The Silk Blouse

A little while ago I wrote the story of some silk I was given in Denver by a Thai woman I worked with at the Asian Pacific Development Center when I first came back from China in 1984,  A Shimmering Moment

This morning, my neighbor E, to whom I gave the silk, sent me photos of the finished blouse. It’s amazing and I wanted to share them. E is from Australia and was a teacher. Her training is Home Economics but her schooling is from back in the day when Home Ec was considered science, domestic science, so she is a lot of things — a nutritionist, a gardener, a master at knitting, crocheting and sewing — and more. She’s truly amazing.

Ski Hi Stampede Rodeo

I LOVE a good rodeo and today I watched a good rodeo.

One thing that made it wonderful is that this is a small town and each event had two levels; one the pro level followed by the San Luis Valley level. This isn’t the Calgary Stampede or Cheyenne Frontier Days or the Denver Stock Show. This is where cowboys ride for prize money and to, hopefully, get into one of those big rodeos. Most of the cowboys didn’t even make time. Most of the steers got away without being wrestled. Most of the calves ran off wondering, “What was THAT all about?”

Three of the bronc riders who’d paid and said they were coming didn’t show — didn’t even call (something that is honestly not that easy to do in the San Luis Valley with cell service iffy in many places) — so in the middle of the bronc riding they took a break and three beautiful horses got to run around the arena for no particular reason except to been seen by the audience. The bronc rider who won (a decent amount of money) happened to be one of the three who showed up and the only one who made time.

There was junior bronc riding, too. Little kids on strapped up small horses. It was actually pretty awesome to watch four or five fearless little boys. The boy who won was interviewed by the announcer who said, “How old are you?”


“How long you been riding?”

“Oh, a few months.” But the announcer’s horse kept stepping on the little guys over-sized chaps so it was a strange interview with the interviewee just trying to get safe.

There was sheep riding. Three little kids competed for a trophy and a little girl won. The sheep were hilarious. The minute they came out of the chute, they just put their heads down and the kid slid over. Then the sheep all huddled together discussing what had just happened to them. They happened to do this in front of a “Ram” sign. There were kid clowns, too, to “save” the sheep boys and girls from getting hurt. A little girl about 7 won the trophy.

My favorite events are the team calf roping, calf roping and steer wrestling. I love to see the way a horse who knows his/her job works to help out the cowboy. There were a couple of horses who seemed new the whole thing and were no help at all, but there were also horses who knew their jobs better than their human partner(s) did. It’s a beautiful thing when it works.

There was a trick rider — a gorgeous young woman all glittery (so were her horses) who stood on two horses and rode through fire and around fire and showed the relationship that can exist between a rider and horses.

That relationship is very obvious in barrel racing which is usually an all girl event — but today I saw a young man barrel racing. I also saw a lot of young women in the team calf roping. There were also a couple of women working as pick up riders in the calf roping events.

The rodeo ended with bull riding — no one made time and the bulls were beautiful and glad to get out of there.

The only completely strange thing — and I don’t know if it was a lack of consciousness on the part of the announcer or something else — but the announcer said some words at the beginning about how we live in a great country that has freedom of religion, where people can worship any god they want. He explained how in some countries that isn’t the case. He followed this with a prayer that began with John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the light and none shall come to Father except through me” which pretty much contradicted his religious freedom speech.

The president who was mentioned was Ronald Reagan, and they played a video of a speech he had given. That was tremendously informative to me about the place where I live. Then a young man sang the Star Spangled Banner a capella and did not miss a note. I have truly never heard it sung better. (Though I think our national anthem should be “America the Beautiful”)

You might notice in the photos lots of the people are wearing pink. The rodeo proceeds today go to the cancer center at the local hospital — something that is relatively new to our valley. If you consider that the San Luis Valley is an area as big as Connecticut and that before that cancer center was built people had to go at least 3 hours by car over a pass to get to a hospital with those services, you’ll know how much it means. Out here the pink shirts are for ALL types of cancer. At the end of the rodeo they released pink balloons in honor of people who have died of cancer. It was a tiny balloon release, bringing home to me how small and vulnerable our population is. I almost lost a friend last year – but didn’t, and I’m grateful because if that had happened, I would not have gotten to know her better, and it would have been a loss for me — not to mention to her family, her clients, her then boyfriend now husband. But we have a hospital and it now has a place where cancers can be diagnosed and treated. That’s a big thing in a rural area like this.

Anyway, I didn’t take my fancy camera because it’s cumbersome, so these are all phone pics. And one film.




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We’ve had R-A-I-N, LOTS of rain, and it began its seasonal falling almost IMMEDIATELY after the new garage roof and door were installed. Last evening it rained for HOURS, beginning with a hardcore gully-washer mixed with hail.

I’m not a fan of rain. In fact, I hate it. Four months of it — nearly non-stop — in the People’s Republic of China in ’82/83 cured me of any romantic associations I might have made with rain through poetry and little contact with it. For my town right now it’s a pest.

This is the weekend of the Stampede. Most people have never heard of the Ski (pronounced “sky”) Hi Stampede, but it might be the biggest event in my town — competing only with the Crane Festival. The Stampede is built around the rodeo — the oldest pro-rodeo in Colorado. There are parades on Friday and Saturday (today) and rodeos Friday through Sunday. There’s a big (for us) carnival and tonight there’s a concert and dance.

The end of July is also the beginning of the Great Return — what I call the migration of motorhomes back to Texas from the San Juan Mountains where they’ve spent the summer. The Great Return is usually over before Labor Day and the traffic on my street/US 160 is greatly diminished. This morning the motorhomes will be taking a detour from the highway (my street) down Monte Vista side streets because of the parade. The parade is sweet. It’s slow — there are big gaps between floats and marchers — but it’s great. For the past few weeks the high school band has been practicing in the evenings, marching and playing at the same time.

I hope the pestilential rain holds off today. It’s a big day for my little town and I’m going to the rodeo.

Ride the Rockies

The San Luis Valley is a great place to ride a bicycle — I know this from my own experience and it’s being reaffirmed by the thousands! of guys in bright jerseys riding road bikes past my house part of the Ride the Rockies.  I wonder what they think riding through these small towns and through the farming countryside? I wonder where they came from?


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They’re riding to Pagosa Springs today — that means they’re going over Wolf Creek Pass. Ahead of them is a slow climb then a rather sharp hill climb over a high mountain pass then down to a pretty mountain town.

They’ve been riding a while. As I was out there setting the water I heard “You want lobster? Dude! I want pancakes!” I think the pancake guy is more likely to triumph…

(Photos in slideshow taken by my neighbor, Karen Howard)

Butcher Hogs in China and Crops in the San Luis Valley

When I lived in China, there was a sound that I heard almost every day. At first it was terrifying, but over time it was one of the background noises of my life, along with the guy collecting rags (he had a song) and the guy peddling charcoal (he had a song). This sound wasn’t music. It was the sound of a hog being butchered.

Pigs in China (back then, probably not now except in the countryside) just walked around like everyone, everything, else. Chickens, water buffalo, goats, children, university professors, students, us. They foraged in the food trash around the market at Shi Pai and on the outskirts of a farmer’s field. Until that last moment (which must have come as a huge surprise) they lived a pretty good life.

The sound of a hog being butchered is pretty nerve rattling. The hog screams bloody murder as the knife is jabbed into its jugular vein. The blood from the butchering is a delicacy and I had to eat/drink my share. I never thought about whether this was “humane,” it was simply how things were.

On the Eve of Chinese New Year, a hog is butchered as fire crackers are shot off. Nothing could be more auspicious. I spent my one Chinese New Years Eve in a bedroom beside the courtyard where this was going on, the sound of hundreds of explosions and a hog screaming for his life. I know now that I should have watched this happen, but at the time I was so sleep deprived and so sick from the boat trip over to Hainan Island, that I actually thought that my hosts were rude.

Chinese pork was delicious, far better than anything I’ve eaten in the US. I suppose from all the walking around, foraging and hanging out in town those pigs did.

I really like pigs, and so did a lot of the Chinese I knew. Some people with whom I spent an afternoon in Haikou City had a pet pot-bellied pig who was a member of the family. My grandfather had a sow who was a pet. She followed him everywhere. He always sold the piglets, but the sow stayed with him for years — until she ate something at the dump that killed her and her little ones.

Out here there are pigs and as my town — my valley — uses Facebook as the main medium for selling things, piglets and bigger pigs are now up for sale.


I wish I had a farming background. What do I know? I know how to go to an art museum (whoopee). I don’t know how to feed a baby goat or a lamb with a bottle. I don’t know how to care for new born pigs or plant potatoes. It’s struck me since I first moved here that people (some) assume I think I’m better than they are just because I’m a city person. That’s so far from the truth. I moved here on purpose; this was a choice I made. Sometime in the first few months I lived here I made a sincere comment about the Potato Festival and the people I was talking to (I said the Potato Festival was great) thought I was being facetious. They could not have been further from the truth.

I love the Potato Festival. The potato festival is a harvest festival. There are potatoes and farm machinery; kids get to enter potato decorating contests. There’s home made ice cream and a train made out of oil drums pulled by a tractor. Come on. Only an idiot wouldn’t see how wonderful that is, in the park up the street, under the blazing blue September sky, the San Juans in the background? Kids are having fun. Farmers are taking it easy. Amish are selling baked goods and speaking the Bernese dialect of Switzer-Deutsche. It is WONDER-full.

Right now, just outside of town in a newly plowed field is a sinister looking machine for breaking up dirt clods (I think) and eliminating weeds (I think). Last year that field had been planted by now. I’m watching to see what goes into it. At the Home and Garden Show (10 booths) I saw a tire for a sprinkler. It never occurred to me that these massive sprinklers need tires even though I see tires on them whenever I pass them. $200 a pop, between 8 and 10 tires on a sprinkler arm.

Yesterday I waited at a red light and watched a truck loaded with potatoes make the left turn. The driver was a Navajo in a red shirt, wearing a cowboy hat with a ribbon around the brim with a feather hanging from it. He looked at me as I looked at him, and I could only hope he saw the admiration in my eyes.

River, Wind, Frogs and Birds

The first time I saw the Rio Grande I thought it was a road. I was staying in South Fork, a mountain town west of here, during the transition month between arriving in Colorado and finding a house to live in. I looked down from the field where I walked my dogs every day and saw an asphalt gray ribbon, as wide as a car lane, winding through the golf course below. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a road until 3 am one Sunday morning when Lily T. Wolf needed to go out. There were no trucks on the highway; the night was silent and I heard the river.

When daylight came we were, of course, out again and in the morning light the “road” was no longer gray but silvery blue. At that moment, it became my river.

This afternoon, Bear and I went out to the slough. The Rio Grande is now the highest I’ve seen it, and the channels that run through the slough are also deep and fast. Today all I heard on our walk was wind, the river, some frogs, red-wing blackbirds, and an annoyed goose. To me it’s really something to hike along a trail, listening to a river.


One of the channels in the slough

Accepting the Inevitable…

“What’s up?”

I point toward the sky. The mailman laughs.

“Same ol’ same ol’,” he says. “Nothin’ changes.”

“Not that anyway.” We have jokes that have now been running for 3 years.

“Beautiful weather though,” the mailman says. He knows I like the cold and snow and this 70 degree crap is not my thing. He’s baiting me.

“It’s OK if you like comfortable temperatures and stuff.” I was mowing the lawn when he pulled up with my mail which contains two packs of seeds. Clearly I’ve surrendered, but the local greenhouse won’t open until May 6. That’s when we can be confident we’ve seen the year’s last hard frost

“You’re a c-r-a-z-y lady. Have a good weekend!” He’s off, and I finish mowing.

I think about San Diego. In the first few years I lived there I missed cold and snow and mountains so bad that if it did snow in the local mountains, I HAD, at least, to see it. I remembered dashing up No Name (now known as Kwapaay) at Mission Trails Regional Park to reach the top before dark, so I could at least see the snowy Cuyamaca Peak (see above) 35 miles to the east. I remembered sitting on the damp, red earth, leaning up against a rock just looking at the snow peak until I couldn’t see it any more. And the snow was good up there. Good X-country skiing, fascinating version of winter. When I moved up there, my life improved.

I don’t know what the deal is between me and cold and snow. During my recent booby-trap cleaning spell I found a letter from my best friend in middle school. It’s clear, from the fact that she tells me what the homework is, that I’ve been sick at home for quite a while. This happened every winter; strep throat. I can’t take penicillin so, back in the 60s, it was largely a matter of keeping me in bed until the bacteria went away. I had already gotten a damaged heart from a bout of scarlet fever when I was small. I always missed at least a month of winter. I guess I should dread it.

Today I resigned myself to the inevitable arrival of spring. I appreciated the cheery nod of my daffodils and told my emerging peonies that they could think about blooming this year. The lilies I planted for Lily T. Wolf have poked up through the dirt. Everything’s on schedule. I hope soon to have a bunch of topsoil to finally fill my raised beds on which I plan to do nothing more exotic than scatter wildflower seeds but I like the birds and the garden is near the lilac hedge and bird bath. Birds are already nesting in the hedge.

Hummingbird nest

Hummingbird Nest

Our growing season is short and the whole world seems to be shouting, “Carpe diem!”

Fairies wear boots

Extra Points to Anyone Who gets the Black Sabbath Reference in my Fairy Garden




A Walk with Bear Alone

Most of the time I take Dusty and Bear on walks together, but once in a while I just take Bear. As Dusty is in his 11th year, there’s every chance that a time will come when it will be just Bear and me on the trails. I don’t want that to be strange for her, and, for a while, she was afraid to get into the car if Dusty weren’t there.

As someone once said, when you walk with people, the people are the focus of the journey. When you walk alone, nature is the companion. Walking with Bear has all the benefits of a solitary ramble, but I have a responsive and protective companion. Our walks are often leisurely and meandering. We stop to listen to and watch birds, hear the frogs in the vernal ponds, take in the changes in the landscape that is now very familiar to us.

Bear loves these walks. Her “livestock guardian dog” mentality clicks into full alert status, and she stays very close to me instead of going to the end of her leash to explore. Because she’s mellow and doesn’t bark, I’m more relaxed knowing that if we meet another dog or people, there won’t be the bone-chilling Doberman Dusty bark (of friendship, but still…)

We just came back from just this kind of walk. We saw robins and bluebirds, red-winged blackbirds, Canadian geese and an egret. The shadowless white sky of high clouds shone soft light on the slowly greening Chamisa. My hikes in California taught me how to look at an “ordinary” place and I’ve come to like them best. My big white dog and I strolled along the path, feeling the wind, happy to be out there beside the river and between the ranges of snowy mountains.

There’s a stone monument/picnic area where we stop at the end of a walk. There I pet my dogs and enjoy the moment. I sat down on “our” stone bench, and Bear and I watched a robin hunt. A pair of blue birds joined her hopping on the ground.

A young man who had been fishing in the slough came toward us and Bear became alert. “I have a ridiculously friendly dog here,” I said.

“That’s good,” said the man, walking so he avoided Bear.

“What do you catch in there?” I asked.

“I was hoping to catch some browns and rainbows, but the river is too low. It’s higher in Del Norte.”

“I think they’re irrigating,” I said, “Last week the river was four times that high at least. Well, good luck somewhere else, man,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said and headed toward his truck.

Now as you read those words, you cannot hear him, but to me his voice was music. There is a Spanish accent in northern New Mexico and in this valley that stirs home-strings in my heart. He spoke in that tone, with that inflection.

“Bear, you want to go home?” I asked the big dog who straddled my knee, her version of sitting on my lap. She didn’t seem to care much. I guess she was fine just like that.


Yesterday I had a phone conversation with a guy from National Public Radio. It was in response to a long phone message I had left at their request — on Facebook they’d posted a bulletin saying they wanted to hear from people in rural areas to find out what we need. I called.

He had to look me up in order to contact me, and he found my email. He emailed to see if the email reached the woman in Monte Vista who had left the message and asked for my phone number. I sent it, then tried to reconstruct what I’d said in a rather impassioned phone message. I wrote down all I remembered (I don’t have strong aural learning skills even with my own words) and then found the sources that had informed my understanding of the problems in the San Luis Valley. I was ready.

I was surprised when he called and wanted to know how and why someone would move to the Back of Beyond from a place like San Diego.

It’s true that San Diego is high on the list of “most desirable cities.” When I lived in San Diego, it was NOT in the “most desirable” part. It was a barrio known to have the highest crime rate in the city. It was San Diego’s version of East LA, in fact, it was East San Diego. After 17 (happy) years there, I moved to a mountain community 35 miles east, 45 miles from the airport. I had a great house and I lived in the mountains. If I’d had the money to stay there after retirement I probably would have. It was a life that worked. I’d been in Southern California for thirty years and it was, kind of, home. But it was expensive to live there. The cost of living had shot up during the recession and just heating my house for one winter cost nearly $2000. I couldn’t stay.

Meanwhile, I had been out here. I had given a couple papers at conferences in Colorado Springs, reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I had not wanted to leave Colorado in the first place. That happened because of marriage… The moment I knew what I had to do, I was in Colorado Springs. I filed my papers and knew that I would make big changes soon and it would be terra incognita.

So I explained to the man that my choice of Monte Vista was actually random. I knew how much money I had to live on and there was a house here that I wanted to live in. I told him I’d never been here before, but when I came through the San Luis Valley on my way to see my house I knew I wanted to live in this beautiful place ringed by mountains. Monte Vista — as I saw on that first journey — seemed to be a livable small town not too far from hospitals and stuff like that.

I knew back then that I had to go somewhere. This place was beautiful. I’d meet people in the course of time, meanwhile I’d write, walk my dogs, shake off 35 years in the classroom and find my feet. I had friends 3 hours away. It was up to me if the thing turned out good or bad.

“How did you pick Colorado?”

“I was born here.”

“In that area?”

“No, no, I’m from Denver.”

“Did you find it hard to make friends?”

“No, not at all. Here I have a social life. Back in California that was difficult because I worked so much. People here are friendly and we need each other.”

“Have you and your neighbors helped each other out?” he asked.

“Yes, it’s how things work.”

I wasn’t very lucid on the phone because I was so stunned and I don’t do phone if I can avoid it, anyway. I don’t think of my decision as extraordinary at all and was a little taken back that he did, that he thought there was a story in my story. I found it very difficult to describe the beauty and wonder of this place, not just (just?) the landscape but the human scenes I witness — and am part of — often. The tiny congregation of the Episcopal church, faithful and lovely, my friend playing the organ in the golden morning light streaming through the stained glass window — a church built by English pioneers so their children could go to a “proper English village church.” My friend’s husband putting the blade on his AWD and pushing the snow out of the alley so I can get out of my driveway after a big snow. Getting a ride to the Ford garage 20 miles away in my neighbor’s 1955 T-bird that he’s had for fifty years!!! Three older ladies (my friends and I) standing in the cold, clear water of Medano Creek beside the sand dunes, laughing like children at how funny our feet look in the water, the cowboys on horseback in the distance with their dog who — I think — should’ve been named Shorty. Sunsets that defy both photography and description. 20,000 sandhill cranes hanging out against a backdrop of snowy peaks. Bald eagles flying over me, their shadows grazing my shoulder beside the Rio Grande where I walk my dogs almost every day. The guy at the post office who hands me a package and says, “What is it?” and I tell him it’s a cable to hook my computer to my TV and he answers, “Que suave!” The small herd of bison out by the hospital, munching grass at the end of a summer rain storm. Horses in a pasture, kicking up their heels in the snow. Snow.

I go with friends to a restaurant. There’s live music. The retarded guy who lives nearby is at the restaurant. He goes up to the singer and makes a request. The singer smiles. The retarded guy takes a seat on a stool beside the singer who strikes a chord on his guitar. It’s a song I thought was corny and stupid back in the day. I learn it’s been made the Colorado state song. The retarded guy sings with all his heart, smiling a broad smile. The friends beside me sing, too. As I watch that duet, aware of the gentleness and familiarity behind it, I can’t believe my good luck at landing here.

That feeling has not changed.


After a long cold afternoon working on eliminating more stuff from my life, I took my camera out to the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge to take pictures. I didn’t want to interfere with the people who have paid good money to see the cranes — and they are already here. That’s the best thing that can happen to my town. I also got to see some of the work that’s done to prep the refuge for visitors. One field that the cranes really love is right now being mowed to crane-specific levels so that when all the people come for the Crane Festival they’ll be able to watch the cranes graze close up. This is the first time I’ve been able to take photos with my good camera so… And, honestly, cranes don’t do much until they do something and then you’d better be ready to focus fast.

You’ll see all the Canada geese with them. I didn’t see any Snow geese this time, but last year there were several.