Crane Festival-like

Though Monte Vista will not have a real, live Crane Festival this year, and has gone “virtual” for the event, the crane themselves are nonplussed. They are here in large numbers now, dancing and purring and calling out and just generally craning as only they can. Lots of crane tourists. I met my first nasty entitled white blond lady (grrrr) and she got under my skin for a moment. She waved her skinny, tanned, gold-braceleted hand out the window of her Lexus SUV and said, “Dogs are not allowed back here.” In fact, they are, leashed, as a big sign at the entry informs everyone (who reads signs). I was all, “grrrr, grrr, grrr,” until the cranes reminded me you don’t hang around for millions of years getting upset with know-it-all, ignorant women who tell you, incorrectly, that “dogs are not allowed here.” At least I had the sense not to respond. And when she passed us again, going the wrong way on that one way road (it’s a oneway loop) I just kept my peace, hoping she didn’t find out the hard way.

The rest of the crane tourists were normal. There were a couple groups of dog owners who gave me the chance to give Bear a learning moment. The people were all very friendly and excited to see the cranes.

One group was really nice people from Pagosa Springs who’d brought champagne for the occasion and were nuts about Bear.

I love crane stories. One of the women told me of an experience she’d had a few years ago, saying, ”And then they ALL flew up at once, and flew over me! When does that happen?”

“Sunset or sunrise, or when a predator is over head, an eagle or something.”


“Yeah, eagles prey on cranes.”

What a lovely afternoon.

Aldo Leopold wrote in his exquisite A Sand County Almanac: “Our appreciation for the crane grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills. When we hear his call, we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”

Here’s a phone picture of what I saw today. The crane tourists were VERY lucky to have the birds so close to the road. I’m taking my camera next time.

Hundreds of Sandhill cranes doing what cranes do.

A couple of links:

This one will take you to the Virtual Monte Vista Crane Festival and tell you how to sign up.

This one will take you to a very interesting article about cranes AND blue herons.

“Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death!!!”*

I’ve been looking longingly at the iPhone 12pro Max or whatever it’s called. It’s $1000+. And why? The camera… I mean here I am going out to the big wide animal world and taking photos with my phone of animals no one can see in the photos. Clearly I need a new phone!!!


I have two very nice digital cameras, one of which fits in a pocket. Because of this you will finally get to see what I see.

All in all a pretty good day. I saved myself a thousand bucks and had nice walk with my dog. Along with the waterbirds, we saw the Harris hawk and yes; the eagles are back. A golden eagle took flight from a refuge sign just as I turned a corner leaving the refuge. I watched as she flew and dived and hunted for about a mile as I drove slowly on the dirt road with my window down. 🙂

*Title of a Dead Kennedys album.

Pondering Cranes and the Animal/Human Relationship

The Sandhill cranes are still here. It’s amazing and wonderful. Teddy and I headed out yesterday and, for Teddy, the biggest excitement (except going with me) was flushing two ducks out of a ditch. He didn’t mean to, and I didn’t mean to, but those guys startle easily.

When we were at our turnaround point, the cranes, thousands of them, suddenly took to the air, calling loudly to each other and the world below. It was a spectacular show, but what interested me most was seeing whatever had set them in motion. I did, though not close enough to identify it exactly. A large hawk or eagle was flying low and fast away from the pond, having given up on what he must have thought would be an easy meal.

After watching five hours of nature documentaries (BTW this is NOT a good strategy for relaxation; stick to film versions of Jane Austen novels), I started thinking about the Romantic poets and the so-called “Romantic Era.” Is that where our attitude toward nature changed? There are writers who argue that it is, that until the early 19th century humans regarded the whole big mess of kill-or-be-killed reality as an adversary. I can’t accept that kind of blanket perspective about anything, but it’s probably true that before there were tunnels through mountains, mountains were less appealing, more obstacle than wonder.

The argument kind of hinges on how many early cultures ultimately began raising food on farms rather than gathering random seeds and chasing the woolly mammoth. Thinking about that, I began to see a small domestic farm as a refrigerator. “Grog, honey? Next time you go out, maybe you could bring back a live prairie rooster and hen? You were saying that there are hardly any prairie hens out there any more! I think we could just build a little enclosure and feed them and have the hens we want and their eggs, too!”

WHAT??? Are you impugning my hunting skills?”

“No no nothing like that, but you said it was getting harder and harder to find them.”

I’m sure it happened EXACTLY like that. Word for word.

In any case, no one has domesticated the Sandhill crane. They are hunted in various parts of the United States, but apparently are not easy prey. Ask any eagle.

“Though not quite as prehistoric as dinosaurs, sandhill cranes are thought to be the oldest living species on Earth, with fossilized specimens dating to 2.5 million years ago. Over those roughly 250,000 generations, the birds have gotten pretty wary. That’s why successful crane hunters have big spreads of hyperrealistic decoys, spend more time patterning birds than they do actually hunting them, and take care not to overhunt specific areas.Outdoor Life “Stealth and Decoy Tips”

Thinking about this led me to think about how many early people regarded their prey animals as gods. The plains’ Indians believed that a buffalo they were able to kill was giving itself to them.

That makes me think that we have always seen the beauty in the wild creatures around us, maybe even mores in the days when we lived together with them. And Sandhill cranes are VERY wary, though, on my last couple of forays out into their world, they have flown directly over me as if they finally got the message that I’m not going to kill them. I believe they are every bit as observant of me — more even — as I am of them.

World of Weavers

This part of the United States is famous for its Native American weavers though they are no longer touting their wares by setting up their looms beside the road — an image I remember vividly from my childhood when highways were two lanes and there was no fast-food or interstates. It was a very lovely thing to see, a Navajo woman dressed in velvet, sitting on a blanket, her loom in front of her, and baskets of spun wool beside her.

“What’s she doing, Mom?”

“Attracting tourists.”

My mom may have been a little cynical…

The first time I visited this region as an adult was on a “vacation” with the first ex in the early 70s. We stayed in Santa Fe and wandered through all the small towns we could reach in Northern New Mexico, Chimayo, Picuris, Española – all places within reach of car for me now. I loved them. They fascinated me and the music of their names and the mystery of their stories found a permanent place in my heart.

Everything now is fancier. The dust and mystery has naturally been replaced by websites and galleries. Native-American weaving isn’t something you find in the houses of people who live along what is now the I-25 corridor, it’s everywhere.

Here is a couple of videos — the first is Navajo weavers, the second is Tewa weavers. Weaving is a major art form among all these tribes. Their weaving is sometimes purely decorative but usually it contains motifs that have a meaning beyond decoration.

They may or may not use commercial yarn, but historically, the process of weaving a blanket began with taking the wool from the sheep, cleaning it, carding it and spinning it on a hand spindle. Spinning thread (yes) or yarn on a hand spindle? Yeah, I read about it as a kid learning about settling the frontier, but until I saw someone do it I didn’t realize that, historically, people have spent major parts of their lives with a hand spindle and a wad of wool. From that comes a blanket. Seriously. Think about that. Here’s the best video, but you have to watch it on Youtube, so copy and paste the link

“Logo,” “Motif,” or Mess of Paint?

Last winter? Winter before last? I started to do little water colors of the mountains nearest my town as I’d seen them on walks with Bear. They are Windy Mountain and Pintada Mountain. “Pintada” in the archaic Spanish of the Spanish explorers and the native Spanish speakers of the San Luis Valley means “painted.” ❤

They are the eastern-most range of the San Juan Mountains, the largest range in Colorado. “My” mountains very often catch the very last bit of moisture coming East from fronts that come our way from the Gulf of Mexico or California. They did that yesterday. Just an hour away, “our” ski area got 18 inches (more or less half a meter) of snow. Down here? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. I love watching them scrape snow from the clouds even when I really want the snow they’re STEALING from me and Bear.

After I’d painted them several times, their image seems to have moved into the space between my hand and eye. On the back of my paintings on board or panel, I do a “free-hand” painting of Windy and Pintada Mountains in acrylic. That’s my motif and why I named my Etsy store “Windy Peak Fine Arts.”

In the “Count Your Blessings” column, yesterday 45 “Tweeted” the closest thing I think we’re going to get to a concession speech and the money for the transition has been made available to the new president. C-19 vaccines are rolling out, including one that doesn’t need such intense refrigeration. The company that’s making it says it’s between 60 and 90% effective and it’s going to make it available to developing nations at $3 a “shot.” Our flu vaccine is 60% effective so, pretty impressive.


I’m one of the (rare?) people who doesn’t like white starches. Not a big fan of bread. Don’t see the point in rice. Potatoes? Nah. Pasta? Well, a little better but…

Still it’s fall and chilly, and I make good potato soup, so when I put in my order for groceries I specified, “Four red potatoes.”

This is the second largest potato producing region in the USA. I could see my valley thinking, “Four potatoes? What’s WRONG with you?” At the store, I was given a five pound bag. (1/4 kilo more or less) Damn. What am I going to do with that?

Wrapped around the top of the little bag was one of those plastic things and attached to it was a tag. I love the tag, so I’ll share it with you.

There is nothing less suspenseful than a potato, though they can create a lot of suspense for the farmer depending on what the weather is doing. I love watching them grow, I love their blossoms in the field, I love the festival in September in their honor, but EAT them?

So last evening I looked at the sack. “Damn. That’s a lot of potatoes.” I decided to make scalloped potatoes with cheese, what fancy people call Au Gratin. I happened to have a substantial chunk of Gruyere from Switzerland so, following my grandma’s “recipe” I took two potatoes and my little Japanese casserole dish and began to put the thing together. I smelled one of the potatoes after I cut into it just to have the experience of smelling the dirt of my own valley. Fresh potatoes carry some of the fragrance of the ground where they’ve been grown. I inhaled the fragrance of the San Luis Valley — my own garden — after a rain or in snow melt.

When the concoction was cooked, it was my dinner. It was really, really, good. Here’s the recipe which isn’t very precise. It’s my grandma’s recipe and I learned it from my mom.

1 medium red potato per/person.
Scald milk (more or less 1/2 cup/serving)
Slice potato in thin slices. 
Layer in buttered covered casserole (one potato/layer)put chunks of butter on top of each layer, like a tablespoon.
Sprinkle a scant tablespoon of flour over the layer of potatoes
Slice your favorite cheese over the flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Bake covered in a 350 degree oven until the potatoes are tender
Take off the lid, turn up the heat to 400 and let the top brown


The Easel

Yesterday I drove along the 18 miles of Road T in Saguache County Colorado. That was after some 20 miles on the US Highway 285 and before another 15 miles on paved Saguache County Road T. Saguache County is the first county north of my own, Rio Grande County. I was heading to the old mining town of Crestone — now arty-farty spiritual center — to buy my easel.

Nothing notable about the deal — except getting a $500 easel for $100 — but driving toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains takes my breath away. They resemble the Alps in the way they rise from the valley floor, rugged and young.

The easel is large and it was a struggle to get it into the house, but I did it. But then — as happens — I realized I had to move stuff out of my studio and THAT led to moving stuff out of my living room. It’s interesting how when you get a small piece of new furniture you might end up re-arranging everything and cleaning.

I don’t know yet if in this picture the gray will turn to blue…

I haven’t figured out everything about it yet — the main thing I still have to work out is adjusting the up/down of the tray on which the painting rests. I see how to do it, I just haven’t been able to do it! I’ll make it work for this big painting, but it won’t work for a smaller one but if I never manages that, a cool thing about this easel is it can go flat, like a table.

Now my little studio has three work “surfaces.” A dedicated drawing table, the table of all work, and an easel. Pretty up town, I’d say.

OK, this isn’t much of a video, but I thought, since I have this fancy new upgrade I should try it…


the set of observable characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment.

Back in 2017 I was privileged to find a bunch of mule deer friends. There was a buck and four or five does and one young deer. The buck was very fierce and stately and carried a large bush on his head. The does were very curious about Bear and me, and the buck was more wary. Over time — since I hiked at the same time every day — they got used to us and I would often see them hiding under the train cars at the golf course, and watched as they followed us to the end of our hike, about a mile to our turn around point and the gate. Sometimes we would just stand and watch each other. Then came a day when a doe wanted to get closer. I had to tell her that was a very bad plan.

Deer do NOT belong with people.

It was hunting season and they’d found good cover in a bramble of willows and beneath oil tanker cars on the rail road track.

Meanwhile, all over the San Luis Valley, hunters had adorned themselves in phenotypical clothing and were dressed as bushes. They were crawling through the willow brambles, stalking the deer, elk, whatever they had a license for. While I don’t have a problem with hunting (ungulate over-population is a legitimate problem out here) I knew that getting “my” deer too used to me would be the worst thing that could happen to them. I stopped visiting them. I still miss them and cherish the time we spent “together.”

My own phenotypical adjustment to living here has been slow and steady. The most recent manifestation is advertising on the Livestock Guardian Dog Facebook Page that I’m an artist and have a couple of Christmas card designs featuring livestock guardian dogs. This morning I got a commission. That NEVER would have happened if I hadn’t moved here, adopted and been inspired by Bear and the rest is history.

Of Cows and Cranes

This is my new friend. I don’t know her name, but she’s the most beautiful cow I’ve ever seen. She and her pals — several cows, a bull and a year-old calf — were hanging around in the shade behind the four trees at the refuge, behind the fence. It was Bear’s first close encounter of the Bovine kind, and she behaved perfectly.

“My” cow beginning to get curious, “Who’s that lady? What’s up with that big white dog?”

As I was communing with my new friend, two Sandhill Cranes flew over my left shoulder.

I’m not sure it gets better than that. Sure cleared away the clouds and cobwebs from last night’s presidential debate. I mean if the most beautiful cow in the world wants to follow you home (and she followed me along the fence as far as she could) life’s just pretty amazing.

True Fall Day in the Big Empty

This morning was maddening. Among other annoyances, my prescription service called and left a voicemail telling me to call back and giving me a Fort Knox like series of numbers with which to do that. Once I managed to get through this labyrinth of arbitrary numerals I reached a long pre-recorded message telling me the importance of taking my medications regularly and on time. I was furious! One thing we older people do not have is TIME. The morning wore on with one minor stupid problem after another. I finally looked at Teddy and said, “Let’s go.”

We sought refuge and found it.

The wind was brisk. The air was cool. The colors had changed in just a week. Aspen trees on the San Juans were already turning from gold to the gold/orange of aspen leaves about to fall. Song birds threw a chorus from the distant willows next to the pond. A couple of raptors tried their luck with starlings. The starlings won. I heard cranes in the distance. Teddy, wore his new and vastly improved harness.

He was so happy to be out that every few feet he turned around to tell me thank you, jumping up for hugs and dancing around my feet. Finally he accepted his good luck. He began his job of smelling everything that had passed on the road and spotting rabbits and chipmunks that were invisible to me

At our turnaround point I just stopped. The morning was completely silent. Country silent. It was magnificent. I don’t know how long I stood there, but long enough for the noise of our silly world to retreat and long enough for whatever disturbance I presented to disappear. Teddy alerted me to three Sandhill Cranes flyings low in front of us.

As we walked back toward Bella, I saw the image I want to paint on the big canvas a friend gave me years ago. It’s something I saw this past March, but passing the spot, I was reminded and I began to see the painting take shape in my mind’s eye.