Thoughts on a Walk Today With Bear

Pastel spring breaks through shyly, hesitant,
“What if?” Knowing snow could fall on the land
before white winter’s determined, rampant
cycle fades toward fecund summer’s grand
promises. Ambivalent, spring pauses, slow
to leave in this high valley. Soft showers
yield to summer’s green trees and fruitful show
of barley in the fields, potato flowers.
Then, come September, summer surrenders
Weary. Its moment too short for many,
Fine with me. Among season’s contenders,
Winter season is better than any.
Nature rests in winter’s patient freeze,
Ice crystals in the air, hoar frost on trees.


This is a Shakespearean sonnet, more or less. 14 lines, ababcdcdefefgg. Iambic pentameter (10 syllable lines with the stress on every other syllable, but I’m not a fetishist about that). The final six lines are supposed to set up a situation established by or counter to the first 8 lines. I’m not big on rules, though, other than the rhyme and syllable thing. I’m writing sonnets as a mental challenge, mostly, but once in a while one might be good. I started writing sonnets when I realized I just don’t have much more to say in one of my customary blog posts at the moment.

P.S. I never imagined writing 2 in a day but it was so pretty out there at the Refuge in the rain, what could I do? Now I have to go cover the beans. Freeze and snow in the forecast. 🙂

April 22

Dusty boots have been my best friends
Taking me where I’ve been and where I’ve dreamed.
Across destiny’s bitter hills again and again,
Ancient lakes, morning’s snowbound trails, frozen streams.
Far, shining Alpine peaks, out of my reach,
Layers of clay, bright-colored, time-kissed,
The tracks of dinosaurs on a rock-hard beach,
Juniper bushes, scorpions and mist.
Through time, disaster or inspiration,
Tree-held or wasted, sage scrub and forest,
Sand and shore, wild lilac, golden aspen,
Sorrow or hope, the yearning heart rests.
Where my eyes point, squint, captured by color,
Summits or dreams, one foot, then the other

The poem is a Shakespearean sonnet, though I’m not a fetishist about iambic pentameter since it’s the natural rhythm of the English language anyway. Iambic pentameter is ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM for ten syllables. A Shakespearean sonnet is 14 lines with the scheme of ababcdcdefefgg. It’s easy for a dyslexic person like me who’s likely to mess up the rhyme scheme if it has too many variables. The story is that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets like this because the traditional Italian sonnet (the Petrarchan sonnet) is immensely challenging in English because of the natural rhythm of English vs. the natural rhythm of Italian. I don’t know if this is true or not but I’m buying it anyway.

Aaaaannnddd, That’s a Wrap (almost)

“I know for me, whenever I needed a distraction from the news, working on our Soothing Nature videos has been a wonderful way to decompress. If you’re in a particularly wintery mood, check out one of my favorite Soothing Nature moments and spend an hour in snowy Yellowstone.” Karen Ho Social Media Specialist for NATURE

I had to laugh when I read this in my email this morning, an email from PBS. During one of the more fraught moments of this year I sought “soothing” by watching nature films. Seriously, all I got in terms of “soothing” from that was the understanding that we’re just participating in one of those nature dramas. After watching a mother moose abandon her calf in a swollen stream, watching one older sibling bird offer up his younger brother to the hungry eagle, and the mating ritual of about a hundred gaudy male birds dancing and singing “Let’s get it on,” to the gray female, blasé and assured in her understated elegance, no. Anyone who’s “soothed” by nature videos doesn’t get it.

The email is accompanied by photos of wolves killing buffalo followed by a headline, “Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo — Discover how wolves and buffalo live together in what seems like a forgotten corner of the world.” The implication? Depends how you read it. It could be that the interdependence of prey and predator keeps both animal (groups, not individuals) alive or it could be deep irony.

Yesterday I got an extraordinary book, Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration by Joe Wilkins. It’s a “coffee table” book in format but not in content, though it is full of incredible photographs. The writing is beautiful and, in the midst of one lovely, descriptive sentence after another came this gem, “Mud is very informative.” I love tracks and reading the stories left in the night, and, that simple clause, dropped in the middle of some very elegant description revealed the man.

On this New Years Eve, when I think back on 2020, I’m surprised that I’m not fixated on the virus and the politics and attenuating bullshit. I just see what I did (paintings), what made summer not-so-bad-at-all (Scarlet Emperor Beans and friends) and how I dealt with the demands of, yeah, nature. I learned yesterday that I’m likely to get a vaccination in spring — which is what I always expected from the beginning of the pandemic — and, meanwhile, it is this beautiful cold season where there is always the hope of snow. I’d like more than hope, but hope’s not so bad. In a week or so I will get the first shipment of books to evaluate for the writing contest for which I am a judge. I’m busy restocking my Etsy store in anticipation of spring. I deeply appreciate this “neighborhood” which has been a big part of these several months not being lonely and RDP for helping me wake up with a purpose on the days that didn’t start so well, a purpose beyond the dishes waiting in the sink. So, hoping for better things for all of us in 2021, I wish you all a…

Happy New Year!

“Where am I???”

I subscribe to a magazine (paper) called Colorado Central Magazine. It’s published in the small city of Salida which is just over Poncha Pass from me, about 1 1/2 hours north. It has more text than photos and is printed on news print. Most of the writers are baby boomers and they are thoughtful, well-educated people. It’s supported by local advertising and subscription and focuses on history, current events, opinion of the geographically large region it covers — including the San Luis Valley.

When I began the year I had rather impetuously begun a (hopeless) financial austerity program because everything gets more expensive and my house payment went up. Good that property values increased here in the back of beyond, bad that means higher property taxes for me. I cancelled my subscription, but they kept sending issues every month and I realized if it really DID stop coming, I’d miss it!

The most recent issue has an article titled, “If you don’t know where you are,” (Wendell) Berry wrote, “You don’t know who you are.”

Yeah. That’s the title. The article is written by a guy named Peter Anderson, a retired teacher, who lives in Crestone — a mountain town in the Sangre de Cristos known mostly for having an ashram, being “spiritual,” and somewhat arty-farty. It’s locus of a nude hot spring — Valley View — where you can watch, on a summer evening, Colorado’s ONLY fireflies and you can witness the migration of Mexican bats.

The article talks about what it means to be a “placed person,” that’s someone who IS where they ARE. I found that a captivating idea.

The writer explains that Wallace Stegner (about whom the article was written, in spite of the title) regarded being a “placed person” as understanding, “…by way of the senses, the memory and one’s history” where you are. The author explains that “Knowledge of a place as Stegner understood it, comes from ‘working in all its weathers’ and ‘loving its mornings or evenings or hot noons’. This kind of knowing, Stegner said, requires, ‘Human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry’.” The author comments further that, “This kind of noticing takes time and it takes a tendered and patient disposition, which is why a settled life in one location does not necessarily result in a placed person.”

I haven’t read Wallace Stegner. I’m sure something he wrote passed through my world at some point and didn’t grab me. I’ve learned that he’s categorized with other “western writers” including Larry McMurtry, whose work I love, and Edward Abbey, whose work I love more. Looking at some of his work on Amazon through the miracle of “Look inside!!!” I see why I might just have let Stegner go.

As my mind wandered through this meandering article (leading to this meandering blog post) I thought, “Yeah, but dude. Your title quotes Wendell Berry, not Wallace Stegner. I’m so confused.” I shrugged and let it go. I’d been given something to think about and in these times that’s something to be grateful for.

I thought about that quotation all day yesterday, thinking of writing this, about how in my life it’s been true. I WANT to know where I am because the best thing that happened in my life was learning to BE in the Southern California chaparral. The lesson I got there was really and truly, “Be here now.” Every after-school jaunt onto those narrow dirt trails was a journey from the relentless, repetitive idiocy of competitive human life and struggle to the real deal of snakes emerging from holes in the earth at dusk and the barn owls coming out to hunt them.

Painting in progress — here part of my way of “being” here seems to be painting it.

Featured photo: From one of the volumes of The Examined Life sometime in the early 2000s, written in gold ink. 🙂

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

Until last year, when I was walking through the golf course into The Big Empty, I never put it together that deer can hide because their coats match the ground and their antlers look like branches. Such excellent camouflage. I hope “my” deer are there this year as they were last year, and I hope by their season (a month or more away) I’m there, too. (Come on foot, heal!!!)

Their ears give them away. ❤

Nature’s mimicry is so cool. One of my favorite bugs is the stick bug — a mantid-like-creature that looks like whatever kind of grass and sticks into which it was hatched. The first one I saw was in the chaparral. I had sat down on a rock to have a drink after a run and before starting an uphill. I stared aimlessly at the grass at my feet when one of the blades crawled slowly up on my leg.

This little guy — the Northern Pacific Tree Frog — can be green or tan depending on what’s happening with nature. You can’t see them unless they happen to be sitting on a red flower or something. They look exactly like the leaves of any oak tree in the Southern California mountains — green when the trees are green and tan when the leaves are falling. They were always coming into my CA house and once I found one in my blender (truth). No, I didn’t run the blender. One of them liked my (tan) telephone and would sit there most of the time.

Snakes have mastered the whole thing of mimicry and some of them even mimic each other. Gopher snakes, non-venomous friends to man, resemble and behave like rattlesnakes as a way to protect themselves. They will even coil and wave their tails about. If you happen to have the chance to get familiar with these guys, you soon learn there are many obvious differences between a gopher snake and a rattlesnake, but I can’t imagine anyone NOT taking several steps back seeing a gopher snake coil and rattle.

It got to be a thing with me all those hiking years to SEE what was there to see — owls against the bark of a tree, snakes in the lower stories of bushes along the trail, Spike, the little California horned lizard.


I love how a coyote can blend into the scenery. A person could hike through the midst of a pack without even knowing it. I only saw a mountain lion once, but I’m sure she saw me countless times. Hunter or hunted, nature seems to say, “Stay cool, blend in, and pay attention.” That is advice I should have heeded on the day I hurt my foot, but not all our foes are, uh, visible — or animate.

This Looks Like a Fun Writing Challenge!!!

It is with much excitement that The Outdoor Society announces Season Two of #NatureWritingChallenge! We took a break for the summer months, but now that signs of fall are all around us, it is time to pick back up this awesome writing exercise. With a whole new layout and new topics, those who love writing about the wonders and experiences found on Public Lands have another chance to share that passion with other like-minded explorers. Starting on September 10th, 2018 and running through Spring of 2019, Season Two of #NatureWritingChallenge is going to be awesome.

I may try one or two — the one this week I’ve already written; it’s about my encounter with a mountain lion and none of my animal encounters equal that, but I’m going to try some of the challenges coming up.

You get the challenge on Twitter here