Sunday, January 8, 2012

It Grows as It Goes

or No. 47

When the snow in New Mexico's northern mountains starts melting in late spring, the seasonal streams come back to life.   A few drops at first, then a trickle, and then the icy waters start gurgling and chuckling over the stones in their beds, growing as they go along.  Soon they're cascading over little falls on their way down the mountains, meeting with other brooks, gathering speed, rushing toward the larger rivers—the Rio Chama, the Pecos, the Rio Grande.  Various flood-control systems stem the tide; without them the power of those melting snows could be fearsome when it reached the plains.

The rest of the year, on the other hand, the Rio Grande is the longest mud puddle you ever will see.

I've been browsing this week through bits and pieces of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things looking for the context of the words "Crescit eundo" (it grows as it goes).   Lucretius seems to have liked his weather fierce: grievously,
As gathers thus the storm-clouds' gruesome might,
Do faces of black horror hang on high-
When tempest begins its thunderbolts to forge.
Besides, full often also out at sea
A blackest thunderhead, like cataract
Of pitch hurled down from heaven, and far away
Bulging with murkiness, down on the waves
Falls with vast uproar, and draws on amain
The darkling tempests big with thunderbolts
And hurricanes, itself the while so crammed
Tremendously with fires and winds, that even
Back on the lands the people shudder round
And seek for cover.
When the clouds bulge with murkiness, get out the umbrellas.  A little later in the passage, Lucretius describes a thunderbolt gathering speed and power on its journey through the heavens.  "It grows as it goes" and strikes with ever greater vigor, so that it "shivers all that blocks its path."

And that, apparently, was what Territorial Secretary William Ritch had in mind when he added "Crescit eundo" to New Mexico's territorial seal in 1882, and why it was kept as the official motto when New Mexico became the 47th state in the Union 100 years ago this week, on January 6, 1912.  Those who guided the passage to statehood saw New Mexico as being full of dynamic growth and energy and wanted it to keep gathering momentum.  (And perhaps they liked the idea of "shivering" those who had blocked the path to the Union for so long, when New Mexico had been a territory since 1848.)

Long before Spanish-speaking, Catholic New Mexico was deemed "American" enough to achieve statehood, though, and long before Europeans arrived, rich cultures thrived here, from the Anasazi cities in the north to the Mogollon communities in the south.

Gila Cliff Dwellings, October 2010

Later the various Pueblo Indians, Navajos, and Apaches made this region their home.

Red Rocks, Jemez Pueblo, May 2010

And while New Mexico may be one of the youngest states, it was one of the oldest colonies.  Coronado and his men arrived in 1540; Juan de Oñate established the first settlement in 1598; Santa Fe became the capital in 1610.

San Jose de los Jemez mission church, est. 1610-ish, Jemez State Monument, May 2010

The centuries rolled by.  After a few wars, a couple of national handoffs, and a heavy dose of politics, New Mexico elbowed its way into the United States of America, and its new leaders expected it to steamroll right into prosperity.  In many ways it did, as the thriving artists' coteries and the new science labs made New Mexico a force to be reckoned with on the national stage.  In other ways, it didn't.  A hundred years later, we're still near the wrong end of too many state ranking lists (number of teen pregnancies, percentage of children living in poverty, academic nonproficiency) for that to ring true.

Despite its important centers of activity, I think New Mexico is a fairly sleepy place.  The whole thunderbolt thing—that sounds more like New York, not like us.  Zapping the obstacles in our path isn't really our style.  (Except in the Whole Foods parking lot.)  Like the cultures that preceded ours, modern New Mexico seems to flower and fade, flower and fade.  I think we're less like a thunderbolt and more like the Rio Grande, moving placidly along for the most part, with the occasional overflow of energy.  We hope that tomorrow will be a little better than today, that our lives will grow as they go.

Candelaria Wetlands, Rio Grande Nature Center, January 2012

Maybe I've just been watching the river too long.


  1. Happy Centennial! Not to be outdone by the Rio Grande, the Santa Fe River is a mere trickle most of the year. Mud puddle would be an overstatement!

    Great photo of the Red Rocks. I've forgotten how majestic they are!

  2. Interesting, Stacy. I'd have assumed that NM joined the Union in the mid 19th Century - but hey, what would I know. Amazing that Coronado arrived 48 years before the Spanish Armada!!! (There's an English-centric time-gauge for you).

  3. OK - now I'm really jealous that I don't live in NM. You're a great ambassador.

  4. and a Diana-centric, was my father's sixth birthday ;~)
    What an enchanting scene you close with today!

  5. Happy centennial to such a historic beautiful state...I do so love the history, flora and fauna of your is amazing that it took so long for statehood but not really if we think about this country sometimes...NM remains one of my favorite states...

  6. I loved how you explained that. A lightening bolt! What great symbolism. New Mexico is such a pretty place, but pretty in such a different way than most consider 'pretty', it's like a thunderbolt to their senses that something so unusual and unique can be so dramatic and beautiful.

  7. GirlSprout, it should be a big year for fiestas, especially in SF! I've always figured the Santa Fe River would be a rushing mountain stream—had no idea it was so variable. The Red Rocks were the first place I absolutely and wholeheartedly fell in love with here.

    Dave, well, I grew up right next door to NM and made the same assumption. (We did learn the order of the states at some point, but it doesn't seem to have meant much at the time.) You may be interested to know that NM is the only state with USA printed on the license plates, because even now some in farther away states think we're still a foreign country. Re: Coronado, those land-grab days were amazingly early! Heck--Galileo wasn't even born yet.

    b-a-g, the next time you post a photo of real British greenery, I will be jealous in return... I never expected to write so much about New Mexico but it seems a shame not to. Thank you.

    Diana, and a happy much-belated birthday in his honor! I'm glad you enjoyed the last photo—I thought it might be a little too “quiet” after the previous three.

    Donna, New Mexico really is an amazing place—it's nice to share it with people who are so ready to appreciate it. The statehood wrangle was a long one, but for a while some of that was also hemming and hawing on NM's part. Not much of it, but some...

    Holley, that's a great description of NM—it doesn't have an easy beauty, but it's still dramatic and wonderful on its own terms.