Social distancing requires us to stay at least six feet from each other. Six feet? That is awfully close! Thus goes one of several New Mexico versions of this bit of coronavirus humor.
Another bit. Six feet is about the equivalent of: 6 Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (or Gila Trout if you’re in my neighborhood); 2 mule deer bucks; 4 Roadrunners; or 2 Black Bears. This from NM Game and Fish recommendations for social distancing in the field. Of course, I’d rather be more than 2 black-bear lengths from any black bear, but that’s just me!
Down here in New Mexico, six feet of separation isn’t a problem for a large state, home to only about 2 million people, most of whom live in one of three cities. Practicing social distancing can be as easy as getting out onto some little corner of our millions of acres of public land.
In 30 minutes or less, I can be on a trail in the Gila National Forest, hiking with my dog alone or with one, maybe two friends. We have the choice of going low: the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) starts down south in a desert environment at 6,000’ or less, wandering through pinion, juniper and boulders, as though through a carefully landscaped rock garden. Seen from the ridges, Big Hatchet and the Floridas stand stark against the border; Soldiers Return holds the near frame. The snaggletooth of Cookes Peak anchors the east. The Peloncios, Chiricahuas and Mt Graham bound the south and west. These days, Mt Graham and the tallest points of stone in the Chiricahuas are snow-topped.
Or I can go high, above 7,000’: Signal Peak, Cherry Creek trail, the trail out of McMillan Campground, Meadow Creek trail are all favorites when Ponderosa and fir are preferred, and a shady path calls. This time of year, the Redstarts and Red-faced Warblers are moving in and singing their territory.
We’ve had a wet late winter and early spring. Rains have come with regularity. The soft female rains – or farmer rains, depending on your argot – soaked into the land at just the right time and right temperature and the result is a golden explosion.
Poppies. Mexican Poppies glowing along the roadside, in painterly splashes on the hillsides. And most spectacularly, spread across fields as quilts made of yellow, orange and gold, with love-knots of white. In New England, they go leaf-peeping in the fall. This week, I have indulged in Poppy-peeping.
Poppies don’t bloom alone. There are lupines, brittlebush, bladderpod, mustard and other yellow ground flowers whose names refuse to stick with me. There’s a spot along AZ Rt 191 where for about 3 miles, the hillsides look as though Monet was trying to improve on his Garden at Giverny.
And, the other evidence of generous rains and snow-covered elevations is water.
Water running in the most ephemeral of streams, bubbling down stony creek beds that rarely entertain a flow outside of a good monsoon. Seeps become creeks, creeks become challenging crossings and waterfalls sing over rock.
The Gila River gorges on the melt and silt from the snows on the Mogollons, spreading beyond its banks and filling the acequias.
The happening-together of a glorious wildflower bloom set against the backdrop of snowy peaks, and water courses that live up to their names has made for a rapturous spring of hikes and drives, indulging in color and sound, and following Dog’s nose up the trails. I hope and pray for the recovering health of my community, nation and the world.
Here, though, is my refuge. Social distancing at six feet? That’s awfully close!