“This is Great, Martha!”

Today I had the thought of taking Bear out to a place where we used to like to walk a round-about way to the river, but about 10 feet into the walk I had a VERY BAD feeling about it. I made Bear turn around (she was heavily involved in smelling things, notably dog pee; it’s a popular dog walking place thanks to Covid). As we neared the parking lot I saw a car I knew belonged to a nice woman with two dogs she lets run off leash.

Wow. Talk about intuition. She waited until I got Bear into Bella. As I drove away she waved and smiled (we are happy to see each other these days) and her two dogs ran down the trail.

“We’ll go to our happy place, Bear,” I said and we headed down a country road to the Refuge. And there, as always, we found refuge.

The snow has blown and melted a bit obscuring most of the beautiful tracks I saw last time. Here is all that remains of the elegant calligraphy left by a doe and her young one. It seems they drag their feet slightly, making a beautiful pattern.

There were a couple of short stories, too. By “short” I mean made by short animals (har-dee-har-har). Mice, those with the footprints and the line (his little tail dragging) and mouse tracks with the tail up (was something chasing him?).

Bear and I had a wonderful time. There was lots of silence to enjoy. It was my first walk since the injury two weeks ago that I wasn’t limping or walking awkwardly. It was fun. Now I’m reconsidering the ski resolution. Maybe I’ll just get bindings that work better. Not sure. On the way from the place where we DIDN’T walk to the place where we DID I saw people skiing on the lake. They weren’t having any big challenge out there on a groomed trail, though if the temperatures keep rising, they might have a MAJOR challenge.

Church of the Big Empty

I don’t know what it is that makes one walk a walk and another walk a spiritual experience, but I think it has to do with my attitude, the ambient air temperature, the wonders of things around me. Still it’s a mysterious concoction, and I see no point in analyzing it very much. But today Bear and I got to attend the Services of the Big Empty.

I didn’t even want to come home. 🙂

There were hundreds of cranes. Having that amazing and angelic choir around is always inspiring. And there was a strange coincidence. As I walked along thinking, “Hmm, should I give Bear a DNA test? I don’t really KNOW she’s an Akbash dog. Maybe she IS a Siberian husky/Pyrenees mix.” That was the shelter’s guess back in the day when I adopted Bear, who was four months old. Time has shown me she has no Siberian Husky and I would know. I’ve had five. Just then, a car pulled up along side us. A nice woman was driving and to my utter surprise, Bear’s double was looking happily out the partly open back window.

The woman and I started talking but I was really mostly interested in the dog (duh). I asked, “He’s beautiful. Does he have blue eyes?”

“No,” she said, and told me his story. He was rescued from a hoarding situation in Colorado Springs, fostered for a while and then she adopted him from the Humane Society. “They say he’s a husky/Pyrenees mix. He’s 7 months old.”


He wanted out so bad and I wanted to meet him. I could tell Bear wanted to meet him too, but the woman was driving a brand new expensive car and yeah, Bear would scratch it up. Then the puppy began talking to me in Siberian Husky, one of the languages in which I’m fluent.

“Definitely husky,” I said, and answered him. That was a mistake because he almost crawled out the window. The beautiful big, white puppy’s name was “Anjo,” Portuguese for “angel.” His name at the shelter had been “di Angelo.” He was perfectly named.

The woman wanted to see cranes, and I told her where I’d been seeing them. They were flying over us at that very moment, but you don’t see as much from a car and she couldn’t see them. I also suggested she come back in March. She drove away.

From the Livestock Guardian Dog Facebook Group I’ve found that some people find they are having to move off their farms and they want to keep their Big White Dogs as pets and worry if it can work. I can speak to that. Owning an LGD as a “pet” (they’re never pets) means you just have a hairy, independent roommate of a different species to support 🙂 To live with one of these dogs, a person has to understand who they are and what they need. They don’t need to be run, they won’t like the dog park, they need a serious fence, they need something/someone to take care of, they respond to training that’s low-key, tolerant and cooperative. They learn from what their human does. Bear alerts me to cranes, hawks and hoofed animals because she’s seen that I stop to watch those things. She doesn’t bark or chase anything when we’re out there, but I think she would bark pretty fiercely if a threat appeared. She protects me if an animal seems to be charging me. I’ve had to learn to be somewhat LGD just as I had to adjust to being part Siberian Husky.

I know when I’m out there with Bear several things are going on, and they aren’t all human. In our time together I’ve learned to “be” with her. She hasn’t stopped being a livestock guardian dog just because she lives in a house and has a small yard. She’s still what she is. I’ve always given her as much of a livestock guardian roaming life as I can while keeping her safe. I LOVE being with her.

She’s also taught my mini-Aussie, who was a puppy when he came to live with us, a lot of LGD behavior. She’s trained him to live here with us.

Out at the Refuge she has her preferred routes and I have no idea why she prefers them. I believe it has to do with messages and scents she leaves and receives along those ways. One is a little nature observation loop that I’ve avoided all summer because it just has too many good hiding places for rattlesnakes.

One of Bear’s favorite trails

“Our” cattle were where we like them to be and “Bessie” was there. I called her name and she turned to look at me. Huh? I looked at her a long time and tried to figure out WHAT it is about her that makes her so much prettier than the other virtually identical cows in the pasture. It might be her eyelashes which you can see pretty well in this photo…

Bessie the Beautiful

As we walked along the road beside the fence, the little herd followed along. Bear loves them. She was as excited to see them in the distance as she is to see the kids on our way back from a neighborhood walk. These are now Bear’s cows.

I had a heart-to-heart with them, seeing as one is visibly pregnant. “Have a little girl,” I said. “Please. No more little boys. All of you, girls, from now on.”

The point was made that they had little to say about it and one of them mentioned, “Yeah, but what about the rancher and his family?” Truly unassailable bovine arguments and I nodded my assent. Still.

And the cranes kept flying over and the breeze kept blowing and Mt. Blanca offered her infinite benediction and I offered up my thanks.

News Flash from the San Luis Valley: More of the Same and that’s OK

Yesterday I sought refuge with Bear and there was a whiff of fall in the air, the fragrance of damp fallen leaves by the pond. Fall was more apparent in the colors of the landscape which here, in the high valley, are universally golden except for the wild currant bush that turns bright red.

None of these out at the refuge.

I saw “my” cows, but Beautiful Bessie was no where in sight. Not that these are ugly cows.

The girls outstanding in their field

The big fire in northwestern Colorado is keeping the mountains out of sight.

The cranes have arrived in their autumn numbers, different from spring when tens of thousands converge on the refuge more or less at once. In fall they kind of straggle in and head off at some point for New Mexico where they’ll stay until March. That’s the story, anyway, but my life here has shown me that they are around all year in limited numbers.

Today is a “school” day, and Hallowe’en is on the horizon. We’ll be making these little guys:

This is Megan, a prototype that we will take apart so the kids know how to put her together again. I will put her together again so at the end of the film I can add in the credits, “No paper and pipe-cleaner spiders were permanently damaged in the making of this film.”

And once more, I tip my hat to elementary school teachers. I don’t know how you do it. I just have two who like me and want to learn and it’s WAY more than I can deal with (in truth). And how do you do it now that recess doesn’t exist any more? I remember elementary school, and by the time recess came around I was so wound up it wasn’t funny and I was one of the calm ones…


Of Cows and Cranes

This is my new friend. I don’t know her name, but she’s the most beautiful cow I’ve ever seen. She and her pals — several cows, a bull and a year-old calf — were hanging around in the shade behind the four trees at the refuge, behind the fence. It was Bear’s first close encounter of the Bovine kind, and she behaved perfectly.

“My” cow beginning to get curious, “Who’s that lady? What’s up with that big white dog?”

As I was communing with my new friend, two Sandhill Cranes flew over my left shoulder.

I’m not sure it gets better than that. Sure cleared away the clouds and cobwebs from last night’s presidential debate. I mean if the most beautiful cow in the world wants to follow you home (and she followed me along the fence as far as she could) life’s just pretty amazing.

True Fall Day in the Big Empty

This morning was maddening. Among other annoyances, my prescription service called and left a voicemail telling me to call back and giving me a Fort Knox like series of numbers with which to do that. Once I managed to get through this labyrinth of arbitrary numerals I reached a long pre-recorded message telling me the importance of taking my medications regularly and on time. I was furious! One thing we older people do not have is TIME. The morning wore on with one minor stupid problem after another. I finally looked at Teddy and said, “Let’s go.”

We sought refuge and found it.

The wind was brisk. The air was cool. The colors had changed in just a week. Aspen trees on the San Juans were already turning from gold to the gold/orange of aspen leaves about to fall. Song birds threw a chorus from the distant willows next to the pond. A couple of raptors tried their luck with starlings. The starlings won. I heard cranes in the distance. Teddy, wore his new and vastly improved harness.

He was so happy to be out that every few feet he turned around to tell me thank you, jumping up for hugs and dancing around my feet. Finally he accepted his good luck. He began his job of smelling everything that had passed on the road and spotting rabbits and chipmunks that were invisible to me

At our turnaround point I just stopped. The morning was completely silent. Country silent. It was magnificent. I don’t know how long I stood there, but long enough for the noise of our silly world to retreat and long enough for whatever disturbance I presented to disappear. Teddy alerted me to three Sandhill Cranes flyings low in front of us.

As we walked back toward Bella, I saw the image I want to paint on the big canvas a friend gave me years ago. It’s something I saw this past March, but passing the spot, I was reminded and I began to see the painting take shape in my mind’s eye.

Pretty Day in the Big Empty

The sky is clouded over. The smoke has dispersed. The wind is blowing from the west. Drops are falling. The temperature is cool. Teddy got a new harness as a present. Clearly the imperative is a jaunt to the Big Empty.

It was lovely. No dramatic photos, but this beautiful primrose was blooming by the road and Teddy is, of course, superlatively cute.

Walking with Teddy is a different experience from walking with Bear, but it’s still fun. He’s alert in a completely different way and his method for showing his happiness is as over-the-top as his personality. He just stops in front of me, stands on his back legs, wraps his forelegs around my arms and looks at me in adoration.

For that he gets a big hug.

No cranes today, but HUNDREDS of Canada geese moving from pond to pond.

I also found a huge nest fairly low in a cottonwood tree. I’m pretty sure it’s a magpie nest since they LOVE the four or five trees that line the road in one spot, there was a male in those trees in the spring ACTIVELY begging for love last spring. and photos on the sagacious Internet look a lot like what I saw. Like this…

Today we heard a truck coming and turned out it was driven by a friend. Seeing friends in these times is just incredible, and that should remain the case when this bizarreness is over.

The Lazarus Tree

Because the cranes are here and it’s chilly, I took Teddy out to find some refuge. It was a little challenging because there were cattle grazing next to the fence and Teddy is a herding dog. When he sees cattle he becomes incredibly excited and barky. This is breeding time for the herds who are old-school enough to rely on bull action and I noticed at least two in the field.

Other than the cattle, the first thing I saw was this patient osprey perched on a sign, looking for an easy meal.

Besides the osprey, there was a golden eagle circling the distant pond of geese and cranes. Winter is coming or whatever season is next. It’s hard to know with summer proceeding as it has been.

I kept driving until everything around us was Refuge and then we stopped and took our walk. In the distance were lots of geese and, I believe, a few Sandhill Cranes. Teddy’s level of alertness is incredible. He even sees birds in the reeds that I can’t see at all. I think when he gets better at this walking with Martha thing he’s going to be a great companion, spotting creatures near and far.

When we’d finished, I decided to take a road trip to see “the tree” from my painting. Teddy was happy because he likes riding in the car with me and listening to me sing. He is the only sentient being on the planet who likes that, so who am I NOT to give him that opportunity? We threaded our way along the “streets with no name” except things like “2 E and 5 S”.

I spotted the tree from quite a distance. It stands alone on a rabbitbrush plain. As Teddy and I approached (Singing “Africa” by Toto) I saw that the “dead tree” is not dead at all. I am renaming the painting “March” “Winter Tree.”

Teddy and I wound our way home, looking for a potato cellar I’d seen from a distance (no luck).

Anniversary Journey to the Big Empty

Six years ago today I saw the Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge for the first time.

Strangely, it wasn’t until this year that it became “my” place. That probably wouldn’t even have happened if it hadn’t been for two things. 1) Off leash dogs at the spots where I usually took my dogs, 2) the virus and the need to walk freely without worrying about human contact.

Once I started taking Bear and then Teddy to the Refuge, no other place had any appeal. The big spaces, the changing mountain views, the weather, the birds, the whole THING. Yeah, it’s just a couple miles on a dirt road but WHAT a couple of miles!!!

This afternoon it suddenly clouded up, the wind started blowing, and I thought, “A-HA no mosquitoes!” I saddled up Teddy and we took off.

“Yay! Martha!”

Dark dark sky over the San Juans as you can see in the featured photo. Big peals of rolling thunder. Amazing changing light over Mt. Blanca. Holy fucking shit. And then, to put the final wonder on this wonder I saw dozens of…

Sandhill Cranes!!!!!

As it happens, Facebook told me yesterday and today that in past years I have seen cranes the first time in “fall” around the first of August.

You can see how dark it was where Teddy and I were walking! The sun shone on Mt. Blanca

The thunder and lightning got a little close and I swear I actually ran.

I’m happy the cranes are back. I’m happy we got to go out in a storm. Walking Teddy is so much easier out there than in town, so that was also great. When I got home, this song came on Mohammed’s Radio. Seriously.

Gift from the Big Empty

The sky clouded over before noon which meant that it was probably going to rain at some point. So far it hasn’t, but I saw it falling on the San Juans to the west. I looked at Teddy and thought, “It’s his turn today.” All about fair play here at Casa di Marta, Orsa e Teddolino. I put Teddy’s bug-deterring bandana on him and we drove out to the refuge which, lately, has been more like additional torture.

Today it was a refuge. The sky was overcast, and a cool breeze was coming off the rainy San Juans. For July it could not have been better. Nary a mosquito or deer fly to molest us on our peregrination.

Here’s what I saw when I stepped out of Bella.

Mt. Blanca

There was no need to hurry. No thunderstorm on the offing. No biting bugs to chase us away. Just a perfect day. I’m deeply grateful. I needed it.

The geese are gone. Some of the black birds have gone. All that remain around the pond and in the willow-tree slough are a few red wing blackbirds, tree swallows and lark buntings. But at our half-way point I noticed the slow flap of a large winged bird flying low over the grass. It was a female red tail hawk. She flew low and slow over me to see what my story was. I was so happy to see her that I got tears in my eyes. For some reason, I regard them as friends.

Teddy and I kept going, in absolutely no hurry, savoring the freshness of the day. A car passed us. An old guy kind of waved — I think people are getting disgusted and jaded at this point. Or maybe it’s all the politics. I shrugged. I know what my job is.

“This is great, Martha!”
“Isn’t it, Teddy?”

On our return, I stopped to enjoy the wind and the silence. I was stunned when a mountain blue bird flew past, not 8 inches from my face. I’m sure the wind carried him there, but it made me happy. A lot happens in places like the Big Empty if you just stand still for a while, as the hawk and the bluebird reminded me.

Milkweed in full flower

Thank you everyone for the moral support his morning when I was discouraged about writing my blog during these times when nothing happens (and nothing happening is a good thing…) Every writer wants to write words that are meaningful to those who read them. ❤

Summer Rains Finally Arrive Here and in the Big Empty

I’m wearing jeans. I just got back from walking Bear in the rain. The rain was cold and the breeze was cool. We watched a train pulling some coal cars. We sneaked onto the golf course. We SAVORED everything. It was almost — not quite, or even near, but almost — winter-feeling.

It was my second walk today.

Heat and I don’t do well together and godnose Bear hates it. The past month or more has been excruciating, all bike-to-nowhere and walking a dog at 8:30 pm. But today…I looked down at Teddy at about one and then out at the sky and put my jeans on. “C’mon little guy,” I said and strapped on his halter. We went out to the wildlife refuge — the first time in ages.

A black cloud was moving fast, but on our arrival the sun was shining brightly, and the trail a little — but not too — warm. “Whatever we do we do, Teddy.” He was amenable and set about his job of smelling every trace of bird poop on the road beside the pond. I looked around for the geese family and saw no sign, but I did get to see about 8 little ducks leap from the bank, take some running steps across the pond, and swim away from the danger represented by one lady and one leashed dog on the road some 10 feet away. “Run away! Run away!”

I kept an eye on the sky. Things can change quickly, and I didn’t really want to get hailed on. The wind blew harder, the sky darkened, the air took on a blissful frigid tinge. The light on distant Mt. Blanca changed constantly.

“We gotta’ go Teddy.”

I think I moved faster than Teddy has ever known me to.

It was grand.