On Stands Now
February 2024

Questa  •  Red River  •  Cerro  •  Costilla  •  Amalia  •  Lama  •  San Cristobal

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On The Importance Of Staying Involved

Courtesy Photo

Every now and then I wish I had my dog’s life. Given food without having to work for it, getting my belly scratched for doing little more than lying in the middle of a floor. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have such a carefree existence, to be thirsty and, unlike some afternoons these days, desperately crave water and not alcohol.

I feel the same way about trout, whose every day begins with a clear imperative of what needs to be done. As a trout, if I feel too much push from the current, I instinctively move to a calmer spot. If an insect drifts towards me, I eat it. I see a movement on the bank or a shadow on the water, and I swim to a dark cave under a rock or the bank where I know I am safe. I really like those safe places, and can stay there for days; like a dog. I think of nothing if I think anything at all. I also don’t mind being out in the open where, adopting a human perspective for a moment, I can gawk at all the pretty things around me, the peaks and the birds and the trembling green aspen leaves.

The absence of anxiety in my trout brain can not possibly be over-appreciated. There is only the present instant, just breathing and the occasional yummy grasshopper. There are no wars to worry about for my country, home, and son. There are no ubiquitous petty politics to make me wonder if I’m insane. And there’s no TV. Lacking the ability for spoken language, I have no fear of giving offense in spite of kind intentions. I have no capacity to be offended, don’t know what that means.

As I write this, trout around the world are unaware that they are even alive. Having no knowledge of mortality, they are, in a sense, immortal. Sounds like bliss to me.

I suppose one shouldn’t fantasize like this without also addressing the significant drawbacks. How great is it, really, to be a slave to one’s ambient temperature like a trout is? Unless I live in Eagle Rock (Nest) Lake, if I’m a trout in the northern New Mexico winter, I’m barely a pulse. Same in summer, when irrigation causes my stream to run hot. I might seek relief from my low, hot creek in an acequia, only to end up flopping and gasping in the middle of an alfalfa field under the hungry eyes of magpies, raccoons, and house cats.

Being blissfully unaware is empty consolation when motor oil, mine runoff, road salt, or septic tank leakage finds its way into my habitat. Or when delicious pink globs or flashy metal morsels yank me into the air where I can’t breathe. Or when the tantalizing fake insect hooks my lip, makes me swim wind sprints, causes me to suffocate again, all before sending me back home exhausted and injured.
I guess being a trout might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Fortunately, fishing for trout is. Because where did I get all these silly ideas if not through wading through the creeks and becoming mesmerized by fish going about their business? As simple as their lives must be, it’s still profoundly inspiring to me to watch an animal stick so faithfully to what it was put on this earth to do. There’s a lesson in that: simple is good.

To paraphrase Malaquias Rael, the gift of living in Questa isn’t what is lacking but what is there. “Go look out your door,” I’ll never forget him saying. “You have a millionaire’s view.”

To take it a step further, someone living in Taos County might not be far off base by proposing that he or she already is, to some extent, a trout. Or a beaver or an elk, the mountains, a river, an acequia, or a plate of enchiladas. Everything in this beautiful place comprises us. It is us. We are it.