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Querencia: Stewarding Land, Water, Fire, & Community in Northern New Mexico

Joshua Berman | New Mexico, United States

Angelo “Smoke” Romero from Taos Pueblo cuts branches from a felled pine.

Situated ten miles north of the mountain town of Taos in northern New Mexico are interconnected villages, El Salto and Arroyo Seco. Resilient communities, their stewards combine traditional and modern practices to protect, sustain, and reinvigorate the land for future generations to come. In the face of a changing climate, vulnerability to catastrophic wildfire, outside interests looking to encroach on the pure water supply, and a historic land grant collective under financial duress, this story focuses on Querencia, a colloquial Spanish term that refers to a sense of place from which a community draws its strength. Interculturally dynamic, the people of these villages hold a strong sense of family and a devotion to community management and engagement of the land and watershed throughout the seasons, from fire mitigation efforts, to acequia cleaning, to a touch of the sacred.

This project has been deeply and personally meaningful to me engaging with the local community and land that I've called home for the better part of the past 25 years. My intention was to document traditional and modern practices of land and water management to serve as an educational model for sustainability in the face of the current climate crises. From the seed of an idea to a cold-call to a local land steward at the recommendation of a mutual friend, this project ended up taking on a life of its own. Given the traditionally sensitive cultural dynamics of the greater Taos community through the generations, I was nervous and slightly intimidated in reaching out. Yet that initial phone conversation with Arnold Quintana would prove to be a pivotal point in making Querencia a reality. Over the six months of working together, Arnold became a trusted ally and friend, graciously introducing me into his family and personal circle, and the expanded community in which he works. As the lead character and land steward within the framework of the story, Arnold's presence and the respect he holds within the community provided me access to wild spaces, people, and community circumstances that otherwise would have remained a disjointed aspect of my imagination rather than a fully realized project. The work proved grueling, especially lugging my gear into wild terrain in the heart of winter that was then subjected to the shifting elements and temperatures, and clouds of smoke, ash, and dust. But in the end, I was able to document a story that I feel encapsulates the community dynamics and efforts that are made to thoughtfully steward the land for functionality and sustainability, with an eye towards guiding the generations to come. 

Photographer's Without Borders 

International Center of Photography

Joshua A. Berman

Taos/Pittsburgh/Los Angeles

+1 (814) 442-5842



IG: @joshuabermanphotography

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