The Aesthetics of a Slough

It’s a cold morning in the back-of-beyond, thank goodness. Bear chews her rawhide, Teddy waits for coffee. I think of my little walk with Bear yesterday at the slough and what I saw.

I thought of how this particular slough trail is now very familiar. I know where to look to see the river. Since the first year I walked there, two things have happened. I became more accurately oriented to my world and the river moved last year during the floods.

The first year I walked there I didn’t notice that the river is RIGHT BY THE FUCKING PARKING LOT. I didn’t have to yell that but every time I think of it I want to slap myself for being so blind. It’s about 20 feet down a shallow slope and, that first year, there were bushes. No more. Last year’s floods took care of them.

The first year I walked I noticed the mountains. The first walk I walked I turned around halfway because I did not want the trail to be a loop. I enjoyed it so much I wanted it to be much longer than it is. But, you know and I know that the trail is a trail and wishes aren’t horses.

When it comes to mountain aesthetics, my favorites are looking at mountains from a distance and being above the trees. What that means is that my flat valley — where views are seldom obscured by trees — is perfect. From our little hike yesterday I could see the shifting sunlight on the three snowy “peaks” of the nearest San Juans as a storm deliberated its level of involvement. One of the “peaks” is such a gentle thing that you can walk right up it as if it were (and it is) an immense hill. They are among my favorite things to paint.

I have my formerly degenerating hip to thank for what I see now. When it was heading south (and after it was repaired) I was lucky to walk a mile on uneven ground AT ALL. But, of course, I did. My beautiful friend, Bear, was a young dog. I would walk a few hundred yards, feel pain, stop and look at the mountains or the river. Beauty is a powerful analgesic. Bear learned to walk that way. In her mind we were stopping because I smelled something and she would give the trail a sincere nose examination. She still thinks that’s what we’re doing (what else WOULD I be doing?) but she’s also learned that I stop for birds. Now, mostly, I stop for her.

The blue line shows my “speed.” The peaks are me going fast; the troughs are me looking off at the mountains or Bear captivated by a scent. The slowish regions are me looking at the sky for raptors or cranes. This isn’t totally accurate because often we were STOPPED.

It’s pretty close to exactly a mile on the Shriver/Wright walking loop. Yesterday the trail was a combination of frozen snow and clear gravel/dirt. Sometimes an easy, pleasant walking surface, sometimes lumpy and unresponsive.

Few people go out there in the winter. The wildlife has migrated down to the valley floor for winter. Tracks and scents rest undisturbed by humans and dog urine. The beasts are looking for open water, and can climb out on the ice to the narrow channel of free-flowing water in the Rio Grande which is slow and shallow in January.

It’s just a mile, but what a mile.

Canine Crisis and Foot Injury Update

Today I took both dogs on a fool’s errand. Teddy hasn’t been on a walk in two months; Bear got a little something Wednesday. I didn’t want to take them both, but they were so EXCITED this afternoon. I think Bear told Teddy, “She took me. I’m sure she’ll take us both next time.” When I brought Bear home Wednesday, it was clear she’d missed Teddy. I felt kind of bad.

So, today, hoping to find a solitary trail somewhere, I put both dogs in Bella. I thought first of the golf course. Because I still can’t walk far, Wednesday I drove to the club house (yeah, I know it’s a block and a half away) from which Bear and I could go straight out to the good stuff, the Big Empty beyond the driving range.

If you’re not familiar with this blog, you might have a different picture of my golf course than the reality. One of the rules of the course is “Don’t let your livestock loose on the greens.” It opens onto a small slough and miles of fields and emptiness, cattle, foxes, deer, elk, moose and an elusive (thank goodness) black bear (who’s brown…) Bobcats and mountain lions also appear from time to time on the cameras people have in their back yards that face the golf course. Late fall is the transition time when the animals and I reclaim the golf course, though, in fact, the golfers don’t mind me at all. We’ve been sharing those acres for five years now. I just make it my rule not to take my dogs if it will interfere with their fun. They’ve been known to let us “play through” so to speak, on our way out to the fields.

But, I could see there were several guys playing golf today (58 F/13 C). No one cares about winter grass and autumn leaves. They’ll play in an inch or two of snow (I love them for that). I drove out of town to the wildlife areas and found fishermen and hunters at Shriver/Wright. It’s hunting season. Bear will wear her hunting vest out there anyway. A dad and his son waved and said “Hi!’ to me. I’ve really missed the little neighborhood of people who hang around out there. Across the street, there were cattle all over Rio Grande Wildlife area which meant Teddy (Australian Shepherd) was NOT going there. Bear is calm and we walk past the herds in vigilant tranquility. The Park and Rec guys put electric fences where they DON’T want the cattle to be, so people have the trails, for the most part. But Teddy has a very powerful herding instinct, so all that remained was the lake and YAY! NO ONE WAS THERE!!! I parked where I would get a mile RT. That’s my walking limit right now.

Cattle trimming the grass in the Rio Grande Wildlife Area. Sandhill cranes calling out from the sky. BEAUTIFUL afternoon.

We walked, slowly, and I used my cane. Teddy was attached to the waist belt by his bungee leash. Bear was on her usual leash and head harness. All went well until, as we were returning to Bella (my Jeep), a lady with a little terrier approached from the rear. Teddy barked at the terrier, the terrier barked back. All hell broke loose. I tried to hold onto Bear but she’s 75 pounds of livestock guardian dog, and I ended up being pulled down and dragged across the dirt road until I let go. Bear, of course, went for the terrier who was barking menacingly (naturally). For Bear, it was only three long steps. She didn’t even hurry. The owner was yelling “No! No!” terrified for her dog whom, it looked like, Bear was trying to kill. I was glad Teddy was fastened to me. I apologized and apologized from my position on the ground and wondered how I could get up.

But I did.

When Bear was finished disciplining the terrier, she wanted to meet the lady and be nice to the dog (who was in the lady’s arms). There were no injuries, of course. But the lady wasn’t having it (nor would I). Bear just stood calmly, smelling the ground by the lake, and, to my immense relief, she waited for me to come and get her. I was — and am — so sorry. I’m sure the lady was terrified.

I need a sign on Bear that says, “If your dog barks, Bear will attack your dog.” I just try to avoid people. I don’t think Bear would hurt any dog unless the dog hurt me (or her), but I can’t say that to anyone because I don’t really know. I certainly can’t answer for anyone else’s dog. The times Bear was attacked really changed her attitude about dogs when she’s leashed and with me. 

Finally the lady said, “I’ll go the other way.” I would have, but it would have meant another mile around the lake on uneven ground. I would never have made it.

BUT the foot wasn’t re-injured, though it is a little more sore than it has been, and all seems to be well.

I just have two dogs who are instinct driven. When Teddy caught sight (or whiff?) of the cattle, he was all about it, standing on two legs to see them over the weeds and the irrigation canal. Then a car went by way too fast and Teddy was ready to chase it. No one ever said an Australian shepherd, like Teddy, is an easy dog to live with especially in the first two years of their lives.

Teddy sees cattle…

Bear is a livestock guardian dog. Normally, they’re not house dogs or pets at all. They’re out there in the back of beyond working in complete independence caring for numerous goats or sheep, sometimes cattle, as have their forefathers and mothers for millennia. She might sit, stay, down, come under normal circumstances, but not when she believes she’s working.

How could this angelic beast do ANYTHING wrong???

So, will have to walk them one at a time for a while unless we’re alone at the golf course, I guess. I was stupid to take them both out.

Watching the Trail

Big events in the Casa di Martha, Bear and Teddy. “What?” you may well ask. Well, Teddy has now been on a legit walk — wait, two legit walks — to the slough. Yep. No, no, no don’t worry about the bursitis in my shoulder. It’s a LOT better and Bear has decided that it’s to her advantage to walk at heel.

Life is good.

On Teddy’s first walk we were met by a young guy walking out of the slough. He saw Teddy’s little head through my windshield and waved. We stayed in the car — mostly because I didn’t want to try to control two jubilant beasts. When the guy got to the parking lot, I hopped out of Bella. The guy said, “Let them out! I love dogs!” I was happy he wasn’t another acerbic dog hater.

So, I did. Turned out he has two Australian shepherds, a Pyrenees/lab mix and a golden retriever. As he met my dogs, he showed me photos of his.

“I’m here killing time while people look at my house. We’re trying to sell it.”

We talked about that and when I learned where the house is that he and his wife are selling, I said, “I wish I could live there.”

“I wish you could too,” he said. “These guys would love it.”

It was a sweaty walk but not overly laden with mosquitoes and Teddy loved it. So we went back yesterday. Cooler, perfect mosquito temps, but we had a good time. The air smelled of clover and the milkweed is blooming.

As it’s snake season, and with both hands full of dogs and no way to use a stick, I watch the trail carefully. Winter is better for the long vistas anyway.

Looking down you still see stuff. I noticed a ruffling in the weeds. A fluttering bright creature moved out of our way. I stopped. The dogs had seen it, too, and badly wanted to jump the mysterious moving thing. I made the dogs sit and stop. The fluttering creature stopped, and I saw it was two Monarch butterflies joined in their amorous moment.

A Day Redeemed

As often happens here in Heaven, the day was redeemed.

Read this WHOLE story because it’s good. 🙂

I took Bear out to Shriver/Wright (wildlife area and slough along the Rio Grande River here in Monte Vista, CO) and was very happy to see the trail was mowed — YESTERDAY! There was a guy there in a pickup whom I’ve seen fishing there and once at the lake. He’s never been very friendly, but…
He was eating lunch in his truck. I waved. He waved.

Bear and I walked. It was a perfect day to return. Cool, slightly rainy. A HUGE flock of geese took flight just as I arrived.

It was lovely to be there. I DO feel the presence of Dusty T. Dog when I’m there, there so I DON’T think he went to the Enchanted Forest. I think he went to the slough so he could keep walking with Bear and me.

When I got back to the parking lot, the guy was out of his truck and clearly wanted to talk. Turned out to be a really nice guy from Dillon, MT, with great stories about animals, trucks, Montana and other things I like to talk about. He has a nice, friendly dog that Bear would get along with


The biggest story was that…

In the very place I’d just been…


And where I’ve seen the guy fishing before…

He said that he’d gone down there to fish, and as soon as he sat down he saw a cow moose not twenty feet away from him. He grabbed his pistol, packed up his stuff slowly, grabbed his dog and backed away from the moose.

I didn’t even see tracks BUT I think what made the geese take off like that might have been the moose heading east along the river.

The guy was deliberating going back in. We talked a long time, loudly, with much laughter and obscenities. I’m sure any ungulate with half a brain wouldn’t want to stick around a place like that.

This photo which I took BEFORE I heard the story is where he was when he saw the moose.

I’d love to see a moose but not 20 feet away. 50 maybe. Or more.

Flooding Rio Grande

I had to go to the store and on the way I decided to go see the river at the place where I often walk with my dogs. The featured photo is the parking lot. I think the water crested yesterday or the day before because it was streaming back toward the river from the parking lot this morning.

The Rio Grande being VERY grande
Last winter…

Church of the Blue Heron, the Eagle, the River, the Mountains and the Meadowlark

I was raised in the American Baptist church but life carried me into a different faith, one that was correctly identified by a little boy as “Panentheism.”

It was nice to have a word for it.

Still, I know my Bible very well which is lucky since, so far, all the novels I’ve written are about Christianity one way or another. I like the Bible very much and Jesus’ story is inspiring and sad. The saddest day of all is this one in the Christian calendar, a day called Maundy Thursday. It’s the day when Jesus had dinner with his pals and then went up to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, knowing he would be betrayed by one of his friends. He knew his destiny (we all know our destiny, but some people are unfortunate as was Jesus to know WHEN and HOW).

It is my favorite part of the Bible because, like Jesus, I wouldn’t want to leave this beautiful garden. So, on Maundy Thursday I usually make a point to spend time in the Garden to think about things, about the numerous “cups” that don’t pass by us in our lives, and how humans so often have the courage to accept the cup however unwillingly or however much they feel unworthy of the charge put upon them.

Today when I went out with Bear I had forgotten what day it was in the Christian Calendar. But, as I stood looking at the pastel shades of REAL spring (not daffodils, tulips, etc.) I remembered. Already by then I’d watched a bald eagle swoop and dive for prey and then allow himself to be carried aloft and away on the wings of the wind, a beautiful thing to see. I’d seen a blue heron take advantage of a lull in the spring winds to float from a tree down to the river. I’d noticed the blue and golden swallows are back, diving for bugs whenever they have the chance. When I arrived, I immediately heard the song of the meadowlark. The Sangre de Cristos are still white spires and the river is full and fast.

So, Jesus, I’m sorry for what you went through and for what we all go through. I understand how you felt that night in that lovely place, waiting for the shoe to fall. Thank you for your story and how it reminds me to spend at least one day of the year being as present as possible in this marvelous world. I’m sorry I ultimately couldn’t accept all that about salvation, sin and one religious denomination over another. It just always seemed to contradict this complicated wonder in which I live. I’m totally cool with what other people believe, though. I think the point — as you said — is that we love one another.


I’m trying to figure out why I’m so depressed, and I’m hoping there is an external cause, like maybe it’s just the holidays. If there is no external cause, that sucks. Time will tell. 

I honestly have never liked Christmas. I’ve tried to like it. I’ve liked aspects of it. I have had some really nice Christmases in my life with beloved family and friends and even alone. I loved my Christmases in Zürich with my Swiss family. I loved my Christmases with my Montana aunts. I loved a very special Christmas when my stepson, Ben, and his wife, Sandi, brought German Christmas (Sandi is German) to my house in the mountains of CA on Christmas Eve. We took a hike in the afternoon to decorate a pine tree with bird seed. Sandi didn’t. know it had snowed in the mountains and that was the best Christmas present she could have gotten. That night we exchanged gifts and opened presents — that was the tradition in my family as well. With my family mostly gone at that point, I’d never expected to participate in that custom again. I could (and maybe should?) write a long list of happy Christmas memories. Maybe that would fix this, but I doubt it.

The closer it gets, the more I wish I could escape to a non-Christmas place. I’ve tried this year to just sample the meaningful things that have come my way — and I’ve enjoyed them — but it still seems to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on. 

When I was a kid, Christmas was happy if we went away. Otherwise, it was often horrible and maybe that’s why I dread it. One year (when I really really really really wanted a long flannel nightgown like the girls wore in Little Women) I bugged my mom about it (as kids do). Suddenly my mom said, “You only think about yourself. You never think about other people. Come here.” She grabbed my wrist rather brutally, sat me down hard in front of the Christmas tree and opened my presents. I kept my eyes closed, but really? I was 8. 

Usually I’ve gone away, but this year there is no money for that — $700 for car insurance, $400 for new tires, $150 for car registration all due in the last two months on top of a year that was filled with lots of expenses.

Any-hoo, in other somewhat less self-indulgent news, I made a Christmas ornament for a tree that a family puts up downtown in memory of their family members who have died. They write the family member’s names on ornaments and invite others to do the same. I lost my last two aunts in the last year. A dear friend of mine lost her two sons in a car crash 5 years ago and the lawsuit has (thankfully) just recently come to an end. Her son and his wife (who also died in the crash) were good friends of mine. Out of that disaster I “got” his mom who’s a very inspiring person, a fine artist, and a kind and vibrant soul who’s lived an adventurous life. I love her very much. My friend Lois always misses her mom and then there’s my brother about whom I have intensely mixed feelings but he’s still my bro. I decided to make a star and write their names on the points.

The dogs and I got in the car, drove the star down to the tree and then we went for a walk at the slough. Because Dusty is somewhat stove up, we couldn’t go far so we went to the place where I run into the Icky Man. He wasn’t there. We walked fast because I expected him to show up any time, but we were lucky. As we were driving away from the spot — already on the road — his truck passed us. Perfect timing and a great Christmas present since Dusty and Bear really had a lot of messages to read and leave. 

“I’m happy, Martha.”
“I’m glad, Dusty T. <3”

A Painless Hike and a Kind of Prayer

Thinking back over the past several months, all the kindness that’s come my way, finding the best possible doctor, having a hospital stay that was comforting and healing with wonderful, caring nurses, being surrounded by friends, and cared for in the most intimate ways by a friend who was willing to give up ten days of her life to see that I was ready to be on my own, finding out that shopping with a friend is fun, having a friend fix me food that might make me want to eat something, being joined in walks in my hood by people I like, knowing that my dogs weren’t just being cared for but actually LOVED, well — the list is way, way, way too long.

I’m not a church person. I don’t think God is in a building — well, he is, but not only — and at the end of this day I looked at Dusty and Bear and thought, “I have to say thank you somehow for this miraculous moment of my life, but what?” Of course, they had the answer.

So out we went. I walked the entire mile loop — it took 45 minutes but that’s fine. I was there expressing and feeling gratitude plus it was my first walk on uneven ground, though very familiar ground. The wind blew, it was dinner time so no one was out there and Dusty was free, the dogs walked carefully and slowly beside me, the light was beautiful, meadowlarks sang, a redtail hawk swooped. I saw that the the wild iris HAD bloomed there after all and I was happy, even though I missed them. I love that nature is going to do its thing whether I’m there to see it or not. I thought for a moment about how inconsistent my parents were and realized one of the reasons I grew to love nature so much is that it is not inconsistent. It can surprise you, but the reason behind it will make perfect scientific sense and can be understood. It’s not just drunk or in a bad mood.

About 3/4 of the way, I began to feel tired and we went more slowly. Bear pulled a little but a gentle “No” brought her back to my side. It was paradise and in the midst of it I realized that there is no way I will ever be able to express my gratitude, but these months have changed me and not just the first pain-free “hike” I’ve had in years, but in other ways that I will learn as time goes by.

Tread Lightly

It’s a radiant day in the real west. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Bits of green are poking through the dead and brittle grass. The golf course has opened in spite of not being in the least ready. People are out and socializing with neighbors they haven’t seen in months. Winter — even this very open winter — is always a kind of cocoon here. People LOVE spring and summer (except me). OH well. At least last week we had a real snow and frost on the trees, and, all in all, I think, I’m kind of glad that winter never really materialized this year. It was probably for the best, except for nature and farmers and everything that really matters…

California. When I moved there from Colorado back in the 80s, I was horrified that trails in (frequently used) wilderness areas were fenced. I didn’t understand it, but after a while I realized that hordes of people have a deliterious impact on nature. When I worked for an urban wilderness park, I was always recruiting people for trail maintenance which often meant fencing. Friendly fencing, but still obstacles to keep people on maintained trails. I went 180 degrees.

Because of the mild winter, my little walking place — Shriver/Wright Wild Life Area — has seen so much foot traffic that it looks like an overused vacant lot. I don’t even want to go there and add my 10 feet to the impact. People are cutting trails, trampling on plants (and they probably? might?) not even know what they’re trampling on (wild iris!). And bicycles — I love mountain bikes. I have one, but they are very, very bad for the ground and really should stay on trails. BUT someone is ridiing a mountain bike out there wherever, and it’s damaging the surface just as if the bike were a tank.

Just because there are hundreds of square miles of undeveloped land here in the San Luis Valley, doesn’t mean that one small place (a 1 mile loop trail) isn’t vulnerable. It’s vulnerable. VERY vulnerable. I think it should be closed for spring and maybe people need to get in there and put up signs like, “Stay on designated trails, please!” “Cutting trails causes erosion.” “Cutting trails destroys plan life.” “Give animals their space. Stay on human trails.”

But maybe summer — which is mosquito filled and nasty — will do the job.

Power Outage

Ever since the Cedar Fire of 2003, if my power goes out, I feel anxious. Late yesterday afternoon, some guys cutting branches away from power lines cut a line. My power company texted me what I already knew. I didn’t want to wait for the power to come on (and I would; I think anyone who’s been without power for a week or more because of a disaster would…). It wasn’t MY thorny problem. I decided to run away, so I leashed Dusty and Bear and headed to the slough along the Rio Grande.

It had spit rain earlier and the clouds had moved swiftly east. That made some beautiful light. The featured photo is the Sangre de Cristos.



Looking southeast



Looking northeast toward the Sangre de Cristos


Maybe you had to be there 🙂


Faint rainbow in the virga


When I got home, the power was back on, in my end of town anyway.