De-compressing, continued.

I spent the morning cleaning up half of the front yard before the wind came up. Tomorrow is supposed to be chilly again so Bear and I will be free. While few cranes remain in the Valley, a few flew over me this morning.

As I have been maybe subconsciously involved in decompressing from the past five years, and the last year in particular, I’m sometimes overcome with realizations of what’s happened and the emotions that go with them. Today it was the realization that more than half a million people died in this country from Covid-19. That’s an incomprehensible number. That statistic — like a lot of other things — I pushed down inside because there was nothing I could do about it, no way to change it, no way to understand, no useful way to express my anger at Trump for his cavalier handling of the virus (i.e.“And I said to my people, slow the testing down.” -Donald J Trump, April, 2020), no way to provide knowledge to the people — doctors and nurses — who were struggling to save lives and comprehend a new and unpredictable illness at the same time. How must they have felt when their ignorance led to deaths? And it did, through no fault of the doctors or nurses. When my cousin got sick, it was late enough in the disease’ trajectory that the hospital knew pretty well what to do.

A friend I was talking to earlier said, “Remember Anderson Cooper when the number hit 200,000? His face was red, he was so angry and so sad.”

I do remember that, though, like a lot of things over this past year, it was pushed away in the bin of “SEP” — the “somebody else’s problem” forcefield from the Hitchhiker’s Guide, a forcefield that renders things invisible. It’s a useful tool when there really is NOTHING you can do to ameliorate a situation or solve a problem and it’s really NOT your problem, but I’ve had to use it too much in the past 12 months. Along with the “problem” I hid my feelings from myself.

Yesterday morning, I went looking for my copy of Goethe’s Faust. My thought was to write about Easter as depicted in the opening act of the play. It’s beautiful and Eastery, but as soon as I started reading, I knew I wasn’t going to post about that on Easter, and I didn’t.

I haven’t read Faust in many years. As I plunged into it yesterday, I felt a real sense of calm. This is good work written by a man with serious questions struggling with fiction/drama using an ancient “hero” (Faust) to confront a lot of big questions. One of the questions early in the play is the limits of human knowledge. Faust’s father was a doctor (as is Faust) and when the public thanks him and his father (posthumously) for the good work they did in saving people from the plague, Faust backs away from their gratitude, telling his student, Wagner, that he is sure his father and he killed more people than they saved, not out of malice but out of their ignorance.

“The medicine was there, and though the patient died,
Nobody questioned: who got well?
In these same mountains, in this valley,
With hellish juice worse than the pest.
Though thousands died from poison that I myself would give
Yes, though they perished, I must live,
To hear the shameless killers blessed.”

It made me sad to read that.

If you know the story of Faust, he ended up selling his soul to the Devil to finally find out the ultimate truth behind the phenomena of nature. Christopher Marlowe’s Faust hasn’t stayed with me except as a good story well-told and entertaining. Goethe’s is, I think, more complex. Faust struggles with the fact that the Devil turns out to be a pretty superficial little shit who leads him into temptation without helping him understand anything or get closer to the answers he seeks.

Goethe’s love of nature shines in everything I’ve read, and so, here is this beautiful, resonant thing that is the truth about humans and why, maybe, we thank the doctor for having done the best he/she could and we move on, letting the dark pain emerge when and as it will. Anyway, it speaks for me as did the small group of late cranes calling out as they flew over me this morning, above the low clouds, where I could not see them.

“Our body grows no wings and cannot fly,
Yet it is innate in our race
That our feelings surge in us and long
When over us, lost in the azure space
The lark trills out her glorious song;
When over crags where fir trees quake
In icy winds, the eagle soars,
And over plains and over lakes,
The crane returns to homeward shores.”

Goethe, Faust Part I

Crane Tourists

Although I doubt I’ll ever take living here in Heaven for granted, Crane Festival time is a reminder of how lucky I am to live in this obscure little town with the amazing world around it. For other people it’s a major destination where they can finally see the Sandhill Cranes even on a day like today which was blustery, snowy, and not everyone’s idea of a perfect day. It was a perfect day for this man and his wife.

I think sometimes the cranes could restore humanity’s sense of wonder and teach us the good sense the cranes have demonstrated for 2.5 million years.

Out there today with Bear I observed the cranes lifting off in masses, taking off, going over here, then back over there again and again. I looked hard for predators, but with the clouds low and moving, it was hard to see, plus the cranes themselves were moving a lot. Finally, toward the end of our walk, I saw an eagle, high in the sky. For safety the cranes ALL MOVE together making any individual crane (ie. meal) an impossible target. They don’t argue about it, either. They just go to safety. I thought about how people have actually argued about wearing masks and whether the virus is real. No crane would do that. Even a crane in doubt of a predator would stick with the others because there’s safety in numbers and what if?

As Bear and I were walking along, an old guy in a pick-up stopped to say hi and offer Bear a cookie. He was wearing a hat with a whooping crane embroidered on it and a shirt with Sandhill cranes silk-screened. I joked and said, “You really didn’t even need to come all the way out here. You could’ve just looked at your clothes!”

Later on, he pulled off the road to watch the cranes. Not far away from that pull out, I saw a Canada geese couple I “met” last year. They seemed to be about to nest in the same not-very-smart location where they nested last year. I know it wasn’t smart because I saw one of their eggs broken on the road and they left the Refuge long before the other geese — who’d nested in safer locations and hatched young. I wanted to talk to them about this, but I think they know more about being geese than I do.

Bear and I stood a long time and watched the cranes in the distance and the geese closer up. Bear leaned against me and I wrapped my arm around her shoulder. We like to do that.

it was the most beautiful day I’ve had out there in a while.

Watch out for the Dinosaurs!!!

We got a TINY bit of snow, but the “snowpocalypse” that filled the news was never expected to hit the San Luis Valley. Hopefully the day will remain ugly enough that Bear and I can go traipse around without encountering earnest crane tourists with their dogs.

I got a little miffed yesterday (impotently so, as always) seeing a photo on the Monte Vista Crane Festival group on Facebook in which it seemed the photographer had gone “out of bounds.” She had captured a very interesting thing, though, hundreds of cranes lined up like soldiers in preparation for a very orderly flight — in shifts, or waves. She asked what was going on. I had a good idea what might have been happening, and I ventured a response. Later one of the wild life biologists chimed in and said I had been right. I felt like it was a little victory somehow, not just for me, but, strangely, for Goethe who advocated for direct observation vs. laboratory experiments.

The biologist also chided the photographer for having been in a closed area and mentioned the cranes’ behavior could have been caused by the photographer intruding into one of their hangouts.

Last spring as I was walking through the Refuge for nine millionth time, I realized that one of the the yellow-headed blackbirds who was often closest to the trail was no longer flying away when Bear and I approached. I understood, again, that predictability is safety for wild animals. I’ve learned this over and over in my hiking/walking life. At the end of crane season last spring the cranes were no longer avoiding flying over me. Not because they had grown to like me, but because they saw me as part of their place at a certain time of day.

For most of us humans, wild animals are a novelty. I think any wild animal we encounter wants to know what we’re going to do to them. Some of them shoot first and ask questions later. Even cranes. They are large, powerful birds with big feet and sharp pointy things at the ends of their toes. Essentially, they are velociraptors.

Like other animals, humans are acquisitive, and people who come to see the cranes are really here to acquire photos of the cranes. I have been that person, too, and I love seeing the wonder that the cranes inspire. But I think it’s important to realize that 1) these are wild animals who can hurt you (and would), 2) they deserve distance that the wildlife biologists — who KNOW things — have provided for them, and 3) sometimes a camera and what it represents (the future) comes between the human and the object of the photo, keeping the human from really SEEING what they’re taking photos of in this all-to-brief, passing moment.

Anyhoo… along with the cranes are large phalanxes of Canada geese and several kinds of ducks. It’s funny that though these are splendid birds, too, people don’t take their photos.


Small squalls came moving through the San Luis Valley yesterday, and just as one hit Monte Vista, I corralled Bear and loaded her into Bella. Bad weather is best, if you’re ready for it.

We headed the six miles out to the Refuge. South of town, the landscape was bathed in March sunshine and peace. From a distance, I saw that several cars were tooling along the drive-tour and I was sure from a clutch of SUVs in a particular spot that the Sandhill Cranes were being obliging to those undaunted souls with their long lenses. I’d already figured out a walk to take with Bear that wouldn’t — probably — put us in anyone’s way. There’s a small frontage road that runs parallel to the highway. Not my favorite route, obviously, but I’ve seen some lovely things from there, and I was sure we’d be alone.

We took that route. Before we’d gone very far, the squall was close enough that the sun had gone and we were hit by a 40 mph/60 kmph gust. I took Bear a few feet off the road, away from the dead trees, and turned my back to the wind. We had a soft argument about who was going to shield whom from the wind and graupel. For the moment, I won. The wind blasted my back, the graupel shot straight at us, but above? Something had inspired the cranes to take flight from the refuge and head across the highway to the barley field. Whether it was the squall or a predator or something else, I don’t know.

Thousands of cranes (and one duck?) were fighting the wind. Bear and I stood there blasted by bbs of graupel. The cranes flew over us, their voices all but lost in the tumult. As the squall moved on, we turned around, stopping now and again as a gust came up. Then, turning my back to a gust I looked up, and low above a dead cottonwood tree, a V of twenty or so cranes approached. The wind stopped, summoning energy for the next gust, and in the silent moment, I heard the concert of wings brushing the air above me.

I’m always amazed by timing. So often I have arrived somewhere in the wild world just at the perfect moment.

Photo: San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Not what I saw, but close enough so you can see the number of cranes. ❤ I also thought last night of putting together a little book of crane stories since the cranes and the refuge have been my pals through the tunnel of this past year. We’ll see.

Crane Festival-like

Though Monte Vista will not have a real, live Crane Festival this year, and has gone “virtual” for the event, the crane themselves are nonplussed. They are here in large numbers now, dancing and purring and calling out and just generally craning as only they can. Lots of crane tourists. I met my first nasty entitled white blond lady (grrrr) and she got under my skin for a moment. She waved her skinny, tanned, gold-braceleted hand out the window of her Lexus SUV and said, “Dogs are not allowed back here.” In fact, they are, leashed, as a big sign at the entry informs everyone (who reads signs). I was all, “grrrr, grrr, grrr,” until the cranes reminded me you don’t hang around for millions of years getting upset with know-it-all, ignorant women who tell you, incorrectly, that “dogs are not allowed here.” At least I had the sense not to respond. And when she passed us again, going the wrong way on that one way road (it’s a oneway loop) I just kept my peace, hoping she didn’t find out the hard way.

The rest of the crane tourists were normal. There were a couple groups of dog owners who gave me the chance to give Bear a learning moment. The people were all very friendly and excited to see the cranes.

One group was really nice people from Pagosa Springs who’d brought champagne for the occasion and were nuts about Bear.

I love crane stories. One of the women told me of an experience she’d had a few years ago, saying, ”And then they ALL flew up at once, and flew over me! When does that happen?”

“Sunset or sunrise, or when a predator is over head, an eagle or something.”


“Yeah, eagles prey on cranes.”

What a lovely afternoon.

Aldo Leopold wrote in his exquisite A Sand County Almanac: “Our appreciation for the crane grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills. When we hear his call, we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.”

Here’s a phone picture of what I saw today. The crane tourists were VERY lucky to have the birds so close to the road. I’m taking my camera next time.

Hundreds of Sandhill cranes doing what cranes do.

A couple of links:

This one will take you to the Virtual Monte Vista Crane Festival and tell you how to sign up.

This one will take you to a very interesting article about cranes AND blue herons.


Naturally I’ve been following the impeachment trial and naturally I’m not surprised by the outcome. I think we all knew his Dumbshitness would get off without even a hand-slap in spite of the overwhelming evidence that many of us saw in real time on January 6 and again and again and again during the trial.

On top of that, Teddy’s injuries remain problematic and frustrating for him and me. So, I attacked this day by doing a Mother’s Day garden sign and rewrapping and bandaging Teddy’s foot. I called the vet, too, unfortunately after they closed, and was advised to keep it wrapped and keep him relatively quiet and, if things aren’t better Monday, go back to the vet. I love my vet but this is absurd — or not. I don’t know. At least I have first aid kits up the yin-yang at this point.

And then… I decided to take Bear out to the Refuge. I’d had enough of this day, Teddy needed to stay quiet, so what were we hanging around here for?

The storm that’s putting deep cold and snow north of here is moving down tonight. We should get a few inches (2 or 3) and very cold temps. As I headed to the Refuge I saw the storms moving into the mountains, hiding the Sangres and air-brushing the San Juans. It was gorgeous and wild. On the way, I passed two young black and white cows playing in a field, kicking up their heels and looking joyful.

Once at the Refuge I looked for cranes in their usual place, but I didn’t really expect them to be hunkered down in such an exposed location in such a bitter wind. I took Bear on her favorite trail and she smelled everything she could. There was copious deer poop and a few tracks. Then we headed toward the small grove of trees. The wind was blasting me so hard I put up my hood even though it would muffle all the sounds I usually listen for — but the wind might drown them out anyway. Then, I saw them on the far horizon with Mt. Blanca behind them, rising in the distance, hundreds, heading into the soft low clouds calling to each other. Bear and I stood a long time and watched. It was enchanting. They soared rising higher and higher calling out to each other, surrounding me. Meanwhile the storms moved around the mountains, revealing Mt. Blanca with new snow and shrouding the San Juans under a foreboding cloud with the sun above it.

As I pulled into my driveway it was snowing. I got out to open the garage door and a dozen cranes were flying low above me, talking to each other.

February, but…

It’s just February, and not even quite Valentine’s Day yet, but yesterday Bear and I had lovely saunter in spring-like temperatures to see the cranes, those who have arrived already. Northern parts of my state are gripped in very cold weather, but down here it’s barely even chilly, just under freezing (29 F) when I got up this morning. It hit 53f (12c more or less) yesterday. Even though winter wear is now virtually weightless, and I love my Patagucci down sweater, I still felt that feeling I had as a kid when I didn’t have to wear my coat and headed out in a sweatshirt.

In other ways it was a spring-like walk, too. Bear and I had our first visit of the season with Crane Tourists, an older guy and his wife or girlfriend. The old guy explained they wanted to get here “before the crowds.” I took that to mean before the crowds of people, but he and his wife are also here before the crowd of cranes have arrived. Still, as Bear and I approached the pond where the cranes were huddled on the far side, the man had gone off trail (grrrr) to take a photo through some chamisa scrub. OH well. The cranes didn’t mind. The ground is frozen and the plants are sleeping. No way he could do much harm.

Crane Tourists in Monte Vista are an interesting breed of tourist. They are either boomers or young people. The men in both groups often sport beards. The women in both groups wear brightly colored socks. In many respects they seem like trans-generational echoes of each other both in apparent and less visible values. BUT…the older ones are more talkative. They are very sincere, ready to tell you about other times and other places where they’ve seen cranes and what the cranes do. I suppose it’s possible that I might someday get jaded about the Sandhill Crane, but right now I love to hear people rhapsodize. Godnose I’ve done enough of that myself (thank you for your patience).

So I heard from this old guy that he’d been to New Mexico at Bosque del Apache to watch the cranes, and I got a description of their sunset behavior, and a description of the crane’s dance, complete with demonstration. I totally understand crane love and the dance was adorable performed by a grizzled old guy in a baseball cap, a red bandana, heavy sweater, and hiking boots, with a big camera around his neck. Since the dance the guy was doing is a mating behavior, I wondered how his wife was taking it. 🙂

I thought again about what conversation means to people. It really isn’t only about what they say, but a mysterious thing designed to establish status and community.

Anyway, the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) who manages the refuge is opening the gates to flood the Refuge as some of the ponds are already melting and the cranes have been arriving steadily. Not all that early. I was seeing them this time last year, but not in these numbers.

This year you can attend the Monte Vista Crane Festival — even if you’re in far-flung England, Switzerland, Australia, Finland, India, Spain — ANYWHERE.

Here’s how. I’ll post this again closer to the date which is March 12 in this hemisphere, maybe the 13th for you on the future side of the dateline. 🙂 (Featured photo by Lois Maxwell)

Invitation to the Monte Vista Crane Festival 2021

Forget the Groundhog. Look at the Sky

They’re back. Not ALL of them, but at least 150 of them and probably more. Yesterday as I packed Teddy into the car to take him to the vet for a new bandage and a look at his stitches, fifty or so were soaring above me calling out in the grey sky. We’ve had such an open winter that it’s not surprising they’re here already, though, according to my Facebook memories, it’s not that early in the season for them to begin appearing.

Who are they? If you’ve been reading my blog over the last year, you can probably guess “Sandhill Cranes” as, during these strange pandemic days, I’ve probably written about them at LEAST as much as I’ve written about Scarlet Emperor Beans but not as much as I’ve written about my dogs. I’m hoping Bear and I can go out to the Refuge later and see if we can see any ourselves, though the ground right now is not the crane’s favorite texture and there isn’t much open water in the ponds, if any. Cranes are not water birds exactly, anyway.

Not that it’s spring. It’s not. In fact, where I live we don’t dare to put plants in the ground until June 1. I guess that’s how the Sandhill Cranes like it. The warmer it gets here, the sooner they head north. Not far, as it happens. This group of cranes only goes to the Snake River area, Yellowstone area. It’s a beautiful corridor.

The tourist literature for Monte Vista saying the cranes are here in March and in October in smaller numbers. My heavily crane focused year has shown me they are here most of the time. I’m grateful for that.

Learning More about the Sandhill Cranes

Last evening I attended my first ever online class. It was put on by the Aldo Leopold Foundation and called “Virtual Crane Viewing.” In fact, there wasn’t a lot of crane viewing, but there was a lecture given by an interesting and enthusiastic professor about my age. I loved it. I learned many new things and had some of my theories based on my relentless (ha ha) crane observation validated. 

Among the things I learned was that one of the things that led to cranes almost going extinct was the way farmers “shocked” their crops in the old days. From the air these shocked crops looked like birds on a field, so the cranes flew over the harvested corn that could have fed them.

Shocked Corn

Other problems — you might imagine — including people hunting them. Apparently the meat is very tasty. The professor put up a photo of a general store in Wisconsin (where the Aldo Leopold Center is) and cranes hung from the ceiling and were lined up on the counter. He was having a sale. 

The lecture talked about what kind of environment cranes prefer (flat and wet) and that helped me understand why trees have been planted along the “highway” that runs past the refuge, simply to discourage the cranes from ranging where they could get hurt. I learned about their migratory patterns and how they have spread out their territory since their numbers have recovered. It made me very happy. 

I learned, also, that the legislation to protect migratory birds happened early in the 20th century. As he spoke I remembered an exhibit in the Denver Natural History Museum. It was about the Passenger Pigeon. I remember asking my dad, “What’s ‘ex-tinct’.” I was only in my second year of reading so I could sound stuff out but not know what I’d read. My dad explained it to me and told me about the Dodo. I don’t remember what I thought about it, but something about the moment lingered in my memory.

As for Aldo Leopold himself? I don’t know much about him, but I will probably learn more. A friend gave me one of his books years ago, and I couldn’t get into it. During the presentation, one of his descendants read a passage, and I could hear why I might not have gotten into his books. It was extremely poetic — rhapsodic — and compared the calls of the cranes to human orchestral instruments. It made my teeth itch. I kept thinking, “Let the cranes have their unique and definitely NOT human sounds.” And even when I understood that a main part of Leopold’s writing (and the “class”) was introducing the cranes to people so that the cranes would be appreciated, I didn’t like it. Just me. Just personal taste. 

I have a funny perspective on nature. IF nature appears poetic and rhapsodic and all that, it’s not nature’s fault, not nature’s “nature,” so to speak. At the same time, I don’t think we can help seeing, experiencing, nature (as long as it’s not killing us ha ha) in poetic terms if we love it. It’s that so much of our world is “spin” and embellishment and illusion. Nature doesn’t “spin” anything. It has no need of embellishment and in and of itself is no illusion .We might put a pretty illusion on it or a nightmarish one, but nature just does nature and fuck all. That very integrity is its vulnerability. 

I don’t even like to think of nature as something outside of myself. I wish I could escape that perspective, but I can’t. I consciously go out “into nature” as often as possible. I wish there were another way to express that because this warm house is nature, too. It’s what humans have devised through human nature. It’s not really different from cranes preferring flat, wet landscapes with a food source nearby.

One of the points the lecture brought home is one I think about a lot when I’m “with” the cranes and that is their longevity as a species. The lecturer talked about the absolute predictability of a crane’s day, how breeding pairs go off by themselves, how when a “colt” is large enough to fly the couple — family — rejoins the flock and there is much (apparent) celebration. I learned how the cranes use the thermals (as I suspected) to lift themselves VERY high (like airplanes!) to catch a tailwind so when they are going long distances they don’t have to work very hard. 

And so…survival. While I resist looking at nature through my own tendency to form poetic metaphors, I think it IS a metaphor and guidance for us, though it isn’t really a metaphor. We’re just so VERBAL and abstract that it seems to be. And that is that survival is the whole point of the choices the cranes have made for millions of years and they are good at it. They live for decades. They have small families. When they need to go off by themselves, they go. When it’s important for their survival to gather in large groups, they gather. I can’t imagine a Sandhill Crane refusing to wear a mask because, you know, “freedom.” Nature’s lessons — in all their seeming rustic simplicity — are eminently practical and wise. 

Early November, 2020, Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge

Eagles above… Late November, 2020. When I arrived at the Refuge all of this was going on.

Goodbye, Martha! We’ll Be Back in Spring

Sometimes coincidence is eerie. Monday, having realized that I have digital cameras (duh) I took one out the Refuge and got some good photos of Sandhill cranes specifically to share them on my blog with all the patient people who’ve heard — read — one crane rhapsody after another. Yesterday Teddy and I went out and found that the cranes had finally flown south to their winter home at Bosque Apache near Roswell, New Mexico.

I was struck at the coincidence. Maybe Monday was the last day of the cranes at the Refuge. Maybe the squall that passed through with some violence Tuesday night sent them packing. Whatever their “radar” that tells them it’s time to get out of here, they were gone.

The Refuge was silent. Geese and ducks — who are still here because there is still open water — don’t spend the day in conversation. It seems they only speak up when they have something to say. In a little while, the Refuge will be silent with winter. I have never walked out there in winter, so I’m looking forward to it. If we get snow, I could ski on the road. I don’t know what birdlife I will find — if any. I’m expecting to see the tracks of deer and elk. I’m also expecting some wild and bitter winds — the first tentative assault of that yesterday sent me out in a down anorak.