Wind and Cranes Oil Painting

This has been about to be painted for several months, but I got intimidated, so… I pulled it out today and started with what I knew. Time will tell but I guess I like it fine, so far.

The featured photo is of the two brushes I’m using right now — both belonged to a dear friend who is dead. It means a lot to have them, to paint with them, and to care for them.


I finished the project — ripped up the last of the journals. It was a relief to be done. Now I have a small pile of things with which to create something new — and lots of dog pictures!

Bear, Teddy and I went out to the Refuge on this humid, foggy, snowy day and had a blissful walk in lightly falling spring snow, heard the songs of the meadowlark, the purring calls of the Sandhill Cranes, the odd conversations of the Canada geese and saw a herd of Mule Deer who had also seen us. We looked at each other for a while, but when a car came by, the deer leapt and loped across the wetlands.

It really could not have been more beautiful.

Big Adventures in the Big Empty

Yesterday on the spur of the moment — as much as that is possible for 3 people living in different households — the ladies and I went out to see the cranes. The wind was blowing like a MOFO (but only in one direction). There are more cranes than I remember ever seeing. I felt a little like a tour guide since I’m out there a lot. Bear came along, of course. 🙂

After our walk we took a drive through the countryside. I wanted to show them what the Refuge people have done to adapt the Refuge to the Covid/post Covid way of seeing cranes. We went to see the two beautiful large parking lots at opposite ends of this immense stretch of Big Empty where people can park their cars and listen to a naturalist talk about the cranes. This is great, but… It’s very hard to talk over the March winds.

Once upon a time, school buses picked up people at the rodeo/fair grounds/building of all public purposes and took people out to see the birds. A naturalist spoke on the bus, and at various stops, everyone piled out at stopping points to see what there was to see. I personally prefer that, but Covid changed the way we do many things. What’s lost? Seriously, 50 people on a school bus jazzed about seeing cranes, prisoners for 15 minutes (in each direction) of an educated person giving good information about the birds, the ecosystem, the San Luis Valley and who might get a great idea about where to see something else. A word in the bus driver’s ear, and off that bus goes. It’s Miss Frizzle. It’s the Magic School Bus. Once the driver (one of the San Luis Valley’s extremely rare Black people) sang and he was amazing.

One of the places where we stopped yesterday is a pull out on the main road which was once a kind of “Why are we stopping here?” kind of place. But it has been “gussied” up and, in the words of Elizabeth, “isn’t this nice what they’ve done?” there are two beautiful new informative signs, a bench where people can sit to watch the cranes and a telescope, thoughtfully placed at kid-height which, since I’m as tall as your average 12 year old, is great. Because I didn’t take my camera out there, just my phone, I tried to use the telescope as a telephoto lens. It was kinda sorta effective. I would need to practice lining up the lenses.

I love the way people love the cranes. Seriously, it’s possible to get so down on humanity but then? A car barreling on the dirt road, too fast. My friends and I stop walking, and with exaggerated attention, look at a group of cranes the driver in the car wouldn’t have seen at that speed. The car slows and stops. The driver gets out. Bear greets her. The woman is a dog person and Bear recognizes that immediately. We chat and then hurry to catch up with our friends. The woman gets closer to the cranes than she will at any other place. Crane tourists are just not quite like the other kids.

I’m really sorry, Rag Tag Daily Prompt, but I can’t work “brindle” into this, though once upon a time I had a little brindle pit bull who climbed rocks with me. ❤

The News from the Ancient Lake

Sandhill Crane

Wow. I’m out of shape for writing like this after what — a month off more or less? I finished the last category of books yesterday and this morning Facebook told me that on this day, last year, I finished my books for 2021. Like the crocus in my garden, the Sandhill Cranes on the wing, Teddy at 8 pm when he thinks it’s time to jump on my bed, and Bear at 9 pm when she wants a cookie — I’m a clock.

As has happened so many times this winter, snow is in the forecast, but not enough to make a dent in our scary arid conditions. I remember other winters when there WAS snow, and in 2019 there was so much that the Rio Grande flooded. So maybe next year. I hope.

A fast growing, affluent county north east of here, south of Denver, Douglas County, has proposed to buy our water. It’s a hotly contested proposal, and I don’t think it’s going to, uh, wash (ha ha). In the first place, the San Luis Valley doesn’t have any water to sell and most of the people and organizations down here have dug in their heels. BUT Douglas County has offered a sizable amount of money (it appears so, anyway, though it isn’t) and some people are motivated by money. Even our execrable congress twit has come out against it — more to improve her re-election chances than because she knows anything about it.

Based on the hydrologic situation of the Valley, “RWR’s project would place undue risks on San Luis Valley (SLV) water users and ratepayers (water customers) in Douglas County.” Harmon points out that “All of the layers [of the SLV aquifer system] are hydrologically connected with each other and also, at many points, the aquifer system is connected to surface streams. Thus when you pump the aquifer at one point, it can affect other locations many miles away.”

The result? “Potential long-term effects, poorly understood now due to the limitations of our scientific knowledge, may crop up as injury many years in the future…. If any of these unintended consequences eventually causes injury or increases costs, who bears the burden? Higher-than-planned pumping, treatment, storage, or conveyance costs would likely be borne by ratepayers in Douglas County. Other long-term impacts of RWR, such as land subsidence or excessive drawdown, would be borne by the SLV community.”

Read the full op-ed:…/3ee89d…#StopWaterExport#ProtectSLVWater

In other news? If you want to see beautiful photos of cranes, here’s your opportunity: Monte Vista Crane Festival Group. It’s a public Facebook group which means you don’t have to be a Facebook person to see the photos. I will say it is a very heart-warming “place” to visit from time to time. People feel a warmth toward Sandhill Cranes that seems to transcend all of our human bullshit. Cranes have the power to bring out the best in people. ❤

The non-Traumatizing News of the Day

There are thousands of Sandhill Cranes here now and people are swarming to see them. Bear and I took a walk today where I knew we wouldn’t encounter cars or tourists. I knew Bear would find a lot of great things to smell, I might find cool feathers (there is a row of cottonwood trees where owls and hawks like to hang out), there would be copious elk poop, and we would see a lot of cranes. It all came true. I returned home with my face burning a little from the March-wind. It was the road from which this drawing came:

I’ve finished reading and evaluating four of the six categories of books I judge for the contest. Some of the books this year are absolutely wonderful. One I worked with yesterday was a cypher until suddenly I understood what the authors were attempting. It made me think about books in a much larger sense than just the way they might be written or even illustrated, but what they ARE in their entirety. This book is one of the very few books I’ve seen EVER — and maybe the only one — that attempts (and mostly succeeding) at actually BEING what it is written about. I know that sounds pretty abstract but there’s an element of the abstract to the book. I ended up loving it. I can’t tell you what it is at this point — and it might never matter — but I am so happy that it came my way. I think when I have time to really experience it as “Martha” not as a judge for a book contest, it could have a big effect on my understanding of art — even my own work. That and it isn’t even an art book per se. It’s about a building material…

As for the news of the world…I have thoughts as we all do but they don’t bear mentioning.

and THEN…

I’m in the middle of reading and evaluating books again, currently books that were submitted electronically. Several actual books on paper will be arriving today. One of the books I evaluated yesterday was an algebra textbook and, considering that Algebra 1 was where I had an intellectual meltdown in high school, my initial reaction was, “How the hell do I do this?” but the answer was clear. Work some problems and see how well the lessons work for the person that would be hardest to reach in the class. Sadly, I tend to solve problems in my head, so the laborious steps in this algebra book (and all the others on the planet) didn’t help me much. As a test, I worked one on paper and, of course, got the answer wrong. In my head I got it right once more proving to the world (comprising my house, Bear and Teddy and now you!) that not every learner learns the same way. Still and all, the book was OK and would work for its intended purpose, an online class done at home.

I remembered Mr. Moeckele, my 6th and 7th grade math teacher, introducing us to this stuff. I saw him — in my mind’s eye — writing frantically on the board and attempting to talk over his shoulder so he wouldn’t lose our attention. I wonder what he would do now? If he’s still around and teaching math, would he find this book useful? Anyway, in my weird little brain 4 still looks like y, 3 like B, g like 6, S like 5 and so on and so forth. At least today a kid like me might be diagnosed with a learning disability and learn some coping strategies and maybe teachers are less relentless about making kids write down every step.

Now for some boring stuff… I guess I’m finished with Physical Therapy I went for a month, and I haven’t heard that I have more sessions approved by my insurance. It’s OK with me. I think it was very useful, but along with the physical help I got was some psychological help (they probably didn’t know) regarding my actual goals. I pulled a groin muscle attempting a side lunge which is OK; it’s healing but I thought, “Do I want to be the goddess of side-lunges or do I want to spend this hour walking my dogs?” The answer is obvious. I have watched some videos that teach falling and I’m practicing falling forward on my bed — just like little kids do! It’s amazing what we do instinctively as children is actually practice for when we’re 70 years old and have arthritis! I’ve also decided that upper body strength is a lot more important than I ever believed in the past and that’s something I can work on easily and well at home. Thinking about the structure of our bodies, it occurred to me that our body kind of “hangs” from our shoulders and spine. Having had to forgo that kind of work after I hurt my shoulder and cracked my rib, I get its importance now AND (most important) I CAN do it.

I’m still corresponding with my elderly penpal in Washington. I sent him the little collection of blog posts I wrote in 2020 and published last year, Finding Refuge. It was just the right book for him which made me very happy. It’s no longer in publication, and Amazon has dropped the price on the 1 remaining volume to $10.25. Please somebody buy it! 😉 It has a lot of dogs and nature in it and reminiscences of the goodle days when we were more-or-less locked down in 2020. My penpal wrote, “I’ve loved all your books, but this one was extra special. I loved it. There were many highlights but what I appreciated most were your philosophy, comments about the outdoors, the San Luis Valley, and the feelings about what you and your dogs were doing.” I think my little book did its job; brightened a dull, rainy winter for him and momentarily lit the darkness of the current moment.

Which brings me to current events about which I have nothing meaningful to say. I deplore the behavior of “my” representative to the House last night at the State of the Union. She’s a piece of work. I hope so much there’s a primary in my state and she doesn’t make it, but I think she will make and has a good chance of winning. As for the war, it’s unspeakable. So many things happening around it — like the UN condemning it — I wonder how that matters materially? I’m intrigued and impressed by the ability of the world to electronically shut down an offending nation. And, most of all, like many of us, I’m lost in admiration for the courage of the Ukrainian people. All my life the future has been uncertain and the end always near (that’s an homage…) so this is just more of the same, though scarier in its way.

There will be a Crane Festival this year, though not quite like the old days (2019). My friend Lois and her developmentally disabled son will be coming down next weekend for the big doings. The cranes are here in pretty large numbers and Bear and I have had a few nice chats with Crane Tourists in our unofficial role as Crane Tourist Welcome Committee.

Please everyone, stay well, and I’ll leave you with this lovely verse from St. Columbanus that he used to encourage the monks who were rowing him from Iona to the European mainland,

Endure and keep yourselves for happy things;
You suffered worse, and these, too, God shall end —

St. Columbanus “the Rowing Song” 600 CE (more or less)


I have a couple of paintings in mind and one is easier at least to visualize than the other so I’m starting with it, maybe today (Oh Boy!!!!) 😃

I was happy a couple days ago to find that before I started working on the illustrations for An Alphabet of Place I’d done a sketch for that painting. Still, I need to get back in the studio or out in the world and draw so I did a pencil drawing of a crane from below, some lines whisker thin. I just went with the first pencil I picked up and it wasn’t a soft-leaded one.

Then I realized that going totally from memory on the rest of the scene would be very difficult, so I took Bear out for a walk. Any excuse, right?

Here’s the painting (in words)…

In Spring 2020, when we had no crane festival and the crane tourists all arrived on their own, there was (comparatively) a lot of traffic out there, people wanting to see the cranes. Nature had a hard row to hoe in 2020 everywhere, and the Refuge was no exception. One very windy day Bear and I headed out to find several cars and people with dogs. OH WELL. We have an alternative road we can take when that happens, so we went that way, a dirt road lined with old cottonwood trees.

The wind was brutal with gusts up to 40 mph (60 kph). There were thousands of cranes at the refuge and they, too, were struggling with the wind, partly because when it gusted, it changed direction. A couple of times I had to turn my back to the wind. Bear and I had some gentle arguments about who was protecting whom. ❤️

Then I heard them purring overhead. Hundreds of cranes above me, seizing the lull between gusts to make it across the main road to their barley field. For a moment the wind stopped completely, and I heard the taffeta rustle of their wings.

That’s what I’m preparing to try to paint.

Bear and I walked on that road yesterday. She loves it because there are a LOT of smells. It’s lined with cottonwood trees, fallen leaves, and hiding places for small animals. I found a feather, I think from a Great Horned Owl. They hang out in those trees.

Across the main road is a tumbled-down farm. The biggest house is like many houses in early 20th century western America (I didn’t take a photo of it). It’s a a little frame box of a house often built around a fire place or wood stove. My grandmother lived in a house like this. Plumbing had to be added to it and in my grandma’s case, my uncles built her an indoor toilet off her bedroom. Behind the main house is a smaller frame house with a wonderful south window (below), probably from the late 19th century. I could picture myself sitting in the light of that window in the winter, looking over the valley. I’m sure there are two more windows like it in back of the house but probably NOT on the north side.

I looked for a third house, the original house. Most of the tumbled-down farms I see have three houses, one of which is a log cabin but there is none on this property. I wondered if maybe this little frame house was the first building they lived in. BUT behind THAT structure is the most interesting and most mysterious building. I took photos of the farm — finally, I’ve meant to for a while — hoping when I got home I could zoom in on that mysterious building and see what it’s made of and what it is, but I’m still not sure.

The shape is that of a potato cellar, but it’s not a potato cellar. I can’t tell for sure what it’s made of — stones? Sod? but I think it was their first house. I’m not sure about the white stuff, but it could be adobe or stucco. And there is the blessed south facing window, a pretty important thing in houses in the San Luis Valley. My house has five — basically the whole south wall is windows. There were six, but Teddy made sure that a windowed front door wasn’t happening here.

I’m sure the building is now home to foxes, raccoons and snakes, but once? I’d love to know.


Bear and I headed out on this beautiful afternoon for a saunter. The leaves on the mountains are continuing their magical transformation to gold. The air was cool; the sky covered by low, fluffy clouds. Seldom does the sky here in the Big Empty feel so close. The light changed continually. It was perfect.

As we were walking back to Bella, a brand new Hyundai stopped. The driver rolled down his window and Bear jumped up to say “Hi!” which the vast (meaning everyone but this guy) majority of crane tourists encourage and enjoy and which the man did not like at all. Good grief! She could scratch the paint! I apologized and lifted Bear’s feet from the car thinking the guy’s priorities were messed up. Then he said, “Have you seen anything?”

I was thinking, “Everything. There’s all kinds of everything around here.” I thought of another tourist a while back who, when I asked if he were looking for cranes, said, “I’m happy to see anything.” I also thought the paint on a car is meaningless compared to experiencing a joyful, friendly, giant-breed white dog jumping up to meet you. We might try not to be judgmental, but I think we fail a lot at it. I fail constantly.

“You mean cranes?” I said.


“It’s not the best time of day, but they’re around.” I told him and his wife where I thought they were most likely to be (near the barley fields). We chatted for a bit and I seriously plugged the wonders of the Crane Festival in the spring, and explained that while there are a lot of people, most of them like the tours in the school busses because they are sure they’ll see something and they get a wildlife biologist riding along to show and tell. I explained that crane tourists are not like other people, that they’re interested in cranes and very kind and respectful. They got the idea that coming back in spring might be a good idea. They only live 3 hours away so they could do that. Then I explained that there’s more crane activity at dawn and sunset. His wife chimed in with quite a bit more warmth and charm. It was a pleasant, pretty typical, conversation with crane tourists.

We went on our way and here came an old guy (my age) on a bicycle. “Hey, he said, “you dyed your hair to match your dog!” I laughed. He commented rapturously about the “perfect day” and I heartily agreed.

And this is what we saw (along with a Harris hawk and young bald eagle hunting).

Heaven, Still

I heard cranes flying overhead in the morning and I knew I had to get out if the weather would let me. The wind whipped up in the afternoon, and Bear and I seized the day. It’s so wonderful to be out there again. I have missed the horizon — and it’s immense out there in the Big empty — the changing light, the shafts between the clouds lighting the mountains, the clouds themselves, the wandering storm cells, all of it. I let Bear take me on her favorite little trail, keeping her close when I couldn’t see around the bushes of blooming chamisa for snakes. “Stay close, Bear,” I said, shortening the leash a bit. Bear didn’t mind at all. A storm cell passed over us, and we were blessed with a few cool sprinkles before it passed on in a hurry. I didn’t see cranes but it’s OK. There were no people, either, which meant we didn’t have to hurry or wait or do any maneuvering at all.

We were free.

The San Juans

This morning I looked at my Facebook memories because back in 2014 I was involved in selling my CA house and in moving here. Sometimes there’s an interesting story or photo of something I found in the garage. What appeared today was this:

My friend Lois, who lives in Colorado Springs, had taken her grandson to the Museum of Nature and Science in Denver and had taken a photo of this exhibit and shared it on my FB wall. I hadn’t yet even seen a crane. It was in the future. I didn’t know how it would be here in Monte Vista or where I would live. It was still on the horizon of my life.

I love the cranes, partly because their presence here marks the beginning and ending of my favorite seasons. For a very short time in winter they’re not here, though I’ve seen them in January and February when they are allegedly “wintering” in New Mexico. Their winter presence seems to depend on whether there is any open water. They are here in larger numbers in spring than in fall, but there are also a lot more people (crane tourists) in spring than fall. I’ve had the opportunity to be a crane tourist, then a crane tourist guide, then what I am now — a person who hangs out with the cranes. In summer they’re up in the Yellowstone region. 🙂

The cranes have taught me a lot — big lessons last year about the importance of survival, stoicism and joy. I’ve watched them get used to me which has been pretty amazing. For a long time last fall I would be out there with Bear walking and looking around and a group of cranes would approach in the air. Inevitably, they would separate into two groups above me. Then came a day when they didn’t do that any more. I can’t say for sure, it might just be a fanciful wish, but I believe my consistent, non-threatening presence and the cranes’ incredible ability to evaluate their environment came together to inform them, “This lady and her dogs are no threat to us.” Now they fly over us, and I love the sound of their wings against the air.

Home Again

I’ve had an intense couple of days. As you may remember, an important acquaintance died while I was up in Colorado Springs injuring my shoulder. I hadn’t been able to go see his wife, my friend Louise, at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte until — wow, day before yesterday. I knew the visit would be intense and sad and everything that conversation is. It was all that. Louise asked if I could design Thank You notes for her to send to everyone who sent flowers and donated to the Alzheimer’s foundation. “What would you like?” I asked her.

“I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”

Then I thought — and spoke, “Do you want your painting?” I meant the painting she and her husband had bought each other for Christmas last year.

“Yes,” she said. Then she reached for her purse.

I said, “No,” and I meant no, but I followed it with, “I don’t know what it will cost me to print them yet.” Actually that doesn’t matter.

After an hour or so talking, I got back into Bella and headed back “over the hill.” (There’s a hill between the town of Del Norte and Monte Vista) and I had the feeling that for the first time in at least a year I was back home. I don’t know where I’ve been in the past few months, but I haven’t been home. On the crest of the hill, Mohammed’s Radio began to play Psychedelic Furs, “Heaven,” and I said, “Yeah. It is.”

Yesterday morning the drain plumber was going to come out and clean the sewer lines in advance of winter because, you know, shit happens. (sorry) I was sound asleep when he got here right at 8. The dogs barked, he knocked, I heard NOTHING. He called. It must have awakened me because a few minutes after his call I was awake and calling him back.

“It’s all good. I’ll swing back later.” He returned about 2 hours later after a couple of jobs in the nearby town of Saguache. He cleaned everything out and inspected everything — important after the bizarre events in my sewer line in 2020. We talked. I learned he’d been a rodeo rider, riding broncs. He’s a young guy, maybe 35, with a wife and two kids. I learned about all his injuries and saw some of the scars. I like rodeo. I know it’s dangerous and a little insane, but it’s been a small part of my life since I was a baby. Rodeo cowboys are athletes; in a way it’s like mountaineering.

We talked about injuries and doctors and I said, “I thought I had good scars, but I got nothing.” He laughed.

I seldom have anything but deep conversations with people. I don’t know why, but it’s always been that way. Pretty soon we’re talking about life and death and why we love the San Luis Valley. I said, “I love it and strangely, I think it’s requited.”

“It is. I feel that too. People down here are real.” When he’d finished and was coiling up the cord to the machine he said, “The way I see it, if we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living?”

Exactly that. That’s what’s been in my mind and has been my struggle since January 6.

The day wore on and the water heater stopped working. My kind neighbor came over to see if he could light it, but no luck. I called my favorite non-sewer line plumber and they said, “Four days.” I said OK. I lived without hot water for a year. It is really not the end of the world. The water heater is relatively new — 7 years old, not a rusty relic. I was hopeful it could be fixed.

Then the wind came up, the sky darkened, and I knew the golden hour had arrived. Bear and I got in Bella. The Refuge was empty, the light was golden and miraculous. We started out in a cool breeze as a storm cell slowly made its way over us. At one point Bear stopped, looking into the distance and soon I saw why. A dozen sandhill cranes calling out flew over us. I was so happy to see them. On our return the storm cell was centered above us and it rained. The cell moved on and I turned around, to see a rainbow stretching across my refuge.

I felt peace inside for the first time in months.

Anyway…the water heater is up and running. The plumber was here by nine and out by 9:10 after explaining what happened and telling me how to fix it myself next time. He spoke in an accent I don’t normally hear in the San Luis Valley and I recognized it instantly. “You’re from New York,” I said.

“Yeah. Long Island.”

“I love it,” I said. “I don’t hear that much out here. One of the best friends I’ve had in my life was from out there. It’s nice to hear.” His arm was inked with Celtic knots and various other signals of his New York Irishness. We talked a bit about how he ended up here and he basically echoed what my sewer line plumber had said and what I feel.

If we can’t be nice to each other, what’s the point of living.