Moving Through Water and Time
April 11, 2012, by Melissa Howden
—For Melissa, an emotional winter gives way to the surprise of new growth—
If one pays the closest attention it is possible to see the turns of the seasons in particular the arrival of Spring. Here in Northern New Mexico the seasons are showy, dramatic and distinct rituals accompany them.
I’ve been here for the last two and a half months having arrived early in February to be with my father during his time in a rehabilitation hospital as efforts were made to get him back on his feet after a particularly “killer” series of chemotherapy treatments. I’ve seen him released from the rehab hospital only to be admitted to another hospital a couple of weeks later and to hear the Doctor say “he is dying.” I’ve participated in the first meeting with the hospice doctor. I was present to hear the doctor say, “It’s true I am a hospice doctor, but I also have hospice graduates and I think its possible that a year from now you will be one of my graduates.” With this possibility held out to us we all, the whole family, became singularly focused on my father’s weight gain and his tours up and down the hall with his walker. We have gone from the place where my father’s friends came ostensibly to say goodbye, to the pleasant surprise of ongoing visits.
The death and life drama in my family has played out against the backdrop of the change of seasons. I arrived in the dry bitter cold of February a month during which three of four times I woke up to soft white snow. Each time, despite having had the experience before, I exclaimed in wonder. Spring proceeded with buds turning to blooms and then another surprise snowfall.
Here no matter the temperature nothing signals the coming of Spring more than the sight of people out with shovels and rakes cleaning what to most of the world look like everyday run of the mill ditches, but here are known as “acequias” which does in fact translate to “irrigation ditches”. The acequia system here in northern New Mexico was created by the Moors and brought here in the 17th century by Spanish colonists and remains intact today.
Preparation of the acequias to receive the Spring runoff is a community affair and in many, if not most cases, generations of the same family have participated in this timeless ritual. To irrigate your fields you must have water rights, and when you receive the water and how much is subject to the size of your fields, community discussion and ultimately to the Mayordomo — loosely translated as “the Butler” of the acequias.
In a primarily agricultural community Spring is signaled by the arrival of water, lambs, calves and kids. The babies are adorable to be sure, but the life cycle has its drama in the pastures just as in the streets. One evening at dusk I witnessed the birth of a goat (kid). Within 20 minutes the mother had that baby clean, dry, up on its feet, suckling and ready to face the world. Another birth did not have such a celebratory outcome. The first baby arrived with little fanfare but it became clear the mother was in distress. As it turns out the next baby was breech and had to be pulled only to discover there was yet another. The two were stillborn, full-grown having no doubt died during the difficult birth. Now though, the pastures are full of fast-growing bounding babies. Most lived, a few did not.
A few days ago I was initiated into the subtleties of moving water. The release of the water into the fields is only the beginning of the process. The water needs to be guided and moved to the right places. This is done with a particular movement—a gentle swish and then a soft smoothing of the back of the shovel from the place where water has gathered to the place you want it to go—thus moving water. Having acquired a certain mastery of the arm/body/shovel/water movement the process becomes a moving meditation in which success comes with a singular focus—focus on the field, the direction of the breeze, the slope of the land, the flow of the water and the gentle formation of lines with which to guide the water. On occasion, a more direct form of intervention is required—the creation of a dam and/or a line of mud in one area to direct the water to another.
Of course my day of moving water lent itself to a particularly contemplative state in which certain things rose up from the depths to a level of consciousness. Things such as lines from songs,
…when you find yourself wishing for things in the past, remember the wrong things aren’t supposed to last.
And how the quiet parched times of my emotional winter eventually gave way to the surprise of new growth, beautiful sights creating a catch in my throat accompanied by occurrences I could never have imagined.
And in a few days I will go and sit with my father, who has gained weight and now walks without his walker.
I am sure of nothing except for the cycle of change.
Everything changes, lives and dies.
Breathing, being and moving with the grace of the water bringing life to all in its path—this is life and living with unceasing wonder.