By Bill Knief
When you’ve been in Taos long enough, the surreal starts to become commonplace and the “norm” tends to expand to take in just about everything. After 75 UNM-Taos Reports, this phenomenon still surprises me.
I am reminded of one day last summer when I was out at the UNM-Taos Klauer campus taking pictures of the recently completed solar array, the largest one in the state, the one that would provide power to the entire campus—3 ½ acres of high tech plastics, silicon, cable and aluminum sprouting up like orderly corn rows under a sustaining sun. It was a truly impressive sight, one that would make any citizen proud, with the Career Tech Center, the Kids’ Campus, the Arts building and all the rest as a backdrop.
A movement on the edge of the array caught my eye and there, at a slow trot, were three big, healthy looking coyotes heading single file, nose to the ground, into the thickening sagebrush. They didn’t see me at first, but suddenly they froze and the four of us just stood there for a long minute looking each other over. Then, probably deciding that I was neither dangerous nor edible, the leader sniffed, turned its head, picked up the trail again and commenced following his nose, with the other two not far behind. They never looked back.
I thought about this encounter one day last week during the official opening of the Kids’ Campus Walking Trail that cuts through the sage in almost the same spot. Designed and executed by the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, it’s a mile-long hard packed path, wide enough for bikes, wheel chairs and families, and the views are tremendous. You skirt the solar array, of course, and the growing campus, but the best part is the sweep of the Sangre de Cristos and a view of Taos Valley clear to San Antonio Peak. Looking out on that expanse reminded me of what a gentleman said recently at the banquet for the Return of Blue Lake Celebration: that along with the pride tribal members have in their lands and way of life there is a deep sense of humility.
Last week The Literacy Center at UNM-Taos—the folks that provide the GED, English as a Second Language and Adult Literacy programs—hosted a reception for the mayor and town manager to thank the Taos Town Council for their much needed commitment of $30,000 to keep the free programs functioning. Anita Bringas, recently hired program coordinator, explained that, because the programs are free, the Center is constantly in search of support, and relies on volunteers to carry on the work.
“We are really fortunate in Taos to have people with big, generous spirits and hearts. In the Literacy Center they have found something they can believe strongly in. Some are retired teachers, some of them have their own personal histories with limited literacy or working through really difficult situations with a smile, and they want to give back to the community. The personal stories are heartwarming; it makes you feel good to be a part of a program that is doing such great work. But there is a practical side to the support as well. Those dollars that the Town committed will come back in the form of gross receipts, salaries, wages and jobs.”
Judy Hofer, Literacy Center Director, explained how serious the funding situation had become, with recent cutbacks from both the Higher Education Department and the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy, their two largest funders.
“We always feel that we are on a shoestring budget, but having large budget decreases along with increases in enrollment, we felt incredibly stretched. Honest to God I really didn’t think that we could provide free classes through the end of our fiscal year. So the town support was absolutely critical. I don’t know what we would have done without it. They stood by their belief that education is absolutely essential for our community’s health and improvement.
“There are so many people in Taos that need a second chance, and the mayor sees that and stands behind it. It’s not politics, it’s a commitment. There are not many towns that support literacy to that extent, so I think Taos can be proud of funding education for those that are most in need. My worst nightmare is that some day we might have to turn someone away because we can’t offer that free opportunity.
“I don’t know if it is blind faith or what, but I believe that deep down, people will stand up for education. Free public education is a foundational belief in US culture. Everyone has a right to an education. Even in the toughest of times we can’t let go of that.”