Existential Angst

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

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

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

“Whoa. That’s heavy.”

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

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

“No, babe.”

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

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

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

“Denying the uncertainty?”


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

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



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

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

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

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

Poor hawk…

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

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

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

“Yeah. It’s not hot, it’s beautiful.”

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

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

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

Mystery plant

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

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

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

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

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

by Sikong Tu

Quotidian Update 91.2b.ii

Li Bai inspecting the bean field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “The Bean Field”


Entitled and Exceptional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good boy, Teddy.”

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

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

“Yay!!! Yay!!!”

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

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

“Yeah, it’s a good song.”

“Why don’t you sing?”

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

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

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

I look and there are goslings.

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

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

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


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

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

“Cottontail rabbit, Teddy.”

“Rabbit. Hmmmm.”

“Probably somewhere in your ancestral memory.”

“My WHAT?”

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

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

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

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

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

You can almost see the Meadowlark

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

“Are you going to stop here?”

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

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

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


Life’s little pitfalls. I have learned to thaw my frozen fruit over night, pour protein powder on it in the morning, add the banana, add the yogurt (which I forgot this morning) smash it together with a fork, smash it further with the electric beater, add OJ and VOILÁ! A smoothie. But the thing about life is just as you cope well with one major adversity (ha ha) another one hits you.

Here I was yesterday afternoon, minding my own business (wondering what my own business was, actually), and I heard a huge crash outside. If you recall (since the events of my life are certainly topmost in your minds) I live on a major US highway. I thought it was just another semi pulling an empty cattle trailer but OH NO. Someone crashed into my mailbox, kept traveling, took part of the mailbox with them leaving behind some Kia body parts, and knocked over the no parking sign before heading off west, leaving behind part of my mailbox at the cop shop.

My neighbor knocked on my door. I went out to see this. We called the cops who came promptly, took our oral reports, looked at the scene, took off again. “We’ll find him. He left a trail of oil.”

OK this is just a big pain in the butt because, you know, mail.

A few years ago the snow plow knocked over my mailbox. I stuck it in the perma- drift made by the snow plows for the rest of the winter, then I bought a plastic one that had a sleeve that slipped over the post. The post cover is at the cop shop, covered with oil right now, but the box part is fine and sitting in my yard.

It would seem I don’t live in a mailbox safe zone

I called my post office. Here that means you get to talk to someone in the actual post office in my actual town. I was referred by Mark, who works at the counter, to the postmaster. She said they could hold my mail. I asked if they could deliver packages (some of which are heavy) and hold flat mail. She said no but that, since I’m home, I can just watch for the mailman. He was delivering mail on a nearby street when we were standing around staring at debris and calling the cops. My guess is that he already knows…

The police officer came back and got written reports from my neighbor and I. A bit later the city came by and cleaned things up. I asked if they would replace the mailbox post (which was city property) and they said they’d ask the boss.

Kia parts and a 12 inch remnant of what was once the steel post holding up the mailbox

I love living in a small town.

All this is Andy of Mayberry stuff, I know, but here’s the big deal.

My neighbor has a security camera. Last night she and her husband looked at the whole thing on their video. They saw that, just minutes before this all happened, another neighbor, who lives across the alley and down one from me, who is a friend, had pulled out of the alley and turned left onto my street, US Highway 160. That’s some serious guardian angel action. Without the tape, we would not have known — or have been relieved — by what DIDN’T happen.


The Frazzled Season

The world seems frazzled to me right now. I’m frazzled, too. The bright sun and heat give me migraines. I try to put a good face on it, but… The thing is, this is the season of….


A little voice yells…

Don’t Risk It!!!

This season will be followed in a few months by its correlate, a season I know as,


People will resolve not to plant so much next year. I’ll remember that I don’t really like zucchini (except curried) and how much of that can one little lady eat? When the tomatoes succumb to an early frost (after I’ve covered them numerous times before that event) I’ll sigh with relief. “That’s over.”

After that, things will slowly get good again.

Things being good….

I’m not one of those women who emerges from her back door the first sunny day in March and says, “I just can’t wait to get my hands in the dirt.” Yeah, people say that. Cool people. People I know.

My actual friends!!!!

From this year’s garden experience I’ve learned a few things. Bending down to plant stuff hurts my knees. Carrying 30 pound bags of landscaping bark is OK, but 50 pound bags of dirt is not. I do not enjoy this. Teddy follows my lead and digs anywhere I do. It appears the San Luis Valley is in another drought. It’s hard to tell when the place itself is a desert, but yeah. When spring grass crunches under your feet, it’s a sign. Yesterday I spent hours carefully setting the water. I have an automatic sprinkler system but 1) I don’t know how to turn it on and off seasonally and, 2) I can’t afford the water bill that ensues.

But the iris and peonies are budded out. The Forget-me-Nots are reminding me of their existence. The new leaves on the aspen trees are quaking and shimmering in the wind. The hills are softened and gentle in the evening light. Last evening when I headed out with Bear, a blue-bird called to me and I answered. It was a pleasant — if simple — conversation (my vocabulary is limited). You just have to take the bitter with the sweet, I guess.

The trailer below is from a REAL movie that is incredible funny. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Pumpkin Destiny

I have a couple of pumpkin plants. Not Aussie pumpkins, anonymous pumpkin plants my friend Elizabeth was given. The other day, while they were sunbathing, Teddy ate the leaves.

Where I live, pumpkins don’t have much chance for a full life, full in the sense of complete, not rich with experiences. We cannot safely plant anything outside until June 1 and we can have a heavy frost in early September. But, these guys are already on their way so maybe they’ll make it. They’ve already shown the indomitable spirit of pumpkins. In spite of having been maimed and, in one case, de-potted they stick their mangled solar collectors into the light as if no rapacious Australian shepherd had chomped them into tiny broken umbrellas.

Everywhere I’ve lived — until moving here to Heaven — it was illegal to plant a vegetable garden in the front yard of one’s house. I always wondered WHO enforced that law and WHY, but I suspect it was enforced by hostile neighbors and was related to the reality that veggies are often fertilized by manure which (to some people) stinks. Also, vegetable gardens are clearly functional and not necessarily aesthetic, but seriously. A plant is a plant and a plant that provides food should be a high-priority plant.

I remember reading articles about this, including one about a woman who had an amazing (and aesthetically beautiful) vegetable garden in her front yard. She resisted law enforcement which ultimately gave her no quarter and came with a little tractor and tore out her garden.

Taking the pumpkins out to the front yard (instead of the backyard and the avaricious maw of Teddy Bear T. Dog) for their daily sunbath yesterday I thought, “I wonder if there’s a stupid law like that here?” I did get a warning last year for an egregious branch from a noxious elm tree that was intruding on the egress and ingress of my neighbors through the alley. There is a certain amount of herbage enforcement in this small farming town.

SO…I posted on Facebook asking for an answer for that question. Looks like I can plant my pumpkins in the front yard. What’s more, my neighbors think the question, “Does Monte Vista have a law against planting vegetables in the front yard?” borders on the absurd, like, “Are you kidding?”

One of my friends — who lives halfway between my house and the Refuge — gave me a line of laughing yellow heads and said I could plant them on her farm if I came out and took care of them.

I am so glad I live here.



Back in AP English with Mrs. Zinn we read Greek Tragedies. We read Aristotle’s Poetics, too, so we understood the philosophical and critical background of these plays. I loved it. Then I learned that Aristotle had also written about comedy but the book had been lost. That led me to want to read some Greek comedies.

They’re low brow and ribald; full of lasciviousness and farts. The one I remember best (and that’s not well) is The Frogs by Aristophanes. It’s a parody of what Aristophanes thought was bad theater. But, I didn’t really understand what he was parodying, so I’m pretty sure the humor went over my head. Still, I can’t hear frogs without thinking of my (hopeless) attempts to understand the play.

It was a tempestuous day out at our Happy Place. The sky all around was demonstrating pretty much ALL of its tricks. There were small flurries of snow over the mountains, each moving rapidly toward then across the northern edge of the San Luis Valley. Fluffy clouds like kids draw hung around in the south-east quadrant, and the light changed rapidly over the Sangre de Cristos. Yesterday we had thunder-snow followed by thunder-graupel. It was great.

Bear and I got to welcome two cars today, one of which had a Siberian husky hanging it’s head out of the back window. It was a good day for hawks and I believe I have identified a mated pair of red-tails. A guy told me about them a month or so ago, but I hadn’t seen them until today. I love them. They were my companions on hikes in California all the time. I watched the male circle higher and higher and higher until he was a dot far up in the blue sky. His wife flew low over the grassy fields looking for lunch or dinner. It would seem they do not yet have eggs. I haven’t seen the nest. The man told me where it is, but I haven’t been that way yet.

It was soothing and comforting to be out there in the wind and the changing light. With temperatures forecast in the high 70s next week, we might begin our early-evening journeys.

Bear had a nice time. What interested her most, though, was the clump of grass on which Teddy urinated last Friday. Dogs.

Teddy’s Adventure in the Big Empty

“It’s my turn, right, Martha? My turn?”

“Yes Teddy.”

“Are we going now? How about now? Now? I’m going to run out to the back yard just in case we’re going out the back gate, OK Martha? I’m here at the back door? Can you see me? What’re you doing?”

“Putting my wallet in my pocket.”

“That means we’re going, right? It’s going to be great.”

“C’mon, Teddy.”

Teddy sits by the front door for me to put on his halter. Out the front door (Bear is secured in the back yard), down the alley and soon we’re at Bella. Teddy jumps up in the front seat like the king of car rides. I fasten his seat belt. As we drive around the corner of the alley, the kids run to the fence,

“Where you going?”

“I’m going to go walk this guy. We’re going out to the refuge where there are no dogs and no people. What are you doing?”

“We’re cleaning the garage because they’re bringing 36 boards!!!”

“I know! That’s awesome.”

“I wish I could pet Teddy,” says the little girl.

“Me too. Soon I hope. Well, we gotta’ go.” Teddy waves (I help). We drive past the abandoned high school and I feel a fleeting sense of nostalgia for normal April dog walks. I listen to the Allman Bros on the radio and we reach the Refuge.

“C’mon, T. Let’s go.”

“Martha, I need to poop somewhere around here where it smells right.”

“I know, little guy, I have a poop bag.”

“This looks good.”


“Why are we going back?”

“I don’t want to carry this. I’m going to go throw it in the dumpster.”

“Lots of good smells here, Martha.”

“I bet.” I yank him away from the dumpster.

“I think those geese are in the wrong place.”

“No, they’re in the right place.”

“I don’t think so, Martha. I need to move them somewhere else.”

“They’re moving on their own, Teddy. You don’t have to do anything.”

“I’m not so sure. They look like they need help knowing where to go and they need to hurry. They’re just waddling off there.”

“They’re geese Teddy. That’s how they walk. Be a little kind, dude.”

“OOOOOhhh! There’s that birdsong.”

“I love that you hear it, Teddy.”

“Hey! There’s a truck that’s not supposed to be there! There are people! They want to meet me!”

“No they don’t, Teddy, well, they might want to, but not today. Besides, they’re walking on that little trail. I wonder if it’s still flooded?”

“I have no idea what you said. Look, it’s two ladies and they don’t have a dog of their own. They want to pet me.”

“C’mon Teddy. My foot hurts. I don’t think these are such great shoes after all. OK, up up, Teddy.”

Puddles of little black cows in the distance. Fresh snow on the mountains all around me. Airbrushed clouds. Red-winged blackbirds in the willows.

“That was fun Martha. I love it when you sing.”

“Thanks, Teddy,” I say, looking into his little, adoring face. “You’re the only one.”