Skied Again

Some people don’t consider Cross Country skiing, also known as Nordic skiing, to be skiing. That’s OK with me. I’ve seen guys strap skins on their down hill skis, climb up a mountain, take off the skins and ski down, and I mean a big mountain. That was 30+ years ago and now the two sports have moved closer together. I know that from the skis I just bought. Like downhill skis, they are “cut in” on the sides and they are comparatively short. They are different, as I’m learning from taking them out, twice now. I can tell from the few little knolls I’ve skied down that they would really like more hills than my golf course offers, but I had to tell them, “Guys, listen. I don’t really remember how to turn.”

“Sure you do,” they said, “just keep at it.”

They’re probably right.

Maybe what I should worry about is having conversations with my skis.

I had the golf-course to myself. Someone was there this morning — the skater guy, I think, from the tracks. In the meantime — night before last — we had a sweet fluff of light snow. It was followed by a warm temps (40 F/4C) yesterday and a bitter wind, bitter enough to make slanted icicles as the day cooled and the melted snow on the roof-lines froze.

I knew this morning I wanted to get out there, but I waited to see what was going to happen with the temperature. If it got to freezing — or a little above, I would go. I knew there would be a crust of ice under drifts, and in shady spots, it was kind of icy, but, overall, I’ve skied on much worse.

I fell — that’s the best thing that happened. I found out that I can get up from a fall and how I would do it. There are a couple of positions I’m not supposed to get myself into, and one of them could be the result of getting up from a fall. It was wonderful to know I can get up.

It was a dazzling blue-sky day. Not many animal tracks and no sign of “my” deer, so I didn’t feel so guilty about having walked the dogs at the high school before going out to “our” place.

Rio Bravo

My river is going to be a lot healthier this year because we’ve gotten snow. The high country is at normal snow pack and that’s good news for the river, for farmers, for everyone. There’s a dam upstream, so it’s not a completely free river, and it’s diverted hundreds of times into irrigation canals, but it’s still a river, and it has dug for itself, with the help of uplifting tectonic plates, a dramatic canyon outside Taos.

Photo by Daniel Schwen

“My” river is El Rio Grande, Rio Bravo, this lovely legendary thread of blue that wanders from the San Juan Mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. One of the perqs, for me, of moving here was that river.

I didn’t know much about river reality but I’ve been learning steadily by walking with my dogs in a river fueled wetlands, The sloughs and backwaters of the Rio Grande have been my wandering place since I moved here.

When the dogs and I take a ramble out to the (now closed) Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge, the river is one of our destinations. Last month it looked like this:

Rio Grande at Rio Grande Wildlife Area, Monte Vista, CO

In other news, I shoveled snow for two hours yesterday and today it looks like I have a similar job ahead of me cleaning my neighbor’s walk. They’re out of town. I am not complaining. I am happy I’m able.

We got upwards of 10 inches in our recent snowstorm, and it was heavy, wet snow, the best for rivers. The dogs and I took a walk in this — to the golf course — where some of the drifts were over my boots and up to Dusty’s chest. Even Bear wasn’t having the best time she’s ever had in the snow.

Slim Pickings

Yesterday Bear and I went for a long ramble out to see “our” deer. We didn’t see them, but we saw where they had been in various signs they’d left behind, like a story, across the page of snow.

The empty field beyond the golf course has been fallow for as long as I’ve lived here. I’ve chosen not to think about why (development?) but the stripes of the last hay cutting are still prominent. It’s a buffer zone between houses and the Big Empty. Beyond it are farms and open space, the railroad tracks and what many people my call “nothing.” Then there’s the river. Along the way to the river are little bends of backwaters, sloughs. Perfect deer land, filled with yummy shrubs, even wild currants. There is good cover, too.

The first time I saw the deer this past fall (when the grass was green, and the leaves were golden) they were grazing on the “volunteer” alfalfa growing this field.

The alfalfa is down to nubbins, brown and frozen to boot. Yesterday we saw many patches where the deer had moved the snow away to get at what remains.

I remembered some friends in California who had a little house in the Cuyamaca mountains outside Julian. They were trying to make a pretty garden on the hillside, but the deer kept eating their plants. I’d gone up there for dinner with my white husky/low-content wolf, Ariel Punky. When Ariel saw the deer, she howled. The deer ran. For fifteen minutes my friend practiced a convincing howl that he could use to drive the deer away. He knew his howl was good if Ariel joined in.

I came home yesterday from our ramble and looked up how to feed deer in winter. I learned a lot — mostly that it’s a bad idea. Deer can die if their food is changed too suddenly. It’s just as well. I don’t see me lumbering out there with enough food to do any good come March.

Deer tracks in the fallow hay field.

Tea Party vs. Darkness

It’s been a weird year for most of my friends. The litany of scary strangeness includes a cancer diagnosis, a messed up ankle leading to surgery, hip surgery x 2 (mine and a friend’s), a romance failure, car wrecks, shoulder surgery. There’s more but why write it?

A guy could dig a bunker after all this and stay there.

But that’s not what we did. None of us. A couple of days ago I thought about all my friends now the year is ending, I thought, “We’re all better off than we were this time a year ago. Every one of us.” It helped lift the cloud of depression that’s been hovering.

Last week, I read The Pavlova Palaver on Global Housesitter’s blog. The article attempts to resolve the debate about whether this marvelous dessert is Australian or New Zealander in origin. One of my best friends here in Heaven is Australian and a very good cook. She’d spoke of this mythical dessert many times, but so far hadn’t made it for any of our tea parties. I sent the article to her via text and she immediately texted back, “Regardless of the article, it’s still an Australian staple for parties.” Followed by a koala bear emoji.

I texted back, “I’m on your side.”


She’s a fierce and wonderful beastie.

We’d talked of doing something quietly festive for our friend who was house-bound from ankle surgery and whose husband had recently been through a battery of (we learned successful) treatments for a mysterious cancer-like-thing. In dark times, a tea party is a kind of solution.

Of course, my Aussie friend put the whole thing together and took it to our friend’s house. She made Pavlovas.

And we all felt better. ❤


Through this whole thing — moving back to Colorado and having hip surgery — there’s been one thing glowing in the back of my mind.

Can I ski?

In my 3 month appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, the doc said, “No restrictions. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes. Where will you ski?”

There’s only one rational answer to that, “Where there’s snow.”

Wolf Creek, the closest ski area to Monte Vista, is 1 hour away on THIS side of Wolf Creek pass. It offers classes for people over 50. I’m going to do the March class, thinking there will be more snow (we get most of our snow in March) and the days will be longer.

That’ll also give me time to practice my moves and practice getting up from a fall. I figure if I can improve those things, I’ll be in good shape for this BIG moment.

I love skiing more than anything, and I haven’t been downhill skiing since I went with a Swiss student to Big Bear in California sometime in 1991. It was horrible. It was my first experience skiing on ice, and I went backwards down the hill from the chair lift. Very embarrassing. Anyway, during the afternoon when the ice had turned to something resembling snow, I got a lesson. He was a ski instructor, and it was a great lesson full of useful things that I have never had the chance to try out a second time.

All I need are pants and goggles… 😀

My Playground

My pals and I go outside to play every day. Yesterday Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and I went out and played for a long time. It was a magical clear beautiful enchanting calm-wind day. My pal is a great playmate. She always wants to play and when we get to the playground, she knows just exactly what she’s supposed to do. She’s supposed to smell things and roll in the snow. She’s also supposed to pull suddenly on the leash when a very fresh scent hits her nose, but she’s never supposed to pull me down. When I stop to enjoy the scenery, she is supposed to lean against me and I’m not supposed to move away so fast that she loses her balance. When we near the end of our play time, and I say, “OK, Bear, let’s go home,” she’s supposed to walk peacefully beside me while I rest my hand on her back. 

Our trail. Mt. Blanca in the distance
El Rio Grande

I’ve been playing in this way all my life. It’s amazing what can happen when you go out to the playground. Lately, in one of our playgrounds, we’ve had the pleasure of watching a small herd of whitetail deer watch us. Among them is a very large buck who vigilantly cares for his wives and children. He’s a little scary, actually, and I’m glad we’re never very close. 

The big buck is at the far left facing, looking right at me. 

What I’ve learned over all my years of playing outside is that there is always some reward (though play itself is reward enough), a destination (in terms of destiny).

I always see something. Sometimes it’s light on the trees. Sometimes Kris Kristofferson’s face in the clouds (seriously and it was weird). Sometimes a rainbow. Sometimes hawks hunting low over the chamisa or desert broom. Sometimes bald eagles in the trees. Sometimes deer, elk or some other large ungulate. Sometimes a wild cat, a fox or coyote. Sometimes a friendly person. Sometimes the litany of night written in the dust. Sometimes an amazing bird. Yesterday my reward was a Great Blue Heron. 

Just like this (from the Audubon Field Guide)

I thought of a poem by Jack Kerouac the moment the heron revealed himself by leaping into the air, taking flight. 

Kerouac was kind of a Buddhist. For a while he was a happy person, too. During this time he wrote/recorded some lovely stuff. My favorite is The Dharma Bums.  Anyway for a while I had a bunch of CDs of Kerouac reading his work and some of his interviews on TV in the 50s.

In one of his poems he says, “Like kissing my kitten in the belly, the sweetness of the reward that we’ll get. This I know.” 

And it’s true.

Christmas Concert

Yesterday my friend and I went to hear Christmas music performed by the Valley Community Chorus and accompanied by the San Luis Valley Community Band. The event was held at Sacred Heart Church in Alamosa, a beautiful hybrid between Romanesque and Gothic in style, patterned on the prevailing style of mission churches in this part of the West. It has wonderful acoustics. The community to which the chorus sang and the band played — and from which they draw for members — is as a big as Connecticut with a population around 60,000. There’s a lot of driving involved for some of them.

My friend and I are both retired teachers. It’s pretty obvious, I think. Strangers have said, “You must be retired teachers.” I don’t know how they knew that (I think I’m a punk rocker, yes I am) but as I looked around me yesterday, at the listeners and the performers, I reached the same conclusion. A lot of retired teachers. One giveaway was the prevalence of Christmas sweaters of a certain style. 

At one point in the concert, the director (who, I assume, is also a teacher) asked, “How many of our choir and band developed their love of music in public school?”

Most of the participants raised their hands. I started to clap loudly, and there followed a ripple then a roar of applause. I might never want to teach anyone anything again as long as I live and regret that I didn’t stay with Head Ski, get free skis and do marketing, but damn. Without schools? We would all miss out on what matters most in life — and that’s not our job. It’s what the band leader referred to as our “avocations.”

The high school in my town takes its band very seriously and the band wins prizes. There’s a big sign on the east end of town listing all the times the band won best in state. Since the high school is two blocks from my house, I get to hear them practice marching for parades. I love it. I’m proud of them. I get goosebumps when I see them going up and down the streets trying to keep in time and walk simultaneously. It’s the teacher in me. I look at youth in the act of aspiring and I’m moved.

Yesterday I looked at the retired teachers all around me, and I thought, “We never fully drop that torch. We always believe in it,” and I was moved.

The Season

Frost per se is pretty rare here unless we get fog and that will coat every small branch, every wire on a fence, every stuck tumbleweed in crystalline magic. This is a high desert and usually there’s not enough humidity for frost to get a decent chance. When it does, it’s most beautiful on top of snow, making sharp small prisms. If we have a few very cold days in a row, the prisms grow, and it seems they will last forever.

It’s a cloudy morning here in the back of beyond, and I have company coming. Snow is in the forecast (from 4 pm to 5 pm) but it’s snowing in the San Juan Mountains so Wolf Creek Ski Area is getting a fresh dusting. That seems to be winter in the real west. Nothing happens, no one I care about is driving, until someone needs to go to the hospital or I have guests, then it snows. 

I knew that when I moved here. 

Yesterday we had a little tea party. One of my friends is facing some tough stuff and the tea party was a way — our way, I guess — of letting her know that we’re here and care very much. I think she probably felt that. I hope so. Messages like that are conveyed in offers of help and willingness to drive. It’s an oblique language that tries to say, “I’m really sorry you have to go through all this. I hope it’s over soon and that everything turns out well, but now it’s hard and we’ll do whatever we can to make it easier.”

The thing is, no one can really DO anything except be willing to do whatever we can when the moment arises. 

Meanwhile life everywhere goes on. Life this weekend in my town means Christmas. Tomorrow we have a pancake breakfast, visits with Santa, a craft fair, caroling, a parade and fireworks. My guests will be coming down to partake in the wonder of it all and I will be very happy to see them. Bailey — my short-term golden retriever — will be coming with them for a visit as will Reina, a brilliant Australian shepherd who used to be my dog. 

As they drive west over the pass, my neighbors will be driving east toward some of the difficulties they are now facing. I wish them all — and everyone else — safe travels. 

Life in Colorado. My friends will be crossing La Veta Pass which is a few miles east of the + sign.


In 1999, Molly Wolf and I packed up the Ford Escort wagon and headed east from San Diego to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Martha in Denver. 

Moly and I loved road trips. The drive east was beautiful, befitting late November in Southern California. It was before the span between San Diego and San Bernardino was full of bedroom communities. We turned right and headed over the pass to Las Vegas (which we ignored). We drove through beautiful Southern Utah all the way to Cedar City where we found a motel and went out for dinner. Molly and I both liked Colonel Chicken when we were on the road. We sat outside at the cold tables and shared chicken. It began to snow. Molly and I walked back to our motel in this beautiful stuff, stopping at a college where there is a replica of the Globe Theater and, outside it, a circle of sculptures of great writers. It was beautiful. The night was inky black, the snow fell all around us, and the writers seemed joined together in a literary conspiracy.

The next morning I learned that the Eisenhower Tunnel between us and Denver was closed, and it was unknown when it would open. Our gentle snowfall was a big storm in the Rockies.

That was our route, but Molly and I clearly weren’t going that way. We headed south, instead, backtracking a bit, and went through Zion down to Flagstaff and on the 40 to Albuquerque where we spent the night. The next morning we were up and out, heading north to family on I-25. As we dropped down Raton Pass into Colorado’s Western Slope (mountains to the left, the Great Plains to the Right) the Dixie Chicks started singing “Wide Open Spaces” and, of course, I cried. I was so glad to be back in Colorado.

It was a very important trip, something revealed a year or so after the journey. My Aunt Martha (80 years old) and I had a wonderful time together doing all the things we normally did. She loved my dog and so did her cat, Amiga. We ate Thanksgiving dinner in a Swiss restaurant. Another evening we cooked T-bones and fried potatoes (my Aunt’s favorite meal). We laughed and talked, shared confidences. I walked my dog around what is now Centennial but was then Littleton. Molly — Malamute and Aussie — loved the snow (of course). Then it was time to go. I packed up the Escort, said goodbye to my aunt and headed west. The snow was all melted by then. I-70 was not yet the crowded horror show it is now. We stopped at rest stops and dawdled our way back to Cedar City, but pressed on to St. George. 

Then we were home. 

So… I woke up this Thanksgiving morning thankful for that trip. My aunt got sick that winter, family sold the home that she loved so much, and she moved to Montana. In a year or so she would be in extended care. It was — though I didn’t know it that Thanksgiving — the last moment of that part of both of our lives.

I’m so grateful we had it. ❤

Walking Martha

Bear’s Bliss fell last night, so today Bear and I went tracking ungulates on the golf course. Moose, elk and deer.

When it snows, I can SEE what Bear smells. We get to be a team. I see footprints and , where snow has blown against a cottonwood, even urine splashes on trees.

There are a lot of low leaves on the elm and cottonwood trees between the second and fourth holes so we started there. If there had been no tracks, we’d have left the golf course and wandered out into the fields beyond the driving range where, often, we find fox, raccoon and deer tracks and sometimes animals. But we were lucky.

Tracks and tracks and tracks. Rabbit, squirrel, domestic cat and

Moose??? Elk??? Whitetail Deer???

My personal jury is out on that one. I’ve seen moose tracks on the golf course before, but these seemed a little small, though the right shape. Whitetail deer, possibly. They are around here, too.

Bear caught scent after scent. It was nice for me because I could look ahead and see where she was going. When there’s no snow, I might be yanked in a random direction — random to me.

Once we’d exhausted the tracks, and Bear had several chances to roll in the snow, it was time to check messages. On the map that’s the straight line at the bottom, on E. Prospect Avenue, right in front of Monte Vista High School. Many people walk past there with their dogs, and Bear has many messages to collect — and leave.

My dog walks me, and I love it. It’s never a brisk walk, but Bear is a constant reminder to stop and smell the elk urine.

P.S. Yes, my golf course looks like a glue gun