Church of the Big Empty

I don’t know what it is that makes one walk a walk and another walk a spiritual experience, but I think it has to do with my attitude, the ambient air temperature, the wonders of things around me. Still it’s a mysterious concoction, and I see no point in analyzing it very much. But today Bear and I got to attend the Services of the Big Empty.

I didn’t even want to come home. 🙂

There were hundreds of cranes. Having that amazing and angelic choir around is always inspiring. And there was a strange coincidence. As I walked along thinking, “Hmm, should I give Bear a DNA test? I don’t really KNOW she’s an Akbash dog. Maybe she IS a Siberian husky/Pyrenees mix.” That was the shelter’s guess back in the day when I adopted Bear, who was four months old. Time has shown me she has no Siberian Husky and I would know. I’ve had five. Just then, a car pulled up along side us. A nice woman was driving and to my utter surprise, Bear’s double was looking happily out the partly open back window.

The woman and I started talking but I was really mostly interested in the dog (duh). I asked, “He’s beautiful. Does he have blue eyes?”

“No,” she said, and told me his story. He was rescued from a hoarding situation in Colorado Springs, fostered for a while and then she adopted him from the Humane Society. “They say he’s a husky/Pyrenees mix. He’s 7 months old.”


He wanted out so bad and I wanted to meet him. I could tell Bear wanted to meet him too, but the woman was driving a brand new expensive car and yeah, Bear would scratch it up. Then the puppy began talking to me in Siberian Husky, one of the languages in which I’m fluent.

“Definitely husky,” I said, and answered him. That was a mistake because he almost crawled out the window. The beautiful big, white puppy’s name was “Anjo,” Portuguese for “angel.” His name at the shelter had been “di Angelo.” He was perfectly named.

The woman wanted to see cranes, and I told her where I’d been seeing them. They were flying over us at that very moment, but you don’t see as much from a car and she couldn’t see them. I also suggested she come back in March. She drove away.

From the Livestock Guardian Dog Facebook Group I’ve found that some people find they are having to move off their farms and they want to keep their Big White Dogs as pets and worry if it can work. I can speak to that. Owning an LGD as a “pet” (they’re never pets) means you just have a hairy, independent roommate of a different species to support 🙂 To live with one of these dogs, a person has to understand who they are and what they need. They don’t need to be run, they won’t like the dog park, they need a serious fence, they need something/someone to take care of, they respond to training that’s low-key, tolerant and cooperative. They learn from what their human does. Bear alerts me to cranes, hawks and hoofed animals because she’s seen that I stop to watch those things. She doesn’t bark or chase anything when we’re out there, but I think she would bark pretty fiercely if a threat appeared. She protects me if an animal seems to be charging me. I’ve had to learn to be somewhat LGD just as I had to adjust to being part Siberian Husky.

I know when I’m out there with Bear several things are going on, and they aren’t all human. In our time together I’ve learned to “be” with her. She hasn’t stopped being a livestock guardian dog just because she lives in a house and has a small yard. She’s still what she is. I’ve always given her as much of a livestock guardian roaming life as I can while keeping her safe. I LOVE being with her.

She’s also taught my mini-Aussie, who was a puppy when he came to live with us, a lot of LGD behavior. She’s trained him to live here with us.

Out at the Refuge she has her preferred routes and I have no idea why she prefers them. I believe it has to do with messages and scents she leaves and receives along those ways. One is a little nature observation loop that I’ve avoided all summer because it just has too many good hiding places for rattlesnakes.

One of Bear’s favorite trails

“Our” cattle were where we like them to be and “Bessie” was there. I called her name and she turned to look at me. Huh? I looked at her a long time and tried to figure out WHAT it is about her that makes her so much prettier than the other virtually identical cows in the pasture. It might be her eyelashes which you can see pretty well in this photo…

Bessie the Beautiful

As we walked along the road beside the fence, the little herd followed along. Bear loves them. She was as excited to see them in the distance as she is to see the kids on our way back from a neighborhood walk. These are now Bear’s cows.

I had a heart-to-heart with them, seeing as one is visibly pregnant. “Have a little girl,” I said. “Please. No more little boys. All of you, girls, from now on.”

The point was made that they had little to say about it and one of them mentioned, “Yeah, but what about the rancher and his family?” Truly unassailable bovine arguments and I nodded my assent. Still.

And the cranes kept flying over and the breeze kept blowing and Mt. Blanca offered her infinite benediction and I offered up my thanks.

Quotidian Update 9,000,042.a.iiv.2b

In the interim, life goes on (thank goodness) here in the Back of Beyond with life’s usual apparently trivial tasks punctuated by “Well, the clinic finally got flu shots,” and “That’s better,” as this person looks at the former “bean field” which was slapped together as needed last summer and is now a better design with a stronger fence, waiting for next year. I got four more beans from Li Ho yesterday after the hard frost, beautiful big perfect beans that may or may not have been ready to harvest.

The stress of our historical moment bears down as always with a momentary escape to the Big Empty with Bear and the flight of Sandhill Cranes. The herd of pretty Herefords has not left the pasture, and I’m glad because I like them very much. Yesterday I saw some young ones, steers, headed ultimately toward that great “Grass Fed Beef” package in the sky, but in the meantime they’re living large.

“Hi little guy. Is that your dad?”

The wind has cleared the smoke from the sky and fires in the north have been seriously slowed by a snow dump in the last few days. I suspect we in the San Luis Valley are looking at a dry, open winter which isn’t good for agriculture, but is probably good for people dodging the virus.

In other news? Well, there isn’t any.

News Flash from the San Luis Valley: More of the Same and that’s OK

Yesterday I sought refuge with Bear and there was a whiff of fall in the air, the fragrance of damp fallen leaves by the pond. Fall was more apparent in the colors of the landscape which here, in the high valley, are universally golden except for the wild currant bush that turns bright red.

None of these out at the refuge.

I saw “my” cows, but Beautiful Bessie was no where in sight. Not that these are ugly cows.

The girls outstanding in their field

The big fire in northwestern Colorado is keeping the mountains out of sight.

The cranes have arrived in their autumn numbers, different from spring when tens of thousands converge on the refuge more or less at once. In fall they kind of straggle in and head off at some point for New Mexico where they’ll stay until March. That’s the story, anyway, but my life here has shown me that they are around all year in limited numbers.

Today is a “school” day, and Hallowe’en is on the horizon. We’ll be making these little guys:

This is Megan, a prototype that we will take apart so the kids know how to put her together again. I will put her together again so at the end of the film I can add in the credits, “No paper and pipe-cleaner spiders were permanently damaged in the making of this film.”

And once more, I tip my hat to elementary school teachers. I don’t know how you do it. I just have two who like me and want to learn and it’s WAY more than I can deal with (in truth). And how do you do it now that recess doesn’t exist any more? I remember elementary school, and by the time recess came around I was so wound up it wasn’t funny and I was one of the calm ones…

Of Cows and Cranes

This is my new friend. I don’t know her name, but she’s the most beautiful cow I’ve ever seen. She and her pals — several cows, a bull and a year-old calf — were hanging around in the shade behind the four trees at the refuge, behind the fence. It was Bear’s first close encounter of the Bovine kind, and she behaved perfectly.

“My” cow beginning to get curious, “Who’s that lady? What’s up with that big white dog?”

As I was communing with my new friend, two Sandhill Cranes flew over my left shoulder.

I’m not sure it gets better than that. Sure cleared away the clouds and cobwebs from last night’s presidential debate. I mean if the most beautiful cow in the world wants to follow you home (and she followed me along the fence as far as she could) life’s just pretty amazing.

True Fall Day in the Big Empty

This morning was maddening. Among other annoyances, my prescription service called and left a voicemail telling me to call back and giving me a Fort Knox like series of numbers with which to do that. Once I managed to get through this labyrinth of arbitrary numerals I reached a long pre-recorded message telling me the importance of taking my medications regularly and on time. I was furious! One thing we older people do not have is TIME. The morning wore on with one minor stupid problem after another. I finally looked at Teddy and said, “Let’s go.”

We sought refuge and found it.

The wind was brisk. The air was cool. The colors had changed in just a week. Aspen trees on the San Juans were already turning from gold to the gold/orange of aspen leaves about to fall. Song birds threw a chorus from the distant willows next to the pond. A couple of raptors tried their luck with starlings. The starlings won. I heard cranes in the distance. Teddy, wore his new and vastly improved harness.

He was so happy to be out that every few feet he turned around to tell me thank you, jumping up for hugs and dancing around my feet. Finally he accepted his good luck. He began his job of smelling everything that had passed on the road and spotting rabbits and chipmunks that were invisible to me

At our turnaround point I just stopped. The morning was completely silent. Country silent. It was magnificent. I don’t know how long I stood there, but long enough for the noise of our silly world to retreat and long enough for whatever disturbance I presented to disappear. Teddy alerted me to three Sandhill Cranes flyings low in front of us.

As we walked back toward Bella, I saw the image I want to paint on the big canvas a friend gave me years ago. It’s something I saw this past March, but passing the spot, I was reminded and I began to see the painting take shape in my mind’s eye.

The Lazarus Tree

Because the cranes are here and it’s chilly, I took Teddy out to find some refuge. It was a little challenging because there were cattle grazing next to the fence and Teddy is a herding dog. When he sees cattle he becomes incredibly excited and barky. This is breeding time for the herds who are old-school enough to rely on bull action and I noticed at least two in the field.

Other than the cattle, the first thing I saw was this patient osprey perched on a sign, looking for an easy meal.

Besides the osprey, there was a golden eagle circling the distant pond of geese and cranes. Winter is coming or whatever season is next. It’s hard to know with summer proceeding as it has been.

I kept driving until everything around us was Refuge and then we stopped and took our walk. In the distance were lots of geese and, I believe, a few Sandhill Cranes. Teddy’s level of alertness is incredible. He even sees birds in the reeds that I can’t see at all. I think when he gets better at this walking with Martha thing he’s going to be a great companion, spotting creatures near and far.

When we’d finished, I decided to take a road trip to see “the tree” from my painting. Teddy was happy because he likes riding in the car with me and listening to me sing. He is the only sentient being on the planet who likes that, so who am I NOT to give him that opportunity? We threaded our way along the “streets with no name” except things like “2 E and 5 S”.

I spotted the tree from quite a distance. It stands alone on a rabbitbrush plain. As Teddy and I approached (Singing “Africa” by Toto) I saw that the “dead tree” is not dead at all. I am renaming the painting “March” “Winter Tree.”

Teddy and I wound our way home, looking for a potato cellar I’d seen from a distance (no luck).

Nothing Lasts Forever but the Earth and Sky

Wow. I got NOTHING to write that’s remotely “fantabulous.” Or maybe everything is so fantabulous that it is just part of the daily parade of wonder (I suspect the second).

It seems like everybody is struggling with the present moment and striving to know the future. This morning, as I made my coffee, I thought that if Trump wins, my friend’s plan that we all go to Patagonia (I would love that) isn’t very practical for me because of my family and the fact that I can only get a 3 month visa. So, I’ve decided to ignore the whole thing and focus on the fantabulous stuff that’s not going anywhere.

24 Tao Te Ching

He who stands on tiptoe is not steady
He who strides cannot maintain the pace.
He who makes a show is not enlightened.
He who is self-righteous is not respected.
He who boasts achieves nothing.
He who brags will not endure.
According to followers of the Tao,
“These are extra food and unnecessary baggage.”
They do not bring happiness.
Therefore followers of the Tao avoid them.

Lao Tzu

The other evening I took Bear to the Refuge. There were people with dogs (leashed dogs, bless their owners) so Bear and I turned to take a different road. Just as we turned, a Northern Harrier hawk flew low over us and landed in some willow trees along the trail we were about to take. We hadn’t walked far before I smelled dead animal and soon the hawk, disturbed by us, took flight in front of me. He joined his mate who was perched in a dead tree beside an abandoned homestead across the highway (well, it’s called a highway…). Bear and I soon passed the smell.

Storms were coming over the San Juans and from the trail we were on, we were close to the mountains, nothing between us. I thought to take a photo but I felt more like looking at it than photographing it. The hawks waited in the tree, knowing, I guess, that Bear and I would have to turn around. We got back to Bella and onto the highway just as the storm broke loose, washing my windows and my car.

Tuesday Services in the Big Empty

About 5 pm Bear let me know that a front was coming through, the wind was blowing and we had to GO. So out we went. It was a VERY successful prayer meeting with wind, some rain, thunder (in the distance), no bugs and a interesting congregation in attendance.

I saw egrets, cranes, a Monarch Butterfly bravely battling the wind, animals (birds?) calling to each other in what sounded like barks, and two larger birds I’ve never seen before. One had wings like a gull and a tail that was somewhat like a swallows — tern? The other one soared with his wings pulled in and wasn’t very large, I think a Northern Goshawk, too large for a prairie falcon. Ideas welcome.

Anniversary Journey to the Big Empty

Six years ago today I saw the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge for the first time.

Strangely, it wasn’t until this year that it became “my” place. That probably wouldn’t even have happened if it hadn’t been for two things. 1) Off leash dogs at the spots where I usually took my dogs, 2) the virus and the need to walk freely without worrying about human contact.

Once I started taking Bear and then Teddy to the Refuge, no other place had any appeal. The big spaces, the changing mountain views, the weather, the birds, the whole THING. Yeah, it’s just a couple miles on a dirt road but WHAT a couple of miles!!!

This afternoon it suddenly clouded up, the wind started blowing, and I thought, “A-HA no mosquitoes!” I saddled up Teddy and we took off.

“Yay! Martha!”

Dark dark sky over the San Juans as you can see in the featured photo. Big peals of rolling thunder. Amazing changing light over Mt. Blanca. Holy fucking shit. And then, to put the final wonder on this wonder I saw dozens of…

Sandhill Cranes!!!!!

As it happens, Facebook told me yesterday and today that in past years I have seen cranes the first time in “fall” around the first of August.

You can see how dark it was where Teddy and I were walking! The sun shone on Mt. Blanca

The thunder and lightning got a little close and I swear I actually ran.

I’m happy the cranes are back. I’m happy we got to go out in a storm. Walking Teddy is so much easier out there than in town, so that was also great. When I got home, this song came on Mohammed’s Radio. Seriously.

Celebrating Five Years with Bear

Five years ago yesterday Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog came to live with me, Dusty (RIP) and Mindy (RIP). I had a lot of doubts about this adoption but Marilyn of Serendipity had had experience with Great Pyrenees (at the time, I thought Bear was a pyrenees/husky mix). She encouraged me not to hesitate, that Pyrenees were gentle, loving low-energy dogs and it would be great (if I wanted to live with a big hairy beast who would ultimately weigh 100 pounds). 🙂

My big fear was that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a puppy. I was then (and remain) mildly ashamed of growing older and having to contend with worn out body parts, knees, hips and the like. You know. I’d been an avid trail runner until I was 53 when my first hip had gone too far south for me to ignore it. Life then became a process of discovering what had happened to me and getting it fixed. After that, though I was supposed to be back to 100%, I never was again. And, as I said, I was and remain, vaguely ashamed of this.

I brought Bear home for a few hours as a “test drive”. She instantly made friends with Mindy, my sweet, elderly Aussie. Dusty was clearly disposed to tolerate her but not necessarily to LIKE her. He was still mourning his Siberian husky sister/mom, Lily, whom I’d had to put down four months earlier.

Bear — observing what they did — peed and pooped outside. Everything about this dog indicated she wanted to be here. I had to take her back to the shelter that day, but I took a deep breath and put down a $50 deposit claiming her as my dog. I brought her home soon after.

As I got to know Bear I saw I didn’t have a pet. I had something else. I love Siberian huskies because they are so independent, but their exercise needs were way beyond my abilities. Bear is at least as independent as a husky, but unlike huskies, she wants to get things right and please her human in a spirit of cooperation and tolerance. While Bear is an autonomous being, she’s one who instinctively cooperates, very different from a husky.

I also learned that she is an Akbash dog, a livestock guardian dog originally from Turkey, that can have blue eyes. They are similar to Pyrenees in their job, but as a dog breed they have longer legs and are generally more slender having, as part of their ancestry (3000 years ago) “wind hound” and “sight hound” — something like grey hound or Afghan dog. Bear “only” weighs 75 pounds.

As I researched livestock guardian dogs I was soon in awe of their role in the world. That Bear was going to be an old woman’s pet and not wandering the Big Empty protecting goats and sheep from bears and coyotes seemed a little unfair to Bear. Several months after she came to live with me, I got to see a couple of those dogs out in the middle of nowhere with a large herd of sheep. That image evolved into a Christmas card.

In my research I learned they needed to be carefully socialized, so from the time she was a puppy, I got her out there where people are. The only time I see her livestock guardian dog behavior is when there are other dogs. Since the time we were charged by a cattle dog, and Bear felt (she was probably right) she had to defend me and Dusty. When she’s leashed, other dogs are NOT to be born. Off leash, it’s another story, or if the other dog is introduced properly. She didn’t hurt the cattle dog, but he has never charged us again.

I also learned that while the Akbash dog (and the Pyrenees) can be fierce, fast and strong, they are very low energy.

So, to celebrate what I view as Bear’s “gotcha'” day we went to the Refuge in the early evening. We’ve had rain for five days and it was just a JOY to get out. The sky was magnificent, the air was fresh, the sky was washed clean.

Maybe best of all, soon after I arrived, I saw cranes. They are beginning to make their way back to their winter home, Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. You can imagine my heart lit up at the sight and sound of these wonderful birds. “It won’t be long now, Bear,” I said. She just smelled some poop.