Meandering Zoomorphic Post

It’s amazing how many things go all zoomorphic when I’m out with the dogs. Usually they look like loose dogs. Broken fences are big in this area, but a bush in the right light can turn into a cattle dog (Bear’s Nemesis). When I see one of these animals, I focus tightly on it, approach slowly, tighten the leash. So far it’s always been a trick of the light and pretty soon the broken fence or the bush return to their original forms. I try to save face in front of myself at that point, “Oh I knew it was a fence,” but the truth is that, for a few minutes, I wasn’t sure.

The clouds move around a lot out there, changing the light constantly, and I have been out there when loose farm dogs were having a romp so I’m not completely (only partially) out of my mind. I’m not making any claims about the percentage I’m out of my mind, but I feel pretty safe with “not completely.”

After foundering about a grand tour of some distant place and struggling with the combined problems involved, I got inspired. There’s an 11 mile bike trail — paved — The Mineral Belt Trail — that goes all around the town of Leadville, CO. Yes, I know it’s not Pompeii or the temple at Delphi but it’s only two hours away from Monte Vista (advantage #1) and there are really beautiful Airbnbs up there for very reasonable prices. Leadville is an old mining town with a very colorful history. One of the first “grown up” books I read as a kid was The Golden Fury.

The Golden Fury is a historical novel, absolutely NOT great art, but I’ve since read worse. It’s set in Leadville during the hey-day of silver mining with wonderful descriptions of the town during those late 19th century days.

Leadville sits at 10,000 feet/3000 m. When silver crashed, the town crashed. Some of those stories are great. I’ve been there; it’s not an unknown place to me. It’s a beautiful town that clearly had a lot of money back in its day with lovely 19th century buildings everywhere.

It’s surrounded by the highest mountains in Colorado. Surrounding the town are old mines, some of which have good stories, most famous is the Matchless Mine. Anyway, this bike trail goes past a lot of this stuff with signs that give the history.

The elevation change on the trail is only 200 feet. Since I live at 7600 feet it would be a little bit of a challenge, but not like going there from San Diego or even Denver. And, I figure, I don’t have to do the whole thing. I can follow the advice of the mullah in the film Lawrence of Arabia, who told Lawrence to recite only so much of the Koran as came easily to him. I have the advantage, too (don’t tell me if it’s not an advantage. I need advantages right now, ha ha) of “training” on a stationary bike. You can’t “coast” on those things. You ALWAYS pedal.

Not far from Leadville is Camp Hale where the 10th Mountain Division trained for WW II. They fought in Italy in the Italian mountains, crossing into Austria. Many of those soldiers returned and started the ski “industry” in Colorado. Their story is fascinating.

Anyway it’s a goal, something to work toward (unless I can go to CH) and think about in these very strange and often lonely times. The town newspaper has gone totally “red” which indicates that emotions are running higher in this otherwise slow and placid little burg. This week featured a full page “Op Ed” that stopped short of pushing Q-Anon theories. All because two weeks ago a woman wrote a letter to the editor asking people to support President Biden and mentioned all the things he’s (as if he were the government) gotten right. That turned the spigot of right-wing BS wide open. I cancelled my subscription and wrote a letter explaining why (which I didn’t send).

It’s not that I think people should all think like I do; it’s that I think it’s important to get along with our neighbors. Our only REAL voice is at the ballot box, meantime we have more in common than we have things that set us apart. WHAT we focus on makes a huge difference in the quality of our daily lives and our communities, but I know that I am still (and will always be) “That woman who moved here from California.” And California? We won’t even mention the Commie evils practiced in that place.

Penitente Canyon

This morning Facebook regaled me with photos from my first jaunt to Penitente Canyon. I’ve been back a couple of times since, but these photos made me want to return.

I’m not a climber but this is a premiere climbing destination in Colorado. It’s also a spot where native Americans were able to trap food in the canyon. The pictograph seems to depict exactly that.

There are pictographs in several spots, but so far I’ve only seen one. I need to go back.

Oh, and this bizarre marker which made me lose all confidence in the trail. Apparently these are common signs here in Colorado. I think Europe has a better system. I mean, what does this MEAN??? It actually removes meaning…

Blue Sky Day

Yesterday my friend Lois and I headed up CO 149 toward Creede with the idea of going to North Clear Creek Falls. We didn’t make it all the way since I saw Bella was running low on gas and there were no gas stations for, well, the duration. We turned around but maybe the goal of the journey had been met. Mountain views, turning aspen, and conversation. On the way back down we saw a small group of bighorn sheep.

I had a place in mind for lunch, but when we got there, we learned from the family who runs the place — Cottonwood Cove — they weren’t serving food. We had a little chat about the past two years and their business. They did have ice cream so we had ice cream for lunch. Not the worst lunch I’ve ever had. Lois did a little shopping. They told me about a little girl’s grave they had found on their property — a grave marker from 1880. “I wonder what she died of?” said one of kids.

“Could be anything back then,” I said. “Measles, diphtheria, it wasn’t easy to survive back then.” I know, I know, I’m a ray of sunshine everywhere I go.

Once back in Del Norte, at the gas station, Bella’s needs were satisfied, and I decided to take Lois to the Middle Frisco Creek Trail. I figured we’d looked AT aspen, we should get together WITH some aspen. It’s a beautiful trail and it was a nice — if short — hike. The trail itself goes 6 miles to a glacial lake. We started WAY too late to do that, and if I WERE to do it, it would be a 12 hour RT. I’m able, but I’m slow. It seems that the days of covering 12 miles in 3 hours are somewhere in the not-all-that-dim-but-still-distant past.

This trail is basically behind the mountains I see to the west of The Refuge. We ran into an exhausted hunter who — with his buddies — had gotten an elk, three Mennonite girls in dresses and hiking boots hiking with their Australian shepherd, and a couple of young earnest people with two happy dogs.

The featured photo is by Lois Maxwell, a pretty pond on our way up to the waterfall.

Women in Early Climbing —

how did climbing shape your life?

High Clip from The Dihedral invited me to write a blog post for her series, Women in Early Climbing. I struggled because I’m not a climber. I told High Clip, “I don’t think I can write this, you see, I’m not a climber.”

She said, “I think you are.” She said I had a climber’s mentality. I returned to the problem and then I saw the long-term effect of my early climbing life on everything that happened afterward and the person I became, am, now. I hope you enjoy it!

Women in Early Climbing —


In just a few weeks — assuming school DOES start in various parts of the country — my street should quiet down again. Some. There will still be a lot of potato and cattle truck traffic, but… I heard the other day that more people are moving here, up in the area of Crestone and South Fork.

One of the permanent changes wrought by the virus is the ability to work at home. I can just imagine droves of people from points south, east and west coming up here to live permanently where they had always just spent the summer. I’m not crazy about this — none of us are except maybe real estate sales people. Our little corner of Heaven doesn’t have things those people are used to and I’m pretty sure we don’t want them.

As long as I’ve lived here there’s been litigation over development of our local ski area, Wolf Creek. People who live here don’t want that. I don’t want that. I live on a US highway which in normal times is only mildly annoying in summer, but if a ski area were developed up there? I can imagine traffic all year and possibly losing my house to eminent domain.

The mountains don’t need the inevitable additional foot and bike traffic, either. Mountain communities in Colorado with larger human populations — both seasonal and year round — are struggling to protect elk and other wild animal habitat without abridging the “freedom” that has always characterized the Colorado mountain experience.

There’s also the reality that from every direction a person can reach here only by going over a high mountain pass. We don’t have a real airport. There’s a one-runway airport in Alamosa. When I moved here, Frontier flew into Alamosa, but it’s pulled out. Now there is only Boutique Air, and it is there because the airport was designated an “essential airport.” There is no other way out of this valley except driving yourself, taking the weekly shuttle to Salida, on horseback, walking or on bike. It can happen that EVERY PASS IS CLOSED in winter. 😉

I don’t have any control over what will happen in the next few years to those mountains or even the parcels west of town that are slated for development (BIG HOUSES! NO WATER! RATTLESNAKES!) or the innumerable permanent social changes that will result from this strange year.

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.

Crestone Studio Tour

First, my foot did fine, and I didn’t wear the heavy hiking boots. It struck me I need to break them in before I head out for a day. I wore my light hiking high topped boots and they were perfect. The cane was very helpful, and I even went up and down stairs, walked on uneven terrain. I walked 3/4 of a mile. 🙂 I only felt pain when I had to stand for a while, BUT during those moments, there was a dog named Max who hung out with me and relieved the pain by being a dog.

We had lunch at a pretty new cafe called “Food is Art.” I had a health food meal straight out of On the Road though I think Kerouac usually had apple pie and ice cream. I went for the next best.

The menu was typical of this arty-farty somewhat cosmopolitan town with things like Thai chicken tacos. The cafe was cute, the people friendly and all was well.

We then proceeded to look for some place we could get the catalog of the show and finally went to the townhall. A very nice man was freezing inside working on a computer. It was a lot warmer outside. We got the catalogs and all went out together. The deer had been feasting on the plum tree beside the building and the evidence of their high fiber diet was all over the lawn. There was, also, in a juniper tree, a very amazing nest made of juniper branches.

No idea who made this but they did good work. Possibly the juniper titmouse.

From there we went to the gallery where I met a woman I liked very much, Jennifer Thomson. I loved her paintings, too. We had a great conversation artist to artist which isn’t always easy. When it happens, I savor it. She had a painting of a Swiss mountain I would have bought if I had any money. She told us how it came to be — it was a painting she did as a student and she told us about those days in her life. The painting below is gouache and seeds and ink — it’s really spectacular in real life

She also teaches art and I bought her workbook — I don’t know that I will do it as a workbook, but it has many of her paintings in it and a lot of her philosophy. She was influenced by Goethe’s theory of colors so, you know…

From there we went to see the work of a quilter, then a photographer (by mistake) named Peter Ismert. He had an amazing photo of Shriver/Wright along the Rio Grande, (where I love to take the dogs) at night, under the Milky Way. The photo took my breath away. I got his card. Maybe he has a small copy. 🙂

From there we went to a house that had three — maybe four? — artists. The one that struck me most died five years ago, the wife of one of the artists I met today. Her name is Robin Ross and her work is mysterious and beautiful, I think. You can learn more about her here.

I especially liked this one:

Coyote Blue

She had written a poem to go with it, but to me it sounded — I mean the painting sounded — like a poem by Paul Valery:

“Patience, patience,
patience in the blue.
In every atom of silence
Is the chance for ripe fruit.”

Patient, patience,
Patience dans l’azur!
Chaque atome de silence
Est la chance d’un fruit mûr!

Crestone itself is an interesting town — dilapidated buildings city-dwelling lovers of western movies would think were a set from a film nestle beside art galleries and yurts. This eclecticism and art is backed up against the Sangre de Cristo Mountains which I really saw today for the first time. I don’t have a great photo, but they go something like this:

Five Years After

On this day five years ago I began the journey home to Colorado. Just at dark, I locked up my house in Descanso, CA and headed the 30 miles down the hill to San Diego. The next day, I would be renting a van at the airport, and turning over my car to a guy who would transport it, but that night I spent in a motel near San Diego State. Lily and Dusty went to a boarding kennel for two nights and Mindy went to stay with her two friends, Bailey and Reina at my friend’s house.

On my way down the hill, I stopped at McDonalds and got a Happy Meal (the best deal if all you want is a cheeseburger, fries and a drink) and I ate it on the way.

I was in a kind of exhausted catatonic state, numbed by necessity. It’s only been in the last year that I have allowed myself to “miss” California where I lived for 30 years.

What do I miss? Mostly I miss the “friendly mountains.” I’d hoped that hiking here would prove great, but it hasn’t, and I doubt it will. Even when I lived here in my youth, I didn’t hike in the Rockies much. The “Friendly Mountains” were far more accessible than the mountains around me now. I’ve thought of returning with the dogs to visit them in December for a few days.

Lots of people hike in the Rockies all the time, but (as I should have remembered) good hikes require overnights and better legs than I have. The “Friendly Mountains” also have no bears and that’s a very nice feature if you don’t want do deal with them. I like bears, but a person hiking alone doesn’t really want to deal with that possibility. Also, I don’t really have pals to hike with consistently — and, when you hike with other people (though I enjoy it very much) the people are the main part of the experience, not nature.

In the “Friendly Mountains” I could get to the top of a “high” mountain within an hour and, from there, I could look down 7000 feet to the desert floor. Weather phenomena was amazing at the convergence the Mediterranean ocean climate where I began a hike and the desert where I might end one.

I’ve learned in these five years that the Rockies are for me to look at. The valley floor itself is a pretty friendly place for a solitary woman with arthritic knees, which makes this the best place I could be. I’ve been learning to see the wetlands in all their stunning diversity. I was already tuned to the miles and miles of the Big Empty, vistas of awe-striking immensity, ringed by mountains. ❤

Rio Grande and North Clear Creek Falls with HIGH Water

My friend and neighbor, Karen, and I took off today and headed north of Creede to see North Clear Creek Falls with high water. Karen had never been there and, according to old timers, the water hasn’t been this high in a lot of their lifetimes. I’ve been feeling (in the midst of puppy training) that I should GET OUT THERE but when you have to train a puppy, you have to train a puppy.

The drive up was amazing — the river has been flooding, mostly in flatter areas. We saw a place where it had apparently taken out a railroad track. Lots of fields were flooded and others were filled with wild iris. In the field near our hospital, where a large herd of bison live, we got to see bison in their winter coats standing and grazing in a meadow of blue and white flowers. We should have stopped to take pictures, but didn’t. We had a bit of a time crunch because Teddy was neutered today and I had to pick him up at 3. It’s a 78 mile drive to get up to the falls and we took off at 10.

All along the road — which winds along the Rio Grande — we were stunned by the high water. Karen, who could look out the window, noticed places where decks of summer homes were under water. Bridges — car and narrow gauge railroad — were VERY close to the water. Anyone attempting to raft would lose their noggin and the top of their raft.

The Rio Grande

We got to the top of the road which is just twenty some miles from the place where Alferd Packer ate his friends one desperate winter. This is what we saw.

We were hit by the spray, admired the rainbow, and I kept thinking of this poem from Goethe’s Faust Part II

“Let the sun stay in my back, unseen!
The waterfall I now behold with growing
Delight as it roars down to the ravine.
From fall to fall a thousand streams are flowing.
A thousand more are plunging, effervescent,
And high up in the air the spray is glowing.
Out of this thunder rises, iridescent,
Enduring through all change the motley bow,
Now painted clearly, now evanescent,
Spreading a fragrant, cooling spray below.
The rainbow mirrors human love and strive:
In many-hued reflection we have life.”

Goethe, Faust II, trans. Walter Kauffman