Column: Rancheros Con Huevos
By Lauren Reichelt
Rancheros con Huevos is a column written by me where I share some of my memories and experiences of the “old days” in Rio Arriba County (or at least the old days from 20 years ago when I first came to work for the county). The people and places I’ve written about mostly existed and I gave everyone the right names if I remembered them. Sometimes, if I didn’t like a fellow, I renamed him “Dirk.” I hope I have not offended any of my old or new friends, as I love you all. Rio Arriba is my home and my passion. Gracias!
(#3) My Recycling Misadventure, Part 2
I was sitting awkwardly at a table in the front of the room.
Las Clinicas Del Norté was located in a decaying adobe schoolhouse. The citizens of El Ríto had repurposed the building lovingly, using whatever oddly matched materials might have been available, and turned it into a medical facility.
The structure was dubious but the quality of care and the dedication of the staff were exceptional.
The smell of mildew wafted subtly from the carpet. A dark, book-filled room in the back served as a combination library and community meeting space. At least fifty people were wedged into cramped folding chairs facing me.
Nobody seemed interested in my recycling presentation.
“¿Qué pasó?” demanded a man in the crowd. “What’s up with your landfill?” A few others nodded their assent.
Another man stood up and made an impolite gesture in my general direction. “Yeah! Tell Alfredo we don’t want his pinche dump!” He made another hand gesture and sat down.
Alfredo was the Chairman of our Board of County Commissioners. He had hired me. I made it my personal mission to solve problems for him whether or not he wanted the assistance.
“Screw recycling!” shouted an older Anglo man I didn’t recognize. “I just retired and bought a house here. You’re diddling my investment!”
“No, don’t screw recycling,” yelled someone else. This bit of encouragement came from a blonde man named Cal whom I recognized as one of the four or five members of Rio Arriba’s very active Green Party. “Screw garbage!”
“I don’t know anything about garbage,” I responded. “I can ask what’s going on and get back to you.”
A few people groaned.
“Recycling is important,” urged Sarah Atencio, an environmental activist from Abiquiú. I had been to her house a few weeks prior. She was showing me her compost bins so I could replicate them for a science garden at Los Niños Kindergarten. She knew a lot more about recycling than I did.
“We have to put our garbage somewhere,” Cal insisted. He turned to the belligerent retiree with some helpful advice. “I try to throw away as little as possible,” he suggested. “I buy my hairbrushes at the Co-op in Santa Fe because they don’t wrap them in unnecessary packaging.”
Santa Fe was a 90-minute drive to the south. Clearly, a more effective intervention than the elimination of individual plastic hairbrush packaging would be required to avert the landfill.
Also, Alfredo’s name had been invoked.
“Hmmm…” I mused. “I’m not privy to any of the County’s planning around landfills. But I work closely with the Commission and I know they would never place a landfill in El Ríto if they could find another solution.
“You know, I’ve worked on a few other projects and I can tell you from my own personal experience that most of the land out here is owned by the Forest Service and the BLM. The BLM won’t allow the County to use anything for housing, recreation or landfills.”
“She’s right about that!” exclaimed Virgil Trujillo, a tall, thin rancher from Abiquiú with boots and a white cowboy hat. “I gotta fight with them all the time over grazing permits. This whole county is supposed to be a land grant according to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago. But they always come up with reasons to kick us off. We’re supposed to be able to use our common lands for grazing and wood gathering. How’re we supposed to fuel our homes?”
Other villagers nodded and murmured their agreement.
The federal government held about 70-80% of the County’s land. These were the grantees’ commons, usually used for grazing small herds, hunting or collecting wood, clay or river rock.
I turned off the overhead projector. “I have an idea,” I suggested. “I know our Commissioners. They want to build landfills away from people, but the BLM won’t work with them.” I lowered my voice conspiratorially and leaned forward. “I think I know how you can help!”
A few villagers uncrossed their arms and leaned forward in their chairs.
“They need you to place public pressure on the BLM. Why don’t you circulate a petition praising the Commissioners and the County Manager?”
I pursed my lips and thought for a moment. “Be really effusive. Don’t hold back. Call them all geniuses and dedicated public servants. Tell them you appreciate their hard work trying to find space for landfills away from human habitation, and demand that the BLM stop obstructing their efforts on behalf of the taxpaying citizens of this great county.”
“Yeah!” shouted someone. “They got plenty of room for rich folk to mine gravel but they don’t got nada for a few of our sheep or cows!”
“The feds care about elk more than they care about us pleve!”
A few members of the audience laughed.
John Ussery jumped to his feet. I knew him from Green Party meetings. He was a wildly disheveled computer whiz. His shirt was perpetually buttoned unevenly usually revealing his navel. His long grey hair and beard went untrimmed.
John’s face glowed with anticipation. “This’ll be fun!” he told the crowd. “Let’s put a committee together to plan an action. We’ll let Lauren finish her presentation and we won’t include her. We don’t want to get her in any trouble. I bet we can gather hundreds of signatures for our petition from El Ríto and Ojo Caliente. Other villages, too! We can get one copy to the paper and present one at the Commission meeting in a few weeks.”
The audience applauded and a few people volunteered for the committee. John, Virgil, a few ranchers and the angry retiree all raised their hands. Then they sat down and looked at me expectantly.
I turned on the projector. Cal asked, “Do you recycle?”
“Well,” I admitted. “Not yet. I don’t have a truck so there’s no way to get all that stuff to the bin.”
“I work at the College in Española,” offered Cal. “I don’t mind coming and picking it up from you once a week.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “That would be great! Thanks! I’ll start recycling right away!”
I briefly explained recycling criteria and procedures. When I left, it was 10 pm. The Milky Way was splattered chaotically across the sky, interrupted only by shadows of mesas and mountains. A full moon caused the sand to glow.
“I got a telescope,” offered an astronomy teacher at the College. “Let’s get together next week for the meteor showers. You wanna come?” he asked me. “You can bring your family!”
“I’d love to,” I told him. When I pulled out, my headlights shined on a gaggle of men excitedly huddling in front of a car. Virgil and John waved at me. I waved back.
I drove slowly to avoid deer.
The next morning Patricio called. “How’d it go?” he asked me. “Any trouble?”
“No,” I answered. “None at all. They’re pretty excited about recycling.”
Lorenzo called later that day. “I heard you introduced our recycling program in El Ríto,” he prompted. “Everything go smoothly?”
I was working with a group of women in the northern villages on plans for a community-built straw bale house to be used for a daycare, and had forgotten all about the petition.
“Yeah,” I declared. “It went great! They were planning their recycling campaign when I left.”
“Good,” Lorenzo asserted. “Recycling is a good topic for you. We’ll have you do some more presentations. You get in less trouble that way.”
I went about my business, avoiding recycling presentations whenever possible. The women in the north had requested my assistance to promote breast-feeding. Some residents of Abiquiú were remodeling their school playground. I’d brought in a contractor from New Hampshire who designed community-built musical climbing structures.
Lorenzo kept calling to ask if I was sure there was nothing he needed to know about my presentation in El Ríto. I assured him the entire village was supportive of the County, and was 100 percent committed to helping us recycle. Whiz, bang, bam, presto!
A few weeks later, I bounced like Tigger into Lorenzo’s office to inquire about a public housing unit in Tierra Amarilla to temporarily house our new daycare.
“Hi!” I greeted. “Good morning! Hi! How are you?”
Lorenzo looked up from the newspaper he was reading and peered at me quizzically over his bifocals. I was getting The Look.
“Did you forget to tell me about something that happened in El Ríto?” he inqured pointedly.
I searched my mind, trying to fathom what might have come up. “Umm…I don’t think so,” I ventured. “Everyone was really happy when I left.”
Lorenzo held up the paper. The perpetually hostile local rag had published a two-page spread about a petition signed by the residents of El Ríto and Ojo Caliente, demanding cooperation with the Board of County Commissioners from the BLM.
The paper had published the text of the petition in its entirety.
“My compadres in El Ríto called me a genius,” Lorenzo informed me. “They admire my historical acumen. Also, they lauded the Commission for being dedicated public servants. They want the BLM to give us some land for a dump away from human habitation.
“Their choice of descriptive vernacular in my regard strikes me as unusual.” He cocked his head from side to side as he talked, and his cheeks flushed a rosy pink, a gesture he sometimes made when he was complemented on his intelligence or scholarship.
“Also, the people of El Ríto demanded that the BLM identify suitable spaces for playgrounds.” He took off his glasses. “An irregular request from the Cattleman’s Association, que no?”
Lorenzo tapped his finger on his desk and leaned back in his chair. “I was just wondering what inspired this petition.”
He looked simultaneously exasperated and pleased.
“I forgot about the petition,” I told him. “I figured the meeting went well because they said they supported the County and they were going to recycle.”
Lorenzo tried to appear stern. “Next time you run into a problem I want you to tell me. I need you to keep me informed.”
“Okay,” I promised.
But I was already scheming about the daycare.
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