We Have Sand in the San Luis Valley, a LOT of Sand

I live near a LOT of sand and I don’t mean a sand lot, though it’s that, too. Great Sand Dunes National Park is really and truly sandy — and also very beautiful in a totally accessible way. It’s true that there isn’t a whole lot to DO there much of the year, and the mosquitoes are beyond counting in summer, there are hiking trails into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains where there are waterfalls and even a pass that settlers used in the olden days to cross the mountains, but the preeminent feature is sand and sandboards — similar to snowboards — have been invented to ride down the dunes when the climate is amenable. Looks like fun, but… There is also a very beautiful visitors’ center.

In spring when the snow melts in the Sangres and water comes charging down Medano Creek, it even turns into a beach. Sometimes, though, it can be a little cold, but if we have a good winter, the beach endures into June or even July!

Life’s a Beach

You can learn a LOT more about the Great Sand Dunes here

The coolest (literally) sand that’s not wet is at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. I was there as a little kid — 4 and 5 years old. It was wonderful, a magical land. The sand never gets hot because it’s white — gypsum — and it reflects the heat — unlike the sand at Great Sand Dunes which, in summer, is too hot to play on.

My brother and I at White Sands, 1957. The green car is ours, I think.

I’m fascinated by White Sands because of the fossilized footprints they’ve found of a little girl carrying her brother? Sister? You can read about them here.

Philosophical Talk with My Plumber

Spooky or scary? I’ll give you scary. You’re taking a shower and suddenly you hear, “Glu glu glug glug GURRRGLE glug.” Sure, you say, “I’m just out of my mind, that wasn’t real,” but this time you’re NOT out of your mind and, deeply aware of your sanity, you get out, dry off, get dressed and follow through with step two of denial. “Naw.” But you don’t believe yourself because remember; you’re not out of your mind.

So… You get your phone, you make the call. Because it’s a sparsely populated valley, when you say, “This is Martha Kennedy” Debbie says, “Hi Martha. Uh oh.” After a brief chat, the plan is laid. Tim, the former bronc rider, will show up late tomorrow morning.

But minutes later your Dick Tim Tracy watch alerts you to the reality that Debbie is calling you. “Hi!”

“Hey, Tim says he can come right now.”

“Oh man, that is so great. Tim’s my favorite philosopher.”

“Isn’t he?”

“Yep. Two years ago when everyone was so mean, he came out when I had that terrible mess. He was here awhile. We talked and he said ‘You know what I think? If we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?'”

“That’s Tim.”

So, reality wrapped up, you head out to the driveway which you DIDN’T shovel, shovel it, uncover the clean outs in that back yard that were covered with snow. You look at your watch. Tim arrives. The job begins. You shut the dogs in your room. Roots. The job is done. Tim packs up and you walk out to the alley with him. “Two years,” you say.

“Yeah. I thought it’d been a while. Finding that other clean out changed everything,” says Tim. “Of course you’re the one who has to pay when there’s a problem, but…”

“It’s weird. The last time (two years ago, flooded back yard, learned that my neighbor’s sewage goes under my yard in an old-fashioned sewage easement, no longer done), well you know how you get angry at people but you don’t want to? Then something happens and you’re not mad any more?”

“Yeah, I know about that.”

“Well, I was mad at my neighbor, but I like her a lot, and I didn’t want to be mad at her. Then she cut down her trees so they wouldn’t fall on my roof.”

“Wow. Well there you go,” said Tim.

“And the other guy who used to live in the green house? Great guy. I liked him too. I didn’t want to be mad at my neighbors.”

“You’re probably paying for their sewer line, though.”

“Yeah. I called the city about that and they told me what to do.”

“That wouldn’t be fun.”

It would involve each of my neighbors digging up their yard and somehow sending their own lines out to the main line in the alley which is beside my house. It would really be a nightmare for all three of us. I’d have to tear out my garage and driveway. OR I could tear up my yard, sidewalk, fences and driveway and send my OWN line out to the alley, but theirs would still go through my yard.

“No. Anyway, I don’t want to be a dick. I just don’t.”

“Nope. There are enough dicks in the world already,” said Tim. “That’s what I think. Sometimes people tell me I’m too nice, but how can that be? The way I figure it you can be a dick or not.”

Tim is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It’s his actual philosophical position, his stance in life.

After a little more deep philosophical discussion on topics of human behavior and choices, Tim the former bronc rider drives into the sunset (actually, down the alley toward the north). Still, the sun is about down, and once that happens, there is no warmth outdoors except what a person carries on their person. You flip your hood over your ears thinking that Tim came to clean out the sewer line when he should’ve been on his way home. He CHOSE to do that because, by tomorrow, there would have been a flood in your yard.

The Fancy Dinner

Among the events last night I managed to get out of the house dressed in black velvet and cashmere without being covered with the love filaments of my canine partners. As I drove to the fancy dinner, the valley showed me all its snowy mountains, the Sangres, draped in the pink of sunset. On the edge of Del Norte I slowed down for a small herd of mule deer.

The dinner was wonderful! Delicious and beautifully served. Every seat was filled. Warm and friendly conversations everywhere. I sat at a table with museum people which was good. I don’t know how well I did as a journalist, but I can fill in blanks since I have a month before the deadline in December.

It’s always going to be a little strange living in a place where people have known each other and each other’s families going back generations. Such a thing would never have been my life no matter what my life had been. I have always belonged more to a landscape than to the people who live in it, but, like the people among whom I live now, I was also a “property” of a large extended family, so this isn’t really alien to me. My family just happened to be in Montana, but their lives going back in a generation or two were similar to the lives of the families of the people around me. Over time, I realized that if I have a “home” somewhere, it’s Montana. Maybe “home” is the place to which you return from wandering, time and again. I know that one reason the valley attracted me is its resemblance to the part of Montana I know best, the big, blue sky, the golden plains, the distant blue mountains.

Over the years I’ve learned that, in a way, every place is the same place and a traveller is a traveller by nature. The I-Ching taught me about that a long time ago. I’m never going to “belong” here except as an accepted outsider, truly a lovely thing, and partly my choice. A traveler — to be at peace wherever he/she travels — has to cultivate a certain attitude and that attitude came pretty naturally to me. Though I am friendly, and sincerely like people, my personality is a little detached. Some people in my life (including my mom) have complained about that, but it’s just who I am. I am private and self-contained. Some of my family understood that, and it didn’t bother them; others felt put-off and rejected. But we are all who we are.

I chose a long time ago to be what I understood to be “a citizen of the world.”

“Hexagram 56: The traveler arrives at an inn. All of his belongings are with him. He gains the trust of a youthful attendant. In this situation, the traveler is a humble and well-mannered person. He understands that for a traveler the only place where he finds a resting point is attained through a constant and renewing introspection of his inner principles. Since he does not find a home in the outside world he must find refuge within himself. Because of his modest and proper approach he will be greeted as a friend. He will find assistance among the others and his purpose will be achieved. He will even gain the support of a person who will become a loyal and sincere friend. This is a priceless benefit for a man who travels through the lives of others. “

The entire hexagram is applicable to me. But this part always strikes home. I’ve been lucky here to find true friends who take me as I am and appreciate — and accept — what I have to offer them. My companion here is the valley itself. Extremely good company and I don’t want to be anywhere else.

The level of “gussied” up here in the San Luis Valley is completely acceptable to me — I was on the fancy end of that. I could’ve worn jeans and a sweatshirt, but… I haven’t been in an environment like that for years. The last time was the student/athlete’s banquet at San Diego State in 2007? Ah, some conferences — 2012, 2013. That too. I thought about that as I drove home with the moon rising half full. Such events were once a part of my life, no big deal. It’s funny that when we retire we don’t first realize all that we retire FROM.

I have a lot to process and some interviews to line up and a few photos to take before I can write the story. I’m happy my deadline is a month away.

A Few Shots

Do I have ANYTHING to say? Doubt runs through my mind…Damn. Just more old lady news from the Bark of Beyond. OH well, here goes…

Public Health here in the Bark of Beyond sets up flu shot clinics in Del Norte every autumn in one of the meeting rooms of the county buildings. As luck would have it, I also got my ballot yesterday so I could kill two birds with one stone. I ended up killing three.

As I was walking my ballot over to the drop box, a familiar car drove up. Driving it was my friend Louise who used to run the museum. I hadn’t seen her since last year, but we’ve been in contact in other ways. I stowed my ballot in the slot, and hurried to meet her. She waved, I waved, and we faced the Rubicon together.

The flu shot “do” is pretty awesome in its way, not only because of the flu shots, but because of the people who show up. Across from Louise and I as we were filling out our papers was a couple of elderly Hispanic farmers speaking the beautiful dialect Spanish people historically spoke down here. It’s so rare ever to hear it. They asked each other how they’d been and what they’d been doing and one of them said he and his boys had been out picking Piñon. The first farmer wanted to know where and they switched to English. One of them was wearing a beautiful turquoise necklace representing the sun. I was sorry they switched to English. I could listen to that Spanish all day. It’s the first native-spoken Spanish I heard when I was a child. To me, it’s beautiful. No one speaks Spanish to me here, which bothers me since my original accent is this one. I love the language and the “Martha” who speaks it.

There was a real slice of San Luis Valley in that room including me wearing one of my only short-sleeved shirts which happens to be a band shirt from the Sex Pistols. OH well.

I also learned that I could get my Covid shot, too, which was NOT my original plan, but I did it. I have two sore arms, but the flu shot arm is the sorer of the two.

I’ve now lived in my house for 8 years, but in many ways it feels as if I have always lived here. I remember when I moved here frantically looking online for a place to get a flu shot. My California life sent me to drug stores or supermarkets to get them and all I found in that search was Public Health at the Rio Grande County Building. That just seemed so strange to me. I didn’t want to do that. During one of life’s dark periods I’d been to Public Health in San Diego, and it was gruesome, to be honest. So, when I saw that the only local place I could get a flu shot in my new home, I was dismayed. I ended up getting it at a Walgreens in Colorado Springs that first year. I had no idea of life in a place like this.

Now, though I could go get a shot at City Market or Safeway, I’d rather go to Public Health. I arrived, and Louise arrived, and many other people got there, right when they opened. It was a little chaotic. No one was impatient or angry or entitled even thought a lot of things weren’t clear. No one said they had to be somewhere and demanded faster service. Nothing like that.

Many of the people were elderly, very elderly. Someone (one of the people waiting for a shot) found more chairs so they didn’t have to stand in line. I heard snippets of conversations. “I’m giving you the Cadillac shot,” said the nurse.

The old man answered, “You’re giving me a Cadillac?”

“The Cadillac shot. The big one.”

“Oh well that’s good because I can’t drive anymore.” And he grinned.

Just Another Day in Paradise

My life has — even in simple things — a tendency to be intense. I don’t know why, but it’s always been that way. This morning I went to City Market to pick up my groceries. As I drove into the area where I park, I noticed something in the outside garden area that shouldn’t be here.

Bougainvillea. Bougainvillea is Southern California and Italy, not this high desert place with the -30F temps in winter, cowboys, all of it that it is. Bougainvillea is San Diego, my garden in the hood, and beautiful, wild, immense and imported plant that gives a home to stray cats, rats, mice and sometime possums. It doesn’t belong in Alamosa, Colorado. My eyes filled with tears.

Sometimes I’m homesick for California. Ok, I admit it. You don’t live somewhere 30 years without parts of your heart and soul taking root. And, it was 8 years ago today (thanks FB memories) that the deal closed on a house I never wanted to leave in a place where I was happy. Add to that, I was leaving a profession I loved. It was ending piled on ending. I had 48 hours to get out. I put a good face on it, but inside I was very sad and very scared. All that made it bearable was necessity and the knowledge that it would be very beautiful where I would live — though I didn’t know where that would be. I knew it would be the San Luis Valley, nothing more.

At City Market I wasn’t sure it WAS bougainvillea. It seemed too strange. I got out of my car and went to see, blinking back tears.

Of course, I’d seen too much of that plant NOT to know it when I see it.

Destinee came out with my groceries. I was standing behind my car, looking over at the plant, thinking about adoption and deciding against it. I was wearing a t-shirt with a big snowflake on the front — kind of a wearable prayer flag. A lot of my shirts have snowflakes on them.

“What are you doing, you little snowflake?” she said. “It’s kind of early for that!” I didn’t remind her that 2 years ago it snowed on September 9.

“See that flower?” I pointed.


“It shouldn’t be here.” I told her what I already told you.

“I’m going to be working out here one or two days. What can you tell me?” I told her that the colorful part isn’t the flower, and that the plants needed lots of sun but not a lot of water. She then shared about problems she’d had with a manager inside. We agreed that it doesn’t make sense for Boss A to make it hard on Employee B just because Boss A “paid their dues” so the young person should have to pay theirs. The conversation (mine) went to Goethe when I noticed Destinee’s earrings said, “Virgo.”

“You were born in August? So was my favorite poet and writer. August 28. 18th century German guy.”

“German guy?”

“Yeah. I met him when I was 50 and I was all like, ‘Where have you been all my life?'”

“I’ll look him up. What did he write?”

I explained about Faust, how it was an old, old story and the standard version had Faust damned for eternity, but Goethe’s didn’t. That for Goethe’s idea of God it was cool that a human was curious and determined, and after all Faust went through, God redeemed him and the devil lost the bet. Destinee was totally into it.

“I told you I’m going to back to school,” she said.

“Yep. I’ve been happy about that all week.”

“Well, when I do, will you help me with my English papers?”

“I would be honored,” I said. And I will be.

The Whole World under My Feet

Predictions are for yet another La Niña winter, dry, again, instead of wet. I really, really, really hope the scientists are wrong because while my friends were here, and I discovered Elephant Rocks, I also discovered (at Elephant Rocks) a spot to Langlauf where I would not worry about going by myself.

I was thinking about the San Luis Valley (“You DO that, Martha?”) last night and I realized I found a place to live that comprises all the places I’ve lived and/or loved except the PRC. Elephant Rocks completed the assemblage. It is Mission Trails Regional Park. As we drove slowly along the loop trail, the rock formations pulled on my heart strings, “THIS, Martha, THIS!” Along the river is a tiny pocket of Nebraska forest along the Missouri. The valley itself seems to hold up a lost shard of the vast sky of South Central Montana. There’s even a little bit of beach out there in the Sand Dunes, and all of it is in Colorado, my old home. To make it even better, there are things that have been completely new that I’ve gotten to meet and learn about in these 8 years.

I did a little research into these amazing rocks and learned this: “The Elephant Rocks managed by the San Luis Valley Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), located in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado near Penitente Canyon Recreation Area. The Elephant Rocks area is a unique area that was once habitat for the Columbian mammoths that lived in the San Luis Valley during the Pleistocene Epoch. The giants once walked here. Local legend has it that these giant creatures left their mark on the rocks, leaving ‘rubs’ smooth surfaces 8-10 feet above the average man.”

I can’t think of much that is cooler than Langlauf in a mammoth world. Thanks to Southern California, my standards for snow are pretty low.

Elephant Rock

The significant features of the area are attributed the largest pyroclastic eruption in the world. The eroded ash forms the elephant- shaped boulders. It is part of the San Juan volcanic field and the La Garita caldera. The rocks resulting from this eruption were unusually uniform in composition. This would imply that the ash cooled as a single unit. This unit is known as the Fish Canyon Tuff. Many sections of the Fish Canyon Tuff are over 4,000 feet thick.

The area at Elephant Rocks is mainly grassland with scattered massive boulders laid out. It is also habitat to the rock loving Neoparrya (a relative of carrots) which flourishes in igneous outcrops or sedimentary rocks from volcanic eruptions. The Neoparrya is native to the San Luis Valley and is known to exist only here and in the Wet Mountain Valley regions. The Fish Canyon Tuff makes up the Elephant Rocks and gradually erodes over time to provide the proper soil chemistry and growth conditions in order for this plant to thrive. The recreation area is 378 acres with an elevation of 7,900 feet managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The area has cold temperatures and very little precipitation. (Source)

Photo: Lois Maxwell

Mid-Autumn Festival (Almost)

Bleary-eyed and confused, woke up this morning and realized that — OH NO — what? Well, the bleary-eyed and confused part is right. Company coming today sometime and a trip to the store in the meantime and I don’t even know if I ordered anything edible! This post-Covid brain is easily taxed.

I’m going to remember 2019 as the Golden Age of Lost Innocence and Retained Brain.

Last evening, to our surprise, the wind came up and the clouds came over. By now you know what that presages. Four hot days in a row, one small escape, hardly right, is it? I looked at Bear, Bear looked at me. I went to the kitchen and closed to door, preventing her escape, and leashed her. Teddy had it all figured out, of course, as always. Assembled the appropriate fardels and we were out the door. Dusk fell a little early. Clouds and smoke from distant wildfires obscured the mountains, but the sky above was a kind of veiled blue. As we approached the Refuge, I saw the moon was rising golden behind the thin clouds.

“Wow,” I thought as any sane person would (breathe a sigh of relief) and pulled in, parked, and got the dogs out as fast as I could. I didn’t want to miss this. It was too great. And…

Mid-Autumn Festival. OK, it’s not until tomorrow, formally, but clouds and rain are forecast for Saturday evening. Carpe Noctem!

Our crepuscular walk wasn’t very long — 1/2 mile, but WOW. A black-crowned night heron in flight, more birdsong than I’ve heard in my life, an owl in the distance and this beautiful Moon as golden as the chamisa. My first Mid-Autumn Festival was in China, and I try to keep it somehow every year. It’s a celebration/remembrance of distant friends. 💛

Moonlight shining through the window
Makes me wonder if there is frost on the ground
I look up and see the moon
Looking down I miss my hometown

Li Bai

The moon remained bright and visible, unclouded, until we turned around. It was as if the sky and valley said, “Here, Martha, something for you to think about.”

On the way home, Mohammed’s Radio played the song the valley gave me as I drove home from seeing an ortho in Salida a few years ago. It was before my most recent hip surgery. The doc was abysmal and meaningless, “One of your legs is shorter than the other! I can’t fix that!” was about all he had to say along with, “I can’t read your X-rays,” as if it were my fault that his computer system couldn’t open the DVD my doc sent up with me. Driving home, I felt so disheartened, a little frightened of hip surgery, and unsure about everything. It is a song I never liked, but as I dropped down from the top of Poncha Pass into the Valley, it was as if I’d never heard it before.

When I heard that song that day, I understood something about this place where I came to live 8 years ago (September 20, 2014). It wasn’t only that I felt I belonged here; the valley thought so, too. The valley is like a person to me, maybe it’s my family, too, along with Bear and Teddy.

Last night the salient lines were:

“When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part
When darkness comes…”

It’s been a tough summer, but what a wonder I got from that short and beautiful evening walk. Thank you, Heaven.

Human Beauty

A couple of days ago Elizabeth and I went to Del Norte for lunch and to see the San Luis Valley Quilt Guild Charity Show. It had been Elizabeth’s birthday the day before and I worked out a way to treat her to the show. She’s pretty fierce about paying her own way, but she and her husband do so many things for me that I can never repay — liking hanging a door on my studio. Besides, she’s awesome.

We had lunch which was great as was the conversation. Then she wanted to cross the street and go to Kathy’s Fabric Trunk to see if they had white crochet thread. I’ve been in this store frequently with her. There’s nothing in there for me to buy, but the owner is a lovely, sweet person and there are dogs. Last time I was there was during Covid and I just went to the front door and knocked. Kathy brought out some seam tape I was picking up for Elizabeth. It was — as were most stores that year — a ghost store.

Tuesday was a different scene completely, leading to a beautiful human scenario.

The store had more stock than I’ve ever seen — quilting season (winter) is approaching — but even then there was MORE. In the “back” (not really, it’s another full sized room beside the main store) were tables around which sat maybe six women. OK, I’m going to say they were all larger women, most in dresses?! It doesn’t matter but I’m painting a scene here. Elizabeth was looking at a crochet thread. There was no white, only ecru which led to a big deliberation about that. Her goal was crocheting angel tree toppers for the upcoming craft boutique. She stood there with the thread deliberating and talking with the women who were all involved in sewing projects.

At the end of the table in a very helpful wheelchair sat Kathy’s very disabled daughter and, beside her on the floor, was the black lab who never leaves her side.

On a high shelf was a cage with a parrot who talked to me. “Hi! How ya’ doin’?”

To my right, in another space, marked off by shelves, a woman measured fabric. As the parrot and I chatted, a yellow lab came to check on the ladies to see if they were dropping any of their lunch and get pets from me. I was mesmerized by this sight. All the women were so happily engaged with each other and their project. They were interested in Elizabeth’s project and her deliberation. It was so beautiful, enchanting. I wanted to pull out my phone and take a photo, but I thought it might be rude.

I learned later that Kathy now holds classes — conducted by experts in particular sewing and quilting techniques — at her store. I’m sure one of the reasons those women were so buoyantly happy (besides being together) is that they were learning something. From there we went to the Rio Grande County Museum.

As we walked to the museum door, I saw that Elizabeth had her money ready. Lyndsie, the director, waved away the money, “You two are good. You don’t have to pay.” I’d arranged to take income from notecards to pay our donation, but it ended up that Lyndsie paid for us. She gave me the $10 someone paid for a pack of notecards. ❤️ A few minutes later, I gave the $10 “back” by buying a Christmas present that benefited the Quilt Guild. High finance among little ladies…

The quilted sign telling people where their donations go. Tu Casa is an organization that helps adult and child victims of domestic violence. Probably the other two categories are clear. The featured photo — the quail quilt — was done by one of the guild members and hangs in the show.

The quilt show was great, and we got to vote for “best quilt” in a few categories which we like doing. Then, draped over an old sofa (I mean OLD), we saw an amazing quilt, an antique “fancy” quilt a crazy quilt of luxurious fabrics. The legend going with it explained that the quilt maker had been born in 1815. Elizabeth and I kind of agreed that we’d lost something over the years.

There are dozens of 10 inch squares joined together and each square is an elaborately pieced and embroidered work of art. You can see some of it in this photo.

Good news from the museum? Looks like the Holiday Art Show will happen. They were finalizing the document — contract — artists will have to sign releasing the museum for liability. Dates are already being considered. I was happy to hear that and grateful to Lyndsie for advocating for me (us).

I don’t know where I fit in this amazing valley. I think, like a lot of things in life — singing in public for example — my primary role is that of “appreciator.” I wouldn’t be the first “alien” to commit to a life here, as this immigrant’s trunk from Sweden reminded me.

UPDATE: I just got home from the doc. I’m not an expert but I saw my X-rays and everything looks good. The doc explained that joint inflammation seems to be a fairly common post-Covid problem. It’s possible that someone will read my X-rays differently, but I sincerely doubt it. I was so relieved when I saw them, I almost cried and the radiologist hugged me. I needed that hug.

Uh…good thoughts appreciated — I’m off to the doc for hip X-rays. I don’t want to endure surgery again. The extreme inconvenience, pain and complications of it? Just not in the mood. No, it’s nothing like being a refugee from the Russian army or the innumerable worse things that can happen to us humans, but it’s still not fun.

Avoiding the Swim of Things

Not a swimmer. OK I like swimming in the ocean but no pools, please. It’s OK once I’m in the water, but if I have to choose to go swimming or something else? I won’t go swimming. Yeah, I know how to swim and, as a kid my brother and I spent a lot of time in the public pool in Bellevue, Nebraska. We rode our bikes a couple miles to get there. The pool was on the edge of the forest and as summer days were muggy and hot, the pool was the best place.

My love of swimming in pools or anywhere else (except the ocean) died in the early 90s. (I wasn’t a kid. I was 42.)

In Switzerland, my friends took me to a water park named Alpamare near Zürich. It had several water slides and different pools. It was fun until it wasn’t. I got on a slide, slid down, and, somewhere along the way hit my head and got a concussion. When I landed at the bottom I was unconscious and my face was under water. A nurse/guard there pulled me out and asked me the usual questions about my name, rank and serial number and I couldn’t answer. He concluded things were even worse than they were. He didn’t know I didn’t understand Swiss German. When my friends got to the bottom of the slide they looked for me and found me in the little “hospital” room off the slide area. They hurried in and things were straightened out, but after that I didn’t really like water, especially over my head. It’s funny how an experience like that tells us “No more!!” on a primal level. I’ve only recently put these pieces together to understand why I don’t want to go swimming.

I had the chance in Italy to take diving lessons and the thought terrified me. Kind of too bad though, honestly, it doesn’t put a big crimp in my life.

All around the rim of mountains are hot springs and hot springs pools, mostly on the opposite side of the valley from where I live. There is a wonderful place to swim here in the San Luis Valley known as The Pool. The views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains from this place (not obvious in these photos) are awe inspiring.

It’s a large, wonderful hot springs pool. The facility also has a place it calls “the Greenhouse” which is adults only. A narrow pool runs through it and “rehomed” potted tropical plants grow all around.

I have gone swimming at The Pool once, had a good time, and never went back. I don’t expect to go back, but who knows?

Another hot springs near the small mountain town of Crestone is very beautiful — Valley View Hot Springs. It’s a very special place for its history past and present, and its goals. It looks down over the valley. Incredible.

So what’s different about the ocean? I’ve swum in the ocean many many many times. I loved diving beneath the breakers and coming out on the other side to swim. Maybe it’s the buoyancy provided by salt water? Maybe it’s that there were no boundaries or walls? Maybe it was the joy of living water? Maybe because, in its way, it was like hiking because I could see animals below me and around me? Maybe it was that I would get a free ride back to shore on the waves? I don’t know, but I really loved it.

Home on the Range

I grew up with cowboy songs and while “coulee” and “draw” figure prominently in my favorite cowboy song, the word “gulch” is nowhere to be herd (ha ha ha I’m so funny). BUT the word shows up in titles to cowboy stories and songs, usually, “dry gulch” which is meant to evoke a dusty trail on the cattle drive north from Texas or maybe a bunch of outlaws hiding from the good guys, “I reckon they’re waiting down in that dry gulch. Be careful Lamont. I think they’re holding that eastern Dude hostage.”

Sadly, Lamont WASN’T careful and that explains how he became momentarily extinct back in the 19th century and Dude was dragged across the cactus flats for a good ten miles, not that good for HIM, of course. It’s an idiomatic use of “good.”(for disambiguation type “Lamont and Dude” in the search bar of this blog).

I never got all that interested in TV or movie westerns and I only read one Zane Grey novel, Wyoming, which, as it happens, has a protagonist with MY very name — Martha Ann. I thought that was pretty cool, but the story didn’t grab me. It was just a fiction dry gulch to me.

The “old west” was too close to fascinate me as a subject for fiction. At dinners of the extended family, I listened to stories of the “old west.” Maybe less old than the gold rush(es) but still pretty rough and woolly. I was interested in the settlers and REAL cowboys — like my uncles were when necessity put them out there working cattle. But other times they were working in wheat fields. Other times? I don’t even know. All work was gig work — seasonal labor. The family didn’t own any property to speak of. I’ve wondered sometimes who they might have been if it hadn’t been for WW II. WW II took one of my aunts to Washington state to work on ships. Another aunt became a nurse. Another aunt was already a teacher. It sent my mom to “normal school” and to the reservation to teach. My Aunt Martha went to DC to work for the OSS. It sent my uncles to war. Really, how DO you keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?

But… the nostalgia was passed down to me. I loved my family and I loved their stories, and, obviously, I love the Big Empty. In 2014 (as they would say) my “chips were down”, I gathered up my “winnings,” and came home to a world where men in cowboy hats drive trucks and there are more cows than people. I believe the heart carries within it images of home, and it might even be a place a person has never seen. The featured photo is one of my first photos of the Refuge. This is one of the first photos I took of the San Luis Valley near Monte Vista.

I sang this song for my 6th grade choir grade at the private school I attended in Omaha, Nebraska. My teacher, who’d been in Mitch Miller’s choir, stopped me before I could finish. “There’s more to music than cowboy songs.” Well, maybe, but it’s a beautiful song. This is a very un-fancy version.