When ON the Course of Human Events…

 

Yesterday I got a canister of bear spray — it’s pepper spray. The canister is a lot larger than I expected — between 10 inches and a foot — and it has a holster. I don’t see me strapping that on and going to walk the dogs at the slough. I was hoping it was a simple four-inch can of spray with a holster I could clip to my pocket or pack strap in front, but this… I don’t need it for a bear. I need for a grubby man who makes me nervous and scares Dusty.

So, last evening, as I took Dusty T. Dog and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog for our usual walk around the hood and high school, I noticed the golf course was empty. Really empty. Two cars in front of the club house. A familiar high school golfer walking around with his bag to the holes that challenge him.

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They close next month, but right now the course is beautiful. In the beginning of the summer — May, June, most of July — it was aching from the drought like everything else was, but six weeks or so of regular rain and careful tending…

Why was it empty?

“Don’t look a gift course in the mouth,” I said to myself.

It was really good to be back. I’m pretty sure “Grizzly Man” won’t take daily walks there and as much as I love the slough, the views from it don’t compare to those from the open plain of the pasture, I mean driving range. As for animals, I’ve seen more at the golf course than at the wildlife refuge. This isn’t cold comfort at all.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/friday-rdp-grubby/

Potato Festival #4 (Of My Life)

The area around my town is potato country. That’s right. Next to Idaho, the San Luis Valley of Colorado grows the most potatoes in the United States. It’s (I believe) our main source of income. Now ye give tat a tink, will ye’ knowin’ tat sum a yer Irish ancestor’s arrived in America during the starvin’ and ye might be a bit worried. All ‘at remains is a lurkin’ fear tat a potato might betray me…

I don’t like them much, except French fries, my Aunt Martha’s potatoes fried with onions and the occasional hashbrowns which do business in Switzerland as a thing called Rösti.

But the festival is great. My friend Lois and her developmentally disabled son, Mark, came down from Colorado Springs to partake in the wonders of Heaven (Monte Vista).

I didn’t take pictures, but my friend did. I’ll let them round out the thousand or so words I might have written extoling the wonders of it all. BUT I did have a couple of great experiences myself.

Something rather personal. I am a tiger. I guess it’s my totem. I didn’t pick it; years ago my therapist said, (in a French accent because she was French) “Martha you are a tiger. You see what you want or need and you go do it.” She was right. I then learned about tigers and was surprised at the similarities. They are solitary. They like to live in cold, snowy places (I am a Siberian tiger). They find relationships dangerous because (in the case of the female) they can die in the mating process. There are other similarities, but I’ll stop there.

Of course, as this was a country fair, there was face painting. As we were leaving I saw a little boy — 3 years old? — with his face painted perfectly as a tiger. I said, “It’s a tiger boy!” He turned around, looked at me, and roared and took a paw swipe. I roared back. We roared at each other for quite a while and did some paw swipes. It was wonderful. I said, “It takes one to know one,” by way of explaining to his mother who was laughing.

After that, I actually felt lighter in my heart. It’s good to find a kindred soul.

~~~

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Refurbished, beautiful old trucks

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The local riding stable brought ponies in 3 sizes and a horse.

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What Potato Festival would it be without Mr. Potato Head (but he kept losing his nose)

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The San Luis Valley has an alligator rescue. Seriously. They live year round on a working farm in hot springs pools.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/bonus-prompt-weekend/

This Valley is for the Birds

Birds are big where I live, I mean that literally and figuratively. The biggest economic  boom to my town each year is the Crane Festival when people come from all over the world to watch Sandhill Cranes cavort. But there are other great birds here. All kinds of raptors (bald eagles nest here). The Rio Grande threads through the valley and there are hundreds of artesian wells. On a recent walk along the river, we watched a Great Blue Heron take flight in front of us. At the slough, of course, there is every kind of water bird who might like fishing in these climes. Last week I saw my first Killdeer. In my very yard are humingbirds, sparrows, house finches, gold finches and yellow warblers. Of course, I plant things for them. The finches like the seeds of Bachelor Buttons (aka cornflowers) and everything hangs around sunflowers.

Long long ago when the dinosaurs roamed this valley was a huge lake. The lake is now underground and farmers have relied on it for centuries. Because of that ancient lake what would otherwise be a desert is, well, still a desert, but one in which crops grow.

I have a political sign in my yard right now — the first one since 1980 when I worked on John Anderson’s campaign. Yes, that’s obscure but if you’re really interested there’s this thing called Google 😉 Yesterday on my walk with Bear, I was near home when I saw a young, tall, handsome Hispanic guy in a concha belt and cowboy hat in the sidewalk in front of me. Bear and I approached. He remained calm and just patted Bear’s head, demonstrating some knowledge of how to be with a big dog.

“Nice dog. I’m Donald Valdez. I’m running for State Legislature.”

“What do you stand for?”

He was taken back a bit but he answered. “I stand for farmers and ranches, affordable health care and education. I believe in education. People complain about crowded prisons, but I think spending on education is more important. A good farmer doesn’t just put a seed in the ground and forget about it. Seeds are like children. They have to be taught and nurtured.”

I don’t know how you teach a seed, but I got his point. I had to ask the requisite question of the San Luis Valley which is, “Are you from here?” Not from the usual reason but because if he represents the people here, he should know who they are. His family has a ranch in La Jara and he pronounced La Jarrrra correctly.

And now I have his sign in my yard.

Back to birds.

At the moment there are white pelicans at the lake. They are beautiful birds, especially in flight.

Now we are waiting for the fall return of the Sandhill Cranes on their commute from Yellowstone to New Mexico. The cranes ARE our seasons. When they begin flying over again in February, we know spring is on the way. When they come south again, we know winter is coming.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/08/rdp-saturday-bird/

Small Town Mentality

It’s too soon to say that the drought has broken, but we’ve had three cloudy damp days in a row and yesterday, in the thriving megalopolis of Alamosa, Colorado, there was hail and a flood on the parking lot at City Market. I was there. My neighbor took me shopping at my favorite store. We made it into a scavenger hunt for the strangest objects. She said I won, but I think she did. She found a glow-in-the-dark alien egg. I just found cans of nuts packaged as breakfast food. It is kind of funny that there are nuts packaged as women’s health.

Stop that.

When we got home, she carried in my groceries and helped me put them away. I can’t lift, carry, or bend over so even though I CAN drive to the store, I can only buy one banana at a time…. At the moment, I’m wearing sweat pants I got for the hospital. My Aussie neighbor shortened them for me. In a little while, she’s taking me to my local doc to get my staples removed.

I’m sitting here in this beautiful town surrounded by kindness. It’s as if the divine powers said, “OK, Martha. You’ve gone into those classrooms and fought the good fight for more than 30 years. From now on, you get kindness. You get to be kind, you get to be treated kindly. You get to go where the news is things like the high school kids doing community service — cleaning weeds from various locations around town and walking dogs at the local shelter. In my town that gets two pages. The cemetery tells the town that with the water shortage, they’re going to have to figure out an alternative to lawn this year and they ask for suggestions and help. A group has organized to provide public transportation between some of the towns on my side of the San Luis Valley. It’s a pilot program, and they need two volunteer drivers.

Volunteers.

And best of all….

A local group of developmentally disabled adults — SLV People First — has published its “first book” (they plan on more) entitled Important Things. A staff writer interviewed these people for the article, and while their answers are what you’d expect, the beauty is that their story is in the paper and the book is for sale. The underlying theme of the stories in the book is the determination of these people to live independently and to speak for themselves.

Not long ago a friend of a friend described narrow-minded people as people who have a “small town mentality.” My friend and I were both angered and amused by this. The small-town mentality I know is a bunch of people going out to a fairly remote farm where there is a child in a wheelchair and building a ramp to the front door for the family who lives there.

The stereotype of small town people has — as do all stereotypes — some basis in reality. It’s true that the people in my town are mostly politically and fiscally conservative, but the reason WHY is grounded in the reality that many “social programs” don’t need to be coordinated by a government agency. Some do, naturally, but as a community we depend on each other, our families and our churches — even I, with no family and no church, can rely on friends who can, equally, rely on me. I would be sad to think that the philosophy of love thy neighbor is only a small-town thing, something that has disappeared from the lives of people in big cities.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/disappear/

Los Conquistadores

Not too long ago there was a posting on one of the local (small town) Facebook pages about people — Hispanic people — in the San Luis Valley being taught to disown their heritage.

This is true. The post was by a historian, and his assertion was that those bad guys, those Coronados, Cabeza de Vacas, those Ponce de Leons, all those Spanish explorers, the Conquistadors and their armies (many of whose men stayed here and started families who are still here, hundreds of years later), had been shoved under the bus of political correctness because they killed Native Americans.

The historian went on to make the point that these Spaniards had achieved something that would have killed modern humans. I think he’s right. I cannot imagine hundreds of modern humans piling themselves into a wooden ship, with horses, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep, AND priests, and setting sail across a recently understood ocean, (no sea monsters) to land in a place they’d never seen, populated or not (they weren’t sure) with people completely different from them who, in some cases, because of their face paint, haircuts and feathers, resembled paintings in (pre-America) European churches of Satan. All of this with plate armor AND the dangers of pirates, disease, storms at sea, wars.

We don’t even begin to have the skills to manage just the voyage. We forget the Americas WERE Terra Incognita. These guys killed Indians, but they also attempted to “save” them by bringing the “true faith.” In their minds it was the best thing they had. And the people — and their faith — are still here.

Some of their routes became our highways.

Old Spanish Trail Map

Northern Routes

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Southern Routes

 

Right now I’m living in the middle of their world (21st century). The people around me are the descendants of these Spaniards (and Native Americans) and they speak an antique Spanish mixed with Ute and Navajo words. From time to time archeologists dig up a Clovis point below a disintegrating Spanish helmet. Personally, I think it’s amazing. I completely agree with William S. Burrough’s essay, “It Is Necessary to Travel…” Here’s the whole thing.

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Featured photo: Marker for the Old Spanish Trail outside Monte Vista.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/explore/

Physical Therapy and the Big Picture

Yesterday I went to my first pre-surgery physical therapy appointment. I didn’t want to go. Like a lot of this stuff I’m going through, I’ve “been there; done that.” But not really.

Last time I had physical therapy (2005) it was to address a condition I didn’t have. I went twice a week for three months and my hip (the right hip) just got more and more painful. Why? Because my “doctor” at the time had not diagnosed the problem correctly.

This time is NOT last time.

Every time I drive to the slough with the dogs I pass the gym which is known as “Monte Vista Athletic Club.” It looks like a barn which is not notable as the most popular building style where I live is big buildings with steel siding; lots of buildings look like barns including barns. It’s beautiful inside; it’s a gorgeous gym. I’m not a gym person, but I’ve been in several and this one is great. I told the person at the counter I was there for physical therapy and he guided me back to the corner of the “barn”. I was checked in and met my therapist — I like him! — a guy named Ron Muhlenhauser (good Swiss name). He sat me down.

The first thing he said when he looked at my chart was, “You don’t look that old.”

I thought, “Huh? Flattery? But why?” I think I look old, but maybe not. It’s a comparative thing, anyway. I explained I’d had hip surgery already on the other hip eleven years ago.

“You’re kidding,” he said.

“No. I…” I didn’t finish. We talked about accidents I might have had that could have caused the hip problem, and I rattled off a litany of sports related injuries.

“So sports, then,” he wrote on his paper. Then he asked me questions about the pain in my hip and how long I’d had it. I don’t think I was too good at the answers, but finally he said, “What are your goals?”

I said, “Hip surgery and the ability to walk better.” I still didn’t know what I was doing there other than fulfilling Medicare requirements. I didn’t think there was any reason beyond that, but I was very, very wrong.

“Here are your doctor’s goals,” and he read them to me. Of course, they were better, clearer and more articulate than mine. They are improving my posture, gait and the the development of good muscles and tendons in my hip. This means, basically, lengthening them so they will work with a new hip joint and so I can stand up straight. “You want to be good from the getgo after your surgery. Your left leg might be a little longer afterward, too. It’s likely.” It’s 1/2 inch shorter at the moment.

I was taught some exercises, and Ron gave me great explanations all the way along. I paid attention, practiced, and, all the while, thought about what I was being told. It began to sink in.

Then he said, “You’ve got the best doctor. Dr. S is the one who can handle the really tough cases. He’s the best there is.”

“Dr. Hunter (surgeon in Salida) recommended him.”

“See?” said Ron. “We’re going to try to teach your joint and your back to straighten up, to lengthen those muscles and teach those tendons to quit protecting your joint.” Ron showed me an exercise to lengthen thigh muscles and said, “You know runners. When they run, the back leg kicks way far back, so far it seems like it’s flying behind the runner, right?”

I visualized that and saw running in a completely new way.  We kept working and Ron explained how the tissues in our bodies replace themselves so that every three months we have all new tissue. I then understood that the purpose behind the cortisone shot is so that these exercises will not hurt me, because, otherwise, I couldn’t possibly do them.

I understood then why the surgery will be three months from now at the soonest. With that realization, suddenly, I got it. I really wanted to cry. My surgeon and the physical therapist are working together to help me emerge from this crysalis of pain and disability into a, yes, older Martha who can still be who the eternal Martha (inside herself) knows herself to be.

The shoes? Well, they’re trail running shoes. I got them on eBay last week. I’ve been wearing Salomon trail running shoes since the early 2000s. They were developed for people who race in the mountains. They were amazing, but they lasted me only about 3 months. Toward the end of the 2000s, Salomon sold the shoe to Adidas, and Adidas changed the way they are made as well as making various models. They are more durable, but less responsive (IMO) Still, they’re the best I know. I didn’t want to fork out the $$$ for brand new ones because I don’t know how this is going to pan out, and they’re expensive. When these arrived, I just hoped they’d have some time left. It turns out they are almost new. I think the previous owner might have worn them twice. I wore them yesterday to PT. They’re going with me the whole way. 🙂

 

They’re EVERYWHERE!!!!

Just got back from a walk with Dusty and Bear. It was a legit walk even though there were other people at “our” place. I’m just going to have to find a different time of day or branch out to new locales.

It’s an incredibly wonderful thing to take a real stride and follow it with another. I never took that ability for granted as my dad couldn’t walk well or easily because of his MS, still, I’m so savoring the miracle of the cortisone shot, however long it lasts. My research indicates 2 months is about average. That’s fine. I know it’s not a cure.

My town is getting ready for the Crane Festival which is this weekend. It’s rolling out the red carpet. Restaurants are featuring special “crane themed” items. Banners are hanging where the Christmas decorations were hanging until two weeks ago (we don’t hurry here in Monte Vista), the “fair grounds” are going to host an indoor craft and nature fair.

I don’t think the cranes care much about all this follderol, but they should. The wildlife refuge has been flooded (dry winter) for their benefit, and the Amish farmers around the refuge have mowed their fields and left barley on the ground. I wonder if the ancestral memory of this millions of years old species has any recollection of the old days. I wonder what grain originally drew them here — probably the same as draws them to my slough, wild grasses, wild rye, wild barley.

I might charge up the “good” camera (though my iPhone is approaching the quality) and take some photos after the festival is over.

I wrote to this prompt earlier today. I really hated my post so I’ve deleted it. I was doing something I don’t even believe in by writing it. SO… It’s gone.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/branch/

Weather Report

Yesterday, Monday, day and night, we had storms — a few brief blizzards and gale force winds. Today on our walk, we happened on this sad story. Sad to me, anyway. In the grand scheme (which is where our walk was taking place) it’s just a dead owl. It’s even possible (but not likely) that it wasn’t a dead owl, but an owl playing dead over its prey. These owls — great horned owls — do this and, as Dusty reached it a second or two before Bear and I reached it, it’s possible.

And I thought, “To me this is sad. I don’t want this owl to be dead, but nothing around me cares at ALL except Dusty and Bear and THEY are just curious to know if it’s edible.”

Once upon a time I collected feathers. I once found a red-tail hawk that had been thrown against a hill by the wind and then eaten by coyotes. I brought home his wings. I’m not that person now. I don’t want souvenirs from nature any more. My mind is so full of those souvenirs that objects are meaningless — besides, the owl was beautiful and pristine lying beside the chamisa in the winter grass. Someone will eat him; it could even be another owl.

Seconds before I encountered the dead owl, I watched and listened to a dozen Sandhill Cranes lift into flight just a few feet in front of me.

All around it is early spring in the San Luis Valley — well, pre-spring in the San Luis Valley. Pre-spring has arrived a few weeks early. My crocus are blooming a week early, the Sandhill cranes have arrived in full force, and the Rio Grande Wildlife Refuge has closed about three weeks ahead of normal to allow the birds — water birds and bald eagles — to nest.

Wind in the San Juans

 

The Cranes of Monte Vista

They’ll be here soon if they’re not here already. I’m not sure they ever completely left for the southern climes of New Mexico this winter as we’ve had virtually no snow, comparatively (compared to Cutbank, Montana) warm temperatures, and the water in the various sloughs, rivers and preserves has not completely frozen. If I were a Sandhill Crane, I’d still migrate. I think most of the fun is with the extended flock.

In a month Monte Vista will open its arms to a profusion of crane tourists from all over the world who have dreamed all their lives of visiting a small town in Colorado and seeing more than 20,000 Sandhill Cranes. It is truly one of life’s most amazing sights, hundreds of bundled up baby-boomer wayfarers with binoculars pointed at the meadow of the world, listening to a park ranger explain what the cranes are doing.

And what are they doing? They dance. They are VERY busy finding luv’ and making babies.

Last year — a real winter — I saw cranes every month of the year, but this year, because it’s been so warm, there have been a lot more people out where I walk with the dogs. That has got to be at least as disturbing to the lingering cranes as it is to me.

Along with the advent of the cranes, in early March most of the wildlife area where we walk will close to allow geese and various other birds to nest unmolested. This will leave one small place for us to walk. The golf course usually opens around the time the wildlife area closes, signifying the arrival of my dogs’ and my least favorite seasons — spring and summer.

P.S. Rereading this, I guess I woke up on the curmudgeonly side of the bed this morning…

You can learn more about the Crane Festival here.

Where I Live

Today Mindy got groomed. My groomer has a small farm. Really small. She lives in a mobile home across from my vet. In the backyard are a couple of sheds. One is for storing bikes on one end and a pony on the other. The other is her really pretty grooming studio. There are pens for sheep and the goat. It’s far and away from any urban grooming set up like you might see at Petco or something. She LOVES animals and she has two great kids who help out.

Mindy loves to go there and they love Mindy. “She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body,” says the groomer. “She’s the most cooperative dog; she seems to know what you need and helps you.” Mindy is 10 or 11; she has bad hips. I don’t like brushing her because I’m afraid I’ll hurt her, so it’s great I have found Muddy Paws.

Mindy the groomed

“Aren’t I pretty?”

When I picked Mindy up we talked about what people talk about in an agricultural community. I didn’t grow up here. I never farmed anything or raised any stock, but I like it. I would have liked doing it if I’d been plopped down in that world. I’d have been happy. I know that because I was always happy in Montana with my family and their borderline farms. I am happier here than I’ve been ever in my life.

In a farming community, you talk about the weather and it’s NOT small talk. We’re having the driest winter Colorado has seen in 30 years. It was 56 degrees this afternoon; for reference, on this day last year, it got up to 12. That’s normal for January.

This is nuts.

“I don’t know what to think,” I said. “I like the cold and snow, but it’s kind of nice not having to worry about it.”

“I know what you mean. By now, usually, I don’t have any grooming business but I’m booked solid.”

“Last January I wouldn’t have brought Mindy. It was 20 below!”

“It’s strange,” she said. “This weather is good for the loggers, but the farmers? We got a lot of rain in the summer.”

“Seven inches extra for last year,” I said.

“That’s a whole year of moisture,” she nodded. “I think we’re going to have another one of those wet summers. That’s bad. I’m lambing now and we’re good, but next year, if we have another wet summer, hay is going to be sky high.”

“And the potatoes,” I said. “That was a little iffy last summer.”

“Yeah, it was. I don’t know what to wish for. I guess it depends on your work.”

And work depends on the land and the weather. I like that so much. I like those imperatives so much more than some arcane discussion about teaching methods or what degree I have or how I manage a classroom. I know farming (and everything else that happens here) isn’t easy for a lot of people and a lot of people are having a hard time, but  man. When nature is your partner there’s a lot different kind of negotiation and if you lose your job, it’s not because some dumbass boss doesn’t like you.

While Mindy was being groomed, Bear and I walked for a mile and a half along the river. It’s mostly frozen, here and there the unfrozen channel surfaces, but sections of it are like a mirror. We found the femur of a deceased large mammal — probably a deer — a little bit of fur hanging on, but mostly cleaned off completely.

Femur

 

Animals that walk along the river during other times of day include bears, coyotes, foxes, stray dogs, a cougar, badgers — and human hunters. Who knows how that femur came to be beside the trail and it wasn’t saying anything. I think Bear has some idea, but she’s not saying, either.