Friday, November 29, 2019

Mellow Yellow

The weekend of Oct 26th & 27th was likely our last visit of the year to the nearby Census Designated Place of La Cienega where we do our volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas, and some of our hiking on the trails of the adjacent Leonora Curtin Wetlands Preserve. Both properties – parts of a working ranch and paraje (an official rest stop for travelers) on the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro owned by thwe Vega y Coca family from the late 1600s into the 20th century – were purchased in 1933 by Leonora Curtin and her mother of the same name. (Local history has it that the wetlands were the holding area for cattle being transported along the trail.) Ms Curtin. (the younger) and her husband Y.A. Paloheimo (the Finnish Consul-General to the U.S.) established the living museum on 200 acres of the land in 1972. In 1993 the Santa Fe Botanical Garden entered into a long-term lease at $1.00/year with the trustees of the museum foundation for the Leonora Curtin Wetland Preserve. Each property closed for the 2019 season on the last weekend of October.

El Rancho wound up the year on Saturday with its third annua "Spirits of New Mexico" event held from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm on the upper portion of the ranch. We volunteered. The Preserve held a family day that afternoon. But our visit there occurred on Sunday morning – after a good night’s sleep, and the removal of our white facial ghost makeup. (Next year we may reconsider performing the second step.)

At the museum we both served as anonymous ghosts, aka Spirit Guides – Marsha in the weaving area, Jim at the Butchery, the one-stop spot for animal processing on the ranch. Neither of us did any demonstrations. It was too dark for Marsha to see the loom. In Jim’s case – just because…

This year’s historic apparitions were:

Marion Sloan Russell – who traveled the Santa Fe Trail from the midwest five times in the early 1800s, first as a child, and ultimately settled in Santa Fe..

Billy the Kid – New Mexico’s most famous thief and murderer and his pursuer and killer Sheriff Par Garrett.

Vicente Silva aka the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of New Mexico” – by day a respectable business man giving to the poor, church and elderly, at night a gang-leading thief and murderer who sometimes strung the dead bodies of his victims from the community bridge.

William Llewellyn – company commander of the famed Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, and a legislative leader who helped achieve statehood for New Mexico.

Manuel Bace y Delgado – born around 1824 to a well-to-do family who once lived at Las Golondrinas.

The Native American “Lightning Boy Hoop Dancers,” Pablita’s Haunted Doll House, and a performance of the tale of La Llorona (a classic southwest Hispanic ghost story) – plus food and hard cider rounded out the evening.

Our appearance required normal costumes accented by the aforementioned ghostly white facial makeup. The clothing, which is made of lightweight cotton, is suitable for daytime volunteer work on sun-soaked spring, summer and early fall days, but not so much for an outdoor evening forecast to dip to forty-two degrees. Fortunately the blouse and shirt are oversized enough to accommodate some warm-weather gear underneath. That, plus a pair of jeans under her billowing skirt, a warm crocheted shawl over her shoulders, western hat, hiking boots and cotton gloves kept Marsha reasonably toasty until the last half hour of our tour when the temperature seemed to fall off a cliff. Similarly Jim added a woven wool poncho from the museum’s “Costume shop,” plus perpetual movement, to keep him largely comfortable.

And we both were warmed by the act of sharing our constantly growing knowledge of New Mexico history with a steady stream of enthusiastic and interested visitors. El Rancho’s last event of the year – for many of volunteers the most fun one – brought our time spent “working” at the museum to just over 200 hours each for the season.

We knew how to dress for the Spirits. Our costumes were mandated. And we learned last year how to supplement our normal garb for added comfort. But we found ourselves somewhat at a loss as to our hiking apparel the next morning.

“Fall is Boots & Flannel,” according to the mini-catalog that arrived with our latest purchases from LL Bean. “In the winter you are going to be changing outfits three or four times a day,” was some clothing advice given to us by a longtime Santa Fe resident and neighbor. “By 2:00 in the afternoon you might be wearing shorts and a tee shirt.”

Yet, on our third October living in the City Different we found that we are still mistakenly dressing according to our New England habits, rather than the realities of the high desert climate. We woke to a temperature in the mid-twenties on our placita. When we headed out at 10:00 it was almost forty. Marsha opted for her Ultralight Down Sweater over a long sleeve tee. Jim chose a similarly weighted vest over a cotton turtleneck. We both were overdressed – even though our Jeep’s thermometer (which normally overstates the situation) showed fifty-six degrees on our trip home. Never underestimate the power of the sun.
What we have adapted to however are the more gentle fall colors of northern New Mexico.

At Las Golondrinas we like to tell visitors that – unlike colonial New England with its spindle and wainscot chairs; trestle and drop leaf tables; and trundle and four poster beds – the early Spanish colonists lived “close to the ground.” Spain was occupied and controlled by the Moors from from 711 AD to 1492 AD. So – among the many influences on Spanish culture, architecture, language and day-to-day living – the furniture of the early settlers consisted of stuffed mattresses which were laid out on the floor for sleeping and folded upwards for sitting, with short tables to accommodate the low-slung seats.

Likewise, because forests of oaks and maples dominate the landscape, the colors of autumn in the northeastern coastal states are seen mostly in the trees above. There is virtually no red foliage out here. And the colors that do appear, are spread almost equally among the fifty shades of yellow displayed by tall feather-tipped grasses, chamisa, and other bushes of the high desert – and the less populous aspen and cottonwoods which cluster themselves around the hard-to-come-by sources of water.

But a golden cottonwood tree set against the brilliant blue sky is, in its singularity, a breathtaking sight.

That is why as we began our nature trek we found H, one of the preserve docents with whom we have become familiar, ensconced in her sitting walker appreciatively taking in such a view. She interrupted her reverie to explain to us that – depending upon their proximity to a hydration source, and the autumnal condition of their leaves when the recent hard freezes occurred – the trees were in varying states of seasonal magnificence from dried-crumbly-beige to sun-glow yellow. Which we observed as we wandered along the trail around and through the thirty-five acre property.

After we finished our walk we once again met H sitting at a picnic table chatting with two fellow docents. This turned out to be her last day of volunteering after five years at the wetlands – as she was moving to Ohio to be near the Cleveland Stroke Clinic. Her co-guides were commemorating the event with cake from a local SF bakery and invited us to join in the al fresco gathering.

Two young women who had been standing with H when we first saw her that morning were also at the table. One of them introduced herself as “Melo” – shortened from Melody – but known since birth by that sobriquet. Which prompted H to comment on how fortunate the young woman was, as she herself did not become mellow until after her brain seizure.

Of course it is hard for anyone not to be relaxed and cheerful on an autumn morning in Santa Fe with the warm sun on your back and a substantial slice of gourmet carrot cake calling out for your attention. Even the color of the food paired perfectly with the surrounding fall palette.

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