Things are going to sparkle around here. Monte Vista is doing its Christmas thing today and tomorrow. One of the events leading up to it has been the re-garlanding of the Happy Holiday sign at the west entrance to my town (the end of my block). It’s a Christmas tradition. Tradition is big in Monte Vista.

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, looks at the pernicious power of nostalgia. I read it back in the 70s, and I don’t remember the plot clearly, but I remember images thanks to Marquez’ way of writing. The book is about a once flourishing town — Macondo — in the process of dying of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is killing my town, too. People here moan, “Monte is not like it was.” “This town has turned to shit,” but they don’t come up with a plan to change it or a vision for the future of what they want the town to be within the constraints of objective reality NOW, 2017. The recent election? The coalition that won ran on nostalgia, the promise to bring Monte Vista back to the town it was in the 1970’s. They’re good guys, but had no clear plan, not one they communicated, anyway. They knew how to reach the voter, though.


The problem with nostalgia is that it’s smokey-eyed, bleary and romantic. The 1970s had its ugliness and sorrow, too. People probably bitched about things then, how “things weren’t what they used to be,” as people do all the time everywhere. If that coalition took apart their nostalgia, they might see that the ordinary habits of people have changed.

“Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away the bad memories and magnified the good ones. no one was safe from its onslaught.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Nostalgia is a normal feeling. I feel nostalgia for hills I once hiked but no longer can. Men I once loved, and won’t love again. Family members and moments shared that cannot return. Denver. I prefer it as it was from the 1950s to the late 70s/early 80s when I left and, for that reason, I’m not eager to return and explore it now. Fuck it. Denver doesn’t care whether I’m there or not.

One thing that propelled me back here was nostalgia. I saw the streets of Monte Vista and I saw all the small towns I’d loved as a kid. I also saw the architecture of my favorite neighborhoods in Denver. There was nostalgia for winter, too. In California, even though where I lived it did snow, it was never “real” winter. But I did not choose other aspects of my early life. I had learned to love sunshine and chose to live where the sun shines upward of 300 days/year and the days never shorten dramatically in winter. I wanted a new life. A lot of things here are completely, totally new to me. I’ve never lived in a farming community, for example, or so close to the Northern New Mexican culture that I’ve always loved, that’s always fascinated me. Now I live between mountain ranges and near a river — that’s new. I didn’t go back to the family homeland, Montana. I moved to the far north end of the great Sonoran Desert. I recognized that I am not the same person I was in the early 80s when I left Colorado. I’m a very different person, and “You can’t go home again.”

Where and what was “home” anyway? In the meantime, I’d started living with dogs and that wasn’t going to stop. I’ve traveled and seen some of the world. I’ve learned languages. My physical abilities are diminished, lots of stuff is new… I don’t want to live in the past. It wasn’t THAT good. But some things are — in memory — sweet.

Nostalgia is a reasonable feeling for things that are gone forever. It is not a normal feeling for things that are alive and want to move forward, into the future, where they will live (and maybe you won’t?). The future should sparkle, beckon, an open horizon of possibility, an illusion of its own kind, but not the sepia-toned, hazy opiate of nostalgia.

Some Bad Days are Good

Yesterday I took Dusty T. and Polar Bear Yeti T. Dogs out to the slough for a walk. Walking is painful a lot of the time right now, not all the time, but a lot of the time. I’m allergic to aspirin and all its pals, so I’m kind of screwed in the “take an anti-inflammatory and shut up” category. Tylenol kind of works… ANY-hoo… Some days are better than others. I just figure we’ll go slow.

To my relief (and delight?) no one was there. Dusty “ran” FREEEEEEEE and I could lean on my trekking pole. Bear is learning to go slow and not to pull me. I realize if this is an injury I’m dealing with, she probably did it to me pulling suddenly on the leash. Still, I don’t blame her. She’s a dog.

We reached a bend in the trail and I stopped. Just then, six Sandhill cranes took flight about 100 yards away. I was thrilled. Then there were more. Through our little walk, I saw at least a dozen take flight and head south, too far away for us to have startled them, moved by some inscrutable Sandhill crane impulse to take flight. As they fly, they call out to the world and to each other, a joyous cacophony that makes my heart sing.

On our way home, I was watching a flock pass in front of my car, really pissing off the guy who was tailgating me. I pulled over, thinking, “Life is really fucking short, and sometimes it’s painful. Moments like this should be savored as long as possible. Where in hell do you need to go so badly that you have to tailgate me on a country road? What if you never see the cranes in flight again?”

If you have never heard them, I recommend going to this website where you can hear an excellent recording of most of their sounds. The sound that I’ve heard most often when they’re on the ground is strangely soothing.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology — All about Birds, Sandhill Crane


I believed the weather forecast and figured I’d wake up to snow, but I woke up to sunshine. 🙂

The photo above is NOT today. It’s sometime last November.

The weather guys could’ve gotten their timing wrong.  In the short period of time since I got up, let the dogs out, fed them, made coffee etc. it’s clouded over. Silvery clouds are making their way across Monte Vista.

It’s not unusual for this to happen in fall. Winter likes to send it’s emissaries to remind the still green leaves and the flowers that insist on blooming that their days are numbered. “Dude,” it says, “your days are numbered.”

As you see, those are winter’s exact words.

Whoops! Here comes the sun. Do-nh-doo-doo.

I don’t know what to believe anymore. I think I’ll go with a moment-by-moment evidence based prediction looking out my window…

The New Leaf

Three years ago day-before-yesterday I first arrived back in Colorado to stay. Was it a new leaf?

Yes in that I no longer get up before dawn to drive to Mexico (or nearby) to teach people basic English skills at the college level. I no longer must bend the knee to some guy who doesn’t know anything about what I teach. I no longer have to deal with any of the dark sides of teaching.

But, of course, I’m still the same person and a new leaf beyond the obvious and mechanical is pretty unlikely ever. That’s one thing I’ve learned. “I yam what I yam.”

I also came here imagining I would want to put my energy into writing and marketing books — and I did — but the upshot of that is bitterness I’d rather never to have experienced. That damned tree of knowledge. 🙂

While there’s no going back to the Garden, it came with an understanding of myself and that, after nearly four decades of “performing,” I don’t want to perform any more. I don’t want to be “invested in an outcome” and get someone’s approval and recognition. That’s something I didn’t know when I arrived here three years ago carrying a half-finished novel. I no longer even want to be a famous writer. It’s too late for me to be completely unknown, but I think I can still achieve a decent level of obscurity.

Three years ago my dogs and I were in a small cabin in South Fork, Colorado. I knew I was glad to be here, but I had no idea where I would live and that was very stressful. I was exhausted from months of packing, the stress of selling a house, a terrible summer class. I wanted to sleep, but Lily T. Wolf (RIP) — my Siberian husky — always heard sounds in the early morning and had to go outside, so out we went at 4 or 5 am every day. There were coyotes and bears in “our” field, and after seeing bear scat, I began taking a flashlight. I loved the sound of the river in those dark, silent walks and the stars seemed so close and so bright. For the first time in 30 years I watched the aspen turn and felt the air turn chill with fall.

Yesterday one of my neighbors joined us for a walk at a wildlife area beside the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande) which is now looking like the Rio Cansado (Tired River). Two days earlier, I had disturbed a great horned owl at his/her lunch, and yesterday my neighbor and I saw two owls — a male and a female. The larger of the two — the female — watched us. The smaller was only interested in us for a few seconds then off he flew.


The female great-horned owl

The leaves in town have started turning. The aspen in the mountains have been at it for a week or so. Everything according to its right time. When I left Colorado in the mid-eighties, I wasn’t as “involved” with nature as I am now and didn’t notice the clock of the four seasons, but it is quite precise I’ve learned here in the San Luis Valley.

Today is the official first day of fall. Daytime highs will (rather suddenly!) drop ten degrees during the coming week. Frost will hit the tomatoes, the flowers and even the sacred zucchini. For a brief time, snow was forecast for Sunday, but that’s been changed. This is a very beautiful season here — and it’s a full three months long. It’s no “transition;” it’s something in its own right.

Power Outage

Ever since the Cedar Fire of 2003, if my power goes out, I feel anxious. Late yesterday afternoon, some guys cutting branches away from power lines cut a line. My power company texted me what I already knew. I didn’t want to wait for the power to come on (and I would; I think anyone who’s been without power for a week or more because of a disaster would…). It wasn’t MY thorny problem. I decided to run away, so I leashed Dusty and Bear and headed to the slough along the Rio Grande.

It had spit rain earlier and the clouds had moved swiftly east. That made some beautiful light. The featured photo is the Sangre de Cristos.



Looking southeast



Looking northeast toward the Sangre de Cristos


Maybe you had to be there 🙂


Faint rainbow in the virga


When I got home, the power was back on, in my end of town anyway.

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.