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.


Yesterday my little drought-plagued square on the checkerboard of the San Luis Valley was hit by precipitation. A fast-moving thunderstorm came through, terrifying Bear and dropping graupel and rain. All this happened just before sunset and probably there was a rainbow out there, but the graupel was falling too passionately for me to feel like going out to see. Besides, my leaving the house would have terrified my livestock guardian dog. She was already in livestock guardian hell, trying to stay safe herself while protecting me. She stood in the small dark hallway and watched me across the room. It was hard for her to hold it together when I opened the front door to see how things were going and to savor the amazing weather.

I hope it is a sign that Mother Nature has remembered the San Luis Valley and will give us a normal summer with evening thunderstorms and lots of rain. I have tranquilizers for Bear. ❤️🐾

P.S. I deleted my earlier political rant. If you get my blog posts via email, I guess you still get to read it. I realized (as I was vacuuming) I don’t have anything new or useful to say about any of it. All I can do is vote.

Not New…

I guess after this post, I’m going to recycle the Patagonia magazine (catalog), but there was one more wonderful article. It is about environmental activists who don’t call themselves activist or do activist “things”. It’s an article about five people who just love the natural world where they happen to be and are just purely and simply THERE. What struck me about it is a quotation about our “places.”

“I’ve learned through the past decade that we’re not out exploring an empty canvas. We’re in places that already have a story.” Tamo Campos

Back in San Diego, at “my” nature park, I was very aware of the story that pre-existed my landing rather randomly in Southern California. Most place names out there are related to Spaniards — conquistadores in some case, discoverers (I use that term loosely), and “padres.” San Diego’s baseball team is the Padres. The main padre in my California world was Father Junipero Serra. So many things out there are named for him. Among the things he built (beside the mission) was a dam some ways up the San Diego River from the Mission to make sure that the mission would have water all year.

It’s a very historic old dam — Old Mission Dam — my memory (which could be wrong) tells me it’s the first such Spanish-built edifice in the so-called “New World.” Among other things, was a clay tile lined flume through which water flowed to the Mission San Diego de Alcalá. It’s pretty amazing and people love it. I love it, but not as much as I love what I found away from this beaten path.

Native Americans had lived there for thousands of years, part of the migration route from the ocean to the mountains every year in search of game, comfort and acorns — a staple of their diet. Upstream from the dam, up a narrow canyon of a tributary seasonal stream, was a place I called the “Indian Kitchen.” There were grinding holes and cisterns carved into the rock, but MOST of all was a pool of water that never dried up. The “dam” that held it was one, huge boulder.

Kelly and Molly drinking from a grinding hole at the “Indian Kitchen” after a rainstorm, 1990.

The “kitchen” is close to a large grove of oak trees replete with acorns in their season. The canyon has afternoon shade and water — not potable water, but water. It was a great place to break up a hike on a warm day. That world was a very ancient world when the Spaniards arrived, claiming the land for Spain and calling it “Tierra Nueva.” All the animals of that world — coyotes, foxes, mule deer, raccoons, everything — sought the water in that canyon. Chaparral is dry most of the time.

When I moved back to Colorado in 2014, I’d been “trained” by California in ways I don’t think many Coloradans imagine someone coming in from California. The thing is, 30 years earlier, when I went to live in California, I took the Great American Rocky Mountain West of my childhood and youth with me to California, and I’m sure, maybe without thinking, I built on on that tradition, that sense of my self.

Just as no places in the world are new, neither are we. ❤

And this place?
The Refuge — wetlands with geese nesting in the cattails and ducks in the water.

I drew it and painted it before I ever saw it. The mystery of that haunts me whenever I’m out at the Refuge. How did I know this place before seeing it? What is my part in it? It is so old for humanity. “My” wetlands was an inland sea where people hunted and lived 10,000 years ago in the last Ice Age. Is there reincarnation? Was I here before?

Often, at Mission Trails Regional Park, ambling around on my own, it seemed like I could feel the presence of those ancient people. The trails I was on were their trails. I thought about it all the time. I think about it now, here. Those Clovis Point hunters looked at this landscape, these mountains, scanned the horizon for game just like I do. They wanted to eat; I just want to see it. Yesterday I saw a small herd of antelope grazing in a field of barley stubble. Clovis Point hunters didn’t see the barley field, but they saw the antelope. We read the same story. A hundred elk heading south across the grass in February? They read that story, too.

Today I watched two red-tail hawks make love at the very top of a dead cottonwood tree. The tree looms above a deserted homestead. The people who planted the tree — and others — as a windbreak for their homestead are long, long, gone, but the hawks — actually, buzzards, buteo — are taking advantage of the tree’s marvelous height to create the future. It’s incredible.

I agree with the article in Patagonia’s magazine. When you experience and learn to SEE a place, allow it to become part of who you are, that’s its own kind of activism, the transcendent, timeless, activism of love.

Featured photo: Old Mission Dam, San Diego from Wikipedia

Quotidian Update 91.8.4b.ix

Yesterday Bear and I went out for our observance of the Refuge before the wind came up. With the Crane Tourists gone, it’s ours again and we have another pleasant six weeks (inshallah) before the deer flies and mosquitoes force me to test my summer wardrobe of beige clothes and my insect repellant baseball cap.

The Canada geese are building and sitting on their nests. The smaller birds are singing and looking for luv’. The mountains are still white with snow. Basically God’s in his Heaven and all is right with the world — at least at that scale. I took a big plunge yesterday and sent my CV to the organization that supports the complex of wildlife refuges — Friends of San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuges. I don’t know what they’ll do with those four pages, but maybe they’ll have a little something for me to do. I’ve realized since the last (ultimate?) tea party that maybe I need to make connections with people with whom I share common interests. We’ll see.

Another thing going on here in the back-of-beyond is that this summer on one Wednesday each month one of the stores “downtown” is organizing a street fair for artists. I’m interested, but organizing a display is a problem. It’s expensive, and I know this place pretty well. My thought right now is to go to the first one and see if my work fits in that milieu and then decide.

Meanwhile, happy whatever you celebrate!

Maundy Thursday

As a Panentheist who was raised with the Bible and writes novels centered on religion and is not anti-Christian (or any other faith) it’s impossible for me to ignore the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. For me the big day is the day Jesus told God he’d really rather stay on Earth than go through everything he knew was ahead of him. Except for the early-morning betrayal by Judas, it’s kind of a non-event. Guy goes to garden with his friends. Friends are soporific from a big dinner and wine and promptly go to sleep in spite of Jesus asking someone, for the love of God, to stay awake with him (for reasons he knew and we all found out later). OH well.

It’s not cool to know your fate. It’s a question that was debated a lot in my house because my dad KNEW his fate, roughly how long he had to live and what would kill him. Not cool. Better to be surprised especially if you KNOW there’s a crucifixion ahead of you. THAT makes this world all the more beautiful — even in my dad’s case one of the last things he wanted was to see Pikes Peak (we lived in Colorado Springs) one more time.

So every year I celebrate this day of the Earth’s beauty by walking my dogs. Out at the Refuge, I was happy to find that the wind has died down in general (though we are still under a Red Flag Warning). We were able to get out early enough to beat the wind entirely. It was absolutely quiet out there except for the songs and sounds of birds. I watched a pair of red-tailed hawks hunt and, later on, an osprey flew over and in front of me. The songs of red-winged blackbirds and meadowlarks serenaded us along our way. The cinnamon teals — beautiful red ducks with a teal band on their wings — were swimming peacefully. The geese were chill, literally, on some ice left over from the very cold night we had. No people. “The cranes have left. There’s nothing to see.” I’m honestly glad they think so.

By Request… Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a truly unique place though, it’s true, it’s no Yellowstone. What there is to see there, is, well, limited to what there is to see but, as with the San Luis Valley as a whole, it’s understated and captivating. I’ve taken a lot of photos most of which I can’t find this morning. My first jaunt out there with my neighbors back in 2016.

The water phenomenon you see in the featured photo is the snow melt creek — Medano Creek — that turns the Sand Dunes into a beach in spring. If you just landed here and didn’t look around, seeing the families with coolers, beach umbrellas and boogie boards you’d think “WTF? Where AM I?”

Another interesting phenomenon I discovered on my first visit is that it’s impossible to take a focused photo of the dunes themselves. Huh? Why? Because the sand is ALWAYS moving.

They are about 50 miles from Monte Vista, across potato fields.

The formation of the dunes is a fascinating story you can learn about here. Humans have been hanging around there for thousands of years, not all with coolers and boogie boards, but Clovis Points and flaking tools have been discovered and are displayed in the beautiful visitor’s center. The Sand Dunes is also an internationally designated Dark Sky Area.

The photos below reflect several visits out to the Dunes. One thing I want to do and haven’t done is visit them when they are covered in snow.

Palm Sunday at the Church of the Big Empty

Akbash dogs are stubborn AND they know what they think is right, and Bear did not think it was right for me to take her out for a walk without Teddy, so she wouldn’t let me catch her. It got incredibly frustrating. I went to the garage and opened the back door of Bella and tried to fool Bear into letting me leash her. She wasn’t having it. Finally I opened the kitchen door. Teddy, who was in the house, ran out, raced down the walk into the garage, and jumped up into his seat in the car. Bear didn’t know he was in the car, ready to go, and STILL refused to be leashed. 

“I’m ready Martha!”

“I know, Teddy, but I have to catch Bear. Besides, I didn’t want to take you.”

“Really?” There’s NO way he would believe that.

“Never mind little guy.”

Finally I got Teddy and went into the house. Before long, Bear was inside. I grabbed her collar, leashed her, and took them both for a very very very very windy Palm Sunday Service at the Church of the Big Empty. It was a wonderful “service” even with the wind gusting at 40 mph. I watched an osprey and a Harris hawk hunt, saw some cinnamon teal take advantage of a lull in the wind to fly from the ditch to the pond and there were NO other people. 

And then… 

“Isn’t this all-right, Martha?” “It” said. “It” is my notion of God.
“This. Isn’t it enough. Do you really need to travel far and wide? You’ll just come home to this. Think about it. It took your whole life for you to get here.” There was no arguing that.

I turned and looked at Mt. Blanca through the pastel haze of the dusty air. 

“I brought you here,” It said again. “Isn’t this enough?”

My eyes filled with tears. It’s so much more than “enough.” I said “Thank you” and continued my uphill push on the flat road with the two parishioners who also find it to be “enough.” 

As I walked I pondered the journey that I thought I wanted to take and the financial and physical challenges it would present. Greece. Then I thought, “You have everything they left behind for you. You have even had the privilege to teach it.” And I thought about that and said “Thank you,” again. 

So, that’s it. ❤

P.S. The photo is my very strange garage. The “leak” you see was repaired a long time ago, but I saw no point in taking the particle board down and discovering what else I should probably do. Also, Bear loves Teddy. When we come in from a walk, she stands back and lets him drink first. Sometimes she will go alone on a walk with me, but usually, she wants Teddy to come along. It’s very difficult to win an argument with an Akbash dog without a lasso — and the ability to use it. I have neither.

To Garden or Not To Garden?

The question of gardening here in the fertile postage stamp territory of my yard remains. Not sure this year. Usually by now I’ve got seeds in seed starters and Scarlet Emperor Beans (SEB) are at least a couple of inches high. It was always too early. That’s what I figured out last year when the SEBs needed to be staked long before it was warm enough to put them outside. The seeds I planted directly in the ground after the late, heavy frost killed a couple of the precocious SEBs grew just as well as those I’d started in the house. And then there are these things called “greenhouses” which some people own but which more often belong to nurseries. The way I understand it they get that stuff going LONG before I would. All this early planting is meant to out wit the short growing season.

And then there’s the question of water… Driving through the backroads (most roads) on the west side of the San Luis Valley when my friends were here this past weekend, I saw how desperately dry the San Luis Valley is. I felt guilty hooking up my new hose to water my bulb plants, but I did water them and the daffodils are beginning to bloom.

This is a “non-problem” for someone like me, but it’s a big problem for the farmers. My town LOVES green lawns and I live on the “show” street, the main drag (definitely a drag in summer with all the RVs from Texas). I’ve even gotten warnings from the city about cutting the weeds in the hell strip by the road (???) which is city property that I’m supposed to water (on my dime!). I don’t like that, either. People throw stuff from their cars and I am tasked with cleaning up after them. Again, all “non-problems” in the grand scheme, but I guess we all have to bitch about something!

Alligator Rescue

As I’ve probably said about a million times, there is no place like the San Luis Valley in Colorado and yesterday I revisited one of the places that proves that point. Colorado Gator Farms. Because of the basin range geology here — two mountain ranges pulling in opposite directions — there are are lot of hot springs all around this valley and one of these runs through the Gator Farm or the gator farm was built on it.

Allow me to elucidate. You have all probably lost sleep wondering what happens to movie star alligators and crocodiles. There happens to be a rescue here (of all places). You might be wondering WHY (as I have wondered) there needs to be a rescue for alligators of all creatures, but… A couple of the alligators were formerly movie stars. There are some white alligators, some caimans, some crocodiles, rescued tortoises, rattlesnakes, corn snakes, rosy boas — pet store reptiles that got too big and dangerous to be pets. Having lived with a red tailed boa and a green iguana I actually feel for these creatures who shouldn’t be pets — they grow to be quite large and need habitats most people couldn’t provide — but who are still pretty amazing to live with. Alligators, though, why anyone would want a pet alligator is beyond me…

It’s one of Lois’ son’s favorite places so we went. First of all, it’s ugly. It’s NOT the place people think of when they conjure up a mental image of Colorado. Second, it’s designed for alligators. I never thought of the ideal world for alligators, especially alligators living at 8000 feet in a four season place, but now I know what it would be. There’s a sign in front that says, “This is a working farm. It smells.” It does but not particularly bad. The place started as a tilapia farm, but the tilapia population got out of control and then, to control the tilapia overgrowth…alligators. And from there?

As with any tourist trap there are photo opportunities and you can’t get through the front door without posing with an alligator and no, I don’t understand the expression on my face here, but the alligator was made to smile. The people who work there could have seasonal jobs as carnival barkers. They are truly not like the other kids, but I like them.

If you’ve never held an alligator I can tell you they are pretty cool. Solid, firm, calm if held properly. This is a baby. The other photo is me in the 90s with Ananda, the red tail boa I was snake-sitting.