Dusty and Mindy Move to Colorado in a Dodge Van with Lily and Me


“What the fuck? This isn’t our car. It smells weird. I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all. I might lie on my back and pee in the air. This is awful. I’m scared.”

“It’s OK, Dusty. She’s here. We’re all here. Our beds are here. It’s all fine.”

“How can you be so sanguine, Mindy?”

“Well, first it’s my nature. Second, I think if she’s here we’re fine. If she comes back when she leaves us, we’re fine. I don’t worry about every little thing like SOME dogs I know. She always takes care of us.”


“It’s OK Dusty,” I tell him from the front seat. “We’re going home. You can quit pacing and breathing hard.”


“See? I told you, Dusty. Lily isn’t worried.”

“Yeah but she’s a wild animal. We’re pets.”

“There is that. But really, Dusty, learn to keep it under control a bit. You’ll have a happier life.”

“You’re probably right, Mindy, but when I start getting scared, it’s a fast and slippery slope all the way to terror.”

“Lie down, Dusty,” I say.

“Do what she said. I have a feeling this time home is a long ways away.” Mindy closed her soft, sweet beautiful eyes and as a model for Dusty, went to sleep.



Olden Days

I just saw this trailer for a film coming out this fall, and I want to see it.

I learned to ski on the “back” side of Pikes Peak. When I left Colorado in the mid-eighties, there were copious ski areas. The morning ski report was long. When I look at a ski area map now, it’s not like that. It shows the “mega” resorts that remain.

These ski areas weren’t resorts at all, many of them. They were places you could go in a day. Pikes Peak Ski Area was right off the Pikes Peak Highway — easy access. It was small, some rope tows, a poma and a chair lift. The snow was usually pretty good because it was on the north side of Pikes Peak — it was high, shaded and fairly well sheltered from the wind.


Pikes Peak Ski Area

These ski areas often didn’t have many runs or amenities — no fancy hotel to spend the night, no shopping, food was often burgers cooked on the mountain on oil-drum grills and eaten standing up, but with season passes that cost $25 for a family, they made the sport accessible. The focus was on skiing.

Back then, too, there was a little reverse snobbery. Real Coloradans didn’t wear fancy ski clothes because skiing was part of who they were, an every day thing, nothing to get dressed up for. Fancy ski clothes revealed that the skier was from Chicago — or worse — Texas. For a while it was popular to ski in bibbed overalls. I didn’t; but I did ski in jeans. When I started X-country skiing, I wore those clothes to the down hill ski areas because there was political contention over “skinny skiers” using downhill slopes. I had to make my point, right?

Andy and Me, A-Basin, 1982

A friend and I at Arapaho Basin, 1982. I’m wearing knickers, high wool socks and layers.

Some of the small ski areas have grown up — Arapaho Basin back in the day was smallish and funky, but now it’s expanded and appears to be more closly linked to its neighbor, Keystone. I can’t say for sure; I haven’t been back.

Right now the local ski area — Wolf Creek — is the center of a big fight between conservationists and a rich Texan who wants to develop it into a resort. A ski resort would pretty much destroy the vibe that Wolf Creek wants to maintain and that the people here are comitted to. It’s a tense and murky situation since the economy of Southern Colorado is depressed and a ski resort would help, but, at the same time, it would put “our” ski area out of the reach of most people who actually live here.

I like the idea of small, local ski mountains, but economically, I can see they stopped being viable. Climate change has made the snowfall less dependable than it was when I was a young woman. Maybe there’s no connection between thousands more people driving into the mountains every weekend from Denver to Vail, Aspen, etc. than there were thirty years ago and the fact that we have less snow. No idea.


Quilt Show

As a girl, I learned all the domestic arts.  I enjoyed learning and doing them. I sewed all my own clothes through high school and started cooking when I was 7. I appreciate them very much, though I no longer participte in any serious way. Still, going to the annual quilt show in the mesmerizingly beautiful town of Creede, Colorado is a huge treat. My friend E and I went today and had a great time. I think I’m mostly just going to share pictures.


This is the most amazing quilt (to me). This quilter combined traditional quilt patterns (Bear Paw, Canoe, Pine Tree, Berry Basket, Clouds, Geese [or ducks] in Flight) with images that reflect the patterns. My friend and I both loved this one.

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P.S. The quilt show is INSIDE a mountain. 🙂

Looking Back Four Years…

Four years ago today, the buyers got funded for my house in California, a house I was sad to leave and a place I where expected to live out my life, but as happens seemingly random stuff coalesces around fate and there you are. Rather spontaneously, while at a conference in Colorado that spring, I did the paper work to retire. In the background other things were happening that I didn’t even know about. My intuition had been right. It was over.

I was scared. My real estate agend thought I was brave to do what I was doing — selling a house and moving to a town where I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t really have a choice. I had an income and some cash from the sale. I knew what these numbers were and I had to live within them. That’s why I left a small mountain town in California and my dream house. California had become not only incredibly hot (temps in my town in the summer had gone from an average high of 90 to an average high of 104) but incredibly expensive. Gas alone cost me $400/month. I learned how much our lives depend on petroleum from that — food, utilities, clothing everything has to be hauled somewhere. All blood under the bridge.



My house in Descanso, CA


“We want to hear about your adventure,” said my agent and her boss at lunch one day. “You have to blog about it.”

I did. Yesterday I had a look at that blog (now set to private). I read the post I wrote the day I drove away from my house, the first step toward Colorado. Packing had been an ordeal. I was getting up at 4 am to have a few hours to work before the blistering heat descended.

“I spent several hours (8) cleaning and packing the car and taking the dogs to the kennel where they’ll be until I take off Friday morning. It was liberating to close the door, knowing there was nothing more I could do, and drive away. I loved my house and I loved the dream I had when I moved there, but it didn’t really pan out. I made some mistakes and the world changed, still, I always felt that house was more than a roof and walls. It has a soul and it loved me. More than once it helped me and it helped me again. Since it was made by hand of local rocks, it’s never been (for me) just a house. It’s a piece of the mountain it sits on. I know the new owners will love it, and if they don’t, they won’t stay long. (And they didn’t…)

So now I’m in a motel near the university where I taught for most of 30 years. It’s convenient and nice and I knew I could find it. 😉 And, it’s air-conditioned.” (Colorado or Bust, September 18, 2014)

I thought all the time I was in California that I wanted to be in Colorado — but there was a moment when I stopped yearning. It was a weekend in 2002 when I was pondering a job offer in Wyoming. That weekend I took a hike and saw 7 mule deer, a beautiful sunset, and had some great experiences at school. I realized I had a great job and I loved the university where I was teaching. Why should I go anywhere? It was at that moment — about 20 years after I move to California — that I arrived psychically. Soon after I bought my house in the mountains.

No one knows what the future holds. And there I was, ten years after buying my house, selling it and driving east, home.

“It’s…bewildering to close the door on a time in my life. I’ve thought that our lives seem to break naturally into thirty year chunks. The first thirty years of my life seemed to have been growth, learning, mastery and self-definition. The second thirty were giving to life what I had been made for. Now? How could I possibly know? For whatever it is I bring the tools life has taught me — a viable living space and safety (thanks, Maslow, for stating the obvious), financial security and time to create. I don’t know what else there will be. I know only that those are the things I must prepare — for whom? Sometimes I think about the person who moved to San Diego with her husband in 1984. I think of all the things she did and hoped for. I packed up some of her work in preparation for moving here. She left some good things behind. I feel she left them for me. A book about Pearl S. Buck as a writer in the Chinese literary tradition and the other a love story. ‘I can’t do this now,’ she said. ‘I must teach. I must try to find my road. I have to make this marriage work. I have to settle these questions with my family. I am holding up the sky. I’ll make a start, but I’m afraid you’ll have to finish.’ I love that young woman. I am proud of her. She got here.” (Colorado or Bust, September 21, 2014)

I have friends who are in the time of life of holding up the sky. I have friends who are older than I who are still holding up the sky. I let go of it when I moved here. I thought of it recently in terms of Rainbow Girls. When I was a member, I held two offices — Nature and Service, yellow and lavender, opposites on the color wheel. I’ve been struck a few times by how those two colors ended up describing my life. I arrived here wrung dry of any desire to serve, but once it was my mission.

I’ve written three books since I moved here. I haven’t made a lot of friends, but I haven’t tried very hard. I’m not that kind of person, anyway. I realize that I keep a distance from my town and the people in it. Retired, I have the luxury of solitude that I didn’t have as a teacher. I like the friends I have very much and am grateful every day that they live next door and across the street. I still haven’t been up in the mountains, but that doesn’t mean I won’t ever go. If I hadn’t moved here I wouldn’t know how potatoes are grown, I’d know nothing about the migration of Sandhill Cranes, or the prisms on old snow on a -10 degree day — or thousands of other things — big and small — that are part and parcel of this place. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the conversation I had yesterday with my dogs’ vet about the courage and sweetness of dogs like Bear. I would not have heard his stories. I would not have Bear. There are thousands of ways in which my life would be diminished if I had not made that rather radical decision four years ago.



About two weeks ago I was driving over this road in happy anticipation of bringing home Dusty and Bear. I’m in no danger from this fire. It’s more than 80 miles to the east up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains and I’m not heading that way.

We had a very dry and warm winter, and as I headed over the pass I thought, “Wow, it’s so dry this year, the grass didn’t even turn green.” It all looked like tinder to me. Fire is part of nature’s usual occupation, but the size and frequency of these wildfires has increased since the 1980s and I don’t really give a rat’s ass whether you “believe” in climate change or not. To me, these fires are proof. The other side of that proof is that it snows less and hurricanes are more vicious. Whether humankind “caused” this is perhaps a debatable issue, and I know that there have been major climate variations throughout history, but I also believe that we should do whatever we can to mitigate any effect we MAY have had. Scientists generally agree that humans have affected the change in the climate and I am proud to be in a place where there’s a direct effort made to generate energy from sources other than coal and gas.

We are not all living in the same historical moment but I guess that’s always been the case with humanity.

The somewhat up-to-date statistics on this fire are:


Last year Montana, California and Washington were burning. This year is our turn. The terrain is very rugged (it’s the Rocky Mountains) and bark beetles (who LOVE drought) have killed a lot of pine trees over the past decade, so there is lots of dead wood up there for the fire to enjoy.

My feelings about fire are mixed. I have been through one — in 2003 I was living in a small mountain town in California when what is now the second largest fire hit. I was evacuated from my house for ten days. The fire was not completely out for more than three months and it burned the southernmost rain forest in North America. By the time the fire was fully contained, it had destroyed 2,820 buildings (including 2,232 homes) and killed 15 people, including one firefighter. We were traumatized — naturally — and the other night when the smoke from the Spring Fire wafted in this direction, I woke up suddenly, my heart pounding. I could almost hear the sheriff as I had heard him that night in 2003, “You must all evacuate to Mountain Empire High School. Good luck.”

In many circumstances, “Good luck” are two of the grimmest words in the English language. If all you have to count on is luck, you’re fucked.

Because I lived in those mountains, I got to see what happened next. It was fascinating to watch the resurrection of that wild world with plants that had little opportunity with the tall trees keeping them from the sun — chokecherries, wild lilac, and, naturally, the very beautiful fireweed thrived in the fertile ground left by ash. Some seeds need fire in order to germinate (redwood trees, for example). As I hiked around I thought about fire and nature — it’s not fire that’s the problem. Fire’s necessary — the problem is the SCALE. I wasn’t the only person who had this idea, I guess, because in the ensuing decade when I still lived there, firefighters routinely and carefully burned small fires to cut down on the underbrush and make it more difficult for another massive fire to blast through another several hundred thousand acres.

Did it work? Not really. Last year an even larger fire hit California along with several other very large fires.

Another fire currently burning in Colorado, in the area of Durango, has been burning for nearly a month and firefighters don’t believe it will be extinguished until the snow falls.

So that’s where I’ve been for the last five days — no internet, no phone, did learn about free internet at the local park and made some use of that. A very pleasant experience, too, sitting on a bench watching people walk their dogs. I can’t take mine there (it’s boring anyway) but it was sweet to see all the people doing their laps on the little track (3/4 mile) and to hear and see the family picnics.




Once upon a time, four 1/2 years ago, when I first moved here, I looked at the yard and thought, “Wow. All I have to do is mow it!” I’d been living on a 1/4 acre of rock riddled land in the Cuyamaca Mountains of California and to cut the weeds/foxtails, I had to use a weed-eater. My new, green Colorado lawn seemed like Heaven well, in Heaven.

I’d forgotten. Twenty years before I’d had a lawn. I’d even planted the damned thing with seed! and then we got a lawn mower and I mowed it and I…

hated it. Hated that job. Looking at the emerald splendor of my new Colorado lawn, I forgot all about that until the first time I hitched up my (electric) mower and went at my front yard. Strong feelings of hating it rose to the surface, and as I criss-crossed the relatively small surface I yelled, “I hate this. I HATE it. I HATE IT.”

I gotta’ get out there before it gets too hot which is tomorrow when it’s supposed to hit 90.


Dreams DO Come True

Yesterday I drove to Colorado Springs and checked into my beautiful B&B — the Crescent Lily Inn. This is my “summer vacation” so to speak. It’s beautiful. Colorado Springs has many gorgeous Victorian homes and when I was a kid I dreamed of living in one someday when I grew up — well, I get to live in one for two nights. My room even has a four poster bed, another thing I dreamed of as a little kid.

If you just wait long enough and have a couple hundred bucks your dreams might come true.



Of course there’s my reacher and computer case because it’s NOT the 19th century…

Along with the fufillment of childhood dreams, comes breakfast. 🙂

Today’s the big day when I go see my surgeon for my 6 week exam. I’m going to make his life easy and mine less embarrassing by just wearing shorts. Sure, my legs look like proof of the evolution of humans from apes, but I was able to mitigate that to a limited extent yesterday by using a rubber band to fasten my razor to the end of my shower brush, again setting the humans apart from other animals (except ravens) as the masters of tools. And considering that THAT man has seen me start naked, unconscious, and cut open, really what’s there to hide?



PT Poetry

“Did I tell you about my skis?”

“No. Here, now do some bridges, engage that core and keep squeezing the basketball between your knees.”

“That’s four things!”

“You can do it, Martha. The anesthesia is about gone by now. Your brain can maybe manage it.”

I laughed.

“Now what about your skis?”

“Oh I was at that flea market on the 285 with some friends. We went into the back room part there and I was looking around and there was a pair of skis exactly like the ones I had when I moved to California from Colorado in the 80s. Back country skis.”

“They called to you, didn’t they?”

“They did. My friends looked at me with pity, so I just put them back, but later on, I went back by myself. I looked them over, and the left one, you know like this?” I pointed to my recently repaired hip, “it’s pretty badly delaminated. That’s why I bought them. They are like me.”

“Like you were delaminated.”


“So it just needs to be fixed, some epoxy, stuff.”


“Did you get it repaired yet?”

“No. I’m waiting until…”

“I’ll fix them for you.”

“You fix skis?”

“Yeah. I’m a ski guy.”

I kept bridging, “The tips are kind of messed up, too.”

“Probably need a rivet.”

“Yeah.” Then he handed me a Theraband. “OK now very gently move your knees outward. Not too far. All we’re doing is teaching that new joint how it works.”

“You see the poetry in that?” I knew he would.

“Your left hip and your left ski?”

“Yeah, but you’re helping me learn to walk well again and make this new joint work so I can do what I want and you’re fixing my skis.”

I told him about my plans to hike the San Franscisco Creek Trail, too. Around here people call it “Frisco Creek” but I can’t do that. No one in California calls San Francisco “Frisco” — it seems like an abomination. I’ll get over it, maybe, but I kind of like St. Francis.



San Francisco Creek Trail (upper part)


“Maybe next year,” he said.

“Yeah but…”

“You can do the lower part, though.”

“I’m thinking November to give it a try.”

“That’ll be possible, a couple of miles, I think. It’s kind of like this,” he moved his hand to show up hill and down hill. “But nothing too steep those first couple of miles. You’ll be able to do that.”

“I’m good with it taking time. When I first lived in California I was in terrible shape. I didn’t know where to go, what to do, how to live there, then I found a place. At first — well it was me and a five-month old puppy — I could only go half a mile. But then, I kept going and, yeah. I love that. I love the whole thing of becoming better at something, able to go farther, being stronger. Anyway, however long it takes, at the top is an alpine lake and some peaks.”

“We’ll get you there,” he said.

And I believe him.

Life’s Topo Map, Bastion of Hope


I’m not a bastion of anything. Not a bastion of virtue. Not a bastion of values. Not a bastion of tradition. I have friends who think I’m “passive” (so not the case) and others who think I’m easy going (also not the case). I have boundaries as most of us do, they’re just not in places where anyone is likely to fall over them. I’ve also learned that REAL boundaries are not subjects of conversation. Open your mouth to someone about your boundaries and negotiation begins. My boundaries — like those of any well built medieval castle — are not negotiable. Have at them with your catapults and battering rams if you must, but the little person inside has probably escaped through the back staircase up the cliff.

People have to go through their shit. Me too. At the moment, some of my dear friends are confronting inter-personal cataclysms in their lives. For now, I am blessed with the absolute clarity and simplicity of recovering from hip surgery. I know what my job is and how to do it. My list of priorities is comprehensible, elegant and  beautiful.

There’s a left turn in the town of Del Norte that leads up a road to an alpine forest and hiking trails. “Just turn left at the car wash and keep going to the turnout/parking lot,”  explained my physical therapist a few months ago. I checked it out and found a six mile one-way trail.

The trail leads to an alpine lake and a mountain. It will be my first mountain hike since I moved here four years ago. We will attempt it on the third anniversary of Bear coming to live with us, July 30. We’ll arm ourselves against ticks, carry our bear spray (will we need it? doubtful…) I’m sure we won’t go very far that first day, but that’s OK. Among the lessons I’ve learned in my life are how to get better at something, how to go farther, and how to appreciate the wonder of the expansion of my powers and my vision. When will we actually get there? Who knows. I don’t, but I look forward to the clarity of a mountain trail, every bit as sweet and hopeful as my efforts now to regain the ability to walk.

I am being driven forward Into an unknown land.

The pass grows steeper
The air colder and sharper
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings of expectation.

Still the question
Shall I ever get there?
Where life resounds
A clear pure note in the silence.

Dag Hammarskjöld





This is NOT the Sexy Part of Colorado

In my 20s, I hung out in the sexy parts of Colorado fairly often. I would say that Aspen is the sexiest of the sexy. I had a good friend who’s parents owned a condo at the bottom of Little Nell (a ski lift). These excursions were usually in the summer when, back in the 70s, the population was less glamorous than during ski season. It was nothing for us to drive up there from Denver for the weekend. I spent a lot of time with them. The sexiest parts were getting dolled up (“Take off your glasses Martha!” “But Bess, if I do that I can’t see!” “You don’t have to see. You have to be SEEN!!!”)  to dance and drink at the Red Onion.

People don’t think of it this way, but Aspen is surrounded by legit Colorado and on those summer nights, if I took I took my Jack Daniels outside the Red Onion for a little fresh air and break from the noise and sat down at one of the tables set up on the sidewalk, I was likely to share the space with a cowboy and his beer.

I spent some winter times there, too, skiing at Snowmass with my boyfriend’s parents and watching women in restaurants drop their fur jackets on the floor beside their chairs. There were also lines of cocaine (it was the 70s, and I was young) that left me wondering if I’d ever sleep again and why anyone found that fun at all (I didn’t). In the swirling 70s mystique cocaine in Aspen was part of the sexiness. I even happened to be at my friend’s apartment when a scary ragabash showed up with a bag of uncut coke. My friend — a young, talented Aspen architect — bought it, we snorted some. I was “up” for three miserable nights and days, hating every minute of it, and that was the end of that social experiment, for me, anyway. My friend died a few years later at 35. Nothing sexy about that, nothing sexy about a wasted life.

I spent time — and skied some hills — in less sexy parts of Colorado, too. My favorite not-all-that-sexy ski mountain was Arapahoe Basin. Still, it was sexy in its way, too, sexy in the “I’m the highest ski mountain anywhere” kind of sexy. It was sexy in the “Only extremely cool real Coloradans who are able to drive over Loveland Pass come here.” I was there every weekend one winter. I do not know if there is a pass anywhere that my VW Bug wasn’t ready to take on.

So here is am in South Central Colorado in a flat, mysterious, ancient valley ringed by mountains, a hard-working valley where potatoes are cultivated and giant trucks carry them off to points north, south, east and west. The other night, a visiting friend and I drove across Heaven’s fields — potatoes, alfalfa, hops, barley — and she said, “This is the Colorado people don’t know. It’s not the sexy part.”

I said, “Yeah, but you know, last time I drove out of this valley to go to Colorado Springs all I could think was ‘every other place is bullshit’.” My friend agreed. She lives in proximity to a somewhat sexy part of the state (Durango and Telluride) but her town might be smaller than mine.

I pointed to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, about to be hit with late afternoon light and I said, “See those? Those are MY mountains. And these fields here? They’re mine. And that immense changing sky? That’s mine, too. There’s a river over there. It’s one of the perqs of living here. It’s my river.” I said “my” but in fact, I belong to them, heart and soul.

She’s the friend who acted as my real estate agent when I wanted to move here. She said, “I was so worried when you said you wanted to live here. I couldn’t imagine you not hating it.”

“I knew I wouldn’t hate it.” My heart filled as it often does here in Heaven. “It’s the best thing I ever did, move here. But no, it’s not sexy. It’s legit.”

Today I went to visit the dogs and take a drive through the legit part of Colorado where I live, past the neat, rich Amish farms, the small herds of sheep, the cattle on the distant fields, the two beautiful mules near the kennel. Summer birds swooped and hunted and sun behind the San Juans made them silhouettes. Fields that had been irrigated were filled with wild iris.

Not in the least sexy.