Meander Grande

The featured photo is the Rio Grande as it goes through the San Luis Valley. I didn’t take this picture. It’s from the Western Rivers Conservancy. The river threads and meanders as it heads south with GREAT determination to meet up with the Gulf of Mexico.

Even in the small area that is my slough I get to meet up with a couple of riverbends.

River Bend

“My” Rio Grande

Down by Taos, where the plateau that is the San Luis Valley begins to drop off, the river speeds up and flows in a somewhat less meandering path. It carves a dramatic canyon where, for a few months every spring, white-water rafters have a great time. Tectonic forces have also lifted the land as the river has flowed, and meandering of the ancient river is deeply carved into the plateau — this is very apparent in aerial photos of the Colorado River going through the Grand Canyon.


Rio Grande Gorge/Taos Box


Once the landscape calms down, the river calms down, too and meanders through Albuquerque down to El Paso.

While this might seem like a simple blog post about a meandering river, it’s actually an argument for liberal education. Yeah, I grew up to be an English teacher, but my favorite subjects were geology and physics. I even won two science fair prizes in 8th grade — one from the National Petroleum Institute — for my my project on the formation of Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons. How the world (meaning the planet) forms itself and the rules to which it abides fascinate me. If I hadn’t been forced to take geology in 8th grade, I wouldn’t be writing this post now or showing you photos of “my” river. I might not even know what my river is doing or why.

I used to argue that with my business students who resented the classes they had to take that had “nothing to do with business.” They just wanted out so they could start making the “big bucks.” I would tell them that their job would just take up their days. What would they do on weekends? What would they talk about at company banquets, sitting next to someone’s wife or husband and wanting to make a good impression? What would they see when they went on vacation? What would they understand when they watched a movie that might be filled with literary allusions? How would they understand the meaning behind special effects in a film about an asteroid hitting the Earth?

I don’t know if my arguments sank in or not, but, for myself, I’m glad I had classes in the sciences even though (in college) I never passed any of the exams in my required intro courses. Formulas and the initals for chemicals do not mix well with dyslexia. BUT I did fine with a box of rocks, field trips and pictures of geological features, well enough to pass with a D, anyway. Well enough to love a river and be thrilled by an earthquake.

Mountains (with Maps!)

A long time ago, I made a list of my favorite words. The two on top were “mountains” and “wonder.” If I wrote a list like that today, I’d probably have the same two words on top.

I like living a little distance from the mountains so I can see them ranged across the horizon. That’s why I chose Monte Vista instead of some of the other towns in the Valley when I moved here. I’m perfectly placed to look at the San Juans (not that far away) and at the Sangre de Cristos (farther away). I can watch the alpenglow (morning and evening) and enjoy the gathering clouds in both directions.

This side (eastern) of the San Juans is pretty “soft” and gentle, but the west side is a different story. The San Juans are the largest range in Colorado, and they cover a good part of the state — “good” meaning both “high quality” and “large.” The dark green line on the map below marks the Continental Divide. The orange line that runs from Alamosa to Cortez is my street. 🙂

The Rio Grande starts up in the San Juans, and I hope someday to go to the source up on Canby Mountain. That will happen when I get my hip and get my jeep 🙂


The Sangres, at least here where I live, remind me of the Alps with their jagged peaks abrubtly jutting from the Valley floor. In Colorado, they are a long, narrow range that marks the end of the Rocky Mountains and the beginning of the Great Plains.


Mountains are a source of wonderment for me. I look at them all the time and they are never the same. Mt. Blanca (featured photo) is a massif, not really just one mountain. It’s one of the Navajo’s four sacred mountains and marked the northeastern boundary of their lands.


I can subscribe to these boundaries, too. They circumscribe some of my favorite places in the world, where I’ve had the chance to experience many moments of…



Daily Prompt: Wonder

They’re EVERYWHERE!!!!

Just got back from a walk with Dusty and Bear. It was a legit walk even though there were other people at “our” place. I’m just going to have to find a different time of day or branch out to new locales.

It’s an incredibly wonderful thing to take a real stride and follow it with another. I never took that ability for granted as my dad couldn’t walk well or easily because of his MS, still, I’m so savoring the miracle of the cortisone shot, however long it lasts. My research indicates 2 months is about average. That’s fine. I know it’s not a cure.

My town is getting ready for the Crane Festival which is this weekend. It’s rolling out the red carpet. Restaurants are featuring special “crane themed” items. Banners are hanging where the Christmas decorations were hanging until two weeks ago (we don’t hurry here in Monte Vista), the “fair grounds” are going to host an indoor craft and nature fair.

I don’t think the cranes care much about all this follderol, but they should. The wildlife refuge has been flooded (dry winter) for their benefit, and the Amish farmers around the refuge have mowed their fields and left barley on the ground. I wonder if the ancestral memory of this millions of years old species has any recollection of the old days. I wonder what grain originally drew them here — probably the same as draws them to my slough, wild grasses, wild rye, wild barley.

I might charge up the “good” camera (though my iPhone is approaching the quality) and take some photos after the festival is over.

I wrote to this prompt earlier today. I really hated my post so I’ve deleted it. I was doing something I don’t even believe in by writing it. SO… It’s gone.

The Road Not Taken (Thank God)

Driving back north yesterday from Abiquiu, we took Cumbres Pass. I’d never been on it, Lois had never been on it. Across the mountains, there are passes and there are passes and there was a moment it looked like we were about to go over one of the passes. Turning around wasn’t  a real option, so I just kept driving and stoking my courage, saying, “Hell, I drove over Loveland Pass every weekend and never thought anything about it.” But we were lucky and that road up and over the little mountain there was not our destined route. 

In the forty miles between Abiquiu and Chama the landscape changes dramatically. It’s almost a Colorado Border thing. Higher altitude makes the change between colorful sandstone cliffs and snowy mountains, pine and aspen.



Cumbres Pass (L. Maxwell)

As we neared home, we took the turn down the county road that leads to Monte Vista via the Wildlife Refuge which, right now, is heavily populated with Sandhill cranes. Along that stretch there are also many farms belonging to Amish families. Against the late afternoon sunlight I caught sight of two women in long dresses, walking slowly back to the driveway to their house from their mailbox, the fabric of their skirts wind-wrapped around their legs. They waved as we went by.


We passed two Amish buggies and a wagon  as we went our way. We passed the Amish church and two old, pioneer churches, one still in use, the other falling slowly to wind, sun, and time. Cranes grazed in the newly-mowed barley fields, mowed FOR the cranes to find it easy to graze. I thought of the millions of years those cranes have flown to this valley. I thought of the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation in Bern, Switzerland that ultimately landed those Amish ladies on remote farms in Colorado. I thought of the circumstances that brought me here. I looked at the golden light. I thought of the wonderful man we chatted with at Abiquiu who said, in the musical English of Hispanic New Mexico, “I been here 13 years now, every day, and it’s never the same. Where you from?”

“Monte Vista.”

“That’s beautiful country, too.”

Pikes Peak

Colorado Springs has grown incredibly since I lived here so long ago. I moved out “for reals” in 1972 when I got married, but I mostly left the summer of 1970, after graduating high school. That summer I took a job as a camp counselor at the local Baptist church camp. There is an exit on I-25, “Baptist Road,” and I imagine most people living here now don’t know what that means.

The surgeon I saw yesterday is in FAR north Colorado Springs, pretty much directly across the freeway from the Air Force Academy Chapel. When I lived here, the academy was a remote destination with a detached, monastic feeling to it, but no more.



Air Force Academy Chapel


As I drove north (and the return trip, south), I scanned the hills around the academy looking for a break in the foothills where a seasonal stream might flow. One of my best memories of summer camp was going somewhere on the academy grounds and swimming in a clear stream that ran between colorful sandstone walls. Not high walls, just four or five feet on each side. The flow through the stream in the spring was fast enough to clear the sandstone bottom of brush and debris. It was an amazing experience, dreamlike to me now.

I’d intended to retire here, but by the time I could retire, property values had risen making houses unaffordable to me. That’s OK. I love the San Luis Valley and it give my friends somewhere to go when they want to get away. It’s also probably good that I began a new life in a new place. Colorado Springs is a little haunted with memories, some of which are very sad.

The city ends — no matter what — at Pikes Peak, “the mountain.” It’s possible to ride a train to the top of Pikes Peak, and the train is Swiss. 🙂



Pikes Peak Cog Railway


“The Mountain” stands above all the changes and the memories, above my friends, above the struggles and triumphs of the people who live here. It’s the focal point of life in Colorado Springs, the harbinger and bringer of weather, it’s inspirational and grounding.


The View from Here

Pre-Spring on the Upper Rio Grande

The river is slow and blue, the edges encrusted with ice. Along the banks (because the river is low and shallow) the cranes wade, fish and gossip. The colors of the valley along the river are sweet pastels with the bright splash of the bush-willow’s red stems.

This season is — to me — better than REAL spring, nature’s manic rush to make up for lost time. “Good god! Summer’s coming and, damn! HURRY! Summer doesn’t last long and we have to get ready! Dump some snow! Quick! A TON of it, yeah all at once if that’s what you have to do. We gotta’ get at least 3 inches of moisture into that ground or, what do you mean ‘or what?’ There’s no ‘or what’ — not that you want to know about. Get that snow down NOW! And wind! We need wind! Yeah, I know the farmers are ploughing, but  those tumbleweeds have to get GOING. Where? Wherever. No more questions! Get out there and WORK!

At least that’s how I hope it works this strange, warm, dry winter.

cranes 4

Weather Report

Yesterday, Monday, day and night, we had storms — a few brief blizzards and gale force winds. Today on our walk, we happened on this sad story. Sad to me, anyway. In the grand scheme (which is where our walk was taking place) it’s just a dead owl. It’s even possible (but not likely) that it wasn’t a dead owl, but an owl playing dead over its prey. These owls — great horned owls — do this and, as Dusty reached it a second or two before Bear and I reached it, it’s possible.

And I thought, “To me this is sad. I don’t want this owl to be dead, but nothing around me cares at ALL except Dusty and Bear and THEY are just curious to know if it’s edible.”

Once upon a time I collected feathers. I once found a red-tail hawk that had been thrown against a hill by the wind and then eaten by coyotes. I brought home his wings. I’m not that person now. I don’t want souvenirs from nature any more. My mind is so full of those souvenirs that objects are meaningless — besides, the owl was beautiful and pristine lying beside the chamisa in the winter grass. Someone will eat him; it could even be another owl.

Seconds before I encountered the dead owl, I watched and listened to a dozen Sandhill Cranes lift into flight just a few feet in front of me.

All around it is early spring in the San Luis Valley — well, pre-spring in the San Luis Valley. Pre-spring has arrived a few weeks early. My crocus are blooming a week early, the Sandhill cranes have arrived in full force, and the Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge has closed about three weeks ahead of normal to allow the birds — water birds and bald eagles — to nest.

Wind in the San Juans


In Other News —

Ridiculously warm day here in Heaven. Dusty, Bear and I took off for our usual places, but there were people. As a last resort, I turned down the dirt road leading to probably my favorite walk (so far — there’s much I have not yet explored) and Voilá! No one! I whooped and “Yay!”ed, parked and off we went.

The light right now is slanted and silvery across the yellow winter grass. The only colors are a pure raw umber, gold, blue, black and white. It’s stark in its way, but very lovely. We walked nearly 2 miles in sixty degree temps. I should have brought water for the dogs…




Little Melt Spot Reflecting Grass


Lenticular clouds above the Meadow of the World


I kind of thought I might see or hear Sandhill Cranes, but though it feels like late spring, it’s still just February 1. Definitely improved my attitude. Once again, these words ring true.

In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
Hills and a cloud.”  Wallace Stevens

P.S. The bison in the header photo are across the street from Rio Grande Hospital. 🙂 Not a bad view!

The Cranes of Monte Vista

They’ll be here soon if they’re not here already. I’m not sure they ever completely left for the southern climes of New Mexico this winter as we’ve had virtually no snow, comparatively (compared to Cutbank, Montana) warm temperatures, and the water in the various sloughs, rivers and preserves has not completely frozen. If I were a Sandhill Crane, I’d still migrate. I think most of the fun is with the extended flock.

In a month Monte Vista will open its arms to a profusion of crane tourists from all over the world who have dreamed all their lives of visiting a small town in Colorado and seeing more than 20,000 Sandhill Cranes. It is truly one of life’s most amazing sights, hundreds of bundled up baby-boomer wayfarers with binoculars pointed at the meadow of the world, listening to a park ranger explain what the cranes are doing.

And what are they doing? They dance. They are VERY busy finding luv’ and making babies.

Last year — a real winter — I saw cranes every month of the year, but this year, because it’s been so warm, there have been a lot more people out where I walk with the dogs. That has got to be at least as disturbing to the lingering cranes as it is to me.

Along with the advent of the cranes, in early March most of the wildlife area where we walk will close to allow geese and various other birds to nest unmolested. This will leave one small place for us to walk. The golf course usually opens around the time the wildlife area closes, signifying the arrival of my dogs’ and my least favorite seasons — spring and summer.

P.S. Rereading this, I guess I woke up on the curmudgeonly side of the bed this morning…

You can learn more about the Crane Festival here.

Diurnal Update, January 29, 2018

One thing Dusty T. Dog cannot do is stifle his urge to bark. And, yesterday, when I took off to spend some time with people, and he had the whole enormous yard (that was the yard of the world) to himself and his friends, he had the time of his life, a joyous barking dog fest that included clearing the top of a fence inside my friends’ yard.

Yep, Dusty, who can jump 6 feet straight up in the air (where else would you jump?) cleared a 4 foot fence. His accomplice, Shoey T. Dog, may have assisted in this romp in forbidden territory by figuring out (in her inimitable probably border collie way) how to open the little gate.

When I got home from my adventure (which included sliding down a small slope on my ass — on purpose) and was compared (by my younger and more able friends) to the film Narayama, I found all the dogs where they weren’t supposed to be.

Much reparation ensued. By nightfall, Dusty, who is 11 and mostly blind in one eye, was tuckered out. His poor hips were stiff and getting up from the floor was hard for him.

I related to Dusty. It was hard for me to get up a relatively gentle rocky slope to my tree. I needed a lot of help. And under normal circumstances, I’d walk down it, no problem. It isn’t a long hike — maybe 1/4 mile — and it isn’t a hard hike.

Me and tree 1:27:2018

But — like the dogs — my friends an I all had a really good time, in spite of hauling grandma up the mountain, and the view from “my tree” is wonderful.

Feature photo: Lupita Tiscareño Norcross; photo of me, Kelly Jamar-Storme