Winds in the San Luis Valley blast between the San Juans and the Sangre de Cristos. Spring winds carry newly turned soil in dust clouds from one side of the valley to the other. Winter’s bitter winds drive drifts against snow fences and mountains. Summer winds ahead of thunderstorms clear the air awakening somnolent crops. Fall winds scatter golden cottonwood and aspen leaves across a blue, blue sky. The oldest trees lean, knowing that resisting the wind is the easiest way to break.
I’m as rugged as they come, being, as an old friend used to say, a “Modern Western Woman,” western meaning the West which is right here where buffalo roam and every second pick-up has a driver wearing a c’boy hat. I am self-reliant, don’t mind getting dirty and laugh at pain. Haha, pain.
So today I made my way to the big city and the supermarket. I never make a list because I’m rugged and don’t need frou-frou like that. The store was pretty empty except for the usual c’boys, farmers, Amish, and retirees. I went to find probiotics (since the antibiotics of the surgery, my digestion has been a little rugged) and saw there was NO ONE IN LINE AT THE PHARMACY.
“Get a flu shot,” said a still, small voice within. “Now’s the time.”
Always listen to the still, small voice within.
It takes a lot of guts to march up to that window and say, “I want a flu shot” and then they offer you one for pneumonia, too, because you’re a rugged OLD person which is even more rugged than a rugged young person. You’ll find out.
So I filled out a paper, handed over my Medicare card, and waited. People came and went. A cute little Hispanic boy about three showed me his very excellent Kung Fu moves, but since I’m so rugged, I just smiled. His mom informed me that the kid is a character. A little later a Hispanic farmer sat down beside me and said in the magical accent I’ve loved since I was a kid, “You getting a flu shot?”
“Yep,” I said which is how rugged Western people say, “Yes.”
The pharmacist called me and I went into a little room where I discovered I couldn’t get my long sleeve up high enough for him to give me a shot. No worries. Us rugged Western women wear undershirts, so I slipped my left arm out of the sleeve.
He did a good job with the shots. I hardly felt anything — and I told him.
“The pneumonia shot often hurts,” he said.
“Life is pain,” I said, grinning, embracing the misery of existence as any rugged, stoical western woman should.
Then he said, “Before you put your sleeve back on, let me see if it’s bleeding.”
I said, “I want a Band-aid. Even if it’s not bleeding, Band-aids make it feel better. Especially a Mickey Mouse Band-aid.
“Right?” he said, rummaging around in his Band-aid cabinet. “Oh!!! Wait, I have Loony Tunes Band-aids, wait!” As if I were going anywhere.
I am now wearing a Daffy Duck Band-aid on my rugged left arm.
I walked out, and the Hispanic farmer said, “I saw on the news there’s a new flu strain that kills people.”
“That’s fun,” I said. He grinned.
“Pretty soon we’ll all be wearing masks.”
“I want a Batman mask,” I said. Only Batman is more rugged than I am.
In the fall in the San Luis Valley, everything is in motion. The kids migrate back to school. The workers migrate to the potato and carrot fields. Trucks migrate the cattle back to the lower pastures. The elk and deer migrate to the valley floor from the high mountains. People in camo migrate to the foothills to shoot some meat. Some birds migrate away, heading south, and some birds stop their migration here as their winter destination. Some birds hang around to see if the river freezes, and if it doesn’t, they’ll spend the winter. Most important to tourism is the migration of the Sandhill Cranes.
You’d think they are the only birds that matter, but I love them, too. They are an ancient species that found a way not to migrate into extinction, even after thousands and thousands of years. I wish I could read their minds.
All this motion stimulated by the sun’s apparent migration south.
It’s one of the loveliest and most profound poems I know.
In my 20s, I hung out in the sexy parts of Colorado fairly often. I would say that Aspen is the sexiest of the sexy. I had a good friend who’s parents owned a condo at the bottom of Little Nell (a ski lift). These excursions were usually in the summer when, back in the 70s, the population was less glamorous than during ski season. It was nothing for us to drive up there from Denver for the weekend. I spent a lot of time with them. The sexiest parts were getting dolled up (“Take off your glasses Martha!” “But Bess, if I do that I can’t see!” “You don’t have to see. You have to be SEEN!!!”) to dance and drink at the Red Onion.
People don’t think of it this way, but Aspen is surrounded by legit Colorado and on those summer nights, if I took I took my Jack Daniels outside the Red Onion for a little fresh air and break from the noise and sat down at one of the tables set up on the sidewalk, I was likely to share the space with a cowboy and his beer.
I spent some winter times there, too, skiing at Snowmass with my boyfriend’s parents and watching women in restaurants drop their fur jackets on the floor beside their chairs. There were also lines of cocaine (it was the 70s, and I was young) that left me wondering if I’d ever sleep again and why anyone found that fun at all (I didn’t). In the swirling 70s mystique cocaine in Aspen was part of the sexiness. I even happened to be at my friend’s apartment when a scary ragabash showed up with a bag of uncut coke. My friend — a young, talented Aspen architect — bought it, we snorted some. I was “up” for three miserable nights and days, hating every minute of it, and that was the end of that social experiment, for me, anyway. My friend died a few years later at 35. Nothing sexy about that, nothing sexy about a wasted life.
I spent time — and skied some hills — in less sexy parts of Colorado, too. My favorite not-all-that-sexy ski mountain was Arapahoe Basin. Still, it was sexy in its way, too, sexy in the “I’m the highest ski mountain anywhere” kind of sexy. It was sexy in the “Only extremely cool real Coloradans who are able to drive over Loveland Pass come here.” I was there every weekend one winter. I do not know if there is a pass anywhere that my VW Bug wasn’t ready to take on.
So here is am in South Central Colorado in a flat, mysterious, ancient valley ringed by mountains, a hard-working valley where potatoes are cultivated and giant trucks carry them off to points north, south, east and west. The other night, a visiting friend and I drove across Heaven’s fields — potatoes, alfalfa, hops, barley — and she said, “This is the Colorado people don’t know. It’s not the sexy part.”
I said, “Yeah, but you know, last time I drove out of this valley to go to Colorado Springs all I could think was ‘every other place is bullshit’.” My friend agreed. She lives in proximity to a somewhat sexy part of the state (Durango and Telluride) but her town might be smaller than mine.
I pointed to the Sangre de Cristo mountains, about to be hit with late afternoon light and I said, “See those? Those are MY mountains. And these fields here? They’re mine. And that immense changing sky? That’s mine, too. There’s a river over there. It’s one of the perqs of living here. It’s my river.” I said “my” but in fact, I belong to them, heart and soul.
She’s the friend who acted as my real estate agent when I wanted to move here. She said, “I was so worried when you said you wanted to live here. I couldn’t imagine you not hating it.”
“I knew I wouldn’t hate it.” My heart filled as it often does here in Heaven. “It’s the best thing I ever did, move here. But no, it’s not sexy. It’s legit.”
Today I went to visit the dogs and take a drive through the legit part of Colorado where I live, past the neat, rich Amish farms, the small herds of sheep, the cattle on the distant fields, the two beautiful mules near the kennel. Summer birds swooped and hunted and sun behind the San Juans made them silhouettes. Fields that had been irrigated were filled with wild iris.
Not in the least sexy.
Things around here feel chaotic, but I think it’s the wind. The wind blows in the San Luis Valley (it’s famous for it) but not (so far in my experience) as it has this winter and spring. You can almost see the moisture evaporating from the flowers. Whoever set up my yard had the wind in mind. The side yard (where my garden is, usually) is sheltered on all sides. Outside my back (side) door is a concrete ramp with a wall and a covering over it. It’s wonderful in winter and the wall blocks the wind from the west. On the east side of the yard is a tall lilac hedge the blocks the wind from the east. A fench blocks the north wind and I put up a privacy fence on the south that blocks any remaining stray wind (and some traffic noise).
The yard is a little oasis, shelter from the storms. I’ve even figured out how to set it up, finally. I look forward to being able to do that.
The other day my doc (a sincere, caring young woman who spent a couple years in Africa helping people with HIV) confessed that the wind makes her grumpy, all other weather is fine, but wind? My PT was very stressed out because of the wind on one of the days I went for therapy. “I can’t stand this wind,” he said. It was a very windy day; that is true. I didn’t park in front of the light post. Who knew? It made me think of James Michener’s Centennial,
It was not a roaring wind that deafened, but it had a penetrating quality that set the nerves on edge, so that at some unexpected moment a farmer, or more often his wife, would suddenly shout, “Damn the wind! Doesn’t it ever let up?”
In June the howling subsided, and residents of the lonely homes across the prairie looked back with wry amusement at the way they had responded to it. “It really set my nerves jangling…”
To me a steady wind is no problem. It’s when the wind decides to become dramatic and interesting that I start to lose it. I know it’s because of fires and Santa Ana winds in my California life. The last spring I lived in California, we had the highest winds ever recorded in my tiny area. During the night I heard the wind (70 mph) start abruptly, suddenly, with a roar at the top of my street. I lay there and listened, following its “whoosh” as it blasted past my house. That night barns were lifted and dropped. The power company turned off the electricity in the mountain towns that morning for fear a random, otherwise innocent spark would set the world on fire.
Gusts that high are rare here in the San Luis Valley, but they happen sending the tumbleweeds racing.
I adapted Christina Rossetti’s poem for the San Luis Valley…
We’ve had wind up to 60 mph today here in Heaven and the San Luis Valley (all of Colorado) is very, very, very dry. Innocent thing spark brush fires, like a guy showing up for his job as a welder.
I’ve gotten to see second hand (I’d like to keep it that way) how a large brush fire is dealt with here in Heaven. The area covered in the map is thousands of acres. I’m (again) astonished at not being in a big California city any more.
Everyone in the area was evacuated to the recreation center in Alamosa. You look at that HUGE area on the map and you think, “Wow, that’s a huge area on the map!” but it’s not a lot of people. One of my friends lives near the airport in Alamosa — my artist friend with whom I sometimes go to Taos. She was evacuated and happy as a clam because they opened the ceramic studio at the rec center for her to work. She later let me know that Dominos brought pizza for everyone.
I don’t yet know the extent of the damage or how many people lost homes, businesses, stock, anything. But I do know that when that’s made public a few GoFundMe’s will pop up, families will ask for help on the various Facebook pages, and people will just pitch in.
In my fire experience in California (a lot more extensive and intensive than I wish) there was the setting up of Red Cross shelters sometimes in places as big as the stadium where (once upon a time) the Chargers played. With millions of people to contend with, there’s. no GoFundMe or direct pleas for “We need bedding and clothes for a 2nd grader” kind of thing or “Our home was burned” getting a response like, “We have a big 5th wheel we can let you have.”
That is rural life in a sparsely populated area, I guess. I’m grateful for it. I think we’re in for a long and scary fire season unless the July/August rains come and give us a break. There’s also the (slim?) possibility that we could still get a good, wet snow.
All is well. The fire (in my area) is under control. Everyone’s home.
P.S. It’s roughly 70 miles from Creede to Alamosa ❤
P.P.S. SLV = San Luis Valley, a little bit of America most people have never even heard of.
A long time ago, I made a list of my favorite words. The two on top were “mountains” and “wonder.” If I wrote a list like that today, I’d probably have the same two words on top.
I like living a little distance from the mountains so I can see them ranged across the horizon. That’s why I chose Monte Vista instead of some of the other towns in the Valley when I moved here. I’m perfectly placed to look at the San Juans (not that far away) and at the Sangre de Cristos (farther away). I can watch the alpenglow (morning and evening) and enjoy the gathering clouds in both directions.
This side (eastern) of the San Juans is pretty “soft” and gentle, but the west side is a different story. The San Juans are the largest range in Colorado, and they cover a good part of the state — “good” meaning both “high quality” and “large.” The dark green line on the map below marks the Continental Divide. The orange line that runs from Alamosa to Cortez is my street. 🙂
The Rio Grande starts up in the San Juans, and I hope someday to go to the source up on Canby Mountain. That will happen when I get my hip and get my jeep 🙂
The Sangres, at least here where I live, remind me of the Alps with their jagged peaks abrubtly jutting from the Valley floor. In Colorado, they are a long, narrow range that marks the end of the Rocky Mountains and the beginning of the Great Plains.
Mountains are a source of wonderment for me. I look at them all the time and they are never the same. Mt. Blanca (featured photo) is a massif, not really just one mountain. It’s one of the Navajo’s four sacred mountains and marked the northeastern boundary of their lands.
I can subscribe to these boundaries, too. They circumscribe some of my favorite places in the world, where I’ve had the chance to experience many moments of…
Daily Prompt: Wonder
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.
One thing we have plenty of in the San Luis Valley is horizon. It’s one of our best things. Once in a while it gets interrupted by a mountain or trees, but for the most part, anyone looking for a horizon can just turn and look in the other direction and have their horizon needs satisfied. For me, it’s one of the great things about where I live. I like to look at a wide and distant horizon that ends in mountains. It puts my heart at rest and sets my spirit free, corny as that sounds. It’s one of the reasons I like winter. There is a lot less interference from those green bushy things.
I take a lot of photos of the horizon when I’m out rambling with the dogs, usually because the skies here are so amazing (and the ending in mountains thing).
I saw a man pursuing the horizon;Round and round they sped.I was disturbed at this;I accosted the man.“It is futile,” I said,“You can never —”—“You lie,” he cried,And ran on.Stephen Crane
In other horizontal news, today is the first anniversary of the Women’s March in which so many women wore pink hats resembling cat ears. I have very mixed feelings about it. I have friends marching in their local march, believing their marching will make a statement, a difference. I honestly don’t think it does, will, or could except to themselves and that’s completely respectable to me.
All my best wishes and more power to the pussy hat wearing multitudes, but I’m not joining you.
I remember in the 70’s my best friend was about to join the Woman’s March (a bra burning activity combined with marching on a downtown street). First, she had small breasts, second, she made a lot more money than I did. Burning something that I needed and cost me a day’s work was AGAINST my personal liberation. Third, I thought it was bullshit. “Men” have always known women are around. Some men (in my experience) have regarded women as human beings and equals without even trying to. Some men have viewed women as mental and physical inferiors. Some men regard women as prey. Some men are just assholes.
All of this can be said of women, too. I will now speak that which should not be said, “Sarah Palin.”
I was working at a law firm while all this was going on in the 70s. Back then, when my boss wanted to take me to lunch after I’d done some really good work for him taking telephone depositions of Mafia members, he had an existential meltdown. Should he or shouldn’t he? He was afraid he was being unfaithful to his wife.
That brings me to the essential question of “rights.” Rights can’t be “given” from one person to another. Rights have to be taken. What hampers that process? Ultimately, physical strength. That’s why we have laws to protect the weak.
There have been women managers in my life just as ego-driven and difficult as male managers; I’ve even been hit on by a couple of the women who were my bosses with the implication that if I…, then… Did they “learn” this from men, or is it just the natural outgrowth of physical desire and power?
I don’t know.
Or is this protest simply against the current president? That’s another thing with a big glitch. He truly does not care at all what we do or how we feel about him. I think there’s only one (legal) protest that might make any difference and that is to vote.
Meanwhile, later, I’m going to pursue the horizon.
There is no shortage of silence here, real, true, country silence, especially in winter.
Not long ago we were rambling down this road in the Rio Grande Wildlife area, a road that is accessed only on foot, horseback or bicycle except for BLM and Fish and Wildlife who manage the slough. It’s nice to have a wide trail for the sake of visibility and the composition of photos. 😉
We’d been there a month before, at the end of summer. Throughout the two moments, the Sandhill Cranes were passing through on their way to Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. In the silence of late October, their calls were everywhere. For me it’s part of the magical silence of the San Luis Valley.
Other bird sounds frame the winter silence. Right now it is the sudden flight of ducks, startled by the sound/sensation of my cane hitting the ground. They rise up by the dozens, flapping and calling. There are magpies and another small bird I don’t know, who chirrups and dives over the water.
And wind. Very often, the only sound is wind.