Walk with a Friend

Lucky for Bear, she can’t read the weather forecast or she would be feeling all the emotions of disappointment, betrayal, longing. Snow was predicted at a VERY high percentage of probability. I fully expected and/or hoped to wake up to a tiny sift of snow on the ground. Yesterday I found Bear napping in her “snow” spot in the yard, the spot against the fence which is the last to see the snow and ice vanish in spring. As things turned out, it didn’t snow, and she’s just lying here on the floor per usual chewing on a rawhide pencil. It’s drizzly and dark out there, though, so there might be some slight, very slight, hope of snow in spite of what the coin tossers at NOAA have to say. Seriously, I think they make this stuff up. I get more accurate information from the sky.

This is what the weather gamblers have in the forecast for today…

Yesterday, on the spur of the moment, we picked up our friend Elizabeth and headed out for a walk in a windy and beautiful Refuge. Bear likes it when another human is along. She feels less pressure to take care of me (the other human can have that job). Bear smelled all kinds of great things and even found a scent worth rolling in. Fortunately there was nothing (excrement, corpse, etc.) but a scent. The wind blew, but not terribly, the sky was perfectly clear, the mountains seemed near, the conversation was peerless. Bear walked close enough to Elizabeth so Elizabeth could rest her hand on Bear’s back, reminding me that friendship is a very precious thing.

The featured photo is of the sun hitting a small grove of cottonwoods. I took it day-before-yesterday when I was out with Teddy. Yesterday’s clear and open sky was more like this from a year ago today.

Another Day in Heaven

Over the past few days of rain here in the San Luis Valley, the mountains got some of the good stuff. Few things lift my spirits like the first snow on the highest peaks. Fluffy clouds floofed around Mt. Blanca to the east, but storms swirled over Windy Mountain and the San Juans to the west. Naturally, Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog and I had to head out into October to carpe the diem.

We kept moving in spite of all there was to distract us. Sadly, I cannot share Bear’s copious impressions because they were mostly of the olfactory kind, but I took a lot of photos so what you get here is a chance to walk along with me, in a way. Among Bear’s impressions that I COULD recognize were dead and a living garter snakes, some deer poop, some residue of her own urine on top of some other being’s urine. Echoes of Teddy Bear T. Dog on a boulder in a parking pull out. Other than that, I can’t say for sure what caught her attention.

When I was a kid of 8 years old, I got a book called Something New Day. It was absurd, but a king, who was a tyrant, had to have something completely new every day when he woke up. Thinking about that yesterday (which I did) I thought, “Every day is completely new in its own right, if we get to see it.”

…Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
                      We will grieve not, rather find
                      Strength in what remains behind;
                      In the primal sympathy
                      Which having been must ever be;
                      In the soothing thoughts that spring
                      Out of human suffering;
                      In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
And O, ye Fountains, Meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway.
I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
                      Is lovely yet;
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

William Wordsworth, an excerpt from “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” (Source) if you want to read the entire poem which is lovely.

A Sweet, New Animal (but It’s a Bug)

The other day Bear and I took off for the Refuge (how many posts start this way?) it was a beautiful early fall day after rain in the night, meaning the air was soft, the clouds fluffy and and and and… I know there are places in the world where days like that happen a lot, but here they are rare. My view of Mt. Blanca was obscured by soft, fluffy clouds. The loveliest thing about our time that day was that everything was completely still. Very few cars on the road. No crane tourists. The only sound a fleeting breeze that came and went — came enough to make it comfortable, went enough to maintain the silence.

Last year, the first fall I walked out there, was unusual because of the snow we had in late summer. What I’m experiencing out there now makes me think this year is more normal. As we walked I found myself being boarded by tiny transparent creatures who looked like fairies. As many as six would be riding along on my leg or sleeve — and there were probably more I couldn’t see. I took a photo of one hoping to find out what she was when I got home.

After a little work, I discovered that she is a Mayfly. I learned a lot about them. I learned that they were around during the dinosaur time, that they spend most of their lives as eggs, babies and sub-adults, that as adults they have no mouths and don’t need them. The live long enough to mate. Interesting priorities, but apparently good for the survival of these delicate creatures. There’s no way to dispute that such a bizarre evolutionary “choice” makes it easy for them to focus during the very brief moments of their adult lives. Yes, there’s a useful metaphor there.

They are harmless (except, perhaps, for the metaphor) and, what’s more, their presence is a sign of good water quality. They can’t endure pollution of any kind. That speaks very well for the care given the wetlands in my world.

I began to regard them as truly wondrous little hitchhikers. I wouldn’t have seen any last year. This part of their life cycle would have been eliminated by the early snow and hard freezes.

I’ve never gotten to know a wet-land. My life has been spent in dry places, not swamps, so I’m learning something all the time.

Somewhere along the way, Bear stopped, sat, leaned against me, and pointed her nose south. The breeze stopped for a few minutes and I could hear an uproar of cranes in the distance, far out of my sight. Bear, of course, with her amazing dog senses, knew the cranes were there and what was happening with them. I stopped to watch and soon understood what was going on. The young bald eagle had been flying over the group of cranes hoping for an easy meal. That’s what caused the momentary crane-rage. He flew low over the emptiness as I watched. I can’t say I’m privy to the motives of raptors, but I sensed he was trying to save face, kind of, “I didn’t want any of you nasty cranes, anyway. I’m looking for a rabbit!”

How Do You Know When it’s Fall?

My friend Lois is here for a visit, and the dogs and I couldn’t be happier. Last evening we took a stroll out at the Refuge and then ate at Ninos, one of the local Mexican restaurants, the one in which I — seven years ago — tasted the green chili I had missed in California. I haven’t been out at night in about a million years so coming home to real “country dark” was kind of surprising and also informative. I learned that the batteries are dead in two of my outside motion sensor lamps.

The beans survived three freezing nights in a row with nothing but frost burn on some of the more exposed leaves. This is slightly strange because the beans are not “keeping each other warm.” At this point I think they could be doing anything.

Yesterday Lois and I were talking about the arrival of fall, like when does it really begin? This was the result of a (pretty funny) debate she was having on FB with a family member who is polemical and punctilious to a fault. As we drove out to the Refuge I said, “I know it’s fall when the cows come home.” It wasn’t just the idiom, either. At the beginning of fall the cows really DO come home from grazing in BLM lands, spending their summers in the mountains. They are excellent at keeping low-level forest growth from getting too thick or too high. Awesome sub-contractors for this task. The sheep come home, too, and some of the gates at the Refuge are open to let the hoofed animals cross from farm to pasture. South of the Refuge, a few days ago, I discovered a small herd of goats protected by a vigilant llama.

Quotidian Update Update

It’s been a weird few days but after a wonderful walk with Teddy, and all the helpful comments on the post I put up this morning, I realized there’s nothing I can do about “those people.” I don’t even have to understand them. And, while I’m not a praying person in the usual sense, this is the time for it. Someone or something with more influence than I will ever have is going to have to bring home the point to “those people.” It’s not my job. Anger and bewilderment over them is just a waste of my life.

On our walk today, Teddy had a great time with many splendid smells and I enjoyed the comparatively cool breeze. The same three cranes (I’m pretty sure) I’ve been seeing flew over us. Later on, I watched a young bald eagle carry out a successful hunt. Lots of raptors right now as they’re migrating south.

Teddy would like everyone to know he had a great time.

“That was great, Martha.”
“I think so too, little guy.”

The featured photo is one of the larger ponds. The cattails right now are so pretty. This is looking southwest.

The News from the Big Empty

We had a cool day Tuesday with all the bells and whistles — wind, sun, sprinkles — so Bear and I took full advantage of it and I had a blissful walk in the Big Empty. Saw two hawks hunting successfully, a couple of cranes heading to the biggest pond, met some friendly people and walked forever and ever. ❤🐾

On the San Juans there is still a band of bright green aspen, but on ONE ridge (featured photo), near the highest point of aspen life, there is a line of bright yellow.

As we drove home we passed two Amish buggies. I waved and smiled, and the people in the buggies waved and smiled in return. I thought about how this immense valley holds everything within this amazing light.

At home I caught sight of a pair of goldfinches eating the seeds from the sunflower that’s grown with the Scarlet Emperor Beans. The birds are migrating now and the whole point of the sunflowers (which are planted by the birds) is food for them. It’s a wonderful thing.

Sunflowers have grown every year voluntarily in my garden. I don’t plant them; the goldfinch plant them and harvest the seeds in September on their way back through. I love that. These photos are truly all different, though it isn’t always easy to tell. In a few you can see both the male and the female.

Time and Space

I live in a vista — Monte Vista! It really is a “mountain view” kind of place. Out at the Big Empty (which is all around) I can see mountains on all sides, a ring, around “my” valley. The vistas are wide, immeasurable, inspiring, soul-stirring.

Between my house and the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge where I like to walk with my dogs there are several abandoned farms, or, at least, farm buildings from the very early 20th century. Some are log, some, the newer ones, are frame. Some are surrounded by trees that are now taller than those who planted them might have imagined. Others are exposed. I often wonder how those people felt surrounded by these immense vistas. Their lives would have been hard, and mostly animal propelled, stretching the size of the landscape. The towns are roughly a wagon trip apart — 14, 18, 15 — miles apart. A train finally came through, linking the towns.

The Town of Monte Vista around 1920 looking down my street toward the west. My house might have been built when this photo was taken. It would be down in the tree-lined part. This is potato harvest. The wagons are filled with potatoes to load onto a train.

In just a few weeks, I will have lived here in Heaven a full seven years and be entering my eighth. There is still — and always will be — so much about this place that I don’t know. Last week some friends (whom I have not yet met, connected to the woman for whose book I did illustrations this past spring) from Wyoming took a church trip through the eastern side of the Valley, the Sand Dunes down to San Luis — the oldest continually inhabited town in Colorado — to New Mexico, taking the high road between Taos and Santa Fe, back through Los Alamos and Ojos Calientes. It was fun seeing a few of these the vistas of the San Luis Valley through their eyes via Facebook.

This valley and its vistas are ancient. I always feel my own transience when I’m out there. My two little feet, navigating their small perambulation, a perfect analogy for human life on this planet.

My valley was once a lake — now called “Lake Alamosa” — and when I take out the dogs, our walks begin at one edge of the ancient lake and make a small dent in the lake’s immensity. At a couple of points the lake overflowed, and where that happened is clear on this map. It spread as far as Del Norte.

The vistas I enjoy are not only in space, but a little bit into time. I imagine mammoths wandering the edges of what may have remained of the watery world pursued by “Native American Paleo-Indian cultures, beginning with the Clovis and Folsom Complexes (11,000 years ago)” the first known human inhabitants of the San Luis Valley. As I recall, the Navajo called the later inhabitants, the Utes, the “blue sky people.” ❤

The eternal yet changing sky is in charge of everything here in immensity. This time last year, snow was in the forecast and there was no negotiating our way out of that.

Heaven, Still

I heard cranes flying overhead in the morning and I knew I had to get out if the weather would let me. The wind whipped up in the afternoon, and Bear and I seized the day. It’s so wonderful to be out there again. I have missed the horizon — and it’s immense out there in the Big empty — the changing light, the shafts between the clouds lighting the mountains, the clouds themselves, the wandering storm cells, all of it. I let Bear take me on her favorite little trail, keeping her close when I couldn’t see around the bushes of blooming chamisa for snakes. “Stay close, Bear,” I said, shortening the leash a bit. Bear didn’t mind at all. A storm cell passed over us, and we were blessed with a few cool sprinkles before it passed on in a hurry. I didn’t see cranes but it’s OK. There were no people, either, which meant we didn’t have to hurry or wait or do any maneuvering at all.

We were free.

The San Juans

This morning I looked at my Facebook memories because back in 2014 I was involved in selling my CA house and in moving here. Sometimes there’s an interesting story or photo of something I found in the garage. What appeared today was this:

My friend Lois, who lives in Colorado Springs, had taken her grandson to the Museum of Nature and Science in Denver and had taken a photo of this exhibit and shared it on my FB wall. I hadn’t yet even seen a crane. It was in the future. I didn’t know how it would be here in Monte Vista or where I would live. It was still on the horizon of my life.

I love the cranes, partly because their presence here marks the beginning and ending of my favorite seasons. For a very short time in winter they’re not here, though I’ve seen them in January and February when they are allegedly “wintering” in New Mexico. Their winter presence seems to depend on whether there is any open water. They are here in larger numbers in spring than in fall, but there are also a lot more people (crane tourists) in spring than fall. I’ve had the opportunity to be a crane tourist, then a crane tourist guide, then what I am now — a person who hangs out with the cranes. In summer they’re up in the Yellowstone region. 🙂

The cranes have taught me a lot — big lessons last year about the importance of survival, stoicism and joy. I’ve watched them get used to me which has been pretty amazing. For a long time last fall I would be out there with Bear walking and looking around and a group of cranes would approach in the air. Inevitably, they would separate into two groups above me. Then came a day when they didn’t do that any more. I can’t say for sure, it might just be a fanciful wish, but I believe my consistent, non-threatening presence and the cranes’ incredible ability to evaluate their environment came together to inform them, “This lady and her dogs are no threat to us.” Now they fly over us, and I love the sound of their wings against the air.

Refuge Sought and Found

Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog is very good at weather recognition. I don’t mean the obvious stuff like, “Martha! Finally! It’s snowing!” but subtle things like the approach of a thunderstorm (no thunder in earshot, for humans, anyway), or the wind coming up, things that signal to her, “Martha might put me in the car and take me to the Refuge.” Yesterday she let me know and even though she’d just eaten and I was afraid she’d throw up in the car, we headed out.

Bear was right. It was perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Cool wind, no bugs, gorgeous light. Not exactly a Deja Vu, but definitely reminiscent of fall last year which was filled with gorgeous walks, Sandhill Cranes and beautiful light. For the first time in months I was able to suspend all kind of concern and apprehension over the various things about which I worry (and cannot change so really what’s the point of that?).

Maybe this long summer is finally winding down.

Home Again

I’ve had an intense couple of days. As you may remember, an important acquaintance died while I was up in Colorado Springs injuring my shoulder. I hadn’t been able to go see his wife, my friend Louise, at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte until — wow, day before yesterday. I knew the visit would be intense and sad and everything that conversation is. It was all that. Louise asked if I could design Thank You notes for her to send to everyone who sent flowers and donated to the Alzheimer’s foundation. “What would you like?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”

Then I thought — and spoke, “Do you want your painting?” I meant the painting she and her husband had bought each other for Christmas last year.

“Yes,” she said. Then she reached for her purse.

I said, “No,” and I meant no, but I followed it with, “I don’t know what it will cost me to print them yet.” Actually that doesn’t matter.

After an hour or so talking, I got back into Bella and headed back “over the hill.” (There’s a hill between the town of Del Norte and Monte Vista) and I had the feeling that for the first time in at least a year I was back home. I don’t know where I’ve been in the past few months, but I haven’t been home. On the crest of the hill, Mohammed’s Radio began to play Psychedelic Furs, “Heaven,” and I said, “Yeah. It is.”

Yesterday morning the drain plumber was going to come out and clean the sewer lines in advance of winter because, you know, shit happens. (sorry) I was sound asleep when he got here right at 8. The dogs barked, he knocked, I heard NOTHING. He called. It must have awakened me because a few minutes after his call I was awake and calling him back.

“It’s all good. I’ll swing back later.” He returned about 2 hours later after a couple of jobs in the nearby town of Saguache. He cleaned everything out and inspected everything — important after the bizarre events in my sewer line in 2020. We talked. I learned he’d been a rodeo rider, riding broncs. He’s a young guy, maybe 35, with a wife and two kids. I learned about all his injuries and saw some of the scars. I like rodeo. I know it’s dangerous and a little insane, but it’s been a small part of my life since I was a baby. Rodeo cowboys are athletes; in a way it’s like mountaineering.

We talked about injuries and doctors and I said, “I thought I had good scars, but I got nothing.” He laughed.

I seldom have anything but deep conversations with people. I don’t know why, but it’s always been that way. Pretty soon we’re talking about life and death and why we love the San Luis Valley. I said, “I love it and strangely, I think it’s requited.”

“It is. I feel that too. People down here are real.” When he’d finished and was coiling up the cord to the machine he said, “The way I see it, if we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?”

Exactly that. That’s what’s been in my mind and has been my struggle since January 6.

The day wore on and the water heater stopped working. My kind neighbor came over to see if he could light it, but no luck. I called my favorite non-sewer line plumber and they said, “Four days.” I said OK. I lived without hot water for a year. It is really not the end of the world. The water heater is relatively new — 7 years old, not a rusty relic. I was hopeful it could be fixed.

Then the wind came up, the sky darkened, and I knew the golden hour had arrived. Bear and I got in Bella. The Refuge was empty, the light was golden and miraculous. We started out in a cool breeze as a storm cell slowly made its way over us. At one point Bear stopped, looking into the distance and soon I saw why. A dozen sandhill cranes calling out flew over us. I was so happy to see them. On our return the storm cell was centered above us and it rained. The cell moved on and I turned around, to see a rainbow stretching across my refuge.

I felt peace inside for the first time in months.

Anyway…the water heater is up and running. The plumber was here by nine and out by 9:10 after explaining what happened and telling me how to fix it myself next time. He spoke in an accent I don’t normally hear in the San Luis Valley and I recognized it instantly. “You’re from New York,” I said.

“Yeah. Long Island.”

“I love it,” I said. “I don’t hear that much out here. One of the best friends I’ve had in my life was from out there. It’s nice to hear.” His arm was inked with Celtic knots and various other signals of his New York Irishness. We talked a bit about how he ended up here and he basically echoed what my sewer line plumber had said and what I feel.

If we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living.