Next to blood relationships
Some families own properties on two or three of the valley's nine ditches. You can argue that the character of a man or woman can be as much formed by genetic and cultural material as by the location of their garden or chili patch along the length of a ditch, toward the beginning where water is plentiful or at the tail end where it will always be fitful and scarce.
"He's that way because he lives at the bottom of the ditch and never gets any water" is an accepted explanation for even the most aberrant behavior in this valley. The man who lives at the bottom of a ditch is forever expectant, forever disappointed.
My number catorce, Reynaldo Vasques, lives at the bottom of our ditch, the penultimate parciante. He has reason to distrust every one of the 20-some parciantes above him. Age has given him a certain tolerance of his fate, but over the years he and his family have threatened lawsuits against upstream parciantes - including myself on one occasion - over water, and his sons have pulled guns on neighbors over water and women.
We get along now, I have learned how to grow chili from him, he trades me chili seed for garlic, and I understand his position of being one who has always lived at the bottom of the ditch, at the end of the line, as did his parents and grandparents. Two or three times a year, first as commissioner and now as mayordomo, I take the precaution of telling him to telephone me when the water starts getting scarce down at his place.
"Don't wait until the last minute when your chili is wilting and then get angry at everyone for not letting you have any water." But old habits die hard. He still waits for the last minute.
"I haven't had any water for five days," comes his scratchy voice quavering over the days, "five days," he will repeat out the open pickup window on a morning search up and down the ditch for who's taking all the water. But he no longer gets angry at me. He knows I'll get the water down to him in a few hours. I'll call up the habitual water hogs - the two or three parciantes who leave their ditch gates open all day and night for weeks on end - and tell them to close their gates and let the water go past. Or drive around, as Reynaldo used to do when he was mayordomo, and close them myself.
" Stanley Crawford,
you become the pump, the heart that moves the vital fluid down the artery to the little plots of land of each of the cells, the parciantes. Water relationships would be simple and linear were they not complicated by all those other ways that human beings are connected with and divided from each other: blood, race, religion, education, politics, money.
Against human constrictions and diversions the mayordomo must pump water seven months of the year. You can even come to envy those who work far away from here in institutions which deal with human beings piecemeal, one category at a time, and have thus managed to subordinate or exclude concerns peripheral to their specialized central purpose or to consign them to some vague world out beyond the parking lot.
A mayordomo has to deal with people whole, often angry, in their own backyards, on their own property, regarding a commonplace substance that can inspire passion like no other, with all connections everywhere firmly in place, including who beat up on who 20 years before in the village schoolyard.
Water. The crew straggles back through the newly pruned apple trees, across the thick brown orchard grass, and climbs up the ditch bank, wiping away the last traces of water from their mouths with sleeves and wrists.
" Stanley Crawford,
Mayordomo: Chronicle of an Acequia in Northern New Mexico
Reprinted by permission of University of New Mexico Press, 800/249-7737.