When I was a little kid, I learned “grace” to say at the dinner table. My brother got the “For all we eat, for all we wear…” one and I got the thankfulness one.

Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat.
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God for everything.

Thinking about it this morning for the first time since I was 8 or so, I realize nothing has changed for me and this sums it up. As for “God,” I don’t have a better word for the wonder that is the universe or the kindness that brought me here after the OTHER immense kindness of allowing me to exist? To live in this beautiful place? To have the amazing life I have? Blows me away.

Yesterday Bear and I took off for a long ramble. I’m still amazed at what a difference SHOES make in my life.

It was cold and lovely out there, no wind, no people, basically NOTHING. A couple of cars went by, a Subaru (of course) and a bright green Jeep Cherokee driven by a tiny old lady who waved at us like we were Santa Claus. The Jeep sported a wheelchair license plate and I was thankful for that drive loop with the pull outs that makes it possible for her to see quite a lot.

The Refuge has done a LOT to make things accessible to almost everyone. Of course, MOST of the Refuge isn’t accessible to anyone, but this one small part? It’s great. People can see things without bothering anyone (meaning wildlife). Bear’s favorite little loop has helped so many people rehab from joint surgery. Sometimes I see them out there, often a elderly parent with a walker accompanied by their kid or friend, slowly making their way at least part way around that little loop. There are some spots in that loop that need repair, but most of it is accessible to a walker or kid’s stroller. Not many people, but a few.

Snow squalls were playing around over the San Juan Mountains, but the big event was the snow remaining within Bear’s reach. Lots of tracks, lots of smells, and opportunities to roll in the snow. Bear was happy. I wasn’t exactly happy, having had something to think about — when that happens to me, it’s like having a splinter in my mind. I have to work it out. I did, I think, and comments from you helped me see more sides of the situation. I thank you so much for that. No one in the range of my voice would have been able to relate to that situation, and, well, I’m a writer not a talker anyway…

Last week we got about 3 inches of snow. Not a lot. It has stayed very cold, so the snow hasn’t melted except in the spots where the sun hits it. North and south here in winter are very distinct even on a flat, totally exposed, cultivated field. Un-touched landscape has ways of keeping all the moisture it can. This was obvious out there yesterday. Bear still had snow up to her, uh, ankles? on the north side of the low ditches beside the road. A friends who lives in a snowier place asked if our snow was already gone, so I took a couple of photos to show her what this high desert wetlands does to keep the snow as long as possible, protecting it from the wind and the sun.

The bushes that fill the landscape form a snow-keeping conspiracy, shading the white treasure from the intense, high-altitude sun. The snow in the cattails isn’t going anywhere, either, unless it gets a lot warmer than it’s likely to get until April. Some of the patches of snow in the second photo are on top of small, frozen. ponds. The only way it’s going anywhere is through evaporation unless it warms up a LOT.

In my Facebook memories this morning I found photos of the Refuge that I took 8 years ago when I had lived here only a few months. I don’t know why I happened to go out there; it wasn’t my thing back then. It took COVID to show me the treasure within my reach. One thing I notice in this photo is that iPhones have WAY better cameras now!

Featured photo: Bear found a perfect patch of snow in front of a sign telling people about the birds that nest on the ground. She laid down in it, took a couple of snowballs out of her front foot, and looked up at me for all the world like she was saying, “Thank you, Martha. Wasn’t this fun?” Then she got up and walked to the car which was parked about 8 feet away.

Sauntering in Bearadise

One conversation at the table during the fancy dinner was about what we did during the ogreish cold of winter here in the Bark-of-Beyond. People argue other’s personal preferences and call it conversation. We all know that. Someone asked me what I liked to do in winter, and when I said “Go outside,” it caused a minor ruckus. Voices were raised in protest, but I stuck to my guns, “I love the cold. I’m out in it whenever I can.” I added that I loved it in May when people started reappearing, and that helped a little. When winter arrived yesterday, Bear and I didn’t hesitate. We know what we love.

The snow wasn’t deep, just a few inches, and the day wasn’t exactly cold, but cold enough not to melt the snow in a flash of San Luis Valley sunlight. No surprise that we were alone out there, except for two geese and one poor hungry Harris hawk. As I watched him flying low over the snowy world I thought that raptors’ great energy-saving efficiency in flight is an evolutionary feature of not getting to eat often and having to fly far to find food. They must get enough or they wouldn’t stick around, but not more than that.

We took Bear’s favorite trail, a path built around a pond that often overflows in spring. For me, it was wonderful because I could see what Bear smells. A fox had been hunting earlier that morning. Kangaroo rats and deer mice left their furtive traces. If snow is a transient catalog of events (it is), it was earlier yesterday morning, around the same time the fox was after them. Bear was fascinated by the fox — and has been even when I couldn’t see any evidence of his passing. But now I know what appeals to her so much. At one point it looked like the story went sideways for some little creature and the fox got breakfast.

We finished that small loop (1/3 mile) and continued on the main road. Bear found even more wonders — including the snow itself — and a couple of times nearly pulled me into a shallow ditch. I wish I didn’t have to leash her, but I do. First, it’s the rule at the Refuge; second, she would roam. It’s part of the nature of her breed. She’d come back sooner or later. I’m even sure she’d come all the way HOME if she got loose, but she’s my Bear, and when I adopted her I promised her I would keep her safe. Dogs like her who are employed and working with sheep stay with their sheep, but that was not to be Bear’s destiny. I try to give her at least SOME of that life, and, since she’s always been here with me, I don’t think she knows the difference.

She finally found something worth rolling in and made a snow angel.

As we walked, a squall formed over the Refuge and, lucky for us with our perverse idea of fun, it snowed. We just stood there for a while and savored it. Last year we had ONE snowstorm and it was in January. This really felt too good to be true. Where snow is concerned I learned in Southern California to seize the day. Good training for this desert valley. Some winters we get a LOT of snow; some winters next to none. We have rain shadows in all directions. The BEST direction for snow to actually reach us is from the south or southwest and that’s what brought this storm. This is what the first snow looks like falling on the natural landscape of the San Luis Valley. All the plants are perfectly designed to capture moisture.

Bear and I were pretty bushed when we got home after a couple hours out there.

I sometimes feel as if Bear thinks I GAVE her the snow, but it is definitely a bond between us. Teddy is OK with it, but Bear truly loves it. She’s out in the yard right now taking a nap in it. This is what she did last night, snoring softly and smiling in her sleep.

Weather Report, Dreaming of Snow, and Ski Lust, Oh My!

The wind has died down so the geese should be able to fly, not just hover, stuck in the air, held by the wind. Wow.

My motto for a while has been, “Go out in ‘bad’ weather. You might die, but you’ll see something.” OK, within reason. I don’t think I’d go out in a hurricane, and I ran from a fire. There are probably blinding blizzards where I’d draw the line.

The cutest thing in my very windy walk yesterday was when a bit of blowing fluff from a cattail caught Teddy’s attention. He went after it like a cat would go after a mouse toy hanging from a string. When the fluff revealed itself to be nothing interesting (such as a mouse) Teddy shrugged and let it go on its way.

The cold is coming — single digit temps predicted next week. Fahrenheit; we’ve had single digit centigrade already. But — it looks like another dry winter. I’m resigned. I’ll take what I get. (“What else exactly WOULD you do, Martha?”)

I have figured out a place where I might be able to Langlauf — it’s a drive, but it looks like a beautiful spot. I wish I were more social sometimes — I belong to a ski club, but I’ve never gone to a meeting. Why not? I don’t know. I guess because the socials they advertise involve things that just aren’t me like a brewery or hundreds of dollars for a ski weekend up in the Sangres at a fancy ranch. They need to start a branch for “older people who don’t drink, don’t have money, don’t have a ‘partner’ and just want to ski safely with someone because (at a certain point) it’s dangerous alone.”

I don’t get over my ski lust. I saw skis advertised in a magazine. The skis (or the advertising?) made my heart pound — really cool skis that looked like they’d be a lot of fun in deep snow. Hok Altai Skis are billed as a “ski/snowshoe combo” but to me they just look like fun.

The idea behind them came to the designers from a project they’d done in the Altai Mountains. Here’s what they say about it:

The Altai Mountains are dead center in the Eurasian Continent. The earliest written records  of skiing (in Chinese histories) refer to skiers hunting in the Altai. Skiing’s place of origin is still a mystery but the Altai/ Lake Baikal region is considered one of the likely places where skis were first used. To this day many of the indigenous population still use skis for transport, hunting,…..and fun. These skiers are the inspiration for Altai Skis. For more information on the ski culture of the Altai Mountains go to – The Altai Project

I’m curious to learn more about the mountains the people. I love the idea of skis used as transportation. Much as I loved downhill skiing back in the day, I was simultaneously captivated by being able to GO somewhere on skis. During my penurious life in Southern California I sometimes dreamed of hut-to-hut skiing in the Rockies or Switzerland. How cool would that be? Very cool, but…

Beautiful as the Hok Skis are, and effective as the marketing is, for numerous reasons, these are not skis for me (whew; just saved myself $500 I don’t have). In the review in National Geographic, they’re described as skis for the dedicated snow-shoer who wants a fun downhill ride. Nope. Not me. I love the glide. Hoks are stabilized with a long pole — as skiers used for millennia which is very cool in a romantic sense, but??? There, too, I recognize twin poles as a technological improvement. Among other things, if you lose one, you still have one. Then, wood is more brittle than fiberglass and more difficult to maintain. Then, of course I already have skis. ❤️

The basic question is whether a person who has skis but doesn’t ski is actually a skier. In Southern California I never asked that question. If snow then ski. That was the simple resolution to THAT, and I have brought that thinking with me, so…

All we need is snow. I really want to take them out to the Refuge. For that we need at least 5 inches/10 cm. That would be beautiful.

Already November!

I know that some see winter as nature
Knuckling under a icy, raw, white thing.
They hunker down in the warm, making major
Projects indoors, anticipating
The arrival of seed catalogs. I
Get it. Winter’s harsh winds can bite
Deep snow is hard to get through, that’s why,
By Hallowe’en, snow shovels are in sight.
The storm”s back is frigid, as we all know
The front comes in warm and windy, foretold
By clouds, but you have to look up. Then snow,
The magic that covers the world in cold
And beauty. Beneath it the future sleeps.
In white silence, Bear and I track foxes.

This sonnet is a VERY casually constructed Shakespearean sonnet. You can learn more about the form here. In this sonnet, I didn’t conclude with a rhymed couplet. Why not you may ask? I just didn’t want to. So there.

As anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows, my dog, Bear, and I love winter. We wait all year for it, but these beautiful, beautiful Indian summer days are something, too. 🧡

Glory Days

Just now riding the sainted bike to nowhere through the Austrian Alps (nice!!) I thought about a similar landscape here in Colorado, a hike I loved. It was reachable, doable, beautiful, rewarding and little traveled. As I rode I thought about what was maybe the best experience (there is a LOT of competition for this) which was in February 1981. I had my first pair of cross-country skis, Karhu Whisper Bear Claws, fish-scale skis I bought from the Campmor catalog along with boots, three pin bindings, and poles. I’d had two lessons. I’d also bought a very simple ski rack I put on top of my 70 VW bug, just a couple of racks with a rubber strap to hold the skis down.

It was a perplexing but happy moment in my life. I’d just had a one-woman show of my paintings. Some confusing stuff was going on, as per natural for a woman in her late 20s, I think. Three men in the periphery, one of whom I would marry. I had not yet learned I would have a job in China.

I was doing linoleum cuts at the time. It was a great balance of things. Come home from work on Friday and cut the first color and print it, then cut the second and go to bed. Wake up, print the second color and, if there were a third, cut it. On that particular day, there was no third color and I found myself at loose ends. Outside my apartment (which was much like and the same age as my current house) was a foot of snow. I looked at my skis. I investigated my solitude and decided, “Fuck it. I want to be a back country skier when I grow up.”

I put on my ski clothes and strapped these skis — which were by no means back country skis — to the top of my car and took off for Boulder, then up Boulder Canyon to Nederland, then up a small road to Eldora and up THAT to the townsite of Hessie. There, when I could go no further, I parked my car. I got out, put on my skis, and headed up the trail. My objective was Lost Lake, two miles up, two miles back. The first part — almost the first mile — was a very sharp and rocky uphill, but there was a lot of snow on the trail. I ran into a couple of hikers but I don’t remember our conversation. I just climbed until I got to the corderoy road where things were a little easier, though still uphill, and the trail wider.

The lake — a glacial lake in a U-shaped valley — was mostly but not completely frozen. The cup of mountains was covered in snow. The old mine hanging on one face had snow on its roof. I looked around for a few minutes, but winter is not really the season for lingering beside a glacial lake and pondering the wonders of existence. It’s more for participating in the wonders of existence. I turned around and made my way down the hill, sometimes skiing, but often side-stepping the steeper, narrower parts. I ran into (not literally) the hikers who were astonished I was already on my way back.

It was wonderful, one of my earliest solitary adventures in wild country. I suspected that I should have been afraid, but I wasn’t. Still, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to hear the objections and the lectures.

Today, after riding the bike to nowhere, I went online to see the hike. I was dismayed that it is now so popular that there are shuttles carrying people to the trailhead from Nederland and that campsites need to be reserved. I backpacked up there a few times when I had a longer journey in mind — up to Devil’s Thumb Pass (WOW!!!). It was so simple. Carry your stuff, park your stuff, hang food out of the reach of Bears away from camp and there you go. I looked at a map of the trail and recognized every turn. Then I read that it’s a year round trail, in winter for snow-showing and cross-country skiing though, one site writes, it’s very steep and challenging skiing for the first mile and half.

In my mind’s eye I can see my herringbones up the extremely steep and narrow first part of the trail. I thought it was fun because, you know what? It was fun. One lucky thing for me that day was the snow was a little wet making it a little grippy.

You can learn about the trail here

I was enchanted by that kind of skiing, skiing that took you somewhere and after I moved to Southern California I very very seldom missed a snowstorm in the Laguna Mountains. I think living in California made me really appreciate the miracle of snow. There was no way I could ever take it for granted since I couldn’t count on it falling more than two or three times a winter. When it fell, a LOT fell — usually between 18 inches and two feet; sometimes more. The snow was great, but, being in Southern California, it also melted fast. I could count on two or three days at most. I would call in sick from teaching if it snowed. Priorities, right? Once the good X and I were skiing to the top of Cuyamaca Peak (7000 feet, from the top you could see the Pacific Ocean) and encountered fresh tracks of a mountain lion — we turned back. Another time we skied to the top of Mt. Palomar to see the observatory in snow. The list is long and probably pretty boring, but it really all began for me that February day alone heading to Lost Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado.

And every fall I train, my act of faith on the Sainted Bike to Nowhere that this year will bring snow and I will seize the day, maybe not like that but who knows?

Featured photo: Self-portrait from back in the day. Linoleum cuts in the foreground; skis in the background. I’d turned my bedroom into a studio and slept on a daybed/sofa in my living room. Again, priorities.

Here’s my wolf/husky Ariel in the snow in the Lagunas in 2004.

December! (“Don’t Be a Naughty Eskimo”)

Warning! All photos in this post (except the forecast) are from 2018/19! It’s dry as a bone here with daytime temperatures in the high 50s low 60s (12c/15c)!!! Yikes!!! The mountains around me are mostly bare of snow. The local ski area is open on weekends with man made snow. They are doing snow dances all the time, I think.

December is upon us and all of the things that brings along with it, in my case a houseguest! Yay! I’m glad that this weekend there is nothing in the forecast but warm temps and sunshine. The pass will be clear for her to drive.

And then December’s social events followed by the blessed, gorgeous hoar-frost-trees cold of January and maybe maybe maybe maybe…. Snow. That beautiful all-too-elusive substance is alleged to be in our forecast for the end of next week, but Bear and I are not holding our breath. Still, December is supposed to be a magical month.

As with most things in life, time will tell. I remember as a kid I didn’t understand what the grownups were saying, but now that’s right up there with the truest words I’ve ever heard.

Here is Bear meditating on the wonder of the groomed Langlauf trail at the golf course. To her left, groomed for walkers and dogs. In front of her, groomed for skiers. But people ski on all of it and hardly anyone walks so… 24 inches packed and long-lasting. If I get this again I will not miss a day. I still need — my skis still need — new bindings.

The seasons here are pretty distinct. In the years I’ve lived here — with a couple of outrageous exceptions — winter hasn’t started for real until after the solstice.

Rio Grande frozen and snow covered, 2019

Maybe I’ll go paint snow… Maybe the dances aren’t enough.

All About My Dog

“It’s raining, Martha,” says the weather dog
bright eyes, damp coat, and hope on every fur
filament. “Do you think it…?” her head cocks.
Before snow, it rains. She’s no amateur.
“A few months more, Bear,” I tell her, gently
“Then we’ll have all the snow and cold we want.”
She nods, shakes, and shuffles out intently
To lie in wait for future’s snowy jaunt.
Summer is inevitable, winter is too
I tell my dog (and myself) every year
Nurturing plants and fighting mosquitoes
We watch summer go with nary a tear.
Patiently we wait for the cold snow kisses
and the sweet deep snow moment of Bear’s bliss.

This is a Shakespearean sonnet which follows an ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme. In a perfect world they are also in iambic pentameter which is ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM, ba-BOOM which happens, also, to be the fundamental cadence of English. I’m not a fanatic about that. If I weren’t so lazy I might try other poetic forms, but…

“This is Great, Martha!”

Today I had the thought of taking Bear out to a place where we used to like to walk a round-about way to the river, but about 10 feet into the walk I had a VERY BAD feeling about it. I made Bear turn around (she was heavily involved in smelling things, notably dog pee; it’s a popular dog walking place thanks to Covid). As we neared the parking lot I saw a car I knew belonged to a nice woman with two dogs she lets run off leash.

Wow. Talk about intuition. She waited until I got Bear into Bella. As I drove away she waved and smiled (we are happy to see each other these days) and her two dogs ran down the trail.

“We’ll go to our happy place, Bear,” I said and we headed down a country road to the Refuge. And there, as always, we found refuge.

The snow has blown and melted a bit obscuring most of the beautiful tracks I saw last time. Here is all that remains of the elegant calligraphy left by a doe and her young one. It seems they drag their feet slightly, making a beautiful pattern.

There were a couple of short stories, too. By “short” I mean made by short animals (har-dee-har-har). Mice, those with the footprints and the line (his little tail dragging) and mouse tracks with the tail up (was something chasing him?).

Bear and I had a wonderful time. There was lots of silence to enjoy. It was my first walk since the injury two weeks ago that I wasn’t limping or walking awkwardly. It was fun. Now I’m reconsidering the ski resolution. Maybe I’ll just get bindings that work better. Not sure. On the way from the place where we DIDN’T walk to the place where we DID I saw people skiing on the lake. They weren’t having any big challenge out there on a groomed trail, though if the temperatures keep rising, they might have a MAJOR challenge.

Monday, Monday

The grey clouds are shuffling around out there as if they were working, but the odds are against them (and Bear and me). Bear doesn’t know what the forecast says and I’m not telling her. Anyway, they’re predicting less than a centimeter so who cares? Actually, ANY amount of snow makes Bear happy, and I try to follow her lead. She’s not thinking, “I can’t ski on this.” She’s thinking, “SNOW!!!” and she’s right.

Looks like it’s going to be one of those dry winters.

I don’t know about all of you, but I’m tired. I remember this particular week in the calendar from when I was a kid. I ALWAYS just wanted to get back to school, to my friends, to learning things. For some reason, Christmas week was more ennui-filled even than the dog days of summer. Christmas was always supposed to BE SOMETHING GREAT, but it never was. And New Years? What was that? This year has been such a rollercoaster, that right now, at this moment in it, I just wish someone would give me new glasses, that I was better at painting letters, that it would snow FOR REAL and that I could hike for days in the California mountains I left behind. What’s wrong with THESE mountains, you ask? Nothing. They’re great, beautiful, immense but along with the California mountains were two good legs and no avalanches. And snow? Well when it did snow, it was always a LOT more than a centimeter.

I think we’re all tired. Ooops. Here comes the sun.

The Colorado Handsaw Massacre

One very good way to deal with frustration is with a pruning saw. The second day after the snowpocalypse of September 9 or 8 or whatever it was, I went out to the back yard — the dog’s yard — to see that essentially half my neighbor’s nasty Chinese elm had fallen onto the vintage clothesline pole.

Summer snow is heavy and when most of it lands in five hours on fully leafed trees? Ha.

I examined it as well as I could in 14 inches of snow and decided I had no clue and went back in the house. After all, I had about a gazillion other branches to deal with all along the alley.

In the fullness of time I was able to look at the mess and I saw it was way above my skill level and I walked away again. Frustrated.

But I went back. And I started sawing off branches and pulling stuff down that I could pull down safely. Every afternoon since, I’ve worked on that damned tree. I figured it was in my power to clean up a lot of the mess and make the yard safe for the dogs to play in and for me to clean up. It’s a lowly aspiration, but it’s mine.

My ally in the battle against the tree, frustration and hopelessness is this little guy.

So far we’ve accomplished a lot. I’m tying stuff up in bundles for the trash to take, all but two branches that are too big.

I’ve called a guy who’s coming tomorrow to give me an estimate on the BIG job and to check the roof of my garage.