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.



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.


Sweet Day

When I was teaching, I had almost no social life. I taught literally all the time. I taught writing which means hundreds of essays to read, correct and respond to. And, I taught seven classes. A full load for a tenured faculty member is four classes one semester, three the next. This means in a whole YEAR that person teaches as many classes as I taught in a semester. Usually they had grading assistants to help with their load. I had grading assistants two semesters in my entire 35+ year career. Seven classes means I normally taught three classes a day. My seventh class was usually on Saturday morning. I really didn’t have the time or inclination to get to know anyone.

When I moved away from California, I left virtually no friends behind except the one who, a year or two later, moved to Colorado Springs, and my wonderful neighbors who’d already moved to work and live on a ranch in Northern California.

Moving to Monte Vista changed my life in almost every way, but the desire to know people has been one of the best. I moved into a neighborhood and, in my neighborhood, I found friends.

Yesterday we got together for one of our infamous tea parties (but we had coffee). This was kind of special because it was on St. Lucia’s Day which, in my family, was always the first day of Christmas. It was the day we put up our tree. Sometimes my mother invited guests for dinner and she cooked Lutefisk of song and legend. She wasn’t Swedish, but my dad’s mom was. It was a huge event if that’s what happened.

Lutefisk is dried, salted whitefish that’s been preserved in lye. (Cue Viking music.) Lutefisk wasn’t easy to find, but my mom always managed to find it. It had to soak over night, transforming from a whiteish, silverish, grayish boardlike thing to a gelatinous mass. It was then boiled, served on boiled potatoes with a creamy white sauce that my grandmother made with real butter, my mom with margarine. Along with it we had lingonberries and potato sausage (yum). Sometimes Swedish rye bread.

My neighbor, K, is Swedish and last year we talked of a tea party on St. Lucia’s day, but I was very sick last year and it didn’t happen.

But it happened yesterday. My neighbor, E, made traditional Swedish saffron buns and I made Swedish fruit soup. Remembering that no Swede in my life EVER drank tea, I made coffee.

Our conversation went from cooking to memories to family to the future in the hands of upcoming generations (none-to-soon, IMO) to the sudden preponderance of complaints by women of sexual harassment. It’s a hot-button topic for me, not the most congenial subject, but there we were. Having been — most of the time — a single, working woman — I have had WAY too many experiences with it. When I complained to bosses, supervisors, I was NEVER believed. “He didn’t mean that,” was one response I got from a boss when a fellow teacher stood behind me while I was working on the shared computer in our office and said, “You know you want to stick your hand down my pants. Why don’t you?” He harassed another woman, too, and rather being reprimanded, he was told to get psychiatric help. Another case involved a fellow teacher who was on the tenure review committee when I was going for a tenured position. He made it very clear to me that if I didn’t “do him” I could forget tenure. I didn’t “do him” and I didn’t get tenure. When I complained, a supervising colleague believed me, but the Dean did not. These are just two stories of a long litany that left me thinking that some men (most men? all men?) will demonstrate dominance in whatever way they can whether it’s sexually or, as in the case of a boss at SDSU, by verbally abusing me in front of staff.

E seemed to think the “Me Too” movement would have an effect on changing the society. My take is that it’s human nature and that’s pretty hard to change, but maybe it would make people think twice. We didn’t reach a conclusion.

I don’t know. I am just grateful not to be on the road any more. Not to be walking into classrooms or called in by some boss who doesn’t understand what I do because he’s a system’s analyst and I’m a writing teacher. I love this valley with all my heart and soul. I like my neighbors very much and I’m grateful to have been dropped into this little nexus of kindness and old-fashioned values and manners. I don’t know the answer to the world’s problems, but I suspect more Swedish saffron buns, more fruit soup, more congenial conversations, more good neighbors, more generosity of heart and soul could fix a lot of things.


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.