My daughter, Isabella, loves to go for walks. Actually, she would prefer to be on her scooter or her bike. But given the chance to be outside for any reason, she’ll take it. I love outdoor walks, as well, but as Bella will point out, I now prefer naps to exercise.
During the recent holiday break, I tried to take time each day to at least take our dog, Sophie, out for a walk around the neighborhood. Sometimes we went alone. I love the opportunity to listen to music and breathe the crisp, fresh air. Other times, Isabella went with me, and on a few occasions, Carin joined us. We live in a great neighborhood with friendly neighbors, many of whom walk the paved trails and sidewalks.
We’ve gone on bike rides along the paved Bosque trail, and we’ve ventured as a family into the foothills of the Sandia mountains. On New Year’s Day, I suggested taking a very short drive into the North Valley to walk along the banks of the ditches, which is where I spent a good part of my childhood. In the end, Bella reluctantly joined Sophie and me. Bella had no idea what I meant by walking the ditch banks. She kept asking if we were going to walk in the ditch. I couldn’t comprehend how she didn’t understand.
We drove a few miles to the townhouse where Yvette and I first lived when we were married. It was a few miles south of where I grew up, but still in the heart of the North Valley. I had great memories of walking along the banks of that particular ditch which ran behind our home. I remember waking up to the sounds of neighbors riding their horses along the ditch, or cadets from the police academy taking their early-morning jogs. I also remember going for a walk down that ditch bank one afternoon after learning that my editor at The Albuquerque Tribune had lost her courageous fight against breast cancer.
This week, I convinced Bella to trust me and go for a different kind of walk. She laughed, and understood it meant a lot to me that she tag along with me down memory lane.
A funny thing happened along the way. Within a few minutes, Bella was hooked on the experience. We probably walked a mile round-trip; the sun was out, but the sun was setting and the wind was kicking up little dust devils. It was cold in the shade. Still, we had a blast. When I suggested that we keep track of all the different animals we would encounter, Bell had no idea what was in store. Of course we saw several dogs – in back yards and walking with their owners. We also saw chickens, a duck, horses, Shetland ponies, a goat, cranes, and a rabbit. We also enjoyed peering into the long, narrow back yards of the homes in the neighborhoods. Unlike our suburban-like neighborhood, no two yards area alike in the valley.
Bella got a kick out of my stories about the ditch banks in my old neighborhood. My friends and I would walk along one ditch bank on our way to Taft Middle School. There was one yard that had a hole in the chain link fence. Sometimes, when we were late, or adventurous, we would slip through that hole and run as fast as we could through the long yard, which led directly to the front of the school. Bella loved that story. When she discovered a hole in a fence at the end of our trek on Wednesday, she just had to climb through and pretend she was sneaking through somebody’s yard.
My brother and friends from the neighborhood used to fish for crawdads in that same ditch; we rode our bikes north where we jumped the fence and grabbed cherries and other fruit; we even played football in the dry beds of a larger ditch that ran adjacent to our friends’ house off Rio Grande. I didn’t tell this to Bella, but “ditching” class at Valley High School sometimes meant literally walking along the ditch bank on the north and east sides of the school to somebody’s house or a waiting car. When we went to parties in neighborhoods where we potentially needed an escape route out, we scouted nearby ditches and planned a meeting spot in case we split up.
Ironically, the ditch that Isabella and I walked this week, is called the Gallegos Lateral. It runs through the original Elena Gallegos Land Grant. Maybe that’s a sign that we need to move back to the North Valley. At the very least, I’m glad that Bella got to experience, and appreciate, the same North Valley ditch banks I roamed in the 1970s and 80s.