San Miguel Mission, The Oldest Church in the Continental United States (1620), stands across the street from the Oldest House in the Continental United States. No one knows how old the house is, but I’m told it’s really old.
You’ll find a lot of that in Santa Fe. The Oldest, the First, the Very First. Try telling that to the Pueblo Indians. But then, everything is in dispute today, everywhere — history, identity, truth, the very origins of the universe.
As I stroll along Old Santa Fe Trail, for my first glimpse of the Oldest Church, I see a middle-aged guy and two young seminarians standing in the shade. With the ecclesiastical robes and caps, it’s a classic scene of disputation. Except, the middle-aged guy is hectoring, insistent: something about “the plasticity of tectonic plates,” and the ageless, endless flow of continents. He cites academic articles, fresh research.
I respect the seminarians’ forbearance. They listen attentively, hardly speak, and when they do, I can’t hear a word they say. The old guy blunders on, hoping to bust down resistance and make his point.
I move on, embarrassed by the general futility.
The planet is burning, part 3
I’ve been trying to run since we arrived in Santa Fe, but the 7,000-foot altitude is more than I bargained for. I’ve been warned to go slow, build gradually, drink lots of water. But nothing works. I feel dangerously depleted even after a few kilometres. There’s no shade, and the sun is implacable, merciless.
I run along the Santa Fe River Trail, which is just a few steps from our front door. The Santa Fe River, which flows into the Rio Grande, is an actual river only when the authorities release its precious waters from the county reservoirs. Meanwhile, the geographic feature I run along is a dry, rocky ditch with trees growing along its edges, trees that must dream of better days.
I pause beside a plaque to catch my breath, and read about the watershed and the importance of conserving water. A sentence stands out: “See the hardpack on those mountains? It’s not just for skiing; it actually feeds our glorious rivers and provides water for our families.”
I scan the mountains in every direction. Nothing but grey and brown.
The next day, after my run, I pass an old guy at his mailbox who’s wearing a blue UBC hoodie. I stop and ask if he’s Canadian. He’s not, but his daughter went to the University of British Columbia and gave him the hoodie. She’s now settled in Vancouver, has married a Canadian and just had a baby.
I congratulate him and ask if he’s planning to visit soon.
“Oh, sure, I’ll have to visit. It’s just that, well…”
“You don’t like Vancouver?”
“It’s just…too much rain. I like it here better.”
Over his shoulder, up in the mountains, a pillar of smoke rises like a vengeful god.