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.

Kill Your Television

I guess I’m an optimist. I keep trying. That’s my definition of optimism which I didn’t fully realize until just now, sitting in front of my laptop with a full cup of coffee. No, not half-full, but really and truly full. Oops, I drank some… That means I HAD some coffee! Oh boy! 🙂

Yesterday I had a bizarre conversation with the mentally challenged kid who brought out my groceries. Mike is a horse of a different color. The first time we met he explained that he’s autistic. I’m no expert. I’ve taught some kids who explained themselves to me when they handed me the form explaining their learning disability, and I was married to a man who is/was definitely somewhere on the spectrum so that might very well be.

Our conversation yesterday showed me that he imbibes in a lot of right-wing news media. It was kind of scary and definitely surreal. First he blamed Californians for the fact that we now have to bring our own bags to the store. It’s a minor POA when your groceries are brought to your car, but I figure we’ll get used to it. I’m all for it, annoying though it is. I listened to him rant for a minute, and then I said, “Whoa, dude, what if I tell you I moved here from California?”

He looked at me like he couldn’t comprehend it. “Southern Californians are the worst.”

“What if I tell you I lived in San Diego? Yeah. I moved there 40 years ago. There was no work in Colorado.”

He nodded. He could accept that. A person with a different kind of mind and social register might have been embarrassed or said something face-saving (as I have heard, like “Well I wouldn’t have guessed!”), but not Mike.

He did change the subject and went off into gun laws, “The second amendment doesn’t have anything to do with hunting.” I looked at him and hoped he didn’t put cans of dog food on top of the bananas.

“OK, but there’s a big difference between a guy loading up a shotgun to hunt a duck and a guy with an AR-15 shooting into a crowd of people.”

He repeated his point and I said, “You can’t just take ONE sentence. The idea was a well-regulated militia.”

He answered that we need our guns to protect us from the government. I said, “The idea of that amendment was a well-regulated militia to protect our country from invasion by another country.”

Then he read me my receipt, telling me how many points I had for gas. I said, “Whoa, cool! I’d better go get gas, Mike. Take it easy.”

I haven’t transcribed the whole conversation. Intermingled with this was me saying, “I dunno, Mike. I think the important thing is that we’re kind to each other.” To which he replied, “Yes, because we’re all Americans and the people who come here from other countries for a better life. They’re American, too.”

My heart kind of broke. I felt a weird combination of sad and dirty driving home hoping to god that Mohammed’s radio would give me a little redemption in that 30 minute drive.

Later on, reading an article that explained that ChatGPT could take over certain jobs (including teaching), I thought of Mike. The way Mike’s mind seems to work is that it can take things in and repeat them, but it can’t fully process the significance of the things it’s taken in. Mike hasn’t had the chance for good schooling, either. I did a little more testing of ChatGPT and it doesn’t really “think.” What does it mean to think? I realized when a human thinks, we bring into the arena of thought all kinds of things including very subtle problem-solving that involves our emotions and situational awareness. Mike doesn’t have access to some of that.

I “talked” to ChatGPT about it becoming a teacher, and it said straight out, “I’d suck.” Not in those words because it tends to be wordy, but essentially that because it cannot form human connections it should not teach. It’s right, though of course it’s just repeating something it “learned.” I thought of Mike.

The first time I met Mike he explained his mental problems in detail mixed in with anger at Walmart for firing him. The second time I had an extended conversation with him he told me about his efforts to overcome a drinking problem and how he wanted to become self-sufficient. Yesterday it was politics.

I took my icky feelings out for a walk with Bear, the compassionate side of me thinking, “Damn, Mike is a poor guy.” The OTHER side, “Well, that was scary.” Bear had a good time and got to roll in snow. I had a good time because it was a nice day and hanging out with Bear is always good.

In other AI news , apparently ChatGPT is NO rocket scientist. We Asked the New AI to Do Some Simple Rocket Science, It Crashed and Burned. Reading that article I thought of my Christmas present to my two very bright step-grandkids, slide rules, a book about the tools that led to the moon landing, and a book about how to use a slide rule. The intelligence behind much in our world is human. If a human mind doesn’t get the chance to learn or has some intrinsic glitches, it’s just sad. So far, all ChatGPT can be is a mediocre mind with a lot of information. Information isn’t knowledge.

“Kill your Television” is a song by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin from the 1990s.

And Yet ANOTHER Walk With Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog

It’s alleged that the cranes will come earlier this year because of a lack of food down there at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. If they do, they’ll be here a while as there is no open ground at their next stop. In advance of the influx of Crane Tourists and the 40th Anniversary Crane Festival of Song and Story, Bear and I headed out for a walk yesterday even though the wind blowing from the southwest did not demur, but blasted like a MOFO. It was blowing so hard it seemed to suck my breath away, but probably it was just blowing at me so hard I couldn’t exhale. I’ve been out there in heavy winds before, but yesterday was a little different.

As I fought the wind, I thought “Chinook.” My friend in Wyoming could use a wind like that with her sheep out in deep snow. The situation is dire. Deep snow has covered the ground so the sheeps’ usual winter grazing is inaccessible and food — for the sheep, the dogs and the men caring for them — has had to be trucked in. The road is dangerous in winter and there have been numerous wrecks. You can read about it on her blog, Ladder Ranch.

“The warm wind kept blowing
…like a low chant from the land
or like the flurry of far wings…
lapping up the snow…
until the whole body of earth
lay brown and breathing
except for the topknots of buttes
and, away and away,
the high float of mountains…
Chinook…
Promise of Spring.”

A.B. Guthrie, Jr., from These Thousand Hills.

As happens, when we turned around with our backs to the wind, the day felt completely different. Bear found a patch of snow with some appealing scents to roll in. I studied the light changing on distant Mt. Herard. The wind was blowing snow over the Sand Dunes at the base of the mountain. I tried a photograph (featured photo), but the phone does not really have a powerful telephoto lens so it looks like a paint by number painting but you might get the idea.

As I photographed Mt. Herard I saw my reflection in my phone screen. I very very very seldom take selfies because I prefer the illusion to the reality of my appearance, but yesterday it was just too funny.

Bear is pretty well trained, but we’re doing a refresher course. Taking each dog out separately means Bear doesn’t get half a walk; she gets the whole thing to herself. I’m helping her understand that so she’s not in a rush to get to the scents. I don’t know if she understands the theory behind this, but it doesn’t matter. Theories might be for humans. For Bear the reality is we aren’t in a hurry any more because no over-enthusiastic, passionate, little land demon is pulling us. She’s getting it. I realized that yesterday when she stopped in front of me, leaned against me, and wouldn’t move. “OK Bear. We really do have all day.” I swear, she sighed.

I have had a couple of happy blips in my life as an artist. Last week a man in Tennessee did the research needed to find me. He’d bought notecards from my defunct Etsy shop two years ago and wanted more. Yesterday I learned that Colorado Central Magazine wants to run my painting of the Cranes on a Windy Day with the article instead of the photos I submitted from the festival’s media kit. 😊

Goggles…

An irony of snow is that it’s more difficult to see on a dim day than a bright day. You’d think the glare of the sun on the crystalline snow would be blinding, but it isn’t. What’s blinding is the flat light of a gray day. The other day out there with Bear, a gray day with falling snow and fog, I found it difficult to see where I was going — it wasn’t the fog; it was the light. After a while, my eyes adjusted to the absence of shadows and contrast.

I remembered having yellow ski goggles just for that because you could not see the lines on a flat, gray day. The yellow lenses brought the features back up into the world by allowing more light to reach your eyes making life a LOT safer. I dimly remember that in those ancient times we carried spare ski-goggle lenses with us and I even more dimly remember changing them and I remember people changing their lenses on the chairlift — not smart. You drop your goggles and then?

For me, the main job of goggles was making sure I didn’t lose my glasses. Sometime back then I got these GREAT glasses that had wires that wrapped around my ears. The glasses were pretty ugly, but really, priorities. They also had HUGE lenses. They were great, but times and fashion change…

Teddy Update

Took Teddy out for his second formal training walk with the Halti. He fought it at first, as expected, then forgot about it. One of the pitfalls of the Halti is finding a way to hook the leash to the Halti without it coming unfastened especially when it’s a small Halti — the hook is small compared to the hook on the leash. I was kind of anticipating it, and it did come unfastened. I’ve now attached them to each other with a locking carabiner. Teddy responded to “being free” by sitting down beside me. ❤️ It occurred to me that since he’s NEVER been unleashed he would wait to be leashed as he does at home.

We practiced all kinds of things and ultimately he walked at heel and it was as if he weren’t even there. I think he’s going to get it. It was a fun walk and I have to say I have never had a really fun walk with Teddy! In honor of all he’s learning, here’s his favorite song, not mine, but definitely Teddy’s!

Windbreak

On this cold windy day, the blowing snow
Fills our foot prints. Ice lace in the tire
Tracks. With her nose to the ground, my dog, slow,
Reads world history in the scents of prior
Animals. The wind stops and starts in blasts.
I tuck my chin more deeply into my scarf,
and feel glad for gloves. Snow showers fly fast
Past the mountains’ face; cold beauty, winter’s heart.
Tired of the fight, I turn back and see,
On the snowy road, shadows, light then dimmed,
Moving clouds. I stop in a suddenly
Different day with my back to the wind,
“This is beautiful,” I tell my dog who
Rolls in the snow and eats some rabbit poop.

Teddy and Fall Update

I might be a little achy today, but it’s essential to carpe the diem, so after lunch I put his regular halter on Teddy and then the head collar. He was VERY happy, sure we were going somewhere. I soon took it off. Then I took my time getting ready for a walk having learned he would sit still for me to adorn him in his new control apparatus. The regular halter connects to a “seat belt” in the car and Teddy recognizes it as his “coat.” “Put your coat on” means we’re going for a walk.

When he was a puppy, I tried the head collar, and he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. He did what a lot of dogs do; he pulled at it with his front legs, tried to rub it off on the ground, and generally STOPPED walking with it so I gave up. Today was completely different. He’s not a puppy anymore; he’s a mature dog of 4.

I made Bear stay home since this was going to be Teddy’s Day to Learn, Dammit! My goal was to take him to his favorite place to his favorite walk and show him nothing would change except he’d have a head collar. It was a good strategy. For a while, at first, he tried to get it off but all the good smells tempted him away from that and pretty soon he was just walking along as usual except that when he pulled, the head collar made him turn around and look at me. I’ve long understood that when Teddy is under the spell of “the wild” his mind empties of everything else.

When I took other dogs to puppy school in days of yore, “Watch me!” was the first command they learned. That’s what you want your dog to do; know you’re there and pay attention to your commands. Since I long ago quit commanding dogs around, I didn’t emphasize this with Teddy.

Bear didn’t need to be taught and Huskies don’t learn it. I also think living with Huskies made me a lazy dog owner. They are what they are and it’s pretty much take it or leave it, and, like Huskies, Bear is less mastered by her human than she cooperates with me. Teddy is another kind of dog completely and I haven’t had one like him in a long time — if ever. He’s incredibly smart. Dusty was the last “normal” (and he wasn’t normal) dog I have had. Bear and I did obedience school together, but after that, I used the head collar with her. I knew her by then and there was no reason for me to command her around. She responds much better to a soft voice saying, “Bear, walk with me,” than she did to “Bear, HEEL!” I now know that dogs of her type are just like that. Their whole mission in life is to keep everything calm so they can recognize the enemy if one appears.

Yesterday showed me I had to get on the ball with Teddy. By the time we’d gone 1/4 mile, Teddy got it. The thing about the head collar is that if he pulls too far ahead, the collar will turn his head back toward me. He loved that. It was as if everything that drew his attention away from me happened but then, to his surprise and joy, he found me again. Only one other dog in my experience reacted that way to the head collar; Persie the Sweet Pit Bull.

We had a wonderful walk; slow, because I’m achy, and my knees hurt, but peaceful and successful. A car came by and Teddy was no problem to control. I’m proud of my little dog for learning so quickly.



“…there’s bugger all down here on Earth!”

Colder still this morning in the Bark of Beyond, but not as cold as it COULD get and MIGHT get. -4 F/-15C and, so far, nothing going on and that’s OK with me.

I was thinking yesterday of how disoriented I still feel after the past 3 years. I feel like I live in a completely different place from the one in which I lived in 2020. Some of the people I knew — and liked! — are no longer living here, and I feel that. And I’m changed. Yesterday’s prompt was ‘recharge,’ and just seeing that word made me see what I would really like to experience, but I’m not a cell phone or computer battery. Having gotten Covid while I was in the midst of attempting re-entry didn’t help, and long covid was very strange, particularly the mental stuff. I know I’m not alone in this and I know that a lot of people have had much bigger struggles than I have had.

And the politics continues. I’d like a hiatus from elections for five years or so, just stop for a minute, but that’s not how things work. The media magnifies things that are often, in and of themselves, unimportant and everyone looks at a car wreck.

Overall, I’m dealing with it OK, but some mornings I wake up and wonder what the hell happened? I think I need to point that space heater into the studio and get to work because it’s really largely up to me what my world consists of.

That’s brilliant. The meaning of life is a question that humans debate. I LOVE that!!!

I don’t think this blog post is going to get better than that this morning, so onward and upward. I guess it’s time to thaw out my paints and bring the linseed oil into a warmer part of the house. After all, the temperature is up to 0.

Lyrics to “Galaxy Song”

Your Utopian ChatGPT Message for the Day

If you open a window on ChatGPT/OpenAI it says that it will not respond to inappropriate requests. I’ve been wondering WHAT it has been taught is an “inappropriate” request. Here you go.

Presumably a similar bot could be developed that didn’t have that kind of “moral center.” There’s also a grammatical error “..such requests include but not limited to” — it should be “are not limited…” But I don’t care. This is a case where content matters more. I can send it to the writing lab for tutoring…🤣

I told it that I feel it is too bad that some humans don’t have similar “programming.”

It said, “Yes, it is unfortunate that some individuals engage in inappropriate behavior. However, it is important to remember that people can learn and change their behavior through education, awareness and positive reinforcement. Encouraging empathy and compassion, fostering an inclusive and respectful environment, and promoting the importance of consent can help prevent inappropriate behavior. Additionally, holding individuals accountable for their actions and providing opportunities for them to learn and grow can also contribute to a more respectful and appropriate society.”

I could sure go for that. ❤️

Xin Nian Hao!

Not sure about this temptation thing — I guess it’s the feeling I get when I see a puppy of the same stamp as Bear, a puppy who needs a home. “Oh man…” I dunno… I was tempted to ask the Chatbot to write a post for me on this subject, but decided against it. It might be be better than my own writing and then where would I be? Besides, the dogs need their routine and I like writing my blog post every morning.

It made me think about the importance of our small daily rituals. Maybe they are the glue that hold us together in the random small and large tempests of our existence. Writing this blog is a ritual in my daily life. Like my cup of coffee, it’s insurance that, for at least 30 minutes or an hour, I will do something that is meaningful to me. I began it back when I was teaching a lot and had almost no time to myself.

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year, and it’s a year of the Rabbit. I happen to be a Rabbit, though I was born in 1952. I was born before the Lunar New Year changed. At midnight last night (Ontario Canada time) I got a message from my Chinese brother wishing me a Happy New Year. I thought about all the years between now and my Chinese New Year in 1983. I thought about the world in which my Chinese Brother and I were a part for a very short time and the bond that formed. He’d lived his whole life — through the Cultural Revolution — before he met me. And I had lived my whole life with its vicissitudes before I met him.

Our first meeting happened when a big taxi-van brought me and the Good X, two foot lockers and two backpacks — and skis! — to the door of our apartment building. Xiao Huang — a wiry, skinny young guy in a pair of khaki shorts, white shirt and plastic sandals — came out and hoisted our footlockers (one at a time, he wasn’t Superman) and carried them up three flights of stairs to our apartment. Neither the Good X nor I could have done that, and we looked at each other amazed. That was one of the first surprises China had for us.

It was just one year in both our lives, but that year and our contact changed both our lives. How he got to be my brother? I feel pretty safe saying that a lot of Chinese at the time — that I knew, anyway — hoped their American contacts would lead to an opportunity to leave China.

My brother, because he was learning English, was sent to Luoyang in northern China, far from Guangzhou, to work in a factory for the ten or so years of the Cultural Revolution. It was exile, a kind of punishment. He would have been very young. I was 30 when we met and he is a few years younger than I. I don’t know the whole story, but I know that Luoyang is MUCH colder than Guangzhou; the factory was cold, the hours were long, and godnose what his dormitory was like. I know he probably endured hours of “political study,” and had to write at least one “confession.” And why? Because his mom came from a bourgeois family even though his dad was a Party member and part of the provincial government. His younger brother was left completely alone by the government, as far as I know.

But my brother was learning English and who knows? Maybe that was the problem? Ultimately that was why he got his job at my university translating and looking out for the foreign teachers.

When we got to know each other, we discovered that we liked each other. He brought us home to meet his mother and twice she made the complicated journey all the way out to our apartment. Over time she said that I was a good older sister to her son and so I was adopted and became part of the family. It makes my eyes sweat remembering this, but I will persevere…

He made some mistakes in English, and many of them were funny. He laughed at himself; he wasn’t worried about losing face. One of them was calling tears “eye sweat.”

In 1983 no one knew if the Cultural Revolution was really over or what would happen next. My brother accompanied us to Shanghai, our port of departure for our return to America. He was a little intimidated by Shanghai, the fancy hotel in which our university had put us up, everything. After two nights and one day of sightseeing, it was time for us to leave. My brother came with us to the airport where there was the inevitable negotiation over baggage. We’d been told we could have two pieces each and there was a weight limit. We followed the rule. At the airport we learned that together we could have only ONE piece of luggage, but there was no weight restriction. My brother somehow uncovered a gigantic string bag into which we placed two backpacks, two footlockers, a carpet and skis. Everyone laughed but it was fine; it was one piece. China was like that. Even IT knew some of its rules were absurd and whimsical.

The moment came. The plane was called. We stood in line. I looked up at my brother.

“Ma Sa, your eyes are sweating,” he said.

“So are yours,” I answered.

Featured photo: My brother with two men at Waqqas Tomb in Guangzhou. Waqqas was a missionary who brought Islam to China. You can learn more here: Waqqas Tomb.