Beans and Mountains

I don’t pretend to be a photographer, but reading Xenia’s post this morning inspired me to be a photographer just this once.

In these strange times I’ve definitely needed — and found — sanctuary in two places. The closest is in the midst of my Scarlet Emperor Bean garden in my yard. I first grew these beans two years ago — this is the third season — from seeds I bought the year before. That year I was about to have a hip replacement. I started the beans in the house. I named them after Chinese emperors. I planted them outside soon after I got home from my surgery. They grew to be seven feet tall — something I wasn’t even prepared for! I watched them grow in a kind of wonderment and let them go to seed. I harvested their beautiful purple and black seeds to plant in the future. Last year we had a chilly kind of summer and the beans I planted didn’t do well, but this year?

It’s difficult to explain how watching them grow has been so incredibly heartening. I love them and maybe it’s mutual. They are now ten feet tall and are also delicious.

Scarlet Emperor Beans reaching for the sky

My sanctuary all my life has been nature. I’m fortunate to live in a remote part of Colorado that is surrounded by wide open spaces and mountain ranges on all sides. This year my dogs and I have spent a lot of time out in the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge. I’m pretty sure of having plenty of social distance.The Refuge is home to the Monte Vista Sandhill Crane Festival in March. It’s a wild and beautiful place with fantastic skies.

Mt. Blanca
Mt. Blanca (winter)
Mt. Blanca, March
Sandhill Cranes in front of the Sangre de Cristo mountains

This week we invite you to share what Sanctuary means to you, where you find it or how you create your place of calm and healing. In your post, please make sure you include a link to this challenge and use the Lens-Artists tag so we can find your post in the WP Reader.

Lens-Artists Weekly Photo Challenge #108: Sanctuary

“What are Your Plans for the Rest of the Summer?”

Yesterday a friend stopped by for a short visit which was great. We sat on my deck and drank iced tea and ate cake. I spent the morning cleaning the deck (argh…) and getting the umbrella set up as well as reconstructing Bear’s morning deconstruction project. My friend lives 3 hours away.

Of course we talked about the virus, about peoples’ response to it, how she deals with it (she’s working in a people-contact field). She’s had it early on, and I wanted to know how that went. Then she asked me about my plans for the rest of the summer.

I must have given her a very blank look because inside, my brain was a blank. What am I going to do with the rest of the summer?

I expect I’ll continue to celebrate my amazing beans, work on paintings (maybe more than one, no idea), dodge mosquitoes and deer flies, clean house, repair shit, paint garden signs which I will sell in my Etsy shop at very low prices and for which I’ll take orders. Then, September will come which is usually the Potato Festival — harvest celebration and end of tourist season. I doubt that will happen this year, but tourist season will end (if schools start).

Then the leaves will turn, the trails will be amazing, the mosquitoes will relax their relentless assault, the temps will be cooler, the days shorter and the first of the two really good seasons will be upon us.

I don’t like wishing my days away, but this year think we all are. I don’t think any of us is 100% OK. When I look at all the chaos in the country, I’m sure of it. We’re all a little out of our minds — some days more than others. When the virus hit, I didn’t have to think too long to understand my job was surviving until there’s a cure or vaccine. That is such a primal imperative it’s almost unfathomable. It doesn’t require any thought which is, right there, incomprehensible. We’re so attached to our sacred human brains that from time to time it just seems weird not to need it for a decision. I see people around me USING their brains for this and mostly, it seems, they use their brains as a way to rationalize refuting the primal imperative.

I saw the same thing when I was evacuated from a wild fire in California in 2003. I got it. Get out or die. That’s not a decision. That’s put dog food, human food, water, sleeping bag, tent and dogs in the truck and DRIVE. Lots of people didn’t get it — well, they got it for good and all, actually, but until their lives intersected with fire, they’d been able to use their brains to deny its reality somehow.

I looked at my friend and said, “I’m here for the duration. I don’t have any disposable income, and anyway, I like it here.” For that, I am very, very lucky.

But…I think it’s important to remember (I have to remind myself) that people aren’t OK. I watched a “viral” video on Twitter last month of a young woman in Arizona filming herself at Target basically having a nervous breakdown. She was attacking displays of masks and cursing them out. Of course, she was soundly condemned by all and sundry but I thought, “She is out of her mind. I don’t know if she has a legit mental illness or if she’s crazy from fear and anger, but there but for the grace of God go all of us.”

It took me a long time to move past the wall of this and begin doing creative work. It started with the Etsy shop and the touching up a painting that looked “wrong” in a photograph. As I fixed the painting I felt, for the first time since this started, the sweet combination of peace and excitement that is, for me, creative work. Realizing THAT, I started a difficult painting and was soon lost in it. And now, another. I think everyone has some block inside right now, days of confusion, days of resignation, normal days, scared days, frustrated and angry days, lonely days.

Better days will come one way or another, and in the meantime? I guess we just do the best we can.

Garden sign almost finished…

Covid Quotidian Update 82.5.xi.b

We’re living in a time when time has converged with space, especially for older people who are mostly staying home and/or apart. We have different time than we had before C-19. I’d say we have more time, but that isn’t quite true. The virus has changed time. I’m about to drive to the big city for groceries, a task that once took 2 hours and involved pushing a cart around a store. I never liked that much and now I don’t do it. I drive to the store, I get my stuff, I leave. There are thousands of changes like this to our “time.”

Quotidian reality seems to get weirder and weirder and, as a friend said last night in a text:

She’s been making beautiful masks but got tired of it and started drawing. And I agree with her. We have at least six more months to go. Her drawing is really lovely and I hope she keeps at it.

Someone should do a study on what people, especially older people who are more-or-less staying home, started doing — or trying to do — in this historic interval.

My sewing hopes were dashed yesterday when I realized that the problem I’m having is not me, but with my tool — specifically that sewing machine. After an HOUR of total frustration trying to sew seam binding on a hem, trying to keep the needle threaded, trying to use zig-zag (fuck that), I gave up. I’d have put the damned thing out by the mailbox with a free sign if it hadn’t been going to rain.

Before I gave up I went online to see what other people had to say, just to affirm it wasn’t me and, maybe, to get some advice. Turned out that everything I’ve experienced since I got that bitch isn’t just me. Many people liked it, but others, particularly those who were just hoping to have a simple-to-use machine and were experienced at sewing were very unhappy with it, complaining that it didn’t stay threaded, that the bobbin was unnecessarily complicated, that it jammed on zig-zag, and that the tension was nearly impossible to set correctly for upper and lower threads. Everything I’d been dealing with. Most of the positive were “I just got it and I love it!” I named mine “Mom” since no matter what I do, it’s not happy. I may use it to finish the two projects I have hanging fire, but…

I don’t even want to give it to anyone I know because I like all the people I know. It would just be wrong. My guess is that there are some of these out there that are well made and work right and others that are crap. But now I understand why the woman I bought mine from was standing outside in the snow on a 10 degree day waiting for me the day I bought it. I thought it was the $50 but now I think it was that she wanted this demon out of her house.

“I bought one I like better,” she said, and handed it to me.

I still want a sewing machine, but looking at new ones online, I don’t see anything I remotely want to touch. I wish I’d kept mine when I moved, but…

I am thinking of stopping writing my blog every day, even though I want to support the RagTag Daily Prompt. I really have absolutely nothing whatsoever to say. 😦 You probably realized that before I did…

Meanwhile, here’s something fun to read. You will laugh.

Dear Diary:

Breaking the Inertia of Normalcy

Mouth-watering? The only thing I find mouth-watering is my morning coffee about which I’ve written probably 25 times by now. Seriously, I think I’ve written every possible blog post by now. Currently I’m drinking this:


Reality right now is so weird that I don’t know. I probably say, “I don’t know” a million times a day and think it even more. I realized how much of life depends on the belief that there’s something good just around the corner. That means 1) you go around the corner, 2) you never lose that sense of expectation. Thoreau wrote,

“We must learn to…keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us even in our soundest sleep.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Maintaining this expectation is difficult considering that right now there are so many things to be afraid of, any and all of which could be around that corner. I wrote at the beginning of the Covid Crisis that now we’re living a little like medieval people fearing that outside our doors are monsters, dragons, brigands, and godnose what else. Still, so far, 2020, bad as it has been, isn’t the WORST year in human history. Take a look at 536 ce.

We are — most of us — embracing the expectation that next year will be better, that there will be a vaccine for C-19 (which sane, intelligent and eligible people will all rush to get), that some of the dire political problems in our nation will be on the road to solution ( read that anyway that makes you happy). From that point we’ll be able to look backward at what we achieved during this historical moment.

I’m sure there are a lot of things. One thing I can see is people working from home or wherever — something that’s been talked about for ages. IMO that’s a good thing — specifically because of the reduction in commuting and the benefit of that to the atmosphere. Another is that parents have been forced to develop a different perspective on their kids’ education. I was amused and horrified yesterday hearing Kelly Anne Conway say kids need a “the safe structured environment of schools” in which to learn. The “safe structured environment” has, for too long, included active shooter drills.

The young parents in my own family are going to homeschool this year. In seeking approval and support from me, my step-daughter-in-law messaged me and when I asked, sent me the curriculum she’s planning to use. She’ll be working along with a woman who is also a teacher at the pre-school her kids attended. I looked at the curriculum and its philosophy. I quickly saw that I wanted to go to that school. I’d be able to teach that curriculum with total conviction.

Being forced to change like this might be good for us. I have been thinking lately that humans suffer from several kinds of inertia — inertia of hope is one of them which helps us adapt to change but not all change is good. People shooting up schools is definitely not good and the fact that we’ve adapted to it is sick. But even I ask me, “What else are we supposed to do?” In the inertia of business-as-usual it’s difficult to make changes or imagine major alternatives and how we could effect the changes needed to realize those alternatives. Maybe it takes a cataclysm to shake us from our inertia. In any case, I’ve now sewn two more little girl’s skirts and developed a stragedy for threading my stupid sewing machine.


As I was writing this morning, The Changeling by the Doors song came on WXRT (they’re playing songs from 1971 this morning) and I was struck by these lines:

I had money, and I had none
I had money, and I had none
But I never been so broke that I couldn’t leave, town.

In fact, I’m too broke to leave town. That’s fine, but that there is not, now, even the possibility? That’s the kicker, isn’t it. It’s hard for us to take the abridgment of our liberties even when that abridgment is mainly psychological. That might be a more difficult “inertia” to break, our psychological apprehension of freedom.

Why Vaccinate?

I was lucky enough to be able to share an hour or so socializing with my friends in one of our backyards. Not mine, because it’s still an ugly mess and I only have two chairs. Of course the main topic was C-19.

I am the first person to admit that — like most other people — I represent my version of normal humanity. I am at least as self-referential as anyone else, if not more. I live alone. I make all my own decisions. I almost never consult anyone. I don’t know how I got this way, but that doesn’t really matter because here I am. I’m never obliged to have a difference of opinion with anyone, and, if I do, I usually just step back and try to figure out what’s really going on. That can take days, months, or more. I’m grateful for friends to whom my friendship is valuable enough that they find me and talk things over. I’m not good at that; thank goodness other people are.

But I’ve also noticed that people — me included — seek validation of a certain kind from each other. We want to know that what we’re doing is OK with other people. I guess that’s what’s meant when people say humans are social animals. So, in the conversations this morning the question of vaccinations came up, first the flu shot, then the (hopefully) future vaccine for C-19.

I personally believe vaccinations are a good idea. Given the choice between getting sick from an illness and not getting sick I think any sane person is going to choose not getting sick. I’m wrong there, of course. Lots of people don’t get vaccinations and some have legitimate (in my opinion) reasons. Mainly my strategy with this whole debate is, “Do what you want. Really this isn’t any of my business. It’s your decision to make.” Do I actually believe that? No, I don’t. I just know that disputing this with anyone is a waste of time. It’s impossible to argue beliefs or personal taste. Those things are not rational and all the evidence in the world cannot alter them.

That doesn’t stop people from trying to persuade me and/or justify their decision hoping I will say something supportive or approving — or even agree. People feel consensus is important. I’ve learned over the years that for some people consensus is more important than facts. It was something I had to teach when I taught critical thinking, that is that consensus is comfortable, but might be delusion.

A conversation like this emerged this morning. For me, there’s no debate. First there’s the I’d rather not get sick argument. The ONE year I didn’t get a flu shot was the H1N1 year, and I was deathly ill for two weeks. Second, I have an autoimmune condition that affects my lungs so I’m afraid C-19 could do a number on me. Third, I don’t want to be a carrier around people who might not be able — because of their very compromised immune systems — to take any vaccine.

And my poor little brain got hung up on that third argument and I realized that is something legitimate to dispute. You get a flu vaccination so the person in front of you in line at Safeway who’s on chemotherapy is just a little bit safer. Same thing — for me — when the C-19 vaccine miraculously appears. No, I don’t want to get sick. But it isn’t just me. My immunities make the world a little safer for others.

Possibilities Arrive in the Mail

Yesterday I got GREAT mail, not any diamonds or rubies, but some great stuff appeared in my maimed mailbox. I got my fishing license which will allow me to take the dogs to the Wildlife Areas when they open next week.

Colorado has a new law that’s due to the increased traffic of people going, “Holy shit, the mall is closed! What are we going to do?” The new law could provide additional revenue and/or keep people off the trails. Initially I was, “What????” But it turned out to be a good deal — under $10 for seniors and to my delight part of that money goes to search and rescue. Compared to California this is a bargain. In many parks and wildlife areas in California, people pay $5 at the door and there IS a door. Not in most of the places I hiked, but lots of places especially those where people actually want to go such as Mount Palomar campground and the trail up to the observatory, and, naturally, various trails in the Redwoods.

After working for a wilderness park, doing trail rehabilitation and organizing volunteers to help with maintenance on heavily used trails, I’m all for keeping ignorant people off trails. I think schools should offer — require — a class in “How to go outside and visit natural landscapes with respect for and consideration of wildlife, plant-life and the ground you walk on.”

I got a new mask. It’s very special and I like it a LOT. It is snowflakes on a winter-sky-blue background with fog and glitter that looks like ice crystals in the air. I don’t think anyone likes wearing a mask. To avoid it I just don’t spend much time where I need one. I go to the store every two weeks and in all this time I’ve made one trip to the vet. Masks are hot and make my glasses steam up and they are, for all of us, reminders of the ubiquitous treachery of a semi-living thing floating around that could hurt us.

It’s weird in these times because what I’m doing right now is actually preserving my life through the choices I have to make. Sometimes I wonder “What the hell is going on?” and then I remember the point of it all which is really December when I can reasonably expect the first snow. It could be sooner, but I see no reason for hoping with reckless abandon which would be snow on Hallowe’en, or throwing caution to the wind and expecting snow in September. It could all happen, but… This little mask looks like the world I’m saving my life for. It’s really that. I just want to go skiing.

Yesterday’s mail also brought the Willow Creek Journal. The Willow Creek Journal is a little literary magazine put out by the Creede Arts Council. It’s a beautiful publication, and I have had paintings published in it two years in a row, including this volume. My painting — Rio Grande in January. — is on the last page. On the same page is a little poem — “Zoetrope (Girl on Skis)” by Wayne Sheldrake. It’s a poem about seeing a girl/woman cross country skiing in the back country and catching her image as she skied a tree-lined trail. I had to look up “zoetrope.” I recognized the word, but it was way back in the convoluted back chambers of my brain, something my brother would say, but its meaning? Lost, lost, lost. It’s perfect, though, for his poem.

Here’s his poem:

From a shuffle
of piked trees,
(still-life on white),
a swiftlet blue
swiftlet of blue
ignited by snowshoe slope
quickened through ice-platinum shadow.

She strobed St. Elmo bright
and lighter than gravity,
through the frozen trees,

like a bird
a strange bird
that knows many secrets
(the invisible looms
and wickets of sylvan
winter flight).

As she turned,
darted away,
bent for open
ice-platinum air,
the trees, bestirred,
sighed with me.

Wayne Sheldrake

The mail was full of promises and reminders of things I love most and I am grateful. I hike at the Wildlife Areas in winter so I can visit the frozen river, a river depicted in my published painting.

Lamont and Dude Contend with Reality

“Hey, Dude. Turn off the tube, man. I don’t want to hear anything that windbag has to say.”

“Shouldn’t he be wearing a mask?”

“If he were human, but, you know, I think he’s a bot.”

“It’s hard to believe that could be real.”

“There’s a lot of that going on right now. The line between real and unreal has never been less distinct, not in my lifetimes, anyway.”

“Have we lived through one of these before? Or even died in one? I’ve been trying to remember but…”

“Me too, Dude. I really don’t know.”

“It just hit me last night what this is.”

“Dude, it’s been going on for several months now and you just realized what it is?”

“C’mon Lamont. You know what I mean. It’s like, you know, really incomprehensible.”

“True dat. You seem kind of down, buddy.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“How’s the surf?”


“That’s probably the real problem, Dude.”

“Probably. But I was thinking last night that the pandemic…”

“I know the pandemic.”

“I can’t even think about it. It’s just this crazy thing out there and it affects everybody whether they get sick or not.”

“That’s true.”

“The museum had its weekly meeting on Zoom yesterday and there’s everybody and I don’t know. It’s weird.”

“Did you suit up for it or did they recognize you without the Smilodon suit?”

“Ha ha. Everyone’s a little off balance like they don’t know who they are.”

“Are you going to go back soon, at least to clean bones?”

“It’s on hold. Maybe soon, maybe not. What do you think, Lamont?”

“I get what you’re saying, Dude. I get it. It’s not just the pandemic, it’s people. I was reading somewhere last week — I wish I knew where — but only 10% of people are guided by facts. !0% absolutely are not and 80% do what the people around them are doing.”

“You believe that?”

“I don’t know. But we’re in a situation now where the only way out is science and lots of people who don’t believe in science.”

“Yeah. You look down Lamont. Did you just figure this out, too?”

“Maybe. Maybe it takes the average human six months to wrap their mind around something like this.”

“You just used the singular ‘their’ instead of the more grammatically correct but sexist ‘his’. You’re not OK are you?”


“I bet you wouldn’t even mind being a velociraptor now.”

“At least there were no social issues and stupid human debate. Just us, prey and a meteorite.”

“Good times.”



Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with some time back. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their past incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.

Anhedonia of the Times…

As I keep reminding one of my friends, these are strange times and nobody’s normal. By “normal” I mean no one’s their normal self. I’ve now done three days of my Internet diet, and day three wasn’t very successful. I realized that the Internet is a place I go when I feel that icky combination of depressed and anxious. Boredom — I think — is often a result of depression and anxiety. I don’t mean major depression, just the depressed mood thing. I fought it, but I also accepted it. One thing I have learned from stopping other bad habits is to cut myself slack.

This one is a little different. I live in this country and I’m horrified that — in this day and age — nearly 130,000 people have died of the virus. I’m horrified that people don’t use critical thinking skills to seek out accurate information and act in harmony with it. I’m horrified that “beliefs” aren’t questioned more. I listen to our esteemed leader speak about his plans for his second term (which I pray he doesn’t get) and all he can say is talent is more important than experience and now he knows a lot of people in Washington DC. As a reader of this blog said, we go online and scroll hoping for good news. She is right.

I have seen that the real challenge right now is overcoming my preoccupation with all this stuff and because, really and truly, all I can do is wait for November. Believe me, as soon as that ballot arrives, I will carefully fill in the bubbles and follow instructions then drive it to the City Clerk in Del Norte, Colorado and stick it in the ballot box.

Meanwhile, out in the garden, which is still pretty ugly, with the deck I have yet to enjoy, things of nature are offering me a model for life by pursuing their internal imperatives unquestioningly.

All of the beans are doing magnificently. Li Bai, of course, ahead of the others as befits China’s most famous and honored poet (not bad for 1500 years!!!!) Bai Juyi is alerting me to the likelihood that he’s going to need some support soon. Tu Fu and Li Ho are pursuing slightly different directions. Rather than sending up one vining tendril and blooming early, they are reaching out in a couple of directions. The squash is a type I have never grown (or eaten) but it seems happy. A couple volunteers have emerged — the one I thought was an Aussie pumpkin turns out to be zucchini. I’ve eaten salad from my garden. The tomatoes are happy.

Aesthetically, the yard still leaves a lot to be desired, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I made more progress this year than ever before. As the progress evolves I see what I need to do differently. Basically, I’ve decided I need to fence in this whole area, but I can’t do that now. This temporary fence works pretty OK.

This morning the first song I heard on Mohammed’s Radio was The Clash, “I’m So Bored With the USA.” I had to laugh. Here’s the song. It’s punk rock so it might not be to everyone’s taste.


Like all of us, I’ve had a hard time with different aspects of living with the virus “out there.” Yesterday was another one of “those” days. But, sometime in the afternoon I realized what it’s like.

I feel like I’m living in a huge lake where I can’t see the edges, can’t see the land. From time to time someone — my neighbors, the kids, the postman, people waving — paddles near but then they paddle off into their own giant lake. As my brain formed this image I thought, “We’re all at sea.”

Sometimes I paddle my boat near someone, too. My neighbor and I get out of our boats for a ramble in the Big Empty. I get out of my boat to talk to the kids who are still in their boat.

Colorado has done very well re-opening without a major flare in C-19 cases, but in the San Luis Valley, the number of people infected is rising pretty rapidly. Many (of us?) think it’s partly because of the people from out of state, people who spend the summers here. They are now all over the county. Most of them come from Texas, one of the states with the highest, craziest increase in cases. Some of these people have actually sued Colorado counties for shutting the door to out-of-staters.

This is where things get weird. This is the conflict between those who think the virus is something to “believe in” (or not) and those who realize that this part of the United States doesn’t have the medical facilities to deal with a giant spike in C-19 cases. It’s not xenophobia; it’s that we know we can’t help all the people who might get sick. That’s not a matter of “belief” but of hospital beds.

Now that I have an image describing this whole experience, I think I’m good. For now? Forever? Time will tell, but I feel more content with the whole thing today than I have since it started.

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.