…not like this isn’t nice.”
You’ve waited SO LONG Bear.
Last year — or any other year — I wasn’t walking out at the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge. It never occurred to me to walk there until this past March when Covid hit. My usual walks were at the beautiful Shriver/Wright Wildlife Area and Rio Grande Wildlife Area, but when Covid hit, the trails at Shriver/Wright became too often frequented by people who let their dogs out of the car at the parking lot to run, and the Rio Grande Wildlife Area closes from February to July so birds can nest.
I’d gone out to the Refuge to walk once when the cranes were at their peak and saw that it would be a GREAT place for the dogs and me. Well enforced leash law. Wide trails so rattlesnakes would be visible come snake season. Animals. Few people and most of them in cars. Wide, soul-filling vistas.
It took a little while for my Big White Dog to accept it. Livestock guardian dogs don’t like change, but I knew the more often we went, the more content she would be and soon she would turn it — with its smells and landscape — into her territory, and so she has. I’ve written a lot about it on this blog because it’s been one very good thing in my life during this time. I’ve (obviously) loved every moment I’ve spent with the cranes. Endured the deer flies and mosquitoes of summer, the admission price to summer sunsets. And best of all (so far), fall with chill days, cranes and beautiful skies. At one point this fall my friends became interested in going along and that has been very nice. Once in spring, my next-door neighbor and I took a long walk out there and talked about so many of the things that were troubling us.
Still, winter is my favorite season, and I’ve been anticipating the experience of the Refuge in snow and cold, in winter’s angled light and often silvery skies.
The migraines have been a little worrisome and the approaching holiday? Well, as it happens, I’m not crazy about Christmas as a celebration anyway, but it still has a quiet and important place in my heart and life. Over the years, as many of my Christmases have been solitary since all my family has died, I’ve experienced some miraculous Christmas Eves, so many that I no longer plan anything. I just let them happen. One year my stepson and his wife showed up with German Christmas (my step-daughter-in-law is German) and suddenly I was celebrating Christmas Eve exactly as I’d celebrated it growing up — dinner and a gift exchange. Sandi, who’s from the area near Dresden, brought all the foods she was used to on Christmas Eve. I baked mince pie. It was a warm and lovely evening spent with two people I love dearly. Another year I was surprised to find myself riding a horse when I’d thought there was no way I could get on one.
Lately, in the midst of this strange year, I’ve felt (as many of us have) the melancholy of the holidays combined with the sad statistics of Covid-19 and lurking dread of 45 who just won’t stop. And so…
This morning I was finally feeling brave enough to face the glare of snow, and I took Bear to the Refuge. It was the first time I’d walked there in winter and it was magical. Silent and immense with the infinitely varying sky that’s a feature of the San Luis Valley. Bear was blissful — snow holds smells to the ground the way grass doesn’t — and I was happy that animal tracks told me something about what she was smelling. Hundreds of ducks had taken flight the moment we arrived and I watched them circle and dive and land back on the pond. Walking on snow is dream walking. I felt like I could go forever. I saw how great this place will be on X-country skies and felt a lilt of anticipation. When we turned around and the angle of the sun changed, I watched a hawk circle in the silvery winter sky.
“Spend Christmas with us,” said the Refuge. I looked around at the few trees and bushes, thought of the hungry birds, and of putting suet balls on one or two of them on Christmas Eve.
“I will. Thank you for the invitation,” I said, excited to be spending Christmas Eve with someone I love.