Just Another Day in Paradise

My life has — even in simple things — a tendency to be intense. I don’t know why, but it’s always been that way. This morning I went to City Market to pick up my groceries. As I drove into the area where I park, I noticed something in the outside garden area that shouldn’t be here.

Bougainvillea. Bougainvillea is Southern California and Italy, not this high desert place with the -30F temps in winter, cowboys, all of it that it is. Bougainvillea is San Diego, my garden in the hood, and beautiful, wild, immense and imported plant that gives a home to stray cats, rats, mice and sometime possums. It doesn’t belong in Alamosa, Colorado. My eyes filled with tears.

Sometimes I’m homesick for California. Ok, I admit it. You don’t live somewhere 30 years without parts of your heart and soul taking root. And, it was 8 years ago today (thanks FB memories) that the deal closed on a house I never wanted to leave in a place where I was happy. Add to that, I was leaving a profession I loved. It was ending piled on ending. I had 48 hours to get out. I put a good face on it, but inside I was very sad and very scared. All that made it bearable was necessity and the knowledge that it would be very beautiful where I would live — though I didn’t know where that would be. I knew it would be the San Luis Valley, nothing more.

At City Market I wasn’t sure it WAS bougainvillea. It seemed too strange. I got out of my car and went to see, blinking back tears.

Of course, I’d seen too much of that plant NOT to know it when I see it.

Destinee came out with my groceries. I was standing behind my car, looking over at the plant, thinking about adoption and deciding against it. I was wearing a t-shirt with a big snowflake on the front — kind of a wearable prayer flag. A lot of my shirts have snowflakes on them.

“What are you doing, you little snowflake?” she said. “It’s kind of early for that!” I didn’t remind her that 2 years ago it snowed on September 9.

“See that flower?” I pointed.

“Yeah.”

“It shouldn’t be here.” I told her what I already told you.

“I’m going to be working out here one or two days. What can you tell me?” I told her that the colorful part isn’t the flower, and that the plants needed lots of sun but not a lot of water. She then shared about problems she’d had with a manager inside. We agreed that it doesn’t make sense for Boss A to make it hard on Employee B just because Boss A “paid their dues” so the young person should have to pay theirs. The conversation (mine) went to Goethe when I noticed Destinee’s earrings said, “Virgo.”

“You were born in August? So was my favorite poet and writer. August 28. 18th century German guy.”

“German guy?”

“Yeah. I met him when I was 50 and I was all like, ‘Where have you been all my life?'”

“I’ll look him up. What did he write?”

I explained about Faust, how it was an old, old story and the standard version had Faust damned for eternity, but Goethe’s didn’t. That for Goethe’s idea of God it was cool that a human was curious and determined, and after all Faust went through, God redeemed him and the devil lost the bet. Destinee was totally into it.

“I told you I’m going to back to school,” she said.

“Yep. I’ve been happy about that all week.”

“Well, when I do, will you help me with my English papers?”

“I would be honored,” I said. And I will be.

The Whole World under My Feet

Predictions are for yet another La Niña winter, dry, again, instead of wet. I really, really, really hope the scientists are wrong because while my friends were here, and I discovered Elephant Rocks, I also discovered (at Elephant Rocks) a spot to Langlauf where I would not worry about going by myself.

I was thinking about the San Luis Valley (“You DO that, Martha?”) last night and I realized I found a place to live that comprises all the places I’ve lived and/or loved except the PRC. Elephant Rocks completed the assemblage. It is Mission Trails Regional Park. As we drove slowly along the loop trail, the rock formations pulled on my heart strings, “THIS, Martha, THIS!” Along the river is a tiny pocket of Nebraska forest along the Missouri. The valley itself seems to hold up a lost shard of the vast sky of South Central Montana. There’s even a little bit of beach out there in the Sand Dunes, and all of it is in Colorado, my old home. To make it even better, there are things that have been completely new that I’ve gotten to meet and learn about in these 8 years.

I did a little research into these amazing rocks and learned this: “The Elephant Rocks managed by the San Luis Valley Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), located in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado near Penitente Canyon Recreation Area. The Elephant Rocks area is a unique area that was once habitat for the Columbian mammoths that lived in the San Luis Valley during the Pleistocene Epoch. The giants once walked here. Local legend has it that these giant creatures left their mark on the rocks, leaving ‘rubs’ smooth surfaces 8-10 feet above the average man.”

I can’t think of much that is cooler than Langlauf in a mammoth world. Thanks to Southern California, my standards for snow are pretty low.

Elephant Rock

The significant features of the area are attributed the largest pyroclastic eruption in the world. The eroded ash forms the elephant- shaped boulders. It is part of the San Juan volcanic field and the La Garita caldera. The rocks resulting from this eruption were unusually uniform in composition. This would imply that the ash cooled as a single unit. This unit is known as the Fish Canyon Tuff. Many sections of the Fish Canyon Tuff are over 4,000 feet thick.

The area at Elephant Rocks is mainly grassland with scattered massive boulders laid out. It is also habitat to the rock loving Neoparrya (a relative of carrots) which flourishes in igneous outcrops or sedimentary rocks from volcanic eruptions. The Neoparrya is native to the San Luis Valley and is known to exist only here and in the Wet Mountain Valley regions. The Fish Canyon Tuff makes up the Elephant Rocks and gradually erodes over time to provide the proper soil chemistry and growth conditions in order for this plant to thrive. The recreation area is 378 acres with an elevation of 7,900 feet managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The area has cold temperatures and very little precipitation. (Source)

Photo: Lois Maxwell

Circus Parvus*

The San Luis Valley Potato Festival was smaller this year than I’ve seen it. I wonder what it was like in 2021? I didn’t go. Thinking about it, a couple of things struck me. One, the little “circus” which was really a few acrobats and tumblers, a couple of trapeze like things (not exactly trapezes…). The acrobats wore bright colored circus clothes; the tumblers wore comfy street clothes. They had a large tumbling mat. There were three rows of folding chairs, and kids filled the front row. They were enraptured, especially when the tumblers did charades.

Those guys would have been in any medieval fair, walking up and down to get an audience, “Jongling” and talking to people — and one girl was doing just that.

Last night as I drifted off to sleep I thought, “The Potato Festival was an echo of the oldest fair in the world, the immortal fair, a medieval fair, not a glitzy Renfair, but the real thing, a village fair.” Cottage business, local organizations with pamphlets, clubs raising money to keep going and to help others. I bought water from the Rainbow Girls. I took a free kids’ book (free meaning no payment, not liberate) from an earnest, beautiful young woman involved with Head Start in one of the small towns in the middle of the farms and ranches, surrounded by fields of potatoes, the soil that yields the tuber that drew us all to the park in Monte Vista two blocks from my house. We chatted about the wonder of being bilingual.

One person I haven’t seen since Covid is farmer and Metal Sculptor, John Patterson, whose work is beautiful, humorous, whimsical and engaging. He designed and built the new bike racks that are now all over downtown Monte Vista. It was nice to catch up a little. We talked about the museum in Del Norte and I let him know there will be a holiday show. Here’s a photo of some of his extremely cool work and a couple of enchanted children.

Photo: John Patterson on Facebook

The fair — historically and now — was a bonding activity bringing people to one place from all over in a kind of reunion. It was that for me, definitely, not only with my own dear friends visiting, but encounters with people as we wandered the vendor booths. I understood it more deeply this past weekend, having had Covid and still regaining “self” from lingering problems of Long Covid. My progress has been steady but slow. It was scary there for a while when I didn’t understand what was going on, before I understood that no one could understand what was going on.

In its small size, its comparative lameness, in its optimism and determination — the Potato Festival was me, it was all of us.

Photos by Lois Maxwell. “Parvus” is Latin for small. I had to look it up, but since the Potato Festival was definitely NOT Circus Magnus…

Potato Festival and THEN…

Yesterday was a hugely busy day for three people who pretty much got no sleep the night before. Morning took us to the San Luis Valley Potato Festival of Song and Story. It was fun. For me the amazing thing was being recognized by people who’d come to hear me read at various times over the last few years. That’s something I never expected. We talked to lots of people. Lois had her sweet dog, Satchmo, so we got to experience dog meetings as well. Lois and Adriano celebrated with free baked potatoes but I don’t really like potatoes so I saved them seats under the cover of the picnic area.

After that, we came home and I think we took naps. I did, anyway, then we headed out again for scenic (it actually is) Del Norte. From there we took a short road trip north a few miles to Elephant Rocks. I hadn’t been there but had long wanted to go. I want to go back when it’s cold, so we made plans for December. Most of the Elephant Rock photos are courtesy of Lois.

Then we went to Three Barrels Brewery and Pizza and had, uh, pizza. On the way home we saw an amazing phenomenon: a Lenticular Cloud building above a thunderhead. It was the meeting of fall and summer.

Back at home, Lois and I leashed dogs (I got Bear) and we headed out to the Refuge for a sunset walk and it was spectacular. Pictures are worth a thousand words and in this case, maybe more, even, than that.

THEN on the way home from the Refuge, Lois spied a herd of elk grazing in the pasture, another sign of fall.

Teddy had a challenge adjusting to Satchmo whom he really didn’t know, and spent the early interval attempting to herd Satchmo somewhere. But Teddy remembered Frosty well from staying at his house last year, and they were glad to see each other. It didn’t take long for them all to be pals. Here they are, a lot like the Three Stooges… Hmmm…

Teddy, Satchmo and Frosty. Teddy is winking. No one knows why.

My friend Adriano really loves Teddy, so Teddy got all the pats, snuggles and kissing opportunity he could ever want. Satchmo is a very low-key, friendly, easy-going, perceptive, sweet dog. One of the coolest things he ever did was, long ago, 2014, when Lily, Dusty, Mindy and I were visiting Lois, blind and deaf Lily got trapped under a patio chair and couldn’t find her way out. Satchmo came and got me. After that he stayed near Lily during our stay. And Frosty? One of the sweetest dogs ever to walk the planet.

Bear was pretty over it yesterday and spent a lot of time deep in her masterpiece (hole).

“I’m over it.”

But, after she got her walk last evening, she was much more social. I enjoyed having my friends here very, very, very much 🙂

Trivia (?) The San Luis Valley expects to harvest 1.6 billion pounds of potatoes this year. Mexico is now a big market for our potatoes, bigger than Idaho, because we’re a LOT closer to Mexico than is Idaho.

I’m an Idiot but My Work Isn’t — News on the “Famous” Artist Front

Last evening I was meandering through my Facebook page and noticed a posting from the Creede Arts Council — Creede being a mountain town about 50 miles away — about an artist who’s on this year’s studio tour. I checked out her page and saw she has a gallery. I’m looking for someone else to store my paintings (ha ha). I immediately looked at the webpage but in my particular way I didn’t read for the information. I wanted to see the stuff they had already, to see if my stuff would fit or was as good. After I did that I sent a query email which some photos of paintings, all the while assuming they were in the nearby town of Creede. Later I read the webpage with less excitement and saw they are in the town of Pagosa Springs which is over the mountain. That’s OK, but I felt like an idiot because I’d mentioned I had been in Creede many times and hadn’t seen their gallery. OOOPS…😜 That explains a lot…

“OH well,” I said to Bear, the only “person” around. “Maybe my work will speak for itself.”

This morning I got this.

Good morning Martha,  my name is  Vickie, and I am the manager of TWO OLD CROWS. we are located in PAGOSA SPRINGS Co. not Creede. I would be happy to make an appointment to view your work your next visit to Pagosa. We have very limited wall space at this time and I would have to put you on a waiting list. If this is still of interest, please call to make an appointment after October 15, 2022.   Thank you for your interest, and we look forward to hearing from you. Vickie. 

I think that’s good news. Anyway, I’ll follow through. Who knows?

Avoiding the Swim of Things

Not a swimmer. OK I like swimming in the ocean but no pools, please. It’s OK once I’m in the water, but if I have to choose to go swimming or something else? I won’t go swimming. Yeah, I know how to swim and, as a kid my brother and I spent a lot of time in the public pool in Bellevue, Nebraska. We rode our bikes a couple miles to get there. The pool was on the edge of the forest and as summer days were muggy and hot, the pool was the best place.

My love of swimming in pools or anywhere else (except the ocean) died in the early 90s. (I wasn’t a kid. I was 42.)

In Switzerland, my friends took me to a water park named Alpamare near Zürich. It had several water slides and different pools. It was fun until it wasn’t. I got on a slide, slid down, and, somewhere along the way hit my head and got a concussion. When I landed at the bottom I was unconscious and my face was under water. A nurse/guard there pulled me out and asked me the usual questions about my name, rank and serial number and I couldn’t answer. He concluded things were even worse than they were. He didn’t know I didn’t understand Swiss German. When my friends got to the bottom of the slide they looked for me and found me in the little “hospital” room off the slide area. They hurried in and things were straightened out, but after that I didn’t really like water, especially over my head. It’s funny how an experience like that tells us “No more!!” on a primal level. I’ve only recently put these pieces together to understand why I don’t want to go swimming.

I had the chance in Italy to take diving lessons and the thought terrified me. Kind of too bad though, honestly, it doesn’t put a big crimp in my life.

All around the rim of mountains are hot springs and hot springs pools, mostly on the opposite side of the valley from where I live. There is a wonderful place to swim here in the San Luis Valley known as The Pool. The views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains from this place (not obvious in these photos) are awe inspiring.

It’s a large, wonderful hot springs pool. The facility also has a place it calls “the Greenhouse” which is adults only. A narrow pool runs through it and “rehomed” potted tropical plants grow all around.

I have gone swimming at The Pool once, had a good time, and never went back. I don’t expect to go back, but who knows?

Another hot springs near the small mountain town of Crestone is very beautiful — Valley View Hot Springs. It’s a very special place for its history past and present, and its goals. It looks down over the valley. Incredible.


So what’s different about the ocean? I’ve swum in the ocean many many many times. I loved diving beneath the breakers and coming out on the other side to swim. Maybe it’s the buoyancy provided by salt water? Maybe it’s that there were no boundaries or walls? Maybe it was the joy of living water? Maybe because, in its way, it was like hiking because I could see animals below me and around me? Maybe it was that I would get a free ride back to shore on the waves? I don’t know, but I really loved it.

Surprised the Dogs

Woke up to a cool, cloudy day and two dogs looking at me like, “So, what’re the odds, Martha?”

I drank my coffee and wrote my blog and looked at them again. Bear, who usually goes outside in the mornings where she’s hard to catch even if her 80 pounds of furry perverseness WANTS to go for a walk, was hanging close. “Hmmmm.” I did the minimum of morning tasks, drank half my smoothie, put the rest in the fridge, closed the back door so Teddy wouldn’t get over-excited and run out to the garage and Bear wouldn’t think she was helping me by going out. Then, Mohammed’s Radio played my “anthem,” Kate Bush’ “Running Up that Hill,” which, for me, has NOTHING to do with a stupid (or maybe not stupid) TV show. That song means, “Go run up that hill,” or, these days, “Go walk that road.”

I have been listening to that song — and loving it — since 1985. I played it every single time — that means at least 4x/week — I was getting ready to take my dogs for a run — that means, well, it’s 2022 now… You do the math. Pretty soon ALL my dogs knew it meant “FREEDOM!!!” and not Braveheart freedom, but the real thing which was won by — right — Running Up that Hill.

As it happened, due to the new fame of that song, Kate Bush recently gave an interview explaining the meaning of the song. Yuck. I’m denying it. That song is about running up that hill. It’s NOT about how men and women would understand each other better if they could change places. Male/female relationships have their place, but the HILL!!!!

I leashed the dogs (who understand the song, too) and took them out to the car where they happily jumped in.

In the car, Mohammed’s Mobile Radio played Rocky Mountain High, and I thought, “I gotta’ find a way to put all the political shit of recent years behind me and fall back in love with this place. The valley itself didn’t do anything. It’s just here, being itself. I just have to do what the valley does.” I teared up a little since, you know, emotions, and because I would be a poorer person if I never saw an eagle fly, and I’ve watched more eagles here than I ever imagined in my life.

We parked, the dogs were on their semi-best behavior but, to quote Teddy “So much to smell! So much to piss on!” I didn’t restrain him much…

“Are we really here, Martha?”

There were egrets perched in a large willow grove in the middle of the near pond.

The egrets are barely visible white specks in the bush on the island…

A coot trailed a family of 3 babies. Huh? The queen of infanticide was raising 3? Must be a lot of food in that pond. The goose poop showed the effects of recent rains.

There was a breeze, the air stayed cool, but soon I was sweating, the lingering effects of the plague, I think.

I saw that “my” cows were in the pasture accompanied by their husband. Yay!

I haven’t “introduced” Teddy to them, and I wasn’t sure how he’d do but he was good. He sat when I told him. He didn’t get excited seeing them. He was curious, and would probably have loved to meet them, but, thankfully, he didn’t get excited or take any action in their direction. I was happy because when I’ve been out there with him in the past I hesitated about getting near them, especially if their handsome husband was in the field. They are fenced in their pasture, but I don’t think that fence — though barbed and taut — would hold the bull if he really had a mission.

Today was the closest the bull and I have been to each other, and he was wary, staring at me a long time. The three of us just stood quietly and an appropriate distance. I know the “girls” — his wives — are curious and “friendly,” but a bull is a bull even if he’s been “gentled.” We hung out until I got the message that as far as the bull was concerned we were A-ok and he went back to grazing. We turned around and went home.

Behind the horned cow is a calf you can barely see. When we appeared its mom (the horned cow) “told” him to get back there. She and her husband watched us intently. The cow in front and I have “met” several times and she didn’t care that we were there at all. They are perfect Herefords. His sperm is probably pretty pricey, if they sell it. The picture is zoomed in 🙂

I don’t know why, but love those cows. I like cattle in general, but these beautiful Herefords pull at my heart strings. I tell them, too. When Bessie is in the field (again, I named her, I don’t know her name or if she has one), she’s been so curious about Bear and me that she comes close to the fence walks along “with” us. I personally believe that, in a certain sense, animals can “read our minds” and I am sure they know that I love them.

Seeing these big ungulates — domestic and wild — makes my heart sing. Maybe it’s some prehistoric memory of how seeing them (not cows, other big mammals) would mean food if we were lucky enough in the hunt. Knowing you’re going to eat is never bad news.

It was good to be out. I was grateful for the clouds and cool and surprised there were no bugs. I have an angry looking deer fly bite on my back/shoulder from the last time I was out there. They are sneaky little bastards and can bite through a shirt. I think that bite is a small price to pay for having seen night hawks hunting that day. Maybe it was too cool for the deer flies to be prowling around, but some chomping critter was harassing the bull, poor guy. Maybe deer flies make do with humans but get to feast on big mammals and they were all, “Meh, human. Forget it. Here’s a cow. WAY tastier and less annoying.”

Tuesday Thoughts

Most of the people I knew in China had known hunger. It was such a close reality for China for all of its history that the friendly greeting wasn’t “Ni Hao?” (You good?) it was “Have you eaten?” Even in 1982 when things had improved since both the famine the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, meat was used as a spice far more often than as the central part of a meal.

The other day, driving down the highway toward my friend’s house, I saw two very tattered, very ragged, very dirty, homeless people walking along the road. Neither looked sad, so there’s that. I think often of the close call of 2020. If I had still be in California and working, I might very well have ended up homeless. It’s hard to say. I could have decided to sell the house (and prices were good) and come here, just like I did in 2014, but maybe I wouldn’t have had that chance. I don’t know. Maybe because I taught so many online classes I would have sheltered behind my laptop during the worst of the year. That Wheel of Fortune again.

We’re comparatively lucky in this country, or have been for quite a while now. We’re kind of weird and entitled. I think that’s a problem. We don’t have a “right” to half the stuff we claim to have a right to and we don’t have — some of us don’t have — respect for those things we all have a right to. Life. Even the avocet mom and dad yesterday in front of my car were fighting for that right for themselves and their chicks. I don’t know if I killed any of the chicks, and I am afraid I might have.

That whole event has made me consider my place in THAT place and awakened me to an obliviousness I was, uh, oblivious to. Somehow, in my mind, it had become a place that existed FOR me. Humans do that all the time. It is not there for me. I’m a trespasser.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

Not Braveheart

The conflation of two ideas that might not even be related has become — or was it always? — very common. My favorite (note heavy irony) is the conflation of guns with freedom. I don’t have a problem with guns or gun ownership in a normal sense. I’m a good shot with a 22 and slightly less accurate with a heavier caliber rifle, but good enough to feed my family, I think Bear and Teddy might be better hunters (possibly not). Evenso, I don’t think owning a gun would protect my freedom.

I’ve thought a lot about what that word — freedom — means and I honestly have no clue. I think it’s both personal and relative. To every individual freedom means something different (throughout the day?) and, in most cases, it’s largely intangible, so we’re going to own a gun to protect our intangible freedom (and, ostensibly, our property). And, once more, freedom’s opposite is communism, another abstract idea. OH well… Liberty, on the other hand, that’s something to sink one’s teeth into. It means something…

Our incumbent “representative” is running on that abstract word and guns. Her campaign website has been renamed, “LaurenforFreedom.com.” Meaningless, meaningless, but it will garner votes because none of the other candidates are running “for freedom.” Who doesn’t want freedom?

The other evening I watched a candidates’ forum with the five people who are on the primary ballot here in my part of Colorado. One of them, the current “congress” person, who uses the word “freedom” as if it were a meaningful word, had an engraving of a long rifle of some type on the wall behind her.

Lauren Boebert (R) (with gun), Don Coram (R) (who thinks abortion is birth control), Adam Frisch (D), Sol Sandoval (D) (who was told to take down her campaign sign and did), Alex Walker (D) (who thinks old people have ruined this country…sigh. Your turn is coming, sonny boy)

Many people watching objected, calling it “campaign material,” but the League of Women Voters said it was their policy not to object to the decor of a candidate’s home. The objections rose saying, “Yeah, but she campaigns on gun rights.” The League ignored all the complaints and there it was. The “representative” didn’t say much, though she talked a lot, and some of what she said was inaccurate.

I’ve studied her appearance whenever her egregious image passes my computer screen, and I see there another example of conflation. As our news has drifted further from information and closer to entertainment, the attire of female anchors has changed, too, especially on Fox. I don’t have anything against attractive, sexy women, but when it comes to the news the important stuff is the validity of their research and what they say. But viewers now expect to see a hot babe behind the mike and conflate that with the information they seek; with credibility — just like back in the day a news anchor had to be a man to be believed. So here’s my “representative” using her “sexiness” (ew) to push her agenda. People are conditioned to recognize in her tight jeans, high heels, long hair, make up and short, skin-tight, shoulder-less dresses someone they recognize as an authority — because that’s what they see on TV?

The crossed out one is from the movie Bombshell.

Just so you know, I loved high heels, pencil skirts, etc. back in the day. It’s not the clothes themselves; it’s the image. The OTHER female running for office is a different kind of young woman, but lately she’s “upped” her appearance game going in the sexiness direction. She’s an awesome young woman with a brain, viable policies and a humane philosophy.

I don’t think we humans can avoid conflating things. We are pattern-seeking beings who would like to simplify our environment, still it can be dangerous and creepy.

Home on the Range

I grew up with cowboy songs and while “coulee” and “draw” figure prominently in my favorite cowboy song, the word “gulch” is nowhere to be herd (ha ha ha I’m so funny). BUT the word shows up in titles to cowboy stories and songs, usually, “dry gulch” which is meant to evoke a dusty trail on the cattle drive north from Texas or maybe a bunch of outlaws hiding from the good guys, “I reckon they’re waiting down in that dry gulch. Be careful Lamont. I think they’re holding that eastern Dude hostage.”

Sadly, Lamont WASN’T careful and that explains how he became momentarily extinct back in the 19th century and Dude was dragged across the cactus flats for a good ten miles, not that good for HIM, of course. It’s an idiomatic use of “good.”(for disambiguation type “Lamont and Dude” in the search bar of this blog).

I never got all that interested in TV or movie westerns and I only read one Zane Grey novel, Wyoming, which, as it happens, has a protagonist with MY very name — Martha Ann. I thought that was pretty cool, but the story didn’t grab me. It was just a fiction dry gulch to me.

The “old west” was too close to fascinate me as a subject for fiction. At dinners of the extended family, I listened to stories of the “old west.” Maybe less old than the gold rush(es) but still pretty rough and woolly. I was interested in the settlers and REAL cowboys — like my uncles were when necessity put them out there working cattle. But other times they were working in wheat fields. Other times? I don’t even know. All work was gig work — seasonal labor. The family didn’t own any property to speak of. I’ve wondered sometimes who they might have been if it hadn’t been for WW II. WW II took one of my aunts to Washington state to work on ships. Another aunt became a nurse. Another aunt was already a teacher. It sent my mom to “normal school” and to the reservation to teach. My Aunt Martha went to DC to work for the OSS. It sent my uncles to war. Really, how DO you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

But… the nostalgia was passed down to me. I loved my family and I loved their stories, and, obviously, I love the Big Empty. In 2014 (as they would say) my “chips were down”, I gathered up my “winnings,” and came home to a world where men in cowboy hats drive trucks and there are more cows than people. I believe the heart carries within it images of home, and it might even be a place a person has never seen. The featured photo is one of my first photos of the Refuge. This is one of the first photos I took of the San Luis Valley near Monte Vista.


I sang this song for my 6th grade choir grade at the private school I attended in Omaha, Nebraska. My teacher, who’d been in Mitch Miller’s choir, stopped me before I could finish. “There’s more to music than cowboy songs.” Well, maybe, but it’s a beautiful song. This is a very un-fancy version.