River, Wind, Frogs and Birds

The first time I saw the Rio Grande I thought it was a road. I was staying in South Fork, a mountain town west of here, during the transition month between arriving in Colorado and finding a house to live in. I looked down from the field where I walked my dogs every day and saw an asphalt gray ribbon, as wide as a car lane, winding through the golf course below. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a road until 3 am one Sunday morning when Lily T. Wolf needed to go out. There were no trucks on the highway; the night was silent and I heard the river.

When daylight came we were, of course, out again and in the morning light the “road” was no longer gray but silvery blue. At that moment, it became my river.

This afternoon, Bear and I went out to the slough. The Rio Grande is now the highest I’ve seen it, and the channels that run through the slough are also deep and fast. Today all I heard on our walk was wind, the river, some frogs, red-wing blackbirds, and an annoyed goose. To me it’s really something to hike along a trail, listening to a river.

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One of the channels in the slough

Bones in the Dust

 

I’m living in the land of the Conquistadores. Just a few miles to the west is one of their actual trails. I’m kind of reading a book Old Spanish Trail, North Branch by Ron Kessler. It includes journals from many of the men who found themselves on this trail, guys like Don Diego de Vargas, Roque Madrid and Juan Bautista de Anza. Los Conquistadores seem to have been more along the lines of Los Exploradores except for the people they killed along the way and so on and so forth. It was the times.

A couple of weeks ago, unable to find a place to hike where Dusty would not bother someone, I decided “Why not? It’s just right there!” There’s a beautiful marker and a plaque with drawings and a legend on it by the highway (my street) and from it a road and trails. Mostly used by mountain bikers, but supposedly for hiking.

It is in no way a beautiful landscape. Rabbit bush, sand, gopher holes and, if I were a rattlesnake, I would live there and bring out my whole family from wherever to join me. It’s desolate and filled with bones of large mammals — cattle or elk or deer, I don’t know. There was broken glass everywhere from kids having fun with shotguns. The trail was beautifully maintained by the forest service, though, and I could see biking on it.

The strange thing about it was the haunted feeling that I can’t explain. Except for the distant sound of cars and trucks on the highway, it was silent. No birds hunting, no water running, nothing. The sky was huge, the mountains felt distant and, for some reason, maybe sensing my discomfort, the dogs stayed right next to me. We went as far as we had to and turned around. I didn’t want to explore more trails or find out how to get to the arroyo to the east. I didn’t want to discover anything about it.

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I have thought a lot since about the conquistadores and the press they have gotten in recent decades. When I moved to San Diego in 1984 and began teaching at San Diego State, there was a dorm/apartment named El Conquistador, shortened by everyone to “El Conq.” Over time a ballyhoo was raised that the name El Conquistador was racist and glorified the oppression of the native people by the Spaniards. It was renamed. Everything connected with the Spaniards became stigmatized — sometimes for good reason.

With these Spanish Conquistadores came Spanish people, many of whom never planned to return to Spain, among them Spanish Jews. It wasn’t easy being Jewish during the Inquisition and these people, though practicing Catholics, many of them, probably had it in their minds that they would just get OUT of there before the next purge.

Who these early settlers WERE was unknown until 2001 when Hispanic women from the San Luis Valley showed up in Denver with a particular kind of breast cancer that’s attached to a particular genome that is known to belong only to Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe.

To learn more about them, here is an article in Smithsonian Magazine

The Old Spanish Trail goes beyond this haunted sand. It follows the edge of the San Juans where there is water (streams, springs and, of course, the river) through the place I hiked with friends a week or so after my wandering in the Haunted Hell-scape. Penitente Canyon SHOULD feel haunted, but it didn’t, to me. I’ve only seen a bit of it — going back tomorrow, I think. On the edge of the canyon are wagon tracks — cart tracks — of the Old Spanish Trail.

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My experience in this landscape is that it’s unlikely anyone conquered anything. I imagine the Conquistadores as small, lost dots of humanity struggling to figure out where the hell they were and, naturally, foisting their world on this one in the certainty that comes from fear. I might call them “Los Hubrisitos” but I don’t think that’s a word.

 

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

Hill!!!!

Since I got back from Europe, where I had problems walking because of my knee and because of my Achilles tendon, a side-effect of some antibiotics, I’ve “ridden” my Airdyne Stationary Bike “religiously.” I figured that if that is all I will be able to do — along with a mile or two long saunter with my dogs — it’s OK. I was going to have to be happy with it. I really did not expect more. I did not expect my tendon to heal, ever, and though I knew that training the muscles around the knee helps a lot, I didn’t think there would be even one hill in my future.

To my immense happiness and surprise, there was this one.

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This is a respectable hill, especially if climbed in Birkenstocks. 🙂 I was thrilled to the core that I could climb it and go down, no problems, no trekking poles, no shaky moments of iffy balance, just strength and the joy of a hill. I can’t wait for the next one.

The hill goes up to a chapel that is built in the old Spanish style even though it’s only 30 years old.

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Shrine of the Stations of the Cross Photo by Lois Maxwell

 

Along the way are the Stations of the Cross done in bronze. I liked the sculptures very much because they look like the people from around here, the people who have been here since the Spaniards came in the 16th century.

This hill is above the oldest town in Colorado — and one of the oldest non-Native American towns on the continent, the town of San Luis. I could see WHY they would stop there and build a town. It is the most beautiful place I’ve seen in the San Luis Valley.

There is also a small, old adobe church from the 19th century that is built in the “Adobe Gothic” style, the Sangre de Cristo Catholic Church.

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Singing Along

“You didn’t sing along!” My friend, M, was annoyed at me.
“No. I don’t like to sing along. I sing off tune and it destroys the pleasure I have in listening.”
“You have to sing along. You know the words. It hurts the musicians feelings to see you sitting in the front row not singing along.”
“What is the point of what he does if no one listens? I’m a music appreciator. That’s my job.”

My friend is a musician. He and his wife, my friend L, have a band. When they perform, I go watch them. I always laugh at M’s bad jokes and I am appropriately charmed by his goofy grin. I’m awed by L’s beautiful voice. I appreciate the superlative bass played by D and the masterful guitar of S. I’m the person sitting and listening, applauding, thinking they’re amazing. And I occupy a seat. All this is a description of my job.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra says to the sun, “Oh great star, what would you be if not for those for whom you shine?” I’m the one for whom they shine.

I love music. I love a wide variety of music. Some songs I love for the words; some I love for the sound and the mysterious ability they have to stimulate joy or hope or share despair. Like many people of the car radio generation, I have a catalog of first lines — not even whole, lines, first SECONDS — of countless pop-songs. I can identify a song from two notes or a chord.

So, anyway, here’s what and where I didn’t sing along — Steve Goodman’s great, nostalgic, heart-string pulling song, “The City of New Orleans” which was Arlo Guthrie’s biggest hit. The City of New Orleans didn’t die, by the way; it retired to the San Luis Valley just like I did. Truth. Just listen to the words. They will tell you how the story ends.

***

 

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

Communism in “Forgotten” America

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Trains, Planes, and Automobiles.” You’re going on a cross-country trip. Airplane, train, bus, or car? (Or something else entirely — bike? Hot air balloon?)

On a Facebook meme I read a cool thing that said, “If you have enough time, everything’s in walking distance.” I love(d) to walk so I suppose I’d walk across country with my big white dog and her cart pulling our camping supplies. Bear doesn’t have a cart and I don’t have camping supplies anymore, but I still think that would be fun. That’s why this is one of my favorite videos — I’ve hiked part of this, the beginning — but since I was alone, it was a back and forth thing and I didn’t get far but I was thorough…

What I really want to write about is communism. I live in a communist town, but If I told them that, they’d come visit me with torches and pitchforks or something. 😉  I have all the stuff I bought to help me rehab after the surgery I’m not doing and I wanted to find a place to take it where it might help people. I posted on my town’s community Facebook page and soon got the name of a woman. She (I do not know her) messaged me; she’s the pastor’s wife at the First Christian Church. They keep a closet of medical equipment for people who need it. Perfect. But that is communism. The movie theater in my town went out of business year before last. The community raised funds, bought the theater and keep it open. It’s run by volunteers; proceeds from sales go to getting NEW (really new) movies. The community felt it needed the theater as a place for kids to go on weekends, for families, for dates… Communism.

As I was driving through the valley with my step-daughter-in-law, we passed a huge truck filled to overflowing with potatoes. I pointed it out to her. She said, “I’ll never look at potatoes the same way.” The day before we’d been at the supermarket and I’d shown her a bag of potatoes that had been grown in Monte Vista. She was truly stunned by the writing on the bag, “Monte Vista, CO.” Heaven. As we drove around, I had pointed out the harvested fields and the old and dilapidated, no longer used, adobe potato barns, replaced by more sophisticated (really? are they?) systems. I told her about the Potato Festival and how wonderful and magic it was in its way. “We are so far away from where our food actually comes from,” she continued, looking at the truck, “and the work that goes into growing it. It’s sad that’s how it is.” I agree. I thought, “Honor the labor of the peasant.” A Maoist slogan. I hate Maoism, but that is the point, the good side of it. I don’t see the farmers around me as “peasants” but the labor is hard and their product does no less than keep people from starving.

My step-daughter-in-law asked if anyone ever left the Valley and I said yeah, of course, but people also come back. I told her about the people I’d met — many — who’d gone somewhere else looking for what they imagined would be a bigger life. Of course the ones I know are the ones who came back, but their reasons for returning are almost always, “It wasn’t that great. I missed the beauty of the valley and the people.” It’s more or less what drew me here — years and years of hard work in a world in which I did not matter, where much of my effort was “busy” work. The work done by people in a community like this is NOT “busy work.”

People here are intensely patriotic. I feel their deep sentiments are for a gubmint that (IMO) no longer exists or knows they are here. Poverty here is harsh. What the poor have for social welfare, though, is not so much government programs as it is the church, the family, the town, the neighbors — it is the community. The food bank is active and generous and open to people. Communism.

This is also the old-fashioned way of small-town life. It’s nothing “special” — it’s how people have lived in villages forever.

I remember how long it took me to learn in California that in that kind of population, the numbers, the ethnic and national diversity, high taxes to support government run programs are absolutely necessary. There is no way a community can voluntarily support a population of need such as exists there. The numbers are too great and the motivation is different. People really do need to be paid to help each other because the cost of living there is so high. For example, it’s not walk down the street and man the food bank for half a day. It’s drive at $4/gallon for forty minutes to help out at the foodbank half a day. And it isn’t just ONE foodbank; there need to be hundreds of foodbanks.

I wish there were a way to differentiate taxation based on the nature of communities — maybe there is but I don’t know it. The reason regions such as mine vote conservative — passionately and adamantly — is not because they love Fox News, it’s because increased taxation HURTS us. We raise our OWN funds if we need a community center; we contribute our OWN money, out of pocket, to support the local food bank meaning that taxation is DOUBLE for a community like this one. The government taxes us and then we tax ourselves. We know this — when a proposal comes along to build something for a community, those who grow food (live on more than 40 acres) are exempt from contributing. They can if they want, of course, but they aren’t required. Potatoes.

So tomorrow I will load my car with my brand-new walker, still in its box, my bath seat — still in its box, the grabber, the raised toilet seat — still wrapped, and a pair of crutches that just happen to be in my garage and take it all over to the First Christian Church. When I do decide to get knee surgery, I’ll know where to go to get help with medical equipment. I’ll go to my community.

An Artist’s Life in the San Luis Valley

At the Historical Novel Society Conference I met a couple of women who live in my “hood” — the hood is as big as Connecticut but it’s a hood nonetheless. They collaborate on historical mystery novels and so we instantly formed a writer’s group. Earlier this week I went to one of their homes for lunch and our first meeting. Since I’ve never worked with other writers, it was an interesting experience and it will be a little challenging for me NOT to be an English teacher. I was upfront about that and asked, “You sure you want to deal with an English teacher?” so they are getting into it with their eyes open — not that I’m picky about stuff as the stereotype of English teachers would imply, but…

And, this week, I hung some paintings in a show in a coffee house in Alamosa with three other members of the Monte Arts Council. It’s a small show (not much wall space) and I hung only four paintings. This one, the largest:

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Selfie, 20 x 16 oil on panel

and these…

Southfork

September Snow in South Fork, 5 x 7 watercolor on panel

Berkeley Pit Mine

Berkeley Pit Mine, 8 x 10, Oil on canvas

Honeycrisp

Honeycrisp, 5 x 7 oil on panel

It’s fun to have a social life after months of virtually constant solitude (which was also fun). I’ve learned of other painting opportunities that I am going to pursue.

The Valley Arts Co-op store is something else. I do not think paintings will move out of that store, but I’ve made note cards that might when I’ve finished with the packaging and so on. I think selling paintings requires a real gallery where people go intentionally to look at and maybe buy paintings. I do know that if nothing of mine ever sells in the co-op store, it will not be worth it for me to remain a member and mind the store 16 hours/month.

How does this relate to today’s daily prompt? Well, last year when I wrote this prompt, I was five days from driving away from California. I didn’t know where I’d live, what my house would be or even where it would be. Now I’m here and life opens a little more every day. Knowing ahead of time what will happen would steal the fun from the moment and from the future. I stand by my Bible verse: Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not ye be busy into the morrow, for the morrow shall be busy to itself; for it sufficeth to the day his own malice. (Wycliffe Bible)

If you want to read what I wrote last year (it’s a good post and I’m proud of it!) it’s right here:

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/advantage-of-foresight/

New Painting! Farm Outside of Del Norte

When I first came out here, I didn’t think I could possibly paint scenes in the San Luis Valley, but this is the third painting of a San Luis Valley scene. This is a farm between the town of Del Norte and my town, Monte Vista. It is in late September, so the trees are turning, the grass is golden and the sky is working out all kinds of things. It’s 12 x 24, oil paint on panel.

Climate Change

Daily Prompt High Noon At noon today, take a pause in what you’re doing or thinking about. Make a note of it, and write a post about it later.

Uh, no. Writing a blog post is my first activity of the day.

Yesterday I bit the bullet and went to Walmart in Alamosa. I don’t like Walmart much and I don’t like shopping. As last week I spent driving around the state of Colorado, I was also not all that eager to get into the car, but I felt the ticking of time. Spring is here. It’s April. If I don’t get that stuff in the ground, I might as well forget it. I also didn’t want to repeat the snow shovel embarrassment. I didn’t have tools. No leaf rake. No shovel. I felt nostalgic for the wonderful pickaxe I left behind in CA, but maybe I could replace it.

This isn’t California. People aren’t lining up for a parking place and then fighting over it. As everywhere, Walmart was full of people on Saturday, and the Saturday before Easter, even moreso. There was a huge banner saying, “Our Garden Center is Open!” I was happy, but it didn’t look very open. Within the chain link barrier that controls the migration of bags of peat moss and decorative bark, everything was tightly wrapped in green plastic.

I grab a cart in the lot and head in. It’s an obstacle course since, naturally, there are all kinds of things piled prominently in front to catch the attention of the impulse buyer. I’m here because of that. Last week when my house guest and I stopped here to buy dog food for the local shelter, I impulsively bought peonies and lilies…

All I really want to plant are iris, but not till fall, I understand. In CA I just put stuff in the ground (or in a pot) whenever I found it. Here? There’s frost, frozen ground, fourteen below and other obstacles to whimsical gardening.

I make it out to the Garden Section and find it’s more or less bereft of products. A few tired forced-for-Easter hyacinths and tulips, some pots, some bags of potting soil, lawn fertilizer. I think, “I have a lawn. Oh man, I’m going to have to deal with that.” Soon? Already dandelions are smiling sun-ward and I grapple mildly with the idea that I must kill them or pull them out. My mind wanders momentarily to family discussions between mom and dad about how to contend with weeds in the lawn; poison or the dandelion digger in the hands of a kid? For the past eleven years I had a dirt yard. Dirt doesn’t burn and dirt is low maintenance and has minimal watering requirements — perfect surface for drought-stricken California. Of course, there were the deadly foxtails that came up unbidden every spring. I fought with them constantly and dreaded their burrowing in my dogs’ fur or climbing up the narrow channels of their ears or nostrils. Foxtails can kill. No joke.

Nothing in the garden center, not that I need, anyway. I know I’m jumping the gun, but my bags of lily bulbs and the peonies say “Plant between mid-March and mid-April.” I have a week. I go back inside and find a sharp shovel and a leaf rake. A woman and her husband look around with expressions like the one I feel I must have. “Not much out yet, is there. I’m just looking for peat moss,” says the woman to me.

“Me too,” I say.

“Maybe it’s outside.”

“I looked and didn’t see any, but maybe I missed it. Maybe we’re jumping the gun.” Her husband smiled quietly behind her. Ah. There was their whole relationship. Well, she’s a lucky woman.

“There’s all that stuff wrapped up out there. Well, they can just unwrap it,” she says and they head out the door to that world of dismal faded bulb plants and philodendron. I pick up two bags of potting soil. I can mix that with the dirt outside to give my new little friends a better chance and warmer ground.

The leaf rake gets stuck in the shopping cart and a young man passing by un-sticks it for me. “Turn it around and it won’t get stuck.” “Thanks,” I say, remembering where I am in the anonymity of Walmart. I’m in Alamosa. People are friendly. It still shocks me.

There are already some crops in the fields between Alamosa and Monte Vista. I don’t know exactly what crops are grown all around me. Potatoes and barley. What else? The immense sprinklers have begun trekking slowly over the newly green mystery.

I suspect that I’m going to end up getting a green house. I know that my California clock isn’t going to change. I know I’m never going to believe that I can plant something in May and have any chance of seeing it ever.

I feel alien and strange here now. The excitement has worn off. It’s still beautiful, but I’m not part of it. Will I ever be? Do I want to be? I don’t have answers for either question. I’m probably fine as I am. In the supermarket I heard two big guys — tall and old — discussing cattle. I love that, but all I can do is love that. I never owned a cow and it’s not the same to simply like them (I do). I eavesdropped while pretending to be in a torturous dilemma over the choice of butter.”I had a heifer,” said one, “but I sold her. I regret that now.”

I imagined regretting a cow. “Cattle can be expensive,” said the other one, “they don’t always pay off. I’m still running them, but every year I think it’ll be the last.”

“That’s true, but she was a good heifer. I can’t replace her now for under $500.”

“I got some cattle a year ago for $150 a head. Some old boy wanted to unload his feed cattle.”

“Were they healthy?”

“Yeah, they were fine. That was a good deal. Can’t always find one like that, though.”

I get home with my potting soil and tools. I spade up a patch of dirt by the front door for the peony and mix in the potting soil. I lay out the peony rhizome careful not to set it too deep. It’s already leafing out. I see a woman running across the street, an older woman, and I wish I could run across the street. She comes to my gate and Dusty barks his head off in protest? Welcome? I go over to meet her. Another nice neighbor. Retired teacher, works as a substitute for the school district here. I hear her life story. People tell me things; it’s always been that way. I know the inevitable question about church is hovering in the conversation and sure enough; down it comes. I have an answer for it and I use it. Still, I think that question is more personal than, “What color are your underwear?”

I like her and hope we talk again. I return to the second part of my job; planting the lilies in memory of my Lily. Six stargazer lilies. I hope they grow.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/high-noon/

Monte Vista, Colorado

Daily Prompt We Built This City What do you love most about the city / town / place that you live in? What do you like the least about it? If you were mayor, what would be the most important problem you’d tackle? How would you tackle it?

“March 9, 2014. That’s the last time I responded to this prompt.”

“But Lamont, you didn’t live here then. What about now? You live in a different place. You live in Monte Vista, Colorado now.”

“Monte Vista isn’t a city. It’s a town of 4000 people. My town is struggling to survive.”

“What do you love most about it?”

“I love everything about it. I love its smallness, the kindness of its residents, the natural beauty and space that surround it — it sits in a valley as large as Connecticut. The whole valley has only 40,000 people. I love that it’s in Colorado and not California. I’m very happy to be back where I belong, a contented “greenie.” I love my little house — it’s just my size + a little extra for company. The night sky is so dark you can see forever into the darkness. Wild animals live all around it. It’s rimmed by mountains. It’s Heaven.”

“If you were mayor, what would you do to solve the town’s problems?”

“We have a good mayor and many involved citizens. My town’s only problem is money. This valley is very, very poor. Most people live at or below the poverty level. I only lived here a month or two before I understood that what this place needs is paying jobs for people. My town is run partly by volunteers. It’s impressive, moving, but people need money to live. I have an idea to solve it for my town, anyway, but…”

“What’s that?”

“A fancy retirement community that provides ‘active seniors’ all kinds of outdoor activities and trips to interesting places such as the Santa Fe Opera. They could have the best of all worlds here. We’re a few hours from Santa Fe and Taos, and a few more hours from Denver — lots of cultural events, two major airports. Indian ruins all over the place, too. Beautiful nature accessible to anyone who’s ambulatory — the more ambulatory the more is accessible. Great fishing. Rafting. Historic trains. Music. Hot springs all around. History EVERYWHERE. A golf course. A university some 16 miles away. Good grocery stores. Interesting day trips. Hospitals close by. Plenty of doctors. It would be paradise of a retirement community.”

“What about the climate?”

“It’s not Florida, but it’s not the worst. It seems (so far) to have real three-month long seasons. Winter can be cold, but the retirement community would have an indoor gym and pool. The sun shines here most of the time. Great location for passive solar — many people have it. Summer is not terribly hot, either. My idea would be to offer residents little gardens with private garden sheds for those who love to garden. One thing there is plenty of is land, space. Water is a bit sparse, but… Best of all, retired people wouldn’t take jobs from the people who live here. The retirement community would provide jobs to people at all levels from high school graduates on up. It would have to be built and maintained ONLY by contractors who live and work in the San Luis Valley. There would be rules about that. I just don’t know who would build it and where the money would come from. I’ve no experience with that. But as it is, it’s difficult for people to stay here. They think there are more opportunities elsewhere and there probably are, but there is also more competition and a different kind of struggle. I sure wasn’t riding the gravy train in SoCal. I was working three jobs and barely making one end of the month meet the other. To get to one of the schools where I taught, I had a 60 mile ONE WAY commute from my home down to the Mexican border to teach a Saturday class. I didn’t mind. It’s how it was and I loved what I did, but it was not easy by any stretch of the imagination.”

“Well, you’re an idea person, Lamont. Have you communicated it?”

“No. I may some day but the fact is I kind of don’t live here. I live mostly in my writing at the moment. I need to join a church, go to neighborhood watch meetings, etc. Join clubs.”

“You’ve never been a joiner, Lamont.”

“No, I’m really not. I was going to the Arts Council meeting last night, but I’ve been fighting this cold.”

“Is it better?”

“Finally, yeah.”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/we-built-this-city/

San Luis Valley

Daily Prompt Places Beach, mountain, forest, or somewhere else entirely?

Are you kidding? I LIVE in HEAVEN! Some photos from the Monte Vista Crane Festival this past weekend.

Cranes in Flight over Geese, 2

Sandhill Cranes in flight, Canada geese on the ground

cranes 5

Sandhill Cranes in the San Luis Valley

Cranes in flight

Cranes in flight in front of a foothill of the San Juan Mountains

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Canada Geese heading north (slowly) in front of the San Juan Mountains

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Landing gear down

Landing gear down

Sangre de Christos with Flying Cranes. Photo by Lois Maxwell

Sangre de Christos with Flying Cranes. Photo by Lois Maxwell

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhill_crane

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/places/