Fighting for Home

precious water: if they drill, where will the get it? where will it go? most of the mid-level slopes on Mt. Lamborn and Land's End in the background are up for lease


I thought I had come home from Virginia to save my cat, who was diagnosed with diabetes during my three month absence. I knew I was coming home also to film Francisco, the yoga guru from Brazil whose workshops I attend faithfully twice a year and document for the Hotchkiss Yoga Tree. But now I find out that I came home not only for those two reasons, but also to save my home. To save my home land, the fruitful, gorgeous valley carved with springs, streams, irrigation ditches, and branches of the Gunnison River. Surrounded by mesas and mountains, escarpments, arroyos, and gorges, this valley is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in the state, the largest concentration of drug- and hormone-free ranches in the state, and the greatest community I’ve ever encountered.

We are under the grim eyeglass of the Oil and Gas Industry. 30,000 acres surrounding and between the towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss, and Crawford are on the BLM’s slate to be leased for mining in August 2012. The three-dimensional map tour showing red outlines around the parcels turned the muttering meeting tonight into a hushed and interested crowd. Audible sighs signaled the settling in of potential dissenters to hear out the panel, which presented without bias sufficient information that nobody grumbled.

Our community rallied tonight, as the other two communities did earlier this month. Around two hundred people, from dreadlocks to cowboy hats, met together, heard one another. Made me proud to be part of them. There is so much to be done to create a three-dimensional portrait of this landscape and community, the people, the farms, ranches, trails, hunting grounds, springs, ditches, watersheds, maps upon maps overlaid to reveal the depth of our connections to this land. We are going to put together a portrait of our valley, in photographs, films, words, showing the vitality and productivity of this place, and the faces of the people who call it home.

Cocktails on the Rivah

We had had a frustrating day. The dogs woke me long before my body felt like moving, and the instant coffee I mixed to take to the park turned out not to be instant. Rita napped on the couch instead of her bed so she wouldn’t miss the delivery of an exchange, but FedEx didn’t knock and left the huge box on the porch. The steam cleaner worked pretty well on the carpet but exacerbated my sore shoulders and thumb arthritis. None of these were big deals but left us both a little cranky.

An hour before sunset I loaded us into the car for an emergency run to The Tides Inn, to cheer us up with a cocktail and snacks at the bar overlooking the Rappahannock River. On a fluke, the Inn was closed. We drove the fifteen miles to Windmill Point, hoping to reach the Tiki Bar on the beach before the sun went down. The Tiki Bar was also closed, for the season. Cheered slightly simply by driving rural roads in clear autumn light on colorful trees, shining creeks, and glimpses of the river, we strolled the bulkhead back to the car.

“Show me where you lived when Isabel flooded your house,” I asked. “Turn here,” she said at a dirt road. Then “turn here,” again, at a sandy lane marked Private Road, No Trespassing. “No!” said I, from the West, where No Trespassing means you could get shot. “It’s okay,” she said, “we’ll go see my friends Mary Jane and John. They live down at the end of this road. We’ll have a drink with them.”

She pulls these things out of her hat, like a magician. She has friends everywhere. We’d been racing the sun for a cocktail on the water for the past forty-five minutes, and now we were driving to the end of a tiny lane to pop in on her friends who live fifty feet from the shore. They weren’t home. Two Adirondack chairs sat on the dune with a table between them. “Do you want to walk out on their dock?” she asked. You bet I did. I grabbed her purse as we left the car.

Without fail, my aunt has a snakebite kit in her purse at all times. We didn’t make it past the chairs. With the sun a blazing globe sending a solid path down the river toward us, we leaned back in weathered wood comfort and pulled from her purse an airline bottle of Scotch. Splitting its contents into her empty miniature Rum bottle, we toasted cocktails on the water. She offered a tin of Altoids for hors d’oeuvres and we laughed. Pelicans and gulls circled the placid sheen of the river, quiet settled on our unsettling day, and we sat in happy silence. We spun away from the sun as it reddened, its path rippled and faded, and the deep red orb diminished to a flash between trees on the far shore.

The Colonel’s Ring

A day off, an afternoon thunderstorm, a hot cup of coffee with cinnamon and honey. For my tired body it doesn’t get much better than that. It’s been a week. As in, quite a week. Five of us ladies hiked up the Leroux Creek road to Bailey Reservoir two days ago, my first day off in awhile. I’m still stiff, but it was well worth it. The wildflowers were magnificent, and it’s still early. Ground saturated from snowmelt was carpeted with glacier lilies, in the aspens and higher. We walked across knee-deep snowdrifts just before reaching the reservoir.

The day before that, the eagle mother landed with a fistful of straw. One of the chicks pounced on it and leapt to the back of the nest. I could see him or her pulling at it, tossing straw. Then the chick turned and came at the mother with a kind of aggressive stance, as though demanding, “What the hell was that, mom? A trick?” The mother stood and looked at the chick, as though explaining, and then all three chicks began picking at the straw. Maybe there was food in it.

But you know what I think was happening? I think she was bringing nest materials. Just one more thing they have to learn how to do before they take off. This supports my theory that when she brought them deer legs, she was teaching them that they could eat road kill and carrion. I figure the parents were bringing them some of every thing they’re supposed to eat so they know, and can survive. And now it appears she’s bringing them nesting materials so they can learn that, too, before they leave. Because once they fly, they are truly on their own. I have learned so very much from watching them almost every day for the past ten weeks.

Yesterday while I sat at the boat shack, hot wind howling, waiting for boats to come in to inspect, Suzi called to tell me that two of the chicks had walked out on a limb. Then later, to say the third had finally joined them, after squawking and flapping eagerly for a few hours. Today, all three sit on a forked limb, flapping back and forth to the nest, shrieking now and then, perhaps with joy. It is just one more amazing aspect of this animal drama that the eagles found a site so perfectly formed for this exercise, a large enough open space out from the nest that the eaglets can practice flying back and forth to a limb safely. Magnificent creatures, soon they will fly into their new lives.

And soon, the Colonel will fly into his, into whatever life after death there is, or is not. He lost his mind some time ago, and now he’s lost his wedding ring. His caregiver is heartsick over it, and so am I. His team has scoured the apartment. It appears to have found its way into the garbage and out the door. He had been worrying it, taking it off and on in the night. Most nights, I’m told, they put his wedding band and his West Point class ring on the top of the dresser so he would not lose them. He has lost so much weight in his creeping decline that both rings were falling off occasionally. One night he was asking for his wedding band so he was given it, and now it is gone. In the morning, he apparently said, “I think I lost my wedding ring in the bed.” He has not asked for either ring since then.

And it’s a good thing, because as soon as I heard about the wedding ring last week, I arranged to have his class ring sent to me via registered mail. This morning, I signed for it at the post office, and now I am wearing it on my thumb. I won’t for long (or maybe I will). It’s huge, a heavy chunk of gold, with an oval ruby set into it.

I could not take the chance that it also would be lost. My father has worn this ring for almost seventy years. Never in my fifty-two years have I seen him without it on his finger next to his wedding ring. And next to his wedding ring, his 1942 class ring from West Point was his most prized possession. It is so worn from sixty-nine years on his hand that the ruby, once faceted, is smooth, the writing around the stone is illegible, his name engraved inside disappears toward the narrow part of the band, and the crests on each side of the ring are hardly recognizable.

The tradition of class rings at American schools began at the United States Military Academy in 1835. Historically, each class designs their own ring, with the USMA crest on one side of it and their class crest on the other. Each crest has as its central image an American eagle. A bald eagle.

A couple of months ago, the Colonel’s aide took his wallet away when he found him tearing up twenty dollar bills. Tearing up cash money. That struck me as profoundly symbolic of letting go of the world. Now, his no longer asking for his ring suggests that he has let go one more little bit of this life he clings to.

As the Colonel’s saga winds down, as he lets go of material things, another saga burgeons. This nestful of eagles learns to cling all the more tightly to tree limbs, to life. As the eaglets have learned from their parents, I, too, learned from mine how to get by in the world, how and who to be. I benefited from their fierce love for me when I was young and helpless, and from their letting me go when I grew up.

I have many things to remind me of my mother, rings and necklaces, paintings and pots she made. There is a little bit of her in each of them. But this ring, this ring is my father, has always been and will always be my father. The eagles worn smooth on the Colonel’s ring will always remind me of his pride in being an Army man, his tenacity and fortitude in the prime of his life. The worn smoothness itself of the ring will always call to mind the length of time he wore it, sixty-nine years, how worn smooth he himself was at ninety-two, and his final, reluctant, letting go of the world.

Someday, maybe tomorrow, the bridge will fall

A warning sign at a natural bridge in Bryce National Park tells people not to walk across it, because “Someday, maybe tomorrow, the bridge will fall.” It’s been my favorite sign for more than twenty years. The sentence, to me, is pure poetry, rich with layers and metaphor.

Armageddon is set to begin in two days, the world’s end to follow exactly five months later, to the day, to the minute perhaps. What does the minute look like, the minute that armageddon begins? Well, I have two days to think about it. Meanwhile, I’m keeping an eye on the eaglets, who have begun to flap their wings and spread their feet.

Now, at rest, one eaglet has its wings folded, but outspread, instead of limp by its sides. So while not fully extended, those flight muscles in the back and shoulders are working to hold the wings open, as though you held your elbows out at shoulder level, but let your forearms dangle relaxed. Every hour they advance toward flight. Maybe they have growing pains, too, in their wings, which will soon span close to six feet. Remember when they were tiny white, oddly-angled fluffballs with trembling little nubs of wings? I figure their wings have increased about tenfold in five weeks. That’s gotta hurt. I hope they make it through Saturday.

I am also, because it’s spring and time anyway, cleaning the pantry, reorganizing all the excess foodstuffs, staple and luxury, that I cannot help but hoard. And arguing with myself about the dozen big liquor bottles that I’ve been saving in case I need to store water.

Really? Is that really why I’ve saved them? Because I don’t like to store water in plastic? But I have five two-gallon blue plastic jugs that I used for years to carry, store, and dispense my drinking water, while the water I pay for (a considerable sum monthly) has been on a federal boil order for five years. Turbidity. Sufficient sediment to allow giardia and other microbes to gain a foothold, survive, and infect my household. The new treatment plant is alleged to have cleared up that problem, but they haven’t confirmed it yet. So now I risk a mere Brita filter for the tap water. Lugging the jugs was getting old, anyway, and I needed the counter space for a small microwave. Washing a pot for every leftover was getting old, too.

I’m sure those jugs have already given me all the carcinogens they have to offer, so why not recycle the big glass bottles and use only the blue jugs for armageddon instead? Well, because I am, at heart, a hoarder. I come from a family of collectors. I have ancestral stuff from four generations, looking good but causing clutter, throughout my house, my life. So I’ll send those bottles to the recycler. But they’re pretty, and they could hold even extra, extra water if the end times come.

I don’t believe it will be Saturday. I played Y2K cautiously, with a store of dried beans and bottled water, just in case. I even bought a steam distiller that heats on top of the woodstove, so I could purify my own water if it came to hauling it from the stream.  How I thought I’d be able to cut fuel for the stove without gas for the chainsaw I don’t know.

I still want to build a greenhouse off the sunroom, so I can grow food year-round. I want to be a survivalist, but not have to. I want to have the capacity, the means and the skills, to fend for myself, but not have the need to prove it. Because though I don’t believe it will come day after tomorrow, I’m not sure it won’t. And I do believe that some day, possibly in my life time, the whole world will go up in smoke, either manmade or celestial.

When it does come, from a planetary collision or the human madness of nuclear war, from armageddon or slow extinction, I’m sure I won’t last long enough to die from drinking out of plastic, and I’d rather have a full bottle of gin than an empty one. I’ll stand on the deck with the dogs, a gin and tonic with lots of ice and extra lime, and watch the fireworks. I can think of a lot worse ways to go.

After four hours cleaning the pantry, I check back on the eaglets. The parents returned awhile ago, each with a fish, and offered the chicks small enticing bites, not the huge chunks they had graduated to recently. Now, chick one holds a fish in his or her talons, and tears at it as if it’s been feeding itself forever. Except, oh! There’s a chunk too big, too bony perhaps, and the chick hacks and coughs it up, spits it out. A few more bites, and this chick walks away. A second chick comes to work on the same fish. Learning to eat on its own, increasing its skills, its capacity to fend for itself. One step, one flap, at a time.

Little Eagle Thoughts

The little eagles have gotten big and dark and much stronger, yet they remain awkward. They cannot fly. They sit around the edge of the nest, looking over, with their necks bulging in front from their full crops, and they watch the world outside the nest. Sometimes one will look at the camera, intently, curiously. Sometimes two will sit side by side for a long time, wings flopped loosely by their sides.

They cannot fly. Their wings simply are not strong enough. The whole organism develops in sync. (Except their enormous beaks and their huge, gangly feet.) When they have all the mental and physical attributes they need to be able to fly, they will begin to strengthen their wings. Only then will they be able to fly.

The nest has gradually been reshaped into an ovoid platform. The scooped-out bowl is gone. They are big enough, coordinated enough, for this. They can walk the length of the nest on their rounded talons. They hold their feet as their parents do in the nest, lightly curled talons inward, so nobody gets punctured. But they do this not out of parental instinct, but because they do not have the strength yet in their feet to clench and unclench, the talent above all except flight that will guarantee their survival.

The two who have been sitting up peering over the edge have now hobbled back toward the center of the nest and literally toppled over, necks outstretched, sound asleep, like any baby. The number one chick remains sitting up, facing the camera, preening the downy feathers of his or her chest, wings relaxed down on the nest, yellow claws feebly curled in front.

They cannot any of them hold their wings up yet. They can stretch them, as they stretch their thickening legs, as they sprawl in the soft center of the nest, as a sleeping puppy stretches. They can scratch their heads with their toes and pick their feathers with their beaks. They can pick at things in the nest, twigs, feathers, food bits, handling with their beaks, playing house.

And they can wobble to the edge and look over and out at the world beyond the nest, the world in which they will spend the rest of their lives once they leave the nest. Do they know this? As they perch on the edge observing the wide world, for long minutes at a time, what do those little eagles think about?

Iago’s Glamour

Close to midnight. We watched Othello tonight. Some of us had never seen it. Philip said Iago was the most evil character in all of Literature. Maybe, I thought, as the play went on. And Branagh was simply the best. Completely compelled us. Glamoured us. But, Philip has never been a girl. Any girl in America has experienced sheer cruelty along the lines of Iago’s at the hands of her peers by the time she’s fifteen. Iago may be the most evil character in all of fiction, and may seem unique to Philip. Lucky Philip. Perhaps he has simply never known a pathological liar.

I have. Brilliant, conniving, and mean, not because she was a girl but because she could be, she toyed with lives as Iago did, and destroyed them. None died outright, that I know of, but friendships were shattered, reputations ruined, lives changed irrevocably. It’s too long and sordid a story to recount completely, now or possibly ever. Suffice to say, Iago did not surprise me. I knew his female counterpart.

“That girl can turn a blue sky gray,” said one of her victims. And I watched her do it. I saw this sickness emerge in her, maybe for the first time, unfurl like an evil bloom. We shared a ground-floor apartment in a seedy little complex junior year of college, after becoming bosom buddies the year before. One afternoon she answered the phone and lied to a suitor, hung up, and laughed about it. She encouraged me to lie to the next one, for the fun of it. Prank became pathology. I shied away.

A snowy day, I hitched a ride with the plow out into the country, escaping to my boyfriend’s house on the river, just to get away from her “stories.” Later, over summer, “He raped me,” she claimed about a friend. For all the respect I have for that refrain, I knew she was lying. I could not prove it, she did not pursue it. But I knew.

She could not stop. One day months later, I telephoned her apartment to speak with her roommate. She answered. “I thought you were at work,” I said. She’d called me literally one minute before, “from the office,” she said. No reason to lie. No caller ID back then, no proof except the ticking clock.

“I rode home really fast,” she said. It was not possible. This sick feeling as I silently conspired with her to let it go. Once knowing, I could not not know. I could never again believe a thing she said.

After graduation, on a road trip across the country with a mutual friend, the questions came at me hard and fast. “Did your father go to Vietnam?” No. “When did you lose your virginity?” From Iowa across to California the questions came, shyly, discreetly. I discerned early on the source of the questions, and bided my time to learn the reason. On a night drive to Arizona finally came the explanation. Our Iago had told our friend her own life story—or perhaps one she made up, but which she had already told me as our friendship first formed—and attributed it all to me. I didn’t suffer when my father went away to war, repeatedly. I didn’t turn to vodka at fifteen.

After the trip, with a list of her lies in my head, I visited the friend those lies had taken from me, and untangled the web. The proof was incontrovertible. We cried and kissed and made up, but that friendship never recovered. And for decades, I could not believe anything remotely unbelievable that anyone said. When you think about it, people say unbelievable things every day.

Though her specific lies have finally faded from memory, the shock to my system remains. And as with Iago, so too with his female counterpart. Lies eventually come undone. Often not before a terrible toll is taken, but eventually.

Knowing someone who, like Iago, can be so convincing and so utterly untrue at the same time, has made it hard for me to trust completely since then. If she, whom I loved and thought I knew, could play so randomly and meanly with the lives around her, how could someone new be trusted to be telling the truth?

But now I begin to see it was not resilient of me to have let that three-year long unraveling of trust color so much of my future. Perhaps that I let it affect me so deeply for so long reveals my own pathology. It’s time to release my attachment to the damage done me by that relationship, by knowing Iago (and escaping with my life). Time to replace Othello with a new paradigm.

Making Friends with Impermanence

As the eaglets continue to thrive under the constant, diligent, finicky care of their parents, another very real thing has happened in our community. Our friend’s fiancée was crushed in a horse accident yesterday afternoon. Details are sketchy. Maybe someone saw it, or not. She suffered a broken shoulder, broken ribs, broken pelvis, shattered from the sound of it; she underwent surgery resulting in plates and pins this afternoon. And she broke her back low down. Heavily sedated, with a swelling brain, she was able to wiggle fingers and toes. So signs are good for her possible full recovery, but still, it’s dicey.

Uncertain. Uncertainty rears its ugly head yet again, reminder of impermanence. Yesterday Rick was doing his job, happily, cheerfully, joking with his co-workers, earnestly discussing MLS listings and realtors’ tactics in the break room, thinking about his wedding a month from tomorrow, and how lucky he was to have met this wonderful woman. Last night, he drove frantically the 85 miles from here to the City, to meet the flight for life, bringing in his very broken soon-to-be wife. You never know.

You never know what might happen from one moment to the next. Yet, some things you can see coming from a mile or a few years away. You see incremental steps of what comes next, when it gets there you recognize it, you’ve known it was coming, and you ride it out. Other things, they slam up on you like a tsunami, little or no warning, a few minutes, a moment. They can dash you to the ground with the sheer element of surprise.

Shouldn’t we all live in constant awareness of uncertainty, making friends with impermanence, surviving the element of surprise?

The eagles will. They will take what comes, with disappointment or pride, they’ll all survive, or some of them won’t. The more I watch our hidden webcam of their lives, their common inspiration, their subtle communication, their graceful, almost bumbling tender care of their young, the more I understand evolution. Instinct is graceful, however sharp or awkward its participants, and tender, and fierce, and very, very simple. They take it as it comes, adapt as well as they can to do what they must do, to replicate themselves. No second guesses.

This steady stream, a documentary wet-dream, we are live in their lives. They go on regardless of our imaginings, of our questioning their identities, of our attachments to the parents, to the eaglets growing so strong. I’ve seen them face near-tornado conditions, the nest swaying in the tree swaying in the wind, the mother’s feathers blown backwards across her back exposing her skin to the chill wind to protect the downy feathered young. Their lives are simple, and there’s equanimity. This evening, he fed her from his beak to hers a few choice morsels, between feeding the chicks. Tentative acceptance between fearsome hunters, the trust of a lifetime. Everything could change tomorrow.

Swept Away

April 10, 2011

Number 1 chick clambers about the nest, stretching his territory to the very edge of the inner nest, cuddles up to most recent prey, chirping, while mama fluffs and mends the nest. Quite vocal by now, he flaps his feeble winglet on top of the flesh and fur of his dinner, as if pointing, cheeping, pointing, this, now, here. Rudimentary and so far ineffectual communication. She ignores his please to continue refining her nest, tucking in feathers from this morning’s blackbird, tweaking twigs, pulling out the deadest prey that’s fallen, or that the chicks have kicked, into the nest.

I think the eagles had a hard night. I was pleased to see everything and everyone in place this morning. Severe thunderstorms were on track to slam into the eagle tree as I headed for bed, about midnight eagle time. It looked calm, but radar showed light rain with ahuge red core approaching from the west, and the county under a tornado warning. I feared a tornado even when I wrote my last fretful entry about the chick thrown out of the nest. Bad things can happen. Though seemingly strong and secure, this eagle family is a fragile organism. So many things can go wrong it’s a wonder they aren’t extinct.

A tornado, for example. I went to sleep praying away visions of the cottonwood uprooted or broken in half, the nest, the parent, the chicks, (precious fragile creatures we’ve all grown so fond of) whisked off the tree in a 4F tornado, all occupants flung far apart. The chicks, then, dying if they weren’t already dead and broken, the parents injured or dead, the cozy struggle of the past months nullified.

From there it’s not much of a leap to the northeastern provinces of Japan, where 12,000 humans were swept away by a giant wave, wind of the earth and ocean. Extrapolating the agony I’d feel for the eagle family if their lives were dashed by a natural disaster, calculate the unbearable strife a compassionate person might feel in the wake of that tidal wave. The only way to process that kind of suffering is to keep absorbing it and ignore it, more and more, after awhile. It goes on. In the first week it held my undivided attention, bearing witness to and praying for the lives involved, not just human. Think of the dogs! Of the birds in the trees. All the lives swept away, so suddenly.

Eagle Nest Drama

I’ve been watching the eagle nest. Who hasn’t? I’ve been watching as the parents took turns turning three eggs, as the first chick took its first bite, as the second chick wobbled and flopped for a day and finally took its first bite, as the mother gutted a bunny, shredded a fish, plucked a bird, and now as the crack widens in the third egg. Cars are stopping on the road below the nest; every now and then some idiot honks to get the birds’ attention.

But I had to turn it off for awhile this afternoon when it looked like instinct and tragedy had intersected. Ever since the first egg hatched, I’ve known something could go horribly wrong. I thought perhaps the third chick would be too weak to compete with the others, or that a severe storm would shake out a chick or damage the nest, or that a parent could get killed somehow and just never return. Or that a human might do something stupid. It never occurred to me that the father would toss its first-born out of the nest.

I saw it happen. So did about 122,000 other people, who must have emitted the same gasp I did. The father flicked some detritus out of the nest and accidentally caught the chick, flipping it out as well. It could so easily have gone all the way out of the nest,  but it landed in the outer rim where prey is kept. I thought certainly the adult would scoop it back in, but after feeding it once, he settled back on the nest and left the chick out in the wind. For a long time he nurtured the nest and ignored the chick on the rim. I imagine he was thinking “Oh, no, what have I done? It was an accident, I swear!”

After awhile the mother returned, evaluated the situation, took over the nest, and looked quizzically once at the ejected chick, then continued to set, turning around now and then. I thought well that’s instinct for you, if it’s not in the pocket they don’t even recognize it. I watched as long as I could. My stomach couldn’t take the tension. The little chick sat there silently looking at its mother, longing to be back in the fold, unable to move itself. It could roll the wrong way and tumble eighty feet to the ground, it could die of hypothermia. I had to turn it off.

I should have had more faith in Nature. Suzi called five minutes later, and Connie right after that, to tell me the mother had rearranged the nest and scooped the chick back beneath her. My nerves slowly settled down, and I went back online to resume my obsession. Viewer numbers had jumped up six thousand since I tuned out.

As I began to write this saga, the mother stepped to the rim and began to feed the chicks again. And now that little bastard is pecking and shaking its younger sibling and stealing all the food. The third egg continues to expand. Hatching is imminent. The drama continues, and I, red, tooth or claw, am hooked again.


Ten minutes after I post, the male returns to the nest with a blackbird, sits and pants for a few minutes, flies off, and returns within minutes with a fish. He leaves again, and in a few more minutes is back with another fish. Making amends? He leaves again, and the mother begins to feed the chicks from the new fish, the new bird. The second chick is still very wobbly, and misses four out of five bites. And that little bastard that got rescued pecks his sibling, grabs her with his beak and puts her down, and takes more morsels from mama.

When the errant parent finally takes the nest again and the other eagle leaves, he sits very still. After an hour, when the chicks become restless, he lifts himself just a little, and they crawl to the front and stick their heads out from beneath his breast. He seems reluctant to get off them, looking up and around as if seeking his mate to handle this. Another hour passes and she has not returned. He moves to the rim gingerly, and feeds the chicks. He honestly seems to be moving more cautiously than before. Lesson learned, I hope.

And mine? Attachment, once again. I know it’s unlikely that all three chicks will survive. And the little one who made me sick with worry made me wish (fleetingly and insincerely) that it had not been retrieved, as it beat up its nest-mate. We are never happy, said Connie.

Climbing Out of the Tower

It’s time to emerge from the hermitage.

A series of synchronicities led me to this land twenty years ago, and here I have planted my roots, in this remarkable western Colorado valley. The Valley of Strong Women, the Valley of Organic and Sustainable Farming, the Valley where Mountains meet the Desert, the Valley of Rolling Rivers. We live here, in a broad sense, in an ecotone, where several kinds of wild landscapes meet several human cultures. We are a valley and a people of edges, a community of action and innovation.

A decade of loss followed a decade of discovery for me, and I withdrew from the swirl of life. My fiancé broke my heart, my good old dog died, 9/11 changed the world in ways we haven’t even yet comprehended, sowing the seeds of World War III; my mother surrendered to a rare brain disease and I moved back east to help her die. Cancer claimed two old friends right after that. I found solace in planning a future with an old lover, who then died; Dia died, Mocha died, Mr. Brick died, Vincent lay down on the back patio one cold winter morning and died. An aunt died, an uncle died. Everybody dies. Most people have some kind of filter that allows them to live their days without the constant, haunting awareness that everyone they love will one day die, slowly or abruptly; that this moment may be the last they see their lover, dog, friend; that this breath may be the last they themselves breathe. And more: that the ways we as a species live on this precious planet are killing it. My filter for these sorrows is but shredded gauze.

So I stole away to this sanctuary in the high desert, absorbing each loss, exploring grief, and finally seeking a new way to live. Chop wood, carry water. Cultivate compassion. Be a good neighbor. Above all, give thanks for the beauty and love that surround me. I celebrate the natural world I am lucky enough to live in, honor the treasures large and small this land reveals, and offer the interpretations and observations of a single small life in a singular place.