Ditch cleaning day is a big deal in Chimayo. There are multiple irrigation ditches in Chimayo, but this is a big one. It goes for four miles from the diversion on the Rio Quemado to the place where it joins up with the Santa Cruz river on the western side of Chimayo. Four miles is a lot of ditch to clean and maintain in one day. So all of the parciantes on the ditch either pick up a shovel and help do the work, or hire somebody to do it. From what we were told, there were 65 people out on the ditch for most of the day yesterday. It is a community effort, in a most literal sense. This is ancient tradition and it has always been central to the survival of the people living here where crops don’t really survive without some irrigation. It’s important to add that, as traditions go, this one is strictly a masculine one, in my experience. I haven’t seen women doing the work. And I’m fine with that, mostly because I’m not very interested in spending a day with a shovel and a bunch of men. Maybe that’s a personal thing.
Years ago, the ditch next to the shop closest to our house, had gently, grassy slopes. There was some wild willow growing nearby. Irvin the engineer decided that the ditch could potentially undermine the foundations of the house and shop and so we built up the slope on our side of the ditch with rock and chainlink fencing. Our neighbor on the other side used all kinds of random material over the years to build up his side of the ditch as well. Now it’s sort of little canyon. Only it’s a very overgrown canyon. There’s willow, Russian elm, a very stinky and invasive tree called Tree of Heaven, some wild roses, and a vine called Virginal Creeper. This space has become nearly impassable.
So on Friday morning our dog began furiously barking at something that was down in the ditch. This doesn’t often happen, pretty much no one but birds can move around in all that wild overgrowth, so I went to see what was going on. There was a man in the ditch. He was holding a bunch of neon orange spray paint cans, and was probably as surprised to meet up with me as I was to find him there. He said he was marking things that needed to be cut, the jaras that would be removed by the ditch crew coming through on Saturday. And he needed a bag to carry his cans of paint in. The ones he had gone into the ditch with had been ripped to pieces. He left a lot of orange marks in the ditch.
Apparently, no one told the crew that came by Saturday that they were supposed to do be cutting the jara. Whoever does come will need a chainsaw to get through the stuff the earlier gentleman marked. Hopefully the mayordomo will find someone to come take on the chore before they put the water back on the ditch and all the orange marks are washed away.
In case you were wondering, we have been doing our part to care for the irrigation ditches that serve our land. Irvin goes and works on the other two ditches that have a smaller cadre of parciantes and thus a smaller workforce. On the bigger Canada Ancha ditch, we pay for someone else to do the work. And we have invested lots of time and effort over the years in building watergates, the compuertas, that we need to actually irrigate with. Irvin working on compuertas, is a happy man. At the upper end of the little section of ditch behind the shop is the main compuerta we use. It comes right before a steep drop where there was once a mill for grinding corn and wheat that was used by Irvin’s grandparents. The mill is long gone, but the drop is still there. And because the drop means that things erode badly, over the years Irvin has managed to contain the destruction by pouring concrete to manage the water as it drops. Even without water, it’s kind of pretty. And when it’s full of water, it’s where we rinse our naturally dyed yarns. But that’s another post for the future.