On the Road May 2019

Photo by Geraint Smith

(Story by Sharon Niederman)

When the sun is shining on a New Mexico spring weekend, there’s only one thing to do: Fill up the tank and go. Those wheels are waiting, and your New Mexico bucket list is begging you to start checking it off.

Northwest

For starters, just a short ride from either Santa Fe or Albuquerque is NM-4, the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway. Hot springs, hiking, holy ruins—it’s all there. While we had our hearts set on the “Famous Jemez” burger at Los Ojos Restaurant & Saloon, we found ourselves beguiled for brunch at the Highway 4 Coffee, 17502 NM-4 in Jemez Springs, a charming local favorite reminiscent of the ’70s, serving house-baked cinnamon rolls, blue corn piñon pancakes with fresh blueberries, yummy breakfast burritos and proper Americanos. While I waited for my order, I eavesdropped on the monthly I Ching study group meeting in the back room.

On the way home, find lunch at the red rocks across from the Pueblo of Jemez Walatowa Visitor Center where Jemez Pueblo ladies slather red chile on Frito pies and, working over a wood fire, fix the best fry bread you’ve ever tasted.

Yearning to go further? Continue on U.S. 550 to Farmington for Riverfest, a celebration of the Animas River along the city’s marvelous river walkway, Memorial Day Weekend, May 24-26. The fest features music, a beer and wine garden, river rafting, fun run, duck races, plein air painting, yoga and Gourd Dances. Check it out at farmingtonnm.org/events/riverfest.

Southwest

Mother’s Day is on the way, and there is no better way to express your appreciation and make some great memories than taking Mom to the elegant Rebeccas at the Lodge in Cloudcrofts Lodge Resort and Spa for Mother’s Day brunch ($42 adults; $16 age 5-12; age 4 and under free). Chef Tim McManus goes all out to offer a selection of carving stations, including prime rib, and signature desserts of chocolate covered strawberries and homemade bread pudding, among other delicious offerings. If you’re feeling energetic afterward, you can climb the tower where Clark Gable and Judy Garland signed their names. Reservations a must: 575.682.2566.

No excuse needed for a Silver City getaway, but if you need a little push to cross the Black Range, here comes the 24th annual Silver City Blues Festival, Memorial Day Weekend, with an artwalk, paint-out, fab eats and more to accompany the music. Both traditional and contemporary interpretations are on hand with Guitar Shorty, Felix y Los Gatos and Laurie Morvan Band. Silver City’s gotten this festival thing fine-tuned to an art. Call 575.538.2505. Visit silvercitybluesfestival.org for details.

Southeast

Mesilla is the place to be for Cinco de Mayo. Starting May 4, the Plaza comes alive with ballet folklorico, mariachis, food vendors, local artist booths and piñatas a-plenty in the gazebo, as the village revels in its Mexican traditions. Information at mesillanm.gov.

Stick around Las Cruces to celebrate another rite of spring, the Blessing of the Fields, May 15, at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, as the head gates are opened and water flows into the acequia during this joyous multicultural celebration and procession to bless plants, animals, fields and waterways. Call 575.448.0721. Visit nmfarmandranchmuseum.org to learn more.

While the month of May is optimal for viewing the flowering of 600 iris in 90 varieties, in ruffles and exquisite colors from salmon to yellows, to blues and so much more, at artist Alice Seelys Hondo Iris Farm and Gallery, they are at their peak for the Iris Festival, beginning May 1, so head over Mother’s Day, May 12, to treat Mom to a rainbow of sweet blooms. Find this little piece of heaven at Mile Marker 284 on Highway 70. Alice has also created a fanciful Fairy Garden with found object installations. Her petroglyph-influenced pewter jewelry is also on display. The iris garden is a splendid place to picnic. Visit hondoirisfarm.com.

Northeast

Cinco de Mayo comes a day early to Colfax County with Los Diablos Show & Shine in Springer. On May 4, show off your ride with pride—car, motorcycle or truck—to an appreciative audience at the Santa Fe Trail Museum Park. No fees and no awards, but all entrants receive a dash plaque. While you’re at it, grab some of Crazy Jeffs BBQ and check out the chile contest. For Los Diablos information, call 575.707.2964.

Another Mother’s Day thought: The historic and beautifully restored Hotel Eklund, 15 Main St. in Clayton, serves a lovely festive Mother’s Day brunch, featuring their succulent prime rib and several special dishes Mother is sure to love in their Victorian/Old West dining room, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Price range is $7.50-$28. Make reservations at 575.374.2551.

And don’t forget: Fort Union Drive In, the state’s only remaining drive-in movie theater, in Las Vegas, showing first run movies, is open for the season. Call 505.425.9934 or head to Facebook to learn more about this classic 1958 theater.

More hot Vegas buzz: The much-anticipated grand re-opening of the renovated Castaneda Hotel is a reality–stay tuned for news on their development.

On the River with Emily

(Story by Emily Roley / Photos by Emily Roley and Christopher Howard) 

In October of 2014, I found myself sitting in a boat on a deep and lazy stretch of the Colorado River, a few miles from the entrance of the Grand Canyon. On either side, deep red cliffs towered a thousand feet up, ending in a small sliver of sky that ferried a soft light down onto my shoulders. It was my 35th birthday, and I had spent the last week chasing trout up and down this river alongside my two best friends. The engine was gently idling and we were all sipping whiskey, laughing at our good fortune, when our guide suddenly cut the motor. Instantly, we all fell silent, and a profound stillness invaded. In that moment, my life changed forever. I heard a voice as crystal clear as the waters below me. Go become a fly fishing guide.

For some, to simply pack up and shelve a seemingly normal life in exchange for an uncertain one would be insane. For me, however, it was inevitable. I was living in my hometown, Nashville, Tenn., working a normal job, living in a house I owned, surrounded by family and lifelong friends. It was a good life, safe and predictable. I would go about my day as my familiar self, thinking repetitive thoughts, performing predictable tasks, laying out plans and expecting the sun to inevitably rise. But below the monotony, there was something brewing.

Fly fishing has been an integral part of my life since childhood. I was introduced to the sport by my father, a man equal parts Southern preacher, poet, musician and trout bum. He held the belief that life was wide, deep and full of wonder, and it was on our weekly trips to the river that I learned to look for magic in everything. Selecting which fly to fish became a devotion on the freedom of choice. Getting skunked was a lesson on temperance. The sound of the river was the most ancient song. What was catching trout? Well, that was the greatest gift from the gods. As I stumbled through my teens and limped through my 20s, the river became the place where I would go, wade through the turmoil of youth and eventually, find peace. Flash forward to a woman halfway through her 30s, adrift in life, as on a boat, in the middle of the Colorado, with a metaphorical lightning strike still smoldering at her feet.

What happened after the lightning strike? That magical moment turned instantly into practical planning, a laundry list of tying loose ends. Becoming a fly fishing guide would take tenacity, a lot of luck and a complete overhaul of my life. So, immediately upon returning home to Nashville, I began sprinting toward this goal. I did research, made phone calls, heard myself again and again trying to explain my epiphany to deaf ears. Finally, in a mix of determination and fate, I found a job with the Taos Fly Shop, and six months later had boxed all that was important, sold all that was not, told my family I loved them and headed West.

From the outside, the fly-fishing-guide life is romantic, it is barely a job at all. Ultimately, we get paid to go fishing, right? Not exactly. As newly minted adults must learn how to fend for themselves their first year of college, so must first-year guides adjust to the reality of what the job entails. My first season was eye-opening. Yes, there is romance to be found, but mostly, there are impossible tangles, errant casts, hooks in trees, hooks in your clothes, hooks in your skin, sunburn, swift currents, loose rocks, mosquitoes and rattle snakes. However, if you can handle these challenges and happen to be on the river when the fish are feeding, it’s the greatest job in the world. I am four years in, and I can say, without exaggeration, that guiding a beginner into their first fish on a fly rod produces a feeling that has, so far, been unmatched in my professional life.

This is due, in part, to the holistic essence of the experience. Fly fishing is not only about catching fish. It is about the ritual, the ceremony. Laying all your gear out the night before, making sure you have everything. Waking before the sun, warming the car, pressing the coffee and checking the map. It’s about solitude. Being alone on the river, carrying everything you need and leaving all else behind, spending hours with the sound of the current as your only companion. It’s about friendship and family, taking time out from the day-to-day to make new memories and perhaps establish new traditions. It’s about nature. Knowing a river so intimately you can walk it with your eyes closed. Spending every season on the same stretch, observing what changes and what stays the same, identifying the flora and fauna. And yes, it’s about catching trout, whether your first or your 10,000th. As a guide, I get to foster this experience, and as I said before, it gives me a reward that is unparalleled.

My most memorable trip to date was in my first year guiding. The clients were a mother and young, teenage daughter. The first thing I observed upon meeting them was their contagious enthusiasm. They were fulfilling a dream, checking a box on the bucket list. The second thing I noted was the transparent, playful and entirely unique nature of their relationship. They would alternate between stinging jabs and sincere compliments. It was only an hour into the trip when the mother grabbed my arm as we were walking up the river and said, “I can’t tell you how special this is for us.” I remember that we caught fish, although I can’t tell you how many. What I can tell you is that a deeper bond was created between mother and daughter that day, a bond that will bless them both for the rest of their lives. In the intervening four years, I have guided these women eight times and had the privilege of watching that teenage girl turn into a young woman.

This mother-and-daughter story is not uncommon. Time and time again, I watch as the river becomes a conduit, reconnecting you and me to one another by tethering us for a few short hours to nature. It truly is something to watch. If you are reading this and find yourself curious, I urge you to give it a try. Maybe you have passed by the river for your entire life and always wondered what it would be like to learn how to fly fish, but never knew where to start. Perhaps, like me, this is your adopted home and you find yourself in a limitless landscape and are craving adventure. We have no time but the present. After all, the days are long but the years are short. The river, however, is ancient.

As I’ve told my story over the years, I’ve often been asked, “Why Taos?” The simplest answer? Taos picked me. It is vast and full of magic. In April of 2015, I pulled my travel trailer up from the south on NM-68. There was construction, and I was halted just below the crest of the mesa. As I sat mashing on my brakes, I could see the very tip of Wheeler Peak, and felt my heart start to thrum in my chest. The traffic started to inch forward, slowly, and I was treated to a tempered reveal of the landscape like the unfolding of a scroll, inch by inch. The Sangre de Cristo range came down from the sky and met the sage-covered mesa into which the Rio Grande had cut a giant, jagged slash. I was instantly in love. Years later, I can still feel the gravity of that moment. I had followed the river, and it had finally brought me home.

In addition to writing for Local Flavor, Emily can be found at her day job at the Taos Fly Shop at 338 Paseo del Pueblo Sur. 575.751.1312. taosflyshop.com.

Far Flung Adventures

Photo by Maria Blosser

(Story by Toner Mitchell/Photographs courtesy of Far Flung Adventures)

For most of its 40-year existence, Far Flung Adventures, one of the oldest and most esteemed rafting companies in New Mexico, has been helmed by Steve Harris. Starting a rafting company flowed naturally from his youth spent afloat; Steve had a “particular passion for rivers,” was an avid canoeist in his Oklahoma home country, and he fondly remembers visiting Big Bend National Park as a Boy Scout and thrilling at the prospect of “going down the river and [seeing] what was around the next bend.”

Harris is also well known as one of the West’s most sensible and eloquent river advocates, particularly on the Rio Grande, the Rio Chama and the Gila River. In most industries, few would doubt that running a business entails significant efforts to protect one’s cash cow. As Steve observed in his early days of rafting, however, most industries did not include rafting.

Or so it appeared in the early 1970s, when a young Steve Harris was earning his river-running chops on California’s Stanislaus River. The Stanislaus was the target of the proposed New Melones Dam, a project that would inundate much of the nation’s deepest limestone canyon, a section favored by a nascent and quickly growing white-water industry. In a long and hard-fought battle, Steve and his compatriots gathered enough signatures to create an anti-New Melones state ballot initiative, and although this referendum failed, it served as a galvanizing moment for river conservation ever since (Friends of the River, the California river protection group, was born of the New Melones campaign).

Photo by Michael de Young

“We learned first-hand how swiftly and brutally a river’s life could be ended, and got an object lesson on how one could succeed as an activist,” Steve recalls. “It’s pretty simple, having this traumatic experience of

Photo by Seth Roffman

a river being developed out from under you, and subsequent events in many of the rivers in California; through this process of degrading and developing every developable section of rivers in the western United States and worldwide, the existence of wild rivers was very much imperiled. So if you enjoyed your experience, would you not want the same experience to be available in 10 years to a person you’ve never met, who doesn’t even exist yet? In 20 years, in 50 years?”

A strangling drought from 1974 through 1975 forced Steve out of California and back to Texas, where he began exploring the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. In 1976, he and buddy Mike Davidson yearned to make permanent their rafting lifestyle. They combined their savings, bought some surplus gear, and hung out their shingle as Far Flung Adventures. In 1979, their company secured one of the first Bureau of Land Management commercial permits on the Taos Box, a section of the Rio Grande that Steve likens to the Stanislaus in terms of wildness, beauty and technical difficulty.

Since that humble beginning, Far Flung has blossomed into a modern, full-service river operation offering a range of single and multi-day options on the Rio Grande, Gila and Chama rivers, as well as customized trips to locations as remote as Mexico. Far Flung also offers courses in inflatable kayaking and swift water rescue, as well as interpretive trips where customers can learn about local geology and archeology.

Far Flung also partners with other recreational outfitters to offer combination excursions such as Rock and Raft (morning of climbing, afternoon float), Saddle Paddle (horseback in the morning, afternoon float) and hiking/rafting combinations as well. My personal favorite is Far Flung’s combo rafting/fly fishing float through the Middle Box, a section of the Rio Grande that is seldom rafted or fished. This is an overnight adventure featuring great food and spectacular scenery, and it’s scheduled in spring and fall, when the fishing on the Rio is at its very best.

Photo by Michael de Young

The incredibly snow-blessed 1980s made for big rapids and long seasons, abundant and reliable water that enabled Far Flung to expand. At the end of this wet period, however, the State of Colorado exercised its rights under the Rio Grande Compact­­—a binding water agreement between Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico—to meet its downstream obligations early and capture the year’s remaining water at the expense of downstream users. Like rafters. This experience ultimately inspired Steve to found Rio Grande Restoration in 1994, a nonprofit dedicated “to returning the Rio Grande to health by providing an improved flow regime of high quality water.”

Potential beneficiaries include rafters, farmers, ranchers and other citizens throughout the basin, and while Far Flung Adventures has a vested interest in the success of Rio Grande Restoration’s mission, its underlying objectives are community-based. At its current capacity, for example, the company can put 35 boats in New Mexico rivers on any given day. The men and women it employs live in towns where they buy local and participate in local activities and organizations. They pay rents and mortgages, grow gardens and send children to school, all while attracting out-of-state revenue to New Mexico. Certainly, Far Flung is profit-motivated to improve flows, but as a purveyor of high-quality recreational products, it has an existential interest not only in itself, but in the communities—and landscapes—its neighbors call home.

As Steve puts it, “The idea is view water as more than a commodity, to balance ownership interests with common interests.” Nowhere is this idea put to better practice than in the Rio Chama Flow Project, Steve’s effort to adjust operations at El Vado Reservoir toward the combined benefits of increasing recreational opportunity (and economy), ecological resiliency and diversity, and meeting water delivery mandates to downstream tribes and farmers in the Middle Rio Grande. Before launching this project, Steve had already participated in negotiating flow regimes that served weekend rafting with no injury to downstream users, effectively adding value to every drop of water leaving El Vado.

The Flow Project applies this same model to ecological values. “Knowing we could craft a win-win between rafters and downstream water rights owners, we thought we could do the same thing with the Chama’s ecology,” Steve says.

Mandated by law to only store and deliver water to distant downstream users, El Vado is essentially a faucet, the Chama a mere pipe. Before rafters and, most recently, Rio Grande Restoration got engaged, dam releases were often destructive to the Chama’s ecology, eroding the channel and its banks, and altering sediment transport at the expense of wildlife, particularly brown trout spawning habitat and food supply.

While meeting water delivery targets, the Flow Project seeks to mimic natural flow regimes as closely as possible to mitigate dam impacts on cottonwood groves, bank vegetation and sediment composition. Project stakeholders include scientists, management agencies, urban water utilities, fishermen, boaters, members of local communities and irrigators as far away as Socorro. They’re in it for the long haul, even though, to date, the project’s achievements have been small and seemingly random. What’s important, in Steve’s opinion, is inclusivity. “Listen to everyone,” he says, “because each of us holds a piece of the truth, a piece of the answer.”

To an environmentalist’s eye, improving Chama ecology is enough in itself. Though not necessarily of a different ethic, the rafting enthusiast has equal cause to celebrate. And, why not? Between El Vado and the Monastery of Christ in the Desert above Abiquiu Reservoir, all but the very upper reach of the Chama can only be experienced by floating. The canyon is among the earth’s most beautiful places, featuring painted orange cliffs, majestic ponderosas, the occasional monster brown trout, and enough pulse-charging rapids to keep one on her toes. And thanks to reliably scheduled dam releases, this experience is available throughout a long summer season, even in drought years.

Photo by Irene Owsley

This beauty and reliability are why so much of Far Flung Adventure’s program has been built around the Chama. Along with its far-from-routine three-day packages, Far Flung’s 2019 schedule includes a three-day music trip (June 21-23) featuring Brent Berry and the Neighbors, a guitar, banjo, mandolin trio that will finish each thrill-packed day with a fireside bluegrass jam. Far Flung has also scheduled two Chama yoga retreats (July 20-22 and Sept. 24-26), where planned yoga sessions will begin and end the days.

Music and yoga—were there ever more perfect complements to a wilderness adventure of rediscovering our natural rhythms on a river that is trying, with Steve Harris’ significant help, to do the same? Imagining being on one of those trips (and having actually floated down the Chama with Steve), I have difficulty discerning where the rafting part ends and the conservation begins.

Sure, when you book with Far Flung Adventures, your guide will be trained in CPR, Swiftwater Rescue and Wilderness First Response. He or she will be schooled through experience on the creatures, petroglyphs and geological formations you float by, as well as on regional culture and customs. Your guide will keep you safe, well fed and hydrated, all so you can get what you came for. Fun.

What you should not expect, even in the unlikely event that Steve Harris himself is your guide (Will Blackstock, long-time Far Flung guide, has taken the helm at Far Flung Adventures as Steve eases into retirement), is a lecture on conservation. The river will take care of that.

“Rivers tend to move people if they’re open to it,” Steve says. “Our net catches good people.”

To find out more about Far Flung Adventures, visit farflung.com or call 1.800.359.2627.

On the Road

(Story by Sharon Niederman)

Oh, how we love our 47th state of 121,697 square miles, where our elevations range from 2,842 feet above sea level, to Wheeler Peak at 13,161. Where our Native American, Spanish and Anglo cultures inform our foods and our tradition. Where chiles, grapes, piñon and pinto beans grow in profusion. Where elk, wild turkey, bear and buffalo roam. Where rock and river, peak and valley offer new places to explore. Where prairie land ranches, high mountain hamlets and desert scapes give us endless space to think. Where our 412 state roads take us into new communities to meet new people who share our love of New Mexico.

Welcome to On the Road with Sharon Niederman, our new monthly column highlighting happenings in all four corners of New Mexico, so you can get behind the wheel with a trusted guide.

“New Mexico is my muse,” food and travel journalist-photographer Sharon Niederman says. Her books have been recognized with numerous awards, including Society of American Travel Writers Foundation Gold Award, New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, National Federation of Press Women’s First Place, the Lowell Thomas Travel Writing Award and the Border Regional Library Association’s Award for “literary excellence and enrichment of the cultural heritage of the Southwest.” She has done stints as arts editor of the Santa Fe Reporter, restaurant reviewer for the Albuquerque Journal and Southwest correspondent for Sunset Magazine, and she’s penned three cookbooks of New Mexico cuisine. Her most recent book is Explorer’s Guide to New Mexico, and, apropos of our road-tripping column, her upcoming project, due out from The Countryman Press later this year, is, Backroads and Byways of New Mexico.

Check back in May for Sharon’s first column, and get ready to hit the road!

Wildcrafting

(Story by Michael Dax / Photographs by Stephen Lang)

Most simply, wildcrafting is the practice of harvesting wild plants that are typically intended for medicines, foods or other practical uses. But for Tomas Enos, who founded Milagro Herbs nearly 30 years ago, this relatively simple explanation only scratches the surface. For Tomas, he more aptly describes his life’s work as the “sustainable harvest of wild foods.”

“We’re not only gatherers, but we also study the plants and how ecosystems are doing, how they’re growing, what their populations look like and what impacts there are,” he says. “So it’s a little more involved than just harvesting.” It is this perspective that helps Tomas stand out. It’s not just about making a living, but rather, teaching people to interact with and integrate themselves into their environment while providing an opportunity for them to better understand the cultures that have shaped Northern New Mexico for more than a thousand years.

More than ever before, Americans have become wholly disconnected from the natural world, and as the impacts of climate change, as well as residential development, roads, overgrazing and other human impacts have degraded our natural landscapes, we are less and less equipped to understand and combat this ecological deterioration. So although outdoor recreation is experiencing a historic boom, people are not necessarily engaging in deep observation or forming the kind of meaningful relationships with the plant and animal communities around them.

This is where Tomas comes in. Sixty percent of his products, which include hair and skin care, nutritional supplements, pain relievers and dried herbs, are locally harvested. But for him, this is just the first step. More than anything, he hopes these products will help spark an interest and inspire people to learn more about the native plants and herbs growing from the Rio Grande to the highest ridges of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And with this curiosity for knowing how to harvest, process and use these plants in a responsible and sustainable manner comes a deeper appreciation and understanding for the natural world and humankind’s place in it.

Like many people, Tomas’s initial interest in wildcrafting began with spending time outside and wanting to learn the names, applications and cultural histories of the plants around him. But soon, his hobby became a passion and as he studied more, his interest grew beyond just knowing when and how to use these plants, but also, as he puts it, “how to live at the level that all other living things can tolerate.”

Part of this process is knowing when and when not to harvest, and for Tomas, his joy comes not from harvesting, but rather the opportunity to be out in the woods gaining knowledge. “Each time, it’s like a pilgrimage just to see what’s going on, maybe with the intent to harvest, but certainly with the intent to be in that environment,” he says. “It’s listening and the environment communicating.”

Perhaps no example better illustrates how seriously Tomas takes this ethic than the dilemma he faced during 2018’s historic drought.  “Last year, we had an incredibly dry year and things weren’t as viable and the plants were stressed, so it wasn’t an optimal time to do much collecting, and I had to adapt my business and life activities around that,” he says. “I’ve made a pact that if I’m going to live this kind of life, I have to live according to the natural ways. I can’t let business practices dictate my activities in the forest or else it will negatively impact the plants.”

As much as he laments how climate change and other human impacts have altered our natural landscapes, making certain plants increasingly hard to find, for Tomas, adjusting to those new realities is part of the point. Nothing in nature is ever static. Although the idea of living “sustainably” has become increasingly fashionable, often manifesting in such actions as installing home solar, driving an electric car or using recycled products, for Tomas, many of these efforts largely miss the mark. “Technology doesn’t provide the deeper answers to sustainable living,” he says.

More than anything else, Tomas views our fundamental disconnect from the environment as the largest overarching threat, and in many ways, wildcrafting both as practice and process offers a path forward. “We can’t take it for granted that those things are going to be there,” he says. “We have to be on our toes about what’s the right thing to do and our relationship with the natural world—finding our place and being aware and sensitive to that.”

While the impacts of climate change may have made last year particularly difficult, they have also engendered a growing interest in wildcrafting and the larger ethic of self-reliance that it represents. To meet this demand, Tomas offers a variety of classes and workshops focused on topics like herbalism, the cultural contexts of healing and making herbal medicines. He even has a six-month certification course in the foundations of herbal medicine.

While some of the classes can be fairly intensive, Tomas also leads a series of casual two-hour walks that provide a softer introduction to some of the fundamental principles of wildcrafting. In addition to what he describes as “a beautiful walk in the forest,” these classes also include overviews of identifying plants as well as when and how to harvest plants and herbs in order to promote future growth and not damage the plant. In the spring, these walks take place at lower elevations where participants might find commonly used medicinal plants like yerba mansa, which has a variety of uses, from reducing inflammation to easing stomach pain to curing common skin ailments.

As summer approaches, Tomas’s walks move up into the Santa Fe Ski Basin where people might find plants like osha, which Indigenous tribes have used for centuries to treat a variety of different aches and pains. Tomas will even lead walks around town to help demonstrate how many common plants we see growing as weeds can actually be quite useful. Yerba de negrita, also known as globe mallow, is a particular favorite. Blooming in July and known for its beautiful orange blooms, both the root and the leaves have long been used to treat sore stomachs, cover insect bites and condition hair and skin.

No matter the course, it’s not merely about teaching students about the plants and their uses, but about instilling an understanding and appreciation of how we, as humans, employ them in a respectful and ecologically responsible manner. Tomas is aware that in the wrong hands, certain herbs and plants can be overexploited and harvested at unsustainable levels. “We teach it very carefully,” he says. “It’s sacred information and we don’t want people using the knowledge and over extracting.”

To this end, he makes a point of incorporating plants’ cultural and human histories to better contextualize their practical applications. “We can’t always predict how people are going to use the information, and yet it is really important to get [that knowledge] out there, so along with teaching about the information, we have to work with people’s state of understand and being,” he says. “Without cultural meaning, the plants become just a commodity.”

Despite the mounting impacts of climate change and our increasing dependence on technology, he has found reason for hope. More and more, young people have become especially interested in wildcrafting and all the principles of self-reliance it embodies. “People are feeling a strong sense of wanting to reconnect with the natural world and wanting to know what all the uses are for plants,” he says.

In this movement, he sees a growing sense of community and shared experience among people who value that foundational connection to open spaces, biodiversity and healthy ecosystems he considers so essential. Wildcrafting’s prevalence may still be relatively small, but for Tomas Enos and his fellow enthusiasts, its potential to imbue a deeper sense of reverence for the plants that have sustained us for centuries is boundless.

Milagro Herbs is located at 1500 5th St. in Santa Fe, 505.820.6321, milagroherbs.com.

 

 

Homesteading in Taos

(Story and photographs by Gabriella Marks)

It starts with a dream. In this one, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s words transport a young Chrissy Streit from her family ranch in Hawaii to a small house on a thing called “a prairie,” something she’d never seen before, where the land was level, there were no trees and the grasses grew in tall waves. That little girl would one day become a homesteader in her own right with her family in Taos, but until then, her imagination was illuminated by the adventures of another young girl, just about Chrissy’s age, but out of the fabled Western past—a girl and her family, who braved the elements and hardships to cultivate a life for themselves on the frontier, living with a sense of purpose off the land as best they could in the late 1800s.

And then there is the everyday. For young Chrissy, it meant dining daily on the fruits and produce of her mother’s prolific garden. Her

Courtesy of Streit family

mother was a committed and accomplished gardener—“she could grow anything, year round”—an abundance Chrissy simply grew up with, took for granted. It wasn’t until years later, as she tried to reproduce that tradition in Taos, that she truly recognized the craft and value of that garden, and began to make her own connections between it and her dreams of raising a family in a homestead on the frontier.

Those dreams were relatively quiet, hibernating in a childhood past, by the time Chrissy met her future husband Nick Streit through mutual friends at the University of New Mexico. She was studying elementary education, and he had left school for “bigger and better things at the end of a fly rod,” she says. A New Mexico native, Nick grew up in the embrace of his own parent’s dreams. His father arrived in Taos in the late ’60s, where he joined in with the New Buffalo Commune, a small yet infamous collective farm of hippies in Arroyo Hondo. There, in the adobe house his father built (but to which he didn’t add internal plumbing), Nick grew up a mountain boy—exploring, fishing, hunting, skiing, hiking.

Courtesy of Streit family

“When I met Nick, I had no idea about this world of hunting and gathering your own firewood, and the outdoors being such a big part of your life, because it was so different in Hawaii—there are no public lands,” Chrissy says of the cultural divide she experienced at the beginning of their relationship. At the time, Chrissy didn’t really even eat meat. She was what she jokingly refers to as a “bacon-a-tarian”: she did not eat red meat but could not resist the temptations of bacon. To mark her own transition since that time—just last year, she successfully completed her first hunt.

Although Chrissy and Nick were young, 22 and 24 respectively, they knew early on that they wanted to be together, and to live out in the country. In 2004, they opened the Taos Fly Shop, and were married shortly after. But the idea of “homesteading” per se was less an articulated mission than a gradual journey that drew from what came naturally and was inspired by the re-emergence of those childhood dreams.

“In Northern New Mexico, you grow up culturally with some level of understanding of the outdoors. You know, everyone around here gets their own firewood and fishes and that’s just a part of life,” Nick explains. In complement to the fish and game that Nick brought home, Chrissy started her garden. “It was funny, people assumed because of my mom that it would just come naturally to me, but it was hard, and where we live, it’s really difficult.”

The sun, or lack thereof in the cozy canyon just outside Taos proper, where they now live, is the key determinant of an abbreviated growing season. At that elevation, frosts last later into spring—sometimes as early as the first week in June—and arrive earlier in the fall. Chrissy describes being caught off guard by a sudden frost mid-summer, running out into the night like a woman possessed, arms laden with blankets and sheets to protect her still-thriving garden.

What she doesn’t grow, she sources locally within her community, trading eggs and produce for fruit. But her true passion is foraging, sometimes for berries, sometimes for wild onions, but most of all, for wild mushrooms. “I’m a little obsessed,” she confesses. Mushrooms aren’t hard to come by in the forests around Taos—there are hundreds, if not thousands of varieties. Yet only a mere handful are suitable for human consumption, and it takes the trained eye of a mycologist to identify the right ones. Nick and Chrissy have learned over the years which are the ones to bring home. And bring them home they do, by the poundful. “We pick morels, starting in the spring, we pick bolete (porcinis), chanterelles, lobster, oyster, hedgehog mushrooms, and we discovered cauliflower mushrooms this year.” After the particularly parched and sparse conditions for foraging last year, Chrissy and Nick are enthusiastically bursting-at-the-seams in anticipation of this year’s haul. They bring them home, and cover every inch of the entire long dining table with mushrooms, slicing them in preparation for dehydrating in batches for use all year round.

And this is one place where the the Streits go about their own brand of homesteading in a manner that both differs from that original inspirational literary fantasy and sets an example for what is possible when there is both the will and the imagination to create your own way. When they first began as foraging novices, Chrissy and Nick hiked with a friend who helped them learn how to see and discover edible mushrooms in the wild. And now they have their very own little fungi sighter, who has a knack for finding the mushrooms—their son Christian.

Diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an early age, this unlikely mushroom detective sights small outcroppings from the special backpack his mother wears. His older sister Tess, who

Courtesy of Streit family

received her very own pocket knife for the first time this past Christmas, helps collect them. The Streits are a close-knit team committed to maximizing their outdoor opportunities together as a family. So that might mean building the egg boxes on the chicken hutch at a height Christian can collect from in his wheelchair, and it mostly means that creative troubleshooting—the true tenant of any homesteading ethic—is perhaps the most valuable tool in their toolbox.

Over time, Chrissy’s dreamy aspirations of the prairie frontier have turned into a passionate commitment to raise and feed her family with a deep appreciation for the value of knowing exactly where their food comes from—grown, hunted or foraged. Hunting is central to their senses both of ethics and aesthetics. Each year, Nick applies for a draw license to hunt elk, deer and turkey. Because permits are awarded by blind lottery, his strategy is to apply for less popular hunts, to increase his odds of getting a tag. After a successful hunt, Chrissy and Nick process and package the meat at home, and with the occasional exception of store-bought chicken, it’s the only meat they have in their home.

And together, they’ve managed to carve a life from the woods that balances the pragmatic needs of working in the “real world”—earning a living, having health insurance—with a healthy resourcefulness and relationship to their environment. Nick sums it up well with characteristic clarity: “The main thing for us—we’re not trying to be 100-percent perfect—we’re very much a part of society. I’ve got two businesses in town, the kids go to school, Chrissy teaches. We’re still going to the store to buy milk.”

Ultimately, this is the story of one family living an enthusiastic and resourceful life engaged to the fullest extent they’re able with the land on which they live. But from another perspective, it’s a story for us all, about how the little decisions we make every day can bring us closer to the lives we dream of. Not unlike those Laura Ingalls Wilder stories Chrissy read once upon a time as young girl.

Follow their adventures on Chrissys blog: forestandfarm.blogspot.com.