Life Along the Lake
Pantoja is a ranch area folks moved to when the dam was finished in 1969 and areas then known as San Marcos and Flores were flooded in forming the lake. Many families moved closer to the railroad and highway to be on dry land began the brick factories.
Bricks are a common item I knew nothing about before this foray into the hinterlands. If I had to guess how bricks are made I would have nailed that clay was a main ingredient. Unknown to me were the ingredients of sawdust, hay and a copious amount of livestock dung. Mixed together then fired in huge ovens the bricks are dried and then sold all around town for construction projects.
There are fields of bricks drying in Pantoja, plus a seemingly constant fire going in front of folks’ homes to feed the appetite of the new construction beast in a constant need of bricks.
Nearly a century ago a young lad opted to do something else with clay and Esteban Valdez began his artistic career as a pottery maker. He and his girlfriend’s families moved when the dam of the Laja River became operational flooding their homes. His new home now hosts them, their kids, grandkids and sundry other family members.
Today Esteban appears to be in his early 90s suffering from cataracts and hip issues though he is still a loquacious lad. His wife will lovingly set a plastic chair in the shade for him to discuss his pottery making days if you express an interest.
Not wanting to make bricks Esteban began a lifetime fixation on making brown and black bowls and plates featuring basic animal images and his initials. His work can sometimes be found in town, on E-bay and in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC.
Unable to work any longer Eduardo misses his art and days spent enjoying the beauty of the campos. None of his descendants were interested in continuing his pottery and he is in the unfortunate position of seeing his art die out before he does.
He lives a stone’s throw from Pantajo’s chapel that we stumbled upon during the biggest festival of the year, the celebration of the fisherman
Folks in the area were quick to adapt to the economic possibilities and enjoyment factors of living on a large lake. Today the soccer field is on the lake to enjoy the breezes and folks fish the lake for carp and smaller catch.
Promoting the slogan “Presa to Mesa” (Lake to Table) virtually everything one can do with a fish is featured at the festival as food along with music, dancing and boat races. It reminded me of years ago when my then teens were agog over ATVs. During one of our many outings I broke my arm while along the lake. While my son zoomed off to get an ambulance my daughter explained it was okay if I passed out from the pain as she’d take water from the lake to pour on me and bring me back to consciousness. Despite the pain I was clear headed enough to exclaim “Never do that! Lord knows what Dr. House type diseases live in the lake from all the farms and factories that border it.”
Years later, with my bionic arm firmly in place, I stand by that statement. Plus for years I had fish from the Presa in my fountain. They were ugly as sin itself but never needed an ounce of attention. I’ve no idea what they ate but they reproduced with a speed bunnies envy. They had to, as any passing heron that spotted them swooped in for the kill. Those big birds terrified my dog! And if I were honest, me too.
Today my fountain features ceramic fishes and being at the Fisherman’s Festival was a rare occasion I said no to food being a bit too familiar with the source.
Before heading on this adventure I googled Pantoja. Here the area has the shortest Wikipedia entry I’ve ever seen. Literally one line explaining the fight for Independence from Spain ended here after a decade of fighting on St. Joseph’s day in 1821. Why such an historic event happened in Pantoja, or what was even there then as nothing looks near that old, is a mystery to be solved another day.