Liv­ing au­tumn

Harvest Fes­ti­val at El Ran­cho de las Golon­dri­nas

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Jen­nifer Levin

Harvest time at El Ran­cho de las Golon­dri­nas

The sky at El Ran­cho de las Golon­dri­nas in the fall is so per­fectly blue that it looks as if it were com­puter-gen­er­ated for a movie. It is made all the more vivid by its jux­ta­po­si­tion to the var­i­ous golds of sun­flow­ers, chamisa, turn­ing leaves, and corn husks at harvest. The ranch, a 200-acre spread just south of Santa Fe in the La Ciénega Val­ley, is a liv­ing history mu­seum ded­i­cated to de­mon­strat­ing as au­then­ti­cally as pos­si­ble how peo­ple lived and worked in Span­ish colo­nial, Mex­i­can, and Ter­ri­to­rial New Mexico dur­ing the 18th and 19th cen­turies. On Satur­day, Oct. 3, and Sun­day, Oct. 4, the ranch holds its an­nual Harvest Fes­ti­val. Chil­dren and adults are welcome to tour the vil­lage and watch and take part in demon­stra­tions of black­smithing, cider mak­ing, sorghum milling, tra­di­tional fiber arts, and more.

“Kids ask all the time why the pump­kins at the Harvest Fes­ti­val have dirt on them. It’s im­por­tant to show them where their food comes from — how it was grown and still is,” said Sean Palo­heimo, the di­rec­tor of oper­a­tions for El Ran­cho de las Golon­dri­nas. Though peo­ple have al­ways lived in and farmed in the area, the per­ma­nent Span­ish set­tle­ment dates to the early 1690s, af­ter the re­con­quest of Santa Fe by Don Diego de Var­gas. Las Golon­dri­nas was an es­tab­lished rest stop on the trade route from Mexico City to Santa Fe by 1780, but in the lat­ter half of the 19th cen­tury the ranch was aban­doned. Palo­heimo’s grand­mother Leonora bought the prop­erty in 1932 with her mother. In the 1940s, Leonora’s hus­band, a Fin­nish man named Yrjö Al­fred Palo­heimo — known as Y.A. — had the idea to turn it into an open-air mu­seum. Three decades were spent restor­ing old build­ings, con­struct­ing pe­riod repli­cas of cer­tain struc­tures, and bring­ing in his­toric build­ings from other ar­eas of New Mexico be­fore the mu­seum of­fi­cially opened its doors in 1972. Ever since, the Harvest Fes­ti­val has been its most pop­u­lar com­mu­nity event. Palo­heimo, who has worked at the ranch since he was twelve, is in charge of gen­eral up­keep, in­clud­ing mud plas­ter­ing of the build­ings and mak­ing sure the grounds are in good shape, as well as the care and feed­ing of the goats, Churro sheep, and bur­ros that live there. He also over­sees the his­toric gar­den, where crow corn, beans, squash, wa­ter­melon, and other crops are grown. The ranch has a paid staff of about a dozen peo­ple work­ing in ad­min­is­tra­tion, grounds and main­te­nance, and in the mu­seum proper. The time and ef­fort of about 160 ded­i­cated vol­un­teers is cru­cial to daily oper­a­tions and the visi­tor ex­pe­ri­ence.

The early colonists har­vested the land and pro­cessed goods for trade, in­clud­ing sorghum mo­lasses. In the Span­ish colo­nial era, sorghum stalks were pressed by hand for their cane, the juice squeezed into hol­lowed-out logs be­fore it was boiled down and thick­ened. “They wasted a lot of juice that way,” said Don­ald Coleman, a vol­un­teer in the sorghum mill. “Our press is stamped Sears Roe­buck 1898, and it was a real im­prove­ment over us­ing arm power.” Coleman has been volunteering in the sorghum mill with his part­ner, Keith Austin, since they moved to Santa Fe from Cal­i­for­nia al­most 10 years ago. He ex­plained that while there will be mo­lasses to taste at the Harvest Fes­ti­val, it’s not made on the premises any­more, be­cause the process is lengthy, sticky, hot,

and at­tracts bugs. The ranch buys its mo­lasses at Nat­u­ral Gro­cers. But the sorghum be­ing pressed is real, as are the bur­ros as­signed to walk in slow cir­cles, pulling the eight-foot wooden bar that ro­tates four me­tal cylin­ders.

“Harvest Fes­ti­val is the one week­end out of the year my bur­ros ac­tu­ally work,” Palo­heimo said. “They just sit around and eat oth­er­wise.” The ranch cur­rently has four bur­ros. Bur­ros — or don­keys — are small, so­cial beasts of bur­den, ex­plained Larry Marken, who has worked with the an­i­mals at the ranch for al­most 20 years. Bur­ros are dis­tinct from horses and mules, the lat­ter of which is a cross be­tween a male burro and a fe­male horse. (Fe­male bur­ros and male horses pro­duce hin­nies.) The bur­ros at Las Golon­dri­nas are never rid­den, but Marken some­times leads the less can­tan­ker­ous ones through the vil­lage for a few hours to meet visi­tors. All visi­tors are warned not to pet the an­i­mals at the ranch, as they are not do­mes­ti­cated. Visi­tors are also warned to be mind­ful of low door­ways with high, wide thresh­olds. Ac­cord­ing to ranch history, door­ways in the 18th and 19th cen­turies weren’t lower be­cause peo­ple were ap­pre­cia­bly shorter then, but be­cause low door­ways were less ex­pen­sive to make, struc­turally sound, and pro­vided some mea­sure of de­fense against in­trud­ers.

Ja­cob and Abby Stelzer are among the youngest vol­un­teers at the ranch. Ja­cob, who is ten years old, works in the black­smith forge, and Abby, twelve, cards and spins wool for the weavers. “I like just sit­ting and spin­ning skein af­ter skein,” Abby told

Pasatiempo. “I find it very re­lax­ing, and I feel like I’m be­ing pro­duc­tive.” She works with Pa­tri­cia Tucker, the em­ployee in charge of the Las Golon­dri­nas weavers and em­broi­der­ers, men and women who cre­ate pe­riod tex­tiles for the 32 mu­seum struc­tures. Wool is shorn from the ranch’s flock of Churro sheep and dyed on the premises in the dye shed. Of her young spin­ning vol­un­teer, Tucker said, “Abby took to spin­ning like a duck to wa­ter. I have very few vol­un­teers who get it that fast. She’s also very good at telling visi­tors what she’s do­ing and why.”

Ja­cob has a small col­lec­tion of items he’s made, in­clud­ing an over-door hook and a fire­place poker; a long roast­ing fork is still in progress. “I re­ally like think­ing over how things work. It’s like a very tech­ni­cal puz­zle — you have to fig­ure out how things fit to­gether, how you’re go­ing to shape things so that in the long run it’s not go­ing to break or be too long or too short.” He is over­seen by Roberto Valdez, a black­smith who has been volunteering at the ranch for 20 years. Ja­cob’s mother, M’Liss Stelzer, is re­quired to be there as well, be­cause of her son’s young age and the po­ten­tial dan­gers of work­ing with heated iron. The Stelz­ers, who are home­schooled, vol­un­teer once a week when the ranch is open, late spring through early fall. M’Liss con­sid­ers their time there an im­por­tant ad­di­tion to their for­mal history cur­ricu­lum.

“We can read in a text­book that peo­ple had to smelt their own iron and make their own tools, and it’s one sen­tence and it’s gone,” she said. “You don’t know what that smells like, what it feels like, or what it sounds like when the ham­mer hits the anvil. Golon­dri­nas al­lows you to ex­pe­ri­ence history in a tac­tile way.” She adds that the rugged sim­plic­ity of the ranch has also given them an un­ex­pected gift. “I didn’t an­tic­i­pate the sense of grat­i­tude we’ve de­vel­oped for all we have. Ja­cob has to have a bucket of wa­ter in the black­smith’s forge to cool his tools and put the fire out, and he has to get that wa­ter from the stream. There’s no tap. When Abby spins, we un­der­stand how much ef­fort goes into mak­ing one piece of cloth, and you don’t take your clothes for granted any­more. And be­ing at the ranch, just get­ting the kids out­side to run around in the fresh air, to visit the bull­frogs in the creek, we just soak it all in.” de­tails Harvest Fes­ti­val 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Satur­day, Oct. 3 and Sun­day, Oct. 4 El Ran­cho de las Golon­dri­nas, 334 Los Pi­nos Road $8, dis­counts avail­able for se­niors and teens, no charge for chil­dren twelve and un­der; 505-471-2261

Vol­un­teers Abby and Ja­cob Stelzer; be­low, Glo­ria Or­tiz demon­stat­ing tor­tilla mak­ing; op­po­site page, harvest at Ran­cho de las Golon­dri­nas

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