<i>Editor’s Note: The Quackers are three awesome ducks from the canals of Venice who are on a mission to educate the community about the dangers of global warming and the importance of practicing sustainability, all while surfing the most gnarly waves possible. </i>

We needed to get a jump on our vacation. Soon our answering machine would be full. Relatives, friends, everyone from near and far would be looking for accommodations at the “Le Quac-Ker Bed and Breakfast of Santa Monica,” aka, our house. Last year we had non-stop visitors from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

We needed a change of scenery, something different, but where? We were stumped until our cousin Juanita phoned inviting us for a spring visit to Albuquerque, N.M. She had barely finished speaking when I heard myself saying, “Of course! Absolutely! Dee-lighted!”

Nothing could keep me from a trip to Albuquerque for a bowl of my aunt’s green chili stew, nothing. Wait, I take that back. If President Obama called and said, “Is this Sidney J. Quacker? We must meet immediately to discuss your strategies on global warming. I’ll send the jet.” You know I would say, “Yes, sir! Right away, sir!  Absolutely, Mr. President!” However, as a chili gastronome, I would still try my best to convince him to do it over a bowl of green chili stew, in Albuquerque.

My brothers thought the trip was a perfect opportunity to reconnect with the southwest branch of the Quacker family tree. It was a struggle keeping an innocent look on my face and the picture of a steaming bowl of green chili stew out of my mind when I said, “Funny, that was my first thought too!” They both burst out laughing and Rusty said, “Sidney, the only thing you thought about reconnecting with was a bowl of green chili stew.” 

Technically, Juanita doesn’t live in Albuquerque. Her home is actually in a small, quiet, rural community about seven miles from downtown Albuquerque, called the Village de Los Ranchos de Albuquerque.  It is a beautiful city that runs along the Rio Grande Bosque and has awesome views of the Sandia Mountains.  Spanish lesson time, Juanita taught us that “Bosque” is Spanish for the riparian woodlands that run along the flood plains of streams and riverbanks in the Southwest.

There was not a wave in sight unless you count a wave of, “Hola!” from the Rail Runner train on the way to Santa Fe. At home we would never encounter horses, goats, llamas or peacocks in our neighborhood, but there they were welcome. Richard became fascinated with the irrigation system or acequias, as Juanita calls them, that run throughout the village. He wants to return for a swimming tour of the Village via acequias. We definitely found a total change of scenery.

On our last day, Juanita took us to her favorite place, the Rio Grande Bosque. With pride, she told us of the work she was doing to help restore the Bosque’s ecosystem. The place was an oasis. We stood under the massive cottonwoods and among the wetland plants at the edge of the Rio Grande feeling as though we had entered another world.

The river was irresistible. We jumped in and floated leisurely while Juanita told of us of the troubles that had come to the Bosque. She said over the years, the river and the cottonwood trees had been seriously impacted by human activities. One of these activities, the planting of non-native trees, turned out to be an enormous threat to the health of the Bosque’s ecosystem. The tamarisk, Siberian elm and the Russian olive trees, all non-natives, were out-competing the cottonwoods for water and robbing them of necessary nutrients. They also obscured the sunlight cottonwood saplings needed to survive. The non-natives, sometimes referred to as “weed trees,” reduced the water supplies, increased the fuel load and brought the risk of fire to the area.

Non-native trees, urbanization and drought were some of the factors responsible for degrading the Bosque ecosystem to a point so critical it caused two long time residents, the Rio Grande silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher, to be placed on the endangered list.

When Juanita learned the fate of the minnow and the flycatcher and that a fire could actually wipe out the largest remaining Bosque in the Southwest, she flew into action. She joined an eco group. In an effort to restore the riverside ecosystem, they began removing the non-natives and setting out cottonwood saplings. The best news, it seemed to be working.

Toward the end of the day I rounded everyone up. My aunt had promised enchiladas for dinner, red and green. I didn’t want to miss a bite. We were still congratulating Juanita when her phone rang. It was our cousins Mimi and Antoine in Opelousas, La. They invited us to visit. How could we refuse?

For more info: Middle Rio Grande Endangered species Act Collaborative Program, Middle Rio Grande Bosque Initiative

Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com.

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