First Snow

Three years ago today I was living in South Fork waiting to move into my house. Dusty T. Dog and I took a walk in “our” field and a few flakes landed on his black fur. I thought, “Wow. I’m really back in Colorado.”

Right now, though, I have no doubt. Gotta’ go dig out my boots and take Bear out to revel in her bliss…

October 9, folks… Could be a LONG winter… And those poor people in Santa Rosa. Wow. One of the most beautiful spots in California now on fire 😩 Maybe our president will toss water bottles at the victims.

Butterfly Sanctuary, Quotidian Report #35

That elastic spring in my step is gone, I mean LONG gone. But…I think maybe elasticity of mind is as important.

Yesterday, after my adventure at Great Sand Dunes, there wasn’t much elasticity left in the joints in my legs, but I took the dogs out anyway. It was a beautiful day for a walk and they were happy. Me too, though, honestly, it hurt most of the time.



Snow is forecast for Monday and the first “real” freeze, so I spent this morning out in the yard explaining to all the little plants why they have to be pulled up or cut back.


I hate working in the yard in front of my house in the summer. First, it’s a south facing house, which means it’s BLASTING hot. Second, it’s on a major US highway, so there I am, a little old lady in shorts, bending over to tend plants. No. This is not to be born. At a certain point, a couple months ago, I just stopped. I didn’t want to be on TV. As a friend pointed out, you never know when Google Earth is going to come by.

This morning was very cool (bordering on frigid), and the summer traffic is done, making my street just a street in a town. I cut the grass and, simultaneously, using the same tool, “raked” leaves. I cut back plants that will go dormant and pulled out stuff that will die. I found the sunflowers had given me seeds. Most wonderful of all, my neglected lawn — invaded by Piñon asters — was full of Painted Lady butterflies. I did not mow their little sanctuary. They need what the flowers give them more than I need to mow…



P.S. I did not take the photo of the butterfly. I tried, but whenever I got near, they flew away. I took it off the Internet.

Dusty of the Dunes

It was difficult to make the right fashion choices today because the itinerary had to remain fluid. My neighbor and I have been wanting to go on an adventure to the Sand Dunes (Great Sand Dunes National Park) since April and have not been able to work it out. Today was the last chance we would have for a long time so we seized the day.

We tried yesterday, but the weather got really ugly — or dramatic — depending on your point of view. Of course, when we gave up the adventure, the weather cleared, but that’s Colorado…

It’s potato harvest — slowed down this year by inclement weather — so there were potato trucks to watch out for. They are immense, heavy, loaded with potatoes and often driven by guys who never had a license or have lost the one they had. One such truck recently tangled with a train in broad daylight (trains being hard to see and hear). The train won. The potato truck driver was hurt and the truck was damaged.

To get to Great Sand Dunes National Park from Monte Vista you take country roads. It was beautiful in every direction. Busy farms, trucks, potato barns open, constantly changing sky. AND we got lost in a conversation and then lost on country roads. But the whole area is flat, it’s a grid, and going east is the Sand Dunes, sooner or later and somehow. Back on the right road, straight ahead, was Mt. Blanca coming through the clouds like a dream.

The first sight really does take your breath away. At the moment, the aspen are at their last extremely brilliant burst of color and on a gray, humid day they seem lit from inside.

I got to use my brand new shiny Senior Pass. I was a little worried because my ID was in the very back of the car in my pack with Dusty, but the Ranger took the pass and asked me my name. She had a twinkle in her eye, so I said, “Whoa, uh, uh…” and she cracked up. I told her my name. 🙂

There is a seasonal stream — Medano Creek — that runs between the dunes and the not dunes. In summer it’s literally “the beach” and kids body surf on it. Usually this time of year there is no flow, but it was flowing pretty good today. We struggled for a time to keep our feet dry and then gave up. Dusty T. Dog — without his sidekick, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog — felt pretty special I think. Anyway, he’s tired now.

It’s something to see. It’s a truly remote spot but there were tourists from Switzerland, Germany and China and possibly places I don’t know. Fashionable footwear? Wet, sandy shoes, soaked socks and damp, sandy jeans.


“Where are we? Am I going to run FREEEEEEE????”


Fall Color


Medano Creek


The wet dunes


And if you ever get a chance to have a REAL Colorado potato with butter and whatever fixings you like, jump on it!


Delicious baked Colorado potato!!! 🙂

The New Leaf

Three years ago day-before-yesterday I first arrived back in Colorado to stay. Was it a new leaf?

Yes in that I no longer get up before dawn to drive to Mexico (or nearby) to teach people basic English skills at the college level. I no longer must bend the knee to some guy who doesn’t know anything about what I teach. I no longer have to deal with any of the dark sides of teaching.

But, of course, I’m still the same person and a new leaf beyond the obvious and mechanical is pretty unlikely ever. That’s one thing I’ve learned. “I yam what I yam.”

I also came here imagining I would want to put my energy into writing and marketing books — and I did — but the upshot of that is bitterness I’d rather never to have experienced. That damned tree of knowledge. 🙂

While there’s no going back to the Garden, it came with an understanding of myself and that, after nearly four decades of “performing,” I don’t want to perform any more. I don’t want to be “invested in an outcome” and get someone’s approval and recognition. That’s something I didn’t know when I arrived here three years ago carrying a half-finished novel. I no longer even want to be a famous writer. It’s too late for me to be completely unknown, but I think I can still achieve a decent level of obscurity.

Three years ago my dogs and I were in a small cabin in South Fork, Colorado. I knew I was glad to be here, but I had no idea where I would live and that was very stressful. I was exhausted from months of packing, the stress of selling a house, a terrible summer class. I wanted to sleep, but Lily T. Wolf (RIP) — my Siberian husky — always heard sounds in the early morning and had to go outside, so out we went at 4 or 5 am every day. There were coyotes and bears in “our” field, and after seeing bear scat, I began taking a flashlight. I loved the sound of the river in those dark, silent walks and the stars seemed so close and so bright. For the first time in 30 years I watched the aspen turn and felt the air turn chill with fall.

Yesterday one of my neighbors joined us for a walk at a wildlife area beside the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) which is now looking like the Rio Cansado (Tired River). Two days earlier, I had disturbed a great horned owl at his/her lunch, and yesterday my neighbor and I saw two owls — a male and a female. The larger of the two — the female — watched us. The smaller was only interested in us for a few seconds then off he flew.


The female great-horned owl

The leaves in town have started turning. The aspen in the mountains have been at it for a week or so. Everything according to its right time. When I left Colorado in the mid-eighties, I wasn’t as “involved” with nature as I am now and didn’t notice the clock of the four seasons, but it is quite precise I’ve learned here in the San Luis Valley.

Today is the official first day of fall. Daytime highs will (rather suddenly!) drop ten degrees during the coming week. Frost will hit the tomatoes, the flowers and even the sacred zucchini. For a brief time, snow was forecast for Sunday, but that’s been changed. This is a very beautiful season here — and it’s a full three months long. It’s no “transition;” it’s something in its own right.

Beautiful Hike <3

Yesterday marked the three year anniversary of my return to Colorado. We celebrated by taking a walk along the Rio Grande in one part of the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area, basically across the street from our usual little loop. It was very beautiful and verdant, and we saw a great horned owl at lunch. He was on the ground with his mouse, vole or bunny sandwich and the vibrations of my trekking pole startled him, so he took flight leaving a crumb or two behind. I don’t think we would have seen him at all otherwise. Later my pole startled a snowy egret and later on a little green frog.

I like seeing animals and birds very, very much. But yesterday, in this place that was so sheltered and so quiet, I felt like an intruder. If I didn’t need the stick to walk and take pressure off my joints, I’d be far more Natty Bumpo about the whole thing and quietly make my way through the landscape.

The landscape itself has great things growing in it such as currants and wild asparagus. Yesterday I saw a little plant — Maianthemum stellatum —  whose fall appearance was new to me.


Hunting season starts in a few weeks — three weeks — and after that (ironically?), in March this side of the area is closed so that waterfowl can breed. It reopens on July 15, at the height of mosquito season.

It was a perfect anniversary party! 🙂


Rio Grande looking tired


“This is awesome, Martha!”


Mt. Blanca in the distance


The way through the woods

Ski Bum Revelation, II

Those of you starting out in life or making your way over the GREAT BRIDGE of life’s productivity, saving the world (I, for one, am grateful) well, maybe this post is not for you, but I think it is. I retired three years ago and moved back to the Rocky Mountains which I had missed more than I can ever describe for the 30 years I lived in someone else’s paradise. Don’t get me wrong. I was very happy in Southern California and found a Coloradoesque life for myself in the wonderful mountains that rim San Diego. I learned to see and love the coastal sage and chaparral, my great teacher in so many ways, but I always, always, always missed the mountains.

Once I retired and came back, I launched myself right into what I thought I’d want to do as retired person. I have arthritis in my knees, so I figured I needed surgery and/or I was a cripple. I never had enough time to paint, so I figured I was an artist. I had an unfinished novel, so I figured I was a writer.

Over the course of this three years, my understanding of myself has changed, shifted. Images of myself that I held up there peeled away. You might think it’s all about self-discovery when you’re young, but I’d say for me there’s been more of that in the last three years than any other time since, well, ever. I don’t have that stuff in front of me, all that “Que sera, sera,” stuff. A lot of my stories have ended and I know how they turned out. For example I know I’m not going to be anyone’s mom and I’m not going to make a million bucks or save all the people in an impoverished country. No one expects anything of me any more, except to creep inexorably downhill physically, to be more out of touch with technology than I am or ever will be, to be not all that bright. It’s funny, but after you do a pretty good job through your working years, there will be people (usually younger) that don’t realize that you once were where they are and YOU MADE IT THROUGH.

There was a point in life in which dreams turned into imperatives such as “Holy shit, do I earn enough to make my house payment?” I remember, sometime in my 40s, telling my brother that all I did in my life was “patch things up and hold them together.” He, for his part, was impressed that I could do that! 🙂

So now…the other day, riding the stationary bike and watching a movie, The Last of the Ski Bums, I realized that I was happier skiing than doing any other thing in my life, ever. And I wasn’t very good at it. That’s important. Skiing, in and of itself, was just great, sublime, exciting, beautiful. Snow, high mountains, speed. Wow. I decided then and there that in my next life no one’s going to hijack my aimless existence with their idea of purpose. No sirree.

Then… Well, I work out a lot. Simply being able to walk requires that the muscles of my legs are strong so my knees work like knees should. I don’t know what I was doing, but I found myself in a skiing maneuver. And I thought, “Damn. I can do this. Godnose that next life idea is unpredictable. I might come back  wombat or armadillo or something. Or a child in the tropics where there is no snow and no hope of any. I can’t hang my ski bum dreams on some next life. I missed out this time, but putting my money on my next life is really too big a gamble.”

So I did research. Lots of people ski with arthritis. Since I was never any good, I can probably have a pretty good time on the baby slopes, maybe even blue circles! There are braces people wear on their knees. Then I remembered reading something on the website of the local ski area, just 50 miles away and no mountain pass involved, Wolf Creek, (which, BTW, usually gets the most snow of any ski area in Colorado). Their ski school has classes for “Baby Boomers.” A lift ticket for “seniors” is $25. I might not be the only one living out their Late-life Ski Bum Dreams


Adventure to Natural Arch

The weather forecast was sketchy. “90% chance of rain, but that’s at 5 o’clock. We have time.” my friend, E, clearly, wanted to go. So did I. So did K. I’d even cleaned out my car and removed the dog proofing so people could sit in it.

My car is not an SUV. It’s a simple Ford Focus with a sport package. For a Ford Focus, it’s hot looking. It’s metal-flake gray and inside the seats are leather, black and maroon. ÂĄQue suave! And, anyway, the roads up there are well-cared for gravel and dirt. What could happen?

The afternoon seemed hospitable enough. Blue sky, white fluffy clouds, but once we were out of town E looked out the window of the car and said, “There’s a storm building.”

“It’s building a big city down there, not a village,” I said. I’m so funny.

K had several pages of directions she’d printed off the Internet, one of which said, “It’s extremely difficult to find the Natural Arch.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” said K.

I had written directions on a piece of paper. I handed them to K, who sat in the passenger seat, and said, “Just read these to me as we go. It’ll be fine.”

I wondered how the guy who wrote the article got lost going out there, first because there are not many roads, second because the BLM had done a good job with signage. Still, it’s a pretty remote spot, wait, everything here is remote. My bad.

I drove, we talked, exclaiming over the landscape, the beauty of the rocks (my friends truly love rocks), talking about the geology and how we were driving across a giant ancient caldera.

“It hasn’t exploded for millions of years, but it could,” said E.

I didn’t actually think so, but what do I know? Am I in charge of cataclysmic geological events? No. I told them about the big earthquake I’d enjoyed (truly) when I lived in Southern California. A huge wave had passed under the feet of a friend and I while we were hiking. It was amazing and truly wonder-full. “Of course, there was an earthquake almost every day out there, I said.

“Did you feel them?” asked K.

“A lot of times I just heard them, a loud bang of thunder inside the ground, kind of a loud ‘boom’ in the wrong place.”

We reached the end of the road. I looked around for a trail that would lead to the Natural Arch and saw no trails anywhere.

Sunny day

Looking across the valley from the Natural Arch at the start of the adventure

“Where is it?” asked K.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Then K looked out the window, “It’s right there!” Sure enough, the arch loomed above us, a hole punched somehow in the giant caldera that is the La Garita Mountains. 

The day was still beautiful and sunny where we were, but the clouds to the south were dark and they were moving. There was a trail up to the arch, so we all headed up. I don’t mind uphills, but downhills are difficult with my severely arthritic knee. I think the big problem is I’m afraid of falling, not the knee. K and E each went up — E forged her own trail and K went up the existing trail. I followed as far as I was sure I could get back down and I turned around.

Meanwhile, the storm kept building, now faster, to the south. It was on the move, too. About the time my friends reached the arch thunder began to roll. I thought of my lower clearance vehicle and some of the ruts I’d navigated around on the way up. “Damn,” I thought, “we had better get out of here.” Lessons learned, no doubt, from Into Thin Air. (ha ha)

My friends had the same thought, so we all “hurried” down. We got back into the car as the storm struck.

The drive out was fantastic. The storm was wild, pelting the car with graupel and rain. The light changed constantly and the distant Sangre de Cristo mountains moved closer, magnified by the humidity. The road was a mix of small ice balls and gravel and I was glad. If the rain had come down like that, it would have been soup.


For me, that drive was the best part of the adventure. People might have found the storm inhospitable, but I thought it was a welcoming committee. And I got to see what my car can do. We passed some amazing rock formations, reconnoitered the location for a future adventure, and saw a stone and adobe ruin built against a small outcropping.

Tortoise rocks


The San Luis Valley has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, and while that small building was probably built in the 20th century, it was essentially the same as you would find at Cañon de Chelly.

We weren’t ready for the afternoon to end, so we stopped in Del Norte for coffee and to plan future adventures.

Del Norte

You Load 16 Tons…

I’m about to find out the exact, precise, functional weight of a ton of topsoil. It may happen that this will be dumped in my driveway some time today. This means I will begin hauling it into my yard and dumping into a raised bed.

It’s a story like this one. One thing leads to another in increasing scale…

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow
I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!
She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don’t know why she swallowed a fly – Perhaps she’ll die!

I bought the raised bed kits the first year I moved here. Then, feeling daunted by the whole prospect of putting dirt into them, I took them apart, put them away in the garage, and went on with my life. All was well until last fall I decided to repair the leaking roof (replace) of my garage. This led to the Great Garage Clean-out and THAT led me to haul the raised bed bits outside. I looked at them and thought, “The easiest thing to do with these things is use them.”

That led me to think about what to plant. The answer was obvious; “Wildflower seeds!” I like stuff to bloom, but I don’t want to work very hard. The bed is near the bird bath which is next to the bird nursery that is my lilac hedge. Before long the wildflower seeds had arrived and are now waiting in my kitchen for the dirt to get here and for me to fill the raised bed.

The problem of the dirt led me to think, “How am I going to haul that dirt from wherever they dump it to the raised bed?” I thought yearningly of a wheel-barrow that I left in California, but there’s no going back. I found a miraculous wheel barrow on Amazon (cheaper on eBay) that does (nearly) everything a strong guy can do. It’s a wheelbarrow, a dolly, a rock hauler, and a snowplow. It can be converted to a wagon. I doubt I’ll pursue that direction, but it’s still cool. I am most interested in the wheelbarrow and snowplow features because it’s been a while since I played with dollies. (Ha ha)

It was easy to put together, with none of the problems I anticipated dealing with Allen Wrenches and various other so-called “tools.” That made me happy.


Worx Wheelbarrow/Dolly

And, the box in which the wheel barrow was packed was a good addition to my Earthworm-friendly, cost-effective, corrugated cardboard weed barrier.

Then there is the compost. I have a composter. I never composted before now. Of course, during the winter, the composter was an outside freezer, but most of the time it’s been composting leaves and coffee grounds. Some of that will go into the raised beds, too, but not much. Wildflowers don’t especially appreciate is rich, fertile soil.



My first garden ever was in Denver, behind my apartment building on Downing Street in Capital Hill. At the time I was living with my second husband AND my brother and life was often pretty annoying. The manager of the property — a really great Irishman named Jimmy Hobbs — came to me one day with a $20 bill and said, “Go to Sears and get some plants. You might like to take care of that garden.” There was one at the end of the parking lot. “No one’s taken care of it in years. I’ll put the tools out for you, too.”

My first reaction was, “Huh?” But I spaded up the soil. The ex went with me to Sears (that story will be another blog post, “How I Taught My Husband NOT to Look down Other Women’s Shirts by Getting Out of the Car at a Red Light and Walking 2 Miles Home in Sandals”).

The garden turned out to be a sanctuary away from the husband and the brother. Who knew they wouldn’t want to hang out there? I think Jimmy knew. I think he understood the craziness of my living situation and gave me a way out. The garden became my peaceful, happy place and things grew.

My garden has retained that purpose in my life. I’m not a serious gardener. The only food I grow are tomatoes and basil. My garden is just a small thing where something good happens in the uncertain maelstrom of life.

Butcher Hogs in China and Crops in the San Luis Valley

When I lived in China, there was a sound that I heard almost every day. At first it was terrifying, but over time it was one of the background noises of my life, along with the guy collecting rags (he had a song) and the guy peddling charcoal (he had a song). This sound wasn’t music. It was the sound of a hog being butchered.

Pigs in China (back then, probably not now except in the countryside) just walked around like everyone, everything, else. Chickens, water buffalo, goats, children, university professors, students, us. They foraged in the food trash around the market at Shi Pai and on the outskirts of a farmer’s field. Until that last moment (which must have come as a huge surprise) they lived a pretty good life.

The sound of a hog being butchered is pretty nerve rattling. The hog screams bloody murder as the knife is jabbed into its jugular vein. The blood from the butchering is a delicacy and I had to eat/drink my share. I never thought about whether this was “humane,” it was simply how things were.

On the Eve of Chinese New Year, a hog is butchered as fire crackers are shot off. Nothing could be more auspicious. I spent my one Chinese New Years Eve in a bedroom beside the courtyard where this was going on, the sound of hundreds of explosions and a hog screaming for his life. I know now that I should have watched this happen, but at the time I was so sleep deprived and so sick from the boat trip over to Hainan Island, that I actually thought that my hosts were rude.

Chinese pork was delicious, far better than anything I’ve eaten in the US. I suppose from all the walking around, foraging and hanging out in town those pigs did.

I really like pigs, and so did a lot of the Chinese I knew. Some people with whom I spent an afternoon in Haikou City had a pet pot-bellied pig who was a member of the family. My grandfather had a sow who was a pet. She followed him everywhere. He always sold the piglets, but the sow stayed with him for years — until she ate something at the dump that killed her and her little ones.

Out here there are pigs and as my town — my valley — uses Facebook as the main medium for selling things, piglets and bigger pigs are now up for sale.


I wish I had a farming background. What do I know? I know how to go to an art museum (whoopee). I don’t know how to feed a baby goat or a lamb with a bottle. I don’t know how to care for new born pigs or plant potatoes. It’s struck me since I first moved here that people (some) assume I think I’m better than they are just because I’m a city person. That’s so far from the truth. I moved here on purpose; this was a choice I made. Sometime in the first few months I lived here I made a sincere comment about the Potato Festival and the people I was talking to (I said the Potato Festival was great) thought I was being facetious. They could not have been further from the truth.

I love the Potato Festival. The potato festival is a harvest festival. There are potatoes and farm machinery; kids get to enter potato decorating contests. There’s home made ice cream and a train made out of oil drums pulled by a tractor. Come on. Only an idiot wouldn’t see how wonderful that is, in the park up the street, under the blazing blue September sky, the San Juans in the background? Kids are having fun. Farmers are taking it easy. Amish are selling baked goods and speaking the Bernese dialect of Switzer-Deutsche. It is WONDER-full.

Right now, just outside of town in a newly plowed field is a sinister looking machine for breaking up dirt clods (I think) and eliminating weeds (I think). Last year that field had been planted by now. I’m watching to see what goes into it. At the Home and Garden Show (10 booths) I saw a tire for a sprinkler. It never occurred to me that these massive sprinklers need tires even though I see tires on them whenever I pass them. $200 a pop, between 8 and 10 tires on a sprinkler arm.

Yesterday I waited at a red light and watched a truck loaded with potatoes make the left turn. The driver was a Navajo in a red shirt, wearing a cowboy hat with a ribbon around the brim with a feather hanging from it. He looked at me as I looked at him, and I could only hope he saw the admiration in my eyes.

Accepting the Inevitable…

“What’s up?”

I point toward the sky. The mailman laughs.

“Same ol’ same ol’,” he says. “Nothin’ changes.”

“Not that anyway.” We have jokes that have now been running for 3 years.

“Beautiful weather though,” the mailman says. He knows I like the cold and snow and this 70 degree crap is not my thing. He’s baiting me.

“It’s OK if you like comfortable temperatures and stuff.” I was mowing the lawn when he pulled up with my mail which contains two packs of seeds. Clearly I’ve surrendered, but the local greenhouse won’t open until May 6. That’s when we can be confident we’ve seen the year’s last hard frost

“You’re a c-r-a-z-y lady. Have a good weekend!” He’s off, and I finish mowing.

I think about San Diego. In the first few years I lived there I missed cold and snow and mountains so bad that if it did snow in the local mountains, I HAD, at least, to see it. I remembered dashing up No Name (now known as Kwapaay) at Mission Trails Regional Park to reach the top before dark, so I could at least see the snowy Cuyamaca Peak (see above) 35 miles to the east. I remembered sitting on the damp, red earth, leaning up against a rock just looking at the snow peak until I couldn’t see it any more. And the snow was good up there. Good X-country skiing, fascinating version of winter. When I moved up there, my life improved.

I don’t know what the deal is between me and cold and snow. During my recent booby-trap cleaning spell I found a letter from my best friend in middle school. It’s clear, from the fact that she tells me what the homework is, that I’ve been sick at home for quite a while. This happened every winter; strep throat. I can’t take penicillin so, back in the 60s, it was largely a matter of keeping me in bed until the bacteria went away. I had already gotten a damaged heart from a bout of scarlet fever when I was small. I always missed at least a month of winter. I guess I should dread it.

Today I resigned myself to the inevitable arrival of spring. I appreciated the cheery nod of my daffodils and told my emerging peonies that they could think about blooming this year. The lilies I planted for Lily T. Wolf have poked up through the dirt. Everything’s on schedule. I hope soon to have a bunch of topsoil to finally fill my raised beds on which I plan to do nothing more exotic than scatter wildflower seeds but I like the birds and the garden is near the lilac hedge and bird bath. Birds are already nesting in the hedge.

Hummingbird nest

Hummingbird Nest

Our growing season is short and the whole world seems to be shouting, “Carpe diem!”

Fairies wear boots

Extra Points to Anyone Who gets the Black Sabbath Reference in my Fairy Garden