Two Miles to the River and Back

Today is my 66th birthday, so yesterday afternoon, Bear and I went out to attempt a challenge.

Below is the map of the Rio Grande Wildlife Area where we like to walk. Our trails are marked in white. Our most common trail is the loop you see over the word “Homelake.” Homelake is a veterans home built in the 1880s for Civil War Veterans. It’s historic, beautiful and is still a home to veterans. The white line that is directly across from it follows the Rio Grande for about 1/2 mile. Then we turn around. It is the trail where I have seen the owls and have taken most of my photos of the Rio Grande. It’s a wooded, shaded hike in summer, mosquitoes and verdant beauty.

Yesterday Bear and I took on the hike you see starting at a parking area near Sherman Lake. We’ve gone on it before, a short distance. It’s (clearly) a trail that goes on for miles and miles (maybe four miles). It’s a “road” through the wetlands, bordering a few farms. In the fall I saw many, many cranes feasting on fallen grain.

On some level, for a while, I’ve been working (psychologically? physically?) toward reaching the river from this trail and yesterday Bear and I succeeded. It is a two mile round trip.

Rio Grande State Wildlife Area marked up

I tried not to think of what I was once able to do. I tried only to think of what I was doing AT THAT MOMENT and, mostly, succeeded. Bear enjoyed all the (apparently) incredible smells. I saw tracks of badger, deer, birds (mostly ravens, I think) and raccoon. For a while we got to watch a red tail hawk hunting. There was a flock of ducks that took flight when the thump of my cane on the ground vibrated through the water. There was one crane.

We were completely alone and except for the sound of a well being dug in the distance, it was silent, country silent, winter silent.

We reached our destination and I was so happy! I couldn’t have done it without my new friend and its shock-absorbing properties and the pointy end that sticks into the dirt.

komperdell-walker-cane-grip-trekking-pole-anti-shock-in-walker-asst~p~7678u_01~1500.3

I’m OK riding the “bike to nowhere” as a way to maintain some fitness and be in shape for what I know to be the inevitable hip replacement, but sometimes a person (me, for example) wants to go SOMEWHERE and see SOMETHING. My ultimate goal is at least once a week to manage a 3 mile hike on the kind and generous surface of the San Luis Valley. It doesn’t matter how long those three miles take me. I have already won all the races I need to.

Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,—no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,—my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,—all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all;the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. The name of the nearest friend sounds then foreign and accidental: to be brothers, to be acquaintances,—master or servant, is then a trifle and a disturbance. I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature.”

Flawed

Yesterday, not long after my blog post went up, I got a text from one of my neighbors who’s currently a “snow bird.” “I want to read your hiking book.” She’s originally from San Diego and her grandson lives within sight of the main locale of the stories.

I texted her back, “It’s not happening,” with a little explanation, then I went about my morning. In the back of my mind was the book, of course.

The book is flawed. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that. Its flaws are, in their way, reflections of MY flaws. I fixed the two new typos I’d found and closed the file.

Then I did my chores, thinking the book was a done deal, a closed subject.

I looked at Bear’s blue eyes, which are very beautiful but they are also, probably, the reason I have her.

“Whoa,” I thought. “Whoever bred Bear thought they were a flaw. Thought they indicated deafness or blindness or?” Then I thought of Dusty T. Dog. He was so flawed the shelter didn’t think he was adoptable. He’s STILL flawed, but WOW. For nearly 12 years he’s been my loyal, loving companion no matter WHAT.

Then I thought of Mission Trails Regional Park itself — the location of most of the stories in my book. It’s not perfect. It was never where I WANTED to be. It was simply what I had, the only place I could hike with my dogs during a long and VERY flawed time in my life. And it ITSELF was barely snatched from development and freeways — by whom? A group of San Diego citizens INCLUDING me! I, with all my flaws, was one small agent in the protection of 5800 acres of chaparral for future generations to see, know, enjoy.

BEYOND that, the place itself has seen a lot of life (and destruction) before it became a park — dirt bikes, ATVS, and people four-wheeling up the steep slopes. Stolen cars dumped in the stream and over the embankments. When I first started hiking there, a Ford pickup from the 40s rusted away in the stream leading to Oak Canyon. During WW II it was a military training base, including exploding shells (some unexploded shells have been found in recent years). There had been developer dreams of cutting across the hillside with a four lane freeway on the bed of a road that had been used by the water department. Neither it nor I are a pristine perfect flawless wilderness. I began to wonder if maybe it was a BETTER book because it’s not perfect.

And more… My father’s flaws, his MS, inspired me to propose, design, and raise the money for the building of a wheelchair accessible guided walkway to one of the most interesting historical features in California, Old Mission Dam.

204220

Walkway to Old Mission Dam, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Late yesterday, I decided to write a note for the readers of my book explaining its flaws, that Createspace COULDN’T print the cover right no matter what and directing readers to the website where they could see the actual photo (including the featured image for this blog), apologizing for my weak proofreading skills and the relentless and (to me) invisible typos (just now found another one 😦 ) and explaining that it all reflects my flaws and the flaws of the world as it is.

“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” M. Teresa

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

As for “jolly” the word of the day, it’s one of those Christmas words. I never use it. Sorry WP.

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.