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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Some Hikes Around Taos

I hate waiting – especially when, as in this case, it’s for a report on a completed manuscript; but my reader friend assures me she’s on the case. Last week I decided it was time to get out of town for the first time in six or seven weeks. I rented a car and managed a number of hikes, starting with a stretch of the trail that runs from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, along the rim and down towards Pilar, where a much smaller bridge crosses the river. I would like to have done the entire 9 miles – and most likely will when I come back this way in the Fall, but at the moment it would require a car at  each end, and I haven’t managed to persuade any of my fellow artists to join me for a hike that long. It’s an easy enough walk in terms of the terrain, being essentially a flat expanse of sagebrush backed by a great view of the mountains behind Taos.

    (a Rio Grande panorama – with, yes, a step.)

A day or two later I drove down to Pilar and took a look at the other end of the trail. There are a number of gentle hikes there beside the river or just above it. After walking a few miles I elected to try one that climbs steeply back up to the mesa. It was advertised as 0.8 miles, and I have no reason to doubt that. It just seemed longer, being rocky, washed away in places, and often vertiginous. It took me 45 minutes to get up there, a mere 20 to return.

Sunday I went back to the trailheads beside Hwy 64, just a couple of miles out of town and attempted the climb on the shady (and snowy, and muddy) side of the valley.


The trouble with trails that zig-zag gently but laboriously up a mountain like that is that certain eager parties take shortcuts, and soon create a web of possible options that leave you spinning an imaginary coin and hoping for the best. And that’s how I ended up climbing the last 7-800 feet straight up through dense woods, occasionally on hands and knees, frequently polluting the Sabbath air with stern Anglo-Saxon phrases, until I made contact with the trodden path towards the summit. And suddenly the struggle seemed worthwhile: the weather was gorgeous, I’d had a decent lunch, and I’d risen to the challenge. And of course the outlook made up for everything.

There was even a first glimpse of springtime


Well, the car has gone back, and I still await my report - but the sun is out, my belly is full of porridge, so I guess it’s time to got to town and look for trouble.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Cleaning out the acequias



The beaver-dam was the last straw. It was only a couple of feet high, and it only stretched the five-foot width of the ditch, but it was tightly woven, caked with silt – and frozen. However, as I gave it a weary whack with my shovel I realised I had nobody to blame but myself. And when the mayordomo came by half an hour later to check the departure of the work party I confessed: I’d volunteered for this.

The original idea was to observe. I knew a bit about the acequias, the ancient irrigation ditches dug by the Spanish back in the 1700s and 1800s to take water from the rivers and into the fields around Taos. And of course I was well aware that they are still in use today. On Friday one of my colleagues here, an artist, mentioned that irrigation seemed to be on her mind as she painted her abstract canvases. Then she showed me an ad in the Taos News. I can’t recall the precise wording, but the message was clear: if you draw water from this certain acequia, be it known that Saturday is spring clean-up day. ‘Hey,’ I said, ‘why don’t we call the organiser, tell them we want to take pictures, maybe ask a few questions?’

We showed up at the designated rendezvous about 7.45. In dribs and drabs the others arrived. There were shovels and rakes aplenty. It seemed ungracious not to grab one. Half an hour later we had joined Delfino and Armando at the head of the ditch. We would work west and – this was the theory – would eventually meet up with the other party who were working east.

At the beginning it was easy, and it seemed like fun, lobbing out the larger rocks, raking up the odd pile of leaves, removing fallen branches and other debris – anything that would ease the flow of water when the head-gate was opened.

And then, little by little, it started to resemble hard work. There were thickets of willow to cut out. There were thorns. There were impromptu bridges to demolish. There were spots where residents on the bank had piled up trash and let it slip into the ditch: tires, radiator grilles, fenders, buckets, long tangles of rope, sheets of plastic, old tarps. I found myself looking up at the bank, half expecting to see some rifle-toting guard on horseback, leering at me through mirrored shades. I sweated a lot and my stomach rumbled. I think I managed not to complain – somehow.

By the  time we heard the voices of the other gang it was two thirty. And that’s when, after six hours of hard graft, the day improved, markedly. Armando, realising for the first time that we were volunteers, invited us to his house where his wife gave us chile beans and he gave us beer – and between them a hearty portion of family history. We sat there for a couple of hours, and got along so well that we were invited back – to clear another ditch in two weeks’ time. Oh well, at least we will know what we’re in for.

I should mention work - or writing. Early last week I completed the re-write of my novel. It’s gone to London, to be read by a good and trusted friend with more than forty years’ experience in publishing. Until I hear from her I am free to relax – or hire myself out as a ditch-digger.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Evening light, Taos

It was an odd day yesterday: lots of sunshine, a couple of heavy snow showers, and quite a stormy look to the sky towards sundown.  I had to run for my camera and clamber over some piles of snow to grab these shots, but it seemed worth it.


Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – so here are three.



Images taken yesterday, our third consecutive day of heavy snow which have given us a total of around two feet.


Friday, 27 February 2015

Me and My Big Mouth

I can’t say my primary school headmaster didn’t spell it out to me, over fifty years ago. ‘Pride goeth before a fall,’ he said – and he was looking at me. (I think he got that Biblical quotation slightly wrong, but the message stayed with me – blast him.)

So what was I saying the other day, about the glorious sunshine… and going on Facebook to have a cheap laugh at the expense of the folk back home?


Ha. This is the sixth consecutive grey day, the second in a row that I’ve woken up to find six fresh inches of snow – and they’re forecasting a similar amount over the next twenty-four hours.

I don’t mind it at all. I don’t mind sitting in then little porch (above) to get a wifi signal -  even on a morning like this when it’s 16 F (-9 C). It lends drama to the business of being a visiting writer, more colourful recollections to take home. And more than anything else it stops me from getting distracted by those mountains and forests that surround us. Right now there’s very little a guy can do but sit home and work – and it’s paying off, big time. It’s looking as though I may well complete the thing I came here to write within the next two weeks.

However… pride… and falls. I’ll say no more – just upload a picture of the snow as it was a few days ago: