Butterfly Sanctuary, Quotidian Report #35

That elastic spring in my step is gone, I mean LONG gone. But…I think maybe elasticity of mind is as important.

Yesterday, after my adventure at Great Sand Dunes, there wasn’t much elasticity left in the joints in my legs, but I took the dogs out anyway. It was a beautiful day for a walk and they were happy. Me too, though, honestly, it hurt most of the time.

 

***

Snow is forecast for Monday and the first “real” freeze, so I spent this morning out in the yard explaining to all the little plants why they have to be pulled up or cut back.

1

I hate working in the yard in front of my house in the summer. First, it’s a south facing house, which means it’s BLASTING hot. Second, it’s on a major US highway, so there I am, a little old lady in shorts, bending over to tend plants. No. This is not to be born. At a certain point, a couple months ago, I just stopped. I didn’t want to be on TV. As a friend pointed out, you never know when Google Earth is going to come by.

This morning was very cool (bordering on frigid), and the summer traffic is done, making my street just a street in a town. I cut the grass and, simultaneously, using the same tool, “raked” leaves. I cut back plants that will go dormant and pulled out stuff that will die. I found the sunflowers had given me seeds. Most wonderful of all, my neglected lawn — invaded by Piñon asters — was full of Painted Lady butterflies. I did not mow their little sanctuary. They need what the flowers give them more than I need to mow…

 

 

P.S. I did not take the photo of the butterfly. I tried, but whenever I got near, they flew away. I took it off the Internet.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/elastic/

Famdamily

Yesterday I talked to one of my cousins, the remaining son of my Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank. It seems my Aunt Jo — 94 and dealing with dementia — is on the way out. That right there is not news. The word “imminent” is the big change. My cousin — whom I like very much — and I talked a long time. He doesn’t like his mother much, and I thought it’s interesting how most of the cousins — children of my mom’s sisters — don’t like their mothers much. Something in the gritty past of all those girls left them warped in some mysterious way. They could all be very, very mean given the right (or wrong) concatenation of events.

After my cousin and I talked, I was very sad. I love my Aunt Jo and she has been unfailingly kind and loving to me. I owe her many of my good memories, some of my good habits as well as the knowledge everyone needs that they are loved.

I fed the dogs but didn’t feel like cooking or eating supper at all. I’d told my cousin i would come up to Montana, so I sat down and tried to find a good air fare and a place to stay. “I still have the folks’ house,” he’d said, “but there are no beds in it. I don’t feel right about you spending all that money to come up here and stay in a hotel and all that.”

I haven’t gone to Montana for 7 years for that very reason. To fly, stay somewhere and board the dogs is a huge chunk of change. It’s more than a garage door. It’s a third of a garage roof. It’s money I don’t have.

Finally I gave up. I couldn’t think clearly, anyway. Memories and images of past moments pressed against my eyes; I could SEE them. I sneaked out the back door with Bear and went to the slough. Besides sadness, I was carrying loneliness. When someone we love dies — or stands on the brink of death — loneliness is part and parcel of mourning.

It was nearly 7, an hour away from sunset. A good wind was blowing, promising rain to someone but not to us. Perfect. The light was soft and healing. The clouds blue gray. We hit the trail. I noticed the milkweed were still blooming, and I wondered if I’d ever see a monarch butterfly (I never had). Soon, I did. She flitted up above Bear and then in front of my face. “Bear, we’ve finally seen a Monarch butterfly,” I almost whispered to my dog who was watching it fly away.

We turned the corner and there in the near distance stood a large mule deer doe. I was downwind of her so she was calm and unaware of me for a while, then the wind shifted for a second or two, and she looked right at me. I watched her. Bear was very still. The doe finally decided that while I didn’t seem to be a threat, better safe than sorry, and went bounding back in the direction from which she’d come. I watched her go and saw her stop in the tall chamisa a ways away, still watching me. Bear and I continued. A large bird approached and flew overhead; an osprey.

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/grit/

Hunting season has slowed down and yesterday Dusty, Bear and I were able to return to our favorite spot along the Rio Grande to take a short hike. All of us felt excited about it. Not that the golf course isn’t great — it is and it’s close, and our fox lives there — but the slough is a place where one is more likely to see wild birds and maybe even a big mammal or two (hasn’t happened yet).

I love birds. I don’t love all birds equally, but I love birds. Back in my “I’m-looking-for-my-spirit-guide” days (the late 1980s/early 1990s) I was sure the red tail hawk was my spirit guide. I don’t know about spirit guide, ultimately, but I learned something about bird behavior and I could take a lesson from that. The reality – one could call it the science – behind what they do and why turned out to be more interesting than gaining spiritual lessons. I’m ALWAYS glad to see them. And, I get a little heart-lift when they are around.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the wildlife area yesterday, a red tail was sitting on the highest point of the nearest bare cottonwood. My heart went, “Yes!”

Dusty was wearing his neon-orange hunting vest with its two reflective stripes. He would be off leash and on the off chance there were shotguns out there, I wanted him to be safe plus I’d bought it and not used it and damn! That is not to be born!  Bear is always leashed.

We took off. I was happy to see lots of footprints in the snow — people. That meant people had been enjoying the beauty of the place. I always think the wild places near towns and cities are very vulnerable, and unless people know about them and enjoy them, they are even less safe.

About half-way, I heard a screech high up, and looked up to see two red tails play-fighting in the sky. I think they were a mated pair. Male red tails are smaller than females and red tail hawks mate for life. I have been lucky to get to see this often on hikes, so I enjoyed the air show. Then they said “Ciao!” and went off to do what they each needed to do; hunting.  A little while later, both Bear and Dusty became very alert and stared meaningfully across the field. I couldn’t see what they were smelling, but it turned out to be a family on a walk. Long before I saw the family, they startled the female hawk from whatever prey she had been pursuing? had captured? She took flight very low and very close and very suddenly, scaring the bejeesus out of Dusty who jumped straight up in the air as the bird swooped by.

It was pretty funny.

Soon after, the family marched by. I held back a madly barking Dusty, said the usual, “He’s friendly even though he doesn’t sound like it. Have a great day!” One of them held a madly barking Pomeranian in her arms.

Because I didn’t want to intersect their path on the way out, we hurried along, but happy we’d been back and eager to return.

img_5106

img_5101

“Don’t take my picture!”

img_5107

White Sangre de Cristos in the distance

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/renewal/

Segue…

I started keeping a blog on WordPress two years ago day before yesterday. WordPress let me know. The first blog — and the reason I started — was martinofgfenn.com followed that same day by savior1244.wordpress.com

Both of these are blogs to promote my novels, Martin of Gfenn and Savior. On that occasion I saw the Daily Prompt and I thought, “That’s dumb” but I did it anyway and it wasn’t dumb after all. I have written a few good stories based on those prompts and met some great people. It also helped me me grounded and calm during the chaotic days when I first came back to Colorado and didn’t have a house yet! 🙂

But for a while I’ve thought I might be nearing the end of that phase and wondered what would come along. One of my readers gave me the idea to write down the stories of dogs and hiking. That’s been in the back of my mind for a while and I finally decided to start a new blog dedicated to those stories and experiences.

I expect to be writing much more frequently on that blog than this one, at least for a while. I’d be very happy for all the readers who want to migrate with me. The blog is here and the title is My Mt. Everest.

 

Walk Away

Daily I “walk away” from this thing. Dusty, Bear and I — sometimes with Mindy, if she feels up to it — go out for our “constitutional” in this place called “outside.” Luckily our weather is still beautiful, though my opinion doesn’t seem shared, as I no longer run into other people out there. It’s nippy, yeah, but nothing a few layers won’t fix. My favorite combination is a silk undershirt, a wool shirt and a sweat shirt. If things get really blustery, I have a sweatshirt with a fluffy fleece lining. That’s what the cool kids wear around here and godnose, as impossible as it is, I’d like to fit in. Still, as there are no other people outside, there is not much to fit in with. AND if things get to Eskimo levels, I have a down parka and all the stuff that goes with it.

I’m thinking of snow shoes. Not too likely at this point for financial reasons, but still, that looks like fun. First we need snow, but after that? Party!!!

Yesterday I noticed about 10 miles of train cars — open-topped, for potatoes? Probable. As I lifted my phone to take the photo up top there, a single Sandhill Crane, who had been hidden in the reeds, lifted off, moving too quickly in her slow loping wing motion for me to capture. They migrate in groups but there are always stragglers. This pond always has ducks.

Behind the trains there was a lot of mooing and crashing together of metal sounding to me like the farmer was moving his cattle by truck. That could be bad for the cattle, but it could also just mean a new pasture. I thought good thoughts in their direction and thought about the girl who runs the animal shelter in my town who would really like to save every single suffering animal in the world. Well, I wouldn’t want anyone else running the local no-kill shelter, right?

My mind wandered to the question of beef — I never have liked it much. Even as a little kid I much preferred lamb, but that was rare. Oops, didn’t mean to make a pun. 🙂  UNCOMMON. There was almost always beef on the table. I learned to like pork in the People’s Republic of China where dinner might be wandering the same street as you — along beside you — during the day. Free range pigs, village pigs, scrounging pigs. Every day we heard the sounds of some pig joining his ancestors.

About a month ago, at a party, I ate a sliver of venison roast and it was truly the first red meat I’ve eaten in my life that I liked 100% and wanted more of. Even thoughts of “Bambi” had no effect. Bambi was just an animated character.

So we kept walking, past what I call the “Farm of Spoiled Dreams.” There are a lot of these farms around here, log cabins or adobe houses, log sheds or adobe potato barns, barns pressed into use long after the people have left the property (or moved into a double-wide a couple miles down the road?).

IMG_3138

The “trail” is a single lane dirt farm road. I like it very much because it doesn’t have any thorns on it (goat head thorns, the bane of existence, particularly if you are a bicycle or Mindy with her curly feet fur). The wild animals around use it so there are almost always tracks. I love reading “the news.” Yesterday’s news involved deer, a burro, some geese, a fox and, I think, an elk with a calf. Sometimes I’ve been on trails that had real stories of dramas in the night — even the death of a rattler at the “hands” of a gopher snake can be recorded in the dust. I’ve read several volumes of Coyotes vs. Mice, but this road seems to be a corridor, neutral territory. Dusty and Bear love it; it’s filled with good smells. I have wished, often, I could “see” the world through a dog’s eyes just for an hour or so on a hike.

So…

Rain Shadow

Here’s a photo that kind of shows the rain shadow effect in the Laguna Mountains. You can see where the cloud just STOPS. It’s stopped by warm air rising from the desert and, if we could take the trail a little farther, you’d find we go in and out of winter depending on the location of the cloud and how much moisture it holds. Most of the time, the rain or snow storms would reach the highest parts of the rim along the desert and stop, sometimes dumping three feet or more of snow in the last minute before dissipating. Many people don’t know it snows in San Diego County!

I’m with Lily on the Garnet Peak Trail in this photo back in 2013.If you look a little bit in the distance behind me on the trail, you’ll see there is no frost on the bushes. We continued on the trail and hiked the rest of the way in a sunny day, returning to falling snow.

Lily and me, Garnet Peak, Rain Shadow

The Clarinet Might Need a New Reed

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “These Horns Were Made for Tooting.”

The ONE thing I was really good at I’m not good at now — that was hiking for miles and miles and miles and hours and hours over semi-rough terrain with dogs and looking at nature. I’m a very good tracker and have a superior sense of direction. I’ve read this is because humans have metal — a bit of magnetite — in their nose; some more than others. That was it. In all other things, I’m second best (at best)…

Some years ago scientists at CALTECH (California Institute of Technology in Pasadena) discovered that humans possess a tiny, shiny crystal of magnetite in the ethmoid bone, located between your eyes, just behind the nose.

ethmoid-1

Magnetite is a magnetic mineral also possessed by homing pigeons, migratory salmon, dolphins, honeybees, and bats. Indeed, some bacteria even contain strands of magnetite that function, according to Dr Charles Walcott of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York, “as tiny compass needles, allowing them [the bacteria] to orient themselves in the earth’s magnetic field and swim down to their happy home in the mud”.

It seems that magnetite helps direction finding in animals and helps migratory species migrate successfully by allowing them to draw upon the earth’s magnetic fields. But scientists are not sure how they do this.

In any case, when it comes to humans, according to some experts, magnetite makes the ethmoid bone sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field and helps your sense of direction.

Some, such as Dr Dennis J Walmsley and W Epps from the Department of Human Geography of the Australian National University in Canberra writing in Perceptual and Motor Skills as far back as in 1987, have even suggested that this “compass” was helpful in human evolution as it made migration and hunting easier.

Following this fascinating factoid, science journalist Marc McCutcheon entitled a book The Compass in Your Nose and Other Astonishing Facts.

Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney.

Since I was a kid, I’ve liked seeing if I could get lost. I lived near a large deciduous forest in Nebraska, so I had a lot of chances to test it. Since I read the Boy Scout Handbook for fun and entertainment, and was in love with Lawrence of Arabia, I also knew that it was a good idea to observe the surrounding world for landmarks, ideally things that were out of place. It was also important to orient one’s position with the sun — which, I learned, even on a cloudy day is somewhat possible. I never used a compass. Sometimes I used a map but more often I forgot it.

The first time I was able to demonstrate this was when I was in 6th grade and my science class went for a field trip to Fontanelle Forest in Omaha. The boys and girls split up, each led by a teacher, and we were going to observe the forest. We took a trail straight through the woods to the river which was lined by a railroad track. For me — already Natty Bumpo — it was a pretty lame experience, but it was nice not to be in the classroom. As I walked along the tracks with my friend, I noticed a dead and bloated raccoon. He was roughly 20 yards beyond the turning. Not long after, we turned into the woods where things got interesting. One of my classmates had an asthma attack.

My teacher was an idiot. All she could do was panic. “Oh! Oh! Oh! We need Colonel Smithson!” (the other science teacher).

“I’ll go find him,” I said.

After a little bit of persuasion, the teacher decided I could take Kathy Keough and we would go find Colonel Smithson. Kathy was not a lot of help because she didn’t k now woods and thought I was weird. Halfway into our journey she stopped to pray. After that, we carried on. I returned us to the tracks. We walked up the tracks, I saw the raccoon, said, “Our trail is in a few yards.”

“How do YOU know?”

I did not dignify her question with a response other than, “Wait and see.”

Soon we met our trail, turned left onto it, and not long afterward met Colonel Smithson and the boys. They were not dumb enough to start wandering through the forest; they stayed on the trail.

“Cathy’s had an asthma attack and Mrs. Trumbull needs you.”

“Where are they?”

“Ask Ann (the name I went by for two years because there was another Martha in the class),” said Kathy who was now extremely impressed.

“I’ll take you to them. I hope they haven’t moved, but if they have, we’ll find them.” I led them back to the group of girls. Col. Smithson (I don’t honestly know what he was supposed to do with an asthma attack girl unless he had a nebulizer) helped Cathy and we left the forest.

No one said, “Thanks, Ann. Good tracking.”

And when I got home, no one was very interested in my story. My mom was worried about ticks. That was strange because I was in the forest every free chance I had, honing my tracking skills, and she never said anything about ticks.

So…today I’m off to the orthopedic surgeon to see what — if anything — can be done with/to my knee so I can get back on the trails again with this immense white dog on whom ticks should be easy to find.

Progress! More than I Imagined Possible. :)

Me and Bear, 8:7:2015

Bear and me at Rock Creek Campground, 8/7/2015

For much of my life I was a very avid hiker and trail runner. Then, about 10 years ago, my right hip went south and I ended up having hip resurfacing surgery in 2007. In between here is a long story (la la la). OK, so the upshot was that my body lost conditioning, my arthritic knees had no support, and I couldn’t hike, never mind run. Often, I could barely walk. After I moved here, in October 2014, surrounded by the Rockies I loved and had missed for 30 years, I was really sad because of all the trails here that were just not going to be for me. BUT I bought an Airdyne (stationary bicycle) and started working out just hoping to improve, even a little. It was a slow process and I honestly didn’t expect much. As I got stronger, I added other things to the regimen. I started 10 months ago and I walk a lot better now — better than anyone (including me) expected.

Friday, my friend L and I took the puppy, Dusty, and L’s dog, Shoe, and went to the area near the Rock Creek campground to check it out (wow in so many ways). I looked at the trail/road and said to L, “Maybe I can run.” I handed L my cane and Bear’s leash and stood there for a minute, taking stock of things and psyching myself up. I took off. I think I ran 30 yards or so and I could have kept going. I wasn’t fast, but I could feel that my form was good and I was well balanced.

It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

August 4, 2004, 6 pm, Mountain Lion

For years I kept a blog on Blogger. Today being the 11th anniversary of my finally seeing a mountain lion, I decided to go back and find a post I wrote in 2009 in memory of that wonderful moment. Here it is.

Spirit Animal?

Sometime in the late ’80’s I read Hyemeyohosts Storms beautiful book, The Seven Arrows. At that time I spent a lot of time in Montana, which is full of Indian culture, and hiking at Mission Trails which is saturated with Indian life and history. I was also somewhat confused inside. My marriage was disappointing, though the man I was married to was beautiful and good. I was not making any progress in my career. An important ingredient was missing from my life, and I tried to fill that emptiness with hiking through a landscape haunted by Indians. There were grinding holes in the rocks around me; there was an ingenious a dam they built to hold water; cuts and wearing of rocks along a stream showed a place where they may have turned the yucca into fibers for rope and sandals; the stands of oak at the end of a canyon gave them their staple food; the stream and river were lined with willows they used for houses and storage. Hiking in Mission Trails and reading The Seven Arrows inspired me to look for my spirit animal. I got my wish, in a scary, beautiful journey.

It began with a dream I had in Montana while visiting my mom. My mom, husband and I were driving on the highway out of Red Lodge heading up to Beartooth Summit. From my back seat window, I saw a mountain lion. I spoke up, but both of them said, “Oh don’t be silly. There is no mountain lion. What would a mountain lion be doing so close to the road?”

After that, dreams of cougars recurred frequently. In one, I was on the road from Julian to the Laguna Mountains, north of Lake Cuyamaca, crossing pasture land. A mountain lion was attacking a herd of cattle. It noticed me by the fence and came to me. I was frightened and drove away. It chased my car. I drove a red Ford Escort, even though, in life, I had a truck. The Escort came a few years later, after my mom died. In another, a mountain lion came to my front yard in City Heights to tell me that my mom was an alcoholic, and I should not give up my life to care for her. It was more than four years before I learned that my mother had long been in fact, a secret alcoholic. Not all the dreams were prescient, but all were beautiful. Cougars led me to rescue hawks that had been blown down in a storm. They walked beside me on the trails that filled my dreams, deep snow in the chaparral, skiing beside a cougar, mystical hikes in impossible landscapes, the Swiss Alps, years before I thought of going to Switzerland.

I did some research into the significance of a mountain lion as a spirit animal and learned that its gift is balance, their graceful leaps suspended by their long, heavy tail. I painted a life-sized cougar on the inside of the topper of my 1988 Ford Ranger, the focal point of a mural of rocks, sky and hawks. When I changed phone companies, and they asked what number I wanted, I asked for 7862, p-u-m-a, not realizing those had been the digits in my mom’s phone number.

In 1993 I began slipping into a mental crisis. One of the first signs was too wonderful to call insanity. I awoke in the night to see a cougar beside my bed, haloed with ultramarine light. He was watching me sleep. I wanted to touch him, but lay paralyzed in my bed. One symptom of mania is that kind of hallucination, and the feeling of a deep, personal connection to the divine essence. That he was the advance man for madness didn’t occur to me.

I had seen his tracks three times. The first time here in California, skiing on Cuyamaca Mountain in 1985. The second, skiing in the Beartooths in Montana; the third in the chaparral dust at Mission Trails. I was almost satisfied with that, the confirmation that he prowled where I prowled, but deep inside I wanted more and I began hiking at dusk into dark with the dim hope of encountering a mountain lion.

Then, in the mountains where I now live, there were several deadly cougar attacks on people. It’s true that one of the women killed was hiking with a bloody steak in her back pack (hardly the cougar’s fault that she smelled like fresh food) but there was a heightened sense of danger all around the mountains. A ranger in the Lagunas pulling in the garden hose at the ranger station found a full-grown, female cougar playing with the end of it, just like the household cat. It should have been beautiful and amusing to the ranger, but because of the deaths, the ranger was scared. Then one of my friends canceled a hike with me because a cougar had been sighted at Mission Trails. I heard her on my cell phone say, “I suppose you WANT to go and you think I’m a coward.” Well, I did want to go, and I thought she was selfish. The likelihood of our seeing the cougar was minimal; the possible reward incredible.

I’d learned from my years hiking in the chaparral that wonderful things happen when you inject your presence into the wild clock. In my hikes at Mission Trails a pair of redtails learned that when I arrived — at about the same time every day — my dogs would help them hunt by chasing critters out from under bushes. They perched on the same boulder waiting for me every afternoon – or waiting for the dogs. I often hiked with these birds flying beside me close enough that, as I hiked the top of a ridge, I could see their eyes, their feathers, their mouths, the motion of their tails.

I normally hiked alone, or with dogs, and sometimes people on a trail asked me if I were frightened. I said I was more afraid NOT to hike than to hike alone. I really didn’t have a choice. Even with a few friends to hike with, most hikes were solitary. As a nod to the danger, I attached one of the little goat bells I’d brought back from Zurich to my keys. An idiot warning system since I made sure it was completely muffled when I hiked.

When I moved up here, I hiked daily in the Lagunas. A short 3 mile hike when I didn’t have much time, and a longer hike, between 8 and 12 miles, if I had the time. The short hike was a morning hike, and the long hike later in the afternoon so the day cooled off as I tired. In my morning hikes I often crossed tracks with a bobcat as she went for a drink, caught a squirrel or headed up a hill after visiting the pond. Late afternoon was all about feral cattle, rattlesnakes and ground squirrels, but the light was beautiful and the air was soft and I had no complaints about anything. Occasionally, at either time, I caught sight of deer.

The mountain lion was on top of the boulders when I saw her last. The trail winds around the boulders then around the pond.

About 6 p.m. on August 4, 2004, I was walking back from Lake Laguna down a small slope toward the pond. In front of me, about 50 feet, I noticed a shadowy shape moving against the rocks. The sun was in my eyes making it difficult to see. I lifted my hand to shade my eyes. The animal stopped and crouched very much like a house cat caught doing something it shouldn’t. For a moment I couldn’t really SEE what I SAW. The reality of it could not penetrate a brain that had waited so long. Then I realized what — whose! — silhouette I was seeing. I stopped, Ariel beside me. I spoke to the cat. “Finally! I have wanted to see you for a long time, but that’s all I want, so please just turn around and go back into those rocks until I get past you.” She looked toward me and then turned around and went into the rocks. Ariel and I continued, facing the rocks constantly, you can be sure. 30 feet on the other side, I stopped to see the mountain lion sitting on top of the outcropping looking at me. It was then I realized I had been a part of her world for a couple of years.

I came home bewildered about my good luck and filled with love for that cat.

2004 was the last year I was able to hike the way I had been hiking for most of my life. As the weather cooled, I began having problems I’d never had before. My back and quads were increasingly painful as I walked. More and more often, a short hike felt like a long one. I had to lift my right leg into my truck, and when I got out, I had a very hard time standing up straight and walking to the house.

In November I was on the floor of my house, poking the fire in my stove to re-energize the coals, when the phone rang. I could not get up to answer. I crawled across the floor and pulled myself up using the door jam to the kitchen. I missed the call. From there was the long slow process of misdiagnoses, physical therapy, and months of excruciating pain before discovery of osteoarthritis in my hip. This was caused by trail running and a lifetime of sports injuries. I had hip resurfacing surgery in 2007. My hip is now as good as new, but I have changed, and will probably never again hike as I did before. Only very recently have I understood what happened that day in August, and the cougar’s lesson of balance. I see that moment now as a perfect benediction.

Reinhold Messner and Me

I’m not a mountaineer. I’m just a little lady who loves mountains. What I love best about mountains, actually, is looking at them from a distance. They seem to promise so much and I love those promises. As long as I can remember, I’ve felt this way about them and I’ve been lucky to have seen a lot of great mountains in my life, some of them up close.

But when you’re close to a mountain, it becomes something else. It becomes a trail, a ski run, a face, a glacier, a route, a snow field. The mountain is gone. Because of this, I never really minded Southern California. The “mountains” in my California life were all under 10,000 feet and the ones I spent the most time on were not mountains at all; they were hills that happened to rise above the surrounding landscape one or two thousand feet. I got to know these mountains well; they were the right scale for intimacy.

I spent at least an hour most days between 1987 and 2005 on one or another of these trails through the mountains. What I liked was motion and the chance to see animals and the way my mind would work after about 30 minutes of hard exertion. I also liked that I was alone, with my dogs, most of the time and I liked whatever surprises came my way. Coyotes yipping and howling, sometimes to me; the burst of Datura fragrance at dusk on a warm summer evening; an owl silently flying ten feet from my face; the screech of a hawk in the blue sky; the fragrance of black sage after rain; rainbows; clouds that touch the ridge; standing with one hand in rain the other outside of the rain shadow; the  view of the desert from a high place; small seasonal waterfalls; dogs “fishing” in puddles; standing in a golden field with a friend watching a black shouldered kite hover in her hunt; bald eagles fishing in eskers coming out of the flooded reservoir; following my white husky into a thicket to find a surprised doe staring into my eyes; wild lilac blooming all around, their tiny blue petals falling on the trail; thousands of lady bugs in the tall grass; the fun of climbing up a mean little mountain with a good friend and looking over the desert at the Salton Sea; my white husky swimming in a spring; a manzanita ancient and huge with beautiful red bark; orange poppies blooming everywhere; a roadrunner staying in arm’s reach as we both climb a steep, steep trail; ravens surfing on a thermal showing off, I think, for me as I sat and watched on a cliff right beside them; sunset bright red on the ocean 70 miles from where I stood on a narrow, snowy ledge; a mountain lion; the coyote following along beside me as I carried my dead dog’s tag to place on a fence post. I also liked the discomforts; flies in the face, rattlesnakes on the trails, carrying water (lots of water in summer), heat, cold, wet, storms, mud, night. I liked that everything around me was OTHER than I, that the only power I had in that place was over myself, my attitude. I liked that the power of it, nature, is never arbitrary or fake. I liked being where I knew I belonged as a natural creature, not a proponent of culture — a teacher.

I learned so much on those trails, mostly about myself. I learned things I probably am not even fully aware of but which stand me in good stead every day of my life.

Growing to maturity in Colorado in the 70s meant that I was surrounded by the emerging climbing culture. Many of my friends climbed — I climbed, when it comes to it. I liked the feel of rock under my hands; I liked finding routes; I liked the strength involved in making it from place to place. It was never more than a hobby for me, though. What I liked best was moving through space and climbing what came between me and the next vista. Others, though, became mountaineers. Some of them got hurt and most of them didn’t and ended up quitting at a certain point because it is kind of a stupid way to die unless it is your passion.

298_298_mountain-madness

Last night I watched a film done by Outside magazine, a little documentary and interview of Reinhold Messner, probably THE greatest climber of my generation, and because I liked climbers, love mountains and faraway places, I followed Messner’s adventures. He was the first climber to solo climb Everest without bottled oxygen. He was also a participant/believer in the “free” climbing movement which means climbing without relying much on technical tools to make the climb safer. That style of climbing means you don’t leave hardware on the mountain and the route remains pristine for the next person. I knew if I were a climber, that’s what I would do, too. Messner free-climbed Everest (and many other mountains).

Reinhold Messner was born in 1944 so he’s eight years older than I. In the film I watched last night, I’d guess he was in his sixties. He talked about his philosophy of climbing and answered the question, “Why did you climb?” He asserted he was climbing to learn about himself, to learn about his limitations. He spoke about fear and what fear can teach a person. He said (as I used to say to my students!) “We suck as animals. We might have a man he runs 100 meters in 9 seconds or so but any horse would beat him; we’re not so fast, and there are animals that can pull themselves over an overhang, no problem. We have nothing special except this,” and he pointed at his head, “we have this brain. It’s fear that pushed us into figuring things out, how to get away from the lion or the tiger.”

The interviewer asked him what he had hoped to achieve as a climber and Messner said, “I wasn’t achieving anything except for my own. I was having adventure. The adventure begins here.” He tapped his head again. I thought about that a lot since then — adventure is really everything. All my trails were adventures. I went out every time ready for whatever happened; happy with the consequences. I thought about Messner’s idea of adventure — it does begin in the mind. It is going out into something you’re afraid of and maybe you fail. He said, “Well, I was going up Everest alone without oxygen so there were some things I wasn’t going to do. I was going to take the usual route most people take, not an unknown route. I had to carry all my things myself, so I knew I had to go fast, and to stay up at that altitude too long is dangerous. I was three days up and two days back. It would be easy for things to go wrong. I had to be able to see my footprints or I wouldn’t get back down, but you see, I saw them, I got back down.” He laughed. Thinking is the part that eliminates all that is NOT the adventure.

He talked about how all the big mountains will stop being adventures. “To get to the top of a mountain is a kind of superficial goal; that’s not the adventure. There are thousands of mountains and walls and faces no one has climbed, but the people are going to the top of Mt. Everest.”

I thought about that, too. Since, for me, mountains are beautiful things at a distance, they are all mountains I have not climbed. The mountains I have climbed? Fortuna, South Fortuna, Kwapaay, Cowles, Laguna, Hays Peak and Garnet Peak. That’s it. Not much of a peak bagger… My life has been on a few hard trails but all mountains are trails. I just had to earn a living and I never earned much. It wasn’t like I could pick up and go even to Yosemite.

But the most truly beautiful thing Messner said was that in his mind, in his climbs, he had inscribed lines on the faces of the mountains and walls that he climbed. Only he can see the lines, no one else. Others will have the chance to make their own lines in their own lifetimes. “Each generation remakes the world,” he said.  Without the beauty and the mystery, the story that hasn’t yet been written, there is no adventure. Leaving protection on the rock is stealing from the future the possibility of adventure.

He said some other things that touched me, but maybe most touching was this, “I can’t do it any more. I got this leg that gives me some problems, so now I’m going to do these other things, find different adventures.”

Here’s the film:

http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/messner