RURAL COMMUNITIES HERE have a rallying cry: El agua es la vida. Water is life. Amid xeriscaped yards and warnings against hiking without packing an extra liter or two, water demands our attention, respect, and sometimes awe. Years ago, while dining at Santa Fe’s El Farol, I and every other customer in the joint abandoned our tables to crowd under the front portal. There, we marveled at a biblically powerful monsoon pounding Canyon Road.

We pray for rain, dance for rain, give thanks for rain, and curse the neighborhood a few blocks over that seems to get more than its share of the rain. In Chaco Canyon, archaeological evidence warns of drought’s consequences. Dust Bowl memories linger on the state’s east side.

To grow a crop under such uncertainty is, Lander Burr writes in “An Apprentice in the Acequia,” “an act of faith.” His pursuit of competency in managing ancient irrigation customs sets a tone for this issue, one that underscores the fragility of the West and the undeniable pluck of its defenders.

Author William deBuys, profiled in “The Good Neighbor,” has dug irrigation ditches, worked to improve land and water conditions, and written eloquently of the place that he adopted—one that also adopted him. In “Tom Russell’s Last Stand,” former editor in chief Dave Herndon tracks down the elusive musician, whose songs and paintings delve into the fraying edges of the West’s land-based history and ideals.

Even with those challenges, one resource that depends on water stands firm: New Mexico chile. Now’s the time to stand in line at roasters, cart home ristras, and stock the freezer for a cold (and, hopefully, snowy) winter. Does it matter where you buy that chile? Read “Local Dirt” and see. And if you can, find a creek this month. Sit by it quietly. Listen and wait. Let the wonder of that precious substance become a part of you, too.

Happy trails,

Kate's SignatureKate Nelson