ever you dreamed of seeing the southwest, send your next earmarked financial contribution to the Malpai Borderlands Group. You can log on at www.malpaiborderlandsgroup.org and if nothing else look at the photographs of one the most magnificent and threatened places in America. If you send them money, I can guarantee it will be money well-spent. I can also guarantee Wendy Glenn will be pleased, and to have the approbation of a Wendy Glenn is worth more than medals or honors from a lesser family.