Observing Tumbleweeds

Late yesterday afternoon, Dusty, Bear and I went out to observe our golf course. Like most things around here, the dry winter has played hell with the grass and the course looks bad. People are playing, but not as many as in former years when the grass was green and soft not yellow and stiff. We were lucky because the weather was turning ugly (which right now means turning beautiful, stormy and wet) and the course was empty. Sprinklers were running everywhere in desperately attempting to mitigate the dry winter.

The wind was blowing cold and blustery. I even wore my winter sweatshirt (thanks LL Bean), the donning of which makes Bear run outside, dig furiously on the crater she’s got going under a lilac bush, run around and go to the gate. Dog joy is a thing unto itself.

As we were crossing the course, behind us was a kid with a big bucket of golf balls and his bag of clubs. Dusty looked over his shoulder and held back to check him out. I said, “Dusty, c’mon!” Dusty came, looking back, but unconcerned about the kid, not running toward him with a menacing bark. I thought, “Dusty T. Dog, there was a time when you’d have thought that kid was the enemy, out to hurt me. You’ve learned SO MUCH since we moved here!” I scratched his ears and he leaned against me.

As we walked along the outer edge of the course, first breaking up a meeting of earnest starlings, then a gentle conclave of doves, suddenly I felt something strange, cold, wet on my cheek. Could it be? Was it? There were more, coming down pretty hard. “Wow,” I said. A sudden, hard gust of wind shook the cottonwood tree, and an immense turkey vulture spun down in front of me, actually surprised, I think, by the wind, by me. He righted himself quickly (fearing he’d lost face?) and sped across the ground as if that had been his idea all along. These guys don’t travel alone and soon his pal flew out of the same tree, but up on a gust of wind and they took off together.

The rain fell in spurts. I was filled with hope that this time, finally, but… The storm kept moving, not before dropping a few flakes of snow on my jacket. I didn’t tell Bear. She’d get her hopes up… The air smelled fresh, damp, happy. We turned onto the lower end of the driving range. The kid was hitting his golf balls a fair distance against the wind, so we went across the driving range (pasture) at the lower end. A redtail hawk swooped low in front of us then headed for a tall cottonwood near what was once a burned out adobe house, torn down last year. His mate was already perching on the high branches. A meadowlark sang in the distance.

Then I saw what I’d set out hoping to see — the wide sky and tumbleweeds stuck on a fence. Some readers of my blog were curious about the tumbleweed photo I posted yesterday. I have a Swiss friend who’s lived in the US more than twenty years, and he is STILL fascinated by these things. I think he kind of loves them.

Tumbleweeds (IMO) are pretty much any plant that cuts loose from the ground and blows across the world dropping its seeds. Wikipedia, that repository of all knowledge, agrees with me. Tumbleweeds


“But When the Trees…”

Things around here feel chaotic, but I think it’s the wind. The wind blows in the San Luis Valley (it’s famous for it) but not (so far in my experience) as it has this winter and spring. You can almost see the moisture evaporating from the flowers. Whoever set up my yard had the wind in mind. The side yard (where my garden is, usually) is sheltered on all sides. Outside my back (side) door is a concrete ramp with a wall and a covering over it. It’s wonderful in winter and the wall blocks the wind from the west. On the east side of the yard is a tall lilac hedge the blocks the wind from the east. A fench blocks the north wind and I put up a privacy fence on the south that blocks any remaining stray wind (and some traffic noise).

The yard is a little oasis, shelter from the storms. I’ve even figured out how to set it up, finally. I look forward to being able to do that.

The other day my doc (a sincere, caring young woman who spent a couple years in Africa helping people with HIV) confessed that the wind makes her grumpy, all other weather is fine, but wind? My PT was very stressed out because of the wind on one of the days I went for therapy. “I can’t stand this wind,” he said. It was a very windy day; that is true. I didn’t park in front of the light post. Who knew? It made me think of James Michener’s Centennial, 

It was not a roaring wind that deafened, but it had a penetrating quality that set the nerves on edge, so that at some unexpected moment a farmer, or more often his wife, would suddenly shout, “Damn the wind! Doesn’t it ever let up?”

In June the howling subsided, and residents of the lonely homes across the prairie looked back with wry amusement at the way they had responded to it. “It really set my nerves jangling…”

To me a steady wind is no problem. It’s when the wind decides to become dramatic and interesting that I start to lose it. I know it’s because of fires and Santa Ana winds in my California life. The last spring I lived in California, we had the highest winds ever recorded in my tiny area. During the night I heard the wind (70 mph) start abruptly, suddenly, with a roar at the top of my street. I lay there and listened, following its “whoosh” as it blasted past my house. That night barns were lifted and dropped. The power company turned off the electricity in the mountain towns that morning for fear a random, otherwise innocent spark would set the world on fire.

Gusts that high are rare here in the San Luis Valley, but they happen sending the tumbleweeds racing.

I adapted Christina Rossetti’s poem for the San Luis Valley…

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the roofs start flying past,
The wind is passing through.
 Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees their branches throw,
The wind is passing by.





This map is the fire in the south central part of the state with the little house over it (evacuation center)


We’ve had wind up to 60 mph today here in Heaven and the San Luis Valley (all of Colorado) is very, very, very dry. Innocent thing spark brush fires, like a guy showing up for his job as a welder.

I’ve gotten to see second hand (I’d like to keep it that way) how a large brush fire is dealt with here in Heaven. The area covered in the map is thousands of acres. I’m (again) astonished at not being in a big California city any more.

Everyone in the area was evacuated to the recreation center in Alamosa. You look at that HUGE area on the map and you think, “Wow, that’s a huge area on the map!” but it’s not a lot of people. One of my friends lives near the airport in Alamosa — my artist friend with whom I sometimes go to Taos. She was evacuated and happy as a clam because they opened the ceramic studio at the rec center for her to work. She later let me know that Dominos brought pizza for everyone.

I don’t yet know the extent of the damage or how many people lost homes, businesses, stock, anything. But I do know that when that’s made public a few GoFundMe’s will pop up, families will ask for help on the various Facebook pages, and people will just pitch in.

In my fire experience in California (a lot more extensive and intensive than I wish) there was the setting up of Red Cross shelters sometimes in places as big as the stadium where (once upon a time) the Chargers played. With millions of people to contend with, there’s. no GoFundMe or direct pleas for “We need bedding and clothes for a 2nd grader” kind of thing or “Our home was burned” getting a response like, “We have a big 5th wheel we can let you have.”

That is rural life in a sparsely populated area, I guess. I’m grateful for it. I think we’re in for a long and scary fire season unless the July/August rains come and give us a break. There’s also the (slim?) possibility that we could still get a good, wet snow.


All is well. The fire (in my area) is under control. Everyone’s home.


1P.S. It’s roughly 70 miles from Creede to Alamosa ❤

P.P.S. SLV = San Luis Valley, a little bit of America most people have never even heard of.


Off Grid

As I was driving across the San Luis Valley the other day on my way to Colorado Springs, looking around me at the emptiness and the beauty and the farms I thought, “Every other place is bullshit.” Of course, that isn’t really true and if it were, I wouldn’t have been leaving. 🙂 I just love where I live. I love the mountains, the rabbit brush flats, all of it.

I looked around at some of the “off grid” homes that dot the valley floor in Costilla County (east of here), and I thought of my February visit to the doctor in Salida and how his nurse had asked me if, at home, I had indoor plumbing and so on. That’s not because we’re primitive down here, but there are a lot of people who’ve chosen the “off grid” life”style” and their sanitation is, well, “retro.”


“I have to ask,” the nurse said. “We’ve had so many patients living off grid and that’s how infections happen. They have no sanitation.”

Some of the off grid people live in motorhomes. Some live in cabins they’ve built or sheds. One family lives in two boxcars out there with no windows. I don’t see outhouses which worries me a little bit. I don’t have a lot of faith in the long term potential of a porta-potty. Some of them have erected solar panels. Others are using car batteries or generators. I don’t see crops or stock or anything, so maybe they go to jobs, but the jobs would be miles and miles away. It’s something that the counties around me have had to figure out.

There are all kinds of philosophies represented. Some have been labeled “domestic terrorists.


Others are what I guess we might have called “hippy communes” back in the day or a “back to nature” movement.

To combat this, some counties have changed their laws. There are signs on the highways that inform people that the county (Alamosa County, Rio Grande County) are zoned, meaning people can’t just buy some land and plop a tiny home, shack, cabin, shed or RV on it without permits and having minimum utilities.

I thought about it. My mom lived in a cabin — sod and logs — in the early years of her life. They had no electricity. They used kerosene lamps. They cooked on a wood stove that also served as heat. They had an outhouse. Sometimes the water in the well was depleted (it was the dust bowl), but there was water some miles away and my grandma had to hitch the Percheron to a sledge with a huge cistern on it, fill the cistern with a bucket, and haul the whole thing home again. This was not an unusual life for people living in rural areas of America in the early 20th century. They knew how to do it. They weren’t “going back in time” to a “simpler” (which wasn’t all that simple) age. She talked a lot about how hard it was, about pasting newspapers on the walls of the cabin to keep the wind out. She didn’t find it idyllic in the least and her stories did not sound at all like Little House on the Prairie.

I would like to be a fly on the wall when the children of “off gridders” grow up and tell stories of their childhoods to their kids.


Los Conquistadores

Not too long ago there was a posting on one of the local (small town) Facebook pages about people — Hispanic people — in the San Luis Valley being taught to disown their heritage.

This is true. The post was by a historian, and his assertion was that those bad guys, those Coronados, Cabeza de Vacas, those Ponce de Leons, all those Spanish explorers, the Conquistadors and their armies (many of whose men stayed here and started families who are still here, hundreds of years later), had been shoved under the bus of political correctness because they killed Native Americans.

The historian went on to make the point that these Spaniards had achieved something that would have killed modern humans. I think he’s right. I cannot imagine hundreds of modern humans piling themselves into a wooden ship, with horses, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep, AND priests, and setting sail across a recently understood ocean, (no sea monsters) to land in a place they’d never seen, populated or not (they weren’t sure) with people completely different from them who, in some cases, because of their face paint, haircuts and feathers, resembled paintings in (pre-America) European churches of Satan. All of this with plate armor AND the dangers of pirates, disease, storms at sea, wars.

We don’t even begin to have the skills to manage just the voyage. We forget the Americas WERE Terra Incognita. These guys killed Indians, but they also attempted to “save” them by bringing the “true faith.” In their minds it was the best thing they had. And the people — and their faith — are still here.

Some of their routes became our highways.

Old Spanish Trail Map

Northern Routes


Southern Routes


Right now I’m living in the middle of their world (21st century). The people around me are the descendants of these Spaniards (and Native Americans) and they speak an antique Spanish mixed with Ute and Navajo words. From time to time archeologists dig up a Clovis point below a disintegrating Spanish helmet. Personally, I think it’s amazing. I completely agree with William S. Burrough’s essay, “It Is Necessary to Travel…” Here’s the whole thing.



Featured photo: Marker for the Old Spanish Trail outside Monte Vista.


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