The New Mexico DRC crew, as they drive into Cebolla, see to their surprise a great deal of green. And not only green--much of it the green of sage--but rain. Although the rain proves abortive. But the green--there is even green grass growing on the floor of our white tent. This seems bizarre, somehow. Everyone comments on it, independently, as they enter the tent.
The first afternoon we begin work. We are without the Trimble and so rely on our wits and map-reading skills to find the route closures. This isn’t conducive to certainty, but there is less data to collect.
There will be no grass transplants; we rely almost entirely on vertical mulch, and our vertical mulch is almost entirely sage brush, which here grows prodigiously. We’re very pleased with the results. You should examine the photos below.
After work we go and see the river, and having lived and worked in the desert for so long, we love the river. The river is the Rio Chama. Unlike the Santa Fe River, this river strikes us as a real river, and not as a dry creek bed.We fantasize about swimming in it, but realize it is very very cold. Some of continue to fantasize about swimming in it, its frigidity not withstanding.
During our second day in Cebolla we continue to work hard and make a great deal of progress. After a day and a half we’ve closed four routes. We enter the third day and our work continues. The weather is beautiful. We find bones. We wear them. We pose with them. We make masks of them. We find downed trees. We drag them; they make fine, imposing horizontal mulch. Off the cuff, we erect a brush fence of them.
But then, driving to a work site, negotiating. a ditch, the Dodge dies. We hear a dragging, or a clanking. Upon investigation we see the tie rod has snapped. We cannot drive. A similar encounter with a ditch the day before had left us without an air dam. Today we look on in disbelief. Michael, who knows much more about cars than the rest of us, is flabbergasted by this malfunction. We curse Chrysler Motors, and call to be towed.
In the interval of our waiting (it will be a long interval) we meet Gerald Esperanza, whose family ranches here. He goes over our map, and shares valuable information about the area and our proposed route closures. He and his brothers are here for Memorial Day weekend to brand the calves, and they will be just down the road if we need any help. At first we decline. But it becomes apparent that there is no way for us all to get back to Santa Fe with the truck and when Gerald’s brother Carlos and fellow-rancher Dennis come by and offer us a ride to camp we accept, with gratitude. Nathan rides with the four border collies in the truck bed; Sam, Alana, and Dawn ride in the cab. Peter and Michael bravely stay behind with the crippled Dodge.
The Esperanzas assist us throughout the ordeal, giving rides, shelter, and company. In the end Peter and Alana go back to Santa Fe with the tow-truck and rent for us a Tahoe, complete with leather seats. The crew remaining in Cebolla take advantage of the down time to spend a morning at the hot springs, by the river, which are dug out of the silt and smell of sulfur. As did we, after our soaking.
In the afternoon Peter and Alana return, and the morning after we finish all the work the two-wheel drive Tahoe can reach. We have been invited to the Esperanzas’ branding We decide, given all the help they have given us, that the least we can do is take part.
There are four generations of Esperanzas present, ranging from the 91-year-old patriarch to Cohen, whose ages is measured in months. The family gets together every Memorial day to brand and castrate the calves.
We’re told how to herd and drive the calves down the pen and alley to the branding table, where they’ll receive the Esperanza brand, get vaccinated, and, if the calf is a male, be castrated. The 160-some calves have already been gathered into the holding pen. Their mothers mill and low outside.
We drive the calves down the alley so that they, one by one, can be branded and released. Peter ties down the calves’ legs as they’re branded. Michael puts in the difficult final push, loading the calf into the table. There is the acrid smell of burning hair. The calves’ testicles are collected in coffee cans by the young Esperanza “ball boys.” The brand of coffee is not, alas, “Chock Full o’Nuts.”
After 8 hours -- and a delicious New Mexican lunch, prepared by the Esperanzas -- the last calf is branded and released back to the care of his bother. Our day as incompetent cowboys and -girls is done. We say goodbye to the Esperanzas, who have been so welcoming to us.
We return the next day to Santa Fe, where we will receive our Leave No Trace training from Jamie and Natalie, who have driven from California for the occasion.
We go on a one-night backpacking trip for the training. We each give a presentation (or two) on the seven LNT principles: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. We thought we knew LNT, and we did, but didn’t too, and the training is invaluable and teaches us to think about our attitudes towards nature and our relation to it. It teaches us, too, to teach. We spend the night in a beautiful meadow in the mountains above Santa Fe. The next day our training is done, and with it, Hitch 17.