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March 24, 2007

Maybe They Oughta Listen to My Mom

During the some 27 years I lived in New Mexico, I had many occasions to encounter the Rio Grande. How might I best describe my impressions? Muddy, dangerous, cold, forceful undertow. Oh yeah, and flotsam and jetsam of the highest order. Things that make you go ewww as they drift by in the swirling eddies of the mud colored water.

My mom always insisted that my siblings and I not swim in "that dirty water". Her main worry, of course, was that in the dry seasons, trees and weeds grow in abundance in the empty riverbed. During runoff, water covers that tangled underbrush and it's real easy to get a foot caught and that's that in a wicked undertow. The river flows fast when it's flowing.

I'd heard stories through the years too about if you swim don't gulp any of the water. Hepatitis. E coli. Other exotic things with exotic names I can't remember.

I can honestly say, I've never swum in the water of the Rio Grande. Now I took on the muddy waters of Ute Lake with a pink air mattress and a smile during summers in my childhood, but I never had occasion to swim in the river. Occasions presented themselves, but I never went in. I've sat on the muddy banks a lot, pondering life, raising hell, drinking beer. Once after losing my college love, I sat by the banks of the river in Las Cruces for days on end and raised the water level with the volume of tears I cried. But swim? No.

In each person's life, they have a collection of images in their head that are indelible. They stick for a variety of reasons. The first time you saw the love of your life. A terrible car crash you once witnessed. What it was like to see the ocean for the first time. One of those images from the mélange in my own brain is from my college days. There were lots of spots in the greater Las Cruces area with good access to the Rio Grande. As such, we college kids made it a point to have many a celebration by the banks of the Rio Grande. Many of these "river parties" took place at night, after a dance or the bar closed. But sometimes it would start as a barbeque down by the water and last into the night.

One afternoon on a warm day, a gang of girls piled in to the car and headed to the river for a barbeque day. It was a crowded party and there were some boys swimming in the river. I always give the river a beady eye of skepticism mainly because my mom drummed it into me. So I watched these nineteen-year-old guys swimming around in that gross water with fascination. I remember one guy, I can't honestly remember his name, but he was in the water and he was swimming with all his might against the current and he was losing ground. This was a strong guy, in good shape and a strong swimmer and he was putting everything into it, and the river was pushing him back.

Ok, I know for any "mighty" river this probably isn't all that amazing. But to me, it crystallized everything my mom had said about the dangers of swimming in that water.

Along with the wonder of seeing him swim for all he's worth and not get any forward progress was seeing bits of yuck floating past him in the water. Not only was I horrified at the danger he put himself in swimming into the current, but my god, what danger did all that crap pose to his health?!?!

By the time that water makes it to the southern end of the state, it's been subjected to some pretty heinous stuff. Insecticides, manure, runoff, and the occasional dear departed dog. Yes, horrible to say but true, many a person has tossed their deceased animal into that water. Hell, a few human bodies too, but that's almost too much to consider.

In October this year I took my partner to see the span of river near my folks place in Los Chaves on the Bosque. It's beautiful there. As we stood on the banks I recall him saying to me, "What's that foamy stuff floating by?" God knows. I sure didn't.

So this is a long way of saying there is no way in hell I'd drink that water. So imagine the ewww face I made when I read the article in the Albuquerque Tribune with the story title: "Taste testers find Rio Grande water earthy, approachable".

Say it with me now....EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

The story says that in Albuquerque they are building a treatment plant to make the water, and I quote "drinkable and deliverable to area sinks, toilets and showers."

They'd do best not to tell folks where the water came from. Cuz I know I'm not the only one who'd be real opposed to having that in my water glass.

I know beggars can't be choosers when water is tight. But gad...that's just...gross.

I do love the quote, though, from a local winemaker John Calvin. "He detected some 'overtones of granite,' he said, a hint of 'Russian olive in the nose,' and something else that might have been 'evergreen trees after a rain.'"

Wow. Bet that's not all he tasted......

(actual photo of the actual river in Los Chavez)

Photo by Karen Fayeth

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Creative Commons License
All content of Oh Fair New Mexico by Karen Fayeth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.