Redwing Blackbirds v. Ravens

Bear and I headed out for a walk yesterday on a cool-ish, breezy morning. News no journalist reports…

The longest lenticular cloud I’ve ever seen stretched over Mt. Blanca. Unfortunately I was driving during the best parts. Cloud building is dynamic, so I wasn’t able to get a photo until the best part was over. A cold front is coming in, pushing out a warm front. That warm air on the ground and the cold air from the front had a fight in the sky. I watched several fluffy clouds stretch out and layer under the heavier, higher, cold air.

There were scenes of sorrow, too. A couple of broken duck eggs. Coyotes? Or what I saw in the sky, a raven assault team. There were three getting no end of shit from a large team of red wing blackbirds. I watched the show. The ravens feinted, dived, swooped, soared and inevitably surrendered and landed on the ground. As long as they were flying, they were harassed.

I thought of how we’re programed to cheer on the little birds, but ravens have to eat, too. I was reminded — again — how cleanly impersonal is nature. It’s all kill or be killed. I thought immediately of the virus. It’s just doing its thing. The raven is several times the size of a redwing blackbird, but it doesn’t want to get hurt. I watched several of these battles yesterday and not ONCE did the raven attempt an attack on any of the redwing blackbirds. It simply tried to get away. Hmmmmm….

Thinking about this, I felt tears well up. Everything is there, every answer to every question, every damned time.

And this ran through my mind:

Have you…
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
“Done things” just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew)…

Robert Service, “The Call of the Wild

Now here’s a picture of Bear sleeping on my foot right now.

Hard to Beat a Sky Like This

Hot(ish) out here in the back-of-beyond but also windy and cloudy so, at Bear’s insistence, I headed out to the Big Empty. As long as the wind is blowing, I’m comfortable. The clouds drifted over us, and some were quite spectacular. In the distance, virga rained in the sky.

It was just nice to be out there with Bear. She alerted me to most of the scat along the road and stood with me in the wind, listening to the birds.

I have no great profound insight from our little ramble. I’m just glad we went, that it was cool enough for us, and that we were together.

Brave Little Girl

The kids came over today with a beautiful present for me — a planter they had made and painted me for Mother’s Day. That was awesome but what was REALLY awesome was Michelle.

When she met the dogs in my house last week, she was terrified and panicked. It was bad. Bear went into major livestock guardian dog to try to comfort her which just made it worse since Bear’s way of comforting a scared little animal is to get on top of them. And Teddy was apeshit because of the chaos. Michelle loves them, but they terrify her.

Last week, Bear “wrote” Michelle a letter and explained about herself to the little girl. “Bear” also explained to Michelle that Teddy is still basically a puppy and very excited all the time about everything. Today Michelle wanted to come in and see the dogs again and try everything Bear told her in her letter.

Again, she was terrified. I sat down on the sofa with her and wrapped her in my arms. I was amazed that instantly she relaxed. Bear relaxed, too. Little by little, Michelle was ready to try again. She even stood up and got a toy for Teddy. She sat back on the sofa with me. That is when Bear saw that Michelle was scared of Teddy. Bear put herself between Michelle and Teddy and didn’t move. I told Michelle what Bear was doing and she understood that it would make it easier for her to interact with Teddy if Bear were between them. I told Michelle how great she was doing, told Bear what a good dog she was and told Teddy he was a good boy when he sat or went down on command. I told Michelle to tell them, too. She learned that Bear would rather have pats than cookies.

It was really, really cool. When she left she apologized for being afraid. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a brave kid in my whole life.

The box is really beautiful and they were so proud of it. There are good paintings of Teddy, Bear, me and one of their kitties. There are GREAT color combinations. Rumor has it that the orange glows in the dark. I’ll check that tonight.


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.

Not Really Fun, but…

Teddy and I headed out to the Big Empty hoping that today it would indeed BE empty. Yesterday Bear and I went and found PEOPLE! And one small group and an OFF LEASH yellow lab! and THEN, hoping to have a chance in another spot, two farm dogs out having an adventure. They were incredibly cute, but Bear went apeshit IN the car. So…

We returned to the abandoned golf course, the road to which is barricaded, and parked beside the tennis court which has caution tape across the gates.

Bear LOVES the golf course, as do I, but after a month or more in the Big Empty, it seemed a little, uh, small and urban. And wrong. Much as I like having access to it, the place should have golfers on it. The sprinklers were going, the greens were beautiful, everything was saying, “Golf on me!” 😦

We headed out past the driving range (pasture) to the dirt road and farms. At the end of this dirt road is a farm and this farm has a very large mare, dark brown with a star on her forehead. She’s beautiful and she loves me and Bear. I don’t know why. I’ve never been within touching range of her though dozens of times I’ve wanted to be. I’ve even carried apples in my pocket for her, but I hesitated. Then the owner of the farm put a gate up to close the road. It’s often left open (it was yesterday) but still. For all I know it’s because people were bothering the horse.

Whenever the horse sees us she runs to the very edge of her “yard” — something more than a paddock, something less than a pasture. Her “run” is actually a beautiful dance. She runs all around her yard, tossing her head and bucking, then, she comes to the edge of the fence closest to Bear and me. We are probably 100 yards away. I have told her that I love her and Bear loves to see her, too.

Yesterday, however, she got out of her yard and into the pasture. I never even investigated it before to see it if were fenced. It was clear to me what she was doing. She was trying to get to us. She’s not quite a Percheron but definitely not a quarter horse. She’s not built like a thoroughbred. I have NO idea what she is except very large. As she ran, she tossed her head. I thought, “That horse wants to follow me home.”

I don’t know all that much about horses, but I do know two things. One, they like to be with other animals. Brownie, the horse that lived next door to me in Descanso, CA, made a herd for himself out of Dusty, Lily and, of course, me. I know a horse’s herd doesn’t have to be another horse. Second, I know that horses are incredibly empathetic, and I believe they read minds. I’m SURE that horse knows I like her A LOT and would love to make a herd with her. She’s always alone. I’ve only seen her with a person once. She also recognizes that Bear is a chill dog who’d get along with her fine.

Anyway, I could see she could get out. I turned and walked away resolutely and fast. No other way to communicate with her, really. I didn’t turn around, but I kept listening for hooves on the dirt road.

Today at the Big Empty there was nary a soul for a good reason. It’s a very chilly day (snowing in northern parts of the state) and the wind is blowing like a MF. Teddy and I took off and enjoyed ourselves anyway, though, between us, I’ve had more fun. When you’re walking against the wind, your dog insists on hiding behind you (smart dog), and you have 3/4 of a mile to go, well, it’s almost like walking uphill both ways to school, barefoot, in the snow.

Sunday Services in the Church of the Big Empty

Spring is here. It’s nearly 70 degrees F/21 C, and the wind is blowing. Services were quieter than they’ve been for more than a month because the largest part of the choir has moved on to points north leaving only the geese to make up the horn section. Otherwise, the meadowlark is leading the chorus with occasional interjections from red-winged blackbirds and frogs. We only had the opportunity to welcome one car, but the man and his wife were clearly VERY happy to be out though there isn’t a lot to see at the moment (outside of everything, of course).

Much to my amazement, Bear has learned to listen for bird songs and will stop when she hears a meadowlark. She’s incredibly attuned to my behavior. Still, her particular interest remains scat, and she alerted me to several different varieties today for which I’m unutterably grateful.

You can see from the featured photo that it doesn’t look a lot different from winter out there yet, but at the base of the little plants green is emerging. I’m looking forward to sunset walks services out there in the summer.

On our way out there, my heart gave a little leap to see hundreds of Angus cattle in the distance and MANY tiny puddles of black amongst them. Along with the little black puddles were a couple of white puddles; livestock guardian dogs. I remembered the first Great Pyrenees I ever met. He was in Descanso, CA, my little town in the mountains outside of San Diego. He was a working dog who would occasionally walk into “town” from the little farm where the people raised sheep and alpacas. Town in Descanso was a two pump gas station, convenience store, post office and deli all in one building. I was coming out of the post office and had just turned up the street toward home. An immense, incredibly filthy, very furry fluffy white dog came strolling up to me. I stopped. He leaned against me, and I thought, “This must be a Great Pyrenees. What a wonderful dog!”

When I started walking home after our “moment,” he strolled along with me until the fork in the road. His way was straight ahead and mine was to the right. Now that I know more about these dogs, I realize how incredibly honored I was.

Most people know the Great Pyrenees. Bear is an Akbash dog, a dog bred in Turkey for the same purpose as the Great Pyrenees in Europe. In Italy they have bred the Maremmano-Abruzzese, also a big white dog, to guard the sheep and goats. All of these wonderful beings have been friends to man for thousands of year. Top to bottom: Great Pyrenees, Maremmano, and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog ❤

Church of the Big Empty

Bear and I just got back from church. It was a GREAT service. Very comforting, inspiring with lots of time for reflection and solving problems. The congregation was there in numbers I’ve never seen, including some of the members who seldom make an appearance at the midday mass.

When we first arrived, church appeared empty which was fine by us, but soon, as we rounded a little trail, I noticed how many parishioners were in attendance. Hundreds of cranes took flight all at once and in the distance one of our members — a female elk — was running free and fast in the distance. I suspected a predator lurking and sure enough. A golden eagle. I don’t know what startled the elk, though, and she was moving too fast for me to extract any information. I saluted her and thanked her for showing up, letting her know it meant a lot to me. Naturally, she didn’t hang around long enough to get the message except through magic of a type that I truly believe works.

Bear and I continued on our semi-solitary (we have each other) way, worshipping under the light, appreciating the virga, letting all the fears and dreads fall from us (me). Since I anticipate walking there for the duration, this is a great opportunity for me to teach Bear how NOT to get bitten by a rattlesnake so we practice NOT sticking our noses (her nose) into bushes. The scampering creatures are out as evidenced by their obviously used, freshly made, little holes.

Walking back to Bella with Bear after the Service

I had the opportunity of figuring out some of the logistics of what I am afraid will be a week without plumbing. It’s amazing how many things you can think through while you walk under the open sky. I also realized this morning that it’s as fucked as it’s likely to get so I should wash everything I need to ahead of the destruction/construction. I’m grateful to a reader of my blog — a former plumber — for explaining what’s going on out there. I also had time to figure out the shopping problem. I will order ahead and go pick it up. This is my plan for Wednesday.

We have a few elite long-distance runners (Olympic runners) here in the San Luis Valley and one of them was training. That kind of runner has a very different physique than I. I’m always fascinated by how nature built us in so many different ways, often custom designed for whatever sport we might end up loving.

Church wouldn’t be church without appropriately chosen hymns. I got to listen to a couple of choirs and a few soloists. The deacons were there at the end of the service to thank us for coming and invite us to come back soon.

The Deacons

I learned this hymn as a little girl. It’s one that often goes through my mind as I worship in my Panentheist fellowship of everything. We only had the opportunity to welcome one car of crane tourists, an elderly man and his wife. Waves between people mean a lot these days.

Driving home, I checked on the Pyrenees and noticed that the livestock trailer is in the yard, maybe a sign that they’ll be taking the cattle up to higher country soon. The Pyrenees was guarding a haystack. A man approached on his bike — only here (and places like here) would you see a bike-rider wearing a c’boy hat. He waved. Now we wave. ❤

Postcard from the Big Empty and Farmer Appreciation

It’s blowing like an MF out there and we have a red flag warning, but Bear and I are undaunted social distancers, and we showed up for work at the Refuge like always though there was NO ONE to welcome except one stoical magpie.

Bear and I ready for work (you can see the wind because all my hair is on ONE side of my head)

Bear spent some time studying history, checking to see what changes have transpired along the little trail since last time. There were more than I could ever have imagined. Sadly, she can’t express in detail all of her discoveries.

The sky was magnificent in all directions and changed constantly. Snow is coming in and lenticular clouds hovered above the Sangre de Cristos.

Farmers are plowing which means this windy time of year there is a LOT of dust. Because the gusts were so ferocious, if dust obscured the mountains, it was only for a few minutes. I can’t say it was pleasant walking in 40 mph gusts but it’s oddly like walking uphill. At times Bear walked behind me and I was happy to shelter her from the wind some little bit. I honestly don’t mind at all struggling against what nature is doing. I would have missed so many wonderful things in my life if I didn’t want to hike in the rain or walk in the snow and wind. I guess that’s love. ❤

Because there was literally NO ONE there out there, when we’d finished our “job,” I drove the whole loop. I saw only one crane. You don’t survive as a species for millions of years without knowing enough to stay out of the wind. The geese objected, a few ducks took flight. There were nearly surfable waves on the ponds. A couple of blue birds fighting the wind but soon gave up. In a remote small pond I saw a family of small, brown ducks.

It’s become my ritual to slow down as I pass the farm with the working Pyrenees to see how he’s doing. I’ve observed that when his cattle move, he moves to remain close to them. I send him every good vibe I have in my heart whenever I see him. I also noticed three obviously friendly (with each other) bulls in a separate field. Beautiful creatures.

A word about farmers. My family was farmers for many, many, many generations. My mom’s was the first generation for probably a thousand years that had no farmers. As for me, I have an affinity for it in my heart, at least. It’s one of the things I love about living here. I love seeing a lone tractor in a waiting barley field. I love the animals and watching them every day through the seasons. I love all of it without any direct knowledge of it except that I know it’s a hard life with no real down time. In these anxiety laden and uncertain times, the farmers where I live are out there, not “social distancing” but doing what they always do. Growing food for Americans. When the Potato Festival Rolls around in September, it’s a highlight of the year for me and everyone else. The scary (thunder storms, hail, drought) hard work of summer is nearing an end. Harvest is underway.

If there is any parallel in human life to the uncertainty we’re all facing right now, it’s the uncertainty farmers face every single year, setting forth not knowing what the markets will be, not knowing what the weather will bring, not know if there will be water. So, you know, thank a farmer.

P.S. I walk REALLY fast with a 30 mph gust at my back. 🙂

Refugees, Again

Bear and I went to check out the crowds at the Wildlife Refuge. The Crane Tourists are still flocking to the Big Empty in their SUVs, one from out of state, but not by much. New Mexico. I noticed an elderly man walking on the little path through the small wetlands designed as a hiking trail to observe small birds. He shuffled slowly along and my heart went out to him. “Good on you,” I thought. “It’s going to take you a while to get around that, but you’re going to love it.” Later he drove by, a huge smile on his face, waving at me. Waves mean a lot right now.

It’s a good time to look for small birds. The Redwing Blackbirds are back with their squeaking screen door calls. Lots of Mountain Bluebirds. Bear and I stopped to watch the bluebirds hunt many times. They hovered over the grass like tiny hawks, then dove.

I wish I had something other than my phone, but it’s also not fun to walk with a big camera…

It seemed to me that there were more cranes than there have been or maybe it was only that the air was mostly calm which really helps them find food. They were in several new spots, not that far from the road — though far from my phone camera.

The changing light over the Sangre de Cristos stopped me in my tracks more than once. Bear was cool with that because she thinks I caught a scent and she begins scanning the ground with her nose. When she finds nothing there, she just leans against me and waits until I’ve savored to my heart’s content. Stopping to watch the light over the mountains also revealed the beautiful sounds of a wind-free day in the Big Empty. For a long while no Crane Tourists passed and I listened to the symphony of cranes, geese, red-winged blackbirds, an occasional blue bird call, the meadow-larks and, in the distance, the braying of a donkey.

On the way to the Refuge I passed a small farm. In the yard was a livestock guardian dog sleeping, one eye open. He was working. There was also a couple of very tiny calves. I love that so much. I respect and honor those dogs so much. From living with one, I understand something about their patient, optimistic dedication to their job and their true wish to do well. I wanted to take a photo on my way back, but when I reached the house, there was a kid on a four-wheel, a kid about 8 years old, wanting to cross the street. I waved and he waved back. I drove slowly by, and looked over at the dog. In the hour since I’d passed, there had been another calf, black and white, shaky legs. I thought about life (since I do that a LOT) and how some of the most wondrous things are like that, a momentary flicker of unself-conscious, unadorned beauty.

“I love this, Martha.”
“Me too, Bear. Thanks for coming with me.”

Mohammed’s radio had no messages for me on my way home today, so I’ll give you this beautiful song that makes my heart sing.

The mountains in the featured photo are the Sangre de Cristos. The whole time we were out, storms moved over and away from them. Wow.

Another Hard Day at the Office

Bear and I showed up for work at the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge a little early today. As I’m walking better, I’m hoping to go farther. 🙂

The Refuge was pretty empty. I can’t say that’s because it’s Wednesday or because the cranes have left (no idea), or because of the virus, but we didn’t have a lot of welcoming to do, but we were prepared. When the opportunity afforded itself, we put our hearts into it. It’s not all about quantity, though. The ones we DID wave at were very high quality; very enthusiastic about smiling broadly and waving back. I think we earned our pay.

I heard cranes but didn’t see many. A front is coming in. It’s vaunted to be carrying up to 20 inches of snow. Not for us, though. We’re just going to get wind and a half inch. I don’t care. Bear and I are heading HIGHER soon.

The wind was rehearsing, and I am hopeful its performance will be right up there with the greats. On the little segment of road that faces due south it was tough going for me. I was happy to turn west.

Bear, as always, walked back to Bella (my Jeep) with my hand on her back. I love that so much. Crane tourists love to see that, too, and it gets the best waves and smiles.

A white pick-up parked beside the road not far from the entrance. As I got closer, I saw it was a ranger or a BLM or a parks and wildlife truck. I had a little twinge of paranoia. The sign says leashed dogs are OK, but what if?

As I neared, the truck started moving and pulled up beside me. One of the wonderful things about this day and age is that WOMEN are often behind the wheel of those trucks. ❤ This was a young woman of about 30. “Is everything OK?” she asked.

“Oh yes. I’m great.” I WAS great and I smiled.

She grinned and drove off.

I have decided NOT to think of the possibility that when I walk I look like I’m suffering but, instead, to think that maybe she thought I was a Crane Tourist whose vehicle had broken down.

On the way home, Mohammed’s Radio played the song that came on when I first brought Bear home for a “test drive.” I think the song persuaded me to keep her. I don’t like Wings, but I always listen to this when it comes on.