Tracks

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Moose tracks in old snow are one thing. Ambiguous clumps of cat-type scat are another. I didn’t take photos of those I saw on my walk today, but I feel pretty safe saying there’s a bobcat prowling my golf course, too. But no soft fat cat footprints in the old snow.

The dogs have a far more informative newspaper and their noses were going crazy today on our walk. It’s been warm — in the fifties — so scents are rising in clear block letters for the dogs to read. I had the feeling that a time or two there were some pretty big headlines, but, thank goodness, no “EXTRA!!!” of pronghorns or white-tailed deer sproinging across the driving range.

I’m getting to the point where I am beginning to want to meet people. I honestly have not during these whole three months. The first two months I wanted to get my living place, uh, livable, then I wanted to just be with myself and my dogs and my novel. But now… Problem is, I’m a shy person. I’m a paradox, a shy person who is friendly, but not outgoing, and too much human contact makes me very tired. I also — naturally — have suffered kind of an identity crisis in this immense change. However…

I’ve learned that there is a Cross Country Ski club in Monte Vista and while I don’t know if I can ski (I doubt it, this year) maybe there are other things I can do. They seem to be extremely cool; they groom trails in various parts of the San Luis Valley within reach of Monte Vista and at different levels of skill. Their “website” is here on WordPress.

Photo by Steve Harbula

Sandhill Cranes, photo by Steve Harbula

 

Monte Vista is world famous for the 20,000 Sandhill Cranes who come flying through in the spring. In honor of this there is a Crane Festival. I finally sat down and looked at the schedule this morning and it looks great. One thing I want to do is go on the bus (16 people) to a more remote nature preserve, Playa Lakes somewhat near the cosmic village of Crestone.

                Friday, March 13, 2015

Sandhill Crane Sunrise Tour
7:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building
Refuge bus tour to view hundreds of Sandhill Cranes.
Donation Requested
Sandhill Crane Sunset Tour
4:00 p.m.
Ski Hi Building
View hundreds of Sandhill Cranes heading to roost on the refuge.
Donation Requested
“The Birds” Rated PG-13
An Alfred Hitchcock Classic!!
7:30 p.m. Vali 3 Theater
(Adams Street)
Come and relax while enjoying a classic , after a great day of crane viewing on the refuge.Admission Fee:
Adults $6.00
Children $4.00

                Saturday, March 14, 2015

Birders’ Breakfast
6:00 a.m. -10:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building
Refuge bus tour to view hundreds of Sandhill Cranes.
Cost: Adult $6, Child $5, Tickets sold morning of breakfast.
Sandhill Sunrise Tour
7:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building
Watch hundreds of Cranes in refuge farm fields.
Donation Requested

Valley Raptor Tour
10:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building

Learn to identify various raptor species; guided by Hawks Aloft.

Donation Requested.

Blanca Wetlands Tour
Bureau of Land Managment

10:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building

Playa Lakes & Wetlands Tour Limited to 16 people4-5 hour tour. Bring lunch and personal gear for a day in the field!

Native Aquatic Species Hatchery Tour

10:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building

Colorado Parks & Wildlife Facility, Alamosa. Limited to 40 people

Donation Requested.

Sandhill Sunset Tour
4:00 p.m.
Ski Hi Building
Refuge bus tour to view hundreds of Sandhill Cranes heading to roost on the refuge.
Donation Requested
Keynote Speaker—Dr. George Archibald—International Crane Foundation
7:30 p.m.
Vali 3 Theater
Title: To the Heights with Cranes: Cranes of the Mountains
Donation Requested

                Saturday Workshops

                Vali 3 Theater 139 Adams Street
(Open to the Public; Donations Requested for Guest Speakers)

                10:30 a.m.

Jason Beason
Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory

“Black Swift Research In Colorado”
The “coolest” bird in Colorado!

                1:00 p.m.

Movie
Vali 3 Theater
“Fly Away Home” (Rated PG)
Come and relax while enjoying a fun and entertaining family movie!

Cost: Adults: $6.00
Children: $4.00

John RawinskiAuthor: “Birding Hotspots of South-Central Colorado.” “Owls of Colorado”
A look into the habits and characteristics of the owls that occur in Colorado.

                2:30 p.m.

Angie Krall
Heritage Program Manager,
Rio Grande National
Forest

“Archaeology of the Baca”
Discussion and Movie

                Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sandhill Sunrise Tour
7:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building
Refuge bus tour to view hundreds of Sandhill Cranes. Donation Requested
Valley Raptor Tour
10:00 a.m.
Ski Hi Building
Learn to identify various raptor species; guided by Hawks Aloft.
Donation Requested

 

Retirement

For the last week or so I have really been “retired.” All moved in, no more stuff I must schlep from the garage to the house. Even the “play” room is set up (I’m in it now). I have realized in the last few days that it’s the first time in years I’ve had time to think, time to actually FEEL and identify my feelings, be myself, think of what I really want to do, imagine doing it.

I’m intrigued by how my mind has worked since the first day I moved in here. Somewhere it KNEW what it had not had for way too long; first on the list, physical exercise. Some people regard that as a chore but I never have. Still for two large and concrete reasons, I haven’t had much for the past few years. First, limitations in my physical ability due to arthritis. Second, teaching 7 classes and driving at least 1 1/2 hours a day doesn’t leave much time for anything beyond grading papers, shopping for food, cooking food, eating food, sleeping… The interludes between — the summers I had off and Christmas vacation — were lovely islands in which I could take walks or ride my old Airdyne.

While it may be hard to imagine anyone being excited about riding a stationary bicycle, take it from me. I am. When I started — as soon as I put it together just before Hallowe’en — I got on and rode a WHOLE 15 minutes!. It was not easy, but I remembered not so long ago I’d had to start up and I remembered how it worked. Start slow, don’t overdo, be happy with any “distance.” Now I’m able to ride for 40 minutes and go 10 miles. Not bad. It satisfies me. All that is missing is the pleasure I felt riding my old one, and I know that will come. It took about three months, last time, to build up to an hour on the thing and it was also at that point that my knee no longer hurt on walks. That’s my goal. My ultimate goal (this coming year) is to be able to hike up a mountain. I have a mountain in mind. Canby Mountain. It’s not one of Colorado’s “big” mountains. It’s shy of that distinction by some 300 meters, still, it’s where the Rio Grande begins. I love the river that winds through this valley, though I know almost nothing about it. That’s why I want to climb this mountain.

The climb is reputed to be easy, too. More or less a drive in a 4WD and then a hike. Seems like a good start for me. I think about it often — how I might rent a jeep, drive as far as I can, and then hike the hike. Because it’s not a popular destination, I might be alone or with any friend who thinks it would be fun to go. I may not even see the places where the river starts, but every dream needs a destination and this is my winter dream this year, that come summer I’ll be able to go outside and play.

 

Cornball Song, Yet…

When my friend L was here a couple of weeks ago we went to The Organic Peddler and Peace of Art Cafe in Del Norte. L is a self-avowed hippy, and for the whole time I was waiting for the house deal to happen, driving on HWY 160 back and forth from Southfork, I thought of her each time I passed The Organic Peddler. It’s quite a place. When we were there, the owner told me if I followed them on Facebook I’d hear about discounts. Today I saw on Facebook that they were having a sale for locals. I posted, asking if it were today and immediately got, “Yes! Come up!”

I did right after I walked Dusty and Mindy a mile around the golf course.

I had plans to buy cheese for friends. The Organic Peddler had written on their Facebook page about a local ranch, the Laz Ewe, that made and sold cheese from their goats — but also from their cattle and their YAKS!!! Pictures of the ranch and animals were beautiful, and my friends from all over the country were interested, so I decided as a little present I’d send them a bit of Colorado, of this county.

Dusty (dog) and I got in the car and headed out into the god-awful beautiful valley with the pure blue (turquoise!) sky that vies with Montana for the title “big sky country.” I know about that; Montana’s my second home. We passed the little, old Mexican cemetery, the Movie Manor — the only motel in the world, probably, that has windows looking out on TWO drive in movie screens, and the “Seasons Greetings” sign on the SLV Electric building and then we were on the open road, past sagebrush fields, snowy peaks above and the distinct feeling that on this landscape I’m a blip and I’d better appreciate it while I can.

The New Wave station on my SIRIUS (two month trial) started playing something I didn’t like, so I punched in a couple of other numbers at random. Silence and then, a chord. It was the beginning of one of the cheesiest songs ever written.

The song and I have a little personal history.

In 1982 I was in China and it was Christmas and I was homesick for my family and for Colorado. I will never forget that Christmas because it was the introduction to what I came to understand as “the Christmas miracle.” That is a phenomenon in my life that goes this way. If I do NOTHING about Christmas other than send cards (which I love to do) and buy presents for friends, if I don’t worry about how Christmas is going to turn out, or fuss or anything, I will end up being part of sweet, surprising moments. My Chinese Christmas was the first in which I experienced that. One of the surprises that year was turning on the Hong Kong radio and hearing Cantonese (not surprising) interspersed with two words in semi-English. A famous American singer was coming to give a concert in Hong Kong. That barely comprehensible announcement was followed by a song by the performer in question, a song I’d always hated. To my complete surprise, in that place, at that time, homesick and missing “my” mountains, I loved the song. Yeah, I cried.

Today on the way to Del Norte to buy presents, I heard it again. So much has changed. 30 some years have passed, and I’m here, in the middle of mountains, hopefully for as long as my personal “forever” lasts. I’ve “been there and done that”. I will certainly do more stuff, but it’s different now than it was when I was 30 and in the middle of my first adventure. For very different reasons I was as moved today to hear this song as I was 32 years ago in chilly, wet and cloudy Guangzhou, before the Christmas miracles started happening, and I understood more of what things mean. It’s still very corn-ball, but…

It’s good to be home.

 

Tree and Travel

When I was a young person, in high school, my family life was scary and sad. My dad had MS and was in the final years of his life. The emotional fallout from that made my home a nightmare. My stragedy for dealing with it was just to get out into the hills and bluffs I could reach on foot easily. I was lucky to have lots of open space all around me

Even before I moved out for good at 18, a housing development was planted on some of this open space, but the largest part — a place anyone from Colorado Springs knows as “the bluffs” — was designated open space. It is formally known as Palmer Park. At the time, I thought it was huge, endless — and, in a sense it was. Now it is surrounded by houses and all the appurtenances of the comfortable life of America, but then it was the edge of town. In size, it’s just a fraction the size of my urban park in San Diego, but it was good preparation for me when my turn came to be a passionate advocate for urban wilderness when I was working for Mission Trails Regional Park. The Bluffs was my sanctuary — literally. My “church” is there.

My friend Kat and I roamed those rocky hills for hours and hours sometimes on horseback (hers) but mostly on foot with her dogs — and mine for the short period I had one. One Sunday afternoon we were climbing around on some sandstone cliffs having a great time going up a little crack when we noticed a bee hive hanging (wasps?) just where we thought we were going. We made a quick shift to the left, and soon found ourselves on top of a little mesa. There, in front of me, was an object of wonder. An ancient cedar tree hanging on for dear life to the edge of the small cliff, a cedar tree with a difference. The base of it — about five feet tall was gnarled and wind twisted. The roots had no soil to dig into and were hunched and arched over and into the rock and down the small crack we’d climbed. Every inch of it said, “Man this hasn’t been easy. I think maybe I should’ve died a while ago, but…” Out from this came a branch, straight up, reaching for light, young growth and verdant green “needles.”

L Studying the roots of the tree, wondering how it’s staying alive!

I was hit in the solar plexus. If this tree could do that, so could I. It wasn’t a metaphor, it was INSTRUCTION. From then on, until I moved out of Colorado Springs for good in 1972, I went to “my tree” whenever I had the chance. It was my friend. I didn’t personify it or anthropomorphize it. If anything, it “tree-ized” me. When my dad died, I took a small piece of the bright green resilient youth of that old tree and put it in my dad’s casket when it was sent into the earth in Montana.

I returned to the tree in 2010 when I visited Colorado Springs. There was nothing to it. I walked right there with my niece and my dog, Cody. This year, in thanksgiving for my deliverance from all that was going on in California and my safe and happy move to Colorado, I wanted to make a “pilgrimage” on Thanksgiving day. My friend, L, and I took Dusty T. Dog and went to the Bluffs where we’d both played as kids. Again I went right to the tree.

In the nearly 50 years, the “hopeful sprout” has thrived. It is no longer a branch; it has branches itself, and all reaching forward to the light, twice as high — at least — as it was when I first got lessons from it so long ago.

The tree, Dusty and me with Pikes Peak in the background

Friday I returned “home” to my new house for the first time. That’s kind of an event, really. The San Luis Valley is one of the oldest European settlements on the continent — the Spanish were establishing missions, forts and so on in the 1540s. It’s has a different feeling than any other place I’ve been in the US, and some of it is because of that. There are small towns every 10-15 miles or so — walking distance, horse distance, donkey distance — from each other. Some of the towns are 400 people, some 200 people. Tiny. The region is poor but there is something indefinable and rich about it. I saw it on my way out on Wednesday, but even more on my way back on Friday.

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Mission church, Fort Garland CO

I’ve been to the fort at Fort Garland. It was an army fort that saw no action. During the days of the pioneers, Kit Carson was there. It’s job was to keep the peace on the Santa Fe Trail. I guess it did all right. The San Luis Valley is undoubtedly a hard place to live, still people have made it their home for many generations. Maybe they see what I see. Maybe — as for me — it just feels like home.

When we hit the outskirts of Monte Vista, Dusty (who’s done more traveling in the car with me on errands than have Mindy and Lily) KNEW where we were. He perked up when we neared home. That’s when I was sure. I’d come HOME. I’d taken my first trip away since I moved here and the place to which I returned is home.  🙂

GREAT Time in Heaven!

A month to the day after I moved in, my first house guest, L, arrived with her sweet dog, Shoe, to spend a couple of nights. It was a lot of fun. I got the guest room set up just in time!

I haven’t had the chance to cook for another person in a while AND haven’t had a house guest in an even longer time. L got here late Friday afternoon and Saturday we “did” a strip of the San Luis Valley. Took the dogs on a longish hike in the morning then took off for Del Norte and a certain shop/cafe that made me think of L every time I passed it. We went in for lunch and shopped afterward. Very amazing place! It’s a “hippy” place, unabashedly so. Over the front door is a wood carving of Krishna and Arjuna (a story I love).

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Inside? Besides great food, imported clothing, and general “stuff” from all over the world, consciously chosen to be free trade — everything from Chinese soaps to locally made jewelry and handknit hats. I did a little Christmas shopping.

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From there we went up to Southfork, past my old cabin, to the little train yard. There was a car in the yard I wanted to take photos of and L loves trains. In summer, one of the cars in the yard goes up the old Denver and Rio Grande track to a stopping point on the Rio Grande. Passengers raft back down. We both want to do this next summer. The car that interested me is very like the cars I used to ride as a little girl going from Denver to Billings and back. There’s a painting I want to do of a moment from my life and having a “model” to work from will be very helpful. The little old depot is sweet and beautifully cared for. L — who can do steps and stuff that I cannot do — took pictures of things I couldn’t go to on my own so I could see.

The car from my memories

Train cars at Southfork with cow-catcher engine in front.

Inside the Southfork depot

Then we went up to Creede, saw two large herds of deer and several fallen rocks on the road. Creede is an old mining town on the edge of a geologic anomaly, a caldera I’m just beginning to learn about. Above it is an ancient lake that would have been much like Crater Lake before internal explosions began filling it up.

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Creede, CO

I want to explore Creede more, but right now the town is clearly on the verge of a long, cold winter sleep. Great place for photos and L had a great time taking them. One amazing thing is that the fire department garage is IN the mountain, in the old mine.

(Photo by Lois Maxwell)

Volunteer Fire Department, Creede CO

Then we headed back down just in time to get to see the mountains, canyons, fields and river in fantastic light. At a certain point I just suddenly pulled of the road. L goes, “What is it!” and like a crazed impressionist I just said, “The light!” Well, here it is…

Late Light on the Rio Grande

Late Light on the Rio Grande — Other side of the road!

We got home in time to feed the dogs and let them run around, before we went back out, back to Del Norte for supper at the Windsor Hotel. Very lovely place and excellent food. We tried to have dinner here back in August when I was here looking at houses, but they were completely booked. Last night we had the dining room more or less to ourselves.

I truly enjoyed L’s visit! It was wonderful to be able to welcome a friend to my new house. We had lots of laughs and saw so many beautiful things.

 

New Toy/Tool

Back in the day (this is A day, not THE day) I hiked (often) twelve miles in four hours. That is screaming fast when you know that this was at 6000 feet over hilly (mountainous?) terrain. On normal days — before I moved up to the mountains and was hiking at Mission Trails Regional Park after work almost every day — my hikes were even faster but shorter. Only six or eight miles. The only reason I can give for this is that hiking, for me, was pure joy. I took a lot of pleasure in the competence of my body and being ever and ever closer to the mysteries of the chaparral and the coastal mountains. Growing up in the Rockies, I saw mountains as wondrous yet forbidding (and alluring) palaces of rock and snow. I loved them and I went to them, but the distances and the altitudes did not make them easy to get along with.

My little mountains in San Diego County WERE easy to get along with. They had their perils. At least once a month I saw a helicopter come in to rescue someone from the climbing rocks near the entrance to the park or to haul out someone who had been snakebit or had not brought water and was woozy from dehydration. Weekend warriors, their paunches punishing new lycra bike shirts, sometimes had fatal coronaries.

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It was a wild place — moreso then than now — and I identified with it completely. We — the “park” and I — were wild things surrounded by shopping malls and freeways. Most summer evenings I saw at least one rattlesnake (this is why I hike with my dogs leashed) and spent time with coyotes in conversation. A mountain lion occasionally prowled the park. I didn’t see one there, but others had. I watched raptors swoop — my favorite was the black shouldered kite who hovered like an angel over her prey. The angel of death? And I learned that every single season in that landscape something bloomed, even in the most searing summer heat.

In my early 50s, I hiked with most often with young men. I was the workout buddy for a couple fine athletes — one a champion weightlifter who needed to add an aerobic component to his training and the other a pro-surfer who started out wondering what to do outside the water. And so it goes…  You can’t have that much fun without paying.

I paid.

Now I’m home again, in Colorado, surrounded by the rock and ice temples once more. I love it. And today…

Yes. I walked all the way around the Monte Vista golf course in 30 minutes. I got a new app for my phone, MapMyWalk because I really could not judge how far I was going on my walks. I estimated this one completely wrong, basing my guess on the time it took the first time I thought it was twice as far. 😉

See the train in the distance in the picture below? It’s winter now, the grass is dormant and covered with leaves. We are very careful to stay off the greens and to tread only on the edges and walk on the cart paths. I hope we don’t get in trouble because, you know what? It’s really, really nice. I might even take up golf.

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The important thing here is that I could not have done this three months ago. Like the saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins…” with the circumnavigation of the local golf course.