Wild water rushes over my toes, the scent of the river guiding me deeper. Cold seeps into my limbs, washing me awake until I begin to sway with the grass in the rocks. It is 9 a.m. on the bank of the Pecos River. We’ve just spent our first night in Northern New Mexico, sleeping under the stars at Villanueva Fields. Our host land lies in a mosaic of cottonwood, cacti, and water, the latter a precious resource in the desert. New Mexico has three main rivers: the Pecos, the Rio Grande, and the Gila, each a unique gift. Community members rely on them for anything from bathing to building acequias, or ditches that direct water to irrigate land. This morning I explore the magic of the Pecos, dipping in and out of her bubbling brown stream.

After I lazily dry off and finish drinking in the landscape, we head for a walk to the river dam. Dust and stone graze my feet and I remember the feeling of the water. Here, those moments will be few and far between.

When we gather at our destination, our host shares just how special this water is. She performs a prayer learned from the pueblo, sprinkling water in four directions. The wind picks up each drop, misting my face and creating a wide smile. My friends notice and we share a laugh, echoing through the valley. Quiet settles again as Katherine continues on, telling us a new term: heart place. She says some believe this is the land, a vital organ in the ecosystem. If the land is the heart, she says, the water is the blood running through the veins of people and places alike. As I stare upon the system of acequias yearning to flow, I reflect on the rights of this river. While it breathes life into every local being, each drop has been sold to Texas, California, Colorado, Mexico, and beyond. But can water be bought? The Pecos dances in answer, her rhythm untamed. She belongs to no one, but bends light and hydrogen for those who listen – for these people, and this place that stewards her.

As we continue on our journey, I’ll always cherish the water that welcomed me to New Mexico. And, when the flow carries me home, I’ll continue to fight for her sisters and the lifeblood that sustains us in the family of things.

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