Traditions count for a lot in a place like Northern New Mexico, especially the traditions of the land.
Whether it's cleaning the acequia in the springtime, caring for animals on the family's bit of land or growing the old varieties of seeds, taking part in those annual cycles - following the cues and clues of Mother Nature - ensures that our collective culture make it to the next generation.
But agriculture isn't the only way people work the land.
They also scout, track and - once the season is finally here - hunt.
Sometimes we look forward all year long to the solitary hunt, those precious few days away from the rest of the world. But more often than not, kids go with their parents into the wild, rugged and humbling mesas and mountains of Taos County. Friends go with their buddies, girlfriends and primos and, together, they share in the search and come to know the meaning of sportsmanship and conservation. Memories are made and that's how tradition is kept alive year in and year out.
In decades past, locals would share their hunting photos - of family, friends and the harvests - with The Taos News. And for the last edition of 2017, we're picking up that tradition.
We put out a call for the best hunting photos and stories of 2017 from folks here in the Taos County area. Our readers certainly provided.
Some of the folks who shared the details of their hunt and harvest are generational Norteños and others are recent transplants, who've brought their love for the outdoors and hunting with them or picked it up for the first time. Some folks don't live here, but get the rarefied chance to experience the magic of a hunt and harvest in Taos County.
Alyana Leon was only 10 years old in January 2017 when she went out on her first hunt. Ricardo Leon, vher father, shares this story:
"Alyana successfully passed hunters' safety in the spring of 2016 and tried her luck in the state big game hunting lottery. She was lucky enough to draw her last choice, a January cow elk tag. Alyana practiced her shooting skills and worked hard. In the days leading up to the hunt, she woke up early and patterned the elk. She was to start 2017 off with a bang," Leon said.
"On the opening morning, we woke up early to the blessing of 15-plus inches of snow. The cold temperatures followed the storm. We woke and prepared with a quick breakfast and plenty of hot chocolate for the hunt. We knew where the elk would be and set out."
"That morning a hunter was born. Alyana provided for her family with a well-placed shot on a beautiful cow elk. She was most proud of her ability to provide the traditional celebratory meal prepared in the warmth of her uncle's shop after a group effort retrieving the protein that has sustained our family through the year," Leon told The Taos News.
Alyana has been preparing for another hunt and this time taking her little bother, Ricardo Jr., to show him how it's done. "She knows the drill and will be even more ready to take on the responsibility of feeding the family once again," Leon said.
"The success of a hunt is not measured in protein or antlers. The harvest is just the bonus," she said.
"The hunt is measured in the memories made with family and friends. The Leons are grateful for the memories provided by yet another successful hunting season."
As you can see, Alyana is a mighty hunter. And when she takes her little brother out for his hunt, she'll already - at 11 years old - be helping to pass on the tradition.
But Alyana wasn't the only one from Northern New Mexico to share the hunt and harvest with The Taos News. Here are some of the best hunting photos and stories from 2017.