A Walk with People!!??!!

Today (Tuesday) my friends wanted to go out to the Refuge with me for a walk. That almost never happens. Wow! No dogs, either. Just people…

This is truly THE quietest time of year out there. It’s the lull before the ponds are filled, the waterbirds return, and the people come to look at them. I love it, I love the silence and the solitude though a few hopeful crane tourists are already coming through to see if they get an early glimpse.

I pointed out muskrat nests and stuff and pretty soon my friends were each doing their things that they do. It struck me how we’ve been sharing outings — adventures — for 8 years and we know each other. It’s wonderful and we had a really good time. The beauty, the space, the silence all soothe people and before long they were standing there looking out at whatever it is we stand and look out at.

People walk differently than dogs, faster and with more consistency and this time of year my asthma is kind of a problem so I had some problems keeping up and the need to stop from time to time to control my breathing. I have a rescue inhaler but I don’t like to use it much. I will if I need rescue, but if I just need to stop it makes more sense just to stop. My friends are tolerant. The fact that I’m somewhat physically “less” doesn’t bother me any more. The way I see it it doesn’t matter; what matters is that I’m out there nearly every day in every kind of weather — even rain and Deer Flies, both of which I’m not crazy about. Thunderstorms are another thing. I’ve been known to retreat. Anyone would. It happens out there that even at my elevated stature of 5’1″ (154 cm) I might be the tallest thing around.

I felt very happy seeing that what I get at the Refuge, my friends were getting. After our walk I took them out to see “the tree” — a huge cottonwood we thought was dead but isn’t. I did a painting of it in 2020. Then I took them to see a new area the Refuge people have built up for the crane tours. Last year they planted sunflowers as a cover crop for the barley. It was beautiful and the dried sunflowers still stand over the barley which isn’t cut but is left for the cranes to fuel them on their long journey north.

A couple weeks ago I saw a beautiful white feather., but when I went back to pick it up, I didn’t find it. I thought the wind had caught it or? I found it today. It seems to be a tail feather from a Sandhill Crane though there are a couple of other less likely possibilities, one is a Snow Goose. They do pass through here from time to time, but not commonly.

Here’s a song by one of my favorite singers from the time I was a kid and even still. I got to hear him a couple of times live in San Diego. Frankie Laine lived in San Diego and sometimes he would perform in some not-particularly-fancy place like the Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park which is right under the flight path for planes landing at Lindbergh Field.

This song still gives me chills.

Bag It

Yesterday I was out cutting branches and baby elm trees out of the lilac hedge. It was a pretty good project for a warm February day and a lot easier than doing it in summer. I have a couple of elms in that hedge I need to hire someone to demolish, but the way I see it, the more of that I do the less I have to pay for. I’m cheap labor, not good, but definitely cheap. A lilac branch had extended into the alley, and I could imagine the silent curses (or not so silent) of my neighbors as they drove past. But the fewer irksome frustrations for those around me, the better my life is.

Norris Medina, who delivers stuff to my house in his UPS truck — and who single-handedly, basically, brought all the furniture from wherever to me when I moved here and didn’t have anything (we joked about it a lot back then) — and I were talking about how the world has changed since 2019. We both think that people are meaner. I hated to think of what that meant to HIM because he has to go to all kinds of houses every day. Later I thought about Tim, my sagacious plumber and our conversations about kindness. I put those two conversations together and realized that behind them both are experiences with mean people. And that they both comment? They must — as I do — find the meanness a change. Maybe it’s also a little strange that I have philosophical conversations with my plumber and UPS guy, but there it is.

In my Facebook memories this morning was a description of a day in 2019, just an ordinary day except that there was snow on the golf course, and I was skiing. The kids up the alley had just moved in, and I was just getting to know them. The little boy was in the yard waiting for Bear and me. We talked for a few minutes, Bear jumped up on the fence to get petted and was taller than the little boy. We made a date to say “Hi!” the next day.

That was it. Nothing strange or intense or challenging, just unremitting sweetness and snow. I keep wondering, “Is the change ME???” but when others talk to me about it I see it isn’t JUST me, though certainly I have changed. For me the change happened on January 6 2021 and the continuation of that event hasn’t helped at all. That day broke me.

Norris said it well the other day when he said, “Oh, yeah, politics. I vote and everything, and I know my vote counts, but none of them really represent me.” It’s true. The big issues in my part of the world include the plague of tumbleweeds at the cemetery and the successes of local high school students. There are more serious things, too. Drugs remain a problem (but I saw worse in San Diego) and poverty. The person who is alleged to represent us in Washington, DOESN’T represent us. I have only once heard her mention anything that directly relates to our lives but OH WELL.

We talked about the new law in Colorado that we have to pay for plastic bags at the stores. He was (as many around here are) outraged, and I just said, “Yeah, well, it’s a pain in the ass, but we’ll get used to it.”

“Why should we save the whales? We don’t have whales in Colorado.”

I answered that if he’d seen the trash on the beach as I have had he might feel differently. He made the connection from that to our outrageous landfill and an argument was made. We kept talking about the environment and he told me how incredibly careful and frugal his dad had been with everything. The upshot? We started out disagreeing and ended up agreeing. And to get there? I got to hear amazing stories about life in one of the San Luis Valley’s most remote and beautiful towns back when Norris was a kid (70s). He described a life that sounded like my mom’s in the 30’s. He’s from San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, a place I’d have chosen to live if I’d seen it before I saw Monte Vista. It’s up against the Sangre de Cristo mountains, a smaller town than Monte Vista, very Hispanic and very beautiful. I loved his stories. My California stories and his San Luis Valley stories gave each of us more context for understanding not just each other, but the world.

“How do big families in California deal with their groceries?”

“Some people put boxes in the back of their car.”

“My daughter has a couple milk crates in her truck now.”

“Yeah. That’s what we did. We got used to it.”

As we talked, I thought about the first plastic grocery bag I ever saw. It was in 1982 in the People’s Republic of China. Our university had connections with a factory unit in a village that was making these bags. I thought they were strange. In China we went everywhere with String — oops, I see here they’re called NET bags — because that’s what we carried stuff in. Everyone did. I saw some pretty strange stuff going to and fro in net bags — even a kitten! And, of course, most markets were “wet markets,” which meant people might take home live animals to kill and eat for dinner. It’s amazing what a small net bag will hold, too. AND they can be stashed in the pocket of your jeans. Oh brave new world. All of Europe — well the two countries I know, anyway, people carry net bags. Some fancy ones, too. I’ve thought for a long time that it’s strange that the US hasn’t dumped plastic grocery bags altogether, but I’m as guilty as anyone of “Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death.” (title of my favorite Dead Kennedys album).

Kind of went off topic there, but it’s my blog and I guess I can do that if I want to. Anyway, the original point was that in our strange new world this kind of conversation — which, I think, is is an essential part of human life — seems to be a little more difficult to come by. I know I don’t wander around the neighborhood talking to my neighbors any more. We can’t regain our innocence; it’s gone. I don’t know… But like my plumber says, “If we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?” I’m going to keep trying…

and yet ANOTHER Snowy Walk with Bear

Very beautiful day yesterday. The snow fell off and on all day but only got as deep as my ankles. I shoveled the walks then sequestered Bear and headed to the Refuge.

The road was treacherous. I have consciously avoided winter roads since I moved here. It isn’t difficult since we have more sunny days than gray, and most winters have been dry. At first it felt a little sketchy. Bella is a jeep but she doesn’t have the best tires for snow/ice. I soon relaxed into the experience and enjoyed it.

It is a little strange to think that most of my winter driving experience was in Montana driving my aunts around the winter-slick roads in Billings in their cars. Front wheel drive and studded tires, but if the snow was deep? Everyone stayed home until the plows came out. As I drove, I felt strangely nostalgic for Billings’ winter roads and my bundled up aunts.

I always wondered WHY my aunts wanted me to drive. It had been DECADES since I’d driven on winter roads, but there I was. San Diego driver. I had learned to drive in those conditions so it wasn’t long before I was fine.

“You’re doing good, honey,” my Aunt Jo would say.

Before Bear and I left the Refuge yesterday, a very amazing snowplow came up the main road. It had a front blade, and pulled a heavy trailer that had another blade, this one pointing toward the side of the road. The plow system was immense and fun to watch. It gave us an easier ride home, though still slick.

Bear and I had, again, untrammeled snow and tracks — fox or coyote, but my money is on fox. The snow was soft and the tracks were a little filled. A male Northern Harrier passed low in front of me and then moved on.

Northern Harrier in the tree…


Bear had the time of her life investigating the mischief made by other animals since the last time we were there.

“Very interesting, Martha!”

The sky to the south was so dark that the shadows of the trees were on the “wrong” side. The storm came from the southwest. To the north the sky was bright with a band of clear turquoise on the horizon.

You can see the effects of the odd light in the photo below. I’m facing east. The sun was desperately trying to shine through dark clouds over my right shoulder. The tree’s shadows would — normally — point in the opposite direction. This can’t be painted. It’s a photo that needs words, a phenomenon maybe unique in my life.


In a place like the Refuge where there is nothing overtly dramatic to look at, a person who goes there often, like I do, is going to notice ambience and detail. It is really not the same place twice.

The day before yesterday I saw a beautiful, huge, pale tan feather. I wanted to pick it up, but as we were just starting out, I couldn’t. I planned to get it on the way back, but the wind and a couple passing cars had blown it away. I thought about that later. Moments of beauty are just like that feather or a harrier’s low, slow flight.

Meditation on Mountains

I read a grim story yesterday in the latest Outside Magazine, a climbing story from the 1970s. As I read, I knew I’d heard the story before, but maybe it didn’t penetrate? Or I forgot? Or? The simplistic upshot is that it was a problem between two warring perceptions of a mountain and someone died. There was the, “Oh, she died doing what she loved!” and her father — Willi Unseold — who was on the climb, “gave” her body to the mountain, Nanda Devi, for which she had been named. One of the team members had a pragmatic attitude toward climbing; the young woman and her father a perspective that was more romantic. All of them were very good climbers. It is a haunting story, and I’m not sure why Outside decided to tell it again now.

I get the idea of extreme mountaineering requiring the acceptance of the possibility of death on the mountain. That’s obvious to me and it would have to be OK with the climber, but I don’t think that means being careless, profligate, ruthless with the self and the self’s well-being. The Outside Magazine article discusses the philosophical differences between team-member John Roskelly and the Unsoelds. John Roskelly (still alive, BTW, which says something positive about his philosophy), summited on that climb. His approach was much less mystical and romantic.

An old love of mine — a mountaineer — said to me after he came back from Annapurna II, “Getting back down is the difficult and important part.”

Yep. I had that lesson myself years later on Garnet Peak in the Friendly Mountains. I had climbed it at least 50 times, sort of “We have a couple hours. Let’s climb Garnet Peak.” It’s not a long hike — there are two routes — though we liked the long route along the PCT with its dramatic overlooks. The trail to the top is very steep, rocky, and gravely.

I’d gone up with my friend Kris. My right hip was very very very bad — bone on bone, as yet no X-ray to inform me. Just a vague (mis)diagnosis of piriformis syndrome by my “doctor.” Going up wasn’t so bad, but coming down? A descent that was normally 30 minutes — or fewer if I were running — took me 2 hours, the last hour in the dark and in terrible pain. I had climbed that mountain so many times before, but never contending with THAT adversary. I still didn’t “get” it, exactly WHAT was wrong with me, how serious it was, and what it would take to “recover.”

It doesn’t take a 900 million meter peak on the roof of the world to learn that lesson. The height — and danger — of a mountain depends partly on one’s physical ability.

Three years later I climbed the mountain again. I had a prosthetic hip. No problem, but it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t the same. The mountain isn’t just the mountain. I was the mountain, too. It was the intersection between me and a trail, and it didn’t matter that I knew the trail well. I had known the trail well as ONE person, but now I was someone else.

Willi Unseold was a legendary climber, Peace Corps leader, and proponent of wilderness education who did many amazing things with his life. He was kind of a hero to me when I was in high school, my friends (and I) all dreamed of climbing, and girls weren’t even allowed to do Outward Bound. There were two women on the fatal climb up Nanda Devi. Including women on the expedition was a philosophical and logistical problem for some of the climbers. One of the women got sick and went back down. The other got sick, didn’t take it seriously, shilly-shallied, DIDN’T go back down — and died.

I can see why someone would fall in love with the beauty of a mountain and name their daughter for the mountain, but Nanda Devi is also the name of a very important — and complex — goddess. I thought about the Rockies and their names. Kind of funny to imagine some mountain-drunk dad naming his little girl “Sneffels,” or “Pikes Peak.” Some of the mountains around here have plausible girl names — Silver — which was Bear’s original name, or Windy — already a girl’s name in one of the Association’s lesser hits.

Blanca is already a girl’s name in Spanish. It’s is a sacred mountain for the Navajo… “Blanca Peak is known to the Navajo people as the Sacred Mountain of the East: Sisnaajiní (or Tsisnaasjiní), the Dawn or White Shell Mountain. The mountain is considered to be the eastern boundary of the Dinetah, the traditional Navajo homeland. It is associated with the color white, and is said to be covered in daylight and dawn and fastened to the ground with lightning. It is gendered male.”

Mt. Blanca from the floor of the San Luis Valley

There’s a Himalayan Mountain people are forbidden from climbing. I know this from a book — I think The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. As time passed and I taught the world at the international school, a Nepali climbing guide showed up to learn English. How that happened I don’t know, but there he was. I knew about the sacred mountain, Machapuchare, and that it is forbidden to humans to touch the summit. At the time I had a panorama of some of these mountains on the wall in my house. He was surprised I knew this, and I think it made him feel slightly less alien in the midst of the Japanese and European classmates. The mountain is very beautiful and believed to be the home of the god Shiva. There’s a rumor that it has been summited but who knows…

What makes a mountain sacred? I thought about that as I read the article yesterday. The “friendly mountains”– named that by an Austrian friend who came to visit some time back and who went hiking with me and the dogs — of San Diego County were also sacred to the local Indians, but differently sacred. They were not distant, unreachable temples. They really ARE the friendly mountains and they gave the California Coastal Indians everything — acorns, game, shelter, protection from heat in summer. Water, too. The sources of the San Diego River and the Sweetwater River are in the Laguna Mountains and the Cuyamaca Mountains where it snows. The lower mountains nearer the coast (Mission Trails Regional Park) gave them all this while protecting them from the cold of winter. The Kumeyaay wandered from the sea to the desert and back again, a yearly traverse over the friendly mountains. EVERYTHING is there. It’s a giant “supermarket” of nature.

Garnet Peak in the (in shadow) Laguna Mountains San Diego County, CA looking down on the Anza Borrego Desert.

We’re having the same kind of winter here in the San Luis Valley we had last year; dry. But the mountains are scraping a LOT of moisture from the clouds, so the Rio Grande should be full this spring. Depending on the snowpack for the rest of the winter — and the snowiest months are ahead — it could be OK for the farmers, though it won’t quell the drought.

The original Spanish settlers brought an irrigation system with them that was similar to that used by the Pueblo Indians, a very efficient system called the Acequia. I recently read a story by a descendant of one of these original Spanish immigrants explaining how that worked, and how the mountain near the town of San Luis was regarded as the provider of life because the snow melt that meandered down the side filled the Acequias and grew their crops. They didn’t exactly “worship” the mountain, but their reverence for it was very close to worship. Then? A private person bought the mountain (how can you buy a fucking mountain?) and closed it off to the people who had historically depended on it… In the last couple of years the mountain has “changed hands,” and people have the right to go on the mountain, again, a bit, anyway. When I’m out there, and the mountains are all around me, I can’t imagine owning one. If any”one” owns anyone, they own me. “Stay down there, little one,” they say, and I do. I figure they love me THAT much.

My physical limitations and the fact that I don’t have a pal to go into the mountains with have driven me to the wetlands. But it’s OK. I’m happy to LOOK at mountains. But there? I read a book not long ago — Mountains of the Mind by Robert Macfarlane — that argues that the beauty of mountains was “discovered” by the Romantics. I think that’s crap. But the reality that mountains are both our friends and our enemies? Inspiration and obstacle? Life-giver and life-taker? Yeah. That is beautifully illustrated in a Swiss film about the building of the Gotthard Tunnel. The title? Gotthard

In a very real way, mountains ARE givers of life, and I can see why they are construed as deities. Still, the story I read yesterday left me feeling kind of sick. I think in 1976 or so when I probably first heard/read it I would have been all good with Willi Unsoeld saying, “I gave her to the mountain.” I’m not now. There’s a lot on the Internet about this young woman and if you’re curious you can find it. Among other things, she had a great mom.


Caveat: I’m not a climber and certainly NOT a mountaineer. That direction pretty much closed to me for reasons such as finances, no climbing partner, work work work, finances, oh yeah, said that, and where I lived AND choices I made when I reached a turning point in my climbing life at 18 or so. I don’t think life is about pining over opportunities you can’t have but about living and enjoying those you do have.

Life as a Journalist (huh?)

Yesterday I interviewed a woman for the article I’m writing on the upcoming Crane Festival. It was very interesting. The dark side was technology. She has two VHS tapes of Crane Festivals from the antediluvian era. She brought a VCR to the Chamber of Commerce to hook up to their TV but, of course, the TV is too new to have RCA hookups. Today we are embarking on Plan B which involves my TV with connectors dating back to the transitional epoch between RCA and HDMI.

Life as a world-renowned journalist is pretty interesting and not always in the writing. The best part of the interview for me (so far) was talking to another person who gets excited about wildlife and birds. Not since I was hanging out with the rangers at Mission Trails Regional Park have I had that experience. She also had a really nice dog.

The video tapes are from 30 some years ago when the festival was still called the “Whooping Crane Festival.” I also learned yesterday what happened to the Whooping Cranes. As a species they are larger than Sandhill Cranes and the mountain ranges and the altitude made life — migration — here very hard for them. Then the problem of electric wires. Cranes get tangled in them often. Last summer I learned from a maintenance guy at the Refuge about 40 cranes who died from being tangled in power lines.

I don’t know how much of the dark side I want to put in a 1000 word article, but I will put some. One thing about being a future Pulitzer Prize winner is that the time invested in an article brings the hourly rate down to about a nickel. 😀

Both species were severely threatened back in the 80s, but have made a comeback thanks to people as it happens.

The word for today is “depauperate” which kind of breaks my brain because I think it should mean “enrich” but it means the opposite. He was a poor guy but thanks to his great work ethic he’s depauperated but noooooo….. English, that whore, takes a little bit from HERE and little bit from THERE and constructs meaning in a completely arbitrary fashion.

Anyway — it occurred to me last night that I’m an amateur naturalist at this point, just from going out there for most of my life and watching stuff, then reading about it. I guess I must be pretty obnoxious to real naturalists who’ve studied formally. It made me think of Goethe who had an axe to grind with the then new approach to science which was based on experimentation rather than observation. The experimenters had an axe to grind with HIM.

We humans have this “either/or” thing going on. Experimentation requires observation so it’s not really one or the other, but humans take sides. Goethe was an observer. His theory of plants and his theory of colors were both based on direct observation and neither theory is totally flawed. Darwin said he owed the Theory of Evolution to Goethe’s observations on the growth of plants. Early humans, too, survived better because they observed how nature worked. What made yesterday’s interview fun was getting her to share things she had seen. I think that will inspire people to attend the festival which is the whole point.

Thank goodness my dogs like tourists.

Mystery

Yesterday afternoon turned a little strange. Two days ago, as Bear and I were walking, a car approached us. I waved, the driver waved. The car went on and driver parked at a pull out. Bear and I kept going.

Today when Bear, Teddy and I were out, the car — a sedan — was still parked. I called the Refuge number and left a message. I felt a little lost about what to do. Anything could have happened. Worst case scenario, the driver killed herself. Best case scenario? A stolen car, a drug deal, someone picked her up, car abandoned. I knew one thing; I wasn’t going near the car.

Things like that happened a lot back when I lived in the hood in San Diego (City Heights) and before Mission Trails was a real park with rangers and people visiting. Back then, Mission Trails was a remote place frequented by Hells Angels, drug dealers, human coyotes bringing human contraband, prostitutes in mobile whorehouses. It was colorful, but a little sketchy…

Bear, Teddy and I walked our walk. On our return, I saw that someone was approaching the car, holding something shiny that caught the light. Weapon?

We got to Bella. I put the dogs inside, and I got in. From the drivers side rearview I could watch what happened. The person got into the car on the passenger side and was clearly examining it. Also, clearly, the car had been abandoned.

And don’t worry; we were not in any danger. We were far enough away. Visibility out there is at least 12 miles.

For a while on Monday, after I saw the sedan pull into the parking space, I watched to see who it might be. I’m always alert for dogs. I had to return that way. I saw a person there for a while, then I didn’t. I didn’t see the car drive away, but I thought I just missed it.

As Bear and I returned to Bella that day, I looked to see if anyone was in the parked sedan. It seemed the driver was taking a nap, with the seat reclined fully. It was strange but not THAT strange. I didn’t see a person, only the fully reclined seat.

I’ve been trying to figure it out. While Bear and I were there, the only other car to drive by was the family in the big SUV. I don’t think they picked up the driver of the sedan. If the person had taken off across country, I probably would have seen them.

This is the kind of thing that inspires mystery stories…

In other news (there really isn’t any) two things; I saw photos of the inside of an airport today and I realize that I don’t even know how to use the modern airport. Either I’d better get on a plane soon, or forget it. It’s not going to get any less futuristic. The last time I was in an airport was 2016. It made me think about how much my life has changed since 1) I moved here, 2) altered financial circumstances from when I was working, 3) Covid changed the world.

And, yesterday, Bear ran out of rawhide pencils. She figured (with her Bear Brain) that if she just went outside and came in ONE MORE TIME there would be an esculent rawhide pencil waiting for her. That’s dog cause and effect thinking.

The sky was great yesterday — in every direction there was something different going on. To the north, the sky was dark, dark, gray, flat clouds. To the east lenticular clouds in a blue sky built and fell apart. To the south — the featured photo. Small, snow laden clouds were pulled by the cold air about the San Juans where they dropped snow and moved on. That’s what’s going on in the photo. Above that cloud, a bright sun was shining.

Services at the Church of the Big Empty

It’s been a while since Bear and I have attended services at the Church of the Big Empty, not because we haven’t gone out there, but it just doesn’t always happen. I don’t know what factors conspire to make it happen, but I’m happy when they do. It seems to be most often a winter thing, so I’m thinking that possibly solitude and silence enter into it, and then there is the amazing sky, the clouds that behave unpredictably, giving warnings and telling the news. The clouds are the only messengers I know that accurately foretell the future. Today they were offering mixed signals — which is pretty much what the weather forecasters are offering, too.

Teddy has learned what it means “Not today, little guy. I just want to go out with Bear. You have to stay home.” He sits in front of the sofa in complete understanding. One thing about having two dogs — one of which was here first — it matters that once in a while the first dogs gets to be the ONLY dog, especially when the two dogs are such incredibly good friends as Bear and Teddy are.

And so… We strolled along, covering 1.08 miles in a little under an hour. Bear got to smell EVERYTHING her heart desired and I got to stare off into space as much as MY heart desired.

At one point I could almost see a little boy in a loin cloth, the clear water of the ancient lake just below his knees. He was looking intently into the water. He held a pointed stick raised and ready. I felt as if I knew him. Was him? This place has some kind of mysterious fascination for me. Sometimes — not always — when I’m out there, I feel it. I painted it long before I saw it in a painting titled, “Ancestral Memory.” What if?

Bear and I walked on until she stopped in front of me to lean for a while. It’s her thing. We resumed our walk, Bear next to me, curling her head around my left left. I rested my hand on her back and we went on like that for a while, until a smell captured her attention again.

Bear leaning…and walking

I love these walks. I love it when the magic happens, and I love that I can’t MAKE it happen. In these times I feel that every other thing in my world is completely irrelevant, “Passatempo“.

When we reached the car, I looked up to see a very large raptor — the Golden Eagle from last week? — cruising low over the grasslands. He didn’t come nearer, and above him I noticed a very interesting cloud — a cloud that had been turning lenticular, but was hit on the face by some air currents that made it resemble 1930s permanent waves. You can kind of see it in the photo below. The snowy mountain farthest left facing is Mt. Herard and at the base are the Great Sand Dunes.

The sky out there has so much going on in any single moment (unless there are no clouds). The sun breaking through here and there and there, and here lit the distant Sangres like spotlights in a Broadway show. Now this, now the Sand Dunes, now the Crestones. Now colors on Mt. Blanca. In another direction was this — lines as if the the wind were a comb. A little hard to see…

Most people drive that loop road at 30 mph. The speed limit is 15. I drive between 10 and 15 because there are things to see along the way. I thought about that as I drove, watching the sky and the space between earth and sky for raptors. It’s all there.

I thought again of how grateful I am to Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego, though the “empty” season there is summer. One December afternoon I stood on a ridge looking toward the north and winter’s lush green chaparral. I spoke to it, “God, why are you so beautiful?”

God in this case was just a word, but I got an answer. “So you would love me.”

I answered, “I do love you.”

IT answered, “No you don’t. You don’t come when it’s hot, my snakes are out, and nothing is green. You only come when everything is like this.”

Talk about the smack down. After that? I got the best lesson of my whole life; how to see a place that might, to superficial outward appearance be “nothing,” but which is, in fact, everything. In 1988, with my first real dog, Truffle, I began my apprenticeship in “How to take a walk.” No, it wasn’t my first walk or hike by any means, but it was the beginning of walking knowing I was not just on a trail going somewhere. I already WAS somewhere. My job was learning to BE there. Emerson wrote it in Nature:

Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years. In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,)  which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground,  — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. https://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/emerson/nature.html

Featured photo: the only snow Bear could reach — she said it was better than nothing, but it’s pretty hard. And I found on the gravel road a beautiful green stone, that made me think of Zorba the Greek. I picked it up and put it with the feathers in my car.


Morning’s Minion…

https://www.dpreview.com/forums/thread/3757410

Yesterday we had our first below 20F walk. No biggie. If there had been a sharp wind, that would have been a different matter, but mostly calm. The light, silence, the blue and gold of the world without snow, ringed by the snowy mountains? How does it get better? It can, which is a little mind-boggling. From the distance a large bird was soaring, and swooping, and hovering — not all raptors hover that way. What was it? It got closer and hovered again, “Spiritu Sanctu.” I loved it. He hunted, swooped, lifted, hovered and again then dashed off across the shallow, frozen pond and I lost sight.

He was a hawk I had not seen before; a rough-legged hawk not that it really matters, but I couldn’t figure out from his markings or color what he was. I got a little irked at myself for trying to pin a name on him, but I forgave myself saying, “You’re a human. That’s what you do. His function in your life is to expand your knowledge and watch in silent wonder. One doesn’t obviate the other.” I thought about that some more — animals do the same without words. They need to know what’s up there so they can make the all-important “kill or be killed” determination. I shrugged, accepted my humanity one more time and moved along so Bear could smell the side of the road which was the whole point of everything.

Earlier yesterday I was just kind of minding my own business when something struck me. The Crane Festival Committee has shared my story about John Patterson because it opens with a little history of the festival. I had written them thanking them and telling them about John’s death. The chairperson wrote back that a lot of people have asked about Cooper the Whooper and she was happy to share that bit of history. Suddenly it hit me, 2023 is the 40th anniversary of the Crane Festival. Would the magazine like a story telling the history of the Crane Festival and its future plans? I wrote the chairman of the festival to see if she would be up for working with me and wrote to the magazine querying the possibility. By the end of the day I had a story I can’t wait to write AND the chance to write for the Crane Festival newsletter.

Honestly I am not very connected to my town. Covid and politics made me psychically move away, but I am deeply tied to the Refuge and the animals who live there and the people who, one way or another, traverse it, coming from all over the world.

Still, my town is part of the story. I was thinking that the lead for the article might be something a clerk said at the local Safeway after I’d gone to my first Crane Festival. I was there with my friend Lois’ developmentally disabled son. We were buying his favorite — Sarah Lee Pound cake. The kid in front of the cash register said, “Did you go to the Crane Festival?”

Mark said, “Yeah.” Mark is EXTREMELY adept at finding birds hiding in trees. He’d seen the mated pair of great-horned owls in a cottonwood tree before the naturalist did.

The kid said, “Did you enjoy it?”

Mark said, “Yeah!” in his inimitable way. He’s a little speech limited, but it didn’t matter. His eyes and voice said what his words couldn’t.

The kid answered, his eyes shining, “We are proud of our Crane Festival.” Maybe that won’t be in the story, but it is the spirit I want to convey. Mark’s feeling of wonder and the cash register kid’s pride in his town.

Since then eight years have passed. For me, thousands of cranes, hours at the Refuge learning about the wetlands. I’m very happy that I get to learn more about it and write about it.

But…this project coincides with the annual book-reading marathon and judging event, so I’m looking at a busy couple of months. The books are already starting to come in. Usually I finish the books by March, but I have until May so, really, maybe there’s no problem.

The featured photo by Roy Priest, Rough-legged Hawk.

Gone to the Dogs

Another intense week draws to a close but I KNOW better than to complain about it. It could be a LOT more intense and at least as bad. Yesterday I did the 15 questions, one of which was What are you most looking forward to in 2023? I responded that I had no idea and that, “…it’s all big crapshoot.”

The author of the questions didn’t agree that it’s a crapshoot. That’s OK, but I look back on this year and I could NEVER have predicted anything that happened and NONE of it was anything I looked “forward” to. It seemed that things just happened, mostly randomly. As far as I recall the only thing I looked forward to in 2022 was the arrival of the Sandhill Cranes. I can say the same for 2023, but I’m in no hurry. Soon after they leave, the deer flies arrive.

The past couple of years have shaken us all up, I think. Certainly they’ve shaken me up to the point where I’m afraid even to write something on the calendar like it’s going to happen.

I ended up going to the little art show at the museum. Luckily, I got there after the “crowds” had gone. It was quiet, and I felt, pretty safe from the boogie monsters. The fiddle player was there with his dog, Lola. Lola was actually the draw — I saw a little video of Johnny playing the fiddle, and his dog walked through the frame. I’d heard about Lola at the fancy dinner, so I cleaned up (somewhat) and headed out. Lola is a great dog. It was worth the trip. Not just Lola, but the continual sweet surprise of this community. I will never, never get used to it.

Louise, the former director, used to clear out the museum exhibits and turn the museum into a gallery. This was fantastic. The museum has gallery lighting and big, white walls. Lyndsie chose not to do that. It doesn’t affect where I hang my paintings, but it makes the paintings look like just another museum exhibit and people can’t get close to them to look at them. People LIKE to do that. It’s funny, but I don’t really care. I care enough to notice, but not enough to object. In fact, I don’t object. That old saw about “choosing your fights”? Well I understand it now. That’s not my fight. I know Lyndsie had to advocate with the county on behalf of local artists. I don’t know everything that happened in the last days of Louise other than it wasn’t pretty. I love Louise and I like Lyndsie, but most of all, I appreciate the museum. That is my “job” description. “Hi, my name is Martha and I support the museum.” One thing I would like to do in 2023 is find something to do with my paintings. I don’t know what that would be, but I think it might involve driving. Ha ha…

Another Wonderful Day

Big day yesterday. After my internal conniption fit, I succeeded doing the brave thing. Then I took my four paintings to the museum to hang. As it happened, “my” nails were still in the walls from last year so it was easy, especially because Lyndsie did the the actual hanging, great since I couldn’t find the step ladder. The only bad thing was that when I was writing the titles of my works and prices on my business cards to hang beside the paintings, I wrote the same one 5 times. THAT is Covid brain. THAT is the brain, eye, hand thing that has made me scared to paint. When I saw what I was doing, I laughed, because it IS funny, but it wasn’t funny. It’s frightening. You think, “What if that’s me forever and it gets worse?” AND I’d already written those cards, but I wasn’t sure I had because I couldn’t find them. It happened that Lyndsie moved them, not far away. If I’d looked a little I’d have seen them, but I didn’t. True, I was a little adrenaline pumped from having done the brave, scary thing, but that wasn’t the WHOLE why for that bizarreness… Here are three of my paintings.


When I arrived I saw an old guy (older than me) coming my way. I said “Good morning,” he grunted. “Hmmm,” I thought, and shrugged. Later I learned his name is John. He had never shown his work before. He had about 15 vivid watercolors, pretty nice work, and he turned out to be a very nice guy. Turns out he lives at Homelake, the veterans home that was built here a long time ago for Civil War Veterans. He was so excited to show his work to me. So cool.

Then, another local artist came in — Laura Lunsford — a woman I have always wanted to know better. I walked up to her to say hi and she took my hand. She’s 85. She makes dolls — not normal dolls, but sculptures, really fun and beautiful sculptures with fabric. Other things, too. Her husband — who’s 92 — was bringing in boxes of her things. We ended up in a long conversation about everything — including China! Turns out a person (son?) in their family taught in China, also, married a Chinese woman, long story but that was fascinating. The thing about this place, we might not see people for a year because the “neighborhood” is so far flung. 40,000 people in an area as large as Connecticut…



Lyndsie, the new museum director, bought one of my paintings and left me minding the store while she went to the atm. I made her look at the painting (it was boxed) before I took off with her money. She loves it and was patient with me when I told her about what the paints were made of. Actually, more than patient. Her boyfriend loves rocks and knowing that actual lapis was used to paint Mt. Blanca? Wonderment. “I can’t wait to tell Justin!”

I finally took off for home. When I turned into the road leading to the bank, I saw the little old Hispanic guy who lives nearby was pushing a grocery cart, heading home with food for the week. He’s so small, the cart was nearly as tall as he was. I did a u-y and said, “You want a ride?” He loaded the groceries into the back and I brought him home. He lives in what can only be called the “projects” of Monte Vista — an old motel now apartments. I’ve given him a ride before. I like him. I like the way he talks to my dogs when he walks down my alley.

Finally home, I got Bear alone and we headed to the Big Empty. It was very beautiful — there are fronts hitting the San Juans that may or may not make it over that high-mountain rain shadow. It was wonderful seeing them attempting to crest the mountains and the various atmospheric forces working to keep that from happening. EVERYTHING is written in the skies of the San Luis Valley. The light was beautiful, December light, the low sun and the clouds. Bear got to smell, track and leave scent markings for an hour and I did what I do that might be the equivalent — though for me it’s less about leaving graffiti — pee, in Bear’s case — telling the world I was there than seeing what the world has to say to me.



What did it say? Well, of course, I took the brave thing out there with me to think about, to confer with the great mind. At the very least, doing anything LESS than the scary thing would be unkind. Simple. The light across the Big Empty was very clear about that.

In other news, apparently WP is now posting a daily prompt and calling it that, It was on my new post when I opened it this morning but I found it also on “home.” Well, hmmmmm… Five things I’m good at?

Typing. Listening. Endeavoring. Being outdoors. Hanging out with dogs.