I'm taking a month's working vacation at Coyote Ridge, our log cabin in New Mexico, on the eastern slope of the southern Sangre de Cristo mountains (the mountains in the background of the photo). The peaks are often blood-red in the morning sunrise: hence the name, the blood of Christ, given by the pious Spanish when they traveled through the area in the 1600s.
Our cabin is on a long mountain slope overlooking the broad valley of the little Rio Manuelitas. In the fall, the valley is golden; in the rainy season--June and July--it’s a sea of yellow-spangled green. Now, in the dead of winter, the grass is covered with snow and the rancher feeds his herd of black Angus cattle with hay tossed from his pickup truck, the cattle following in long, snaking black lines across the snow.
This valley has a long and vivid history. It was part of the Apache and Ute migratory range, then claimed by Spain when it conquered Mexico in the 1520s. It was a Spanish possession until Mexico declared its independence in 1821, then became part of the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in 1848. For another sixty years, it was part of Texas--until New Mexico became a state in 1912. Three small villages were settled here: Rociada (just out of this photo, at the far left); tiny Upper Rociada, a few miles higher in the mountains; and even tinier Gascon, another mile farther, still higher.
In the 1870s, Jean Pendaries and wife Maria left their native Gascony and came here, making part of the long trek by wagon along the Santa Fe Trail. Pendaries helped to build the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, on the north side of Old Town Plaza. Then he and Maria moved to this valley and established a ranch in the river valley. It was isolated then, a full day's trek by horse/wagon from Las Vegas, the nearest source of supply. I like to look out over the valley and try to imagine life as it was then, with all the challenges of the seasons and the uncertainties and threats of the frontier. But mostly I admire the changing landscape as the sun moves through its daily arc over the valley and our mountain slope.
Book report. I'm doing research this week on Bittersweet, China Bayles' 2015 mystery. The book is set in Uvalde County, near Utopia, in South Texas, and involves a deer breeding and hunting facility--with a character new to the series, China's friend, a game warden named Mackenzie. I know that some readers may have trouble with the book's focus on deer hunting. But "monster bucks" with huge racks are Big Business in rural Texas counties that rely on deer farming and deer hunting as a chief source of income and jobs. As a resident of one of those rural counties, I live in the middle of the pros and cons, the paradoxes and contradictions, and I've been wanting to write about this topic for several years.
Other than book research, I spend the quiet days reading, listening (David McCullough's biography of Harry Truman), and enjoying a West Wing festival on DVD. (I'm into Season Two already.) But mostly, I watch the always-changing mountains, glowing red in the dawn and waiting to catch the setting moon in their silent embrace.
Reading note, from Behind the Mountains, stories about this valley written in 1955 by Oliver La Farge, whose wife Consuelo was the granddaughter of Jean and Marie Pendaries: Down the middle of the valley runs a clear, fast, noisy stream in which one may take trout. In the lowland along the stream and its tributaries are the farmlands; beyond them are the pastures reaching to the high-wooded knees of the mountains. Behind the crests of the first rugged walls, shaggy with spruce and fir and pine, are the main peaks, with the brown, domed, pure rock of El Ermitano [Hermit's Peak], snow-powdered until midsummer, as a monument and guardian notching the western sky.