“What IS That?”

A few years ago my friend Lois and I went to Switzerland. We stayed in the tiny village of Obfelden (I still managed to get lost there), in an 18th century barn (refurbished) belonging to an Australian woman who taught in an international school near Lucerne. It was great and I want to go back and hope to but…

When we got there, one of the first questions we were asked was, “We looked up Monte Vista on Google. What are those circles?”

Really, they do look like they were made by aliens when you look at the satellite view.

Generally, land is measured in acres, half-acres, sections, and something vague called a “parcel.” I hear that phrase a lot less now than I did when I was a kid. The grownups (in Montana) would say, “That was a nice parcel we had down by the river.” Of course that was confusing but language is too dangerous for children.

So, this morning I looked up parcel as it pertained to land. Maybe (I wondered) it’s a legit measurement.

A quarter section is 160 acres (65 ha) and a “quarter-quarter section” is 40 acres (16 ha). In 1832 the smallest area of land that could be acquired was reduced to the 40-acre (16 ha) quarter-quarter section, and this size parcel became entrenched in American mythology. (Wikipedia)

These days when I see farm land advertised, it’s measured in circles. “Working farm, barn, outbuildings, newer house built in 2000, four circles producing.” The circles are made by Center Pivot Irrigation machines which work basically like compasses across the land. It’s an effective and efficient method of water delivery and automatically leaves part of the field fallow which is important for not draining the soil of nutrients. The water “rains” down on the crops. The fields are plowed in whatever way is best for what is growing there — for potatoes there are deep ridges that catch and hold the water taking it to the roots.



Potato field in the San Luis Valley and Center Pivot irrigation


It seems to be a good method for dryland farming. I know that in more rain-rich areas farms are still measured in squares.

The satellite image above is centered just north and west of Monte Vista. The dark, jagged line is Rio Grande and the trees lining it. You can see some square “parcels” in the farms nearer the river — mostly pastures and grassland for grazing in winter, not land under cultivation.

It just looks like home to me.

If you’re curious, here’s some good information.


Quotidian Rivulets 23.1.a.iv

With the snow pack this year in the San Juan and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as low as 20% of normal, I’m afraid my river will be a rivulet this year. By the time it gets to San Antonio, godnose what’ll be left.

In other news, the Bike to Nowhere and I rode 10 miles through the Dolomites yesterday, crossing a high Alpine pass at the end of winter. It was a beautiful ride followed by a somewhat amended PT routine. My roommates only had one moment of “OH my god what happened to her???” hysteria. Now I know what Bear would do if she thought I was hurt, and she couldn’t get to me. She would bark. She would go to the living room and bark out the window. Calling for help? No idea, but she was NOT happy until I called out, “It’s OK Bear.” Then she went outside.

The Scarlet Emperor Beans are thriving, and I am grateful to Bear for digging me a couple of good holes against wrought iron patio supports where I can plant them.

I’m also doing my first official book review — Another Good Dog by Cara Sue Achterberg. I’m a very impatient reader. If a book doesn’t grab me immediately, I might still read it (probably not) but I’ll hate every minute and regard the writer as uncool. I planned to save the book for my rehab, thinking that reading about a kind and funny woman fostering rescue dogs would be a great way to help the healing process. BUT… I opened the book as soon as it arrived yesterday, and I was grabbed. It might help me through the “HOLY SHIT I’M ABOUT TO HAVE SURGERY” process instead. You can learn more about Cara and the dogs with whom she shares her life from her blog Another Good Dog.

This is Bear’s and my song, by the way, and somehow she knows it. As soon as it started (sent to my stereo through the miracle of wifi and my iPhone) she brought me her very disgusting toy and climbed into my lap. We both especially like the last verse about walking in the snow. I hope the coming winter — which is a ways off, granted — brings snow to Bear, me and the Rio Grande. We all need it. ❤



Meander Grande

The featured photo is the Rio Grande as it goes through the San Luis Valley. I didn’t take this picture. It’s from the Western Rivers Conservancy. The river threads and meanders as it heads south with GREAT determination to meet up with the Gulf of Mexico.

Even in the small area that is my slough I get to meet up with a couple of riverbends.

River Bend

“My” Rio Grande

Down by Taos, where the plateau that is the San Luis Valley begins to drop off, the river speeds up and flows in a somewhat less meandering path. It carves a dramatic canyon where, for a few months every spring, white-water rafters have a great time. Tectonic forces have also lifted the land as the river has flowed, and meandering of the ancient river is deeply carved into the plateau — this is very apparent in aerial photos of the Colorado River going through the Grand Canyon.


Rio Grande Gorge/Taos Box


Once the landscape calms down, the river calms down, too and meanders through Albuquerque down to El Paso.

While this might seem like a simple blog post about a meandering river, it’s actually an argument for liberal education. Yeah, I grew up to be an English teacher, but my favorite subjects were geology and physics. I even won two science fair prizes in 8th grade — one from the National Petroleum Institute — for my my project on the formation of Mt. Moran in the Grand Tetons. How the world (meaning the planet) forms itself and the rules to which it abides fascinate me. If I hadn’t been forced to take geology in 8th grade, I wouldn’t be writing this post now or showing you photos of “my” river. I might not even know what my river is doing or why.

I used to argue that with my business students who resented the classes they had to take that had “nothing to do with business.” They just wanted out so they could start making the “big bucks.” I would tell them that their job would just take up their days. What would they do on weekends? What would they talk about at company banquets, sitting next to someone’s wife or husband and wanting to make a good impression? What would they see when they went on vacation? What would they understand when they watched a movie that might be filled with literary allusions? How would they understand the meaning behind special effects in a film about an asteroid hitting the Earth?

I don’t know if my arguments sank in or not, but, for myself, I’m glad I had classes in the sciences even though (in college) I never passed any of the exams in my required intro courses. Formulas and the initals for chemicals do not mix well with dyslexia. BUT I did fine with a box of rocks, field trips and pictures of geological features, well enough to pass with a D, anyway. Well enough to love a river and be thrilled by an earthquake.


Where I Live

Today Mindy got groomed. My groomer has a small farm. Really small. She lives in a mobile home across from my vet. In the backyard are a couple of sheds. One is for storing bikes on one end and a pony on the other. The other is her really pretty grooming studio. There are pens for sheep and the goat. It’s far and away from any urban grooming set up like you might see at Petco or something. She LOVES animals and she has two great kids who help out.

Mindy loves to go there and they love Mindy. “She doesn’t have a mean bone in her body,” says the groomer. “She’s the most cooperative dog; she seems to know what you need and helps you.” Mindy is 10 or 11; she has bad hips. I don’t like brushing her because I’m afraid I’ll hurt her, so it’s great I have found Muddy Paws.

Mindy the groomed

“Aren’t I pretty?”

When I picked Mindy up we talked about what people talk about in an agricultural community. I didn’t grow up here. I never farmed anything or raised any stock, but I like it. I would have liked doing it if I’d been plopped down in that world. I’d have been happy. I know that because I was always happy in Montana with my family and their borderline farms. I am happier here than I’ve been ever in my life.

In a farming community, you talk about the weather and it’s NOT small talk. We’re having the driest winter Colorado has seen in 30 years. It was 56 degrees this afternoon; for reference, on this day last year, it got up to 12. That’s normal for January.

This is nuts.

“I don’t know what to think,” I said. “I like the cold and snow, but it’s kind of nice not having to worry about it.”

“I know what you mean. By now, usually, I don’t have any grooming business but I’m booked solid.”

“Last January I wouldn’t have brought Mindy. It was 20 below!”

“It’s strange,” she said. “This weather is good for the loggers, but the farmers? We got a lot of rain in the summer.”

“Seven inches extra for last year,” I said.

“That’s a whole year of moisture,” she nodded. “I think we’re going to have another one of those wet summers. That’s bad. I’m lambing now and we’re good, but next year, if we have another wet summer, hay is going to be sky high.”

“And the potatoes,” I said. “That was a little iffy last summer.”

“Yeah, it was. I don’t know what to wish for. I guess it depends on your work.”

And work depends on the land and the weather. I like that so much. I like those imperatives so much more than some arcane discussion about teaching methods or what degree I have or how I manage a classroom. I know farming (and everything else that happens here) isn’t easy for a lot of people and a lot of people are having a hard time, but  man. When nature is your partner there’s a lot different kind of negotiation and if you lose your job, it’s not because some dumbass boss doesn’t like you.

While Mindy was being groomed, Bear and I walked for a mile and a half along the river. It’s mostly frozen, here and there the unfrozen channel surfaces, but sections of it are like a mirror. We found the femur of a deceased large mammal — probably a deer — a little bit of fur hanging on, but mostly cleaned off completely.



Animals that walk along the river during other times of day include bears, coyotes, foxes, stray dogs, a cougar, badgers — and human hunters. Who knows how that femur came to be beside the trail and it wasn’t saying anything. I think Bear has some idea, but she’s not saying, either.


Have I Got a Gorgeous Gorge!!!!

Rio Grande Gorge, outside Taos, New Mexico surprised me. I have been through Taos many times in my life but NEVER on the road that crosses this bridge. On both sides are vendors of all kinds — mostly Native Americans selling silver jewelry. And then the bridge and then the view. Since my trips to Taos are usually NOT tourist jaunts, I have yet to get out of the car and walk across the bridge. That’s kind of all right with me. I’m more than a little acrophobic. But, I have a plan to visit Taos on my own sometime after Christmas when all the hub-bub has died down, and Taos returns to the sleepy town of 1930 paintings. I’ll stop and cross the bridge then.


I love the geologic song of the river here as it chisels its way through the slowly uplifting layers of the east edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s a view into time.


“My” Rio Grande as it passes Monte Vista

I love this river. Yesterday walking beside it, listening to it, looking through the clear water, enjoying the promise of ice on the sides, already growing, I thought again of how lucky I am to have moved here more-or-less accidentally.


Beautiful Hike <3

Yesterday marked the three year anniversary of my return to Colorado. We celebrated by taking a walk along the Rio Grande in one part of the Rio Grande State Wildlife Area, basically across the street from our usual little loop. It was very beautiful and verdant, and we saw a great horned owl at lunch. He was on the ground with his mouse, vole or bunny sandwich and the vibrations of my trekking pole startled him, so he took flight leaving a crumb or two behind. I don’t think we would have seen him at all otherwise. Later my pole startled a snowy egret and later on a little green frog.

I like seeing animals and birds very, very much. But yesterday, in this place that was so sheltered and so quiet, I felt like an intruder. If I didn’t need the stick to walk and take pressure off my joints, I’d be far more Natty Bumpo about the whole thing and quietly make my way through the landscape.

The landscape itself has great things growing in it such as currants and wild asparagus. Yesterday I saw a little plant — Maianthemum stellatum —  whose fall appearance was new to me.


Hunting season starts in a few weeks — three weeks — and after that (ironically?), in March this side of the area is closed so that waterfowl can breed. It reopens on July 15, at the height of mosquito season.

It was a perfect anniversary party! 🙂


Rio Grande looking tired


“This is awesome, Martha!”


Mt. Blanca in the distance


The way through the woods


Rio Bravo

All winter, the river ran shallow, sometimes frozen enough for skaters and x-country skiers to play on. The unseasonable warm weather of March brought a quick, early thaw. Heavy snows in the high country raised the river more. Where once I couldn’t see it from the loop trail where I walk my dogs, I could see it easily. Even the little runoff channels that make up the slough were full, high and running fast.

People took advantage of it. Sometime the little parking area had heavy-duty pick-ups loaded with kayaks and boats that would be carried down the bank and “launched.” The current also brought out a paddle boarder or two.

As a kid in eastern Nebraska, I lived hear the Missouri, but I never really had the chance to watch it much. It’s also a pretty “old” river by the time it reaches Bellevue, where I lived. The Rio Grande is a “small” fast river in places through the San Luis Valley, but mostly it meanders across until it makes a sharp right turn in Alamosa and heads to New Mexico, carving a beautiful canyon outside of Taos. It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve loved it since I arrived in 2014 and first saw it, a dark gray ribbon wandering through South Fork.

The photo is the Rio Grande passing “my” slough in March!


River, Wind, Frogs and Birds

The first time I saw the Rio Grande I thought it was a road. I was staying in South Fork, a mountain town west of here, during the transition month between arriving in Colorado and finding a house to live in. I looked down from the field where I walked my dogs every day and saw an asphalt gray ribbon, as wide as a car lane, winding through the golf course below. I didn’t realize it wasn’t a road until 3 am one Sunday morning when Lily T. Wolf needed to go out. There were no trucks on the highway; the night was silent and I heard the river.

When daylight came we were, of course, out again and in the morning light the “road” was no longer gray but silvery blue. At that moment, it became my river.

This afternoon, Bear and I went out to the slough. The Rio Grande is now the highest I’ve seen it, and the channels that run through the slough are also deep and fast. Today all I heard on our walk was wind, the river, some frogs, red-wing blackbirds, and an annoyed goose. To me it’s really something to hike along a trail, listening to a river.


One of the channels in the slough

Rio Grande

Sometimes I have the superstitious feeling that life is like a video game. You can’t “have” something until you’ve completed all the steps you need to, and the steps are arcane and mysterious. Then you can “level up.” Strange as it seems, as long as I’ve lived in Monte Vista, I have been looking for the Rio Grande. Yeah, yeah, I looked on maps and saw how close I was to it while hiking, but I didn’t get to it until today.

When I moved out here two years ago, I lived in a cabin near the river, up in South Fork. The first few times I saw the river in the middle distance, I thought it was a road. It looked black/gray and wandered through a golf course. Then, at 4 a.m. one Sunday morning which Lily T. Wolf (RIP) needed out, I found myself in the field in complete silence and I heard it. The river, and I knew it was no road.

I love rivers. As a kid in Nebraska, I lived by the Missouri and sometimes hiked along a railroad track that ran beside it. Visiting my mom during the many years she lived in Montana, my river was the Yellowstone. One of the things that drew me here was the Rio Grande. As of today, it is my river.