By Garrett VeneKlasen
I haven’t had much faith in humanity lately. I don’t think many of us have. The tragedies of late haven’t helped my faith in my fellow man. And as the father of a beautiful six-year-old girl, I’ve felt my usual cynicism dip even deeper.
It was hard to get out of bed this past Saturday. But the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, were coming to Taos to hold a public forum on a proposal to designate the Rio Grande del Norte a national monument.
The Rio Grande del Norte is about 236,000 acres of BLM land and contains some of the most spectacular lands and public hunting and fishing habitat in all of New Mexico. Wild trout, game herds … majestic country … it’s a place that speaks to the sportsman’s heart.
Secretary Salazar and Congressman Lujan were both humble and gracious that morning. They weren’t politicians, just two middle-aged men at a loss for words or answers.
It was a standing-room-only event with nearly 200 citizens in attendance. Democracy was alive and well that morning.
There was a troop of mixed-race Boy Scouts standing proudly in the back of the room. Grazing permittees stood shoulder to shoulder with environmentalists. But it didn’t stop there. There were tribal elders and eleventh-generation Norteños, a smattering of newly settled out-of-state folks who moved to Taos for the beauty of the land and diversity of the community. There were conservative Republicans and far left-leaning Democrats, old-school Catholics and new age spiritualists, wealthy folks and not-so-wealthy folks. Private landowners, county officials, business owners, outfitters, hunters, anglers, bikers, birders, rafters, ranchers, hippies, cowboys and veterans all showed up in force.
For a brief moment, we put our differences aside and were a true community in the greatest sense of the word.
Amazingly different people came together to speak on behalf of protecting our beloved Rio Grande and its surrounding lands. There were moving speeches about spirituality, connectedness, ecological diversity, mental health, cultural preservation, community, mindfulness, self-reliance, independence, truth, beauty, joy, grace and hope. Some were even moved to tears. I know I was.
And it seemed that the collective message that rang out loud and clear was this; that without preserving and protecting our public lands and having access to them, the people of northern New Mexico would fall out of step with the natural cycles that have defined humanity’s existence and New Mexican culture for millennia. That if we were to lose our vital connection with nature and the land, we as a community would be in danger of losing our sense of self and humanity.
In the weeks to come there will be much discussion on topics that will no doubt divide us more than they will unite us—perhaps some of the answers lie in our ties to the land, I don’t know. But I do know, that on that morning, we as a community put aside differences, and gathered for something, instead of against something. That alone gives me a tremendous amount of hope.