Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sometime It Just Hits You

I had gone for a walk on part our community’s hiking trails, and was vacuuming up the fallen maple leaves that I had blown into a sort-of-pile on our patio when I looked out through the door window into our open garage and saw a framed image of the high-desert landscape with the Jemez, Ortiz and Sandia mountains on the horizon and realized – we’re f***ing living in New Mexico.

And Don't Forget This Type of Arroyo

In response to my earlier essay on “Canales, Arroyos andAcequias”, PH (a friend, baseball writer, and member of The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)) replied:
“And don't forget this type of arroyo...
The link brought me to a SABR article on Luis Arroyo, “a chunky little Puerto Rican southpaw [pitcher] whose out pitch was the screwball…. He spent just four full seasons in the majors, plus parts of four others, from 1955 through 1963. He enjoyed modest success overall as a big-leaguer, but he had one outstanding season. That was 1961, when he helped the New York Yankees win their 19th World Series title by posting a 15-5 record out of the bullpen with 29 saves.”
In Arroyo’s words, “I keep the hitters guessing and I can usually get my stuff over the plate. There’s not much more to pitching than that.”

When I was growing up my father and I were devoted Yankees fans.  He unexpectedly passed away in 1960 during my senior year of high school.  And although my enthusiasm for the Bronx Bombers was waning because of that and other teen-age reasons, I still fondly remember Luis Arroyo. 
As a young follower of what was at that time truly then “The National Pastime” I had for some reason a particular affinity for Hispanic and Latino players.  I think part of it was just the rhythm of their names – lyrical and somewhat exotic to the ear of a working class white kid, growing up in a working class white town. 
This was not true in all cases though.  Roberto Clemente yes – as well as Chico Carrasquel and Orestes “Minnie” Minoso.  Cuban shortstop Willie Miranda not so much.  But – the exception that proves the rule  – Guillermo Miranda Perez, his full name, became one of my favorite Yankees and remained so even after he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in the biggest (seventeen players) swap between two teams in major-league history.  The deal did however give the Yankees pitcher Don Larsen, whose “perfect game” in the 1956 World Series I was fortunate to be able to witness from the center field bleachers in Yankee Stadium with my father.
And this affection for euphonious Spanish names continues today – but now extends beyond the playing field.   Maybe even that consonance of sound is part of what attracted me to New Mexico. 
So I began to wonder about the etymology of the surname Arroyo – and discovered that Arroyo is what is termed a “habitation (or toponymic or location) name” –  meaning one that is derived from the inhabited location associated with the person given that name.   Sometimes the name is directly taken from the proper name of a town like Rivera, Manuel, or Miranda.  Other times it describes the type of place, such as a waterway – an arroyo.
Or a canal, which spawned the family name of Michele Giuseppe Canale (1808−1890), Italian historian, Gianna Maria Canale (b. 1927), Italian Actress, Gonzalo Canale, Italian rugby player, and Giuseppe Canale (1725−1802), Italian painter and engraver.
This unfortunately however is not the case with acequia, which seems to have no representatives in the toponymic surname category.  There are however, according to, 2,399 Birth, Marriage, and Death records with the “occupational” hereditary name Mayordomo – descendants of former overseers of the community owned irrigation systems.
My own patronymic is Irish.  I know nothing of my grandparents (who died before I was born), or their forebears.  According to, Meehan derives “from the Gaelic O' Miadhachain, meaning the male descendant of the son of the honourable one!”  (Better than the alternative, but not that informative.)
However, according to Irish origin legends, the offspring of Milesius of Spain, King of Braganza, Father of the Irish Race, represent the majority of Gaels from the Emerald Isle.
Maybe my interest in Spanish nomenclature is really just an etymological search for my family roots.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Canales, Arroyos and Acequias

Although water is scarce in the high desert southwest – contrivances for diverting the precious liquid such as canales, arroyos and acequias are pretty ubiquitous.
In her book “Southwest Style” Linda Mason Hunter writes,  “Canales are roof drains or spouts that carry rain and melting snow off flat roofs to the ground, often onto a splash stone. They are important functional elements to adobe houses and Indian Pueblos as poorly designed or badly located canales could result in rapid deterioration of the fragile walls, which were, after all, made of sunbaked earth. Settlers made the earliest examples from split logs hollowed out and lined with galvanized tin. Some are decorated with curved or zigzag designs cut along their edges ... . Most are undecorated ..”

Based upon our brief experience with canales, I would reword the phrase “CARRY rain and melting snow off flat roofs to the ground” to read “SPEW rain and melting snow off flat roofs to the ground” – hence the need for a “splash stone”.
Even though very few of today’s Pueblo Style houses are built with adobe, the spouts are still an integral part of the architecture.  Our home in Santa Fe has six of them – all made of undecorated, paint-covered wood.  And Marsha and I are finding them much more entertaining than the downspouts that  shunted the much more frequent precipitation from the slanted roof of our former colonial style Connecticut house.  Really, which would be more fun to watch Niagara Falls or Niagara Pipe?
Doing a rough calculation using the website I am estimating that a one inch rainfall generates about 1,500 gallons of water on our flat roof – or around 250 gallons of run-off per canale.  Late last week that happened in about thirty minutes.
Watching our sextet of cascading cataracts makes me totally understand the purpose of arroyos – which the Drainage Ordinance of the southern New Mexico county of Doña Ana defines as "a watercourse that conducts an intermittent or ephemeral flow, providing primary drainage for an area of land of 40 acres (160,000 m2) or larger; or a watercourse which would be expected to flow in excess of one hundred cubic feet per second as the result of a 100 year storm event."
Or put non-bureaucratically, an arroyo “is a small steep-sided watercourse or gulch with a nearly flat floor: usually dry except after heavy rains.” (
Some arroyos are created naturally when overflowing rivers carve into surrounding rock and create ravines.  Others are man-made – sometimes out of large stones or concrete.
Our community, Rancho Viejo, has large numbers of each kind – several at the base of “Arroyo Canyon Road – one of our walking routes to the hiking trails – and none of which we have yet seen in operation because they do most of their hard work when it is pouring rain.  There is however a dirt arroyo under a section of Rodeo Road, one of the main driving routes to our house – and yes there is a permanent venue for the cowboy competition on the thoroughfare.  Every time we have crossed that overpass the gully below has been absolutely bone dry.  Then the day after our aforementioned one-inch deluge there was a light-brown onrush of water strong enough to support white-water rafting (if the turbulence was clearer).  Now I understand why the signs at the spots where arroyos cross over roads tell drivers, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”
Why you ask, in the high desert with so little water available do they devote some much energy to getting rid of it?  Well, northern New Mexicans actually work just as hard to transport snow and rain runoff, or river water to distant fields using a community operated system of canals called acequias.  The word acequia is used to describe both the ditch itself and the cooperative organization that constructs, manages and maintains it.  .  An association headed up by a “Mayordomo” and at least three commissioners governs water usage in an acequia.  Its rules and regulations are based largely on local precedent and tradition.
3,000 years ago the Pueblo Indians of northern New Mexico began diverting water for their crops (mainly the so-called “Three Sisters” – blue corn, beans and squash.)  And for more than 400 years New Mexicans have redirected water from rivers and springs to hydrate their orchards, gardens and crops.  The word acequia itself derives from Classical Arabic "as-sāqiya", meaning "one that bears water" – and also a "barmaid".  The Arabs brought the technology to Iberia during their takeover there, and the Spanish took it with them in turn to the lands that they conquered – including what is now New Mexico
Our new property is watered by a drip irrigation system and is part of a Home Owner’s Association rather an Acequia Cooperative.  This a deep disappointment to those of us interested in learning about and, if possible, re-experiencing true stories about the past.
We have however become members of, and plan to volunteer at, El Rancho de las Golondrinas, a living museum in Santa Fe, which interprets the heritage and culture of 18th and 19th century New Mexico.  The museum does belong to a local acequia whose water it uses for growing crops using traditional furrowing techniques and for powering their two gristmills.  Perhaps at las Golondrinas we will begin to literally immerse ourselves into what is now our local history.

More Santa Fe Anomalies

Marsha and I knew before we moved from central Connecticut to northern New Mexico that the rules of gardening would be quite different.  Less available water begets plants that can survive drought.  Those that can’t...don’t.  But it wasn’t until we bought our house with its modest amount of southwest landscaping that we began to realize just how far apart the horticulture of the “Land of Steady Habits” and “The City Different” really was.

Although we are still not totally certain what we have, we believe that the planted portion of our property contains: several lavender plants; a Wisteria vine; two rose bushes (one dead, one on life support); a Russian Olive bush; a small bed of Daisies with dried up heads so we don’t know what kind; a Chuparosa (or so I have convinced myself based upon a photo and write-up in a house-warming gift-book – and by the persistent appearance of hummingbirds at the red flowers as the book describes); several randomly placed hollyhocks; a maple tree; two aspens; and one locust tree whose multiple sucker offspring we have had a local arborist remove (“hunt and kill” per their bill); plus several varieties of what we choose to call (for lack of a more knowledgeable term) small desert flowers, aka :”sdfs” (some purple, some yellow).

But here is where the yin and yang polarity of northeast and southwest comes into the picture.  At our new residence – excluding the hapless roses, which we will probably remove, and perhaps the daisies, which may turn out to be a high desert variety – the native plants that we have apparently do not want to be watered.  In some cases it is actually bad for them.   And, in an unfamiliar environment, I am not one to mess with Mother Nature!

The trees on the other hand are practically hydro-holics.

“You should be watering the maple and aspens, long and deep, once a month,” J the arborist told us while he was writing the death warrant estimate for our unwanted locust forest.

“Place the hose here” – he pointed to the outer edge of the roots as he laid the nozzle down at the three o’clock position – “set it for the slowest possible trickle.  And leave it there for an hour or so.” Furthermore we were told we should water the thirty-minute spot the same way next month – thirty days later at 9:00 – and so forth around the base – etc., for ever and ever.

Back where we came from, other than newly planted ones, trees were basically left on their own to hydrate as they saw fit.  In northern New Mexico they are evidently as desperate for a drink as a drunk trapped in a dry town.

In an earlier essay I explained how I now was removing blades of grass from our natural desert backyard with the same gusto that I “hunted and killed” any invasive dandelions and other weeds back in Connecticut.

Now I am watering trees.

And so it goes.