If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance.” Pretty much the last word on “shibboleths” — a word Emerson would certainly have used.

Yesterday the wind came up and I took out Bear and Teddy. It was a pretty OK walk, but the wind died down before we were finished and the deer flies were very very very obnoxious. Still, it was nice to be out.

99% of the time NO one is at the Refuge. Yesterday, for the first time, I tried to take a short cut by just turning around and heading back out the way I came in. It’s a one way road and that meant that, for 1/2 mile, I was going to go the wrong way. I NEVER did that before. And HERE came a Ranger. The FIRST REAL RANGER with a ranger car and lights and badge I’VE EVER SEEN out there. He flashed his lights. I pulled over. He told me (which I knew) that I was going the wrong way on a one way road. He was a young guy and pretty stern. I was sure I was in for a ticket.

The whole thing was weird because normally I park in the parking lot by the refuge headquarters so road direction isn’t an issue, but, to let Bob (my former neighbor) and his dog, Roscoe, have their walks undisturbed, I decided to park down the road 1/2 mile.

“Which way did you come in?” I lied, which was a mistake. “You didn’t see those two big signs saying ONE WAY ROAD?”

I’m not Irish for nothing. Charm IS charm; blarney is blarney. I said, “Damned illiteracy,” and grinned. He laughed. He knew I lied but not what about. I’d actually come in the right way, parked a bit up the road then headed back out the way I came in. “Are your dogs leashed?”

“Of course,” I said, not feigning outrage. I love that Refuge, and I would never ever ever let my dogs run there (though farm dogs sometimes do).

“And they’re dry?” The REASON for the refuge is the ponds and ditches. Correlative to keeping my dogs leashed is NOT letting them swim.

“Yes.” Now I was truly (quietly) outraged. I might be an anarchist but I’m also a conservationist.

“OK,” he said, smiling, and kept going. I turned around and went out the right way. He parked where we’d parked.

I wonder why he was out there. I wonder if stuff has been going on. I would hate that to be the case. That place is, well, my refuge. ❤

Saw a large, long-necked, mostly black waterbird with nesting material. I suppose he was a grebe but he was more cormorant colored. Same size.

I’ve been thinking a lot about words. Around here there are ‘wildlife areas” and “wildlife refuges.” In both cases these are places where people can hunt. I don’t have any objection to hunting, but I think the euphemistic quality of these terms is creepy. The wildlife areas are closed part of the year to allow birds to nest and later in the year, those same birds are hunted. The wild life refuge is MOSTLY an area where animals are hunted.

I admit that I don’t know much about wildlife “management” — a bizarre sounding term anyway, kind of like “pain management” — who manages WHAT in both those cases? That ranger’s main job is to “…prevent poaching, engage local communities in conservation, help communities resolve human-wildlife conflicts, and assist with tourism.” I guess that includes yelling at little old ladies for driving the wrong way for 1/2 mile at 15 mph (I’m not and wasn’t upset — it was just absurd since I KNOW I’m out there probably more than anyone who doesn’t live on the premises).

So, I don’t know. I don’t know much, actually. 😀

Meandering Thoughts on a COOL, Cloudy Morning

A few years ago in a flea market in town or just out of town or in that twilight zone of small town America where houses vie with tractor repair, Mexican restaurants and grain cellars for zoning rights I bought a book of Song Dynasty landscape poetry. It’s a beautiful book. Right there on the cover (and which I never noticed until now) is that the poems were translated by Tagore. It’s funny how the obvious either escapes us completely or just doesn’t register. I thumbed through the book this morning looking for expressions from the poet beans who are now thriving. I found a bunch of poems I never read before written by poets with whom I was unfamiliar. Maybe my beans are telling me they are from a more recent dynasty than Li Bai, Tu Fu, et al and it’s time for me to expand my horizons.

Teddy with the beans

The hot spell has broken and today is supposed not even to reach 70F. The dogs are friskier, and I’m more relaxed. Yesterday the wind kicked up in the early evening, so the dogs and I went out for a ramble. It was lovely and eerie. Smoke from fires all around, north and west of us, have obscured the sky for the past few days. I could see only dim shapes of the San Juans and no sign at all of the more distant Sangre de Cristos. The air was filled with the fragrance of clover — yellow, white and pink. The bugs were kept at bay by the wind, though a couple of doughty deer-flies made an effort to attack.

On our way out, we were stopped by a guy in a pick-up with a serious birding telescope who wanted me to see a white-faced ibis in the distant pond. For human contact, that’s one of the sweeter things that happens. He and his wife are “birding” down here as a break from the big city (Denver). We had a lovely chat about dogs, birds, Denver. He asked the nicest question a birder can ask, “Do you have a bird book?”

I lied and said I did. I was really afraid he’d give me his bird book.

I was too far away to really SEE the ibis but I saw its large brown shape.

I had a conversation (chat) with my step-daughter-in-law, S, a couple nights ago. It’s my step-grandson’s (we’ll call him Bill) birthday today, the same as my dad’s birthday. She told me that the little guy is having problems “re-emerging” from COVID restrictions. Bill should be in pre-school this coming fall but will he be able to go? He is descended from extremely shy people — beyond shy, actually. His great-aunt was so traumatized by humanity she ended up in an institution. The good X (his grandfather) struggled — maybe still struggles — against this. My stepson, also, still “hides behind trees,” as S said the other night.

I recently read an opinion/thought piece in a local magazine Colorado Central Magazine. The author – Ed Berg -wrote a meandering piece the referred to the fossilized footprints of the little girl and a toddler in White Sands National Park, footprints left over from the Ice Age which mastodons, giant sloths, Smilodons and wolves wandered the area.

“Some 12,000 years ago [during the Ice Age], in what is White Sands National Park, a teenage girl left her footprints along the muddy edge of a playa. The prints show she was carrying a small chid on her hip, stopping from time to time to adjust her load. We don’t know where she was going or the purpose of her journey, but she was walking quickly, about 4mph, in spite of her burden and small size. A few hours later she returned along the same path, apparently still carrying the child. In the meantime, some large animals had crossed her trail, but her tracks show that she was not concerned about them; they weren’t predators…”

(Ed Berg, “Life in the Upper Ark,” Colorado Central Magazine July 2021)

I thought all day about Bill, and how I could write a story that would tell him that the enemy of fear is knowledge, and because this little girl KNEW her world and how to be aware within it, she could scurry out there with a little sister or brother on a mysterious errand. I would have her tell Bill the secret to courage; the more we understand about how things work in our immediate world, the more we understand about how to live in it. I would have her tell Bill that life is dangerous, but it’s more dangerous not to venture out.

Maybe the toddler the young girl carried was hurt or ill and she needed to find the “local” “doctor” to help her little brother or sister. Maybe part of the lesson for little Bill would be that knowledgable risks taken for others are an important part of being human. All I have so far is the moral of the story. “Fear tells us nothing. Knowledge is the enemy of fear.”

In the story, of course, Bill would suddenly appear in the Ice Age which would have to be weird and scary, too, and he’d return to his pretty suburban, midwestern home with a new perspective on safety. ❤

I dunno… Just a trickle of an inspiration.

The featured photo is a bank of milkweed out at the Refuge. I’m sure they are full of monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Surprising Summer Walk

Yesterday — to our total and complete surprise — the sky clouded over, the wind came up, the trees tossed their heads around and knowing the importance of carpeing the diem, I closed the back door, put on real shoes, leashed Bear and headed out. It was an…


There was a poor hungry raven attempting to raid anyone’s nest and being chased by everybody. It was fun to watch him feint and dive to escape the sharp beaks of all the little birds, mostly redwing blackbirds. I saw him later attempting to raid the nests of doves. Don’t believe doves = peace. Not in the real world. Fierce beasties. They usually hang out in the spruce trees and on the roof of the ranger’s house.

The waterbirds have mostly taken off for points north. Only four adult geese remain in the big pond, both with their families. One has a family of one gosling. The other has eight. The goose fights over territory are over now and they all swim happily together like best friends.

As Bear and I went our way in the wind, which liberated us from heat, mosquitoes and horse-flies, Bear stopped, her eyes rapt on something to the north west. I stopped, too. Dogs are great for making sure we don’t miss things. And there was…

Bessie, her sisters, their husband, and one solitary yearling calf. They were closer to the pasture where we’d met than they’d been since last summer. It’s totally irrational, but love that cow. Well, in a general sense I love cows. I think they’re really cool animals and yes, I do eat them from time to time. They aren’t my favorite food, but sometimes a bit of cow is very tasty.

I think Bessie and her family are unlikely to be steaks. I don’t know their story, but they are incredibly beautiful Herefords, and my theory is Bessie’s husband’s sperm goes for a pretty good price. The herd never grows or diminishes in size. It’s always a small clutch of bovine beauty, a bull, and a yearling.

The wonderful thing is that when I called out, “Bessie!” (not her name, just the name I gave her) they all turned to look at me and one of the cows came as close as she could to the fence between us — 1/8 mile away :-(. Bessie has come when I’ve called her in the past so maybe that IS her name. Seeing them made me think about last summer and how wonderful it was in September last year when I met them. I had a feeling of camaraderie with those cows, their curiosity and slow-moving purpose. The photo is Bessie the first time I saw her last September.

As we walked, the light changed constantly.

Only a few flowers bloom in the Refuge, that is things that LOOK like flowers. Every plant blooms in its way. The wetlands are still a mystery to me because I don’t really go INTO them, but along the trail were yellow clover, something called “white top,” primrose. A little later in the summer the tall, yellow primrose will be blooming. But on the way the pastures were filled with wild iris.

No photos, sorry. Since I don’t have a working phone, I see no point in taking the new or old phone out there. The new phone is big and, in my mind, heavy. I regret very much even entering this adventure of a new phone, but I did, I have a contract, and a good camera (aka phone), so I should just be grateful I guess. Actually, grateful is just a good strategy. Sometime in the next few days I’ll head up to Colorado Springs and, hopefully, get this thing going.

Almost-Summer Walk

Trying to elevate our perspective yesterday when the day darkened (yay!) and the wind picked up, Bear and I headed out for a walk.

Summer IS beautiful in its way. The storms swirling around the San Luis Valley made the mountains change their aspect every few minutes. On the way to the Refuge I saw the fallow pastures were filled with wild iris.

Wild Iris

There aren’t many animals (visible) out there now. Some of the beings who hang around most of the year are singing their hearts out — blackbirds. The best animal story was a mother coot and her lone duckling. Mom was foraging like crazy and the baby was hanging close. I thought of the whole reality of nature and of all the eggs she’s probably laid and how there was only one surviving hatchling. Then I saw another. For a moment I thought about the quiet way these creatures address loss. “This is what I have. Isn’t is precious?” not “Oh my god, I’ve lost four eggs out of six! What’s the point of going on?” You can’t see them, but the featured photo was supposed to be a picture of the coot and her ducklings which, I have learned, are actually called “cooties.”

Doing research into what baby coots are called, I learned about the “nurturing” habits of the coot and was momentarily horrified:

“Chick mortality occurs mainly due to starvation rather than predation as coots have difficulty feeding a large family of hatchlings on the tiny shrimp and insects that they collect. Many chicks die in the first 10 days after hatching, when they are most dependent on adults for food. Coots can be very brutal to their own young under pressure such as the lack of food, and after about three days they start attacking their own chicks when they beg for food. After a short while, these attacks concentrate on the weaker chicks, who eventually give up begging and die. The coot may eventually raise only two or three out of nine hatchlings.In this attacking behaviour, the parents are said to “tousle” their young. This can result in the death of the chick.” Source

Which is WHY watching nature documentaries WON’T cheer you up.

A car drove by, and the people in it waved with all their hearts. ❤ ❤

Yesterday was the first day I’ve felt like myself in more than a year. So far so good today. 🙂

Yesterday a reader asked me how to get a copy of my new book, Finding Refuge. It is available on Amazon Please don’t order a copy from Amazon until Wednesday morning Western Hemisphere time. Although I had gone over the content very carefully more than once, yesterday I decided to quietly just READ it. I made some edits that I think matter.

If you are someone who doesn’t like Amazon, you can order from me. It will be $15 including postage. I imagine at some point soon I will be putting it up on Kindle, but without illustrations.

Saturday Services in the Big Empty

Beautiful day in the neighborhood. Bear really believes I make the snow. She came inside this morning soaking wet, snow on her back, and leaned against me relentlessly to show her gratitude. Cold, humid, patchy fog, snow showers, occasional graupel, a light breeze.

Bear and I attended holy services at the Big Empty and got to hear a special choir recital of redwing blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, meadowlarks, Canada geese and various ducks. You can see “my” two geese in this little video, the two who make their nest in this very vulnerable location.

We had a little discussion with these two geese who were a lot closer to us than they appear in this video. They really wanted the road. We finally persuaded them to take off. I didn’t see anything that they might have been guarding, but they were very very very vocal. There was nothing, no pond, nesting site or any other geese friendly site around. I don’t think the goslings have been born yet, but who knows. I wasn’t going to discuss it with them. If they didn’t want to leave Bear and I would have turned around. Geese protecting something are not especially friendly (ha ha)

That was the best service we’ve attended in a long time and we’re both very happy.

Watch out for the Dinosaurs!!!

We got a TINY bit of snow, but the “snowpocalypse” that filled the news was never expected to hit the San Luis Valley. Hopefully the day will remain ugly enough that Bear and I can go traipse around without encountering earnest crane tourists with their dogs.

I got a little miffed yesterday (impotently so, as always) seeing a photo on the Monte Vista Crane Festival group on Facebook in which it seemed the photographer had gone “out of bounds.” She had captured a very interesting thing, though, hundreds of cranes lined up like soldiers in preparation for a very orderly flight — in shifts, or waves. She asked what was going on. I had a good idea what might have been happening, and I ventured a response. Later one of the wild life biologists chimed in and said I had been right. I felt like it was a little victory somehow, not just for me, but, strangely, for Goethe who advocated for direct observation vs. laboratory experiments.

The biologist also chided the photographer for having been in a closed area and mentioned the cranes’ behavior could have been caused by the photographer intruding into one of their hangouts.

Last spring as I was walking through the Refuge for nine millionth time, I realized that one of the the yellow-headed blackbirds who was often closest to the trail was no longer flying away when Bear and I approached. I understood, again, that predictability is safety for wild animals. I’ve learned this over and over in my hiking/walking life. At the end of crane season last spring the cranes were no longer avoiding flying over me. Not because they had grown to like me, but because they saw me as part of their place at a certain time of day.

For most of us humans, wild animals are a novelty. I think any wild animal we encounter wants to know what we’re going to do to them. Some of them shoot first and ask questions later. Even cranes. They are large, powerful birds with big feet and sharp pointy things at the ends of their toes. Essentially, they are velociraptors.

Like other animals, humans are acquisitive, and people who come to see the cranes are really here to acquire photos of the cranes. I have been that person, too, and I love seeing the wonder that the cranes inspire. But I think it’s important to realize that 1) these are wild animals who can hurt you (and would), 2) they deserve distance that the wildlife biologists — who KNOW things — have provided for them, and 3) sometimes a camera and what it represents (the future) comes between the human and the object of the photo, keeping the human from really SEEING what they’re taking photos of in this all-to-brief, passing moment.

Anyhoo… along with the cranes are large phalanxes of Canada geese and several kinds of ducks. It’s funny that though these are splendid birds, too, people don’t take their photos.


Small squalls came moving through the San Luis Valley yesterday, and just as one hit Monte Vista, I corralled Bear and loaded her into Bella. Bad weather is best, if you’re ready for it.

We headed the six miles out to the Refuge. South of town, the landscape was bathed in March sunshine and peace. From a distance, I saw that several cars were tooling along the drive-tour and I was sure from a clutch of SUVs in a particular spot that the Sandhill Cranes were being obliging to those undaunted souls with their long lenses. I’d already figured out a walk to take with Bear that wouldn’t — probably — put us in anyone’s way. There’s a small frontage road that runs parallel to the highway. Not my favorite route, obviously, but I’ve seen some lovely things from there, and I was sure we’d be alone.

We took that route. Before we’d gone very far, the squall was close enough that the sun had gone and we were hit by a 40 mph/60 kmph gust. I took Bear a few feet off the road, away from the dead trees, and turned my back to the wind. We had a soft argument about who was going to shield whom from the wind and graupel. For the moment, I won. The wind blasted my back, the graupel shot straight at us, but above? Something had inspired the cranes to take flight from the refuge and head across the highway to the barley field. Whether it was the squall or a predator or something else, I don’t know.

Thousands of cranes (and one duck?) were fighting the wind. Bear and I stood there blasted by bbs of graupel. The cranes flew over us, their voices all but lost in the tumult. As the squall moved on, we turned around, stopping now and again as a gust came up. Then, turning my back to a gust I looked up, and low above a dead cottonwood tree, a V of twenty or so cranes approached. The wind stopped, summoning energy for the next gust, and in the silent moment, I heard the concert of wings brushing the air above me.

I’m always amazed by timing. So often I have arrived somewhere in the wild world just at the perfect moment.

Photo: San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Not what I saw, but close enough so you can see the number of cranes. ❤ I also thought last night of putting together a little book of crane stories since the cranes and the refuge have been my pals through the tunnel of this past year. We’ll see.

February, but…

It’s just February, and not even quite Valentine’s Day yet, but yesterday Bear and I had lovely saunter in spring-like temperatures to see the cranes, those who have arrived already. Northern parts of my state are gripped in very cold weather, but down here it’s barely even chilly, just under freezing (29 F) when I got up this morning. It hit 53f (12c more or less) yesterday. Even though winter wear is now virtually weightless, and I love my Patagucci down sweater, I still felt that feeling I had as a kid when I didn’t have to wear my coat and headed out in a sweatshirt.

In other ways it was a spring-like walk, too. Bear and I had our first visit of the season with Crane Tourists, an older guy and his wife or girlfriend. The old guy explained they wanted to get here “before the crowds.” I took that to mean before the crowds of people, but he and his wife are also here before the crowd of cranes have arrived. Still, as Bear and I approached the pond where the cranes were huddled on the far side, the man had gone off trail (grrrr) to take a photo through some chamisa scrub. OH well. The cranes didn’t mind. The ground is frozen and the plants are sleeping. No way he could do much harm.

Crane Tourists in Monte Vista are an interesting breed of tourist. They are either boomers or young people. The men in both groups often sport beards. The women in both groups wear brightly colored socks. In many respects they seem like trans-generational echoes of each other both in apparent and less visible values. BUT…the older ones are more talkative. They are very sincere, ready to tell you about other times and other places where they’ve seen cranes and what the cranes do. I suppose it’s possible that I might someday get jaded about the Sandhill Crane, but right now I love to hear people rhapsodize. Godnose I’ve done enough of that myself (thank you for your patience).

So I heard from this old guy that he’d been to New Mexico at Bosque del Apache to watch the cranes, and I got a description of their sunset behavior, and a description of the crane’s dance, complete with demonstration. I totally understand crane love and the dance was adorable performed by a grizzled old guy in a baseball cap, a red bandana, heavy sweater, and hiking boots, with a big camera around his neck. Since the dance the guy was doing is a mating behavior, I wondered how his wife was taking it. 🙂

I thought again about what conversation means to people. It really isn’t only about what they say, but a mysterious thing designed to establish status and community.

Anyway, the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) who manages the refuge is opening the gates to flood the Refuge as some of the ponds are already melting and the cranes have been arriving steadily. Not all that early. I was seeing them this time last year, but not in these numbers.

This year you can attend the Monte Vista Crane Festival — even if you’re in far-flung England, Switzerland, Australia, Finland, India, Spain — ANYWHERE.

Here’s how. I’ll post this again closer to the date which is March 12 in this hemisphere, maybe the 13th for you on the future side of the dateline. 🙂 (Featured photo by Lois Maxwell)

Invitation to the Monte Vista Crane Festival 2021

“Think about it, Martha.”

In spite of a mildly torqued knee. a pulled groin muscle, and a limp, I decided to take Bear out to the Refuge. I thought I’d use a cane for stability, but I’d forgotten that is Bear’s job. She’d kind of forgotten that, too, at the beginning of our walk, but she remembered before she did any damage.

The moment I arrived, I noticed the welcoming party.

Welcoming committee…

It was very deer of them to be there, waiting for me, and I was grateful. I took it as a benediction on what I feared was a bad idea, walking Bear when I am physically a little fragile. I sent them my thanks through ASL (which all muledeer understand perfectly) and my friend and I took off slowly, me limping, Bear wanting to smell everything. I didn’t blame her. Even I could see the stories left in the snow.

We went along. I had no idea how far I would go before I couldn’t go, but it turned out that I was able to go almost as far as usual. The only reason I didn’t go all the way is because my mom told me not to, I mean because I’m less stupid and stubborn than I was three days ago. Bear studied scents, rolled in the snow, dug down to where maybe some little creature had burrowed for warmth.

On the way I noticed a large bird in one of the cottonwood trees. Then it went “ooo-hooo” and I realized it was “my” great horned owl. Too far away for a good photo, but when has that deterred me?

I should really take a camera…

When Bear and I turned around, Bear did her lean thing which I interpret to mean, “Thank you Martha,” but it might mean, “Aren’t we going to hunt some more?” We walked along together, my hand on my dog’s back, and I thought, “Is this so bad, Martha? Really, what’s wrong with this? Your best friend is here. Your welcoming committee was waiting for you. The snow is one big mantle of diamonds and stories. And look at that! Look, right in front of you!!”

I did. I stood there and looked at the little grouping of mountains I’ve painted so many times that they’re almost a part of my hand, and I started to cry. “We are hardly a consolation prize,” murmured all the features of the landscape, “And we’re yours. You came here for this and we are here for you. Do you have to live according to some idea of yourself or can’t you just do what we do and BE?”

There were no human footprints anywhere. A couple signs of someone on X-country skis maybe three days ago, but otherwise? As it is most of the year, it was just us, Bear and me and sometimes Teddy, too. I like the cold, the wind, the changes, the tracks, the possibilities of seeing other animals besides me and my dogs. I like what I see going slowly.

So, I will be selling my skis.

January Walk in the Big Empty with Ungulates

Bear and I took a Bear Ramble out to the Refuge and were rewarded by getting to see about a dozen happy ungulates trying to figure out if we were a threat or not. Apparently they couldn’t be sure, so we also got to watch them sproing off in a Mule Deer ballet.

Not much snow, but Bear and I have taken an extremely enlightened, Zen perspective and are enjoying what we have, which is a lot, and, at least, it’s cold. There are a lot of stories everywhere, most of which I cannot read but Bear can.


We heard ice breaking apart on one of the shallower ponds. Beautiful walk and inspiring company. Really a balm to the spirit. ❤