In Search of Epifano

by Rudolfo Anaya
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 765

An old woman, almost eighty years of age, is traveling alone in her jeep, heading deep into the Mexican desert, searching for a man named Epifano. At her advanced age she is ready for death and not afraid of it. In her childhood, she had heard whispered stories about her great-grandfather Epifano, about how he had built a great ranch in the desert. Her family album included a picture of him, which remained her only concrete link to this segment of her past.

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Her vehicle experiences problems, and the mechanic who repairs it attempts to dissuade her from continuing on her journey, knowing that such a trek would be difficult for anyone, let alone for a woman of her age. She remains firm in her resolve despite the physical discomforts associated with her failing health: her liver or her spleen, she does not know which, has a dull, persistent pain, and in her heart there is a tightness. She is searching for the answers to many unresolved issues in her life. Her foremost concern is what purpose her life has served. The mental picture that she has formed of Epifano guides her through the doubts and the difficulties of the voyage. She can hear his voice, the voice of her Mexican heritage, the heritage her family forgot long ago.

As she progresses in her quest to reach the land of Epifano, somewhere in the desert of the state of Chihuahua, she becomes increasingly thirsty, but it is a thirst not only for water but also for life. She reflects on how many of her desires were never satisfied. She thinks her sketches and paintings are the only evidence she will leave of her existence, and considers them an attempt to give meaning to her empty life.

In the solitude of the Mexican desert, she is overwhelmed by the magnitude of nature. She thinks she is only a moving shadow that crosses a vast, dusty, hot land. She is dwarfed by the Cañon de Cobre, the ancestral land of the mystical Tarahumara Indians, as she drives along its northern rim. As vultures circle overhead, she is flooded with memories of her marriage. She had married a man of ambition while she was young and believed that she was in love, but after many years, she discovered that he lacked desire and passion and thus could not fulfill her needs. To fill the void, she painted, took classes, and traveled. Her most intense and meaningful recollection was of her wedding day, when an Indian entered the chapel and stood in the rear. She turned around and spotted him just before he vanished. She later wondered if his appearance was real or imagined, but she had never forgotten him. He had the features of a Tarahumara. In retrospect, she believes that he was a messenger from Epifano bringing her a warning about her impending marriage. She chose to ignore the warning, however, and her unhappy union with this unfeeling man produced a daughter and a son.

In the emptiness of her marriage, she had turned to her dreams for solace, for it was there that she heard the voice of Epifano. After leaving her husband, she decided to seek out the origins of these voices to better understand them, and every spring she makes a pilgrimage to the south. Each year, she travels a little bit farther into the desert, getting closer to the location of Epifano’s ranch.

At last, she reaches her destination. She drinks from a pool of water and gives thanks to the gods for quenching her thirst. As she looks out over the land where Epifano’s ranch once stood, she sees the outlines of the foundations of the buildings, which is all that remains. She thinks about how his family had spread from this point toward the north until they reached Southern California.

The old woman, dressed in white, “the color of desire not consummated,” sits observing the desert, feeling sad over the completion of her quest, when a noise causes her to turn. Among the desert plants, an Indian appears. She tells him that she came in search of Epifano, and the Indian holds his hand to his chest indicating that she has found him. She recognizes his kind, deep blue eyes. The figures of many Indian women emerge from the desert and surround her, forming a circle. As her sadness disappears, a flash of light fills her being. It is a light full of desire, which makes her quiver. At last, she is engulfed in light, love, and life.

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