A Stroll through Kit Carson Park: October in New Mexico

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Kit Carson Park

As I have said before, October is my favorite month! I take every chance to take a hike where I can admire the October leaves as they are turning. At Kit Carson Park, the leaves I am referring to are mainly from the gigantic old cottonwoods that cluster close to the Rio Grande River flowing through Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Kit Caron Park, named after the famed and infamous Kit Caron, the 19th century frontiersman who helped to “open” the West for settlement by Americans clamoring to claim the frontier. He is part of the myth (apparently reluctantly on his part) of the West in which, as the myth goes, daring Americans defied the obstacles and bent the land to their will. They rid the land of the “pesky” Native peoples, who were ignorantly unaware of the treasures they were hoarding. The settlers were the best people in charge of the bounty of the West, since they were able to extract its true worth and set it on the path of progress.

A debate about Kit Carson would be interesting and probably contentious, but I am not in the mood to unpack this thorny issue about the conflict between Native people and their conquerors. Instead, I would like to share with you my hike through the woods next to Kit Carson Park.

The woods just west of Kit Carson Park are part of what is known as the Middle Rio Grande Valley, in central New Mexico. This area is home to a large cottonwood forest, more commonly called The Bosque. Part of the Poplar tree family, the cottonwood is native to Southwestern United States and Mexico. The riparian tree grows near streams, rivers, springs, and wetlands, since they are a thirsty tree consuming 200 gallons of water a day. The trees can grow up to 115 feet tall with huge diameters, some spanning over 4 feet, standing like stoic giants amidst the smaller underbrush. They only grow at elevations below 6,600 ft, so you don’t see cottonwoods in the mountains.

Commonly known as a cottonwood, it gets this designation from the inflorescence, a cluster of flowers arranged on a stem, that consists of a long drooping catkin, which blooms from March to April. The fruit or catkin appears to look like patches of cotton hanging from limbs, hence its name cottonwood. In the spring these fluffs of cotton swirl around in the air, giving the impression that the trees are raining cotton.

The cottonwood tree is sacred to many Native Americans. The Hopi, Pueblo, and Navajo tribes used its roots for carving kachina dolls, masks, and other ceremonial objects. Many Plains Indian tribes call the cottonwood a medicine tree, from which they make from its bark and leaves medicinal herbs to treat wounds and swelling.  Herbalist today still use the cottonwood tree for many remedies. The Ho-Chunk carved dugout canoes from cottonwood trees. Also, the sticky resin from the buds were used by Natives as a type of glue and a yellow dye. Native children made toy tipis and toy moccasins from the leaves and gathered the seeds to use as chewing gum-like treats. Girls and young women used the leaves as a type of whistle to make a bird like sound.

But to me, it is the fall leaves of the cottonwoods that are truly mesmerizing. The leaves turn a golden brownish color, that when fluttering in the breeze during a sunny day glisten and sparkle in a hypnotic way. Since Albuquerque is blessed with a cobalt-blue sky in October, the golden leaves are a vibrant contrast to expansive oceans of blue. A particular feature I like about cottonwood leaves is that they are not static, but the slightest breeze catches them and urges them to quake and shimmer for all to behold their beauty.

It was mostly a still day as I strolled through the woods with a glittering sun pouring its warm over me. The breeze seemed to be hiding but I stopped anyway to see what the leaves were up to. After a pause, a breeze slowly stirred, the sun was hitting at just the right angle, and the leaves began to shimmer with all their splendor. Awww, October in New Mexico, the cottonwood leaves are another delicious site.

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences–teaching, scholarly research, personal reflections, and extensive travels–have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, she founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!

Divided, Dr. Ames’ latest book,addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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