The Lazarus Tree

Because the cranes are here and it’s chilly, I took Teddy out to find some refuge. It was a little challenging because there were cattle grazing next to the fence and Teddy is a herding dog. When he sees cattle he becomes incredibly excited and barky. This is breeding time for the herds who are old-school enough to rely on bull action and I noticed at least two in the field.

Other than the cattle, the first thing I saw was this patient osprey perched on a sign, looking for an easy meal.

Besides the osprey, there was a golden eagle circling the distant pond of geese and cranes. Winter is coming or whatever season is next. It’s hard to know with summer proceeding as it has been.

I kept driving until everything around us was Refuge and then we stopped and took our walk. In the distance were lots of geese and, I believe, a few Sandhill Cranes. Teddy’s level of alertness is incredible. He even sees birds in the reeds that I can’t see at all. I think when he gets better at this walking with Martha thing he’s going to be a great companion, spotting creatures near and far.

When we’d finished, I decided to take a road trip to see “the tree” from my painting. Teddy was happy because he likes riding in the car with me and listening to me sing. He is the only sentient being on the planet who likes that, so who am I NOT to give him that opportunity? We threaded our way along the “streets with no name” except things like “2 E and 5 S”.

I spotted the tree from quite a distance. It stands alone on a rabbitbrush plain. As Teddy and I approached (Singing “Africa” by Toto) I saw that the “dead tree” is not dead at all. I am renaming the painting “March” “Winter Tree.”

Teddy and I wound our way home, looking for a potato cellar I’d seen from a distance (no luck).

Chainsaw?

Thanks to the summer snow storm, which officially dumped 16 inches on Monte Vista, I have a huge mess to contend with. Half a tree broke off my neighbor’s excrescent elm and landed in my yard. Luckily, it didn’t break the fence. Another giant chunk of the self-same excrescence is looming dangerously over my garage. I’m waiting until next week to call anyone (since I can). The meteorological rumor is that next week temps will be in the 70s and the sun will be shining. And who knows? I might overcome my terror of chainsaws and take care of the branch in my yard myself (doubtful).

The City of Monte Vista was out yesterday cutting trees away from power lines. I’m bristling at what I’ll have to spend to deal with those trees, but it’ll be better than paying for a new garage roof. It’s just the kind of nagging problem that seems to have kept humanity going for thousands of years.

Like everyone else, Nature is easier to love when she’s being nice to you. On the bright side, the mountains are beautiful and Bear is blissful and no one will need to water anything for the rest of the year. And…

In other good news…


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/10/rdp-thursday-bristle/

Summer Storm

I got up at 6 (not my usual thing AT ALL) and Bear and Teddy greeted me with the big news that it had SNOWED!!!! Bear nearly dragged me out the back door to see. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I already knew…

Easily 20 inches in my yard. Broken tree in the front (city’s tree, not mine). I can see a lot of chain saw action happening in the next few weeks.

I suspect the snow is insulating the beans and tomatoes at this point

The dogs (who have been up and out since 5 am) have created an agility course out there. They’re playing hide-n-seek, chase and “roll in the snow” like clowns rolling out of a Fiat.

Find the Dogs

Normally I share my dogs’ rapturous feeling about snow, but seriously, this is absurd. It’s still summer. Towns, farms and ranches all through the San Luis Valley have been without power all night. There are downed wires and trees all over the place. Our little hospital is running on its generator.

I’m a little tired of living in historical moments… 😀

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/09/rdp-wednesday-clown/

Fringe

I should have taken more photos yesterday when I was out with Teddy at the Big Empty. There was virga that really did look like fringe hanging from the dark clouds. It was beautiful. The easternmost part of the mountains closest to me, the San Juans, is only a couple of miles away. Most of the time, when a storm comes over from the west, the higher elevations take the rain. Then, like yesterday, the clouds float over the valley – still raining at the elevation of the mountains making rain fringe in the sky.

I took the featured photo six years ago as I was leaving the San Luis Valley after my very first (adult) visit here during which I looked at my dream house (still here, still empty) and fell in love with my town and the valley. The mountains in the photo are the Sangre de Cristos. My friend Lois and I were headed to Valley View Hot Springs in Crestone and then up to Colorado Springs.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/03/rdp-monday-fringe/

Gift from the Big Empty

The sky clouded over before noon which meant that it was probably going to rain at some point. So far it hasn’t, but I saw it falling on the San Juans to the west. I looked at Teddy and thought, “It’s his turn today.” All about fair play here at Casa di Marta, Orsa e Teddolino. I put Teddy’s bug-deterring bandana on him and we drove out to the refuge which, lately, has been more like additional torture.

Today it was a refuge. The sky was overcast, and a cool breeze was coming off the rainy San Juans. For July it could not have been better. Nary a mosquito or deer fly to molest us on our peregrination.

Here’s what I saw when I stepped out of Bella.

Mt. Blanca

There was no need to hurry. No thunderstorm on the offing. No biting bugs to chase us away. Just a perfect day. I’m deeply grateful. I needed it.

The geese are gone. Some of the black birds have gone. All that remain around the pond and in the willow-tree slough are a few red wing blackbirds, tree swallows and lark buntings. But at our half-way point I noticed the slow flap of a large winged bird flying low over the grass. It was a female red tail hawk. She flew low and slow over me to see what my story was. I was so happy to see her that I got tears in my eyes. For some reason, I regard them as friends.

Teddy and I kept going, in absolutely no hurry, savoring the freshness of the day. A car passed us. An old guy kind of waved — I think people are getting disgusted and jaded at this point. Or maybe it’s all the politics. I shrugged. I know what my job is.

“This is great, Martha!”
“Isn’t it, Teddy?”

On our return, I stopped to enjoy the wind and the silence. I was stunned when a mountain blue bird flew past, not 8 inches from my face. I’m sure the wind carried him there, but it made me happy. A lot happens in places like the Big Empty if you just stand still for a while, as the hawk and the bluebird reminded me.

Milkweed in full flower

Thank you everyone for the moral support his morning when I was discouraged about writing my blog during these times when nothing happens (and nothing happening is a good thing…) Every writer wants to write words that are meaningful to those who read them. ❤



Existential Angst

I’ve accepted (really? forever? for now?) that some days are better than others. Not in general — I accepted that a long time ago — but vis-a-vis this virus and the weirdness. Yesterday was one of those days. Zero. Zilch. Damn. “Deal with it!” yammered my psyche.

“Yeah, sure, but WHAT am I dealing with?”

“The fear of death, sweet cheeks. The fear that there is no future. ‘No future, no future, no future for you!!!'”

“Whoa. That’s heavy.”

“Yeah, well, there it is. ‘The future is uncertain….'”

“Shit so those aren’t just deep words in a Morrison song?”

“No, babe.”

Damn. So what do you do when you suddenly realize that you are afraid of death, and you are sure your dead mother is going to come and get you in 8 years? Seriously. This is some disturbed shit. My house isn’t haunted. I am.

Lots of people have said their dreams have been weird and scary since C-19 appeared on the scene. Mine too. Not always but often.

“This is when people need faith, sweet cheeks. You have to have the faith that it is going to be OK. You have to keep doing the things that make life meaningful. Just think, if this had never happened, you’d have been putting together a talk for the Rio Grande County museum to tell people about Swiss immigrants to the San Luis Valley and you would be reading from The Brothers Path and The Price. You’d be doing a timeline mural together with Louise. You’d have learned a lot of new things about the magical place where you live. Faith, Martha Ann, is DOING IT ANYWAY.”

“Denying the uncertainty?”

“Yep.”

Once again the lesson in life is “Do it anyway.”

Tired of the existential questing I asked Bear if she would like to go with me out to the Refuge after dinner. The light was beautiful, the wind was blowing, sure the day had been hot, but it seemed that evening’s angled light might redeem everything.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/15/rdp-monday-zilch/

Medicine

“Many are the stories in the naked city.” Same with the naked Big Empty. Today temperatures remained almost Bear comfortable meaning that The Big Empty was comfortable at midday, my favorite time to go out. At that time of day, my brain goes on walkabout, and all I can really do is physical stuff. It’s not the prettiest time of day or even the most interesting, but you know… I took Teddy as it was his turn.

I love nature for nine million reasons including my conviction that it loves me. “Come on,” it says. “You know you want to.”

Midday is a good time to watch raptors and the other birds at the Refuge are pretty active then, too. It’s not the time of day to see mammals. Coyotes and cougars are crepuscular (great word, isn’t it!) and Teddy pointed out a lot of carnivore scat today. Whose? Farm dogs? Coyote? No idea. It will be easier for me to tell when it’s dried out and the contents revealed.

Today I saw two hawks. The Harris Hawk flew low about 50 yards in front of us and when I caught up to the spot where his flight had passed the road I saw he’d dropped his lunch. My best guess is that he’d grabbed the mouse, taken flight and something came up behind him. It could have been one of the Red Tail hawks I see often.

Poor hawk…

Later, towards the end of the walk, just passing the marsh with the small walking loop around it, I heard a sudden commotion among the Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds who call it home. I looked over at the racket and saw the male Red-tail hawk was flying low over the marsh causing the blackbirds to send up the alarm.

At one point in our walk, Teddy (who’s only about 18 inches tall at his highest point) ducked. I saw a small black and white duck flying low over the trail in front of us where Teddy was walking. Cracked me up that Teddy literally DUCKED (c’mon, laugh, you know you want to). I don’t know what the duck was; possibly a Coot.

There were people out there today, too. An elderly couple sat at a picnic table then took off each in their own cars. As he passed Teddy and me, the man rolled down his window, “Isn’t this great?”

“Yeah. It’s not hot, it’s beautiful.”

“Right? And the goddamned wind isn’t blow 60 mph. Have fun!” He waved.

“Have a great day,” I said, still feeling that COVID-19/we’re all isolated tug at my heart (and eyes)

Early in the walk, I had noticed a strange looking plant that was hit by frost last night. What could it be? I saw more of them as I went along, and figured it out.

Mystery plant

Here’s the thing about nature. Even if you walk the same 1 1/2 or 2 miles on the same road every single day, and you THINK you see things you’ve seen before, you really haven’t seen anything before. I had never seen milkweed in its “baby” stage before, but I’ve “known” milkweed since I was a toddler. Now I can look forward to the beautiful flowers, the arrival of Monarch Butterflies and all that comes with this amazing plant.

The familiar things — Canada geese, for example — anchor you. They’re like old friends at a party full of strangers. Then you get more comfortable at the party, more curious about the strangers and you see more. I’ve only seen Northern Harrier hawks twice (to know it).

The yellow-headed blackbird is found all over the U.S. EXCEPT in the part of California where I lived so long and hiked so much. Wetlands? I’ve never spent time in this landscape.

The sky tells me we will get rain in a couple of days. Weather.com agrees with the sky.

Free to study Nature’s mysteries,
He breathes in the divine;
His spirit grounded in Truth,
Sure of himself, he casts off all restraint.
Wide sweep the winds of Heaven,
Grey loom the distant hills,
And with true strength is
Creation spread before him;
He beckons sun, moon and stars,
And washes his feet in the stream where rises the sun.

by Sikong Tu

Quotidian Update 91.2b.ii

Li Bai inspecting the bean field

Yesterday I spent the hottest part of the day overcoming a 4 foot square patch of dirt and grass. I’m proud to say that, for now, I’ve achieved mastery over the bean field. I hope next weekend to convey Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho to their residences.

There’s something satisfying about going at the ground with a pick axe, mainly that it works. It breaks the sod, it cuts deep enough for any plant and for the 2 x 4s I use for the borders. Another satisfying tool is the hand saw. I had an 8 foot 2 x 4 and when I had the field measured out all I had to do was lay the board on the ground and saw it.

One of the good things about gardening is you get to see something happen for the better which, in these times, is pretty cool.

Yesterday I got an email from Louise, the woman who runs the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte where I did a reading last December from As A Baby Duck Listens to Thunder. Our plan for June was another reading, this time from one of my Swiss books — The Price- and an exhibit of the Swiss immigrants to Rio Grande County, Colorado. There were many. I was going to put together a timeline/mural of Swiss events from the 16th century to the 18th when my family emigrated, and Louise, who runs the museum, was going to do the same thing for the people who’d settled here.

Louise’ family and that of her husband were among the original non-Hispanic settlers of the San Luis Valley and they both have incredible stories, the kind that, in the old days, you might sit around the fireplace and listen to into the wee hours.

Naturally, this is on hold indefinitely. We can’t meet to discuss it or share materials. I haven’t been able to think about it, but now I’m thinking that working on it now might be an act of faith.

As is gardening, when it comes to it. One of my favorite films (liked it better than the book 😦 ) is Milagro Beanfield War. It was filmed in the village of Truchas, New Mexico, about 1 hour south of me. It is really about a bean field. The other bean field that went through my mind as I broke the earth open with my trusty pick axe was Thoreau’s bean field, described in Walden.

Thoreau’s bean field was a few acres and he tilled it by hand. My bean field will hold three bean plants that will give me fruit I might not even eat. It’s really all about watching them grow and attract butterflies and hummingbirds, plus, the beans are growing from beans I grew myself. Thoreau writes of his bean field as I could write about standing out there in the Big Empty and maybe as any farmer could write about the San Luis Valley:

As I drew a still fresher soil about the rows with my hoe, I disturbed the ashes of unchronicled nations who in primeval years lived under these heavens, and their small implements of war and hunting were brought to the light of this modern day. They lay mingled with other natural stones, some of which bore the marks of having been burned by Indian fires, and some by the sun, and also bits of pottery and glass brought hither by the recent cultivators of the soil. When my hoe tinkled against the stones, that music echoed to the woods and the sky, and was an accompaniment to my labor which yielded an instant and immeasurable crop. It was no longer beans that I hoed, nor I that hoed beans…

The nighthawk circled overhead in the sunny afternoons…like a mote in the eye, or in heaven’s eye, falling from time to time with a swoop and a sound as if the heavens were rent, torn at last to very rags and tatters, and yet a seamless cope remained; small imps that fill the air and lay their eggs on the ground on bare sand or rocks on the tops of hills, where few have found them; graceful and slender like ripples caught up from the pond, as leaves are raised by the wind to float in the heavens; such kinship is in nature. The hawk is aerial brother of the wave which he sails over and surveys… When I paused to lean on my hoe, these sounds and sights I heard and saw anywhere in the row, a part of the inexhaustible entertainment which the country offers.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “The Bean Field”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/rdp-sunday-overcome/

Entitled and Exceptional

It’s a cool rainy day here in the Back of Beyond so Bear and I headed out early to the Big Empty. It was fantastic. Cold. Windy. Rainy. The next best thing to snow. The air was soft and humid. There were more birds than I’ve seen out there since the cranes left. Bear was so happy to be cold she actually wagged her tail and ran a bit which is a challenge for me but hey, I rose to the challenge (somewhat).

I stopped and watched swallows flying inches above an irrigation canal, catching insects. I noticed that there are now grebes in the pond with the geese and a wider variety of ducks. I even got a half-way decent shot of a yellow-headed black bird.

Paradisal, even to the wind blasting my head on the way back. A friendly couple Bear and I have welcomed several other times drove by in their old Subaru and we waved in COVID-19 style passionate recognition of mutual humanity, and then…

Two words I’ve heard for years and never fully understood — entitled and exceptional. Today I got it. Bear had jumped up in Bella and I’d fastened her leash to the carabiner that keeps her from jumping out and AWAY!!!! As I got into the driver’s seat, I saw an SUV pull in with a little U-Haul trailer behind it. A fat blond woman got out. She watched me and I got the impression she needed help. When I pulled around I stopped and said, “Are you OK?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I’m just going to let my dog run.” I saw a large dog in the back seat of her car.

I’m sure she saw my face change from helpful friendliness to something resembling, “No you fucking don’t you whore.”

“Just around here,” she said. “I’ve done it before.”

I thought to myself, “Martha, you have no authority here.” I just said, “You don’t want to get yelled at.” The rangers DO live there but they’re NEVER out.

I drove away thinking, “Sweet cheeks, there is a LARGE SIGN saying dogs are allowed but must be leashed. It asks us to clean up after our dogs. It’s very clear. That is because this is a WILDLIFE REFUGE. That means it’s a refuge for wildlife, all the birds all the animals the rabbits the snakes the deer, the coyotes, the elk, the foxes, and whatever else wants to live here. It is not a fucking dog park. There are dozens of places within a few miles of here where you could let your dog run and shit. You don’t have the RIGHT to do what you’re doing, and I KNOW (now that I know about you) that you don’t clean up after your dog. And, if anyone ever needed to put a leash on a dog and take a walk with it, it’s you.”

I am pretty unhappy. I keep my dogs leashed for good reason. Bear will roam and doesn’t take kindly to other dogs unless properly introduced. Teddy is young and excitable. I NEED places to walk with them where I won’t encounter unleashed dogs. Beyond my own (selfish) needs, the birds and animals need a refuge from us. Humans are so selfish with the world without understanding it, without understanding that they DON’T understand it.

Tale of a Tail-less Little Dog in the Big Empty

“She really doesn’t want to go, Martha?”

“Nope. I’m not going to spend time trying to catch her when I have another perfectly good dog who DOES want to go, right?”

“Yay! Yay! Yay! I’m going to sit here and you put my harness on, OK?”

“Good boy, Teddy.”

“Bye Bear! Bye Bear! Can’t we take her? She’s looking at us through the fence.”

“That’s her thing, Teddy. She has free will. She chose not to come.”

“Yay!!! Yay!!!”

“Up, puppy. You do that so good, Teddy.”

“I know, Martha. I’m the shit when it comes to getting in the car. Is that a good song, Martha?”

“Yeah, it’s a good song.”

“Why don’t you sing?”

“I can’t sing this one.” (Truth is, only Teddy thinks I can sing ANYTHING.)

We arrive, park, get out of Bella. I take my handy-dandy poop bag for my little guy just in case and we take off.

“Martha, there is all kinds of NEW POOP everywhere! Martha, my geese are out of control. Wait, there’s more! More geese!”

I look and there are goslings.

I need to take a real camera instead of subjecting you to this…

“Stop, Teddy,” I say and take a zoomed in photo of tiny birds. OH well.

We go on and then, suddenly, beside the trail…

“MARTHA! MARTHA! MARTHA!!!”

“No Teddy. You have to leave that alone. That little guy has enough enemies already.”

“What IS it? What is that miraculous beast? I WANT it!!!”

“Cottontail rabbit, Teddy.”

“Rabbit. Hmmmm.”

“Probably somewhere in your ancestral memory.”

“My WHAT?”

There are other signs of spring in the Big Empty now. The trees…

It is a hazy, windy day today with cool temperatures…

Look, more poop. And more. I’m going to taste this one.”

“Don’t eat that shit, Teddy.” I laugh to myself. Here in the Big Empty who’s going to laugh with me?”

“Martha, listen. There’s that sound you like.”

You can almost see the Meadowlark

“Hang on little dude. I’m going to try to take her picture.”

“Are you going to stop here?”

“Yeah. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see the osprey or the hawks again.” I sit down on a rock. In fact, this walk has been slow and painful. Various parts of my body hurt from wielding the pick-axe. I’m no spring chicken. But, you know, it’s just one foot in front of the other and there is NO race. I don’t mind at all because walking is better than NOT walking. Left, right, left, right, left right. No one is here. No one is judging me. Just this little guy who stops periodically to jump up on me for a hug. He thinks I’m great.

While I’m sitting on “my” rock, a pair of ravens flies over, surfing the wind. Teddy climbs up into my lap as much as he can. I think of the thousands of times I’ve sat on a rock somewhere in the turn around or half-way point of a hike and a beloved dog has sat beside me or laid its head on my lap while I watched birds. “What’s better than this?” I think from my “lofty” promontory of roughly 28 inches. “A great dog and ravens playing on the wind.”

On the way home (the walk back was easier and less painful than the way out which is why it’s better to walk) I hear a good old song that I LOVE and that I can sing. Nothing deep, no Rocky Mountain High or anything, but Teddy was happy, licked my hand (probably thought I was in pain) and snuggled beside me.