The dogs and I headed out this morning for a ramble. No one around. The silence was broken only by the call of a raven after I said “Hi” and he flew over me to be sure it was me. I saw two muskrat huts — maybe one that’s a work in progress — along a deep stream, ditch. The big pond is drying up and the shallow water is frozen. A few tracks of deer, a few goose feathers carried by a the wind from a kill spot I noticed a few days ago.
So much of the country is experiencing uncharacteristic cold. We’re not here in the San Luis Valley. When I looked at a map of the front, I saw exactly what had happened. The front with its heavy cold air had been stopped by the wall of the San Juan Mountains, a massive range with many high mountains in the Rockies. It and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains form a kind of basket that is the San Luis Valley. The front seems to have been too heavy to cross them.
Our day down here was on the warm side — a few degrees above freezing. I wore a sweatshirt and a down vest as I walked my dogs.
It’s the season of metaphors, all these holidays celebrating a belief or another, even the return of light after the longest night of the year. I was thinking about that, all the ways humans have developed to understand — even (at least in their minds) control the earth which really STILL seems immense and random — this cold spell for example.
We are facing a climate change crisis in which we humans are part of the problem. Then here is this place, this Refuge for the animals — even the small ones — where nature works its work with only benign interference from humans. Hopefully benign. Nature being nature isn’t always pretty — my raven friend is hungry. Some goose met its end at the “hands” of a coyote or fox or more than one. There’s a spot on the road where I remember in September encountering a garter snake who’d been dropped by a hawk. I wanted to move his corpse off the road so it wouldn’t be run over, but I didn’t get the chance.
I thought of that as Christmas approaches, the metaphor of Jesus, the light of the world. Dark at the Refuge is VERY dark. It will be very dark — and cold — for at least four more months. And in that darkness creatures will find a way to stay warm and alive.
As I was leaving, driving slowly, looking for ungulates out there, I suddenly got the idea that this earth holds every human metaphor just as it holds every human being. I have always felt on my hikes and walks, even since I was a little kid, that I’m walking on the hand of God. I don’t have an image for god in my mind. I tend to cringe away from religion; dogma has always felt to me like a prison of limitation, a way of eliminating people and possibilities. But this planet, the tiny parts of it that I have known and walked on and loved? It’s all of us, all of time, cataclysmic change, silence, wonder, the tiger salamander that arouses Bear’s curiosity, the lenticular cloud forming and vanishing. Snow on my nose, a deer in a thicket, staring at me, tracks of mice and voles in the snow, the smell of black sage after a rain or white sage after I brush against it, the hawk who stares into my eyes, the eagle I had never seen before, the gyre of Sandhill Cranes helping one another climb into the sky, the wild lilac in March in the chaparral, the annoying deer fly, the sweet Mayfly, the black and white fox disappearing in the mist and snow, the Mule Deer staring at me from under the train cars, the neighbor’s friendly horse, the kid running down the street, calling my name, the boys hoping to get a ride to the jumps, the baby hawks in the box who ride on my arm to the vet, the red diamondback, sleeping in the early morning sun, warming up, the rabbit butt hanging from Molly’s mouth, the fog from the ocean turning the chaparral hill into the Scottish highlands, the rain shadow that puts my left arm in the desert and my right in a spring shower, the pond that pulls the snow to it as the moisture comes up the ravine, the bare trees lit white by the sun breaking through the clouds JUST THERE, the red tail hawks mating in the dead cottonwood tree, the family of owls, the tarantulas looking for love, the hummingbird finding what it needs on the bean flowers in my garden, the neighbor who comes to tell me about the book she’s reading…
“I am walking not merely on matter, but on spirit.“