"[The flow of life] Po-wa-ha (water, wind, breath) is the essence of life. . . . It is the breath which flows without distinction through the entirety of animate and inanimate existences."
--Rina Swentzell, Santa Clara Pueblo
Rio Grande Gorge outside Taos
I have been traveling three weeks so far in New Mexico and have spent most of my time looking, listening, and absorbing. I can't begin to write about it yet, so I am calling on the words of others to speak for me. All of the quotes in this post are from Telling New Mexico. A New History edited by Marta Weigle and published by the Museum of New Mexico Press in conjunction with its permanent exhibit in Santa Fe, "Telling New Mexico." It is an anthology of essays written by mostly contemporary New Mexicans to fill out the usual story of the area's peoples and history. I am going to write today about the natural environment, which, of course, shapes the human culture.
From Jake Page in "Natural New Mexico: Light."
"The most important area in New Mexico exists wherever one goes in the state. It is the sky overhead. . . The sky and its sun are . . . the soul catchers.
"Everything stands out with a clarity that is existential. In such a light, the importance of a single rock, and individual flower, the existence of life itself can strike suddenly -- fresh and poignant."
From William deBuys in "The Sangre de Cristo Mountains."
"The Rocky Mountains, spine of the continent, give birth to the Rio Grande in southern Colorado and fork to either side. In the west they become the San Juan range, . . . which diminishes to a long tangle of ridges in New Mexico. East of the river the mountains form a rugged sierra walling the grassy sea of the Great Plains . . . The Sangre [de Cristo] stretch farther south than any other spur of the Rockies . . . and soar to altitudes of over thirteen thousand feet.
"[The mountains] were always an actor as well as a stage, for their influence reached to the heart of every [human] enterprise. . . .the Chuskas, the Jemez, the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, the Mogollon, Pinos Altos, Black Mountains, Guadalupes . . . San Mateo, Sawtooth, Magdalena, San Andreas . . . Cookes Range, the Good Sight Mountains, the Sierra de las Uvas, the last of which suggests (falsely) the sweetness and moisture of grapes amid the arid monotony of rock and sand.
"The roll call of New Mexico mountains is long; it becomes a kind of chant, a song of place, a litany evocative of the wildness of the American West, the panoramas of its land, and the heritage of Native and Spanish and Mexican North America."
From Sylvia Rodriguez in "Waterways: Acequias."
"In New Mexico, the Arabic derivation acequia refers to both a canal structure and a social insituttion whereby river water is diverted and distributed via gravity flow among a community of irrigators or water right user-owners called parciantes. . . . For roughly 350 years, they formed a core component of the technological infrastructure of New Mexico's agropastoral economy.
"Today's acequia associations are political subdivisions of the state. . . . At the start of the 21st century, approximately one thousand acequia associations still existed in New Mexico. The humble earthen ditches crisscrossing the fields and arable valleys along the Rio Grande and its tributaries are arguably the oldest living, non-indigenous public works system in North America.
"One must not lose the water or let it get away. . . . Each act of irrigation is particular to a piece of land."
From Roland F. Dicey in "Windscapes: Chronicles of a Neglected Time."
"The Wind personified seems always to be lurking somewhere in my [childhood] memories of eastern New Mexico. Channeled in the mountainless corridor that divides the continent from Canada to Mexico, the wind certainly was 'the Force' in our lives, and we learned to stay tuned to its presence or absence.
"'There's nothing between us and the North Pole but a barbed-wire fence,' the saying goes, and wind on the the high plains carries salvation and disaster, 'chill factor' and moisture, desiccation and dust."