I was laid off in 1974. That was one crazy year in my life ANYWAY but the night the layoffs took effect was the pinnacle of craziness.

I was fresh out of university with the highly desirable BA in English. After months of searching I found a job on the line at Head Ski. I didn’t realize it was seasonal work (nothing about that in the newspaper ad). I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking) cleaning the edges of finished skis. After a while, because I was talented, I got promoted to measuring flex and camber, pairing skis, burning serial numbers on the sides and bagging them in the cotton fish net (oh baby) in which they were shipped. It was a raise in pay, too, which was good, because I was supporting the First X who was still in school.

This went on a couple of months then the pink slips were passed out during break at 6 pm. “We’ll hire you back as openings become available.”

That last day started early. My mom came to get me in Boulder, all the way from Denver, to take me and my grandmother to Loveland for my great-uncle’s funeral. I was dressed up in a skirt my mom had made me and a nice sweater. After the funeral there was lunch and then hanging around. My mom dropped me off at the factory at 3, and I was still wearing my fancy clothes. I had jeans to change into, but no other top.

Factory work is physical work and there were some pretty extreme chemicals in there. My polyester sweater was soaking it all in, believe me. At “lunch” the plan was we would all — all of us being laid off and those in solidarity with us — were going in the parking lot to get high. Afterwards? Well, we stood for the next four hours filing the throats of the tennis rackets to baby-bottomed smoothness. At 11 we were set free. We were all going to a bar on Pearl Street.

I didn’t have a car, but that’s when I learned that Jeff — the CUTEST guy on the line — was interested in me. He took me to the bar in his red VW, treated me like a date, bought me tequila sunrise after tequila sunrise and ignored everyone else. At 2, the bar closed.

Pearl Street was then just a street in a small city. We got to the car and Jeff opened the door. As he was closing it, four guys who were engaged in a fight, came roiling by. Jeff — who was a little stringy dude — chased two of them away but the other two were still fighting by the car. I sat there in a semi-drunken, exhausted, chemical fazed stupor as one guy smashed the face of the other guy into the window behind which I sat.

“Assholes,” said Jeff, after chasing the guy away and getting in the car.

I thought I should have been horrified by what I’d seen, but I couldn’t summon up horror. I was too tired, too high and too drunk to really care that there was blood all over the window.

We got to the parking lot of my apartment and that’s when Jeff made his move. “I don’t know how things are between you and your husband, but, you know, anyway here’s my phone number.”

And he kissed me.

Fact is, life with the First X was pretty awful, and I didn’t know how to contend with that. Still, I didn’t imagine cheating on him with Jeff or anyone. I went upstairs, took off my clothes and crawled into bed. 3 am. Without meaning to, I woke up my husband.

“Good God!” said the soon to be X, “You stink. Go take a shower!”

The next day I started looking for a job. A couple of days later, I called Jeff.

My Town in Troubled Times

In Monte Vista, if you call to make an appointment for your dog to see the vet, it might not get entered into the computer. Then — by pure coincidence — you get an email from your vet saying aforementioned dog needs her shots. You see a word is spelled wrong (“where masks”). It’s a funny mistake, but you think they should fix it, so you answer it correcting the spelling and asking if you can get the dogs’ shots during her exam tomorrow. They will call you back to straighten out a problem you didn’t even know about — the appointment not being in the computer.

You will talk for 10 minutes about the dog’s correct breed, about the shots she needs, about the the appointment missing in the computer, about which leg is making her limp, about what it might be, about the spelling error and how fraught with confusion is the English language. The subject of masks will come up and you explain that you wear one because you’re old and have asthma. The person on the phone says he doesn’t because he’s stubborn. “I should I know I should,” he says.

Then you get off the phone and realize that in these times, when you’re mostly by yourself, you miss out on a lot of the sweet idiosyncrasies you love about your town and once more you’re really glad you live here.

Then you saddle up your Jeep and drive past blossoming potatoes and barley making waves in the wind to City Market where you pick up your groceries. The girl who brings them to you is genuinely sorry they don’t have exactly what you want, but, “We’re really busy today. The 4th, I guess.”

“It’s OK,” you say. “I don’t care all that much. I’m sure you did fine.” And it’s true. Sometimes the substitutions are better than the stuff you ordered. “Have a good 4th,” you say.

“You as well,” she says, “Stay safe.”

You come home. The weekly paper is in the mailbox. You learn the new police chief had organized a march last week, a “Walk of Unity” which was:

“MONTE VISTA – Monday, June 28, Monte Vista residents and members of the police department participated in a “Walk of Unity.” The walk was designed to demonstrate to others that we can stand together as one and not as a protest against anything. Chief of Police of Monte Vista, George Dingfelder, participated as well as Officers Dylan Golden, Michael Martinez and David Pino. Participants of the walk said that it demonstrated that no matter what we believe, our employment, our titles, who we vote for, the pigmentation of our skin, LBGTQ or heterosexual…we can stand together as one…together for the greater good of humanity and not create further division between neighbors. It’s our community and we will stand united with all of our brothers and sisters.”

And that is exactly what you have figured out on your own these past few days looking clearly at the differences in beliefs and experiences between you and the people around you. “We’re the same people we were before,” you think, followed by, “and I’m learning all the time. I am sure we all are.”

“See, Martha?”

An hour and a half ago, Bear let me know what time it was. I had no desire to argue with her because a cool north wind was blowing through the Valley. It was a good time for us to seek Refuge.

Bear and I each wear mosquito repellant bandanas which, when the wind is blowing, aren’t really necessary, but it’s undeniable that we look cool.

I took inventory of the water birds — the ducks — mom, dad and ducklings — were all in a row, more or less…

The duck family. Hazy today from fires to the southwest and blowing dust. We couldn’t see the mountains to the east. A milkweed plant is blooming in the foreground.

And on the other side of the road, the geese and their teenage goslings were swimming in a pond more sheltered that the one the ducks enjoyed.

The yellow headed blackbird who has been so defensive of something has abandoned his watch which could mean the eggs have hatched and the babies have flown or that something happened. I’m going to believe the first because he’s been good company and fascinating to watch for the past month or so.

It was just a glorious, cool, windy afternoon with a dramatic sky. Bear and I were in Heaven. Then, on the way back I noticed a car and became a little wary. I never know if there’s a dog. But it was something else, and very sweet. A solitary woman was reading all the informative signs. Finally she stopped and parked and took the little nature walk around the small swamp. She had a camera with her. From time to time she stopped to take a photo or read an informative sign. I felt very happy seeing her because I knew she was learning something new about that wonderful place and I knew a lot of birds were down in there.

I think I saw the Colorado state bird for the first time — I’m not sure, but it doesn’t seem impossible. It’s a nondescript little sparrow called the Lark Bunting. The male is black and white during mating season and brown during the rest of the year. This reminds me of guys who pretended to like what I liked until we became a couple and then they never did my stuff with me again. Like the Good X who pretended to like skiing, but once we were together, he just liked going to used car lots to drive old cars and going to the swap meet… 😉

There was a lot more carnivore scat than I’ve seen lately. Some of it, I’m sure, from the two wandering farm dogs. One pile looked like bear, but I don’t see that there’s much for bears to eat. I’m pretty sure we’ve seen badger scat, coyote and possibly bobcat scat. Bear’s poop inventory is probably more accurate than my guesses.

A New Bean

Another Scarlet Emperor Bean has popped its head out of the soil in my little garden. I had to move him. The garden is too small for four beans and two squash as it is. The only place he could go was the front yard to keep one of the straggling pumpkins company. His first night in his new home he had to confront below freezing temperatures, but he faced it like the heroic bean he is.

When I planted him, I didn’t have a name for him. I had to do some research on Tang Dynasty poets, having exhausted my existing knowledge (not difficult). I found the perfect poem and the perfect poet. I’m going to explore more.

This bean is now known a Liu Changqing (Lou Changching more or less) and he’s a Taoist bean who was also a government official. So far I’ve only read a few poems by this (to me) new poet but they are perfect for this moment and where this bean will live, in view of the San Juan Mountains, especially my favorite, “Windy Peak.”

While Visiting the Taoist Priest Chang on the South Stream  (尋南溪常山道人隱居)[5]

一路經行處,   Walking along a little path, ;
莓苔見履痕,   I find a footprint on the moss.
白雲依靜渚,   A while cloud low on the quiet lake
春草閉閒門。   Grasses that sweeten an idle door.
過雨看松色,   A pine grown greener with the rain;
隨山到水源,   A brook that comes from a mountain source – 
溪花與禪意,   And, mingling with Truth among the flowers, 
相對亦忘言。   I have forgotten what to say.

Power Outage

Yesterday afternoon the power went out for more than five hundred people in my town which is, probably, half the people and businesses within the city limits. The electric company sent me texts with links so I could learn the status of the situation but without electricity, I don’t have internet, not even with my phone. My phone company doesn’t have data service in the San Luis Valley. The notice said that it would be 24 hours. I learned from my neighbor that a large tree in the park had blown over and broken power lines.

For the most part, I didn’t care. I just needed to know what to plan for, so I called a friend who checked the link and gave me the info.

I did what you do. I got out the candles, changed the batteries in the flashlight, remembering how it was living in the Southern California mountains where fires were frequent and often caused by sparks from electric lines. The stragedy there was to turn off power to save homes and lives. In those days, I had a little generator, a camping stove — which I didn’t need because my kitchen stove was propane anyway — battery powered lights, etc. I realized yesterday that an electric stove is a major liability mostly because of morning coffee… But there’s tea and hot water, right? At a certain level, it’s not about coffee. It’s about caffeine.

So, I settled in for an evening like that and was relieved of the numerous choices and irritations life with electricity provides. I edited short stories and enjoyed the battery life of my laptop. The days are long now, but when it got mostly dark, I went out to see what my neighbors were doing. All the windows were dark, all but mine. They glowed with candlelight.

But, high winds and a power outage combine to awaken my post-Cedar Fire PTSD and I felt anxious and hyper-alert even though I now live in a town and the risks with which I lived in the Southern California mountains don’t exist here. I was happy to have my stories on which to focus.

I put out a little book of short stories at the beginning of the pandemic just to have something to do that WASN’T COVID0-19 related. I didn’t work on it at all except the minimum of formatting to get it to look like a book. I’ve since read it and decided that many of the stories are too good to be sent out like that, even if only one person ever buys the book (one has <3).

Yesterday I wrote a blog post expressing my opinion about events right now in my country. It was researched and supported. It didn’t come off the top of my head, and it wasn’t just my “feelings” about the world as it is right now. I got trolled in a way I never imagined on WordPress. It was vile. I set the post to private and decided “Fuck it. I’m not doing this anymore.” Christine talked me into still writing, so here I am, but honestly, less interested.

I don’t read many blogs here. I don’t have time. Like everyone else, I read blogs by people who are interesting to me for one or another reason. If I happen on a blog post — even by someone I follow — that I don’t agree with I usually just move on. It’s not that everyone is “entitled” to their own opinion. Opinions are not a matter of “entitlement”. People are just made to have opinions. We can’t help it. I’ve observed that, generally, people are not interested in changing their opinions, and if they are, they’re going to search out the information they need to do that. That’s not my opinion. It’s just how people are. Arguing with them doesn’t avail much. I don’t write blog posts to start inflammatory discussions. I know how to block people.

Right now in this country, maybe the world, tempers are running high and everyone’s a little insane because of the virus and the sudden and not-all-that-pleasant changes it’s brought to all of our lives. But while that is going on the OTHER stuff is going on. People are still losing loved ones to other diseases, fearing for the well-being of their children, fearful that they won’t make ends meet month to month, all that exaggerated now because of the universal fear. I have friends who, in this interval, have lost a parent, lost close friends, faced gruesome diagnoses themselves, have had their spouse diagnosed with illnesses that require long-term treatment, seen the physical degeneration of their loved ones and wondered what to do next.

Fear makes people uncomfortable about themselves, thinking that feeling fear means they are cowards. So, instead of realizing, “Holy fucking shit. I’m terrified!” and investigating WHY, they become angry. Anger is (in our world) an acceptable emotion and fear is not. A belly filled with anger is good; a heart quaking in fear is not. It’s true that fear paralyzes us and anger energizes us, but fear’s paralysis exists to keep us still long enough to figure out what’s going on. Angry, we march forward with a sense of self-righteousness. There is a place for both, but I believe it’s important to realize the source of our anger and, if it’s fear, we need to stop and think.

I learned the utility of fear from rattlesnakes. The first time I saw one, I was scared and ran away. The second time, I was scared, but approached cautiously. My mission, then, was learning skills that I could use to hike in rattlesnake country with minimal risk to myself and my dogs. Fear turned to wariness which turned to curiosity which turned to knowledge. That didn’t stop a rattlesnake from living in my yard and killing two of my dogs, but they stuck their heads in gopher holes. Not the snake’s fault, not my dog’s fault. Justice was served, ultimately, when one of my huskies killed the snake. If you’re a person who understands parables, there’s a lot there to unpack.

One Foot in Front of the Other

^ NOT Colorado! Southern California. ^
^ Southern California! ^
^ Every path… ^

The Waking


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.   
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?   
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?   
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,   
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?   
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do   
To you and me; so take the lively air,   
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.   
What falls away is always. And is near.   
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.   
I learn by going where I have to go.


The protests against the police brutality that killed George Floyd have gone on for 9 days? 10 days? Yesterday I found myself wondering what the goal is. When will protestors know they are finished or is it a thing now that will go on and on and on and on?

Last night is the first night I’ve slept since the protests started. If their goal was to make white people think about things they haven’t thought about before, it worked here. I wrote one blog post about (now set to private) and a letter to Obama (never sent).

There are things related to it that I haven’t thought of for decades, one of which is Louis Farrakhan. It’s a fact that not all white people are racist and not all black people are NOT racist. Farrakhan, who is an extremely angry man — has claimed that it’s impossible for black people to be racists. Any anger they feel toward the white oppressor is justified and any action taken against whites is legitimate. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Farrakhan — and his organization — as black nationalist and black supremacist.

He spoke once at the university where I was teaching. It was a hate fueled speech. It made the work of ordinary people — I’ll say ordinary white people — seem hopeless. The next day, when I got to school, I found the ground littered with 4 x 5 inch black and white flyers, printed with swastikas and the words, “White men built this country.”

One extreme brought out the other.

I picked up a couple of those flyers and took them home and stuck them in a drawer imagining a future collage that never happened. “It’s never going to work,” I remember thinking, “as long as entire groups of people categorically hate each other.”


In other news, the hike I’d planned with my friends yesterday didn’t happen. I texted everyone at 5 am yesterday and said, “I haven’t been sleeping. I’m going to keep trying.” or something. I finally went to sleep and woke up at 8:30 to see their texts. They answered immediately planning between them an alternative way that we could get together. It turned out to be a “Bring your own cuppa'” tea party in Elizabeth’s beautiful back yard.

The other thing on my phone when I woke up was a voicemail from the Good-X. I listened and then I screamed. He’d had a major heart attack and was in the hospital but he said, “They fixed me up.” I called him back after I’d had some coffee and got the whole story and answered some questions he had for me. As we were saying goodbye, I had to hold myself back from saying, “I love you.” How would he understand those words? Two people can have a terrible marriage and yet form a functional and mostly happy life together. We did for 12 years. His younger son is “my” son and between his family and me all the “I love you’s” are said often. In the “I love you” that I did not say are all the experiences we shared — China being one of them. Part of it, also, is “I get who you are now.” Instead of “I love you,” I said, “Come back and visit me. That was fun last time.” He and his step-grandson came through Monte Vista a few years ago on their way to Durango to meet his wife who was at a dahlia conference.

“I will. That was fun,” he said.

I told my friends about it at the tea party later. When I told them about wanting to tell my ex “I love you,” they understood. We talked about C-19, our encounters with people during this time, the weirdness, the beauty.. We laughed and did all the things that make friendships and, I think, for all of us, it was an incredible relief. None of us has been sleeping and as we talked about it, it seemed that our sleep was taking the same trajectory. Going to sleep, waking up thinking and then either getting up ungodly early or going to sleep a few hours later. I asked if they’d like to go on a evening hike to the Refuge with me when the skies and light are beautiful and the breeze is calm and fresh. Now we sort of have a plan.

Elizabeth’s husband, Bob, came out of the garage where he’s building a 1957 T-bird. I like talking to Bob and he likes telling me stories, so as my friends went off to cut rhubarb (some for me) Bob told me stories about airplanes. I don’t know that he always has a willing listener and the words just poured out of him. Later he came over and installed a new pneumatic spring on my storm door.

The day went on with curious intensity, culminating in a 1 1/2 hour phone call with my formerly lost cousin, Linda. We’re catching up on each others entire adult lives. She wanted to know about how my brother’s death affected me. That’s a long story. We talked about the deaths of the people we loved, a strange coda to my morning.

I was struck again that all we really have in this life are dreams, memories and the love we bear for others. That’s it.

Breeze; Blessing or Curse?

Among people who’ve actually been here, the San Luis Valley is famous for its wind. Most people who have been here — not just driving through past my house — have come to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Wind at the Sand Dunes is a combination curse and blessing. Sand blowing around gets in your eyes, your skin, your nose etc. etc. BUT it keeps the mosquitoes away when you’re trying to enjoy your PBJ at the picnic table. Great Sand Dunes National Park reopens today with a long list of precautions and warnings. Oddly, everyone will be safer if the wind keeps blowing.

Bear and I love the wind and we don’t care how hard it’s blowing or how cold it is. For us, it’s a friend. There’s that mosquito thing. Then, if it’s blowing hard enough, no one is playing golf, though San Luis Valley golfers are a hardy bunch and they’ll play golf in snow.

One fun phenomenon here in the Big Empty is wind blowing in two directions at once. There are mountains to the east and mountains to the west, different ranges. If the wind blows over each range, it comes from different directions, that happens most often in spring, the dust cloud gets “stuck” in the wind. You can see this in the featured photo. The dust cloud had made it all the way, blowing from the east, across the fields between Alamosa and Monte Vista. It hit the wind coming from the west over the San Juans and got “stuck.” North winds happen with storms. Most of the time, though, the wind blows from the south and while it might be fierce and dusty, it’s just wind.

Walking north in a hard wind in winter is a sport all by itself, fun if you’re dressed for it.

Me impersonating Roald Amundsen. I wonder if he would have liked the kind of high tech warm-wear we have now?

Otherwise, I’m having a hard time sleeping these days. I wake up at 1 feeling anxious and weird and don’t go back to sleep until 3 or so. I’m pretty damned tired, and I bet I’m not the only one. Hang in there, everybody.

Yet Another Quotidian Update, this One Without Beans

Every summer I have to make this adjustment from going out with the dogs in the middle of the day and surrendering to going out in the evening. Last evening Teddy and I headed out to the Big Empty. Normally I’d just take the easy way and wander around the hood through the golf course, but it was Sunday meaning league golf. So, why not head out and see what our friends the geese, blackbirds, meadowlarks, mountains, sky and light were doing at 7:30 pm?

The Refuge was beautiful. Mt. Blanca was lit by the sun coming from the west, every valley and cornice visible and luminous. The little bit of remaining snow tinged golden in the late-day light. Teddy, of course, was very happy to get the chance to take his inventory of goose excrement. According to him, there was no new carnivore scat to report.

He really wanted to see the bunny again.

I’ve been communicating with the director of the Rio Grande County Museum and something she wrote made me feel the urge to get on with the project — Swiss Immigrants in the San Luis Valley. Sit down, sit down. I know you’re excited and can’t wait, but I have no idea when or if this will happen. I started writing my little talk and, as I did, I began to wonder if the community could endure a series on this topic because I think that would be epic (literally).

Most important, I became absorbed in what I was writing for the first time since the virus. I’ve gotten a lot of good stuff done in these two months but none of it was really interesting. Maybe this is a step in the evolution of living with this thing. Maybe this is a stage a lot of other people are reaching, maybe it’s (along with money) a reason for the strong urge to “open up” the country. Down here that’s a huge thing. Tourism and potatoes are the biggies in this economy and people down here — where most businesses are small businesses — are eager to get on with life. We’ve had a total of 75 identified cases and one death down here which, for me, is an argument AGAINST opening to tourism but…

I made my every-two-weeks trek for groceries yesterday, ski buff at the ready to pull up over my nose and mouth. As I waited in the parking lot, I saw that most people going in and out of the store were wearing masks. It hit me that IF people did not resist that small thing, the business of opening up might be OK.

In other news, Ancestry DNA has revealed yet another amazing trait: I like coffee. Don’t be fooled by “You said you have 1 to 2 caffeinated drinks a day.” It is one giant cup of espresso = 6 little espresso cups. 😀

Although I promised no beans, Tu Fu wanted to share this with you.

Night in a Room by the River

Evening rises toward the mountain trails.
as I climb up to my high chamber

Thin Clouds lodge along the cliffs.
A lonely moon rocks slowly on the waves.

A line of cranes flaps silently overhead,
and, far off, a howling pack of wolves.

Sleepless, memories of war betray me.
I am powerless against the world. ❤

About Plants

Teddy is sitting here looking at me with his supernatural, mind-reading, Australian shepherd, “I recognize the songs of three different birds!!!” intelligence and sending the telepathic message, “You EVER going to give me that coffee cup?” Ahead of me is a chore I’m dreading. I have to dig up a bunch of ground to plant a garden in which Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho will repose for the summer along with some squash.

The baby tomatoes are jonesing for dirt, but they aren’t ready. I’ve talked to them and they are, you know, teenagers and they just say, “How do YOU know? YOU’RE not me!”

Adolescent tomato plants, what can you do? In their naïveté they expect one sunny day after another, a peaceful rosy-hued future of blooming and fruiting, but I know it could still get very, very, very cold — at least one more time.

Meanwhile, in the actual YARD, progress has slowed due to depleted funds. It doesn’t really matter. I’m the only one who lives here — well the dogs — and I don’t care that much. The dogs have adjusted well to the changes and I think the fact that I have had to do this a little at a time has helped with that.

I have yet to “enjoy” my deck, but that will happen once I plant the babies and the umbrella is erected. Meanwhile, the babies catch their daily sun from the top of the bistro table and conspire with the Genovese basil to overthrow my governance.

That’s plants for you. You carefully stick their little seeds into seed starters, nurture them with love and attention and then?

Evening After Rain
Tu Fu

Sudden winds brought rain this afternoon
to save my thirsty garden.

Now sunset steams the grass
and the river softly glistens.

Who’ll organize my scattered books?
Tonight I’ll fill and fill my glass.

I know they love to talk about me
But no one faults me for my reclusive life.