Trapped between the pull of a terminally ill elder family member and a flu-sick child, I escaped for two hours yesterday to the Rio Grande. I needed the March sun and the croak of sandhill cranes. And I really needed to walk on sandy trails through prickly weeds and push through the wall of tamarisk and Russian Olive and seek the waters of the Rio Grande. I could have chosen to walk along the ditches and canals–the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District started ramping up irrigation season last week–but honestly, I’m a fan of the river itself.
Saturday afternoon, I went to one of my favorite spots in Albuquerque–that stretch of the Rio Grande between Paseo del Norte and the Montano Bridge. It’s a spot that last October (Oct. 28, 2012), was this distressingly low:
(That picture accompanied this KUNM story: http://kunm.org/post/rio-grande-could-join-ghost-rivers-southwest)
Here’s that same stretch in November, after irrigation season had ended (looking across to the other bank, rather than upstream):
Here’s the (Instagram) view upstream in November:
This was the scene yesterday, March 2, 2013:
Water was flowing on the left side of the island, so here’s the view about 1/4 mile downstream:
Here are the USGS numbers for the river’s flows at the Alameda Bridge, and then downstream in Albuquerque:
Get ready for one hell of a year, folks.
At the beginning of January, I sat down with Theresa Pasqual to talk about Mount Taylor, cultural preservation, and her experiences as a Pueblo woman and an archaeologist. It was a pretty awesome conversation, and a few condensed and edited excerpts from our conversation appeared recently in High County News. I wanted to share a bit more of the interview, however, because the conversation was so interesting:
Paskus: Can you describe what it’s like to have such deep family ties to the landscape?
Pasqual: Over thousands of generations, this repetition of (the story of) where our people moved from—not just from place to place, but their interaction with other people on the landscape and their interactions with the mountains and the waters and lakes, which we have traditional names for—has been continuously passed down, through our reciting of different prayers and songs and stories. There is an active, continual (recounting) of where our people came from, and that happens throughout our traditional season and in our language.
So as a child growing up, there was a connection not only to my immediate family of my parents, my grandparents, and my great grandparents and who they were, but there was also this much larger connection to ancestors—great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents. You could make that connection back to people you had never met, and never seen. (You could know) where they migrated to, where they stopped to make their homes, and what springs they visited. It was as if one knew them, literally, as grandma and grandpa: This is where grandma and grandpa settled, this is where they emerged from, this is where they were given the connection to the animals, this is where grandma and grandpa farmed.
That connection to the past is really important to the work that I do today, and language plays a critical role in that. Those songs and prayers and stories are only said at special times during the year, and they’re said in our traditional language. Language becomes a critical component (of our connection with the landscape), because without it you can’t make that connection (with the springs, mountains, and rivers).
Paskus: It seems like Native people and archaeologists oftentimes have a different view of archaeological remains. For some archaeologists, human remains are just “data.” What is it like for you—as a Native woman and an archaeologist—to work on these sites?
Pasqual: That’s a question that any Native person who has studied anthropology, and especially archaeology, has struggled with. In my community, we have certain taboos and superstitions about the dead. Those are beliefs that were ingrained in me and that I still believe. But I’ve also come to believe—and I had to learn this from my father—that everybody has a gift, a certain responsibility.
When I decided to go into archaeology, and realized that I would have to study and handle human bone, I really had to take some time to think and reflect, (and ask myself) ‘Was this really what I wanted to do?’ I was nervous. I never told my family what I was going to study, not until much later when I applied for his job. Then everybody knew what I was doing. That cat was out of the bag!
(I asked my ancestors, saying), ‘My intentions are only good, I mean you no harm. But whatever it is I am meant to know in this lifetime, whether it is from handling you, or caring for you, teach me what it is I’m supposed to know, so that I in turn can give back. What is it that I’m supposed to give back?’
I have come to believe—with my position, with my academic training, with my knowledge of forensics and anatomy—that my purpose is much larger than just being the director of the preservation office. Perhaps my purpose, my gift, is to bridge that connection to those remains. If I can go into a curation facility, or go onto the project site and get into the trench and either identify remains, whether by sex or age, and look at the condition of the remains, and report back to my tribal colleagues, that is my gift. That is what I’m meant to do.
That’s what drives me, even when I’m dealing with difficult things, like with Mount Taylor or other difficult landscape issues, it is through them. They are the ones that traveled on these landscapes, that inhabited those places. And I suppose if one believes in the afterlife—the way that we do as pueblo people—I suppose that at the end of my journey here on earth, ultimately, when I’m asked, ‘What is it that you did on behalf of the people?’ I will answer to them. And I hope at the end of my days they will be pleased with what I did here.
That, to me is the best reward. I don’t want to end my journey and say, ‘I just sat on the sidelines.’ I want to say, ‘I created change.’
Paskus: Speaking of creating change, you’ve been working on the Mount Taylor issue for the past seven years. How did the tribes decide to work together—to release private information about sacred stories and connections to the mountain and also ask that 400,000 acres of the mountain be protected under law as a “traditional cultural property.”
Pasqual: My office was seeing an influx of requests for consultation from the U.S. Forest Service for different developments that were being proposed on Mount Taylor. That was not just uranium mining—though uranium mining takes up the bulk of those requests—but there were requests for radio towers, public use events, grazing, harvesting(of plants), timber harvesting, and different types of uses on the mountain. We were responding to each request one by one, but we weren’t really looking at the cumulative impacts these requests were having on the mountain.
So we began to have a dialogue with other preservation offices to see if they were facing a similar issue, because we knew that other tribes had a relationship with the mountain. In 2007, a meeting was called, it was the first multi-tribe meeting. The tribes that had a connection to Mount Taylor (discussed) all the different requests for consultation they were getting, and we began to map where these developments were happening.
Ultimately, whether you’re from the (Spanish Land Grant communities), the communities of Grants or Milan or San Rafael, or the pueblos of Acoma or Laguna, they all live at the base of the mountain. Those people who have been there for generations are not going to go anywhere. We are bound to that land and to the resources that the mountain gives us. So it is in all our best interest to put forth a long-term plan for that mountain. And it just can’t be us as pueblo people. We need the people from Grants and San Rafael and San Fidel and the land grants, from Cubero and San Mateo and Cebolleta, to say ‘We all have a vested interest in this mountain because we’re not going anywhere.’
We had hoped that as part of that traditional cultural property designation (that resulted out of those meetings) that the communities would have contributed to the designation with their own history; the people who came and settled in the land grants and the homesteads all have a history that’s tied to Mount Taylor. One history is not more important than the other. It’s all history together. And all those stories bind us to the mountain. I still envision that for our community: That one day, we’ll have the full story—as much as people are willing to share—and out of that story might come a long-term plan for Mount Taylor. It’s still my hope, my dream.
Paskus: Over the past few years, the tribes’ attempts to protect the mountain have been opposed, and the public meetings and private conversations have oftentimes been heated. And now, you’re awaiting word from the New Mexico Supreme Court on whether the traditional cultural property designation will be upheld. How do you withstand that sort of pressure?
Pasqual: I really didn’t understand until I was knee deep (in the designation process) how emotional and spiritually draining it can be. You need to be renewed to do this work constantly. And if you aren’t getting your renewal from someplace, people get burned out.
I’m very grateful that my colleagues are men because culturally and traditionally, they have that knowledge of how to fortify themselves and protect themselves. They know how to renew themselves because they’re in the innermost workings of their pueblos and their villages. And I rely on them as their female counterpart, their colleague. I’ve been grateful that they have also looked after my well-being spiritually and culturally. But in my own way, the way I have been taught from my own parents, from my mother, from the strong women in my own family, because of my clan and our society, I have often found that during my most difficult projects or moments, I go back to the very thing that was my constant in my childhood—and that was Mount Taylor.
Earlier this year, I interviewed poet, writer, musician, and artist Joy Harjo (Muscogee) for High Country News. Harjo’s memoir, Crazy Brave, had just come out and I was asking her about home, childhood, and her time at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. (You can read that profile here.)
I wanted to share some of the audio from our phone interview. She’s an amazing, gracious woman–and it feels unkind to keep her words all to myself.
In Crazy Brave, she writes about how each of us enter into this world with a map within our hearts. Here she is talking about that map:
In the clip below, she addresses my question: “In Crazy Brave, you write about dreams and visions, voices of the past, history of the Creek, your ancestors, older generations. When you have sorted through all of that, throughout your life, what does ‘home’ mean to you? When many people write about home, they make it seem so easy and natural–which makes me feel suspicious or maybe confused—but in Crazy Brave, you admit so many of the difficulties of family and home.”
Here she talks more about family:
And lastly, here she talks about being a teenager in the late 1960s and attending the Institute of American Indian Arts:
I can’t get over this giant tumbleweed (Russian thistle?) we came across on the west side of the Rio Grande:
Read about the Gila and the Rio Grande, as well as about forbearance, drought, and the Strategic Water Reserve
Working on the Environmental Flows Bulletin for the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico School of Law is a really exciting opportunity for me–and I hope some of you will be interested to read the stories in the current issue.
I’ve spent the last couple of months learning about the Arizona Water Settlements Act (something I’ve long been interested in, but never really understood), the water situation on the Middle Rio Grande, forbearance in New Mexico, and the Strategic Water Reserve. I’ve had the chance to interview a number of people with a range of perspectives–that includes activists, biologists, lawyers, hydrologists, and folks with the Interstate Stream Commission and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District.
The stories I wrote for this issue include:
Dry Times on the Rio Grande: Minnow Numbers Hit Historic Lows
The State of Forbearance
The ISC’s Estevan López Talks Water with EFB
Thirty Years of Uncertainty: Development on the Gila
You can read the issue in its entirety by clicking here: http://uttoncenter.unm.edu/EFlows/EFlowsDec12.pdf
If you’d like to be added to the mailing list for future issues, please drop a note to Ms. Kendall Alexander at: email@example.com.
One of the projects I’m working on–and love, because it allows me to become fully immersed in complicated, wonky water stories–is through the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico’s School of Law. Every few months, the center publishes “Environmental Flows Bulletin.”
In the most recent issue, I had the chance to write about a number of river-related issues in New Mexico, including:
-Efforts by the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program to recover endangered fish in the San Juan–and keep water flowing through the river. “Restoring flows and ecosystems on the San Juan” is online here.
-A project on the Pecos River at Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge through which the US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Bureau of Reclamation have worked to restore a 12-mile stretch of the river. Read “Reconnecting the Pecos River” here.
-A look at what New Mexico’s River Ecosystem Restoration Initiative (RERI) has funded over the past few years. Over the course of four years, RERI supported 48 restoration projects across the state. Now, with no one championing the initiative, the last of its funding will expire in early 2014, when the last of the four-year projects ends. Read that story here.
There are a few other stories and announcements, as well as an interview with Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry about his plans for a Rio Grande corridor initiative. “Berry’s Call to the River” is online here.
Earlier this year, I interviewed folks with the US Bureau of Reclamation about US Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s plans for the Middle Rio Grande.
Here’s an except of that short piece I wrote for Environmental Flows Bulletin:
Now, Salazar has appointed eight members to a new Secretary’s Middle Rio Grande Conservation Initiative Committee and directed the committee to collaborate with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a new development plan by July 2012.
Salazar has directed members of the new committee to focus on more than just water management and endangered species concerns and consider conservation, education, and recreation. During the recent subcommittee meeting on conservation, members within the group even discussed instream flow issues.
Next, each of the three subcommittees must identify partners and set goals. They will then incorporate those into the larger committee’s plan, which the public will have an opportunity to comment upon before Salazar returns to New Mexico in July.
There was one public meeting in March, and I haven’t seen a listing for the upcoming meetings. (I’ll keep you posted.) But you can weigh in on the Middle Rio Grande right now. Like, really, right this very minute.
Visit this website: http://www.mrgesa.com/Default.aspx?tabid=488. Scroll down and look toward the right side of the page, where it says “Public Input.” Next, click on the Public Comment Form. It’ s a Word document that you can complete and email, print and mail, or bring to the next public meeting.
This month marks the release of Environmental Flows Bulletin, a new project of the Utton Center at the University of New Mexico School of Law.
Environmental Flows highlights ideas, strategies, and successes of organizations and individuals across New Mexico who are working to ensure environmental flows for the state’s rivers and streams–and it’s a project that’s pretty exciting for me. You can read the entire issue of Environmental Flows online here.
The stories I worked on for the inaugural issue include:
You can also read a note from Utton Center Director Denise Fort and Editor Susan George and a guest column from Rio Grande Restoration’s Steve Harris about a new project on the Rio Chama.
If you’d like to subscribe to the newsletter, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you have story ideas or information about cool projects, drop me an email at email@example.com.
While researching and writing a story about some recent books about New Mexico’s environment, I spent a lot of time perusing my bookshelves and revisiting some old favorites. Below is a makeshift–and undoubtedly incomplete–list of some of those favorites, as well as some suggestions from other readers.
Please be sure and add your favorites in the comments section. Or, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And no, these aren’t in any particular order.)
By the way, I’m itching to get my hands on Paul Bauer’s guidebook, The Rio Grande, A River Guide to the Geology and Landscapes of Northern New Mexico. Bauer just won the 2011 award for Outstanding Outdoor Guide Book from the National Outdoor Book Association and a John P. Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Mexico Riparian Society. (Read more about that here.)
New Mexico Environmental Bibliography:
The Orphaned Land: New Mexico’s Environment Since the Manhattan Project, by VB Price
A Great Aridness, by William deBuys
Reining in the Rio Grande, by Fred Phillips, Mary Black, and G. Emlen Hall
The Rio Grande: An Eagle’s View (Photographs by Adriel Heisey)
Eco-Tracking: On the Trail of Habitat Change, by Dan Shaw
The Tree Rings’ Tale: Understanding Our Changing Climate, by John Fleck
Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History, by Paul Horgan
Rio Grande, Edited by Jan Reid
Rio Grande, by Harvey Fergusson
High and Dry: The Texas-New Mexico Struggle for the Pecos River, by G. Emlen Hall
Land, Wind and Hard Words: A Story of Navajo Activism, by John W. Sherry
The Navajo People and Uranium Mining, Edited by Doug Brugge, Timothy Benally, and Esther Yazzie-Lewis (with intro by Stewart Udall)
Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico, by Stanley Crawford
The River in Winter: New and Selected Essays, by Stanley Crawford
A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, by Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold’s Southwest, Edited by David E. Brown and Neil B. Carmony
The Walk, by William deBuys
Valles Caldera: A Vision for New Mexico’s National Preserve, By William deBuys and Don J. Usner
Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range, by William deBuys
The Mountains of New Mexico, by Robert Julyan
The Chaco Coal Scandal: The People’s Victory over James Watt, by Jeff Radford
Related to Los Alamos National Laboratory:
The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico, by Joseph Masco
In the Shadow of Los Alamos: Selected Writings of Edith Warmer, edited by Patrick Burns
Nuclear Rites: A Weapons Laboratory at the End of the Cold War, by Hugh Gusterson
Inventing Los Alamos: The Growth of an Atomic Community, by Jon Humner
Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project, by General Leslie M. Groves
The Myths of August, by Stewart Udall
Roadside Geology of New Mexico, by Halka Chronic
A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque, by Jean-Luc E. Cartron, et al.
Field Guide to the Sandia Mountains, ed. by Robert Julyan and Mary Stuever
From a SRF reader:
Captives and Cousins, Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands, by James Brooks
Understories: The Political Life of Forests in New Mexico, By Jake Kosek
Manifest Destinies, The Making of the Mexican American Race, by Laura Gomez
Land, Water, and Culture: New Perspectives on Hispanic Land Grants, edited by Charles Briggs and John Van Ness