Meadowlark Singing 8 Feet Away

At 5 am there was a skiff of snow out there, but by 8 it was gone. Disappointing for me because I was hoping for a snowy walk with Bear. I leashed her up about 10 and we headed out into the unsettled air, the swirling storm, doing it’s best to get the heck out of the Valley. It had made a little effort, leaving snow on hills just a thousand feet higher than Monte Vista. I thought I should have ventured to the Rock Creek area with my dog, but she loves the Refuge and it’s where she checks and maintains her territory. These are big deals for her, bigger deals than going where no big white dog has gone before.

For me it’s good, too. When I go out with Bear, the big thing is being with Bear. Second to that is looking at the world.

“Don’t you think I should lean against you for a while, Martha?”
“I do, Bear.”

No one was out there on this inclement day. I was barely warm enough but barely is enough. The wind was coming from the north, blowing squalls along the front of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, much like yesterday. At one point we stopped (so Bear could smell something), and I noticed a meadowlark just 8 feet away from us, singing its heart out for us, perched on some greasewood.

Raptors everywhere, notably the red tail hawk that likes the small line of trees and whom I haven’t seen since last spring, and the Northern Harrier couple. The male flew over me, circled, watched me, circled a little lower, got a good view, then circled higher. I could not NOT recite to myself, “I caught this morning, morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin…” The end of the poem is what strikes me most, “No wonder of it; sheer plod makes plowed down sillion shine…”

Wise words to remember at the outset of any undertaking. “Sheer plod” — hard work.

We don’t think of it, maybe, but the grace and beauty of a hawk in flight is what they have given their lives to, what their survival depends on. To me it’s poetry; to the hawk it’s life. Hopkins was so aware of that — in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire…”

“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

Long ago, hiking with the Boys on Bikes in the California chaparral, I would see a hawk and inevitably say, “My love” or I would recite “The Windhover.” One day the youngest among them pointed at the sky and said, “Martha! There’s your love!” and there he was, a tiny speck, far far up there, circling, a red tail hawk. Over time that kid (10 – 12 during this era) even said, “Martha, look! There’s Morning’s Minion!”

That was a “take me lord” moment. I thought, “My god, I’ve had THAT effect on this kid that he will see a hawk and recite Gerard Manley Hopkins.” I had lump in my throat (as I do now, remembering it).

Making ice cream…

It’s kind of strange, but what I AM is a person who goes out into nature with dogs. Everything else is just because I can’t do that all the time. It’s crazy, but true.

I’ve undertaken a couple more stories for the magazine — and one of them is about Apache pictographs at a local canyon. I will be going up there with an anthropologist, and I’m looking forward to all of it. I think we’ll be doing our interview/field-trip next Monday and in the meantime I need to do a little studying up.

Earth Day 2023

Earth Day was a big thing for me in 1970, again in the 90s when I was working for Mission Trails Regional Park, and again in 2017 with the March for Science. Now? It’s just one more political rant. How it got to be holiday-like-thing is beyond me. I’ve realized lately that I’m exhausted from hype, politics and doomsayers.

And this planet? Never ever ever tired of it, but I know my scale now which I didn’t in earlier moments of my life.

So after a surreal experience at the store this afternoon, Bear and I headed out to the Refuge to find some refuge. We were beautifully rewarded.

It’s a cloudy, cool day with snow falling in many parts of the state and on the mountains around me. While Bear and I were out, a little graupel fell on us and we were very happy.

There was a nice couple there for a while, but they left and we remained in the solitude, silence, and beauty of a gray day. Meadowlarks sang, tree swallows swooped and dived around us, a red tail hawk soared in the distance, red-winged blackbirds called their calls, a pair of Northern Harriers hunted above us. The duck couple that likes to build its nest in a vulnerable (IMO) spot has decided my dogs and I are not a problem and no longer flies away when we pass.

And that is exactly how I want nature to regard me, as a benign and temporary form walking gratefully through its gifts. I don’t love anything as much as I love this planet and the little pieces of it that I have come to know.

When I take a walk with Bear it is inevitably elevated a few degrees just by her being with me, with her calm enthusiasm for where we are and her love for me. As we leave the Refuge Bear looks out the back window until we get onto the main road. Then she lies down. When we drive to the Refuge, she lies down in the back until we are a mile away, then she gets up and watches.

My sweet dog is asleep beside me. She’s 8 years old now, old for a dog like her, and she gets tired. I’ve thought a lot about the future, and I know that I will give a home to another dog like Bear who can’t possibly have a job on a ranch and needs a person — and a lively little sidekick — who will love and understand it.


Among wolves in the world there was Ariel. Ariel was a rescue in San Diego. When I first saw her she was depressed, emaciated and appeared to be a skinny short-haired dog. She had one blue eye and one golden and blue eye, like a marble. She had recently had puppies. I didn’t know her story but she came home with me. She grew into a very furry Siberian husky but she wasn’t a husky. After I’d had her for almost a decade, one of my vets was checking her teeth and saw that she was part wolf, clearly a very small part wolf, but part wolf. He was the vet who worked with the wolf rescue up in the Cuyamaca Mountains outside San Diego.

Ariel — being husky and low content wolf and very likely having lived life on the streets as a stray — was a very strange “dog.”

Ariel was never like the other dogs and the other dogs didn’t like her. Over time she bonded to me with a ridiculous fervor that surpassed “loyal dog.” She was intelligent, independent and fierce. If she got out of my yard in the hood she would not let anyone come down our street. It was her absolute duty to protect me and our “den” from anything that could hurt us, particularly when I was gone to school. After a while she understood she only needed to protect the house, and she would climb the six foot back fence and spend the day on the front porch waiting for me. I got a few notes from the Post Office telling me, “Your dog has blocked the street again. Confine her or we will send animal control.” A friend came over one weekend and we Ariel-proofed the fence.

Then, I came home one evening from school to find she’d killed one of my cats and was guarding it to give it to me when I got home. My other dogs were avoiding a whole side of my house. When she heard me, she howled. I went to the side yard to find her with my dead cat, Ariel’s tail wagging proudly

Hiking with her was incredible. She loved snow even MORE than I do or even Bear does and we would hike, ski, and run for hours in the Friendly Mountains. We had so much fun together. Once we were resting and I was having lunch at a natural spring that lay on a small fault line between the Laguna and Cuyamaca Mountains. It was a popular mountain biking spot. I had my back to a hillside and Ariel was in the spring cooling off. A guy on a mountain bike came to the top of that hill (behind me) saw Ariel and crashed. I stood up so he could see me. He said, “My God, is that a wolf?” By then Ariel had gone up to say “Hi!” to the guy. Among other differences, wolves are likely to be larger than Ariel was. She was 65 pounds.

She died from a rattlesnake bite to the eye. I was eviscerated.

Wolves are canids, but not exactly dogs as we humans experience dogs. A book I had long ago Animal People had a chapter about a man who rescued wolf-dogs and wolves people had “domesticated”. He said, “People look at wolf communities and are impressed at how peaceful and cooperative wolves are with each other. But it’s because every wolf knows that every other wolf carries the equivalent of a 48 magnum between its jaws.” When I read that — long before the evil days of “good guys with guns” — I thought, “That’s true.” When my dogs decided that Ariel was not to be borne, it took two of them to take her down, and even then, they failed. From then on, they just stayed away from her. Living with Ariel was complicated.

When the film Never Cry Wolf came out people wanted wolves which was really insane. Farley Mowat was looking at wolves from the OUTSIDE to find out what they DID, how they lived, how they hunted, what their communities were like. He wasn’t making pets of them or romanticizing them — much. A little? Humans do that.

I kind of get that. As a species we humans “appropriate” things. For years I dreamed of mountain lions and then for more years I tried to see one. In fact, in my life, I’ve seen (outside of zoos) two. One was in a tiny cage in a store in Tijuana. That was when the dreams started. My REAL mountain lion was almost twenty years later hiking with Ariel in the Friendly Mountains. In my mind, mountain lions belong to me. That’s being human. In truth, mountain lions belong to themselves and can be dangerous to be around. That I don’t find them so is irresponsible, naive and romantic. Coyotes as well. I have hiked around and with (??) coyotes so often and for so many years that I became habituated to them as, to some extent, they did with me and my dogs. But that doesn’t make them friendly.

For me the question isn’t whether wolves belong in the landscape, but whether I do. I don’t, which is why I live in town.

So, wolves. Someone yesterday asked about the effect of reintroduced wolves to the west, and I said I’d look for stuff. The best story, of course, is the return of wolves to Yellowstone Park where no one is trying to raise cattle or sheep and nature tourism is the big draw. In reality, no one knew what effect wolves would have on the environment, and it’s been amazing. You can see the story here, an upbeat five minute video I love, from National Geographic:

Wolves of Yellowstone

The story illustrates the complexity of natural systems, something we don’t think about enough, maybe. For a while I was a volunteer at the California Wolf Center in Julian, California. Mostly I wrote articles and press releases and visited the wolves. After Ariel died, I was curious about these animals. They are huge. You think Bear is big? Wolves are bigger. These wolves were habituated to people, most rescued from people who thought they could have a “pet” wolf. Uh, no…

Most important to remember is that yes, there is wolf DNA in most domestic dogs, but the dog breed that’s been found to have the MOST wolf DNA is this one. Apparently, if you find you want a wolf, get a Yorkshire Terrier.

In other news, I was going to post a video of wolves howling. I opened Youtube, found the video, the wolves started howling, I joined because I like to howl, it brings back my huskies and suddenly to my immense surprise, Teddy joined in. I recorded it, but unfortunately I can’t share it. If I figure out how, I will.

Nature and Stuff

The weather’s wacky. Seriously. It has some major problems. The forecast? Just look at it. Definitely an identity crisis OR an inability to take life seriously OR bipolar disorder — wait maybe — we do have two poles, whoa, maybe it’s not a disorder at all.

Yesterday’s big news was prescribed burns out at the various Big Empties in the San Luis Valley with every fire fighting resource in attendance. They had to work fast because we’re under a Red Flag Warning today.

Seriously, did you ever imagine you would know so much about this remote small place, a 1 cent postage stamp on the globe? Anyway, I’ve known for a while that the burns would happen. Last year they worked very hard trimming back cottonwood trees and piling up the branches in neat little piles that just said, “Burn me!” We have also been dealing with a LOT of invasive plants. Last year the Russian knapweed — which is beautiful but noxious — was far too prevalent.

Along with prescribed burns, the wildlife managers invite shepherds and cowboys to drive their stock through, usually a little later in the spring. Last year a huge herd of sheep meandered through parts of “my” Big Empty. A couple of years before, I am 90% SURE that “my” cows were driven through, given the track of manure, where it started and where it ended.

In the last election, the people of Colorado voted for the introduction — and protection — of wolves. Since they are already here it was kind of a funny vote, but…Ranchers and farmers don’t like wolves, for obvious reasons, and last year there was a bru-ha-ha in which some cattle were allegedly killed by wolves. I just thought it was more electioneering bullshit because it happened right around election time. Turns out, I was right. You can learn more about it here, in an excellent short article from Writers on the Range, Let’s Tell the Truth about those Big, Bad, Wolves.” Here’s an excerpt:

The return of wolves to the West has always been contentious, and the deaths last fall of more than 40 cattle really in western Colorado alarmed ranchers. But here’s the true story: Wolves did not kill those cattle found dead near Meeker.

After months of investigation, the state agency, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, found no evidence of wolves in the area at all.

Yet when the news of the cattle deaths went public last October, the agency issued a press release stating it was “investigating a report of dead domestic cow calves on White River National Forest lands near Meeker that show damage consistent with wolf depredation.”

A month later, the agency’s Northwest regional manager testified before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission that though some of the cattle had injuries that appeared to come from wolves, he added: “It’s perplexing; it’s confusing; it’s frustrating, trying to figure out exactly what occurred in this incident.” The story of wolves as the culprits, however, made national headlines.

“Let’s Tell the Truth about those Big, Bad, Wolves”

You can learn more about it here, in an excellent short article from Writers on the Range, Let’s Tell the Truth about those Big, Bad, Wolves.” I had the wolf argument back in the 80s with my Montana family. I still feel the same way, first that, beyond this here, I won’t talk about it. Second, wolves are part of the original ecosystem of the, well, entire world. Research done in Yellowstone Park about the effect of the wolves some 30 years later shows they help the environment heal. My ranching friend in Wyoming runs hundreds of head of cattle and sheep and has 44 dogs like Bear and guys on horseback. Another friend who has alpacas on the Montana/Wyoming border, has high fences and 7 dogs like Bear. One change hiking in Europe now, from when I last hiked in Switzerland, is dogs like Bear. How long have livestock guardian dogs been on the job? Thousands and thousands of years. Bear’s breed — the Akbash dog — has been around since 700 bc. One of the small ranches in my neighborhood keeps a Great Pyrenees with the calves. A small sheep ranch has two.

Normally, the livestock guardian dogs don’t take on the wolves; their job is to make it too much work for a wolf to go after the livestock. It’s the same thing as putting a lot of locks on your front door so a robber thinks, “Damn, by the time I get this thing open, the cops will be here.” Livestock guardian dogs are bars on the window. Yes, sometimes they get attacked and killed but often (based on what I’ve learned) it’s because the livestock owner didn’t have enough livestock guardian dogs. Wolves are not the only major predators out there, either. My personal favorite (seriously) of course is the mountain lion. And then there are coyotes and bears. BUT wolves… Anyway, the wolves crossed the Wyoming/Colorado border (which does not exist in real life) so here we are.

I’ve seen Bear respond to an attack (an Australian cattle dog) and she did not hesitate one second to protect me and Dusty. As I watched, I could imagine a different, wilder, scenario. The cattle dog came at us (protecting his territory, a front yard). Bear got loose, sauntered over to him (he had his teeth bared and so on and so forth) and very calmly put her paw on his back, pushed him down and but her mouth over his throat. Just like that. No sign of anger or urgency, just, “This is not to be borne!” He never came at us again.

Here is an Akbash and a Great Pyrenees explaining territorial rights to a bear. Their human uses colorful language. I imagine bears might bring that out in people.

In other news, Elise — my washer/dryer combo — did an awesome job on a mixed load of my normal clothes. I love her. Yes, I know she’s an appliance but seriously… Yesterday I learned how to clean her pump filter.

Books, Beauty, Cranes, Mystery

I’m not a birder. I now know what birders are and generally do, and that’s not me. Partly because with my glasses binoculars are hugely challenging and I don’t have and can’t afford a fancy camera. I think birding is a wonderful thing, but it’s not my thing. Still, I like knowing what I’m looking at and when I see a new animal I try to find out what it is, and what its habits are. One reason is so I will know how to look for it and the other is so I will understand the world we share a little better.

My “way” in nature is to get to know some small place. The reality is there are no “small places” in nature, so that’s kind of a paradox. Also, most of the time I’ve been alone with a dog or dogs in nature, so it’s not social in the normal sense.

Right now, besides the contest, I’m reading a beautiful book — The Desert and the Sown by Gertrude Bell. The title is lines from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Another beautiful book came in the mail today, Peter Matthiessen’s book, The Birds of Heaven. It’s about cranes and has beautiful illustrations.

Gertrude Bell’s book tells of her travels in the Arabian desert before WW I. She writes prose that’s pretty much the opposite of mine, but so beautifully done that it’s never wordy, never redundant, never pedantic. I love it. Maybe if I could write like that, I would.

Today I read some of the most beautiful words I’ve read in my whole life.

The setting is this. She is in an Arab tent at, I believe, the edge of Jordan sharing a meal with a sheik and entourage. Someone comes out of the night to the tent. Though he is an enemy of this tribal leader, he is not there with ill will or ill intent. Some of the other guests go out to meet him. They bring him inside and the host says,

“Good? Please God! Who is with you?”
The young man raised his hand and replied, “God!”
He was alone.

That passage struck me as significant in the context of the narrative — “I know we’re enemies, but I have come by myself, in peace, trusting your hospitality, not with an armed crew to do you harm.”

The words could be read in a different way. What is a solitary ramble but a journey in the company of *God?

I took that out to the Refuge with me today and thought of it when a solitary crane broke from the flock and flew, circling above me, calling out to his comrades. Why he did this, I don’t know, but I loved it. I believe he was checking me out, asking, “Good? Please God? Who is with you?”

You can guess my answer.

*God to me is a word that means the Great Universal Mystery in which we exist and that exists within us. I am a panentheist and I believe that everything, all of everything, together is God. God is just the name I learned and it works for me. It could be Lamont but we know Lamont died, run over by a dune buggy at Puerto Peñasco, and came back as an Albatross.

To find out what that silliness means, go here...

The Real Thing

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.

Seasons are Birds

Lined up along the road, around the pond
Black with golden heads, beady-eyed curious
Gregarious and brave, sun’s yearly bond
Brings them here in springtime’s furious rush.
Small brothers, shiny black and red, take flight
Together from the willows or sing their
Rusty-spring song from lonely fenceposts, write
Love songs in the sky, sonnets in the air.
Partnered up, squawking geese, chase their rivals
Down the road. There is no way around it;
All beauty hides a fight for survival.
Fox tracks in spring snow, a raptor’s silent lift.
Eggshells on the road, strewn feathers, remind
me to savor my own moment in time.

This sonnet is a VERY casually constructed Shakespearean sonnet. You can learn more about the form here.

“I Got to Go!!!”

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.

Aspen on the mountains
Just a pretty scene.

The bees were VERY busy on all the Chamisa. It was fun trying to photograph them.

Bee here now…

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.

Quotidian Update 91.3.vii.g

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. ❤


Wandering Post (Sermon) about Nature

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.

story about climbing Mt. Everest

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. ❤