Love & Sex

Soil Webs

Queerness and querencia

Aiko usually starts this story with The Mold: a velvety, dark mass which had almost covered our bathroom ceiling by the time we noticed it last January. My steadfast girlfriend decided to scrub the colony away herself while I was at work—only to discover that our bathroom “skylight” was just a removable plastic panel, opening onto several inches of dripping fungus and then the white Tesuque sky. But I needed more persuading.

The dead possum couple we found floating bloated and entwined in a storage container outside our front door didn’t do it either, despite the grim symbolism. Somehow, neither did the exploding washing machine/toilet disaster, although it claimed several of my most beloved Double Take finds along with any sense of mutual dignity that remained after two years of pandemic cohabitation.

In fact, I wasn’t fully convinced we needed to leave until the afternoon of the summer solstice (by which point the process had already begun). Turning onto our dirt road that day, I saw what looked like a twisted tree stump in the middle of the intersection. I parked and walked back to investigate.

It was a freshly severed ram’s head, perfectly centered and pointed at our house.

I paced obsessive little circles around it. The blood had pooled, not dripped; the thing clearly hadn’t fallen from a farmer’s truck. Besides, how could it have landed so symmetrically by chance? I snapped more than 50 photos, thinking hazily that Aiko might want it as cover art for a goth album someday. An hour later the head had vanished, leaving only a dark stain on the turnoff. When we theorized about it that night, she was the one to voice our shared fear. We rented the only casita on a row of stuccoed mansions, and seemed to be the only queer couple for miles around. We weren’t out to the neighbors, but they’d likely seen enough to catch on. Maybe it was mold-induced paranoia. But it felt like time to go.

Even if we could have afforded to live within city limits, we needed space to plant things. Aiko studied aquaponics and makes worm tea; my Three Sisters garden is a talisman against an assortment of depression-related diagnostic acronyms. And I’d started to feel homesick for Agua Fria Village. For the annual San Isidro Water Blessing. For the reciprocity of living on—and tending to—the land that raised me.

So when we found an acre and a half we could (just barely) afford in Chimayó, with a small adobe house and water rights to the active acequia twining across its field, I became consumed. I dreamed about that land. Fantasized about the acequia’s curves. Imagined spreading jewel corn seeds over red loam. Sexy, sexy stuff.

And I grew increasingly anxious. The severed head urged us to go—but was this the destination? Neither of us had family in the community. We’d be living next to the biggest pilgrimage site in the country. And places like Chimayó have very good reasons to be wary about the intentions of outsiders. What if this land didn’t want us? The feeling had to be mutual if this was going to work.

So I went looking for Roger Montoya.

Growing up, Roger and his partner, Sal, were my patron saints of rural queer Nuevomexicanismo. Roger had moved back to Velarde after receiving his HIV diagnosis—and now devotes himself to creating artistic opportunities for Española youths and painting the giant sunflowers he and Sal rear in their backyard. They know mutuality with place. So I drove to meet Roger at the end of an acequia rights meeting, hoping he’d somehow know how to calm me down. He reminded me of the concept of querencia—a word I hadn’t heard since I was a child. A kind of homesickness in reverse, querencia means devotion to the communal land you inhabit. And as Roger reminded me, it is dependent on what you offer: to both place and people. Like mycorrhizae, sharing resources through soil.

A month later, Aiko and I attended the Chimayó Water Blessing. Our soon-to-be-neighbor explained the acequia gates there in the plaza hadn’t been opened in decades. That the village had prepared a communal plot to teach the youngest Chimayosos about traditional irrigation. That it was time to welcome the water back in. We tossed handfuls of dried petals into the prodigal current as it passed, then followed the others downhill to watch the shared plot flood. Aiko and I took turns plowing the field, sweating as we scattered sunflower seeds and black beans.

Then we wound our way back to the plaza. Too shy to talk much before the ceremony, hunger now pushed us towards the crowded food tables. We mutually gravitated towards a Krispy Kreme box. Instead of donuts, we found apricot cobbler inside, tart and perfect from the village trees. Another table held packets of Three Sisters seeds. I took one, along with a pot of Chimayó Red Chile sprouts. Maybe this time next year, the seedlings’ fruits will be stewing with pork and jewel corn on our stove—ready to bring to the Water Blessing. A small offering of querencia.

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