For everyone who worried that Teddy was left out of my walk with Bear yesterday, this will reassure you that Teddy gets his turn. We headed out this afternoon — just us — and took a trail my dogs LOVE but which I don’t do during snake season, especially when I have both of them. I’ve yet to see a rattlesnake out there but I’ve seen too many in my life to think that just because I haven’t seen one, they’re not around.
As always, Teddy was very happy.
It was very beautiful as I will now attempt to prove.
The bees were VERY busy on all the Chamisa. It was fun trying to photograph them.
I went out because, well, I have a friend trying to deal with some major problems in life and sometimes people in that situation can be assholes and take stuff out on the people who care about them..
Nature doesn’t have moods — we might project moods onto nature. This is not a mood going on in Florida right now. It’s a very dangerous hurricane. While these dramatic hurricanes might be exacerbated (if not caused by) by climate change (I believe they are) it doesn’t mean nature is “angry.” It means that please people I hope you are all in a safe place. That’s your job right now in the face of this thing that is bigger than you are.
For me, even going out in a blizzard clears my mind and returns me to the proper order of things. That said, I don’t go out in lighting storms. AND, 19 years ago, I ran from a fire. I understood that nature is “bigger” than me, and I very much wanted that next hike with my dogs. I remember looking over the mountains the day after we had evacuated and I had gone to a nearby town to stay in the park until I got word about where I could go. Above the mountains — which were more than 300 meters/1000 feet higher than the park — were flames and smoke. The fire was not ONLY coming up the other side, the flames were higher than the hills. We were fine where we were because of the wind direction, an absolutely bizarre reality. Even so, many people had headed east, into the desert to stay wherever they could on the other side of everything. It was a wise plan, but I didn’t want to do that. My plan was to go higher into the mountains. I had camping equipment and water and knew where I could camp for a steady supply of water from a good well. IF I had done that, the fire would have reached within 1/2 mile of me, but I would have been safe. And why? Because two years earlier a fire had come through there. There was little fuel. I knew that.
It wasn’t a great plan, but it had a couple of escape routes and would’ve been OK. I was pretty sure — it proved correct — that they would find a way to open Interstate 8 that day and they did. I was able to drive back down the mountain all the way to the beach where I had a friend who’d offered to let me and the dogs stay as long as we needed to. Early that evening, we loaded up and drove down between flaming mountains and arrived safely at my friend Sally’s house.
My love of nature is not particularly sentimental. I love the beauty, but I know that beauty is complicated and nature isn’t out there, “I feel pretty! O so pretty!” Nature won’t “betray” me, but I can, in nature, betray myself. That’s the danger. Not nature. Us.
Stuck here more or less right now because of the shoulder, I took advantage of my little deck and pretty yard yesterday to read. It’s not a very pleasant place because of the summer traffic going down the state highway, but I put in earphones and obscured most of it. I’m reading Yellowstones Ski Pioneers: Peril and Heroism on the Winter Trail by Paul Schullery. There’s something comforting about reading books about frigid cold in the summer.
Every backyard is a little wilderness. Back in the day when I was teaching Critical Thinking Through Nature Writing I required my students to go out an observe nature for 30 minutes every week (more was better, of course) and to write a journal of their observations. I knew some of them weren’t in a position to GO anywhere and I told them their back or front yard was OK for this journal.
There were butterflies — cabbage whites, and a flickering fleet fast little black and white one I’d never seen before. I had to find out what it was — it was so pretty. When It stopped, finally, I was able to see it had a bright red head. I “googled” and learned it wasn’t a butterfly at all, but a “Police car” moth. The big reward was watching a hummingbird in the beans. With my fancy new phone I was able to photograph it even though it was 15/20 feet away. It was a rollicking good time out there in the garden.
My arm is healing well, and I have a pretty good range of motion at this point. I also decided to learn how to use pastels. Long, long ago I got a set of colored Conté Crayons for Christmas. They are beautiful and it was a wonderful gift, but I have never been a fan of, or skillful user of, dry media. I think the last thing I drew with pastels was a copper tea pot in my 9th grade art class. I was 15. 😀 It was a pretty good drawing, but stressful somehow. BUT I’m not feeling much joy from painting right now, and it’s always good to learn something new, so…
Yesterday I got the apple out of my fridge and implored it to pose for me. After some gentle persuasion and the promise that I would eat it for supper, it agreed to sit a few minutes on my drawing table. I’m no Cezanne but I think apples are wonderful subjects. They are beautiful.
When I don’t know what I’m doing, I draw or paint an apple. So, I sat down on my new drawing stool in front of my new tablet of charcoal/pastel drawing paper and went at it. After a while I realized I had forgotten a lot of stuff I once knew, but it was OK. I was still having fun. I also realized that teaching myself was going to be the slow way, so I ordered a book and some good tools for blending because using my fingers — which is OK with me — would end up putting the chalky, colored residue left on my digits where it didn’t belong. I need to get back to the mentality that 1) it doesn’t matter what I do, 2) I’ll never get it right. When I lose that it’s time to stop or try something new at which I can’t possibly succeed. Pastel drawing is definitely something at which I will not succeed. There’s freedom in failure. ❤
I wish I had read this story about climbing Mt. Everest before I wrote my post yesterday since it deals with hypoxia, yesterday’s prompt. It also deals with mountaineering which interests me and has since I was a little kid. The article contrasts “then” with “now” with the notion that “now” is incredibly better than “then.” In some ways that’s true. The “jaunt” up Mt. Everest is safer (as long as the climbers have their wits about them and good luck overall, I guess). In other ways I’m not so sure. It seems that Mt. Everest is turning into kind of an “experience” — not sure how to explain that but this struck me as surreal:
As of April 2021, 5,790 people have reached the summit, including a 13-year-old Indian girl, an 80-year-old Japanese man and an American man who has summited 15 times, more than any other non-Nepali person. Over the past decade, about 800 people per year have attempted Everest. In 2019, according to the Himalayan Database, a record 905 people reached the summit. As many as 1,000 people are currently in Base Camp, which is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.
– These days you buy an expedition, guide etc. and you are escorted up the mountain at a cost upward of $30,000.00 which almost makes the highest mountain on earth a commodity and an increasingly commodious commodity. It’s weird to me. A few days ago in a text conversation with a friend I laid out my beliefs about nature at this point in my life. I don’t know if she needed or wanted a lecture (I wasn’t lecturing her, it was more a lecture to an audience of several thousand people who weren’t there). I’ve had some of the most wonderful moments of my life “out in nature” (I happen to think that wherever animals are is nature so my living room is nature) and the good fortune to be “trusted” by some wild animals. I say that and mean it, but I don’t want wild animals to trust me or anyone. The nature-lover I was 20 years ago is different from the nature lover I am today.
Not long ago a woman running in the mountains near Durango, CO, was eaten by a bear and her cub. The bear and the cub were killed so that the contents of the bears’ stomachs could be identified. The woman was running with her dogs — off leash — during bear emerging from hibernation season. As I read the multitudinous expressions of horror and outrage, I only thought, “The bear didn’t do anything wrong.” And, “The bear didn’t get a fair hearing.”
If a dog runs ahead of a person, and contacts a bear, the dog will turn around and run back to its person bringing the bear with it. This is one very forceful argument for keeping ones dog with them in bear country. It was also the dogs running home without the woman that alerted the woman’s husband to something having happened to his wife.
Then…running. I loved to run. It was a consuming passion of my life until I was 55. But a running animal looks like prey, and, by moving quickly, is more likely to surprise a wild animal who might not have time to catch your scent or hear you coming. Also, I KNOW I was less attentive while running than walking. No one can be as attentive when they’re running. If I were to go into bear country now (I might) I would walk. I would keep my dogs with me. I would be very very attentive. I would have bear spray and I would wear a bell. Mostly, I think, I would know where I was. I think that’s the biggest, most important thing. Still, it would be dangerous. We can’t avoid danger; we can only minimize our chances of encountering it.
I spent a lot of my life oblivious. I did a lot of stupid and dangerous things. But the moment when I decided to try to see a mountain lion, I accepted that if I did, it was a contest I might not win. I succeeded and from that I learned lessons I badly needed, not just about how to see a mountain lion (safely) but about life and about nature.
During the time I lived in the mountains outside of San Diego a woman was killed and eaten by a mountain lion. Of course there was intense outrage and many calls to hunt the cougar down and kill it.
The news should have — but didn’t — make a big deal about the fact that the woman had a T-bone steak in her back pack. She had planned to hike to Green Valley Falls, get a campsite and cook her steak for supper. She was living in her head, clearly, not in that wilderness. The kind of fire that could cook a steak wasn’t permitted anywhere in those mountains after the Cedar Fire of 2003 but whatever. I think for a lot of people nature is an idea, the “wild” is an idea. The thing is, it isn’t an idea.
Last fall, when the Sandhill Cranes came through, I had a beautiful, magical time hanging out with them. Almost no one visits the Refuge during late summer into fall. Most days I was out there it was me and Bear or Teddy, on foot, quietly observing the cranes nearly every day. I don’t think the Sandhill Cranes are troubled much by people, but partly this is because our Refuge is designed to give the cranes a LOT of space. People cannot go INTO their world.
But, this spring, when there was no Crane Festival and more cars than ever were here bringing crane tourists who mostly wanted pictures, people violated the clearly marked parameters. The photos I saw were incredible, beautiful, but some were troubling because of that. When they are here in the spring, bachelor and bachelorette cranes find their mates. It’s not as sensitive as egg laying or some other things, but it’s a little sensitive. A couple of rangers (on the festival Facebook page) gently chided the photographers for going out of bounds. A couple of photographers had the nerve to defend their actions which were, IMO, indefensible. The wildlife biologists who care for the Refuge work very hard to establish a world that will keep the cranes coming and staying while, at the same time, giving people the chance to observe those wonderful birds. Boundaries.
So I don’t know. It reminds me of the bit in the Bible that says that humans have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fish in the water, the birds of the air. I guess — even people who reject the Bible — behave that way as if it’s all a TV show.
I changed as a hiker when my hips went south. I still wanted to be out there, but I couldn’t be out there in the same way I had always been. When my second hip went south a few years ago, my dog Bear taught me a new way to be “out” there. I probably couldn’t have learned that lesson any earlier in my life, but maybe I could have. Maybe it’s something we can teach people. Out here one of the best “schools” for that is run by the Bureau of Land Management for young hunters. It’s about the safe handling of fire arms and building a reverent and respectful relationship with nature.
P.S. Lots of people take their dogs out unleashed. Many of them know what they’re doing. This sermon/diatribe is not addressed to you. It’s to all the people whose dogs get lost in the mountains and need to be rescued, or whose poor paws are trashed by (suddenly!) going on a long trail hike on a hot day, or get trapped in talus, or get bitten by a snake or the numerous things that can happen to a dog who isn’t trained to come when called, isn’t trained to avoid snakes, isn’t trained to stay with its person. ❤
“I know for me, whenever I needed a distraction from the news, working on our Soothing Nature videos has been a wonderful way to decompress. If you’re in a particularly wintery mood, check out one of my favorite Soothing Nature moments and spend an hour in snowy Yellowstone.”Karen Ho Social Media Specialist for NATURE
I had to laugh when I read this in my email this morning, an email from PBS. During one of the more fraught moments of this year I sought “soothing” by watching nature films. Seriously, all I got in terms of “soothing” from that was the understanding that we’re just participating in one of those nature dramas. After watching a mother moose abandon her calf in a swollen stream, watching one older sibling bird offer up his younger brother to the hungry eagle, and the mating ritual of about a hundred gaudy male birds dancing and singing “Let’s get it on,” to the gray female, blasé and assured in her understated elegance, no. Anyone who’s “soothed” by nature videos doesn’t get it.
The email is accompanied by photos of wolves killing buffalo followed by a headline, “Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo — Discover how wolves and buffalo live together in what seems like a forgotten corner of the world.” The implication? Depends how you read it. It could be that the interdependence of prey and predator keeps both animal (groups, not individuals) alive or it could be deep irony.
Yesterday I got an extraordinary book, Gates of the Arctic National Park: Twelve Years of Wilderness Exploration by Joe Wilkins. It’s a “coffee table” book in format but not in content, though it is full of incredible photographs. The writing is beautiful and, in the midst of one lovely, descriptive sentence after another came this gem, “Mud is very informative.” I love tracks and reading the stories left in the night, and, that simple clause, dropped in the middle of some very elegant description revealed the man.
On this New Years Eve, when I think back on 2020, I’m surprised that I’m not fixated on the virus and the politics and attenuating bullshit. I just see what I did (paintings), what made summer not-so-bad-at-all (Scarlet Emperor Beans and friends) and how I dealt with the demands of, yeah, nature. I learned yesterday that I’m likely to get a vaccination in spring — which is what I always expected from the beginning of the pandemic — and, meanwhile, it is this beautiful cold season where there is always the hope of snow. I’d like more than hope, but hope’s not so bad. In a week or so I will get the first shipment of books to evaluate for the writing contest for which I am a judge. I’m busy restocking my Etsy store in anticipation of spring. I deeply appreciate this “neighborhood” which has been a big part of these several months not being lonely and RDP for helping me wake up with a purpose on the days that didn’t start so well, a purpose beyond the dishes waiting in the sink. So, hoping for better things for all of us in 2021, I wish you all a…
At the Crane Festival this past March I saw a tiny owl who was concealed perfectly against the bark of a tree. She was VERY difficult to see. Nature’s deception is evolutionary adaptation to give a plant or animal a better shot at surviving. There’s no malice or even duplicity in this, just the amoral neutrality of keeping alive. And, for that, the plant or animal doesn’t know it’s “deceiving” anyone or anything. It’s just THERE. The plant that smells like rotting meat, the bird eggs that look like rocks, camouflage that hides the hunter, the flowers that look like butterflies, even my dog, Bear, whose coloring would allow her (if she were employed) to blend in with the herd of sheep she’s guarding.
People, on the other hand, can intentionally deceive others, and I’m one of the biggest patsies in the universe. Uncovering human deception never brings that small gasp of wonder, “Wow! It’s not a blade of grass! It’s a bug!!!” In nature it’s about concealment from predators, attracting necessary help breeding, and getting food rather than BEING food.
Wait a minute…
One of the things I like about my life now is that I don’t have to act like someone else in order to get paid.
“Society is a joint stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance
In the featured photo there is a mountain lion. She is stalking the elk whose butt you see in the foreground. The easiest way to find her is by enlarging the photo and tracking backward from the elk along what you think might be the lion’s line of sight. The elk has NO idea he’s being stalked; the lion’s ability to hide and appear to be rocks and bushes is that good.
One day hiking up a California hill I had named the “Goetheberg” I happened on an entire wing from a red tail hawk. We’d had a storm — lots of wind and rain — and I thought maybe the wind had brought the bird down. There was nothing other than the wing and only enough flesh to hold the feathers together. I picked it up and brought it home. I kept it for years and often wondered how it had fallen. A serious attack from a above was also a plausible cause.
The first time I was aware of the storied side of that world was when I was with my mom in Tucson and I took an early morning walk in a sandy wash and found mallard feathers and shining green heads strewn all around.
I suspected coyotes but it had rained and there were no tracks. “There’s a story here,” I thought, “but I will never know what it is.” Over time I saw the bleached bones of carnivore skulls, prickly pear seeds in coyote scat (“How?” I wondered until I had to try the fruit myself), footprints of prey followed by footprints of predators. If I walk with my head down now, you can blame it on that. There are a lot of good stories on the ground and, also, feathers.
Wild prose drains into desert washes. The day I found the wing, I turned away from the hill and walked up the wash. I guess I hoped to read more of the story.
Yesterday I imagine most people saw the video of the woman in Central Park who refused to leash her dog even though it was clearly posted that, entering that area, an area called “The Ramble,” dogs must be leashed.
And why? A little research showed me why. It’s a refuge. In that immense and convoluted canyon of humanity there is a bird refuge. According to the guy who made the video, Christian Cooper, one of the most elegantly articulate people I’ve ever heard (he used the word “scofflaw”. Who uses that? The English teacher heart in me soared a little), 230 different bird species have been seen in that part of Central Park. When the event happened Cooper was birdwatching. It was 7:30ish in the morning.
Personally, I couldn’t spend more than 24 hours in New York City without feeling claustrophobic. I’ve tried. It’s the opposite of “my” landscape. It’s the “Big Filled.” So, my heart reached out in sympathy for the 230 bird species and the man who was there to see them. First point.
Second point. I believe in leashing dogs where there is signage. I walk my dogs in a bird refuge. I don’t want them going after the birds (and they would. They’re dogs). I don’t want them defecating there, either, so I carry poop bags. Dog poop is NOT the same to the natural environment as wild animal poop. There’s a reason the fox population has suffered from dog Parvo leading to an overpopulation of rabbits, etc… Nature knows how to work. We don’t.
When I go to my places and a person has an unleashed dog I’m furious. Bear is a power, a force of nature, and she doesn’t like other dogs. By keeping her leashed, I am protecting other dogs. She won’t hurt them, but I still don’t want her to chase them and throw them down. I also want to be responsible for my dog’s behavior where other animals live. Dogs are predators. I’ve had dogs who stayed with me on a trail, but neither Bear nor Teddy will. I’ve also let my dogs run where there is nothing at stake.
So, here’s this selfish woman letting her dog run in one of the only places in NYC where there are birds and birders and the whole nature thing that sustains life and the human soul. Grrrrrrrrr…..
Then the man, whom I couldn’t see but who was taking video, asked her to stay back from him. C-19 right? She kept approaching, yelling at him, spraying (through her mask) particles and rage. As she screamed, she held her little dog by the collar, choking him until he cried out in pain.
Still she did not leash him. Instead she called the police on 911 (the emergency number) and demanded (yes) they come and rescue her from an African American man who was attacking her.
That was it. I suddenly understood something I’ve never understood before. She actually BELIEVED that the cops would come and save her from the African American man. She said nothing about what was going on, only that an African American man was after her. She BELIEVED that was enough to summon the cops.
And that, I saw, clearly and sorrowfully, is White Privilege.
Why didn’t I see it before?
I never taught a class that was predominantly white. Most of my classes were Latino, white and African American — literally AFRICAN American very often. What I HAVE seen in my own life are African American students believing that when I asked them to do something difficult I was setting them up for failure because of White Privilege. That was never the case. Yesterday I understood the angry and paranoid assumptions many of these students brought with them to my classes, their inability to look at a white teacher as an individual person.
How did that all work out back in the day? Well, invariably I stood my ground. I knew where those students wanted to go and I knew my job was to get them there, even if I had to fight with them. It always worked out but it was never easy. They stood in their own way most of the time. I think I was terrifying to them.
A few years after teaching one particularly challenging community college class with a student who would angrily disrupt a lecture or discussion every single class period, until the other students were fed up with HER, I was sitting outside my office at San Diego State in a plaza area with picnic tables. I saw that student at another table tutoring (Equal Opportunity Tutoring) another African American student. I was happy to see that she’d succeeded in transferring (in spite of herself) and that she was helping someone else.
Later, immersed in grading papers, I felt a tap on my shoulder, “Professor?” said a meek voice. I turned around and it was that girl. “Can I sit with you a minute?”
“Sure,” I said. “I saw you tutoring over there. Awesome.”
“I owe you a big apology. You weren’t trying to make me fail back there in that class. You knew what was ahead of me because you teach here, too. You knew what I’d be expected to do. That wasn’t no ‘Whiteman’s book’ either.”
She was speaking of Brave New World. “No, it’s everybody’s book.”
“I get that now. Anyway, I’m sorry and thank you for teaching me.” She gave me a hug and went away.
I saw that whole experience watching that video yesterday. The African American man in the video was pure class and intelligence. The woman was hysterical way beyond the scope of the situation. I don’t know what was going on in her head but it seems to have had little or nothing to do with reality. In many ways it reminded me of the tirades this particular student had leveled at me during class time. Accusations of racism, threats to report me to the department (that she carried out, resulting in my being observed a couple of times that semester and leading to my being asked not to teach Brave New World any longer as it was too difficult for the students [fucking college juniors for the love of God]), and attempts to create “sides” among the students. That didn’t work. That student assumed that the leadership of the college would agree with her. I don’t know if they did or not, but she was right in the bias; they expected a white teacher to be unable to relate to students of color. I was lectured about this. Students in the class were interviewed, too, resulting in the administration deciding that I was fine, the class was fine, it was that this student just had a problem with me. They offered to put her in another class, but she didn’t want to go.
SO…the woman in the video lost her job, had her dog taken from her and can no longer go to Central Park. The man in question said in an interview,
“It’s a little bit of a frenzy, and I am uncomfortable with that,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “If our goal is to change the underlying factors, I am not sure that this young woman having her life completely torn apart serves that goal.”
I wrote something on Twitter yesterday in response to a comment made by a friend. I got this this morning.
I am not “woke.” I’m the same person I have always been. I was disgusted by more things in that encounter than the racism. The woman in the video demonstrated the lack of respect for nature I abhor. She mistreated her animal. She acted as if she was above the law. All those things disgust me. That she believed the cops would come to her aid “against” an African American man was just the cherry on the sundae.
I believe that as human beings we need to respect our world and all that is in it. What IF she’d leashed her dog? What IF she’d asked the man what he was doing there so early? What IF he’d introduced her to the idea of birding? What if she had been stunned to learn that there are 230 different species of birds frequenting that area? What if she had an inkling of life beyond herself, some curiosity, some optimism? She’s (to me) the same person demonstrating because the governor says the County of Alamosa has to wait 10 more days to open because it’s had a sudden up-tick in C-19 cases and it’s a good idea to wait and see. She’s the person that made me leave the classroom. “You can’t give me a B! I’ve never had a grade lower than an A!”
If you live out here in the Wild West water is a THING. In fact, it’s THE thing. I live in a desert. We get less than 7 inches of precipitation a year. Fortunately, a river runs through the valley, and, beneath my desert is an ancient lake. Aquifers as well which is why this is such a great place to grow things in spite of the short growing season.
Denver and other big cities on the “Front Range” are lusting after our water and some of the ranchers and farmers in my valley are lusting after money. If you’re interested, here’s an article that explains the struggle. The endless tug-o-war of life in the far west. I think most of the gun fights in the old days were probably not over gold or women but water.
The Rio Grande is parted out all the way down to El Paso, but some years there’s not enough snowfall to ensure water for everyone. This year will be OK. Though (as is common) the valley itself didn’t get as much snow as it gets some years, the mountains have a good snow pack.
This kind of fluctuation is just what nature does, but climate change is, of course, making the whole situation worse. Winters are shorter, drier and warmer — less water. But since I no more know the solution to climate change than I have a cure for COVID-19, I will leave this post and wish you all a happy Saturday. My friends and I are off to the Crane Festival today.
The featured photo is sandhill cranes grazing in a barley field under the loving arms of a giant sprinkler.
Because of all the mountains, the river and the immense sudden plain which is the San Luis Valley, the sky is always amazing. EVERYTHING can be happening at one time on any given day. I’ve witnessed “snow bows” from thunder snow over the San Juans while, behind me, the sun shone happily as if rough weather were relegated to some distant place, not this one. The wind can be blowing like a MF where I’m standing and I can look some twenty miles down the valley and see the calm fluff of drifting light cumulous clouds. One day, as rainbows dropped gently from hanging virga, I saw the face of Kris Kristofferson in a gathering mammatus cloud formation.
At that moment I understood how God became a bearded face in the sky, but seriously? Kris Kristofferson?
Lenticular clouds are a mountain phenomenon. That fancy word just means lens shaped. I had never heard of them until I went to the little town Mt. Shasta, CA for surgery on my right hip. Some online advertising for that mountain town had many pictures of lenticular clouds over that spectacular volcanic cone. Yeah, yeah, I know that lots of people go to the big city for joint surgery, but my doctor was there. From the window in my hospital, I had a view of Mt. Shasta. And, for major surgery, it was a great experience.
Lenticular cloud formations are common here because of all the mountains and the constantly moving air. From a distance, a chain of lenticular clouds appears smooth and languid, stretching out over the peaks.
One day I was walking out in the big empty as a lenticular cloud moved over me during its formation. The way the air moved beneath it was strange and powerful, with a distinct uplift. I didn’t realize what it was until I looked up and saw the underside of a disk-shaped cloud with fuzzy edges. I stood still and watched. It wasn’t going to pick me up or anything, and I just felt lucky to have the experience.
The featured photo shows a string of lenticular clouds over the Sangre de Cristo mountains. A modern potato cellar in the foreground.
My mom and dad were always telling my brother and me to lie on our backs in the yard and watch the clouds go by. Along with this I was encouraged to see animals in the clouds, but this often led to arguments with my brother about what was in the cloud. It’s kind of like dating or politics. It’s “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing.
Humans are pattern-seeking animals anyway. I see patterns everywhere. I have tile in my bathroom that, when I first moved here, looked to me like a poor guy carrying an immense boulder — or the world — on his back. He looks up at me with his tiny face as if he is asking for help. I can still find him if I look, but now I see other things or nothing at all but tile. I think I saw that guy because that’s how I felt when I retired and moved away from California.
When I was 41 I asked myself a dangerous question. I was riding my bike down a single track that I loved and knew well. I looked over at the hill to my right behind which the sun was setting. There was a strange green glow above the hill, an optical illusion caused by the red of the sun. I thought, “What’s real, anyway?” That question dragged me down the rabbit hole of a major depressive crisis.
Since then I’ve come to understand that’s the question we should ask all the time, the question that liberates us from illusion in all its manifestations. I’ve also learned we — or, any rate, I — can never live in a world without illusion. It’s a constant battle.
Yesterday I took Bear out to the Wildlife Refuge. I’d heard cranes when I stepped out my back door and decided that a long walk in that wide and empty place was just what we needed. Well, what we always need. The sky was amazing. In every direction are mountains of different altitudes, distances from me, geologies. Above the various ranges were different kinds of clouds. Over the La Garitas to the northwest were sinuous lenticular clouds, stretching out under the wind and the convection of warm air rising from the earth. I didn’t take a photo because all I had (or have most of the time) is my phone and the clouds would not be all that visible in a phone photo. I found myself thinking about their beauty and how they were formed and not whether or not they looked like sea lions. There is, for me, more wonderment in reality than in pareidolia.