Stubborn or steadfast? No Surrender

This post has resonance for me today, March 24, 2019 When I wrote it, I still lived in California. 

Daily Prompt: Never Surrender, by Krista on March 11, 2014: Are you stubborn as a grass stain or as easy going as a light breeze on a warm day? Tell us about the ways in which you’re stubborn — which issues make you dig your heels in and refuse to budge? Photographers, artists, poets: show us STEADFAST.

I’m not very stubborn. I think my friends would say something different, though they would agree I’m not one of those “My way or the highway” types, well, yes I am. I’m “My way IS the highway.” Long ago I had a dream that was based on events in my real life. I went from place to place, hanging out with people who then attempted to foist their “trip” (we said that then) onto me. At a certain point in each episode I said, “F…. this s…. man, I’m getting out of here!” (It’s a lot more powerful in real words.) I toyed with the thought of having that as my epitaph.

I think “steadfast” is another thing. That’s something involving honor and respect. It’s loyalty and commitment. Outside of marriage (not my métier) I’m very steadfast. I really do, once I make the commitment, “bear it out until the edge of doom.” I do not know if this old-school virtuous behavior is always wise. (Continuing to write the Daily Prompt has often seemed doubtful but I haven’t given up. 😉 )

But… the song to which today’s prompt alludes is important to me. Back in the ’80s I wondered what I was doing. I was teaching and married. My husband was a nice guy, but he didn’t love me. I was doing everything in my power to put a good face on things, holding my marriage together, steadfastly building a relationship with his kids (whom I loved), steadfast in my life-time attempt to reach my mother (ha), building what I thought would be a career, I was pushing hard to make everything work. Perseverance. This song. Had I surrendered? What was I really?

New students arrived, were interviewed for placement in oral communication classes. One student, Jean Francois Minot-Matot from Geneva, answered the questions in a very a-typical way. “I live for ski,” he said. I had once “Lived for ski.” I heard his statement echo down the chambers of my heart. The sound returning said, “What do I live for?” On my way home from that interview I listened to this song for the first time, played on a new tape. Those two events, “I live for ski,” and the refrain from the song,

'Cause we made a promise we swore we'd always remember 
No retreat, baby, no surrender 
Blood brothers in the stormy night 
With a vow to defend 
No retreat, baby, no surrender

I’d made that vow with people — where were they? I was sure one was dead, another was lost forever to time because I sent him away, another was on the hellish rollercoaster of addiction. The fields of my childhood were long gone in an eternal golden autumn, and my life was nothing more than patching broken things and holding them together until the glue dried. Was I where I’d set out to be? Where were the beautiful words? The thoughts, the conversations, the stories? Where were the adventures? Where was the world — why was I not in it? I’d made a start and retreated, pulled back into a stucco-home in an East San Diego ghetto and a man who didn’t love me?

“I live for ski.”
“What do you do when the snow has melted?”
“Er, OUI! We have ze glacier. You know glacier?”

St. Mary’s glacier. I’d never skied it. I always believed I would ski it, but how would I do that, here under the banana palms, surrounded by bougainvillea.

“Er, and I, I like ze windsurf.”

I was 34. About to turn 35. I was middle-aged (what did I know?) I was over. Actually, my life began because of Jean Francois Minot-Matot. I’ve “gotten” nowhere with those dreams, but I learned dreams are not a place to go; they are a place to be. And, every dream involves a little patching up and holding together.


“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.

Me, age 12, hiking in the woods of Nebraska, hiding from my brother. Obviously, he found me. 😀

“…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.”  

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

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

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

All Shook Up

Living on, near and between numerous fault lines in Southern California I got to experience lots of earthquakes. Some of them were barely noticeable. I’d awaken from sleep, wonder why, roll over and sleep again. When I moved out of the city, into the mountains east of San Diego, the experiences were even better.

Some earthquakes don’t do a lot of shaking, but they boom like thunder coming from inside the earth. Others give the world a quick shake as you might shake out a rug, letting dust and dog hair fly. Others make the world rattle, knocking things from shelves and doing damage.

My first earthquake was in 1959. I was in Montana, staying at my grandmother’s, and my Aunt Jo, Uncle Hank, and Aunt Martha were camping at Yellowstone. I wrote about it soon after I began my blog on WordPress. If you want to read the story, you can find it here and here.

Newspaper from the day… 1959

The best was on Easter Sunday, 2010. My friend and I were hiking along Pine Creek which runs along a fault line between the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains. It was a beautiful hike and we had a good time. On our way back, we went through a gate designed to allow horses with riders through and keep cattle in. We kept walking. I heard the gate rattle some twenty feet behind us and I turned. The earth was moving toward us in a wave. We stood still as the earth rose under our feet, settled back in place and continued its rolling motion forward. The trees moved like spectators at a baseball game doing “The Wave.”

When I got home, I looked it up on the USGS site and found it had been a very strong earthquake, 7.2.

We were in the little black circle on the map above. To learn more about this earthquake, you can go here.

Because it was Easter, and businesses in Mexicali, BC, were mostly closed, there was little damage and no real injuries.

I kind of miss them. As long as no one is hurt, they are just fun and very interesting. But I was also in California when the big earthquake happened in Oakland in 1989. It was not even as strong as the Easter earthquake, a mere 6.9, but it was a different type of earthquake, more the shake the stuff out of your rug type. It was classified as “Violent.” It crumpled a bridge.

Collapsed bridge from the Loma Prieta Earthquake

My stepson Ben, who lived in the Bay Area at the time, came down to visit. He was about 10 or so. Both of us had developed a fear of bridges and whenever we had to go under one (on foot) we ran. 🙂

(Featured photo: Cody O’Dog and I on the Pine Creek Trail that VERY Easter Sunday!)

Another Small Step

Today I took Bear out for a ramble where we’ve been going lately — along one side of the golf course, along the main ditch, into the Big Empty. To one side nice houses and yards; to the other an empty field beloved by deer. I’ve seen this thing before. If anything EVER happens to make Monte Vista a place where people want to live, the field will be gone, but meantime it’s a borderland between town and farm.

We got to our turnaround point (a mile) and turned around. We’d gone only a few yard when a large black dog came barreling through the neighborhood to the wire fence along the ditch bank. There was nothing to keep him on “his” side, so we turned around. This meant going home ‘the long way.’

Most important, the long way isn’t a lot longer than our original plan, just 2/3 of a mile or so. I just have our walks timed so I can do other things (like langlauf) if I want to. We walked along a small ditch on a muddy path to a familiar road where we’ve often walked to watch the deer hang out under the tank cars. Neither the tank cars nor the deer are there.

When we were done, I had taken the longest walk I’ve taken in years. The big deal about it is that it was no big deal. I didn’t even think about the distance. Nothing hurt. We walked through snow, mud and on nice dirt pathways. It is the first time in a long, long, long time that walking has been easy, has been transportation, has been a way out of a bad situation. It also didn’t take a lot longer than the walk I’d set out to do.

The featured photo is from about a year ago, Dusty, me, Bear and my cane walking on part of the route I walked today. I notice (besides no cane) my recently operated left leg is longer now, closer to the length of my right leg than it was before my surgery.

I know this doesn’t seem like much of a story, but if you’ve had a joint go bad and you’ve had it replaced, there are (I think) stages in recovery and I think I just crossed another one, an important one. It bodes well for the coming summer, I think, and I’m happy.

No Longer a Hot Spot

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,[7] 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”


Map of the Caldera Rim and surrounding area. Map provided by Bill Hatcher.

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.

Dusty T. Dog and my neighbor at the Sand Dunes, October 2017

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.

Spring? Just Say NO!!!

Dear Normal People:

Spring is several weeks away. 28 days + 7 or so. Back off. Anyway, what’s so great about it?

Spring is a silly season, ambivalent and immature. It’s childish and makes horrible mistakes. A couple of years ago Spring, in a fit of pique, threw us a hard freeze toward the end of itself, and we had NO apples in the San Luis Valley. Spring is sinister like that. In pictures it looks all pretty like a girl in a prom dress, but seriously? It’s war. 60-70 mph winds, mud, ticks, sandstorms (gravel storms, actually). Nasty. Sure, winter has its problems — ice, cold, but it’s not going to pull the rug out from under your hopes — well, a little bit — but not like spring.

That whore.

And then what? SUMMER! Horror. Lawn mowing, mosquitos, endlessly tending the damned garden, afternoon hail storms, and those long, long hot days when you can’t walk your dogs until 7 pm and people are using the golf course for — golf. No thanks. It’s dark times from March 21 until October with its chill nights, swirling leaves and the promise of winter.

I just grit my teeth and try to get through Spring and Summer. I’m in no hurry.

Yesterday I was driven to write poetry in response to blog posts about longing for spring. Here they are…

Stay away spring
with your oozing, sticky mud
your wind and dust storms
your promises and betrayals
apple blossoms blown from trees.

Stay away spring
A little more snow
more trails and skiing
Places for my dog to bound
through deep soft drifts
before the fecund nightmare
starts again.


Everyone yearns for spring.
I wish winter stayed longer
Deep drifts and ski tracks.

I woke up this morning thinking I’d done the right thing going into debt temporarily to buy my skis because it MIGHT be that won’t happen again on the golf course and I hesitate to go up to the mountains alone, especially with a non-4WD car. Then I thought, “How stupid. No one had 4WD cars back in the day but we all went to the mountains. What fearful wusses we have become. And with cell phones!!!”

BUT… I am not in the spring or summer or even autumn (well, maybe I’m in November or something, late autumn) of my life anymore. That’s a non-negotiable, material difference. Back in the summer of my life, I did strap my skis to the top of my VW Bug and head to the untrammeled wilds alone. I didn’t consider the dangers back then, only the thrill of skiing up (then down) favorite hiking trails.

Next year I will attend the early season socials of the San Juan Nordic Club, the heroes who groom the trails around here. I’ll stifle my shyness and bring my potluck dish. Who knows? I might meet a similar soul who needs a pal for the back country.

Your pals,

Martha and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog

Persistence and Faith

Most of my life I’ve figured that success depended on effort — a mixture of muscle and will. Now I think there’s more to effort than just those two things — faith, humor, and openness.

For a long time I taught writing to half of humanity and aspired to be a writer, but during those years I WAS a hiker. Hiking was the one thing I did no matter what. It had rewards of its own, and it belonged wholly to me. I was pretty proud of myself, too. I did it even when I worked nearly non-stop, and even when the weather was terrible (some of the best hikes). I was proud that I was so strong, so fit, so FAST up and down hills and I could go SO FAR in a short time (since I never had a long time). Endorphins streamed into my brain erasing the stress of my days, the pain of the darker moments of my life.

Then, as if fate had to teach me a lesson, I spent a decade in greater or lesser disability. Will and muscle kept me out there with my dogs, but I couldn’t go far — just COULDN’T — I couldn’t go fast and I couldn’t go up and down hills. I was on a flat, one mile loop trail through a landscape I once would have scorned.

A mile is pretty far if you can’t walk well and are in pain. It’s ALSO an analgesic. Walking — sauntering — around the trail or along the river, stopping often for Bear to smell things, to look at something gave me a different experience that had nothing to do with muscle or will. My effort was, instead, overcoming my expectations of myself and opening my heart to a new experience. This wasn’t hiking as I’d known it. I’d always been aware of everything around me, that wasn’t the change, but no longer concerned with covering miles, I could wait as long as it took a mule deer doe to realize I was watching her. It could be a while.

This kind of hiking went on so long that its sweet moments — the purring of a flock of Sandhill cranes above me, a bald eagle in a bare cottonwood, a bluebird on a fence post, deer in the distance — ceased being compensation for what I could not do but reasons for being out there.

I will never be the hiker I used to be even if, someday, I can again cover four miles in an hour.


There have been times since I got the skis that I’ve felt trepidation about going out. I can see with my rational mind that there’s no reason for me to be afraid, but I have felt afraid. I know it’s psychic residue from the years of diminished ability and pain. In those times it’s taken faith in myself and abilities to go out there. Will and muscle are called into play — again — and I go. As I ski — not all that well yet — I learn that I CAN navigate a curve or speed through an icy patch rather than slowing nearly to a stop and proceeding hesitantly. I feel myself regaining skills I once had. As that happens, trepidation begins to be replaced by confidence and joy. Endorphins.

Yesterday I was waiting for my friend to arrive from Colorado Springs. I knew when she’d left home, but I wasn’t sure exactly when she’d arrive. After I walked Bear and let her run and dive through snow drifts while I walked fast (she thought I was running), I thought, “I think I have time.” The day was perfect. Calm wind. High 20s. We’ve had no thaw to molest the snow or the tracks, and it’s been warm enough that the surface hasn’t been an ice rink.

So…I got out there, tried a different direction (to see how my shorter leg would work on the curves going clockwise). With my mind on the clock, I skied faster and more confidently. I saw that I am getting better at this. I came home, turned on the radio, and it was playing my anthem.

I was so happy.


“Home” isn’t a place any more, well, other than my house. There was a moment when I realized that I am a snail and home is a thing I carry with me all the time. Even now — in what I believe will be my last house — I feel like a tenant and I’ve been slow to unpack.

When I moved back to Colorado, I learned something about what home means to me by what I chose to put in the rented van I drove over the mountains.

I packed a box of art supplies, another of winter clothes (because, coming from San Diego in October, I would need them), my dad’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and my three dogs. Were those things — and animals — “home?” The animals, definitely.

My goal as a young person was to be “at home in the world” rather than tied to a place. I’m not sure I managed that. If “home” is a feeling, well, I’m home when I’m outside with my dogs experiencing whatever happens to be going on when we arrive.

Nature is not “out there.” It’s right here all the time. In my case, it’s literally a block away in winter. Now that the crepitus of arthritis has been diminished through surgery (I still have it in my left knee), my days are centered around the time when we can go out and see what’s happened in REAL reality while we were sleeping.

We humans with our towns and cities have just carved out little bastions of human safety in the midst of it. All animals do this for themselves one way or another, and all of them are destructive to some extent though I don’t think they regard nature as a foe or friend. I think they get it in ways we humans have forgotten. I like it very much when I’m out there and have to adapt to something I cannot negotiate with like cold, rattlesnakes, heat, whatever. For me there’s liberty in that depth of reality.

I hope this summer to have even more chances to go home. It’s a little difficult now without a 4WD car, but that’s OK. I’m making plans.