“If it's so safe, why is everything so fenced in and locked up?” she said.
I didn't have an answer. I said something generic, like, “Well, there's problems everywhere,” and changed the subject. Later that night, and I mean much later, when we were finishing off all my cervezas Pacifico on the balcony of our hotel while hanging out with a cowboy turned commercial fisherman from Humboldt County, who was sharing some entertaining tales from his work at sea and his abused childhood, we spotted the criminal culprit of Los Barriles stampeding down the calle.
It was a cow. It was easy to see the beast had mischief on her mind. If it weren't for the barbed wire and the cattle guards (which I had noticed earlier, but had thought that they were a vestige from an earlier, more bucolic Los Barriles, but apparently the town is still as bucolic as it wants to be) she'd be hopping in everybody's front yard , chomping on everything from weeds to potted flowers to carefully planted vegetables.
I noted that while we Americans often fence in our livestock to keep them from roaming wherever, the Mexican practice is to let them roam wherever, but fence in the places you don't want them to roam. This isn't necessarily a defective practice. It takes less fence.
My S.O. told a tale from her summer ranching in Oregon. One of the cows in her charge learned to tiptoe over the cattle guard at her place of employment. As soon as the rancher observed this, he cursed and said he'd have to sell that beast, because one the cow learned how to get past the cattle guard, she would not only keep doing so, but would teach the other cows how to as well.
This sort of reverse Darwinism, culling the most intelligent members of the herd and its natural leaders as well, is fine for cows, but we should probably refrain from doing it ourselves. Often we can't resist, however, and pick our leaders from the thick-skinned and loud-mouthed, who trip over themselves to tell us what we want to hear. "Why would you want to go over the cattle guard?" is what these guys would say, if they were cows. "We're the best herd in the best pasture. Those other cows out there could be dangerous. They don't moo our language. What we need is a bigger, better cattle guard to keep them out."
"That makes sense," we say to ourselves, as we huddle with the rest of the herd. "They're right about us being the best cows, so they must be right about those other cows." So we get rounded up and milked for tax money by politicians who think like cows in favor of cattle guards, instead of finding the leaders who can help us step carefully over the barriers of the unknowable future.
But if you want to learn to step carefully on your own, a good place to practice is Los Barriles.