Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s 2004-2005 Winter Enchantment magazine. Carolina “Nina” Maria Trujillo died on Sept. 12, 2016. A link to her obituary is below.
For 36 years, Carolina Trujillo has measured the sky’s bounty — at least that part which falls to the earth in Black Lake.
Every evening at 6 p.m., she walked the 50 or so feet from her front porch to a rain gauge staked in her garden and measured whatever rain or snow had fallen that day. It was a responsibility her husband, Ramon, accepted in 1968 for the National Weather Service. The, busy as Ramon was, working for the Forest Service and taking care of the family’s acres of farm land and heads of cattle, the responsibility ultimately fell to Carolina.
Throughout the country, there are some 11,000 weather observers, according to Joseph Alfieri, with New Mexico’s weather service.
In New Mexico, Carolina was one of about 200 observers — all part of a program begun in 1952 by Iowa State University to create a living climate map of the country.
This year, Carolina finally gave up the task. She is having problems with her eyes and at age 81, she says walking those 20 feet in the winter can be a bit perilous.
My first thought upon meeting her was that the task of measuring rain and snow seems perfect for Carolina. She seems so at peace with the outdoors.
Taking me for a tour of her garden, she points out a spring that she says has remained constant — full even in dry times, the same cool temperature in the hottest summer and coldest winter.
Gesturing to a field adjacent to her home, Carolina says that’s where she used to grow sweet peas. Now, she still tends a small garden next to her home — one she convinced Ramon to create for her as she got older and the trek out to the field started to wear.
In this garden, she grows peas and carrots and sweet beets. One thing she misses, she says, are her chickens.
As we walk, two dogs vie for her attention — “Chopo” is in his last years. Carolina said he used to help the family herd cattle.
Carolina got “Shadow,” much younger, for company.
She isn’t alone on the land, however. Her grandson, a son and a daughter live nearby. For many years before she died, Ramon’s grandmother also lived on the land and Carolina made a trek twice a day to visit her — a mile walk each day.
Working the homestead
It’s clear Carolina’s young life on the ranch was full — and perhaps not at all what she expected when she met Ramon at a fiesta in Taos in 1941.
In Taos, where Carolina grew up, fiestas were the main entertainment at the time. She and Ramon married that same year and he swept the Taos “city” girl into the country — to land his grandfather homesteaded in 1894 and his family has worked since.
The young woman’s days filled up with milking cows, feeding animals and soon, taking care of their six children — three boys and three girls.
Carolina says, “It was a lot of work but I loved it. It’s so peaceful out here.”
In 1949, the Trujillos got electricity in their home. Even so, keeping a farm going was a lot of work.
Carolina’s daughter Jo Ann says, “I never realized how fortunate we were as kids. We rode horses all the time. We thought we owned the world.
Carolina also read to her children. There was no nearby library but family and friends would send books.
In their early years, the children attended school at a little school house in Black Lake that no longer exists.
At that time, there were about five or six families living in the Black Lake area and Carolina said the families got together often.
As the children grew older, they entered the Cimarron school system.
Throughout, they helped their mother and father on the farm.
“There wasn’t TV back then,” she says, and in the winter, the family would go sledding on the weekends to visit neighbors and go to church.
There were no stores in the area either, “Only a garage at the blinking light,” Carolina says, referring to the turnoff from Highway 64 to Angel Fire.
Occasionally, Black Lake men would load up in a pickup and go to Taos to buy those things they couldn’t grow or make themselves.
Most of the family’s food came from the farm, and from Ramon’s hunting excursions.
“My husband was a very good hunter,” Carolina says with pride.
Snowed in at Black Lake
There was always an October trip, before winter set in, to buy necessities for the winter months ahead.
In those days, Carolina says, winter was hard and heavy and long. Trips to Taos between the first snows in November and the last in May were pretty impractical.
“It started snowing in November and we wouldn’t see the roads till May. If you got sick, too bad,” Carolina says.
All the same, Ramon, she says, loved the snow and built sleds for the family to use.
His special, yearly gift to Carolina for her April 11 birthday was a sled ride, “clear up to Bull’s Canyon, between Mora and Taos,” Carolina says.
Ramon died suddenly from a stroke in 1995.
Despite her own recent physical problems, Carolina is still very active. On the afternoon I visit, her wood stove is puttering along, sending a thin, cozy stream of smoke out the chimney of her pink adobe home on the outskirts of Black Lake towards Mora.
She says even to this day — with her kitchen decked out with the most modern appliances — she prefers her old-fashioned wood stove for baking.
A second visit garners me a bread roll, freshly baked, still warm, and I wonder if there is any way to adopt Carolina as my own grandmother.
Probably not. She has her hands full with numerous grandchildren. All the surfaces in her living room are crammed with framed pictures of her family. “You should see the albums,” she says.
Her home also abounds with plants and porcelain knick-knacks fill a display case. Numerous wind chimes, many in the shapes of animals, hang in the living room and on the porch. They’re almost the only sound you hear out in the middle of Black Lake, about 2 miles away from Highway 434.
Two almost finished multi-colored yarn flowers sit atop Carolina’s coffee table with some knitting needles. Carolina is thinking of knitting more and using them to make a basket.
She simply refuses to be idle.
Her home is bright and clean and comfortable. The entire structure, except original adobe walls, burned down one year when Ramon left the furnace on while the family was on a trip to Taos.
Even though he had very little experience with carpentry, Ramon rebuilt the house, making the kitchen bigger and adding on to it.
“I’m very proud of my house,” Carolina says.
She is also very much a part of it and the land that surrounds it. As she’s faithfully measured the weather for 36 years, so have the hours of her days and years been measured out by milking cows, feeding chickens, big snowfalls, story time with her children and sled rides through a lovely land with a husband she loved.