A Walk and a Gift

The afternoon clouded over, the wind came up and Bear let me catch her. For a little while we escaped the noisy summer traffic on the 160 and headed out to the Big Empty where the only traffic this time of year is birds and bugs. The wind was blowing a storm into the valley so neither birds nor bugs were clogging the immense skies.

Both dogs behave differently when they are each alone with me. Teddy stops every 20 feet or so for a hug. Bear, on our return, walks close beside me with my hand on her back. Here she’s leaning against me while I take this picture. I love walking with her.

I saw a Red Head duck for the first time. His little head bobbed like an old time police car light above the pond’s choppy waters. Most exciting of all, of course, was the dramatic motion of the front as it tried to figure out where it really wanted to go. Some place in the San Luis Valley got rain, but not us. Still, the clouds are trying to figure it out, and lightning is complication of summer storms since it starts fires.

Finally we had to go home (rats!). As we neared the parking lot (I parked near the entrance in case it started thundering and lightning I could make a quick escape) I looked down and saw I had been left a present. I picked it up and studied it, pretty sure I knew what it was. As we walked the remaining few yards, the wind would try to pick up the feather and it would try to fly; it is that amazingly designed for flight. I wasn’t letting go.

At first I thought it was a left wing feather from a bald eagle, but turns out it’s a feather from the left wing of a Harris Hawk. The tip is a little worn which makes me think it’s been off the bird for a while.

The underside of the feather

Walking in the Hood

After a couple of days of being more-or-less yard and house bound (except for an interesting but not fun jaunt to the hospital for a test) I had to GET OUT OF HERE and so did my Bear. To my total surprise, about 8 last evening the sky clouded over a bit, the wind died down, the trees stopped looking like they were on the verge of toppling. I grabbed my Bear by the collar, I closed the back door, I put the leash on my big white dog and we went out the front door before Teddy figured out what was going on.

Before Covid, come a summer evening (beautiful archaic structure there <3) we always walked down the alley to the street then down to the high school and around the pretty campus and back. It was no great adventure but my dogs loved it more than any other walk because of all the messages left by their invisible (but extant) friends. It has been more than a year since we took that walk. The last time was last May, I think, and it wasn’t great. Too many loose dogs. Last night I took a gamble.

The neighbors on the alley who’d let their dogs run loose have built a fence, but we didn’t go that way; we went down a street, turn toward the high school and there we were. Bear was happy and I was happy and we were OUTSIDE and the wind wasn’t blowing like a MOFO. The flowering crab and apple trees are blooming and in its own tired way (tired from wind) civilized nature looked OK, as if it — like my dog and me — was holding its own. I plan to take Teddy this evening, and, in conditional good gnus, the wind is predicted to give us a break tomorrow. Valley natives say they’ve never seen this weather pattern before. I hope they are just forgetful.

Bear did everything she hasn’t been asked to do in a long time — she stopped at corners, she did her obedience routine (we haven’t practiced that in 3 years!), she happily did “go slow” when I asked her to. I got the distinct feeling that she has missed our summer routine. There was one melancholy moment when we passed the house where the kids lived. Bear paused and turned to look at the house. I think she understood when I said, “They moved away Bear.”

Those beams of light are no longer there. The “eyes” of the house (windows) were dark, no toys in the yard, no chaos, just a funky little empty house. We both miss the kids. The featured photo is from 2020 when Teddy and I were on a walk. The kids had each gotten a “dog” of their own. ❤ I don’t know why we’re not all wearing masks, but maybe because we didn’t expect to meet up with anyone and were outside.

Maundy Thursday

As a Panentheist who was raised with the Bible and writes novels centered on religion and is not anti-Christian (or any other faith) it’s impossible for me to ignore the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. For me the big day is the day Jesus told God he’d really rather stay on Earth than go through everything he knew was ahead of him. Except for the early-morning betrayal by Judas, it’s kind of a non-event. Guy goes to garden with his friends. Friends are soporific from a big dinner and wine and promptly go to sleep in spite of Jesus asking someone, for the love of God, to stay awake with him (for reasons he knew and we all found out later). OH well.

It’s not cool to know your fate. It’s a question that was debated a lot in my house because my dad KNEW his fate, roughly how long he had to live and what would kill him. Not cool. Better to be surprised especially if you KNOW there’s a crucifixion ahead of you. THAT makes this world all the more beautiful — even in my dad’s case one of the last things he wanted was to see Pikes Peak (we lived in Colorado Springs) one more time.

So every year I celebrate this day of the Earth’s beauty by walking my dogs. Out at the Refuge, I was happy to find that the wind has died down in general (though we are still under a Red Flag Warning). We were able to get out early enough to beat the wind entirely. It was absolutely quiet out there except for the songs and sounds of birds. I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks hunt and, later on, an osprey flew over and in front of me. The songs of red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks serenaded us along our way. The cinnamon teals — beautiful red ducks with a teal band on their wings — were swimming peacefully. The geese were chill, literally, on some ice left over from the very cold night we had. No people. “The cranes have left. There’s nothing to see.” I’m honestly glad they think so.

By Request… Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a truly unique place though, it’s true, it’s no Yellowstone. What there is to see there, is, well, limited to what there is to see but, as with the San Luis Valley as a whole, it’s understated and captivating. I’ve taken a lot of photos most of which I can’t find this morning. My first jaunt out there with my neighbors back in 2016.

The water phenomenon you see in the featured photo is the snow melt creek — Medano Creek — that turns the Sand Dunes into a beach in spring. If you just landed here and didn’t look around, seeing the families with coolers, beach umbrellas and boogie boards you’d think “WTF? Where AM I?”

Another interesting phenomenon I discovered on my first visit is that it’s impossible to take a focused photo of the dunes themselves. Huh? Why? Because the sand is ALWAYS moving.

They are about 50 miles from Monte Vista, across potato fields.

The formation of the dunes is a fascinating story you can learn about here. Humans have been hanging around there for thousands of years, not all with coolers and boogie boards, but Clovis Points and flaking tools have been discovered and are displayed in the beautiful visitor’s center. The Sand Dunes is also an internationally designated Dark Sky Area.

The photos below reflect several visits out to the Dunes. One thing I want to do and haven’t done is visit them when they are covered in snow.

Palm Sunday at the Church of the Big Empty

Akbash dogs are stubborn AND they know what they think is right, and Bear did not think it was right for me to take her out for a walk without Teddy, so she wouldn’t let me catch her. It got incredibly frustrating. I went to the garage and opened the back door of Bella and tried to fool Bear into letting me leash her. She wasn’t having it. Finally I opened the kitchen door. Teddy, who was in the house, ran out, raced down the walk into the garage, and jumped up into his seat in the car. Bear didn’t know he was in the car, ready to go, and STILL refused to be leashed. 

“I’m ready Martha!”

“I know, Teddy, but I have to catch Bear. Besides, I didn’t want to take you.”

“Really?” There’s NO way he would believe that.

“Never mind little guy.”

Finally I got Teddy and went into the house. Before long, Bear was inside. I grabbed her collar, leashed her, and took them both for a very very very very windy Palm Sunday Service at the Church of the Big Empty. It was a wonderful “service” even with the wind gusting at 40 mph. I watched an osprey and a Harris hawk hunt, saw some cinnamon teal take advantage of a lull in the wind to fly from the ditch to the pond and there were NO other people. 

And then… 

“Isn’t this all-right, Martha?” “It” said. “It” is my notion of God.
“Huh?”
“This. Isn’t it enough. Do you really need to travel far and wide? You’ll just come home to this. Think about it. It took your whole life for you to get here.” There was no arguing that.

I turned and looked at Mt. Blanca through the pastel haze of the dusty air. 

“I brought you here,” It said again. “Isn’t this enough?”

My eyes filled with tears. It’s so much more than “enough.” I said “Thank you” and continued my uphill push on the flat road with the two parishioners who also find it to be “enough.” 

As I walked I pondered the journey that I thought I wanted to take and the financial and physical challenges it would present. Greece. Then I thought, “You have everything they left behind for you. You have even had the privilege to teach it.” And I thought about that and said “Thank you,” again. 

So, that’s it. ❤

P.S. The photo is my very strange garage. The “leak” you see was repaired a long time ago, but I saw no point in taking the particle board down and discovering what else I should probably do. Also, Bear loves Teddy. When we come in from a walk, she stands back and lets him drink first. Sometimes she will go alone on a walk with me, but usually, she wants Teddy to come along. It’s very difficult to win an argument with an Akbash dog without a lasso — and the ability to use it. I have neither.

To Garden or Not To Garden?

The question of gardening here in the fertile postage stamp territory of my yard remains. Not sure this year. Usually by now I’ve got seeds in seed starters and Scarlet Emperor Beans (SEB) are at least a couple of inches high. It was always too early. That’s what I figured out last year when the SEBs needed to be staked long before it was warm enough to put them outside. The seeds I planted directly in the ground after the late, heavy frost killed a couple of the precocious SEBs grew just as well as those I’d started in the house. And then there are these things called “greenhouses” which some people own but which more often belong to nurseries. The way I understand it they get that stuff going LONG before I would. All this early planting is meant to out wit the short growing season.

And then there’s the question of water… Driving through the backroads (most roads) on the west side of the San Luis Valley when my friends were here this past weekend, I saw how desperately dry the San Luis Valley is. I felt guilty hooking up my new hose to water my bulb plants, but I did water them and the daffodils are beginning to bloom.

This is a “non-problem” for someone like me, but it’s a big problem for the farmers. My town LOVES green lawns and I live on the “show” street, the main drag (definitely a drag in summer with all the RVs from Texas). I’ve even gotten warnings from the city about cutting the weeds in the hell strip by the road (???) which is city property that I’m supposed to water (on my dime!). I don’t like that, either. People throw stuff from their cars and I am tasked with cleaning up after them. Again, all “non-problems” in the grand scheme, but I guess we all have to bitch about something!

Cranes to Calves

Friends are visiting from Colorado Springs so late yesterday afternoon we went to see if any cranes remained at the Refuge. They are — as I imagined they would be — on their way to points north, and the geese, ducks and coots have the world to themselves along with the blackbirds, meadowlarks, ravens, eagles, and hawks. Wild animals are great but there is a lot to be said for domestic animals, especially, this time of year, babies. There were calves everywhere. Some were brand new, not even on their feet yet. In one pasture there was a lively kindergarten of calves “gamboling” (yeah, use that word a LOT) until someone’s mother came and gave Lois a dirty look. We were parked beside them and Lois made a little video which, unfortunately, I can’t share. But these were a couple of the perps…


In equine news, there was a very beautiful draft horse in a pasture where there had not been one before. He was black, white feathers, white socks, white face and white belly. I think he was a Gypsy horse.

The light has changed from winter to spring with a big cloud bird in charge of everything, apparently.

Photos by Lois Maxwell. I was driving.

I love it. I’m sure the cows didn’t have to wear tassels or do sexy dances in order to get these little beings. My mental image of a cow dancing with tassels on her udders is pretty funny, though.

Erin Go Bragh!

For a long time I was Irish, so Irish that people in Irish pubs in San Diego — Irish people — would ask me, “When were you last home?” in their lilting brogue. They didn’t mean Descanso, where I lived, a small town 50 miles to the east of San Diego, in the mountains. They meant the Emerald Isle.

Me ma and da were tellin’ me from birth that I’m Irish, and I suffered through the obligatory corned beef and cabbage for many years. The only time I was ever pinched for not wearing green was at a supermarket in LA when I was attending fresco school. I was so wrapped up in school, I had forgotten what day it was. “You look Irish enough,” said the woman who pinched me, “where’s your green?”

Well, thanks to Ancestry DNA I’ve since learned that I’m not so Irish after all — a smidgeon — but (gotta go check those dilithium crystals) I’m a feckin’ Scot. The fact of the matter is me paternal great-grandah’ was a pure Irishman, and then, dontcha’ know, it started being watered down by all and sundry, OK, just some and sundry, but as I understand DNA if you’re a female much of what you can learn about your DNA comes from yer’ ma’s side, and that is born out by what Ancestry is telling me. Luckily (or irrelevantly) I pretty much know where my family came from with a few bits here and there lost in the mists of time. And the term “Scotti” was the name given the Gaels by the Romans — Irish and Scots alike.


Lots of Europeans wonder why Americans are so fascinated by their ancestry. I can’t answer that other than to say that if you’re German, you probably KNOW it. EVERY human on this continent — even the “natives” — came from somewhere else. It’s just an intriguing mystery. Not very important to me, but kind of cool to learn about.

All this to say I’m wearing my green underwear today. It’s too cold for my green t-shirt.

Yesterday I took the dogs for a walk to see the day and the cranes — thousands of them flew above me. Easily fifty cars were making their way around the Refuge. It’s a big year for both cranes and tourists who come out mainly for the photo opportunities. How do I feel about that? Mixed, but generally positive and, anyway, my feelings are irrelevant. The dogs and I have our walk that is apart from all the action and since I’m not armed with a fancy camera, I am liberated to watch and, living here, I have the liberty to watch in slow motion. I’m not (overly) charged with carpeing the diem. I thought I’d share this photo story — I don’t like the guy’s captions much, but he and his long lens got a very cool — dramatic — narrative of the type I see often and cannot possibly report so vividly. Don’t miss this!

I spent a little time yesterday listening to an archeologist on Zoom talk about one of the caves that ring the ancient lake that is the San Luis Valley. Since I lose focus in lecture, I abandoned it, but not before I learned that there is no pottery (*cruse) until 2000 years ago. This is the interesting thing — how and why? No pottery, no bows and arrows until the upper layers — that’s 2000 years out of a 14,000 year history of human culture throughout the region. I wonder what caused the change. It is, apparently, pretty universal around the Americas. The little shard in my featured photo is Anasazi? Very likely.

A dear friend found it one day on a walk near her home in Arizona. She picked it up, put it in her pocket, and, at some point, stuck it to a post-it note and put it on my desk at San Diego State University. The post-it is still there. Her note has long faded, but the shard persists. I think that is a beautiful metaphor for the whole mystery surrounding the sudden appearance of pottery. The words explaining it are gone, but the pottery remains.

*cruse/kro͞oz/ noun ARCHAIC: an earthenware pot or jar.

Big Adventures in the Big Empty

Yesterday on the spur of the moment — as much as that is possible for 3 people living in different households — the ladies and I went out to see the cranes. The wind was blowing like a MOFO (but only in one direction). There are more cranes than I remember ever seeing. I felt a little like a tour guide since I’m out there a lot. Bear came along, of course. 🙂

After our walk we took a drive through the countryside. I wanted to show them what the Refuge people have done to adapt the Refuge to the Covid/post Covid way of seeing cranes. We went to see the two beautiful large parking lots at opposite ends of this immense stretch of Big Empty where people can park their cars and listen to a naturalist talk about the cranes. This is great, but… It’s very hard to talk over the March winds.

Once upon a time, school buses picked up people at the rodeo/fair grounds/building of all public purposes and took people out to see the birds. A naturalist spoke on the bus, and at various stops, everyone piled out at stopping points to see what there was to see. I personally prefer that, but Covid changed the way we do many things. What’s lost? Seriously, 50 people on a school bus jazzed about seeing cranes, prisoners for 15 minutes (in each direction) of an educated person giving good information about the birds, the ecosystem, the San Luis Valley and who might get a great idea about where to see something else. A word in the bus driver’s ear, and off that bus goes. It’s Miss Frizzle. It’s the Magic School Bus. Once the driver (one of the San Luis Valley’s extremely rare Black people) sang and he was amazing.

One of the places where we stopped yesterday is a pull out on the main road which was once a kind of “Why are we stopping here?” kind of place. But it has been “gussied” up and, in the words of Elizabeth, “isn’t this nice what they’ve done?” there are two beautiful new informative signs, a bench where people can sit to watch the cranes and a telescope, thoughtfully placed at kid-height which, since I’m as tall as your average 12 year old, is great. Because I didn’t take my camera out there, just my phone, I tried to use the telescope as a telephoto lens. It was kinda sorta effective. I would need to practice lining up the lenses.

I love the way people love the cranes. Seriously, it’s possible to get so down on humanity but then? A car barreling on the dirt road, too fast. My friends and I stop walking, and with exaggerated attention, look at a group of cranes the driver in the car wouldn’t have seen at that speed. The car slows and stops. The driver gets out. Bear greets her. The woman is a dog person and Bear recognizes that immediately. We chat and then hurry to catch up with our friends. The woman gets closer to the cranes than she will at any other place. Crane tourists are just not quite like the other kids.

I’m really sorry, Rag Tag Daily Prompt, but I can’t work “brindle” into this, though once upon a time I had a little brindle pit bull who climbed rocks with me. ❤

and THEN…

I’m in the middle of reading and evaluating books again, currently books that were submitted electronically. Several actual books on paper will be arriving today. One of the books I evaluated yesterday was an algebra textbook and, considering that Algebra 1 was where I had an intellectual meltdown in high school, my initial reaction was, “How the hell do I do this?” but the answer was clear. Work some problems and see how well the lessons work for the person that would be hardest to reach in the class. Sadly, I tend to solve problems in my head, so the laborious steps in this algebra book (and all the others on the planet) didn’t help me much. As a test, I worked one on paper and, of course, got the answer wrong. In my head I got it right once more proving to the world (comprising my house, Bear and Teddy and now you!) that not every learner learns the same way. Still and all, the book was OK and would work for its intended purpose, an online class done at home.

I remembered Mr. Moeckele, my 6th and 7th grade math teacher, introducing us to this stuff. I saw him — in my mind’s eye — writing frantically on the board and attempting to talk over his shoulder so he wouldn’t lose our attention. I wonder what he would do now? If he’s still around and teaching math, would he find this book useful? Anyway, in my weird little brain 4 still looks like y, 3 like B, g like 6, S like 5 and so on and so forth. At least today a kid like me might be diagnosed with a learning disability and learn some coping strategies and maybe teachers are less relentless about making kids write down every step.

Now for some boring stuff… I guess I’m finished with Physical Therapy I went for a month, and I haven’t heard that I have more sessions approved by my insurance. It’s OK with me. I think it was very useful, but along with the physical help I got was some psychological help (they probably didn’t know) regarding my actual goals. I pulled a groin muscle attempting a side lunge which is OK; it’s healing but I thought, “Do I want to be the goddess of side-lunges or do I want to spend this hour walking my dogs?” The answer is obvious. I have watched some videos that teach falling and I’m practicing falling forward on my bed — just like little kids do! It’s amazing what we do instinctively as children is actually practice for when we’re 70 years old and have arthritis! I’ve also decided that upper body strength is a lot more important than I ever believed in the past and that’s something I can work on easily and well at home. Thinking about the structure of our bodies, it occurred to me that our body kind of “hangs” from our shoulders and spine. Having had to forgo that kind of work after I hurt my shoulder and cracked my rib, I get its importance now AND (most important) I CAN do it.

I’m still corresponding with my elderly penpal in Washington. I sent him the little collection of blog posts I wrote in 2020 and published last year, Finding Refuge. It was just the right book for him which made me very happy. It’s no longer in publication, and Amazon has dropped the price on the 1 remaining volume to $10.25. Please somebody buy it! 😉 It has a lot of dogs and nature in it and reminiscences of the goodle days when we were more-or-less locked down in 2020. My penpal wrote, “I’ve loved all your books, but this one was extra special. I loved it. There were many highlights but what I appreciated most were your philosophy, comments about the outdoors, the San Luis Valley, and the feelings about what you and your dogs were doing.” I think my little book did its job; brightened a dull, rainy winter for him and momentarily lit the darkness of the current moment.

Which brings me to current events about which I have nothing meaningful to say. I deplore the behavior of “my” representative to the House last night at the State of the Union. She’s a piece of work. I hope so much there’s a primary in my state and she doesn’t make it, but I think she will make and has a good chance of winning. As for the war, it’s unspeakable. So many things happening around it — like the UN condemning it — I wonder how that matters materially? I’m intrigued and impressed by the ability of the world to electronically shut down an offending nation. And, most of all, like many of us, I’m lost in admiration for the courage of the Ukrainian people. All my life the future has been uncertain and the end always near (that’s an homage…) so this is just more of the same, though scarier in its way.

There will be a Crane Festival this year, though not quite like the old days (2019). My friend Lois and her developmentally disabled son will be coming down next weekend for the big doings. The cranes are here in pretty large numbers and Bear and I have had a few nice chats with Crane Tourists in our unofficial role as Crane Tourist Welcome Committee.

Please everyone, stay well, and I’ll leave you with this lovely verse from St. Columbanus that he used to encourage the monks who were rowing him from Iona to the European mainland,

Endure and keep yourselves for happy things;
You suffered worse, and these, too, God shall end —

St. Columbanus “the Rowing Song” 600 CE (more or less)