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…
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!
Today Mindy got groomed. My groomer has a small farm. Really small. She lives in a mobile home across from my vet. In the backyard are a couple of sheds. One is for storing bikes on one end and a pony on the other. The other is her really pretty grooming studio. There are pens for sheep and the goat. It’s far and away from any urban grooming set up like you might see at Petco or something. She LOVES animals and she has two great kids who help out.
Mindy loves to go there and they love Mindy. “She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body,” says the groomer. “She’s the most cooperative dog; she seems to know what you need and helps you.” Mindy is 10 or 11; she has bad hips. I don’t like brushing her because I’m afraid I’ll hurt her, so it’s great I have found Muddy Paws.
When I picked Mindy up we talked about what people talk about in an agricultural community. I didn’t grow up here. I never farmed anything or raised any stock, but I like it. I would have liked doing it if I’d been plopped down in that world. I’d have been happy. I know that because I was always happy in Montana with my family and their borderline farms. I am happier here than I’ve been ever in my life.
In a farming community, you talk about the weather and it’s NOT small talk. We’re having the driest winter Colorado has seen in 30 years. It was 56 degrees this afternoon; for reference, on this day last year, it got up to 12. That’s normal for January.
This is nuts.
“I don’t know what to think,” I said. “I like the cold and snow, but it’s kind of nice not having to worry about it.”
“I know what you mean. By now, usually, I don’t have any grooming business but I’m booked solid.”
“Last January I wouldn’t have brought Mindy. It was 20 below!”
“It’s strange,” she said. “This weather is good for the loggers, but the farmers? We got a lot of rain in the summer.”
“Seven inches extra for last year,” I said.
“That’s a whole year of moisture,” she nodded. “I think we’re going to have another one of those wet summers. That’s bad. I’m lambing now and we’re good, but next year, if we have another wet summer, hay is going to be sky high.”
“And the potatoes,” I said. “That was a little iffy last summer.”
“Yeah, it was. I don’t know what to wish for. I guess it depends on your work.”
And work depends on the land and the weather. I like that so much. I like those imperatives so much more than some arcane discussion about teaching methods or what degree I have or how I manage a classroom. I know farming (and everything else that happens here) isn’t easy for a lot of people and a lot of people are having a hard time, but man. When nature is your partner there’s a lot different kind of negotiation and if you lose your job, it’s not because some dumbass boss doesn’t like you.
While Mindy was being groomed, Bear and I walked for a mile and a half along the river. It’s mostly frozen, here and there the unfrozen channel surfaces, but sections of it are like a mirror. We found the femur of a deceased large mammal — probably a deer — a little bit of fur hanging on, but mostly cleaned off completely.
Animals that walk along the river during other times of day include bears, coyotes, foxes, stray dogs, a cougar, badgers — and human hunters. Who knows how that femur came to be beside the trail and it wasn’t saying anything. I think Bear has some idea, but she’s not saying, either.
The hiking book has been a strange kind of challenge and “learning experience.” Couldn’t find a good cover. Ended up with a photo I hadn’t taken and on which I’d have to pay royalties if I sold the book. OK. I didn’t need to — or plan to — sell the book. That cover came out “OK” — exponentially better than any of the other covers Createspace had sent me, all of which had been affected by the Doppler Effect and shifted to red…
Then there were (are?) the innumerable internal flaws haunting me (and maybe you, if you read it). Finally, I came to grips with the reality that everything about the book, life, the places in which its set, the stories contained within it — all flawed. This book isn’t fiction; it’s real life. Flawed.
So I printed 15 and gave them away as presents.
A couple of days ago, in a journal from antediluvian times, I found the perfect photo. This afternoon I found Createspace had a template that was exactly what I wanted. I found a couple of errors that mattered.
OH well. Bottom line, it will be for sale on Amazon at a very low price in case you want to read it. Advance reports are that its good, tiny errors and all. 🙂
Last night I made spaghetti. First, I like Angel Hair pasta, not spaghetti mainly because at this altitude it cooks better, but this was spaghetti. Second, I have had to go “gluten free,” and it was my first attempt with gluten free pasta.
Don’t try it. It’s as flavorful as weak string and about the same texture. Barilla makes a gluten free pasta that I will try when it arrives from Amazon. No such thing in the stores in my big valley. It’s hard because pasta and I are good friends. We go back a long way.
“What’s for dinner?”
“I don’t know.”
“Cook up some pasta.”
“There you go.”
Plus, I grew incredibly flavorful Genovese basil and plum tomatoes this summer, besides the zucchini.
In other news, the weather is such that Dusty, Bear and I have returned to afternoon walks. I’m so glad. It’s really nice to be outside when my biorhythms say, “You want to THINK? Good luck with that sweet cheeks.”
Fall is coming early to the San Luis Valley, too. The aspen on the mountains to the west, anyway (can’t see the mountains to the east that well) are already turning — a week or ten days early. Not for them, of course. They set their own clocks, but for ME. The one remaining task of my summer home repair list is a working thermostat on my furnace.
The chamisa (auto-correct originally corrected that to “chamois” which are nice, too) are already going to seed. When winter comes, they’ll be black bushes and appear dead. But for now there are white and yellow butterflies all over them.
Yesterday, when I took the dogs out to put in the car for a walk at the slough, I took a look at my garage. I felt a surge of pride. There are still things I want to get rid of, but, for the most part, it’s a real garage now. There’s still a leak on the base of the north wall and I’ll deal with that next summer.
Nature, in her inestimable wisdom, created many things far in advance of the invention of what they were designed to destroy. Ice, of course, was created to make automobiles skid off the road. Meanwhile, it peacefully worked on its long term goals of splitting giant boulders through frost wedging. “Someday you’ll be sand, mua-ha-ha-ha.”
Another manifestation of sadistic forethought is the goat head thorn. Sure, it stuck in peoples’ shoes, socks and trousers for centuries, but who cared? Then came the bicycle tire…
It’s a pretty enough ground-level vine, but…
“I’m just trying to propagate my species,” it will tell you of its wandering little sadistic seeds, “I’m stuck here in the ground. It’s up to my kids to see that we find a new patch of earth on which to grow. We don’t ask for much. Just a barren, dry, forgotten piece of somewhere, ignored by everyone, likely to be used as a shortcut…”
“What is so rare as a day in June, then, if ever, come perfect days…”
My mom had a poem for every season, sometimes a precise month — the two I remember best are “What is So Rare as a Day in June” and “October’s Bright Blue Weather.” She grew up in a time (and with a dad) who required that kids memorize poetry. Then she became a school teacher back when teachers did teach a whole school.
Yesterday was a perfect June day for Dusty, Bear and me. It was blustery and gray, a strong wind, the threat of rain (but not the realization, though that would have been OK with us, too).
About 5 o’clock, when the wind had died down a little, I said, “What the heck, dogs,. Let’s go.” We headed out to the slough. Lovely though it is in all seasons, its not that much fun right now. It’s a mosquito wonderland with a few horseflies just in case the mosquitos don’t do a good enough job. It’s fine, it’s nature, and every little creature has to do its little creature thing. Besides, the birds are hungry and feeding babies, so the more bugs the better. With the wind blowing so hard, though, neither mosquitos or horseflies would have a chance.
Dusty and Bear are in “summer walk” mode which means they are leashed, walking beside me, at heel. There are also rattlesnakes which have their important place in nature. I’m not challenging that with a big, loping, goofy, curious dog.
We were so happy to be out! The river was very, very high. The air was crisp. The wind blew in strong gusts. Undaunted, the birds swooped and hunted anyway. The wild iris were blooming, having lifted their miraculous perfect heads out of the snow-smashed morass of dead grass. Near the end of our walk, the dogs stopped and looked up, alerting me to a golden eagle flying above the river.
Today, however, is the kind of day Lowell has written about. The plants are rushing to make the most of the short season. The robin fledgelings are on their way — one was in my yard yesterday. It was my job to see she was safe from the dogs. She looked up at me like, “Dude, I’m going to be fine just keep that big white beast away from me!”
What is so rare as a day in June?
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;
Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;
The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there’s never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature’s palace;
The little bird sits at his door in the sun,
Atilt like a blossom among the leaves,
And lets his illumined being o’errun
With the deluge of summer it receives;
His mate feels the eggs beneath her wings,
And the heart in her dumb breast flutters and sings;
He sings to the wide world, and she to her nest,-
In the nice ear of Nature which song is the best?
Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;
Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,
‘Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;
We may shut our eyes but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear,
That dandelions are blossoming near,
That maize has sprouted, that streams are flowing,
That the river is bluer than the sky,
That the robin is plastering his house hard by;
And if the breeze kept the good news back,
For our couriers we should not lack;
We could guess it all by yon heifer’s lowing,-
And hark! How clear bold chanticleer,
Warmed with the new wine of the year,
Tells all in his lusty crowing!
Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how;
Everything is happy now,
Everything is upward striving;
‘Tis as easy now for the heart to be true
As for grass to be green or skies to be blue,-
‘Tis for the natural way of living:
Who knows whither the clouds have fled?
In the unscarred heaven they leave not wake,
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;
The soul partakes the season’s youth,
And the sulphurous rifts of passion and woe
Lie deep ‘neath a silence pure and smooth,
Like burnt-out craters healed with snow.
James Russell Lowell
A friend — well, someone I was in love with a LOOONNNGGGG time ago climbed Annapurna II. I had never known anyone who had climbed a Himalayan peak, so he was pretty astonishing to me just for (“just”?) that. He was also handsome, kind and smart. Overwhelmingly perfect, but I digress. He wrote in a letter, “Getting up is one thing. It’s getting back down that matters most, and the descent is often more difficult than the climb.”
Since, for me, the metaphor almost always appears out before the reality sinks in, that meant — means — it doesn’t matter to what heights we ascend, sooner or later we have to descend, and it’s better to come down in one piece.
At this point in my life, every sharp hill is Annapurna Something because of the descent which is a lot more difficult than the climb.
I make my way down the hill, side-stepping like a squeamish skier on a steep, short slope, my shorter leg on the uphill, my longer leg on the downhill.
But so far I make it home. 🙂
There are a lot of theories about mountains and I don’t mean geological theories or theories about their existence, but theories about the way people perceive them. One theory says that it was only in the 18th and 19th centuries that people started to regard mountains as objects of wonder and inspiration.
“During the 18th century altitude became increasingly venerated…The fresh attitude to altitude was a radical change of heart and one which made itself felt in every cultural sphere, from literature to architecture or horticulture. In the early part of the century, the so-called ‘hill poem’ established itself as a popular minor genre…” (Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind)
Before that they were “mere” obstacles with dangerous precipices people had to cross to get from one place to another.
I don’t agree with this theory, though I do agree that during the 18th and 19th century people did (apparently) begin to travel to mountains for the sake of the mountains themselves, and romantic poetry does love the precipice — as a metaphor at least.
The precipice is the place where the faint-hearted, ordinary, unimaginative, dim and cowardly person NEVER goes. In real life a precipice is a dangerous and scary place with extreme exposure where no one goes unless they must. I get the metaphor — and after reading Zorba the Greek I was determined to “walk to the edge of the leaf” and look over the side. (The Boss’/Kazantzaki’s metaphor for the metaphor of the precipice).
“Some men — the more intrepid ones — reach the edge of the leaf. From there we stretch out, gazing into chaos. We tremble. We guess what a frightening abyss lies beneath us. In the distance we can hear the noise of the other leaves of the tremendous tree, we feel the sap rising from the root of our leaf and our hearts swell. Bent thus over the awe-inspiring abyss, with all our bodies and all our souls, we tremble with terror. From that moment begins…”
“I stopped. I wanted to say “from that moment begins poetry,” but Zorba would not have understood. I stopped.
“‘What begins’? asked Zorba’s anxious voice. ‘Why did you stop’?
“…begins the great danger, Zorba. Some grow dizzy and delirious, others are afraid; they try to find an answer to strengthen their hearts, and they say: ‘God’! Others again, from the edge of the leaf, look over the precipice calmly and bravely and say: ‘I like it.’! (Nikos Kazantzakis/Zorba the Greek
There are some really nasty, scary passes through the Alps. One, the Via Mala (evil way), is notoriously terrifying. Goethe went there on a trip to Switzerland and sketched it. The lyrical lines of Goethe’s ink drawing reveal some of the romanticization of the precipice.
In real life it’s more like this:
Imagine crossing that ice-covered stone bridge in the 15th century early on a late spring morning with the wind blowing.
The trail itself, leading to the bridge, was cut into the side of the mountain and it looks like this:
Another fun pass from the past is the Devil’s Bridge on the Gotthard Pass. The pass itself has been in use since the 12th century. Before the bridge was built (and that means several centuries) people died trying to get across the river when it was in flood. The story is:
The legend of this particular bridge states that the Reuss was so difficult to ford that a Swiss herdsman wished the devil would make a bridge. The Devil appeared, but required that the soul of the first to cross would be given to him. The mountaineer agreed, but drove a goat across ahead of him, fooling his adversary. Angered by this trickery, the devil fetched a rock with the intention of smashing the bridge, but an old woman drew a cross on the rock so the devil could not lift it anymore.
Turner painted this bridge with a mixture of romanticism and actuality that works for me.
The precipice of the mind, however, is another thing. Henry Miller wrote about that, in Nexus.
“Don’t be afraid of falling backward into a bottomless pit. There is nothing to fall into. You’re in it and of it, and one day, if you persist, you will be it…Did I fear unconsciously that if I succeeded in letting go, I would be speaking with my own voice…and would never again know surcease from toil?”
I understand the precipice of the mind and I understand the precipice of the mountain. I am very afraid of heights and it’s a fear I don’t particularly want to face. There are slopes I was always happy to climb and some of them look precipitous, but they were not. The angles were friendly and accommodating, the exposure was doable and I did not have to look down any drastic drops if I did not want to. That is not the challenge life meant for me. As for the precipice of the mind, Henry Miller was right. I have fallen backward into the bottomless pit and there I found liberty.
I’d like you to meet Spike.
Spike is a California Coastal horned lizard. Hiking in the coastal chaparral of San Diego, I often caught a glimpse of Spike, and I think I picked him up once or twice. I like him a LOT. As you can see, he’s not easy to see (ha ha). That’s because Spike has a lot of predators, including scorpions. Spike is a furtive little fellow out of necessity. In different places — depending on the color of the dirt and the kinds of rocks about, Spike might have slightly different coloration.
I named all of them Spike. It was fun to be hiking along, catch sight of him on the edge of the bushes, and say, “Hi, Spike! Be careful out there!” Once I even picked up a tiny baby Spike. He was one of the cutest little critters I’ve ever seen.