If the snow hadn’t been falling so fast and relentlessly, it would have thawed the moment it hit the ground. But it fell fast and we ended up with nearly a foot (20 cm) of heavy, wet snow. Farmers in the San Luis Valley will not have go look outside for hay and pay exorbitant prices, that’s one of the good things about this. The dogs and I took a walk that afternoon, 3/12 with the sky all silver and trying to be blue, Sandhill cranes calling above the fast-moving fog, emerging, stopping me in my tracks to watch them.
The snow was still several inches deep and wet yesterday as Bear and I headed out in shimmering, blinding bright cloud reflected light across the golf course to the big empty. The tracks of a young fox — a kit — enchanted my dog and nothing enchanted me. Even the silvery light hurt my eyes. I’d been fighting a migraine for two days. I think it might have gone its own way over night, but it’s too soon to tell
Meanwhile, up north, the storm — of which our heavy, wet rapid dump was the initiating tail — is winding up what might have been the biggest blizzard in history. More than 1000 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport. Hundreds of cars (and the people in them) were stuck on the Interstate highway between Denver and Colorado Springs. (Didn’t they believe the weather forecast AT ALL??? Maybe they didn’t know what the word “blizzard” means?) and were rescued through the concerted efforts of school bus drivers, high way patrol, local cops and a snowplow.
The party isn’t over. Here’s the highway conditions map for this morning.
It’s been a snowy, snowy winter here in the Great American West, though a sunny, quiet morning here in the domain of Martha, Dusty and Bear. More melt, more thaw, more mud.
“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”
I love to walk. Most of my blog posts are about walking, and I’ve even written a book about my walks with my dogs during the years I lived in California, My Everest.
I never have taken the ability to walk for granted. There have been times when I couldn’t just “get up and walk.” I’ve written here — often — about the challenges to me — emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually — of suffering from hip arthritis and not being able to walk well.
This time last year I was flying, uh walking, on the short-term high afforded me by a cortisone shot in my hip joint. For the first time in YEARS I could walk, pain-free and happy. I could even go up and down stairs! Two things happened as a result of that shot. I realized how long I’d been messed up (years), and my doc saw for sure (for the benefit of Medicare) that I had no real choice but a hip replacement if I were to regain my mobility. The cortisone shot brought me relief for 3 weeks then I was back where I was.
I have fought hard to be able to continue to walk. In a long conversation with my doc, I told him about my dad who suffered from MS, who, over a period of 15 years, lost the ability to walk.
“So you know what it is to lose mobility.”
He confided to me that it was a similar situation with his mom that had inspired him to become an orthopedic surgeon. “We know what it means not to be able to walk.”
Of course, as often happened when I talked to him about these things, my eyes filled with tears.
“…most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession [walkers]. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class.”
I hope this summer will bring me some good walks that I haven’t been able to to take because of, well, being unable. Now I have a car with good ground clearance, a dog who’s willing to go to war for me, maps, a hydration pack , trekking poles and a big can of bear spray. I should be good to go as soon as the snow melts and the roads to the mountains are dry enough not to be destroyed by cars. Maybe being exiled from the golf course and chased away from the wild life area by the Icky Man and the closures so the geese can mate is fate’s way of telling me, “You can go anywhere now, Martha. Don’t be afraid.”
I’ve also lately realized that I’m alone. No one is depending on me for anything. If a cougar gets me how’s that different from a heart attack? Just more interesting. I’ve realized that before in my life, but in the agar culture of, uh, culture, I sometimes forget. We all live FOR something. I think I can live FOR walking. Oh, and langlauf. ❤
My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the king of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you
Last year Colorado had a drought. This year, thank goodness, no. But…
In my youth, I remember avalanches most often as a phenomenon of fall snows, when the base laid by an early snow had melted and refrozen and more snow fell on top — basically a slippery slide for future snow layers. This year is the heaviest avalanche year on record, not just down here in the San Juans, but up there in the sexy parts, Summit County and nearby environs (Black — High Avalanche Danger — in the map below).
The Rocky Mountains are generally not as sharp and pointy as the Alps and avalanches are somewhat less common, but they do happen. In ski areas, avalanches are triggered ahead of opening in the morning.
As I’ve followed the stories of the avalanches, I’ve been amazed at how many people interviewed believed that avalanches in our mountains are ALL manmade. Several people (in cars) were trapped in an avalanche yesterday — all are OK.
Meanwhile, here in the San Luis Valley (Alamosa and environs on the map) spring is forcing itself upon me. Yesterday, right on time, my crocus bloomed.
My friend E and I headed out in Bella (my new Jeep) to see cranes. It was an intensely windy day and it was a little difficult to find the cranes, but we did. I don’t have any great photos since I went out to look more than shoot pictures. There were thousands of cranes in a barley field on the far east side of the wildlife refuge. They were a lot of fun to watch.
The wind was blowing like a mofo and E and I just enjoyed it. E has a wonderful capacity to be enthusiastically in the moment, one of the great things about her. The featured photo is primarily of a cloud at war with the wind. The wind from the east is blowing it toward the San Juans. At this very spot, it has crashed into a Chinook. The only camera I had was my phone.
This is Sandhill Crane season in the San Luis Valley — and especially in my town which, thanks to a Wildlife Refuge south of town attracts upwards of 20,000 Sandhill cranes every year. They gather to dance, mate, swoop, circle, evade predation and sing to each other in surprisingly euphonious voices.
I recently watched several small groups assemble high in the sky. They called out to each other, got together bit by bit, forming an enormous gyre of hundreds of cranes, swirling upward in the infinite blue. Mesmerizing.
Sandhill Cranes are among the oldest species on earth, enduring for 2.5 million years. They have fine-tuned survival. Among their predators are large raptors, and when a bald eagle or golden eagle circles above them — whether they are in the air or are calmly “grazing” on land — they group together. They have had plenty of time to learn that one crane is far more vulnerable to attack than is a group. Other predators — foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bears — mostly prey on juvenile birds. The adults are formidable.
They are dinosaurs.
My town celebrates this big deal of nature. There will be a BIG craft and nature show down at what anyone would call the fairgrounds. Special movies are shown at our theater. Bus tours go out a couple of times a day with forest service and park naturalists. People come to my town from all over the world to see this. A couple weeks ago, the special festival banners went up…
Living here, I get to see the cranes begin to arrive. It’s part of my world and the first sign of spring for everyone in the San Luis Valley. I’ve had the wondrous experience this year of langlaufing all alone on the golf course on a cold, sunny/foggy afternoon listening to the cranes calling to each other not far above me.
I don’t make special trips out to the refuge to see them until the clamor of humanity has left. This year I’m thinking that I’ll take Bella (the Jeep) out to the Sand Dunes to see them, maybe an adventure with my friends. 🙂
This is a good video and explanation of their various sounds.
In good news, I woke up to a snowy morning. Yeah, yeah, it was predicted but I have come to look at weather predictions as mere speculation. It isn’t much, and it won’t last, but it sure is beautiful, muffling the world and softening the edges.
The sun is breaking through the fog. In real language, these two inches of snow mean moisture in the fields. It brings a gentle drink of water to the flowers who are probably jonesing to come up and show their little colorful heads.
I’ve finally accepted it. The changing of the seasons is just one of the few things in the universe that is NOT in my control. ( ha ha ) I’m grateful for this snowy token of nature’s goodwill.
In other news — TONS of snow have fallen on the Colorado mountains this winter. While most of the snow this winter has fallen in MY mountains (the San Juans), in the last few days the sexy parts of the state have gotten a lot of snow. Here’s a video of the main east/west freeway in the state with an avalanche pouring down on it and stupid people driving into it. Enjoy!
The San Luis Valley is famous for cold winter temperatures, potatoes, Great Sand Dunes National Park and high winds. Any month can be very, very windy, but March usually wins the prize.
Yesterday we experienced a lovely Rocky Mountain phenomenon known as the “Chinook.” The word has several meanings — it’s a type of salmon, a type of people, a helicopter — but out here it is a particular wind. We all understand it to mean a warm wind from the west that can melt a foot of snow in a day. It was blowing yesterday, raising our temperatures to 12 C (50 F).
It’s not usually a hard wind, and people generally welcome it. When I took Bear out for our walk I felt the Chinook immediately. For the first time in months I was not wearing a goose down sweater, Buff and cap, just a fleece lined sweatshirt.
“Chinook, Bear,” I said. She shoved her nose into the soft snow remaining on the golf course, unimpressed. I savored the sight of my ski trails memorialized in snow now too soft to ski.
Once out in the big empty, I looked across the fields at the two “town” mountains — Pintada and Bennet — and saw the unmistakeable signs of chinook on their shining, white summits. “Summit” is a relative term here. Bennet is a 12k foot hill and Pintada is a thing of beauty shaped something like a gentle ocean wave.
A chinook wind is a lovely thing even if you like snow, never want it to melt and are sad at the coming of spring.
“The warm wind kept blowing …like a low chant from the land or like the flurry of far wings… lapping up the snow… until the whole body of earth lay brown and breathing except for the topknots of buttes and, away and away, the high float of mountains… Chinook… Promise of Spring.”
I got up, let the dogs out, made coffee, put it on the stove, made my breakfast smoothie, let the dogs in, fed the dogs, took my daily meds, moved the lap top to the table in the “room of all life” and opened to the RDP daily prompt. I found an SAT word that I always kind of liked, and it has given me my chance to take my stand here and now.
Even though my position is completely unavailing, I’m diametrically opposed to Spring. Why?
Spring is NOTHING but hype.
Allow me to present my argument.
First and foremost, where I live, spring is manic. Everyone can get settled into the noxious fecundity of this season, gasping at the unsurprising beauty of a crocus “Oh oh, my first crocus! Spring is really here! Hope is reborn!” and we can have a hard freeze in May or a big dump of snow.
I live in hope of the snow dump.
Second, it’s muddy. My alley has ruts six inches deep in this slimy mess. The trails I hike could easily suck off my shoes. Never mind the dogs’ feet bringing all that into my house, onto my hardwood floors, sand paper, essentially.
Third, and most egregious, it ends in summer. Once spring starts, there’s no going back. Even a hard freeze in May or a large snow dump won’t stop it. Summer comes. As the poet said, “If spring comes, can summer be far behind?” What? That’s not what he said?
Spring brings us to summer which brings me to lawn-mowing (which I hate), watering (which I hate paying for), gardening (which I barely do having learned how well the birds are at tending my garden). In June there are four or five really hot days, too. The tourists come from Texas and clog my street with giant RVs and noise from Memorial to Labor Days. Golfers return to “my” golf course which means we can’t walk there. Summer is just one long day after the other, often ending in torrential rain and hail.
Stoic that I am, I make the best of it. It doesn’t last forever.
I thought I was alone in having these feelings, but yesterday I got an email from my local Nordic ski club with the tagline, “It ain’t over yet!” and a short report of trails they’ve recently groomed. OK, I might have to drive further than half a block to get there, but…
Saturday, my friends and I went to a nearby town, South Fork, for lunch. On the way back we stopped in Del Norte so E. could get buttons and a special round needle. I failed to ask what kind of needle — but maybe knitting?
The fabric store is kind of a general store for any crafts people might do living 45 miles from the nearest Walmart which is in Alamosa. Along with sewing, knitting, quilting, crocheting and jewelry making, they — I should say she, it’s owned by a dynamic woman named Kathy — have a small section of art supplies. Everything was on sale, but I still didn’t have $30 for a large pad of watercolor paper.
We parked at the side of the two story brick building that houses Kathy’s Fabric Trunk. We were captivated by the writing on the brick wall.
Here’s the building in the 1920s… I don’t know what the store was back then, but Kathy’s is the first storefront, with the awning rolled in (no awning today).
Street life back then was a lot more colorful than it is now. The little building to the left facing was a mineral spring. The spring is gone and all that remains now is the little building, Del Norte’s landmark.
I think of it as a store for all the things people in my immense, cold neighborhood do in winter.
Inside the store are two dogs. A black lab and a little fluffy Maltese/poodle greeting dog. The tiny thing came right to me when I walked in. I don’t just LIKE dogs. I’m interested in them and they know it.
In the very back of the store was a young woman in a wheelchair, clearly living with multiple physical and mental disabilities. The Labrador was in charge of taking care of her and was very good at his job. At one point, while I was helping E choose buttons, I looked over my shoulder and the Lab and the Maltese were sitting together looking out the front door. It was a lovely moment.
I thought of that scene and the whole store afterward. Kathy’s Fabric Trunk seemed like a metaphor for each of us. In front, there are a couple of smiling, competent men standing behind expensive, beautiful sewing machines, prizes for customers who had garnered the most “points.” There are beautiful fabrics, elegant quilts and kits with a careful price point to lure in customers. Wandering back into the deep inside of the store, there is the crippled retarded girl in a wheelchair with her guardian dogs, sitting in front of a computer that’s playing a movie. Further back, are the bottles filled with mixed buttons. A little woman is looking through those buttons trying to find 16 that match, all the right size, with which to decorate the beautiful owl hats she knits for a Christmas bazaar.
Here in the San Luis Valley (like much of the world) we have some awesome geology. The west side of the valley — the San Juan Mountains — shows evidence of a gigantic volcano. The La Garita Caldera volcanic event was:
“…the second greatest of the Cenozoic Era. The resulting Fish Canyon Tuff has a volume of approximately 1,200 cubic miles (5,000 km3), rating it an 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. By comparison, the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mt. St. Helens was 0.25 cubic miles (1.0 km3) in volume.
By contrast, the most powerful human-made explosive device ever detonated, the Tsar Bomba, had a yield of 50 megatons, whereas the eruption at La Garita was about 5,000 times more energetic. However, because Tsar Bomba’s reaction was complete within seconds, while a volcanic explosion can take seconds or minutes, the power of the events are comparable if measured within the respective bounded timeframes. It is the most energetic event to have taken place on Earth since the Chicxulub impact which, at 240 teratons, was approximately one thousand times more powerful than La Garita.”
The La Garita was enormous, obviously and all around the west side of the San Luis Valley are smaller (but still very large) calderas such as the Bonanza Caldera, parts of the main event, with a caldera some 15 miles (24 km) across (Crater Lake is 5 miles across).
On the west side of the San Luis Valey, there are signs everywhere on the of all this ancient volcanic activity. There are lots of small, pointy piles of rocks eroded from some long ago splooches of magma and canyons with beautiful rock formations, such as Penitente Canyon. (Featured photo, taken by me in March 2017)
The San Juan volcanic field is part of the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. There are approximately fifteen calderas known in the San Juan Volcanic Fields; however, it is possible that there are two or even three more in the region.
The region began with many composite volcanoes that became active between 35 and 40 million years ago and were particularly eruptive in the time period around 35-30 million years ago. Around this time the activity changed to explosive ash-flow eruptions. Many of these volcanoes experienced caldera collapse, resulting in the fifteen to eighteen caldera volcanoes in the region today.
Wikipedia “San Juan Volcanic Field”
The other side of the Valley is pretty interesting geologically, too. There is Great Sand Dunes National Park and the sharp peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, much younger than the San Juans.
I haven’t explored much in “my” valley yet. I hope that this summer, when the blessed snow has melted and the ticks and mosquitoes are rife, I can get out on the trails and see what is in my reach.
Most people out here in the real west are jonesing to get into their gardens. Cold weather porn has been arriving (see featured photo) in our mailboxes since Christmas. My email is attacked daily with solicitations about growing deer resistant, bee attracting, mosquito repelling gardens this summer.
Meanwhile in Bearadise, the garden is…
For the moment I’m growing cardboard boxes. They’re doing well. One of their main virtues as a winter crop is keeping Bear out of the flower and vegetable beds, especially as they’re frozen to the ground. They are also mulching their little hearts out, attracting and providing a haven for earthworms. We’ve had enough of a melt that the top layer of soil thawed so Bear could to attempt to dig.
My entire yard is a disaster and there’s not much I can do about it considering the proclivities of the giant white creature with whom I live. One of my goals this summer is to put down a small patio and a walkway between the gardens, leaving Bear the back part where her favorite digging spots are. There’s also the chance that if she keeps at it, she’ll extricate two annoying, giant, weedy lilacs.
I garden but I’m not an enthusiast. I can’t help it. I think it’s in my blood. My lack of enthusiasm but commitment to growing things works well for the plants. In the course of my life I’ve had some huge gardens, sometimes very fancy. But at this point I’m most interested in what the plants do. Two years ago I had freakishly huge zucchini plants — and discovered that I don’t like zucchini all that much. Last year at this time I was putting tiny tomato seeds in Jiffy Pots and moving them around to sunny windows. The best thing in my garden last year was my Scarlet Emperor Bean of Song and Story. That bean was a magic ray of hope and a friend during the weeks leading to my hip surgery when I was scared and in a lot of pain. I gave them each a Chinese name — emperor or author. They were amazing to watch grow, and those that went into my garden grew to be 12 feet tall. I didn’t eat them. I wanted their seeds to plant this coming summer.
These regal beans gave me a lot of seeds and I have shared them with friends. This year my garden will have them but also Australian pumpkins. 🙂
There is something else to my garden that’s very special. When I moved here, there were no gardens. Just a beautiful lawn (that ship has sailed, thanks Bear). Then…
My friends, K, who lives next door and E, who lives across the street both garden passionately. As we got to know each other, and they saw that I also have to dig up perfectly nice grass to plant flowers, they shared their “extras.” We now have many of the same flowers in our gardens, lots of iris which grow well here and multiply like crazy.
I thought about that last year when the iris began to bloom in our yards. Sometime in the future when there’s no K, E or M, those flowers will be growing in our yards. Someone could say, “Wow, these gardens all have the same flowers.” And the flowers will whisper a reply, “Yes. The people who lived here were friends.”