Not New…

I guess after this post, I’m going to recycle the Patagonia magazine (catalog), but there was one more wonderful article. It is about environmental activists who don’t call themselves activist or do activist “things”. It’s an article about five people who just love the natural world where they happen to be and are just purely and simply THERE. What struck me about it is a quotation about our “places.”

“I’ve learned through the past decade that we’re not out exploring an empty canvas. We’re in places that already have a story.” Tamo Campos

Back in San Diego, at “my” nature park, I was very aware of the story that pre-existed my landing rather randomly in Southern California. Most place names out there are related to Spaniards — conquistadores in some case, discoverers (I use that term loosely), and “padres.” San Diego’s baseball team is the Padres. The main padre in my California world was Father Junipero Serra. So many things out there are named for him. Among the things he built (beside the mission) was a dam some ways up the San Diego River from the Mission to make sure that the mission would have water all year.

It’s a very historic old dam — Old Mission Dam — my memory (which could be wrong) tells me it’s the first such Spanish-built edifice in the so-called “New World.” Among other things, was a clay tile lined flume through which water flowed to the Mission San Diego de Alcalá. It’s pretty amazing and people love it. I love it, but not as much as I love what I found away from this beaten path.

Native Americans had lived there for thousands of years, part of the migration route from the ocean to the mountains every year in search of game, comfort and acorns — a staple of their diet. Upstream from the dam, up a narrow canyon of a tributary seasonal stream, was a place I called the “Indian Kitchen.” There were grinding holes and cisterns carved into the rock, but MOST of all was a pool of water that never dried up. The “dam” that held it was one, huge boulder.

Kelly and Molly drinking from a grinding hole at the “Indian Kitchen” after a rainstorm, 1990.

The “kitchen” is close to a large grove of oak trees replete with acorns in their season. The canyon has afternoon shade and water — not potable water, but water. It was a great place to break up a hike on a warm day. That world was a very ancient world when the Spaniards arrived, claiming the land for Spain and calling it “Tierra Nueva.” All the animals of that world — coyotes, foxes, mule deer, raccoons, everything — sought the water in that canyon. Chaparral is dry most of the time.

When I moved back to Colorado in 2014, I’d been “trained” by California in ways I don’t think many Coloradans imagine someone coming in from California. The thing is, 30 years earlier, when I went to live in California, I took the Great American Rocky Mountain West of my childhood and youth with me to California, and I’m sure, maybe without thinking, I built on on that tradition, that sense of my self.

Just as no places in the world are new, neither are we. ❤

And this place?
The Refuge — wetlands with geese nesting in the cattails and ducks in the water.

I drew it and painted it before I ever saw it. The mystery of that haunts me whenever I’m out at the Refuge. How did I know this place before seeing it? What is my part in it? It is so old for humanity. “My” wetlands was an inland sea where people hunted and lived 10,000 years ago in the last Ice Age. Is there reincarnation? Was I here before?

Often, at Mission Trails Regional Park, ambling around on my own, it seemed like I could feel the presence of those ancient people. The trails I was on were their trails. I thought about it all the time. I think about it now, here. Those Clovis Point hunters looked at this landscape, these mountains, scanned the horizon for game just like I do. They wanted to eat; I just want to see it. Yesterday I saw a small herd of antelope grazing in a field of barley stubble. Clovis Point hunters didn’t see the barley field, but they saw the antelope. We read the same story. A hundred elk heading south across the grass in February? They read that story, too.

Today I watched two red-tail hawks make love at the very top of a dead cottonwood tree. The tree looms above a deserted homestead. The people who planted the tree — and others — as a windbreak for their homestead are long, long, gone, but the hawks — actually, buzzards, buteo — are taking advantage of the tree’s marvelous height to create the future. It’s incredible.

I agree with the article in Patagonia’s magazine. When you experience and learn to SEE a place, allow it to become part of who you are, that’s its own kind of activism, the transcendent, timeless, activism of love.


Featured photo: Old Mission Dam, San Diego from Wikipedia

Quotidian Update 91.8.4b.ix

Yesterday Bear and I went out for our observance of the Refuge before the wind came up. With the Crane Tourists gone, it’s ours again and we have another pleasant six weeks (inshallah) before the deer flies and mosquitoes force me to test my summer wardrobe of beige clothes and my insect repellant baseball cap.

The Canada geese are building and sitting on their nests. The smaller birds are singing and looking for luv’. The mountains are still white with snow. Basically God’s in his Heaven and all is right with the world — at least at that scale. I took a big plunge yesterday and sent my CV to the organization that supports the complex of wildlife refuges — Friends of San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges. I don’t know what they’ll do with those four pages, but maybe they’ll have a little something for me to do. I’ve realized since the last (ultimate?) tea party that maybe I need to make connections with people with whom I share common interests. We’ll see.

Another thing going on here in the back-of-beyond is that this summer on one Wednesday each month one of the stores “downtown” is organizing a street fair for artists. I’m interested, but organizing a display is a problem. It’s expensive, and I know this place pretty well. My thought right now is to go to the first one and see if my work fits in that milieu and then decide.


Meanwhile, happy whatever you celebrate!

Maundy Thursday

As a Panentheist who was raised with the Bible and writes novels centered on religion and is not anti-Christian (or any other faith) it’s impossible for me to ignore the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. For me the big day is the day Jesus told God he’d really rather stay on Earth than go through everything he knew was ahead of him. Except for the early-morning betrayal by Judas, it’s kind of a non-event. Guy goes to garden with his friends. Friends are soporific from a big dinner and wine and promptly go to sleep in spite of Jesus asking someone, for the love of God, to stay awake with him (for reasons he knew and we all found out later). OH well.

It’s not cool to know your fate. It’s a question that was debated a lot in my house because my dad KNEW his fate, roughly how long he had to live and what would kill him. Not cool. Better to be surprised especially if you KNOW there’s a crucifixion ahead of you. THAT makes this world all the more beautiful — even in my dad’s case one of the last things he wanted was to see Pikes Peak (we lived in Colorado Springs) one more time.

So every year I celebrate this day of the Earth’s beauty by walking my dogs. Out at the Refuge, I was happy to find that the wind has died down in general (though we are still under a Red Flag Warning). We were able to get out early enough to beat the wind entirely. It was absolutely quiet out there except for the songs and sounds of birds. I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks hunt and, later on, an osprey flew over and in front of me. The songs of red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks serenaded us along our way. The cinnamon teals — beautiful red ducks with a teal band on their wings — were swimming peacefully. The geese were chill, literally, on some ice left over from the very cold night we had. No people. “The cranes have left. There’s nothing to see.” I’m honestly glad they think so.

By Request… Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a truly unique place though, it’s true, it’s no Yellowstone. What there is to see there, is, well, limited to what there is to see but, as with the San Luis Valley as a whole, it’s understated and captivating. I’ve taken a lot of photos most of which I can’t find this morning. My first jaunt out there with my neighbors back in 2016.

The water phenomenon you see in the featured photo is the snow melt creek — Medano Creek — that turns the Sand Dunes into a beach in spring. If you just landed here and didn’t look around, seeing the families with coolers, beach umbrellas and boogie boards you’d think “WTF? Where AM I?”

Another interesting phenomenon I discovered on my first visit is that it’s impossible to take a focused photo of the dunes themselves. Huh? Why? Because the sand is ALWAYS moving.

They are about 50 miles from Monte Vista, across potato fields.

The formation of the dunes is a fascinating story you can learn about here. Humans have been hanging around there for thousands of years, not all with coolers and boogie boards, but Clovis Points and flaking tools have been discovered and are displayed in the beautiful visitor’s center. The Sand Dunes is also an internationally designated Dark Sky Area.

The photos below reflect several visits out to the Dunes. One thing I want to do and haven’t done is visit them when they are covered in snow.

Palm Sunday at the Church of the Big Empty

Akbash dogs are stubborn AND they know what they think is right, and Bear did not think it was right for me to take her out for a walk without Teddy, so she wouldn’t let me catch her. It got incredibly frustrating. I went to the garage and opened the back door of Bella and tried to fool Bear into letting me leash her. She wasn’t having it. Finally I opened the kitchen door. Teddy, who was in the house, ran out, raced down the walk into the garage, and jumped up into his seat in the car. Bear didn’t know he was in the car, ready to go, and STILL refused to be leashed. 

“I’m ready Martha!”

“I know, Teddy, but I have to catch Bear. Besides, I didn’t want to take you.”

“Really?” There’s NO way he would believe that.

“Never mind little guy.”

Finally I got Teddy and went into the house. Before long, Bear was inside. I grabbed her collar, leashed her, and took them both for a very very very very windy Palm Sunday Service at the Church of the Big Empty. It was a wonderful “service” even with the wind gusting at 40 mph. I watched an osprey and a Harris hawk hunt, saw some cinnamon teal take advantage of a lull in the wind to fly from the ditch to the pond and there were NO other people. 

And then… 

“Isn’t this all-right, Martha?” “It” said. “It” is my notion of God.
“Huh?”
“This. Isn’t it enough. Do you really need to travel far and wide? You’ll just come home to this. Think about it. It took your whole life for you to get here.” There was no arguing that.

I turned and looked at Mt. Blanca through the pastel haze of the dusty air. 

“I brought you here,” It said again. “Isn’t this enough?”

My eyes filled with tears. It’s so much more than “enough.” I said “Thank you” and continued my uphill push on the flat road with the two parishioners who also find it to be “enough.” 

As I walked I pondered the journey that I thought I wanted to take and the financial and physical challenges it would present. Greece. Then I thought, “You have everything they left behind for you. You have even had the privilege to teach it.” And I thought about that and said “Thank you,” again. 

So, that’s it. ❤

P.S. The photo is my very strange garage. The “leak” you see was repaired a long time ago, but I saw no point in taking the particle board down and discovering what else I should probably do. Also, Bear loves Teddy. When we come in from a walk, she stands back and lets him drink first. Sometimes she will go alone on a walk with me, but usually, she wants Teddy to come along. It’s very difficult to win an argument with an Akbash dog without a lasso — and the ability to use it. I have neither.

To Garden or Not To Garden?

The question of gardening here in the fertile postage stamp territory of my yard remains. Not sure this year. Usually by now I’ve got seeds in seed starters and Scarlet Emperor Beans (SEB) are at least a couple of inches high. It was always too early. That’s what I figured out last year when the SEBs needed to be staked long before it was warm enough to put them outside. The seeds I planted directly in the ground after the late, heavy frost killed a couple of the precocious SEBs grew just as well as those I’d started in the house. And then there are these things called “greenhouses” which some people own but which more often belong to nurseries. The way I understand it they get that stuff going LONG before I would. All this early planting is meant to out wit the short growing season.

And then there’s the question of water… Driving through the backroads (most roads) on the west side of the San Luis Valley when my friends were here this past weekend, I saw how desperately dry the San Luis Valley is. I felt guilty hooking up my new hose to water my bulb plants, but I did water them and the daffodils are beginning to bloom.

This is a “non-problem” for someone like me, but it’s a big problem for the farmers. My town LOVES green lawns and I live on the “show” street, the main drag (definitely a drag in summer with all the RVs from Texas). I’ve even gotten warnings from the city about cutting the weeds in the hell strip by the road (???) which is city property that I’m supposed to water (on my dime!). I don’t like that, either. People throw stuff from their cars and I am tasked with cleaning up after them. Again, all “non-problems” in the grand scheme, but I guess we all have to bitch about something!

Alligator Rescue

As I’ve probably said about a million times, there is no place like the San Luis Valley in Colorado and yesterday I revisited one of the places that proves that point. Colorado Gator Farms. Because of the basin range geology here — two mountain ranges pulling in opposite directions — there are are lot of hot springs all around this valley and one of these runs through the Gator Farm or the gator farm was built on it.

Allow me to elucidate. You have all probably lost sleep wondering what happens to movie star alligators and crocodiles. There happens to be a rescue here (of all places). You might be wondering WHY (as I have wondered) there needs to be a rescue for alligators of all creatures, but… A couple of the alligators were formerly movie stars. There are some white alligators, some caimans, some crocodiles, rescued tortoises, rattlesnakes, corn snakes, rosy boas — pet store reptiles that got too big and dangerous to be pets. Having lived with a red tailed boa and a green iguana I actually feel for these creatures who shouldn’t be pets — they grow to be quite large and need habitats most people couldn’t provide — but who are still pretty amazing to live with. Alligators, though, why anyone would want a pet alligator is beyond me…

It’s one of Lois’ son’s favorite places so we went. First of all, it’s ugly. It’s NOT the place people think of when they conjure up a mental image of Colorado. Second, it’s designed for alligators. I never thought of the ideal world for alligators, especially alligators living at 8000 feet in a four season place, but now I know what it would be. There’s a sign in front that says, “This is a working farm. It smells.” It does but not particularly bad. The place started as a tilapia farm, but the tilapia population got out of control and then, to control the tilapia overgrowth…alligators. And from there?

As with any tourist trap there are photo opportunities and you can’t get through the front door without posing with an alligator and no, I don’t understand the expression on my face here, but the alligator was made to smile. The people who work there could have seasonal jobs as carnival barkers. They are truly not like the other kids, but I like them.

If you’ve never held an alligator I can tell you they are pretty cool. Solid, firm, calm if held properly. This is a baby. The other photo is me in the 90s with Ananda, the red tail boa I was snake-sitting.

Cranes to Calves

Friends are visiting from Colorado Springs so late yesterday afternoon we went to see if any cranes remained at the Refuge. They are — as I imagined they would be — on their way to points north, and the geese, ducks and coots have the world to themselves along with the blackbirds, meadowlarks, ravens, eagles, and hawks. Wild animals are great but there is a lot to be said for domestic animals, especially, this time of year, babies. There were calves everywhere. Some were brand new, not even on their feet yet. In one pasture there was a lively kindergarten of calves “gamboling” (yeah, use that word a LOT) until someone’s mother came and gave Lois a dirty look. We were parked beside them and Lois made a little video which, unfortunately, I can’t share. But these were a couple of the perps…


In equine news, there was a very beautiful draft horse in a pasture where there had not been one before. He was black, white feathers, white socks, white face and white belly. I think he was a Gypsy horse.

The light has changed from winter to spring with a big cloud bird in charge of everything, apparently.

Photos by Lois Maxwell. I was driving.

I love it. I’m sure the cows didn’t have to wear tassels or do sexy dances in order to get these little beings. My mental image of a cow dancing with tassels on her udders is pretty funny, though.

Erin Go Bragh!

For a long time I was Irish, so Irish that people in Irish pubs in San Diego — Irish people — would ask me, “When were you last home?” in their lilting brogue. They didn’t mean Descanso, where I lived, a small town 50 miles to the east of San Diego, in the mountains. They meant the Emerald Isle.

Me ma and da were tellin’ me from birth that I’m Irish, and I suffered through the obligatory corned beef and cabbage for many years. The only time I was ever pinched for not wearing green was at a supermarket in LA when I was attending fresco school. I was so wrapped up in school, I had forgotten what day it was. “You look Irish enough,” said the woman who pinched me, “where’s your green?”

Well, thanks to Ancestry DNA I’ve since learned that I’m not so Irish after all — a smidgeon — but (gotta go check those dilithium crystals) I’m a feckin’ Scot. The fact of the matter is me paternal great-grandah’ was a pure Irishman, and then, dontcha’ know, it started being watered down by all and sundry, OK, just some and sundry, but as I understand DNA if you’re a female much of what you can learn about your DNA comes from yer’ ma’s side, and that is born out by what Ancestry is telling me. Luckily (or irrelevantly) I pretty much know where my family came from with a few bits here and there lost in the mists of time. And the term “Scotti” was the name given the Gaels by the Romans — Irish and Scots alike.


Lots of Europeans wonder why Americans are so fascinated by their ancestry. I can’t answer that other than to say that if you’re German, you probably KNOW it. EVERY human on this continent — even the “natives” — came from somewhere else. It’s just an intriguing mystery. Not very important to me, but kind of cool to learn about.

All this to say I’m wearing my green underwear today. It’s too cold for my green t-shirt.

Yesterday I took the dogs for a walk to see the day and the cranes — thousands of them flew above me. Easily fifty cars were making their way around the Refuge. It’s a big year for both cranes and tourists who come out mainly for the photo opportunities. How do I feel about that? Mixed, but generally positive and, anyway, my feelings are irrelevant. The dogs and I have our walk that is apart from all the action and since I’m not armed with a fancy camera, I am liberated to watch and, living here, I have the liberty to watch in slow motion. I’m not (overly) charged with carpeing the diem. I thought I’d share this photo story — I don’t like the guy’s captions much, but he and his long lens got a very cool — dramatic — narrative of the type I see often and cannot possibly report so vividly. Don’t miss this!

I spent a little time yesterday listening to an archeologist on Zoom talk about one of the caves that ring the ancient lake that is the San Luis Valley. Since I lose focus in lecture, I abandoned it, but not before I learned that there is no pottery (*cruse) until 2000 years ago. This is the interesting thing — how and why? No pottery, no bows and arrows until the upper layers — that’s 2000 years out of a 14,000 year history of human culture throughout the region. I wonder what caused the change. It is, apparently, pretty universal around the Americas. The little shard in my featured photo is Anasazi? Very likely.

A dear friend found it one day on a walk near her home in Arizona. She picked it up, put it in her pocket, and, at some point, stuck it to a post-it note and put it on my desk at San Diego State University. The post-it is still there. Her note has long faded, but the shard persists. I think that is a beautiful metaphor for the whole mystery surrounding the sudden appearance of pottery. The words explaining it are gone, but the pottery remains.

*cruse/kro͞oz/ noun ARCHAIC: an earthenware pot or jar.

It’s Snowing!!! Oops. It stopped. The sun’s back out.

I don’t know what it is about snow but it just makes me deeply happy. When it starts, I feel every muscle in my body relax. I know all the “facts” about snow, its dangers, and the dangers of cold, but for some reason none of that affects my feelings about it. I really do wait for it all year. We’re not supposed to get much — a centimeter they say — but that’s not nothing, and it’s a promise. Maybe. I know I live in a desert but still…

Winter 2018/2019 was a very snowy winter and the Rio Grande flooded from the snow melt. My local ski area (golf course) was groomed and the tracks lasted for almost 3 months. It snowed that much and stayed that cold. I kick myself now for every day I DIDN’T go out there. It was odd for people down here to worry about too much water.

The downhill ski area up the mountain has gotten a meter in this storm so it seems the San Juans are doing their job of scraping the precipitation from the clouds. It’s OK.

My job today is to get tomorrow’s reading under control. It should be, but it’s not, so here goes…


The featured photo is Bear at the golf course meditating on the beauty of my ski tracks (and those of other people) when the local ski area was in optimal condition three years ago.