Friday, April 16, 2004


This is a letter I wrote to the Albuquerque journal last year, in response to a
plea from a North Valley resident for the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District
to cease scraping the acequias while the ducks were nesting. I have lived on the
ditch for many years, and I am sad to report that the destruction of wildlife and
especially wildflowers has been devastating. I don't know what else can be done,
beyond pleading and prayer.
This is a post to the ecotone wiki, a collaborative
website for writing about place.

I anticipated the standard response from the MRGCD in reply to a recent letter to the editor,protesting the destructive, unconscious mowing of North Valley irrigation ditches, but I suppose this plea will likely be simply ignored.

I am sure the conservancy district employees are hard at work mowing here, mowing there, for months on end, removing the elms, grasses and other unwanted vegetation from the many miles of ditches, with no particular time-table or concern
for the nesting habits of ducks.

In fairness, constant mowing is required to keep pace with the outrageous weeds
that will be towering over the paths after a few summer rains. Russian thistle and
tumbleweeds, goatheads and pretty little ferns that turn to woody thornbushes
are growing quickly, since they have no competition from other plants.

My experience as a ditch-walker over the past twenty years in Corrales is
that the multitudes of native plant species and colorful wildflowers that once
were commonplace along the ditchbank are now gone forever, the result of commitment to a policy of systematic destruction by bulldozers and mowers.

I remember when, from August to October along the acequias, we enjoyed a brilliant display of fantastic, ten-foot multi-headed sunflowers, black-eyed susans, white asters, purple asters, Indian paintbrush and larkspur, gallardia and cosmos, penstemon and hollyhocks and Mexican primrose...until--along came the bulldozers, late in the summer, but too soon for the seeds to have ripened and fallen.

The next year there would be fewer flowers, and fewer the next, and they too were crushed at the height of their beauty, and the ditch was scraped, back and forth.

Eventually the softclay silt of the banks became unstable, and the gophers moved in, so that in many places the dump trucks came to shore up the banks with concrete chunks. The main canal I used to walk was completely cemented, so as to save the water that grasses and wildflowers might drink while doing their job of holding the banks together with their roots.

Now there is not much left out there on the ditches except weeds and thorns, thistles and goatheads. We still have the perfection of a clear blue sky, sometimes, and the mountain’s glory, but down here on the ground where I walk, I haven’t seen a single native sunflower, nor a purple aster yet this season– only the isolated goldenrod, gourd or globe mallow. On a Sunday morning early this spring, I observed two men dump garbage bags full of beer bottles into the water at a shady turn, then run away, jump into a SUV and drive off.

The very next day, I watched a pair of mallards with a family of baby ducklings paddling bravely up the flow, restoring hope and great wonder that they still can do it--in the face of such odds, such lack of respect. How much longer, till we look back through the eyes of memory, and wonder when it happened that all that beauty went away, leaving only a dry concrete channel full of trash, a dusty ditchbank and a wall of weeds?

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