And Out in the Big Empty…

And then, after a pretty loop, we found ourselves in a bliss-ard I mean a blizzard. Very very very wonderful way to spend an hour. Tracks everywhere. Teddy pulls this way. Bear pulls that way. Awesome. Snow is the best because I can see what we’re hunting. And yes, I know that’s a ridiculously flattering photo. I may be selling autographed copies. I’ll let you know.


Yesterday Bear and I were out at the Refuge which is probably a huge surprise to all of you, but there you have it. It was a wonderful, silent walk except for a couple of jets flying over the fly-over area. The geese I saw a couple of days ago seem to have made their way further south at the end of the big storm that hit the Rocky Mountains a couple of days ago. There were no ducks. Just a couple of small brown birds brave and hardy in the rushes. White mountains in all directions, infinite visibility, and in all of this one hungry Harris Hawk skimming the ponds and the grasslands for a sleekit mouse, unsuspecting rabbit, chipmunk or pretty much anything. I watched him, savoring the silence and the beauty of his flight, sorry for him that it was so hard to find food, and thinking of the past month, “Well that was wonderful but I’m glad it’s over,” meaning all the social life I’ve experienced since November 20. The only “chore” (hardly a chore) remaining (so far) is a drawing of the little Episcopal church here in my town.

I felt a little strange last night thinking that the protagonist in my novel, Martin of Gfenn, ends his life with a walk in the fens. “Gfenn” is an archaic Middle German (Swiss) word for wetlands or swamp — fen. When his heart is troubled or he needs to get away from the community, he goes for a walk in the fens. Martin is basically walking in the fens near the leper community as often as he can and looking at the faraway alps as if they were “distant blue and white promises.” I don’t know any writer who doesn’t, in some way, write from his/her life. When I wrote the book, the only fens I had any acquaintance with were THOSE fens, and I believe in medieval times, they were much more “fennish.”

It would be really cool if there IS such a thing as a “collective unconsciousness” from which we draw knowledge we don’t know how we have, people we were in the past, ancestors etc. telling us stories from somewhere and here, in our own lives, we find those things and know they belong to us. I will always wonder HOW I got that story. The absolute insanity and urgency of events that led me there were really like a great hand taking me by the throat and saying, “It’s now or never, Sweet Cheeks.”

After Hamlet talked with his father’s ghost and learned of his uncle’s betrayal, his friend, Horatio, says the meeting is “wondrous strange.” Hamlet answers, “…therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Meanwhile, someone did get to eat out at the Refuge yesterday or night before last. I think a coyote or two managed to get a low-flying duck.

Feathers, matted grass, bloody bird breastbone.

A Good Time Was Had by All (even me!)

“But you can’t do that if you don’t stay for a while. A tourist never gets to know the people.”

“Wow. The Chinese seem like really nice people. It’s nothing like we hear on the news.”

“You’re a good story-teller, Martha.” (Wow…)

Nine people showed up to listen and I couldn’t have had a nicer more responsive or welcoming audience. The first two who showed up were my special guests, Perla and she brought a surprise, Nancy, a really nice woman I seldom get to see. She works two or three jobs. They came from Alamosa, 32 miles away. It was good they arrived early because I needed help setting up. Then two women I didn’t know arrived and they pitched in, too. For this event, Louise daughter and one of the members of the County Board made cookies. I brought my electric tea kettle and tea. I also had some Chinese “cookies.” They exclaimed over the dragon napkins and no one complained that there were no spoons, no sugar, but no one cared. I was charmed again by the reality of life here.

The lectern was almost as tall as I am, so I sat on a chair and spread my reading on a piano bench. We started on time and, like the teacher I once was, the “reading” was, yes, a reading, but almost equally a conversation. I have never spoken to such engaged listeners. Everything that was supposed to be funny, they found funny. The spots that made me cry made THEM cry. “Home on the Range” in particular. That told me clearly I’d done a good job conveying my love for China, its incredible distance from Colorado, and the inevitable moments of homesickness. I hadn’t obfuscated anything.

I read in two parts — Chinese New Year and then a break for tea and cookies (and questions and to talk to people) then Christmas. No one wanted it to end. That blew me away. One of the most fun parts was the part in my book where the title — As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder — is made clear. My audience learned the meaning of that phrase and how to say it in Hainanese. Ah-kyak-a-looie. I could use it through the reading and it was beautiful to see them smile in recognition. ❤

One thing I meant to take with me yesterday to the reading was my little statue of the story teller. I guess I didn’t need him, but I’d have liked his company.

Why would I take it? Well, I believe that people who tell stories are a chain of mutual inspiration throughout time. Lao She inspired me, he and his beautiful play, “Teahouse,” which is about (hold on) a tea house in the old days when people came to hear stories and drink tea. Lao She haunted the teahouses of his Beijing neighborhood as a child and dreamed of growing up to be a story-teller himself. Here is the beginning of the play, as Lao She sets the scene:

SCENE: Large teahouses like this are no longer to be seen, but a few decades ago every district in Beijing had at least one, where in addition to tea, simple snacks and meals were served. Every day bird fanciers, after strolling about with their caged orioles and thrushes, would come in to rest awhile, enjoy a pot of tea, and compare the singing abilities of their birds.

Go-betweens (marriage arrangers) and those who had deals to discuss also frequented such teahouses. In those days there were always friends about to calm things down. The two sides would crowd around these mediators who would reason first with one side then the other; then they would all drink tea and down bowls of noodles with minced pork (a specialty of the large teahouses – cheap and quickly prepared), hostility transformed to hospitality. In sum, the teahouse was an important institution of those times, a place where people came to transact business, or simply to while away the time.

In the teahouses one could hear the most absurd stories, such as how in a certain place a huge spider had turned into a demon and was then struck by lightning. One could also come in contact with the strangest views; for example, that foreign troops could be prevented from landing by building a Great Wall along the sea coast. Here one might also hear about the latest tune composed by some Beijing Opera star, or the best way to prepare opium. In the teahouses one might also see rare art objects newly acquired by some patron – a jade fan pendant, recently unearthed, or a three-colour glazed snuff bottle.

Yes, the teahouse was indeed an important place; it could even be reckoned a kind of cultural centre. We are about to see just such a teahouse. Just inside the main entrance is the counter and a cookstove – to make things simpler, the stove can be dispensed with if the clatter of pots and pans is heard off stage. The room should be large and high-ceilinged, with both oblong tables and square ones, and traditional teahouse benches and stools. Through the window an inner courtyard can be seen with more benches and stools under a high awning. In the teahouse and under the awning there are hooks for hanging bird cages. Pasted up everywhere are notices: “Don’t discuss state affairs.”

Lao-She, “Teahouse”

For an hour, as I took those nine people on a time machine to China, there were no “state affairs,” or disputes, or politics, or Covid. It was just The Old Mother and “Home on the Range.” Lao She understood the magic and power of a story told by a human being to other human beings. I didn’t, fully, until yesterday. I’m not an “aural” person, but most people are, more than I am, anyway. It was a lesson for me if I do this again, not to underestimate myself but to continue doing the thing I believe my life and my art deserve and that is my service to them.

It was a beautiful experience and I appreciate all of your encouragement as I’ve contended with, you know, public speaking…

Here’s a beautiful piece of music. Jean Michel Jarre was in China when I was. I’d already enjoyed his music. I don’t remember when I bought this — or how. An LP? A cassette tape? A CD? But it is — for me — very evocative. There are films on Youtube of his concerts and travels at that time.

A Blessed Squall, a Happy Dog, and China

Crimson is the definitely the word of the day, for me anyway. Crimson is a Chinese color and a lot of it has been loaded into my car already. Even the Home on the Range boombox is red. The BIG READING is today and I still haven’t made it all the way through — aloud — the passages I’ll be reading from As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder. I found that to make the reading work I had to take some of the chapters and work them so they would fit together as a reading of the appropriate length. Having a time limit and two stories is a lesson in compression. The weird thing about being a writer is you will always find that you could have written every single sentence better. The weird thing about THAT is that until you’ve written — and learned what you will learn about writing from having written — you couldn’t have done that.

As a visual person, I’d like to share photos, but I don’t want to lug a monitor and all that stuff to the museum, so I’m recycling the poster I made two years ago.

Crimson is a Chinese color and a lot of it has been loaded into my car already. Even the Home on the Range boombox is red. But will I be? The question — as always — is what to wear. The Chinese jacket? It’s really fucking cold today. -20c/+5F There’s never any way of knowing WHEN winter will hit here in the Back of Beyond, and I took a chance.

Winter… Yesterday afternoon I got one of those feelings that I should get out to the Refuge RIGHT NOW. I got Bear, we got in Bella, we headed out driving toward a wall of grey cloud. Oh yeah. “Oh Bear!” I said, knowing that we might get lucky out there. The moment we arrived, it started to snow. The Refuge was under a squall. I took Bear on her favorite trail, a little trail we haven’t been able to take since last winter. She was so happy and it was so cold. A person needs to get in shape for cold, I know that. Until you’ve been out in it a few times it’s not that much fun, but OK. I have a good jacket. The wind blew in my face, Bear checked out all the scents, I watched the sky, the squall passed. The Canada geese — blown south by the storm — had found the front pond which is still open water. I was happy to see them. The sky changed rapidly, beautifully. Maybe it’s enough to say, “a good time was had by all.”

I hope I can write that tomorrow of the reading this afternoon and added photos from the events I’ll be reading this afternoon.

December! (“Don’t Be a Naughty Eskimo”)

Warning! All photos in this post (except the forecast) are from 2018/19! It’s dry as a bone here with daytime temperatures in the high 50s low 60s (12c/15c)!!! Yikes!!! The mountains around me are mostly bare of snow. The local ski area is open on weekends with man made snow. They are doing snow dances all the time, I think.

December is upon us and all of the things that brings along with it, in my case a houseguest! Yay! I’m glad that this weekend there is nothing in the forecast but warm temps and sunshine. The pass will be clear for her to drive.

And then December’s social events followed by the blessed, gorgeous hoar-frost-trees cold of January and maybe maybe maybe maybe…. Snow. That beautiful all-too-elusive substance is alleged to be in our forecast for the end of next week, but Bear and I are not holding our breath. Still, December is supposed to be a magical month.

As with most things in life, time will tell. I remember as a kid I didn’t understand what the grownups were saying, but now that’s right up there with the truest words I’ve ever heard.

Here is Bear meditating on the wonder of the groomed Langlauf trail at the golf course. To her left, groomed for walkers and dogs. In front of her, groomed for skiers. But people ski on all of it and hardly anyone walks so… 24 inches packed and long-lasting. If I get this again I will not miss a day. I still need — my skis still need — new bindings.

The seasons here are pretty distinct. In the years I’ve lived here — with a couple of outrageous exceptions — winter hasn’t started for real until after the solstice.

Rio Grande frozen and snow covered, 2019

Maybe I’ll go paint snow… Maybe the dances aren’t enough.

Trip to the Vet

Yesterday I took Teddy to the vet for his customary shots. I had a few strange experiences. One, I have asthma and, in fall, it tends to kick off around 4:30 in the afternoon. Teddy’s appointment was 4:45 right at the golden hour. As soon as I walked into the clinic I had a coughing attack. I said, “I’m not sick. I have asthma. I’ll put my mask on so I don’t scare anyone.”

Debbie, the office manager, whom I’ve known since I moved here, who had hip surgery when I did, who did PT at the same time and place, said, “No, Martha, don’t. That will make it even harder for you to breathe.”

A nice older lady from Texas (they moved here in numbers last year) with a little Dachsund/Chihuahua shaking on her lap said, “No, honey. Don’t do that. You need to breathe. It’s OK. I used to have asthma but thankfully, it went away as I got older.”

“Mine hit me when I was 60,” I said, breathing, finally, wishing I had my inhaler.

I sat down with Teddy, who just wanted to go see everyone, and waited. My turn came, and I was ushered into a little room by a young woman. The vet — Kayla — a young woman who bought the practice a couple years ago — came in and checked over Teddy. “He’s perfect,” she said. “Perfect weight, perfect teeth, everything.” They joked about his determined drive to kiss everyone, “He’d French me if I let him.” One tall girl caught Teddy in her arms as he leaped off the examining table. “He’d go home with you!” said the vet.

“OK,” I said. “There are a lot of dogs out there who’d like to live with me.”

“Really? You’d let him go?” asked the vet.

“No. I think my other dog would miss him a lot. My other dog is an Akbash.”

“Right!” said the vet. “You’re the lady with the Akbash. We don’t seem many of those.” So we talked about Bear. The assistants in the room had never heard of that breed. Anyway, they’ll see her when she goes in for her shots.

When we were finished, we went back to the lobby. There was my favorite vet, Dr. Crawford, the one who took care of Teddy’s leg this past March after Teddy lost in a fight with the glass in my front door, the one who has put down my dogs. After he did the surgery on Teddy’s foot, he came out to explain what he’d done, he cradled Teddy in his arms like a baby. When he saw Teddy, instead of crouching down for Teddy to run to him, he just said, “No, buddy, no happy right now.” Later I saw why.

I took Teddy out to the car, so I could pay the bill in peace and I saw, in the dog pee area, a beautiful, young red merle Aussie and her people. The Aussie was vomiting into a bag. “Shit,” I thought hoping it wasn’t the worst but knowing if it were Parvo, Dr. Crawford would be able to help as well as anyone could. It didn’t seem all that likely as the Aussie wasn’t a puppy, but parvo doesn’t just hit puppies.

When I came back in to pay, the Aussie and its people followed, thinking the Aussie couldn’t vomit more, but she did. When the dog stopped, they put it on the scales. “She’s a little overweight,” said her person. I heard this in the corner of my ear as I paid my bill, words of irrelevancy as a flag of hope.

The vet came in from outside where he’d been looking for the Aussie. He’d come in to fill a syringe and had gone out another door, expecting to see the dog in the dog pee area. He looked intently at me. He sees hundreds of people and their sick and dying animals, and I know from my own experience that sick dogs make him very very sad. He met me at 10 pm one night on the off chance that Bear had bloat. SHE had been vomiting. “I have to charge you for an emergency, Martha.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s OK. I love this dog.”

“She’s pretty special,” he’d answered, Bear was leaning against him and he was scratching her ears.

Yesterday, as we passed, he reached for my shoulder as he hurried to the Aussie.

Driving to the vet, I’d seen the moon hovering just above Mt. Blanca. When I left, there was an amazing sunset. I sent up some good thoughts for that poor dog and her people, but I don’t think they could be in better hands.

A Family As Large As the Universe; Living the Metaphor

Although it seems unlikely — if not impossible — that I would ever be busy or need to work out a social calendar it does happen sometimes… The concatenation of events drove me to City Market in Alamosa yesterday to get my groceries several days earlier than my “usual.”

On my way I passed one of the big companies (big in space used; I have no idea about their investments, etc.) with several large silos. They are painted with political signs giving an indication of the long-held political beliefs of the owner of the company. There is “Bush/Cheney,” “McCain/Palin,” “Romney/Ryan,” silence, then yesterday “Let’s Go Brandon!” which is (cowardly) code now used by the supernally cool for “Fuck Joe Biden.” It’s a long not very interesting story about how THAT happened, but now we have it. I see the juvenile uncool snickering behind their hands hoping, hoping, hoping, hoping that FINALLY the cool kids will let them into their group.

For a moment, seeing the sign, I was a little irked. “That really doesn’t make you cool,” I say mentally to the guy who owns the business. “You just think it does. Cool would be understanding that there’s something more to life than that media-driven bullshit.” Grrrrr….

Then, smart driver that I am, I looked out the windshield (advisable to anyone driving 65 mph (100 kmh). And there was the immense wonder of the San Luis Valley spread in front of me, Sangre de Cristos dark gray/blue below a blue sky, winter-fields and horses, bales of hay, in the distance, the sand dunes. “Good God,” I thought. “Who cares??? Fuck Let’s Go Brandon.” Those star-spangled people don’t fully appreciate the transience of flags.

At the store, Destinee — one of my favorite grocery delivery people — came out with my stuff. I haven’t seen her in a while. I jump out of my Jeep, Bella. Over this past year or so, Destinee and I have talked about — and joked around about — pretty much everything and touched on a few NOT funny subjects, like her dog and her mom who has not been doing well. We share how we’re glad to see each other and how have you been and then I say, “How’s your mom?”

“I’m so proud of her,” says Destinee, “She got covid and then after that, she decided to go to a sober living center.”

I got a lump in my throat. “I’m so happy for you. Maybe you’ll get your mom back.”

“I gotta’ be patient, that’s all I can do.”

“I lost my brother to booze, so anyone who tries to get sober is my hero. I’d hug you if it weren’t for viruses…”

Destinee looks me square in the eye and we share THAT knowledge.

“Air hugs!” She exclaims and we wrap our arms around the blessed air of the San Luis Valley. “Thanks for being so good to me,” she says.”

“You’re good to me, Destinee.” Then I think of what I said in a larger sense and it’s totally true. Destiny has been good to me. But I also wondered, who would NOT be good to Destinee? Should I tell you she’s African/American? The Valley doesn’t care about details like that. It doesn’t even SEE details like that. I don’t either. Maybe there are people around here who DON’T get it?

On the return? “Let’s Go (pray for) Brandon” on a sign outside a church. A CHURCH? Oh yeah, what was that about separating church and state? How arcane is that? As I drive I think, “These people exist to maintain their clique and piss people off.”

The sainted San Luis Valley whispers, “None of this matters AT ALL. Humans come, humans go, so do mammoths, giant sloths, an inland sea, even whole mountain ranges — a whole bunch of things.”

I think once more how much I love this place and WHY. I’m living smack-dab in the middle of the BIG PICTURE.

I stop at the the post office to mail the fardles to my cousin’s daughter. I don’t have a mask. “Don’t worry about it,” says the young masked man behind the plexiglas shield behind the counter. “I had covid. It was nothing.”

“OK,” I say, “Anyway, I’m vaccinated up the whazoo.” We laugh. A very weathered Hispanic farmer, missing many teeth, wearing his thin white hair in a ponytail, jeans, boots, faded work shirt, comes in wearing a Trump 2020 hat, beaten and faded. My brain starts clicking off all the reasons a guy like him should wear a different hat but then the Valley whispers, “Martha, I’m going to feed everyone who works for it. I don’t care about hats. Remember that.”

“Hi,” I say to him. He’s waiting behind me, not six feet away by the marked spot on the floor, but two feet, the normal social distance for his culture, something I actually like. His semi-toothless smile is glorious. “Hi,” he says his eyes sparkling.

“Do you understand?” says my valley.

“I get it,” I answer.

Once I got everything done at home, Bear and I went for a beautiful windy walk under the air-brushed sky. This huge place is a neighborhood and, I think, sooner or later we at least SEE most of the people in it. Last Easter Sunday I was out there with Teddy and met some nice people who were sitting at the picnic table (there’s only one). I put Teddy in the car and went to meet them. “Happy Easter!” I said, (I always hear Faust when I say that but whatever) “My dog’s not dog friendly,” I explained, and shrugged.

“Ours either,” they answered. They had a sweet-looking mutt, German shepherd/Pittie/cattledog looking little guy with golden eyes. We had a long conversation about cranes, the festival, and how the guy built the table — the man actually BUILT that table when he saw the one that was there was broken down, splintery, a general mess. We talked about how much we love the Refuge and chatted about all the people who’ve lived in this valley over the eons. I learned where they live, they learned where I live.

Yesterday, as Bear and I drove in, I saw them at the picnic table again. The dog was there. He’s a farm dog and he rides in the back of the pickup — tied down, but still in the back of the truck. I knew that it was likely that sometime during our walk, I was going to have to find a way to get Bear out of sight of the dog, but who knows? Maybe not. Bear and I had a wonderful, meandering walk of smells (for Bear) and clouds (for me). On our way back, when I was about 20 yards from Bella, I saw their truck headed my way, and I started walking fast judging the time I had to get Bear into my car before they passed. I was afraid their dog would dive off the truck when Bear saw him and went apeshit (which she would). But… they saw me, and stopped a good distance away and waited for me to get Bear into the car and the door shut. Then they drove past and waved.

“See where you live?” asked the Valley. “Do you get it YET???

“Yes,” I said, tears in my eyes. “I get it.”

But the Valley wasn’t so sure. I went out to get my mail and found a note from the old man who wrote me months ago wanting to order notecards. He’s the cousin of the man whose acrylics I inherited a couple of months ago. He’s from the San Luis Valley — his great-grandparents were pioneers here — but now he lives in the Pacific Northwest where his kids are. He’s homesick for the Valley, but he’s 91, and it’s not that easy for him to pack up and go somewhere. Last week, Louise, who runs the museum where I’ll be hanging some paintings and reading from my China book, sent out the museum newsletter which advertises my reading. Here’s my mail:

“Do you get it NOW????”

Sweet Morning, Quotidian Update 71.23.7.iii.c

Saturday morning I went to the Holiday Boutique, a very special event in Monte Vista with beautiful handmade things produced by talented people like my friend Elizabeth. The women who organize this lovely event decided in 2020 not to hold it because of Covid, no vaccinations, etc.

As I was walking toward the door, the woman waiting for people, gathering the invitations and crossing attendees off the list said, “You’re ALMOST in the sun.” I was on the sidewalk and the sun was about to hit it. It was a sweet, friendly, gentle joke because here the temperature difference between sun and shade can be several degrees and in winter? Even people like me who love the cold and snow, seek the sun. I laughed.

When I looked inside at all the beautiful things, so lovingly made and saved back from last year, some of them, here thoughtfully, attractively, carefully displayed, and I looked at my friend and the wonderful women who are responsible for this, I thought I was going to cry. My friend Elizabeth came out to greet me and she and the woman were prepared to hug me if I really did break down. I held it together. 🙂 I guess a lot of us just got through last year by putting a good face on things and acting as if the small things that add beauty to our lives weren’t all that important and now that they slowly return, we feel it intensely.

Everything in the Boutique is handmade. To be a participant you have to be chosen by the family that organized it long ago. You will find everything for the kitchen — save appliances and pots and pans. Hand embroidered, muslin dish towels like those I grew up with. Homemade jams and jellies, dish scrubbers that people in the San Luis Valley use and buy every year at this Boutique. Jackets, tote-bags, bags for groceries, water-bottle holders, Christmas ornaments, stuffed animals (Elizabeth makes wonderful bears, cats and more),on and on… I would need photos to show you everything and I didn’t take any. My friend is an extremely talented seamstress as well as beyond “handy” with knitting needles and a crochet hook. My “target” was a pair of socks Elizabeth had made with leftover scraps. I bought some Christmas presents and some peach butter. I hope that this wonderful thing continues into perpetuity.

When I got home, I put away my treasures and looked at Bear. The imperatives were absolutely clear. We headed out to the Refuge to enjoy the morning and I was rewarded by hundreds of Sandhill cranes calling, purring, flying overhead. That is the first time this fall I have experienced that — no idea why because I’ve been out a lot, but it’s the crane’s business, not mine. My business is simply to show up. Their business is to get south before the winter cold closes the waterways. If my business coincides with theirs? The best it can get.

When I got home from all my field trips I thought more about the woman’s sweet joke, “That’s a beautiful metaphor for this whole morning, boutique, friends, cranes, sunshine, sky, all of it.”

Maybe we ARE “almost in the sun.” ❤

P.S. Strangely, this song was going through my mind as I wrote this and just now, on “Breakfast with the Beatles,” (WXRT Chicago) the DJ is playing it. So there you go.

The Booster, Rambling, Confused Thoughts…

Yesterday I learned that the Mobile Covid Vaccine bus would be in my town. Colorado has invested in these as a vaccination outreach to remote rural areas. I had plans for this morning, and hoped to walk Bear this afternoon; it didn’t seem like a good day to get my shot, but…

When I took off for the store I saw the bus and a small cluster of old people gathered near a table. The table was familiar; the same set up as at the two vaccine “events” where I got my two shots. The difference was that with THOSE shots I stuck my arm out of the window of my car. This was different, a difference that didn’t hit me until much later, until just a few minutes ago. When you get your shot in your car, some nice person gives you a shot and you drive away, to wait in a parking lot to see if you stop breathing. When you go INTO something and wait around outside something for your turn, it’s a community.

The community was a group of elderly people. A sweet and friendly Hispanic woman with a walker talked to me as I approached. The morning was cold, my glasses fogged up, and between that and my mask I felt cut off from her, and I didn’t want to be. I liked her, I love that accent which has been an aspect of beautiful moments in ALL my life. Hearing it was comforting and warm. I wanted to return all of that, and it was impossible if I couldn’t at least make eye contact. I took off my glasses and hung them from the front of my fleece vest. She said, “The glasses fog up. It’s cold.”

I said, “The cold feels kind of good, a little of it, anyway.”

She said, “The wind won’t kill us.”

Good god, I thought. I live in a fucking poem. That’s the slogan of the San Luis Valley. The wind won’t kill us. ❤

Then it was time for me to fill out my paper work so I went to a bench to fill it out. I had my vaccine card, all was well.

A word about white people, a generalization based on a lifetime of observation and travel. We keep to ourselves. It seems that we are often little islands, and Hispanic people often are not. I’ve seen and felt this over and over throughout my life. The only two people in that group who sought contact with others were Hispanic women. One was a little woman in her 50s wearing Halloween leggings and an orange sweatshirt. The other was the old woman with the walker.

I realized all this later on today as I pondered the experience which, somehow, left me feeling depleted and very sad. I’ve lived in BOTH cultures most of my life and here, of all places, I am exiled to ONE. The ONLY friends I left behind in San Diego were from Mexico and we’re still in contact. We lived next door to each other in Descanso and over the course of the three years we lived in that proximity we became a kind of family. Most of the students I taught were from Mexico, beginning with my first student when I was a volunteer tutor. No one here speaks Spanish with me, and yesterday, when I was out with my next door neighbor, visiting the museum, she read some Spanish words from a display then asked me how to pronounce them. I spoke them, then apologized for pronouncing them right. Why would I do that? But I did. I said, “I’m sorry. I’ve just spoken Spanish since I was two.” What was there to apologize for? I heard my mom in my head putting me down once. “You’re no cowboy. You’re a Mexican.” (Cowboy = tough, hard-bitten, doesn’t show emotion; Mexican = soft, sensitive, emotional). Well it just so happens that my Mexican family in California IS cowboys so, mom? What would you make of THAT????

One isn’t better than the other, but there are distinct differences.

Once I had filled out my papers, I was sent to the bus. A kind black guy wearing a three piece black suit, white shirt and bow tie was there to help people up the stairs. He escorted me to the next person who checked my paper work then took me to the guy who would give me my shot. It was totally painless, but strange. Then he said, “Because of your reaction to aspirin (anaphylaxis) we want you to wait 30 minutes.”

“Do I have to?” I thought of my groceries waiting in Alamosa.

“The CDC says. It’s a good idea, even though you didn’t have a reaction to your other shots.”

“Cool. I’ll go to my car and listen to music.” Once I was outside, I was given a bottle of water.

I went to my car and finally got around to setting up my phone with my car, and I will never need to buy Sirius again.

The bus. It was beautiful. Perfectly designed for its purpose. Dark blue inside, softly lit, big seats installed for giving people shots and making them comfortable. Later, in my car, I noticed the signs on the back of the bus had been updated to display the latest CDC advice. There was an indefinable science fiction aspect to it, to the whole thing, to THIS whole thing.

There was ONE young person there for a shot, a young man whose job mandated the vaccine. He wasn’t wearing a mask (the rest of us were) and clearly wasn’t happy about having to get the jab. He was getting the J&J so he didn’t have to come back. It was strange to me that he could be open and visibly insensitive about this in our small group of elderly — some very elderly — some CLEARLY vulnerable — people. The kind people on that bus have been going all over the state doing this just to save peoples’ lives. I thought that young guy was a jerk.

The people on the bus will be spending the week here in the San Luis Valley going to some very small towns here in the IMMENSE Empty to do this work, one town so small it really only has a population on Sunday — so the bus is going there on Sunday to park near the church that is the oldest parish in Colorado in the town of Conejos which isn’t even incorporated and has a fixed population of 156 people. Another day it’s going to park at a church in Alamosa that’s having a memorial vigil for the families who’ve lost relatives to Covid-19.

Before I went this morning, I called my county’s Public Health, and they said, “We only have one nurse, and we’re focused on flu shots.” (I got mine last week.) “You can go here, here, or here.”

I felt sad that our County Health has only one nurse, but then I thought, “Where are they all?” and it hit me where they might be. The nurse who gave me my flu shot last week had been working in a Covid ward since last year. “I had to come home,” she said. “I was tired of the city and just plain tired. I have a place up in South Fork.” I understood her. Even though I’m restless, would like to travel, I also don’t want to go anywhere. It’s a bizarre paradox, one I’ve never felt before.

Here’s the bus, not parked in Monte Vista but in some other little town. One side is printed in English; the other in Spanish and the two sides do NOT say the same thing exactly, but each side speaks perfectly — and in a friendly “voice” — to the audience it’s addressed to. The Spanish side said something about hope and the future. Language and culture are inextricably related. I was given this sticker, “Ya tengo mi vacuna. Crea el futuro.” “I already have my vaccine. Create the future.” I have no idea what the English one says. 🙂

A Sweet, New Animal (but It’s a Bug)

The other day Bear and I took off for the Refuge (how many posts start this way?) it was a beautiful early fall day after rain in the night, meaning the air was soft, the clouds fluffy and and and and… I know there are places in the world where days like that happen a lot, but here they are rare. My view of Mt. Blanca was obscured by soft, fluffy clouds. The loveliest thing about our time that day was that everything was completely still. Very few cars on the road. No crane tourists. The only sound a fleeting breeze that came and went — came enough to make it comfortable, went enough to maintain the silence.

Last year, the first fall I walked out there, was unusual because of the snow we had in late summer. What I’m experiencing out there now makes me think this year is more normal. As we walked I found myself being boarded by tiny transparent creatures who looked like fairies. As many as six would be riding along on my leg or sleeve — and there were probably more I couldn’t see. I took a photo of one hoping to find out what she was when I got home.

After a little work, I discovered that she is a Mayfly. I learned a lot about them. I learned that they were around during the dinosaur time, that they spend most of their lives as eggs, babies and sub-adults, that as adults they have no mouths and don’t need them. The live long enough to mate. Interesting priorities, but apparently good for the survival of these delicate creatures. There’s no way to dispute that such a bizarre evolutionary “choice” makes it easy for them to focus during the very brief moments of their adult lives. Yes, there’s a useful metaphor there.

They are harmless (except, perhaps, for the metaphor) and, what’s more, their presence is a sign of good water quality. They can’t endure pollution of any kind. That speaks very well for the care given the wetlands in my world.

I began to regard them as truly wondrous little hitchhikers. I wouldn’t have seen any last year. This part of their life cycle would have been eliminated by the early snow and hard freezes.

I’ve never gotten to know a wet-land. My life has been spent in dry places, not swamps, so I’m learning something all the time.

Somewhere along the way, Bear stopped, sat, leaned against me, and pointed her nose south. The breeze stopped for a few minutes and I could hear an uproar of cranes in the distance, far out of my sight. Bear, of course, with her amazing dog senses, knew the cranes were there and what was happening with them. I stopped to watch and soon understood what was going on. The young bald eagle had been flying over the group of cranes hoping for an easy meal. That’s what caused the momentary crane-rage. He flew low over the emptiness as I watched. I can’t say I’m privy to the motives of raptors, but I sensed he was trying to save face, kind of, “I didn’t want any of you nasty cranes, anyway. I’m looking for a rabbit!”