Quotidian Update Where there Could Have Been a Story, Damned Dogs

I’m sorry, Rag Tag Daily Prompt. I got nothing for the word “gossamer.” Lovely word, but nothing about my state of mind is gossamer except the thread that contains my temper.

Dogs. They’ve dug in the garden and in the little bark plots I worked on so hard. Every inch I claim from the dust pit that is my yard involves some pretty hard labor. The house is a constant mess because of the dust and I’d just like LESS of it. This morning I lost it, called them stupid fucking dogs and tried to close the back door before they could come in. But I failed. They thought it was a game.

They don’t understand that every bit of destruction they cause takes away from cool stuff like walks in the Big Empty. Dogs are all instant gratification. No way to negotiate with them, saying, “If you would stop digging there, I wouldn’t have to take fifteen minutes out of my ever-shortening life to fix the damage.”

I don’t get why when they have a HUGE yard in back of the house all to themselves, they don’t hang out there. It seems if I’m going to have a garden at all I’m going to have to get a legit fence and keep the dogs OUT.

Yeah, that’s free.

I have all my favorite books here in the living room (or room of all work that is not sleep and cooking and painting) but that has to change. This house is tiny, so I don’t know HOW that’s going to change or where they could go that’s less dusty. I’m on the verge of throwing everything out the front door. The last time I set a box out there for people to take what they wanted, the “village idiot” (he’s not really an idiot, but definitely mentally different. He’s the guy who used to stop at my house come into my yard and pet Mindy every day when she was alive) complained that there were none of his favorite authors. Then he told me what he liked and asked if I had any of those books. He was prepared to wait while I went back into the house and checked.

And we had a freeze last night that took out one of the little tomatoes. Frost was NOT in the forecast.


On the bright side, Li Bai, Tu Fu and Li Ho seem untouched by the frost.


Yet Another Quotidian Update, this One Without Beans

Every summer I have to make this adjustment from going out with the dogs in the middle of the day and surrendering to going out in the evening. Last evening Teddy and I headed out to the Big Empty. Normally I’d just take the easy way and wander around the hood through the golf course, but it was Sunday meaning league golf. So, why not head out and see what our friends the geese, blackbirds, meadowlarks, mountains, sky and light were doing at 7:30 pm?

The Refuge was beautiful. Mt. Blanca was lit by the sun coming from the west, every valley and cornice visible and luminous. The little bit of remaining snow tinged golden in the late-day light. Teddy, of course, was very happy to get the chance to take his inventory of goose excrement. According to him, there was no new carnivore scat to report.

He really wanted to see the bunny again.

I’ve been communicating with the director of the Rio Grande County Museum and something she wrote made me feel the urge to get on with the project — Swiss Immigrants in the San Luis Valley. Sit down, sit down. I know you’re excited and can’t wait, but I have no idea when or if this will happen. I started writing my little talk and, as I did, I began to wonder if the community could endure a series on this topic because I think that would be epic (literally).

Most important, I became absorbed in what I was writing for the first time since the virus. I’ve gotten a lot of good stuff done in these two months but none of it was really interesting. Maybe this is a step in the evolution of living with this thing. Maybe this is a stage a lot of other people are reaching, maybe it’s (along with money) a reason for the strong urge to “open up” the country. Down here that’s a huge thing. Tourism and potatoes are the biggies in this economy and people down here — where most businesses are small businesses — are eager to get on with life. We’ve had a total of 75 identified cases and one death down here which, for me, is an argument AGAINST opening to tourism but…

I made my every-two-weeks trek for groceries yesterday, ski buff at the ready to pull up over my nose and mouth. As I waited in the parking lot, I saw that most people going in and out of the store were wearing masks. It hit me that IF people did not resist that small thing, the business of opening up might be OK.

In other news, Ancestry DNA has revealed yet another amazing trait: I like coffee. Don’t be fooled by “You said you have 1 to 2 caffeinated drinks a day.” It is one giant cup of espresso = 6 little espresso cups. 😀

Although I promised no beans, Tu Fu wanted to share this with you.

Night in a Room by the River

Evening rises toward the mountain trails.
as I climb up to my high chamber

Thin Clouds lodge along the cliffs.
A lonely moon rocks slowly on the waves.

A line of cranes flaps silently overhead,
and, far off, a howling pack of wolves.

Sleepless, memories of war betray me.
I am powerless against the world. ❤


Organizing “The Examined Life”

Definitely a project I would not have undertaken in normal times, but there’s something about the virus that makes creative work difficult and life itself kind of off-center somehow.

I have been through all 23 of these tomes and it’s been interesting in so many ways. Most interesting was the evolution of my knowledge of the chaparral in San Diego County. I moved to San Diego in 1984. For two years I had no idea there was anything beyond the beaches, the bays, bougainvillea and hibiscus, then my ex saw an article in the Reader that said, “Fall color in San Diego? YES!” and on Thanksgiving 1986 we went to Old Mission Dam where the cottonwoods were golden and, when the leaves were trodden beneath my feet, sent that smell that means, to me, fall. I started taking my puppy — Truffle, then only five months old — up there and began the long journey that has not — thank God — ended yet. I thought that there was no good hiking in San Diego, that I was truly living in exile. How wrong I was!

The journals are full of hikes and what I saw.

They are also filled with perplexity about marriage, love and self. It wasn’t until the 2000’s that I sought professional help with these things. There, in one journal, maybe 2004 or 2005, it’s spelled out. My therapist said, “People who are raised by mothers like yours have a difficult time seeing relationships as anything but absurd.” As she was French, her use of “absurd” was more profound that the words “silly” or “pointless.” Think of Ionesco or Samuel Beckett. I wrote a long (typed) entry about this that showed that, on some level, I understood this but it wasn’t until I tried another romantic relationship that I got the full meaning of her statement.

It’s interesting that it’s our relationship with our mom that determines our ability to form relationships, life partnerships. The fact that I never knew where I stood with her, that she was constantly manipulating and controlling me, that in the court of mom I was always guilty, damaged me in my ability to choose partners and my ability to maintain a relationship. It’s OK, but reading through all those (sometimes tedious) journals showed me my struggle to find love, to understand myself, to figure out what I wanted. That’s not a stupid or embarrassing thing. I think love relationships are a fundamental human need, but I also think that not everyone is conditioned to have one. I saw through all that that my most successful love relationships were those that had little chance for permanence. It was clear I didn’t want permanence. To me it equated to my mom yelling at me for closing my bedroom door.

Do we ever get over that stuff? No. It is part of the adult we grow up to be. We can make some choices about ourselves and where we go, but the deeply engraved stuff like that? It’s always there. Understanding it helps and is, I think, the only way out. Now I see that (embarrassing) aspect of the 23 Journals is me fighting an invisible enemy to find my freedom, freedom that can come only through self-knowledge. I still cut a lot of it out, but…

Along with the search for love and the self-questioning are good stories about teaching. Letters and emails from my family and beloved friends. Notes from students, tickets from Italian trains, Swiss concerts, photos of people I love — all kinds of wonders. There I also recorded my hopeless attempts to get tenure — somewhere, anywhere, for the love of God — then the realization that what I had teaching at San Diego State was really what I wanted. I’ve written about the Cedar Fire, adjusting to life in Descanso, the mountains, the beginning of my osteoarthritis (at 51!!!) and how it had been misdiagnosed… Life is in those books.

One of the journals has an entire photocopied book I borrowed from a friend, poems by Rumi. Other books are filled with Goethe — and my conversations with him. There are drawings of hikes and flowers. Eulogies for my dogs when they died. ❤

On each journal, I have taped a note indicating something about its contents and I’ve labeled those with spines the years between the covers.

When I reached the last book (2006) — which is only half-filled — I wrote an entry that explained, from this distance, what happened, a bit about how things turned out. In 2008 when I threw out the Evil X, I began writing an online journal on Blogger, a private blog. I liked it. Who wouldn’t that types 100 wpm? I was already typing journal entries and gluing them into books. The online journal allowed pictures. That journal was my way of overcoming a very dark time and I did that by, every evening when I got home from school, writing one good memory from earlier years. I got this idea from Dostoyevsky who wrote in one of his books that one good memory from childhood can save a man’s life.

As I was writing that final entry, I checked my email and had to laugh. This quotation was on top of the first email, an advertisement:

“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

-Frank A. Clark

I would add that even the path that’s FILLED with obstacles might not lead anywhere. ðŸ˜‚

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.

Brief as Dandelion Floss

Wednesday was the little boy’s — Connor’s — birthday. He’s 7. His mom texted me yesterday to see if I wanted some birthday cake. I knew they were on their way down the alley by Bear’s and Teddy’s happy barks along the lilac hedge. Michelle had a tennis ball for Teddy. The little boy brought his favorite birthday present to show me.

We stayed out in the front yard talking (virus), all the while Michelle asking, in various synonymous sentences, if she could see the dogs and me answering, “You won’t like it.” At one point Michelle stood beside me in her “grown lady” hat, her pretty dress and her gold, glittery Uggs, blowing the floss from the dandelions. I was struck by the beauty of that image and thought, “It’s never a big thing.”

Finally Connor said, “Can we see your house?” I didn’t mind, but there’s this virus thing… I looked at their mom.

“They’re used to ‘no’.” I knew that. I never knew two kids so willing to roll with that little word.

“OK, but only the living room. I don’t want to give everything away. You need stuff to look forward to.” They only heard “OK.” The rest was for their mom. I have learned, over the years, the value in saying stuff that doesn’t make sense to kids but communicates to adults. Mom laughed. Maybe I learned that skill from my own parents.

“I’m going to let the dogs in. They will be VERY VERY VERY excited. You have to sit down and be very quiet and calm.”

It was a start, anyway. They both sat down. I went to the back door. The dogs raced in, knowing already WHO was in our house. OH BOY!!!

The kids never believe me that the dogs are WAY to exuberant for them, but yesterday they learned. Teddy’s joie de vivre (Aussie puppy) is too much for most people. But he is learning to sit to get pets. Bear — as a livestock guardian dog — reacts to the nervousness and fear in people she loves by wanting to climb on them to make them safe. So, because Michelle was afraid, Bear thought she had to go to work, making it worse. Really how many little girls in pretty dresses want a big dog who weighs more than they do to jump up on the sofa with them? It was kind of a circus. I got dog cookies and the kids managed to get Bear to go “Down!” And Teddy even managed once or twice. “Will work for cookies.”

Their mom — who grew up here near the Refuge — recognized immediately what I had painted years before I moved here in the painting below. “That’s the valley!” she said. “That’s the exact view from my grandma’s window! I guess you were meant to be here.”

When the dogs had calmed down, and the moment was over, there was much hugging. I know all about the virus but sometimes you have to weigh mortality against the spontaneous affection of children. 

I’m going to have Bear write the little girl a letter and explain how dogs behave differently than cats.


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.


Pick-axe Time Warp

I’m pretty happy with myself (for now, today). Yesterday morning I headed out to the Small Empty (my yard) and went at that space with a pick-axe hoping to level that patch of ground and make it ready for the installation of the deck. It was all “you load sixteen tons and whaddaya’ get” moment just like old times when I used to get ideas for HUGE gardens or new lawns.

I just hope it’s flat enough. Today is the day, supposed to be, anyway. 🙂

Bear was distressed because she wanted to go back to her new favorite spot last night, but I had successfully made it unappealing to her. I think she’s going to like the deck.

The last times I went at the ground like that I lived in the “hood,” City Heights in San Diego. I remembered how fun it was to take the boombox out there and blast Depeche Mode, Simple Minds, Primus, Beck, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide or the News From Lake Wobegon when I was working. I felt the loss of the boombox yesterday, the way it was living in the hood with two or three neighborly boomboxes blasting from backyards on a weekend. Walkmans were too unwieldy for backyard or garage work.

I thought of my next-door neighbor’s strenuous objections to rap and hip-hop and how that was the main sound all around me. Everything I played broadcast my skin color. Not like no one knew, right? Lifting my pickaxe yesterday and dropping it, I thought of this in a way I hadn’t thought of it before.

And I wanted to listen to Hip-hop. I wanted to wield that pick-axe and listen to the past. I felt like that woman who’d just turned 40, dammit. Booooooo-zit, boooooo-zit. I came inside the house, washed up and got my phone. I loaded Youtube and found my favorite Cypress Hill album, “Black Sunday.”

“That’s what I need,” I thought, happily, heading back out.

I pushed the equivalent of “Play” and endured two long minutes of a Nutrisystem ad. (I don’t pay for Youtube) The music came up, the pick-axe went up, my mood went up and then?

The thing is, 30 years have gone by since I was that woman. I don’t even have the same pick-axe. Our electronics know everything about us and Youtube knows I’m on Medicare, am female and and and and…”If you have osteoporosis and suffer from thinning bones, now might not be the time to wonder, ‘Are my bones strong enough?'” I’m thankful I don’t have that kind of trouble (yet, so far, whatever…)

Before the next song, I was warned about a scam targeting Medicare recipients.

The whole thing cracked me up. In my mind — and, fortunately, in my body (for the purpose of heaving the pick-axe) — I was barely forty. But my music wasn’t coming from a boombox on the porch; it was funneled into my ears through my Apple earbuds from something called the “Internet.” And I was — am — almost 70.


Crane Philosophy

Yesterday with Bear at the Wildlife Refuge I had the opportunity to speak to an older couple who’d decided to wander a little trail. The head collar on Bear looks to the uninitiated like a muzzle. They hesitated. “Is she friendly?”

“Very friendly. She loves people.” The man had a walking stick, the woman stayed behind him. Bear sat. At the right moment Bear walked calmly to the man who instantly fell in love with her. We talked dogs, dog breeds and family. They were from Texas and, I later saw, had a sticker on their car that indicated to me their politics. It’s usually impossible to know where Crane Tourists are from. They tend to drive large, clean SUVs with Colorado plates. I’m sure a lot of them are rented in Denver.

“What beautiful eyes!” said the man. “Look at them, honey.”

Then we talked about the Bernese dog. Their son had had one, and it had reached the end of its life at 6.

“They don’t live long,” I said. “And Bernese are such wonderful dogs. None of these giant breed dogs have long lives.”

“Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it. About what’s really important,” said the man scratching Bear’s ears. There is nothing like the Big Empty and its spectacular sky to make people philosophical.

It was a gorgeous March day, not warm, not cold and, strangely enough, not windy (???). Clouds floated above, enough to keep the light soft and the trail shaded, saving everyone from the powerful sunshine of the San Luis Valley. Lucky for all of these people who’d come to see the cranes.

At one spot, a small group of cranes was gathered around a pond about fifty feet from the dirt road. A clutch of SUVs had parked, and people were out with long-lenses and binoculars. Bear and I stayed back because she’d want to meet everyone and we’d gone most of our distance. A few cars passed us; drivers waved. One car had stickers that clearly delineated the politics of the people in the car. “Coexist” “Sanders for President.” I watched them pull over behind the Texans. The tall Texan with the walking stick pointed out the cranes. The driver of the “Coexist” car patted him on the shoulder in thanks. I heard laughter.

Just then a big SUV passed with Alaska plates and I wondered, “Why would you drive all the way here for what you have at home?” But as they were retired people, it occurred to me that maybe they’d wintered in Texas, as my Montana relatives had done, and were following the cranes north.

Bear and I turned around. She walked leaning against me, my hand on her shoulders until a magpie caught her eye. She stopped. She watches birds. She regarded him, perched on a three-foot tall low willow tree and the magpie regarded her in return. As I waited, I thought that maybe all we need to bring the people in this country together are Sandhill Cranes, mountains, a beautiful day and a blue-eyed, big white dog.


Quotidian Update 81.2.iiv

Ambient water vapor is a very rare thing out here in the Back of Beyond. Daytime humidity normally registers in the single digits. But, in the winter we have freezing fog, usually in the more humid hours of the night and pretty often we get to wake up to an enchanted world. Those mornings also bring ice crystals in the air, shimmering rainbows, suspended for fleeting moments as they drift down to the snow, tiny spectra on the ground.

The four seasons are equally split, and real winter is probably 3 months away. I haven’t broken the news to Bear, but considering that I have a broken foot, it’s a good thing for me.

Otherwise — Bear missed me while I was up at points north and has been near me every minute since they came home. Lori, the woman who owns the kennel, put my dogs in the kennel next to the grooming area. There’s a window that opens onto that kennel so Lori could pet them, and I’m sure they got LOTS of attention. Teddy seems a little hesitant and downcast, like, “You left me!” As someone abandoned him not all that long ago, I understand. He has to learn that I might leave him with Lori at the kennel, but I will come back.

My dogs suffering in captivity 😀



One of my favorite books is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. A student gave it to me some 20 years ago in a Critical Thinking class. She (correctly) noted that The Phantom Tollbooth and Beyond Feelings, our textbook, said the same thing.

In the Phantom Tollbooth there’s a dog named “Tock.” He is a “watch” dog.

Milo and Tock, two of my heroes

For a long time, I just thought this was a cute pun to attract kids. But today, 85 degrees F (29C) my dogs had to go for a walk at 2 pm. That is Bear’s customary hour for a walk. This summer I haven’t been able to “tock” (ha ha) her out of it and go in the evenings. Every other year of her life, but not this year. I don’t know why. Maybe the big change of No More Dusty has made her a little more rigid than usual.

So, out we went. Luckily there are a lot of grassy and shady places around the high school and we just went there, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, practicing sit and heel for .77 miles. Throughout this meditation (ha ha) I thought that maybe Norton Juster was saying more with Tock than just making a cute pun on “watch dog”. I also have to figure out another way to reset Bear’s clock.