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:
...so grievously,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."
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.
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.