Swiss in the San Luis Valley

This coming summer — on June 20, the Saturday closest to my grandmother Beall’s birthday — I’ll be reading from the trilogy. The trilogy’s official title is very long and cumbersome, but the titles I wanted were taken, so I titled it, Across the World on the Wings of the Wind. Long though it is, it’s very expressive of the three books together. They are Savior, The Brothers Path and The Price. You can learn about them on their website.

I expect to read from The Brothers Path and The Price. Savior is pretty far away from the experiences relevant to the people to whom I’ll be reading. The project is turning out to be part of a presentation and exhibit on Swiss immigrants in the San Luis Valley.

Switzerland might be a small, land-locked country, but Madame Helvetica’s people really got around. In the 17th and 18th century many left — as my ancestors did — for religious reasons. Life in Switzerland was hard for many centuries, and in the 19th century, many, many left for better opportunities. The emigration from Switzerland continued well into the twentieth century. Most of the Swiss in the San Luis Valley arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Swiss ancestry is one of the most common in the United States.

Members of my family left illegally, with no passport or permission. There is a letter to them from the Canton of Zürich telling them they will be arrested if they return. I’ve enjoyed free coming and going for more than twenty years, so it seems the hatchet was buried some time back. I love Switzerland and wish, sometimes, that I was a boomerang, but…

I’m looking forward to the project and working with the Rio Grande County Museum and people in the valley I don’t know yet. One family — the Knoblauchs — are doing the Swiss thing; they have a dairy farm — the Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Goat Dairy — goats, cattle, yaks — and they make cheese.

Wheels of Cheese at the Knoblauch’s Lazy Ewe 2 Bar Ranch

I’ve visited their farm and really enjoyed it. My favorite animal was the yak.

Because of my best friend, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog, the Akbash, the livestock guardian dog, I’m very interested in how people protect their livestock from predation. The Knoblauchs use llamas to guard the stock in the day and Great Pyrenees guard the stock at night. They also have the sweetest pit bull on the planet.

Right now the project is at the GIANT amorphous size of a project, but soon, I hope, it will start to center on itself and we’ll know what it is.

As for me, I’m only 10% Swiss but that ancestry has had a disproportionate influence on me as a writer and maybe as a person. My Grandmother Beall (family names include Stober and Schneebeli) was an important person in my life even though she died when I was ten. I can’t explain it and have stopped trying. If I’ve been channeling her family all this time, it’s fine with me. I love them and their stories just as I love my aunts and am proud of my family’s adventures.

When my Aussie neighbor Elizabeth brings me jelly she has made, she brings it in a “boomerang” jar.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/02/16/rdp-sunday-boomerang/

Compensation

To make up for her disappointment in not getting any snow, I took Bear out to the Wildlife Refuge. The Sandhill Cranes are coming back. The BLM fills ponds for the cranes since the ancient aquifer they used to rely on (by used to I mean for hundreds of thousands of years) is now used for farming. So far they’ve only filled one pond and I don’t know where or which or???

It really didn’t matter to me. While it’s NOT true that if you’ve seen one crane you’ve seen them all, it IS true that if you’ve photographed several hundred you’ve photographed them all. After five Crane Festivals, Sandhill Cranes are now to me something special in a way that’s not related to novelty. They are simply magical. I love them.

Usually by now I’ve heard and seen hundreds, but not this year. I don’t know why, but I’m not their boss. So, having learned there are a bunch out in the refuge where there is some open water (a-HA) we went out.

I’ve always wanted to walk there but haven’t before today. There’s a four mile driving tour. Bear and I parked by the ranger station and hit the road. It was really nice to walk on a comfortable flat surface with no mud or lumpy icy snow or puddles of ice melt that can’t soak into the frozen ground. I noticed for the first time that there are several pretty side foot paths into the rabbitbrush to experience the NON-cranes — meadowlarks, for example. I could imagine Bear, Teddy and I walking there all summer, watching for rattlesnakes, of course.

Only one car passed by as we walked. I saw five cranes and heard hundreds. Most of all, I got to enjoy the incredible vistas that made me fall in love with the San Luis Valley back in 2014. Nothing clears the mind and heals the heart like an hour in The Big Empty. Bear loved the walk. Lots of elk droppings to smell, a few patches of snow to roll in, new places to leave messages. She was happy. I know this because on our way back she pressed against me as we walked and made sure her back or her head was under my hand.

Mt. Blanca and The Big Empty

Spring? No Bear, We Can't Stop It

Big storm coming over the San Juans. The wind blows from the Southwest and the sky above those mountains looks airbrushed. Teddy and I take a short jaunt out to the golf course as I have plans this afternoon. Someone else has been skiing, the skater, but the tracks are fading to grass in many places and if we don’t get more snow it’s going to be curtains for that little paradise. It’ll still be a good place to walk the dogs, but the block-away skiing will be over.

Happened last year, too.

The cranes are returning to the San Luis Valley though I don’t think there is much open water yet. It’s nearing peak time for them. Facebook told me this morning in my memories that three years ago Bear and I saw them — and their tracks — on a walk. The tracks are as big as my hand. I’ve seen a few cranes grazing in a field on my drives to Alamosa for provisions.

I love the Sandhill Cranes. Last spring, the final crane experience Bear and I had was out in the Big Empty. A huge flock was grazing out of our sight behind a farm house. I caught sight of a redtail hawk flying in that direction, flying pretty low. It wasn’t long before I heard the chaos and the cranes took flight, heading away from the hawk and away from me. Among the crane’s major predators are large raptors, golden and bald eagles, but a hawk can do some damage, too. I haven’t heard any yet but I think that will happen soon. My house is under one of their “routes.”

Sandhill Cranes hanging out…

Sunday Services for a Panentheist

Bear and I had a walk like we haven’t had in a while. There was so much to smell. The trail was a mess — snow, packed snow, ice, bare gravel, mud, whatever. We don’t care. I only wanted to go as far along the river and into the slough as I knew I wouldn’t be entering the great cattle litter box that is the Rio Grande Wildlife Area at the moment.

The views were amazing — I took pictures but…

It was truly the first magical hike since I hurt my foot in September. Bear felt it, too, which is the great thing about dogs and Bear in particular. She is capable of entering into my experience which is, I guess, an attribute of the livestock guardian dogs. They are bred to be “tuned in.”

The Rio Grande is still mostly frozen, but a channel in the middle is flowing and breaking up the ice. That was very cool to hear. The sound made me think of Into the Wild. I thought of Chris McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) and came up with the McCandless Rule of Survival: park your bus on the side of the river from which you came and where you remember there having been a store and a gas station.

A magic hike is my version of a religious experience. Lots of things can interfere with that — lately it’s been apprehension over the foot. Now I know the limitations of that foot and also that I can ignore most of the twinges.

THE moment came when I heard a few geese take flight over the river in a spot where the bank was too high for me to see them. I thought of climbing up the hill then thought, “No, this is perfect, this is ideal. They don’t need me to see them. And, for me, hearing them is enough.” So bear and I watched the bank where we couldn’t see the geese. We tracked their flight — there might have been anywhere from 2 to 4 geese — through their calls and it was lovely. Then the little prayer wafted into my heart directly through my eyes as it does. “I love you so much,” I said, softly to the world, to the light, to the trees, the uneven snow, the geese, the moment, the pure blue sky, the moment. Bear leaned against me, wrapping herself so I am standing in a shallow curve made by her body.

“Thank you for bringing me to this river,” I said softly to the sky. “Thank you for understanding my fucked up knees, and thank you for showing me this world which has been completely new to me.” Bear continued leaning and I pet her ears. “Thank you for bringing me this dog who doesn’t need to hurry and who is such amazing company.” I also thank whatever it is for all the huskies and all the trails we ran. I am again in the timeless embrace of “god.” It’s been a while.

I don’t know how to explain it, but in the gesture of loving me Bear shares my love for everything. I am 100% sure she — as much as a dog needs to pray — prays my prayer with me. We do love it so much.

All the human BS of the last few days retreated into the vast chasm in which it belongs. I have returned to the timeless transience of light, land, water, rock and beast. Thank whatever. ❤

The Aesthetics of a Slough

It’s a cold morning in the back-of-beyond, thank goodness. Bear chews her rawhide, Teddy waits for coffee. I think of my little walk with Bear yesterday at the slough and what I saw.

I thought of how this particular slough trail is now very familiar. I know where to look to see the river. Since the first year I walked there, two things have happened. I became more accurately oriented to my world and the river moved last year during the floods.

The first year I walked there I didn’t notice that the river is RIGHT BY THE FUCKING PARKING LOT. I didn’t have to yell that but every time I think of it I want to slap myself for being so blind. It’s about 20 feet down a shallow slope and, that first year, there were bushes. No more. Last year’s floods took care of them.

The first year I walked I noticed the mountains. The first walk I walked I turned around halfway because I did not want the trail to be a loop. I enjoyed it so much I wanted it to be much longer than it is. But, you know and I know that the trail is a trail and wishes aren’t horses.

When it comes to mountain aesthetics, my favorites are looking at mountains from a distance and being above the trees. What that means is that my flat valley — where views are seldom obscured by trees — is perfect. From our little hike yesterday I could see the shifting sunlight on the three snowy “peaks” of the nearest San Juans as a storm deliberated its level of involvement. One of the “peaks” is such a gentle thing that you can walk right up it as if it were (and it is) an immense hill. They are among my favorite things to paint.

I have my formerly degenerating hip to thank for what I see now. When it was heading south (and after it was repaired) I was lucky to walk a mile on uneven ground AT ALL. But, of course, I did. My beautiful friend, Bear, was a young dog. I would walk a few hundred yards, feel pain, stop and look at the mountains or the river. Beauty is a powerful analgesic. Bear learned to walk that way. In her mind we were stopping because I smelled something and she would give the trail a sincere nose examination. She still thinks that’s what we’re doing (what else WOULD I be doing?) but she’s also learned that I stop for birds. Now, mostly, I stop for her.

The blue line shows my “speed.” The peaks are me going fast; the troughs are me looking off at the mountains or Bear captivated by a scent. The slowish regions are me looking at the sky for raptors or cranes. This isn’t totally accurate because often we were STOPPED.

It’s pretty close to exactly a mile on the Shriver/Wright walking loop. Yesterday the trail was a combination of frozen snow and clear gravel/dirt. Sometimes an easy, pleasant walking surface, sometimes lumpy and unresponsive.

Few people go out there in the winter. The wildlife has migrated down to the valley floor for winter. Tracks and scents rest undisturbed by humans and dog urine. The beasts are looking for open water, and can climb out on the ice to the narrow channel of free-flowing water in the Rio Grande which is slow and shallow in January.

It’s just a mile, but what a mile.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/30/ragtag-daily-prompt-thursday-aesthetics/

Walk in the Snow with Bear

It remains cold, below freezing, so the snow — though not freshly fallen — still powdery and perfect. I wanted to take the skis out again, but if a person can’t be fair to her dogs, what’s the point of her entire existence? (“Bear, stop putting words in my mouth!”)

Walking in snow a few inches above the ankle is a little difficult, especially when the snow doesn’t compress beneath your foot, but I was totally up to it. It was gloriously beautiful to be back out in the big empty, in the snow, with my big white dog (“I’ve waited a long time Martha!”), beneath the December sky that matches the blue and white of the mountains — the boundary between them marked by the jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristos reaching into the watercolor-soft blue and white cloudy sky.

Bear likes to lean against me when I’m having a “moment.” I think she knows what’s going on with me. I think she understands perfectly that when I stare off to the horizon that it’s similar to me stopping and waiting as long as she needs to get the entire gist of a message. Sometimes she pulls — her messages seem, often, to carry a sense of urgency (ha ha). This is the biggest challenge. I don’t want to be pulled off balance right now. The messages I get from the sky and the mountains are quiet, reassuring affirmations of my place in the universe.

Bear found hundreds of tracks to, uh, track. Mule deer, certainly, and moose (it seems) as well as a nice patch of fox urine to roll in. She stopped to leave behind a message for her friend the fox should he pass again. My and my friend’s ski tracks rested unmolested. We only walked a mile because my foot is still not 100% and since I want nothing more than to keep skiing, I’m not going to risk anything. And, it happens, skiing is easier than walking.

The scene, this day after the solstice, was right out of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Snowbound, a long meditative poem on winter and my grandfather used to read it to my mom and her sisters and brothers every Christmas. It’s very lovely, evoking all the nostalgia and love of Christmas time, yearning for the past, endless love for those who are now only memories for us, whose stories and lives we carry around in our own lives — for good or ill or both.

The ending of the poem is exactly what I felt today, looking out at the rough snowy line of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the barren trees, the short, December light, my precious Bear leaning against my legs, my feet buried in snow. I felt grateful (again) to be in the San Luis Valley. I thought of the amazing woman I met yesterday at a Christmas concert and the equally amazing woman with whom I went. I looked at my friend’s ski tracks and remembered how much fun we had two days ago. I felt gratitude — again — to all the influences of my life that magically brought me where I am supposed to be.

The traveller owns the grateful sense 
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence, 
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare 
The benediction of the air.

If you’d like to read the whole poem, here it is. Snowbound: A Winter Idyll by John Greenleaf Whittier

This Divisiveness Isn't Fair

I’ve had a couple of intense political moments in the last few days. The first was the reading at the Rio Grande County Museum, the second at Safeway, one of the community meeting places in this small town.

Because my reading was pitched to and for veterans, there were three in attendance. I don’t know that book readings are usually a thing men get all jazzed about, but those three men were there and attentive. Two wore hats that proclaimed their veteran status, the branch in which they belonged and the war they were involved in.

Otherwise here, in a definite “flyover” area, you can bet that most voters will be conservative — and they are. The next county — Alamosa — tends to blue or purple. My county is staunchly red. My understanding of the people in my county is that they are old-time Republicans, but they continue voting Republican out of custom or because, generally speaking, locally, the old time style of Republican is still here. They’re not all Fox News fans, either. Some of them I know best are avid viewers of PBS. They are throwbacks to another time and another political philosophy.

My friend Lois tends to be liberal in her political views, more than I am. But we both despise Donald Trump and the Republicans in power who persecuted Obama with the birther BS and who stymie any good legislation coming out of the now Democrat controlled House. We think a lot of things are just palpably, objectively wrong — caging kids at the border of Mexico, for one; taking food stamps away from hungry people, for another. The list is pretty long. My bet is that many of the Republicans around me feel the same way.

Politics is kept under cover here for a couple of reasons. One is the old-fashioned belief that a person has a right to his/her free vote and opinions. You don’t ask anyone how they voted and you don’t judge them based on that. But, primarily because it’s a harsh place to live and we need each other. We know we don’t agree with everyone, but what’s the point of aggression because, when the chips are down, we might need help getting plowed out of our alley or a turkey for our family for Thanksgiving or a coach for a junior soccer team? When everything is said and done, whatever happens in Washington, we’re stuck with each other and we know it.

The intensity came when my friend Lois wrote about the experience of being in the company of all these kind, interested, aware people, one in particular, a man who happens to be a county commissioner. He was very affected by what I read somehow and I think it shook him up — I don’t know how or why.

My friend wrote this last night after she returned home.

I placed the first ornament on the tree this afternoon as Bette Midler sings the Christmas version of “From A Distance” in the background. Michael has cranked up the volume and sings along with all his heart. His voice cracks with emotion when the chorus comes around.

“God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance
From a distance you look like my friend
Even though we are at war
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fightings for”

My eyes tear up as he sings and I gaze at my new favorite ornament. This little painting was created by the loving hand of my Monte Vista sister. To me, it embodies the spirit of the San Luis Valley which is one of my favorite little pieces of Heaven.

This past weekend I met a handful of folks that came to listen to Martha’s book reading at the Del Norte Museum. They heard about the event from the local radio and newspaper. I enjoyed listening to the conversation after the event and the quickness in which a camaraderie was established. As the last cowboy (rancher/city councilman/preacher) was leaving, I bade him a hardy “Happy Holidays.”

He looked at me with an odd expression for a long second before turning to go. I wondered if he was disappointed that I didn’t say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” After all, he shook my hand at least three times in the course of the afternoon. Hadn’t we just engaged in lively conversation extolling the virtues of the valley and the people it contained?

It wasn’t until later in the evening in a conversation about political divides did it occur to me how both that cowboy and I might have misconstrued our parting. I was concerned that he thought my use of the word “holiday” was somehow a subtle attack on Christmas. Perhaps it was confusing to see me in my gingerbread Christmas sweater and Santa earrings not using the correct greeting to indicate I was on the “right team.”

Or it is just as likely that he wasn’t quite sure which exit to use to get to his car. His pause and odd expression might have had nothing to with me. Perhaps it was my own bias that lead to an erroneous conclusion. 

Politics be damned and all those talking heads that would keep us perpetually angry at those with differing opinions. I have to think that hanging a wreath on a barbed-wire fence under the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains is something we could share regardless of our differences real or imagined. 

From a distance God is watching us. And I still don’t understand what all this fighting’s for. Just go hang a wreath where it is needed most. Put a bit of peanut butter and seed in the pinecones for the birds and some grain in the boughs for the deer. Let peace on Earth begin with me.

I responded that I didn’t think he thought anything at all about her saying “Happy Holidays.” People say that in the San Luis Valley all the time. I felt something in the afternoon had shaken him somehow, but I don’t know what.

But it made me think of how the news media and the words coming out of the fat orange man are designed to pit “us” against “them.” I don’t know — and have never encountered, even in California, anyone who was upset or offended hearing “Merry Christmas,” but Offal would have us think that gentle greeting is under assault by the “PC Liberals.” There have been times my Merry Christmas was met by “Happy Hanuka.” I just feel loved when that happens. Lois’ point about the “talking heads” keeping us “perpetually angry at those with differing opinions” is well taken. If we allow them to affect us that way, we’re the fools.

And then…

Today I was at Safeway and I saw an old man in a wheelchair. I thought I recognized him. He was looking hard at me, too. Finally, as I was leaving, I went to him and said, “Richard, is that you?”

He smiled his radiant smile. Richard Gottlieb (god’s love) is a WW II Veteran who fought in WW II in Italy. That’s not all he is. He was an Eagle Scout leader on a national scale, a hiker, mountaineer, volunteer at the Sand Dunes, his stories are fascinating and varied. When the war was over and he got liberty, his commanding officer said, “Go see Italy,” and gave him some money (as I recall the story). Richard, probably inspired by The Merchant of Venice, went to see the synagogue in Venice. That was the Italy he wanted to know.

The second time I met Richard — about a year after I moved here — he embarrassed me by saying, at dinner, “What a beautiful young woman.” I reminded him of that today. “It’s true,” he said. “You just have to look in the mirror.”

He told me he had recently lost his best friend to cancer. “I thought I’d go first,” he said. “The big C. He was young, only in his early 70s.” I expressed my sympathy, remembering how my own grandma stopped caring much about life when none of her old friends were around anymore.

We chatted about health. He said, “You’re getting around well,” remembering, I guess, when I wasn’t which would have been when we last met.

“I got a new hip last year,” I said. “That makes two. I’m amazed I don’t clank when I walk around.”

He laughed. He might be 94 but he’s very very sharp. “Hard for you at the airport.”

“Yeah, I tell them, they pull me out of line and embarrass me in front God and everyone.”

“Dividing us. That’s what they’re trying to do, set us against each other. Martha, that’s not what I fought for. It makes me so sad.”

Reading at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte

Part of my mindset is still in the complicated crowded California world where it takes a long time to get anywhere and a long time to do anything. It’s OK with me if I NEVER fully get that I’m not there because it gives me the chance to be beautifully surprised, as I was yesterday.

Njal

The plan yesterday was to drive to South Fork where I was going to meet up with a woman who was buying three tiny paintings. There was a large art and craft show in the Rio Grande Club — a fancy country club along the Rio Grande in the semi-resort town of South Fork. “Semi” because people live in South Fork, but “resort” because there is an enormous subdivision of large and beautiful houses that are occupied mostly in summer.

I saw people I know, and they said things like, “I heard you on the radio!” I was flustered by that, hit again by the fact that we just don’t know that much about where we are a lot of the time. We live in a little tunnel of our immediate concerns, our habits and what’s right in front of our faces. It’s necessary that we live that way, and surprising when we learn that somehow WE were in someone else’s immediate concerns and right before someone else’s eyes. I knew the interviews would be broadcast, but I was chiefly concerned with showing up and doing a decent job. I didn’t think of people listening ON PURPOSE.

The craft show was lovely, and very large, filling all the banquet rooms upstairs in the country club. Lois shopped successfully for Christmas and I found my customer.

Mr. Haefeli

I had a conversation with a young guy who is the scion of one of the San Luis Valley families that has been in the bee-keeping honey making business for generations. I learned that they had come originally from the German speaking part of Switzerland and in Switzerland they also kept bees. I asked where in Switzerland they had come from, but he didn’t know. I revealed my “Schneebeli” ancestry and told him my name means “Little Snow Ball.”

Over the course of the day I met three people who’s ancestors came from the German speaking part of Switzerland and all of them had stories like that of the Schneebelis.

From there we headed back down the mountain to Del Norte for lunch and then to the museum. I wanted to get there early to help set up.

Well…

I got there and Louise great-grandson had gotten a haircut. He’d also burned his tongue testing the coffee. He told me he’d tested the coffee to be sure it wasn’t poisoned before giving it to Louise. I was charmed.

We set out a few chairs, maybe seven or eight. I didn’t expect people — just my friends and Louise and Rita who work at the museum. BUT…

People kept coming. Pretty soon there were (I think) fifteen people there. The youngest was Louise’ great-grandson who’s maybe 10; the oldest were well into their eighties. Most were retired people like me. We kept putting out chairs. Then I introduced the reading but I did a poor job. I forgot to give the title of the book OH WELL.

The reading went very very well. I could see interest and sympathy spread across the faces of the people in my audience. It was a wonderful, magical, thing to see. The reading had been publicized as being a Pearl Harbor Day remembrance, focused on the Chinese I met who spoke American English and who had worked with the American military at the end of WW II. The stories are really incredible and so unknown that they are interesting.

Afterward, I sold three books, gave out many business cards and talked to the people who’d come to listen, two of which revealed Swiss ancestry. Mennonites back in the day, just like my grandma’s family. This makes me think maybe I should give a reading about the Swiss Protestant Reformation since it’s the reason so many of us are here.

Again I realized how much fun it is to share my words with living, breathing people who are in front of me. I read a small piece from Martin of Gfenn and it so touched one of the women who came listen — a beautiful Hispanic grandma there with her sister — that she came up to tell me in passionate, elegant prose the story of Lazarus and Dives. “Can I get your books at the library?” she asked.

“In Alamosa. Monte Vista won’t stock them. I don’t know about your library here in Del Norte.”

“Why not?”

“They’re self-published.”

“What difference does that make? Your books are good, and I want to read them,” she said.

“Alamosa is serious about local authors,” I said, and shrugged. I would have handed her a copy of Martin of Gfenn right then and there if people hadn’t been around and I wasn’t generally there to give books away, but I actually LIKE giving books away so… She introduced herself to me and her name means “Star of the Mountains.”

BUT…. As wonderful as all of this was, the high point was Louise’ great-grandson looking at me and saying, “I really liked your story.”

~~~

Featured photo: Rabbit brush flats between Del Norte and Monte Vista, CO, 3:30 pm December 7, 2019, winter light. Taken by Lois Maxwell

Another Radio Spot

I just got back from the big city of Alamosa. I went to the KRZA radio station to do an interview about the China book and what I plan to read/talk about this coming Saturday. It was another interesting interview, and it was cool to meet the program director, Mike Clifford, who did this interview and the earlier one.

If you want to listen in, it will air tomorrow, December 4, at 8 am MST and again at 7:30 PM MST. I got to talk a little bit about Switzerland and Martin of Gfenn.

You can stream it here, https://www.krza.org by scrolling down to the KRZA Live Stream button and then clicking on the play arrow on the next page that opens.

War Memorial in the Back of Beyond

Cold in the back of beyond — single digits but still above 0 F ( +4 F/-15 C), and I didn’t need to let the dogs out at 5 (they weren’t even awake) but I did which means leaving the back door open a little. OH well. It’s cold in the house, but if I’m either surprised or upset, I’m an idiot. You might say, “No, you’re an idiot for leaving the door open,” and I wouldn’t dispute that.

Yesterday I took the little paintings to the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte. Incredibly beautiful windy ground-blizzardy day, jewel clear and dazzling. The display turned out to be a couple of lilac branches stuck into some modeling clay. It’s kind of cute, but somewhat unstable.

Trying out the display at home…

The little paintings have their own table in a room that is otherwise reserved for the Rio Grande County Veterans’ stories. Louise Colville, the museum director, has not only put hours of work, but hours of heart into it. On a counter are notebooks that hold the stories of the veterans of all the wars up to (and including) the current fracas. Each veteran has all the pages he/she needs to tell their story. “I had to stop for a while,” she told me yesterday, “it was just too sad.” Many of the pages include photos of grave markers and the obituaries of those who were killed in action.

Now think of this. ALL of WW II has two, slender, three ring binders. WW I has one. There is a Civil War Veteran. The binders are not full to over flowing. Each typed page is placed into a plastic leaf so people can read the stories easily without wrecking the paper. There is so much information in the way the notebooks have been assembled, clearly illustrating how few people have lived here and how precious each person is. This is a database that can’t be Googled. If a kid wanted to research WW II Veterans of Rio Grande County, he or she could find excellent first person sources, but they would have to go to the museum. There are small museums like this one all over America, treasuries of local history, labors of love that are unknown for the most part.

On the wall are some photos — most from Vietnam, naturally, as photos before then might have fallen by the way if they even existed. It was pretty intense. “The only thing that kept my father out of WW II,” said Louise, “was that he was the only son of a farmer.” Her comment made me think about some woman in Denver who, on a Facebook post back in 2016, asked “What’s so damned important about farmers?” I guess they knew the answer to that back in WW II.

As is always the case in the San Luis Valley, we shared stories and opinions. And, small political statement, I’m 100% sure we did not vote the same way in the last major election but I am also 100% sure we agree on most things. I felt again the immense distance between the government in Washington and a tiny county museum in the back of beyond.

The museum is a haven for the objects of the lives of the people who have lived here pretty much since the beginning.

“The earliest settlers here came with the Spanish conquistadors. Their descendants are here in the valley,” Louise tells me, her voice filled with wonderment. I share her wonderment. That bit of history is one of the things that attracted me here in the first place.

An exhibit of clothing at the Rio Grande County Museum