“I would have loved to, but it never happened,” I told him. When I was little, I knew without being told that I should never get dirty (although I did manage to get quite dirty out of sight in the old barn taking care of my horse.)
That lack is one of the reasons I was delighted to sign up for a spring work day at the Pueblo, which lies a few miles north of Santa Fe. It is my favorite of the Eight Northern New Mexico Pueblos because of its inhabitant’s friendly attitude toward Anglo visitors and the beauty of its plaza with the eloquent rebuilt church. I’ll be going there June fourth for the pueblo’s feast day dances—I saw my first dances there in the winter of 1992. And now I have friends there.
Two of my new friends prepared a bountiful lunch of traditional foods for the nineteen volunteers who had spent the morning pruning, weeding and digging before visiting the seed bank, a hand-built straw-bale and adobe structure, under the guidance of one of the guardian spirits of the place, Emigdio Ballon.
An indigenous Bolivian of Quechua descent, Emigdio was persuaded by Seth Rothman, publisher of the stereotype-breaking monthly, Green Fire Times, to move down from Taos a few years ago to Santa Fe to help build our local attempt to preserve indigenous seeds and food crops.
A lithe, handsome man of incredible energy, Emigdio had introduced us to the day by reminding us of what we may hear often but seldom observe: the sacred and essential nature of Mother Earth, and the need to play, not work, at restoring her native plants to her while loving her with all our hearts.
To seal his message, Emigdio fell to the ground and kissed the sandy soil three times.
Then he broke us up into three groups: the pruners, the diggers, and the lifters who were charged with moving plants from the greenhouses to the beds where they would grow all summer.
Everyone moved off to their assigned tasks with the pleasant flowing energy that seems to unite groups of strangers around an idea—or an ideal.
I chose to dig out water trenches around the young blackberry bushes, having been directed away from the Comfrey—very fortunate, since these were large plants rooted in forbidding hard soil.
The blackberries had been watered recently, and so most of the digging was like spading up soft chocolate—at least at the start of the long row.
Soon, though, a heavy thatch of orchard grass made digging a pain and I was very pleased when—with the help of a friend armed with a trowel—I finished my row and retreated from the hot sun to pee and rest under a gnarled old cottonwood, just coming into leaf.Emigdio ended the morning by showing us his seed bank, contained in a beautifully simple structure of straw bales coated with plaster, the work of young boys from the pueblo who had gotten into some kind of trouble.
“I don’t ask for drivers’ licenses or felony records or drug tests or school grades,” Emigdio explained, one of the very rare individuals who knows that everyone needs to work. The boys, while reluctant to make the effort at first, soon became enthusiastic about the project which holds bags of heritage seeds, unaffected by Monsanto, and trays of seedlings.
(Another dear friend who has grown organic garlic up the road in Velarde for years is fighting the dumping of underpriced Chinese garlic in this country which threatens to undermine his organic, native grown, and inevitably more expensive kind. We are all in this fight together.)
Lunch at a home in the pueblo was one of those rare occasions with delicious food nourished a group relaxed and friendly after working together all morning. We sat together at a long table and chatted about adventures past and to come.
All this is one of the projects of the twenty-year-old not-for-profit, Earthwalks, which unites people with the land and the enormous challenges that face it, and us.
Next weekend some of us will go to Chaco Canyon.