Big Empty Update

I know my readers are on pins and needles about what’s happening out here in the Big Empty, so let’s get right to it.

Not much.

The biggest change is the temperature. It’s in the seventies (19/20c) and that’s hot for my poor Bear who is now taking a nap on the cool tile by the front door. Snow is in the forecast for parts of Colorado, even this part. 40% so cross your fingers.

Most of the action right now is Canadian geese, frogs, horny magpies and symphonic meadowlarks. The snakes ARE out, something I know from spying a substantial amount of large snake poop. Yes. I’m interested in scat, too.

All I can tell you about the snakes in question is that they are large. They could be gopher snakes and they could be prairie rattlers. Bear has made a lot of progress with the new “command” (one doesn’t command Bear; one advises) “No, Bear, Rattlesnake.” With Bear, the command voice has to be saved for something very serious.

I went out prepared to pull my ski buff over my mouth and nose in case there were other people there, but the tourist rush (ha ha) is definitely over and there was nary an SUV for Bear and I to welcome. I like it that way, though I sincerely love the fact that 20,000 Sandhill Cranes can command that much attention. How many lives have changed as a result of a visit to this paradise? How many people have looked beyond their camera and perceived the wonder of a species that has endured for millions of years actually being in THIS world with US?

I thought about the innumerable animals that have gone extinct during the Sandhill Cranes’ long existence. I thought of all the scientists who have pondered the cause of the extinction of animal X and dodo Y. I thought of how COVID-19 has put us at the very base of survival strategy for any species which is, “Avoid danger!” I thought of the mama ground-squirrel I watched years ago defend her four tiny babies from a rattlesnake, a battle she actually won. The snake basically said, “Fuck it. This is WAY too much trouble,” unloosed his coil and slithered off into the black sage.

As I walked, I also thought of how today has been a semi-normal day, with a chat with the mailman. He was wearing a mask, and said, “If I go to work I’m in trouble and if I don’t I’m in trouble,” and then shrugged. Today, for the first time after 6 years of conversations, I noticed he has only one functioning eye. What’s wrong with me? On the way out to the Refuge, I got to talk with the kids — from the car. “Bear wants to come out,” said the little girl. Bear was whimpering in the back of Bella. Clearly she wanted out to see the kids.

I also thought about the best hikes of my life. That’s a catalog I love going through. I realized I no longer feel sad or resentful that I can’t run or easily go up and down hills. I realized that the immense sky and mountain vistas of the Big Empty have soothed my feelings of loss. This landscape is even older than the Sandhill Crane species which is still ancient enough to have witnessed major changes to the form and shape of my Big Empty. A sea once filled the valley and fossils of its creatures now rest on the top of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. With changes like that all around me, how could I expect to remain the same?

“You have to start bringing water, Martha.”
“OK, Bear.”

31 thoughts on “Big Empty Update

  1. I LOVE reports from the Big Empty: where the women are strong, the men are good-looking and the children are above average. Anyhow, it makes me smile every time you post about Heaven. And I love that you advise Bear. Heavy sigh, Martha. Heavy sigh.

    • Thank you — every time I go out there, I “get my head on straight.” Going with Bear is always very sweet because of how she is. Teddy is more fun and it’s a different thing to go with him. ❤ Good old Garrison Keillor

  2. Oh, dear — poor Bear! It’s still cold and wet here — probably about 50-55 outside, and it’s been raining steadily since about 10 am today. I think the sun is to come out tomorrow, and that may be the last of our rainy season, which should have ended a month or more ago!

    Love this report of the Big Empty — sounds not so empty, though I’d be happier if there weren’t the rattlesnakes (I don’t think I even know what their poop looks like!). How nice that the little girl is beginning to understand Bear’s communication!

    • In California I made peace with rattlesnakes which are far more common there than here. If we go up to 9000 feet there are no rattlesnakes, but right now the bears are coming out and hungry and with cubs. Since I’m alone, I don’t want to deal with that.

      I got so much from hiking in California. One thing is that the “empty” is NEVER empty.

      I loved that the little girl HEARD Bear want to come out and see her. That was so cool.

  3. And I keep feeding the hungry creatures of my woods. I know it’s spring and in theory they can find their own food, but seasons have been altered by climate change and food isn’t as readily available as one might think. Since everything is breeding, they ARE hungry and as long as I can, I feed them. As long as I am able to get the seed and pay for it, I will. It’s getting increasingly hard to find it with a delivery date earlier than June … and no matter what anyone says, there isn’t much food in the stores. It’s a lot more than paper good now. It’s food!

  4. Your doggie takes after your side of the terms of hair. You were face to face on tyour blog page today and I noticed the family resemblance. ;o)

  5. My my. From the seventies to snow. What a big dose of the beautiful great outdoors you can have whenever you want – thanks for taking us along. Talking to people wearing masks does put more focus on the eyes for communication. They say you also smile with your eyes too. Now that’s all we might see! I can understand why you didn’t notice the mailman’s eye before. It’s an upside down world these days. 🙂

  6. I love reading about your “neck of the woods” – the Big Empty!

    I admire your willingness to co-exist with venomous snakes. When I was searching for a place to move to (after living most of my life in Seattle), I had three requirements: no venomous snakes, no poisonous spiders, and no ticks. I compromised on the latter when I moved to Idaho’s mountains, but thankfully their season is short.

    Hope you get that last blessing of snow in your forecast. Bear deserves one last snorgasm this season 😉

    • I had daily snake viewings hiking in Southern California from February to November, almost always rattlesnakes. I can’t say I like them, but they got to be a fact of life. I called them “Snake du Jour” because I only saw one a day. They are territorial and that made them easier to predict. 🙂

    • These dogs are never clipped. She will blow out a lot of hair in a few weeks, but spring came too soon for her internal Akbash dog clock. I do need to start packing water, though. ❤

  7. You know your readers well…I think some of your Sandhill Cranes have been passing over parts of SK, as someone on the birding site I belong to heard them.

  8. Ahhh the big empty sounds like my kind of place Martha, so much distance. What a very interesting crane the Sandhill sounds. I will have to look up more about this bird. Bear is so gorgeous and yes I have to take water with us too when my guys and I go out. It is so quite about me here over our Easter long weekend, we have been told to stay in our primary residences not to travel to where people have shacks (holiday homes) as these are mostly full time older people living in these areas. It is so wonderful to be able to walk and not meet anyone else.

    • It’s very strange here, too. People who don’t normally go hiking have been heading for the trails and not practicing “social distancing” so some trails (not here, but north where there are more people) have been closed. It’s weird to think they can close the mountains. Stay well!

      • Lord, out here the hills are swarming with nutcases. Families with big dogs running loose on crowded trails. Numbskulls pulling stunts while offroading that are far more dangerous than the virus. You can still find peace and solitude but you have to get well off-trail.

        There is a kind of person (mostly young males) out there who think that heading to the woods with their buds is a great way to socially distance. They go trail driving and camping in undeveloped areas (because the improved campgrounds are all closed) and then commute to mountain towns for groceries. And then they leave their mess on the land and their asymptomatic COVID-19 in the communities they invade.

        That’s what you get when you have large areas of wildness next to 8 million urbanites and something untoward happens.

        • Humans are a scourge upon the planet at times. I read a similar kind of complaint from a friend in Colorado Springs who went grocery shopping and found the same kind of behavior. I dunno about people. 😦

  9. The beaches in California are all closed because people didn’t respect social distancing. During this past week, though, there were big waves, and one guy just couldn’t wait to go surfing some other time. He hopped into a boat and motored to one of the big wave beaches (I think the Wedge in Newport Beach), where he was arrested for disobeying the rules! Crazy guy!

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