Conversations with Francisco

There is a gravel road in my neck of the woods that I like to take walks on. It crosses the La Plata River valley just south of my house, and is a peaceful, delightful (as in full-of-delight) place to go for a stroll whenever I have “nothing better to do.”

Which I often do not.

Indeed, several times a week, summer and winter, spring and fall, I put on my walking shoes (or sandals, or snow boots) and head off down the hill. I let my legs loose, and off we go. East on the private road, past my neighbor’s collection of classic old cars and trucks (which some people call “junk”), then a right-hand U-turn at the mail box. Walking faster now, I descend quickly to the valley floor and cross a field to the forest surrounding the stream. Stopping at the bridge I check on the water level, and then continue south. Soon, I am gliding silently past the meadow where I sometimes see red fox early in the morning. Then up the hill and back onto “the mesa” (as it is called), where I usually turn around at the old white farmhouse and head back.

This little hike, although only 2 miles total, offers a vast variety of feasts for the eyes. First, there is the usual spectacular panorama of earth and sky that is always all around us out here in the American Southwest. Then I drop down off the high land into the lush green river valley full of bushes and trees and weeds and wildflowers and other miraculous wonders of life on this planet. Then I am back up on top again, with views of the La Plata Mountains to the north, Pink Mesa to the east, Sleeping Ute to the west, the Carrizo and Chuska ranges far off in the southwest, and the canyon of the San Juan River way down in smoky old New Mexico.

But the scenery is only one of the reasons that I like walking this road year-round. Some of the others include little traffic (especially at certain times of day – and night), no barking dogs (well, almost none – this is Colorado, after all), and a good chance of seeing wildlife, especially at dawn and dusk. We’re talking wild turkey, badger, deer, fox (including the only gray fox that I have ever seen – supposedly extinct around here), blue heron, long-eared owl, raccoon, Abert squirrels, bald eagles in winter, and the occasional lone coyote moving gracefully, silently, through the sagebrush.

Plus I meet the nicest people.

One of them is my good friend Francisco. Now Francisco is a Mexican man, probably in his fifties, who works for a local ranching family. He walks this road even more than I do.

The first time I saw Francisco I thought he was drunk. Drunk, stoned, polluted,

smashed, thoroughly and gloriously inebriated. For, you see, Francisco has a very unusual way of walking, or, more precisely, staggering. It kind of reminds me of Otis, the town drunk in the old Andy Griffith TV show years ago. But, as far as I know, Francisco doesn’t even drink. That’s just the way he walks.

When I first met him there was an obvious communication barrier, because Francisco does not speak English, and I do not speak Spanish. However, we both know a few words of each other’s language, or lingo, and so we “talk.” Sometimes, when we use up our limited repertoire of greetings and comments we use other things, indeed, other ways, to relate to one another. Things like sign language, and eyes, and smiles.

And laughter.

In fact, there are times when Francisco and I will meet on the road, and greet each other, and then just start laughing. Laughing because something we said was funny (like the day I told him, “Mucho cielo agua es muy bueno, si?” thinking it means “all this rain is sure good, aye?”). Or laughing because nothing we said was funny. Or maybe just laughing for the sheer hell of it. Just laughing. Then it is “Adios,” and “Have good day,” and off we go our separate ways.

Both of us the better for it.

There are some folks around here who call Francisco “the wetback” and say that he is not “all there.” They see him staggering down the road, with a goofy look on his face, wearing a floppy old straw hat with no top, sometimes wearing a winter coat in the middle of summer, carrying a shovel, followed closely by his two dogs. They have decided that he is not “one of us.”

One of them, that is.

However, he is one of me. Why? Because Francisco and I happen to like many of the same things. Things like sunshine, rain, water in the river, good crops, healthy animals, a good shovel, a warm dry place to sleep.

And good coversation.

And laughter, too.

Yes, laughter. Which might just be the best conversation tool of all.

And as for those people who think that Francisco is somehow inferior to them, well, they are just plain wrong.

How do I know that they are wrong?

Because I have talked with the man.

And they haven’t.

–Curt Melliger



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows