It was a breathtakingly gorgeous fall day today and as I arrived home my neighbor, Walter, was delivering more fire wood. That makes four cords with one more to come tomorrow, and I’m ready for winter. Walter goes up the mountain and cuts it every year. It’s hard work and I’m very grateful that he does. His efforts keep me warm.
Walter grew up in Truchas. His family has been here for generations. The family adobe, where his father was born and his father’s father, is on the main road that runs through town. They own the whole wide strip of land from there, all the way out to the land grant, parallel to my place. Many, many acres.
A friend told me recently that, if I turned right onto the dirt road at the back of my property, rather than left as I usually do; if I cross Walter’s place that way, the road goes all the way to Cordova, the next village down the mountain, five miles away. Walter’s land is fenced so I’ve never explored in that direction, but I decided to ask him about it tonight. If it was true, I wanted to request permission to walk that way.
Unfortunately, it’s not true. But the real story is actually much more interesting, I think. The road I walk on, as it crosses Walter’s land, gives way to an old system of trails, going up and down the canyon, quite densely overgrown by now and cut apart by land grant fences. Walter’s dad used to cut trees in the canyon and haul them up with horses, using these old trails. People ran their cattle and horses up and down them at the turn of seasons—up to the cooler temperatures in the spring and down to warmer altitudes in the fall.
Walter took me to see what was left of the trails. Sadly, nothing I can get through. Because his family, like many others, never fenced their acreage into the canyon, the land grant claimed it (which was legal to do) at one point in the village’s history. They fenced parts off, and people quit using the trails. My way would be blocked by thick growth and those fences.
Walter told me where I’d find other trailheads along the grant. These were the paths people used to walk between “downtown” Truchas and the llano—back and forth, day after day, miles and miles—because they had no cars, and there were no fences to block them. Neighbors allowed neighbors to walk across their land and set aside whole swaths to accommodate them.
Walter described the track of land running through their neighbor’s field that allowed his family and others to walk to the acequia to get water for their homes, before people had plumbing and water piped in. And he recalled when he and his brother, Richard, used to walk folks home after late church services when the skies were growing dark, across the fields and pastures and out through the canyon, all the way to the llano. They’d spend the night out there because the walk back home was so long.
There are cars now and fences and indoor plumbing. People have become so busy that the trails just aren’t used anymore—they are disappearing back into the forest.
I’m going to take some time to see how far I can get on the main trail that used to join my side of the canyon with the llano. I may be stopped by fences that are impossible to get over or through, or by the forest itself, but I’m going to try.
Oh, and that old dirt road to Cordova does exist. Walter told me it’s across the canyon at the far tip of the llano. Wouldn’t it be great if I could discover and reuse the old route through the canyon that would take me there? I will tend it just by walking it, day after day, mile after mile, one footfall after another, clearing a path as my neighbors used to.
Love to you all,