Growing up out West, I’ve become adverse to sticking solely to the trail and one day I got lost. I was descending the steep face of Sandia Peak and midway down I found myself chasing mule deer tracks into the desert.
I could clearly see Albuquerque, my destination, but without shade, water, or a clear path to guide me, I soon succumbed to a dizzy wandering. In the glaring midday sun my vision became impaired by stars and a mirage of halos. I like to believe that my guardian angel led me to that 7-Eleven at the edge of town where I quenched my thirst on a slurpie and brain-freezed myself back to life.
Eventually anyone who spends some time in New Mexico gets heat stroke. You forget to drink water, your lips get painfully chapped, and you end up looking like a sunburned Zozobra. The only remedy to a fever dream is to wake up in an ice cold bath.
Sandia is Spanish for Watermelon and at dusk the mountain turns pink on the arid west side. The green forested rolling hills of the east side becomes the rind. It’s cooler in the higher eastern elevations and the stream at San Antonio is an oasis. Native Americans, Spaniards, and Gringo’s alike competed with the rest of the animals in the woods for a drink at the spring. One party after another gained control over its access, but the others have not gone away. The acequia at San Antonio fuels diversity.
During San Antonio’s feast day the matachines burst through the door and disrupt the church service as if they were the raiding Apaches of earlier years. These mysterious masked rattlers play the victorious knights who forced the invading Moors out of Spain. Their presence dates back to the discovery of the New World and the Spanish Entrada. There is a heavy Aztec influence to their steps, instruments, and costumes and the procession has become a living time capsule of the last 315 years. Matachine is Arabic for “mute spirit” and the dancers become a sort of tabla rasa. When new groups encounter the dance they imprint their own traditions. These more recent interpretations build upon the nuances of a now ancient ritual.
Likewise, the acequia’s water is clear and formless. Priests, curanderas, farmers, residents, and scientists each have their own explanations concerning the purity of the stream. However, the conclusion, whether divine or profane, is always the same: water in the desert is a blessing. San Antonio’s acequia is a treasure that must be preserved at any cost.