I heard a story once about “horny toads” from my mother. How she used to catch so many they filled a shoebox. And my grandfather told me about the lobo’s howl.
Both of these animals are rare or endangered now, and I have not found one myself. I hope one day to tell my own children about the animals I experience in the forests of New Mexico — tadpoles, horned owls, fence-tail lizards, trout, coyotes and bats.
We hike through the forest into the Rio Grande Gorge, and I know it is magic. The beauty of it all is more than enchanting; it takes my breath away or brings me back to it in a way. I feel like Brian, from my book, Hatchet, when I spend time in the wilderness and I return to a place of quietness and respect for nature.
Sometimes when I go fishing I catch rainbow trout in the glimmering Red River. I see Rio Grande chirping frogs hopping along the riverbank. When I hike in the Taos Ski Valley, I see marmots by Williams Lake, 11,000 feet into the deep blue sky. I am stunned when I explore Fossil Hill and discover the fossils of the sea creatures that used to live in New Mexico.
It is amazing how a million years ago, the New Mexico forests used to be seaweed under the ocean. I see red-tailed hawks near the Carson National Forest swooping down to catch little creatures to bring home for their babies. I watch lizards climb the trees and scurry off into the wilderness.
In Bandelier National Monument, I explore the cave Native Americans used to live in. I can see where the fire burned the top of the cave, and there is a kiva hole to stick my head out of. Going down the 10-foot ladder scares me and I respect the rich culture that came before me, their fearlessness.
We must keep this beautiful forest natural and unharmed because the animals deserve a home and deserve not to be hurt. The people of this Land of Enchantment deserve the clean air the aspen, ponderosa pine and piñon trees help make. My friends deserve the chance to swim in clear rivers and discover the secrets of our wilderness. When I lie in my bed and dream about my future, I see myself as an entomologist. I want to discover all of the insects, arthropods and arachnids in New Mexico. If we protect our open spaces and wild areas, then these creatures will still be there for discovery, for hope and for awesomeness.
Asher Dean, a fourth grader in Jennifer Martinez’s class at Arroyos del Norte Elementary in Arroyo Seco, is the winner of the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Essay Contest. Fourth graders from around New Mexico were invited to write about why they love New Mexico’s forests and public lands in line with the theme of the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, “Delivering Enchantment!” Dean has won a trip to Washington, D.C., to join Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the speaker of the House in lighting the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.