Bits of Winter Wonder




Winter has come and I’m determined not to bring bad juju (ie, snarkiness) to the season. As in: “Brrr, I don’t want to do _______ (fill in outdoor activity) because it’s too dang cold.” or “I’m just going to sit around the space heater and not do ______ (fill in outdoor activity) because it’s dark already.”

The inspiration of the week actually came amidst and because of the cold and dark. We were headed to the airport at 430 am and a few inches of fresh snow covered our gravel road, Road 46. We saw two sets of coyote tracks that ran the course of the road for more than a mile. They braided each other, sometimes became one, then deviated separately. At a few points, it looked like they played or rolled, maybe stopped to scratch an itch, or sat for a spell. The tracks were so fresh.IMG_2305

On the return leg from the airport, still in the dark, I got to view and contemplate their meandering paw prints once more. The snow was so crisp and dry it seemed illuminated by the moonlight and by the truck lights. Driving through it felt a bit like night swimming through phosphorescence (something I did as a kid in Maine).

Winter does seem to be the quietest season. While animal tracks are, obviously, more obvious, other evidence seems to diminish and become subtler. Smaller birds are quieter and seem to stick to the underbrush more. Others have migrated, of course.

A Golden Eagle, spotted earlier this year in the canyon

A Golden Eagle, spotted earlier this year in the canyon

Once again, I had the fortune of spotting a Golden Eagle in the area. There is nothing subtle about its appearance and nothing quiet about the neighborhood protest it raises from ravens and hawks. I watched as two hawks from clear over the other side of the canyon made a B line for the soaring giant. They positioned themselves above it and dove down a few times, like flies on a horse’s butt. It’s funny to think of red tailed hawks as big birds and then to see them as just lil’ fellas up against a Golden.

Not many birds have discovered or trust the porch bird feeder I installed. A lone junco, though, likes to just sit and eat. It practically tucks itself into the nook of the feeder, surrounded by seeds, while looking out and staying safe.

Mancos continues to interest and impress:

P & D’s is the local grocery store. I go there often for a quick slice of pizza to break up my workday at the library. I work there because I have no Internet at the house and because it’s a cool library with cool folks. Over Thanksgiving week, I discovered that P & D’s throws a big Thanksgiving Day meal for the community. For free. It’s not a feed-the-hungry type deal so much as a just a really lovely community tradition. As many as 500 people show up, I heard.

IMG_0111How cool is that?

My son and I checked out a new local gym, called the Grand Gym (it’s on Grand Avenue). They have lots of different yoga classes as well as circuit training (weight lifting and such). We did a circuit class led by a college football player turned circus acrobat, David Stickler. Very knowledgeable trainer. Yesterday, I returned for a seminar led by an accomplished physical therapist/instructor, Beth Austin. Instead of exercising, we’re learning about how to use our body correctly when we exercise and even when we’re at rest. The class was full; we were young, old, male, and female.

All in this tiny, blip-on-the-map town.

Read more about Mancos here.


The Shine of Newness Officially Off

The glisten and novelty of living in this new place is officially off and over. I no longer skate above the surface of a beautiful, iced-over pond. I’m swimming in it. (And, yes, I’m cold. With dastardly electric heat, I’m heating the house as conservatively as IMG_2305possible. Sixty degrees is the new warm.)

To Note:

— I met an older gentleman who owns a great deal of land (nearly 1,000 acres) in the canyon south of our place. Apparently, I was trespassing. But, jeepers, in my defense: you need a GPS device with public/private boundary indicators (and cell service), or an old-timer escort (like this fellow) to know one way or t’other. Land may or may not be fenced. Neither public nor private land is marked. From the Internet map, the county assessor’s plots, and the BLM map, I know that land around here is a crazy hopscotch of public and private acreage, but the learning curve is decidedly steep.

He indicated that while he was fine with my riding there, others would probably shoot my dogs. The man told me about timber rattlers, too – another possible avenue of untimely death for the dogs.

He was negative but nice, and promised to chat with the neighbors about letting me ride through occasionally.

— We had our first snow. I’m learning that weather seems to be more highly specific and fickle than anywhere I’ve lived. It snowed up on the ridge, but not so much here. On the trip to Durango (about 25 miles, going from 7,400 feet elevation to 8,500, down to 6.500 in the Big City), the road conditions varied every few miles.IMG_2286

However, the scariest moment came on foot. I headed up our gravel road for a late night walk as snow began to fall again. I hadn’t realized that I was walking with the wind and that it was ramping up, along with the snowfall. Turned around after a mile to face snow and wind so forceful in my face that, combined with the darkness, I could hardly see. Goggles would have been nice. I walked backwards, trusting the feel of gravel under my feet as my sole compass. The dogs soundlessly disappeared and reappeared and, finally, they stopped at our driveway, giving me a turn signal.

That night stands in contrast to the usual starlit show here. The Milky Way is clear and shooting stars seem closer and brighter than anywhere else. One night, I kid you not, I saw a shooting star so bright and close that I mistook it for a crashing plane.

Being alone in the relative wilderness and knowing not everyone is kind and well-meaning is a thought I return to occasionally. I’m learning to relax, to learn, and to keep my senses and mind keen. It’s a mental juggle.

Progress in fits and starts


Trail clearing has its challenges

I’ve now put about 30 hours of trail work into the Lollipop Loop. That’s what I’m calling the trail that goes from our back pasture, down a southeast draw, up along a modest cliff face, then back along a northeast draw. It’s been a helluva task. My goal was to make it horse-friendly as well as hike-friendly. I finished up with stronger arms and scratches on the face and took Pep to see just how horse-friendly it was. Turns out, not so much. There were passages she slid down (I had to make sure I got out of the way. She may be the little, but she’s still 800 pounds or so.), and others she could not scale. Too steep and sketchy. So, while it will work for a keep-you-honest hike, I will have to blaze a gentler, more gradual route for riding.

IMG_1643A few days ago, while working at the computer, I watched a bobcat meander down the pasture, toward the house. It then nonchalantly nabbed a mole, ate it, and sauntered off. Meanwhile I was hurriedly sequestering the dogs so they wouldn’t see it and flip, grabbing my camera, and trying to capture the scene. Like the one time I saw a bobcat in Utah, I was shaking at the thrill of it.

Not so much of a thrill for the locals, I guess. I chatted with a local contractor who said bobcats have pretty much eliminated all his barn cats. With his two dogs riding shotgun in his idling truck, he said the younger one loved to chase bobcats. Once, the dog treed one in a short cedar. He got swatted with one lil’ cat claw. It left a deep gash above its shoulders. The dog leaves bobcats alone now.

I took another long, exploratory ride further down the neighborhood canyon. I headed uphill a bit, crossing a creek, working through some timber, and ending up on a mesa of sorts. What beautiful country. We moved along for a few miles, taking in wide views in all directions, before returning to the creek and environs. The footing is a pleasant change from the rock, ledge, and scant vegetation of the Oquirrhs – nice-n-sandy here. It was fun following a fresh elk track a mile or so. All told, we covered 11 miles.


The Wobble Board of a New Place

Moving to a new place where you don’t know a soul, don’t know what the weather will do, and don’t know where to buy stuff is a lot like riding a new, fresh horse. Or, it’s like being on a balance board. It’s a delicate balance of energy and thought processes,

joleneFor me, it’s about being ready for anything and tamping down the fear.

Friends say ‘how adventurous!’ and, indeed, it’s adventurous and fun. But along with the curiosity and excitement, there is fear and self-doubt. Those negative feelings sit on the back porch of my brain. Most days, they knock to come in. I wave – which is to say, I acknowledge them – and move on.

It dawned on me one day as I was repairing fence that what I feel is precisely the alert state of mind described in the BestHorsePractices article on optimal learning. It’s midway between relaxed and panicked. It’s out of the comfort zone, as the article explained.

Interesting things happen out of the comfort zone as I meet people, explore new territory, and ask questions:

— My eyes and ears are more open.

— My attitude is inquisitive.

IMG_1702And yet, there are moments when I simply strive to stay busy, keeping rushes of adrenalin, nausea, and anxiety at bay.

— When your windows face wilderness, do you draw the curtains?

— When you get lonely, do you have longer conversations with animals and with yourself?

— Do you wonder what strangers and acquaintances really think of you?

I tend to call friends and family more often. When I call, I pace around the mostly empty house, trying not to hear the echo of my voice.

I have conversations with people working cash registers, with fellow coffee drinkers at a local café, with the UPS guy. I ask their names and try to commit them to memory for the next time. I extend myself.

It’s like:

  • Putting an energetic horse into a long trot
  • Doing big turns in an open field with this same horse
  • Reminding the horse that a one-rein stop is still there.
  • It’s singing and smiling while galloping.

These are all exercises I use to relax and connect.

Do you have some of these ?

Do you “extend yourself”?

“Struggling” with hypnosis of outdoors

Not everything is wonderful at this new place and with this new living arrangement: Winter is coming and with it, the need to prepare (More hay to put up. Fencing and gate work to do. New tires to buy, etc.). Living, eating, being alone so much are new

Peeko balances on one of the MANY fallen trees during trail clearing stint

Peeko balances on one of the MANY fallen trees during trail clearing stint


Every day, I clear trail on the eastern end of our property. It’s hard going. I envision a nice loop trail that heads out one draw, crosses a ridge, and returns via the other draw. It seems even the deer abandoned the trail ages ago. The way is thick with deadfall, scrub oaks, and brambles. The dogs have learned to plant themselves and nap since I manage about 100 yards per hour and hope to be done by November.

Being alone in the relative wilderness and knowing not everyone is kind and well-meaning, I find I can get spooked occasionally. I debate (with myself, of course) the merit or pointlessness of locking doors at night or while I’m gone. To break in, one must first travel great distance with the potential of no reward (especially with our house standing as the undoubtedly the most modest in the IMG_0578neighborhood). So, really, if a ne’er-do-well is going to make that much of an effort, is a locked door really going to be much of a deterrent? This morning, I jumped when I heard boots stomp, stomp, stomp across the porch. Someone coming to rape and pillage at 5 am! It was Jolene, impatient for hay, kicking the bunk feeder in perfect rhythm.

So, yeah, I’m learning to relax, to learn, and to keep my senses and mind keen.

But every day, I “struggle” with a certain hypnosis of the outdoors and the urge to be out in this stunning territory. It’s like staring into a fire or watching waves, but with action mixed in. It’s a lucky problem to have: balancing work with getting out. I’ll do my best.

A Day in the New Life

This day could be representative of life over the past several months as my partner, Steve, and I embark on this new, adventurous (some might say, ‘curious’) and sometimes arduous leg of life. By “representative,” I mean that fresh, gratifying, and interesting things happen or reveal themselves often, many of which make me thrilled to have taken the dare to move to southwestern Colorado.IMG_1875

Wallace Stegner famously said: the West faces you like a dare… I think a lot of Easterners feel that to live out this way is to go after that dare, to live adventurously, to embrace and appreciate the wilderness expanse as well as their adopted communities. Herriman was good. Mancos is much better.

Today as a representation:

It started with dogs whining before daylight. They know the routine. In fact, they dictate the routine: I grab a reheated cup of coffee and we toss hay, check the horses, and walk the length of the driveway (about a quarter mile).

It’s Sunday and I have decided to attend Mass at St. Rita’s in Mancos. Why would this devout agnostic attend Mass, you ask? Mostly karma – I got a good feeling when I passed by the small, brown and white-walled church and I also really love Pope Francis and all that he is doing with

Cattle move past St. Rita's church in Mancos, CO

Cattle move past St. Rita’s church in Mancos, CO

inclusivity, wealth disparity, the environment, etc. Call me a fair-weather fan. Also, I’m also interested in getting to know the community and St. Rita’s was one avenue of several to explore. [Other activities in the mix: meeting the library director, visiting a café, and chatting up the folks at the grocery store, the liquor store, the post office.]

Plus, St. Rita is the saint of Lost Causes. Count me in!

At 830 am, the church is pleasantly full with a mix of what seems like ranchers, white- and blue-collars parishioners. Most are my age or so and white, though there are some Hispanics and Father Pat has a faint Spanish accent. Most of the men wear button-down shirts tucked into Wranglers or Levis with sneakers or cowboy boots. Plenty of big belt buckles.

I do like the ritual of Mass, the physical up-and-down and up-and-down, the familiar phrases, and the ‘Peace be with you’s.’ Father Pat seemed alright, too.

Seated in the way back, I somehow got to talking quietyly with my neighbor about dogs. He loves bloodhounds. He and his vet were taking a road trip to Texas soon, to meet a couple driving from Arkansas with three bloodhound pups for him to check out.

After Mass, I shook Father Pat’s hand and crossed Main Street just before 200 or more head of cattle took over the IMG_1895thoroughfare. What a scene. Church goers and breakfast diners at the café up the street all stopped and watched as the cattle moved through town, bawling, shitting, and trotting up the road. It was a big herd managed by just a few cowboys and two trucks, one fore and one aft. Aside from me, I don’t think many were too impressed by the interruption; that attitude made me smile even more.

Early on in our research of the area, I discovered the Absolute Bakery and Café with its excellent breakfast burritos, sweets, coffee, and art-strewn walls. It’s my theory that places like the ABC can be indicative of a vibrant town. The theory, though, has a more gastronomical root: I love my local sweets and caffeine. The Fahrenheit, down the street, has better coffee; they roast their own.

Last week, I discovered another joint for my jones: Serious Delights makes the best blueberry muffins and blackberry bran muffins I’ve ever tasted. And that’s saying a lot, I tell ya. They may be the reason I head to the Durango Farmers Market every Saturday. Sorry, farmers.

Anyway, after church, cattle watching, and a chat (more like a 30-minute talk) with a neighbor and his dogs, I returned home to my beloved blueberry muffin before heading out on a ride.

Riding Shea, ponying Pep, and bringing along two dogs, I moved down the canyon, seeing plenty of bear scat, dodging showers, and taking in the stunning cliffs and embankments to the east and west. Mesa Verde National Park is just a few miles away, as the crow flies. We stopped for tea, water, and snacks before heading back.

A good day.


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