Summer thunderstorms have arrived but so far without much rain. We really need the rain. The valley is green and the cattle — many of them — have been moved up into the mountains. They’ve turned off some of the water to the Refuge and there was a trail of dung from young cattle on the road. This fascinated Bear but I thought it was a crime. I didn’t see any cows, but it’s a big place and they could have been taken through to a pasture in the distance. I have no idea.
Storms were quickly moving over the San Juans, so as the thunder got closer I knew we had to turn around. We did. But it was a beautiful walk and I’m glad we went.
The best part was a duck family. As we passed the pond I noticed MANY ducklings swimming hell-bent for leather (what?) and their mom trying to catch up. I could hear my mom and dad yelling at me and my brother when we stayed at a motel that had a pool. After dinner, we wanted IN THE WATER but we had to wait thirty minutes. I think we took off in much the same way once we were cut loose…
Bear and I headed out for a walk yesterday on a cool-ish, breezy morning. News no journalist reports…
The longest lenticular cloud I’ve ever seen stretched over Mt. Blanca. Unfortunately I was driving during the best parts. Cloud building is dynamic, so I wasn’t able to get a photo until the best part was over. A cold front is coming in, pushing out a warm front. That warm air on the ground and the cold air from the front had a fight in the sky. I watched several fluffy clouds stretch out and layer under the heavier, higher, cold air.
There were scenes of sorrow, too. A couple of broken duck eggs. Coyotes? Or what I saw in the sky, a raven assault team. There were three getting no end of shit from a large team of red wing blackbirds. I watched the show. The ravens feinted, dived, swooped, soared and inevitably surrendered and landed on the ground. As long as they were flying, they were harassed.
I thought of how we’re programed to cheer on the little birds, but ravens have to eat, too. I was reminded — again — how cleanly impersonal is nature. It’s all kill or be killed. I thought immediately of the virus. It’s just doing its thing. The raven is several times the size of a redwing blackbird, but it doesn’t want to get hurt. I watched several of these battles yesterday and not ONCE did the raven attempt an attack on any of the redwing blackbirds. It simply tried to get away. Hmmmmm….
Thinking about this, I felt tears well up. Everything is there, every answer to every question, every damned time.
And this ran through my mind:
Have you… Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole? “Done things” just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story, Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul? Have you seen God in His splendors, heard the text that nature renders? (You’ll never hear it in the family pew)…
“Many are the stories in the naked city.” Same with the naked Big Empty. Today temperatures remained almost Bear comfortable meaning that The Big Empty was comfortable at midday, my favorite time to go out. At that time of day, my brain goes on walkabout, and all I can really do is physical stuff. It’s not the prettiest time of day or even the most interesting, but you know… I took Teddy as it was his turn.
I love nature for nine million reasons including my conviction that it loves me. “Come on,” it says. “You know you want to.”
Midday is a good time to watch raptors and the other birds at the Refuge are pretty active then, too. It’s not the time of day to see mammals. Coyotes and cougars are crepuscular (great word, isn’t it!) and Teddy pointed out a lot of carnivore scat today. Whose? Farm dogs? Coyote? No idea. It will be easier for me to tell when it’s dried out and the contents revealed.
Today I saw two hawks. The Harris Hawk flew low about 50 yards in front of us and when I caught up to the spot where his flight had passed the road I saw he’d dropped his lunch. My best guess is that he’d grabbed the mouse, taken flight and something came up behind him. It could have been one of the Red Tail hawks I see often.
Later, towards the end of the walk, just passing the marsh with the small walking loop around it, I heard a sudden commotion among the Red-winged and Yellow-headed blackbirds who call it home. I looked over at the racket and saw the male Red-tail hawk was flying low over the marsh causing the blackbirds to send up the alarm.
At one point in our walk, Teddy (who’s only about 18 inches tall at his highest point) ducked. I saw a small black and white duck flying low over the trail in front of us where Teddy was walking. Cracked me up that Teddy literally DUCKED (c’mon, laugh, you know you want to). I don’t know what the duck was; possibly a Coot.
There were people out there today, too. An elderly couple sat at a picnic table then took off each in their own cars. As he passed Teddy and me, the man rolled down his window, “Isn’t this great?”
“Yeah. It’s not hot, it’s beautiful.”
“Right? And the goddamned wind isn’t blow 60 mph. Have fun!” He waved.
“Have a great day,” I said, still feeling that COVID-19/we’re all isolated tug at my heart (and eyes)
Early in the walk, I had noticed a strange looking plant that was hit by frost last night. What could it be? I saw more of them as I went along, and figured it out.
Here’s the thing about nature. Even if you walk the same 1 1/2 or 2 miles on the same road every single day, and you THINK you see things you’ve seen before, you really haven’t seen anything before. I had never seen milkweed in its “baby” stage before, but I’ve “known” milkweed since I was a toddler. Now I can look forward to the beautiful flowers, the arrival of Monarch Butterflies and all that comes with this amazing plant.
The familiar things — Canada geese, for example — anchor you. They’re like old friends at a party full of strangers. Then you get more comfortable at the party, more curious about the strangers and you see more. I’ve only seen Northern Harrier hawks twice (to know it).
The yellow-headed blackbird is found all over the U.S. EXCEPT in the part of California where I lived so long and hiked so much. Wetlands? I’ve never spent time in this landscape.
The sky tells me we will get rain in a couple of days. Weather.com agrees with the sky.
Free to study Nature’s mysteries, He breathes in the divine; His spirit grounded in Truth, Sure of himself, he casts off all restraint. Wide sweep the winds of Heaven, Grey loom the distant hills, And with true strength is Creation spread before him; He beckons sun, moon and stars, And washes his feet in the stream where rises the sun.
Hot(ish) out here in the back-of-beyond but also windy and cloudy so, at Bear’s insistence, I headed out to the Big Empty. As long as the wind is blowing, I’m comfortable. The clouds drifted over us, and some were quite spectacular. In the distance, virga rained in the sky.
It was just nice to be out there with Bear. She alerted me to most of the scat along the road and stood with me in the wind, listening to the birds.
I have no great profound insight from our little ramble. I’m just glad we went, that it was cool enough for us, and that we were together.
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. ❤
I’ve been trying this whole time to get a photo for the the CORVID-2020 weekly challenge. I live with 3 kinds of blackbirds, ravens, magpies but got no half-way good photos. THEN I got so carried away by irrelevant bullshit that I didn’t immediately realize I GOT ONE!!! And a beautiful one though the photo does not do him justice.
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.
“Nope. I’m not going to spend time trying to catch her when I have another perfectly good dog who DOES want to go, right?”
“Yay! Yay! Yay! I’m going to sit here and you put my harness on, OK?”
“Good boy, Teddy.”
“Bye Bear! Bye Bear! Can’t we take her? She’s looking at us through the fence.”
“That’s her thing, Teddy. She has free will. She chose not to come.”
“Up, puppy. You do that so good, Teddy.”
“I know, Martha. I’m the shit when it comes to getting in the car. Is that a good song, Martha?”
“Yeah, it’s a good song.”
“Why don’t you sing?”
“I can’t sing this one.” (Truth is, only Teddy thinks I can sing ANYTHING.)
We arrive, park, get out of Bella. I take my handy-dandy poop bag for my little guy just in case and we take off.
“Martha, there is all kinds of NEW POOP everywhere! Martha, my geese are out of control. Wait, there’s more! More geese!”
I look and there are goslings.
“Stop, Teddy,” I say and take a zoomed in photo of tiny birds. OH well.
We go on and then, suddenly, beside the trail…
“MARTHA! MARTHA! MARTHA!!!”
“No Teddy. You have to leave that alone. That little guy has enough enemies already.”
“What IS it? What is that miraculous beast? I WANT it!!!”
“Cottontail rabbit, Teddy.”
“Probably somewhere in your ancestral memory.”
There are other signs of spring in the Big Empty now. The trees…
Look, more poop. And more. I’m going to taste this one.”
“Don’t eat that shit, Teddy.” I laugh to myself. Here in the Big Empty who’s going to laugh with me?”
“Martha, listen. There’s that sound you like.”
“Hang on little dude. I’m going to try to take her picture.”
“Are you going to stop here?”
“Yeah. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see the osprey or the hawks again.” I sit down on a rock. In fact, this walk has been slow and painful. Various parts of my body hurt from wielding the pick-axe. I’m no spring chicken. But, you know, it’s just one foot in front of the other and there is NO race. I don’t mind at all because walking is better than NOT walking. Left, right, left, right, left right. No one is here. No one is judging me. Just this little guy who stops periodically to jump up on me for a hug. He thinks I’m great.
While I’m sitting on “my” rock, a pair of ravens flies over, surfing the wind. Teddy climbs up into my lap as much as he can. I think of the thousands of times I’ve sat on a rock somewhere in the turn around or half-way point of a hike and a beloved dog has sat beside me or laid its head on my lap while I watched birds. “What’s better than this?” I think from my “lofty” promontory of roughly 28 inches. “A great dog and ravens playing on the wind.”
On the way home (the walk back was easier and less painful than the way out which is why it’s better to walk) I hear a good old song that I LOVE and that I can sing. Nothing deep, no Rocky Mountain High or anything, but Teddy was happy, licked my hand (probably thought I was in pain) and snuggled beside me.
Teddy and I headed out for the Refuge because it’s a cool, sunny day. You still can’t see much “spring” out there, though the five or six trees are leafing out. I was mildly (I think they know what they’re doing) concerned about “my” geese having vanished, but no, they’re still there and it would seem they have nests. They fascinate Teddy. He really DOES believe they are his job. I got to watch a red-tail hawk for a long time. Antics like that really mess with my miles per hour stats.
We really prefer going out at midday which is great 3 out of the 4 seasons, but not necessarily in summer…
When I got home, it was Christmas. There was an immense City of Monte Vista truck in my alley and two guys with chain saws cutting down the monster lilac hedge that lines my yard and the alley. I went over to talk to them and said, “Is this Christmas?” That hedge is a huge pain for me every year. I’m out there cutting it back from the alley with hand tools. It’s very hard work. Then there’s the problem of having the branches hauled away.
The two young guys with the 24 inch chain saws laughed and then kept cutting. Later I went out and saw two older guys with a huge tractor with a front shovel. They were picking up the branches and taking them to a truck parked on the street by the golf course.
– Lilacs are beautiful and smell amazing, but once that’s over they are a menace to life on this planet. They REALLY like it here, too. It’s hard to tell them from weeds. They send their shoots out hoping to colonize the entire San Luis Valley starting with my yard…
Anyway, things are fine at the Refuge. We welcomed a car propelled by a grandpa with a kid in the back. More action than we’ve seen there in weeks. It was a little strange.
In plant news, the pumpkins are blooming which I think is very ill advised. The cherry tomatoes are growing and the Roma tomatoes are germinating. The Scarlet Emperor Beans are reaching sublimely to the sun. I’m going to have to plant this stuff soon.
Since, yesterday, I shared a poem by Tu Fu (for whom one of the beans is named), I’ll share a poem now by his good friend, Li Bai for whom another of the beans is named. These two friends were often separated by hundreds of miles and corresponded in poems. It’s one of my all time favorite poems and the partner to the poem I posted yesterday. Tomorrow I’ll share a poem by Li Ho, the last of the beans. He’s a little different and the poem I will share is my #1 favorite poem. 🙂
MEDITATION ON Ching-ting Mountain
The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and I until only the mountain remains.
Tu Fu’s answer (from yesterday’s post)
I can’t bear a journey to the village– I’m too contented here I call my son to close the wooden gate.
Thick wine drunk in quiet woods, green moss, jade gray water under April winds– and beyond, the simmering dusk of the wild.
Back in AP English with Mrs. Zinn we read Greek Tragedies. We read Aristotle’s Poetics, too, so we understood the philosophical and critical background of these plays. I loved it. Then I learned that Aristotle had also written about comedy but the book had been lost. That led me to want to read some Greek comedies.
They’re low brow and ribald; full of lasciviousness and farts. The one I remember best (and that’s not well) is The Frogs by Aristophanes. It’s a parody of what Aristophanes thought was bad theater. But, I didn’t really understand what he was parodying, so I’m pretty sure the humor went over my head. Still, I can’t hear frogs without thinking of my (hopeless) attempts to understand the play.
It was a tempestuous day out at our Happy Place. The sky all around was demonstrating pretty much ALL of its tricks. There were small flurries of snow over the mountains, each moving rapidly toward then across the northern edge of the San Luis Valley. Fluffy clouds like kids draw hung around in the south-east quadrant, and the light changed rapidly over the Sangre de Cristos. Yesterday we had thunder-snow followed by thunder-graupel. It was great.
Bear and I got to welcome two cars today, one of which had a Siberian husky hanging it’s head out of the back window. It was a good day for hawks and I believe I have identified a mated pair of red-tails. A guy told me about them a month or so ago, but I hadn’t seen them until today. I love them. They were my companions on hikes in California all the time. I watched the male circle higher and higher and higher until he was a dot far up in the blue sky. His wife flew low over the grassy fields looking for lunch or dinner. It would seem they do not yet have eggs. I haven’t seen the nest. The man told me where it is, but I haven’t been that way yet.
It was soothing and comforting to be out there in the wind and the changing light. With temperatures forecast in the high 70s next week, we might begin our early-evening journeys.
Bear had a nice time. What interested her most, though, was the clump of grass on which Teddy urinated last Friday. Dogs.