Thursday, January 25, 2007

Leaf Litter

It's a little crazy around here just now. House is in an uproar, belongings are in disarray.

I'm moving.

I'm not going far, but it's still chaotic. Time to go for a walk.

We're finally starting to thaw out here. Snow on the trail is squishy rather than squeaky. There are plenty of stubborn ice patches, but today I noticed the distinct tang of damp earth sneaking up from underneath. Not quite a spring thaw sort of smell. But a teasing scent all the same.

Melting snow has exposed piles of last autumn's detritus-- leaves and twigs and stones. Somehow they remind me of the current state of my household: mounds of old papers and heaps of books coming to light as shelves are emptied into boxes. Treasures reappearing from under the bed or behind the closet.

It's too soon, I suppose, to turn my mind toward the changing of seasons, but the promises are there in the returning light and the melting snow. While the earth rearranges itself, ever-so-slowly, I'll have to be content with rearranging my own belongings in a new space. And stuffing my pockets with old leaves now revealed.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sacred Wednesday


I'm beginning to feel like a broken record (which will be an incomprehensible simile to anyone under the age of, say, 35).

It's still just bloody COLD here. This morning's low was an improvement over the previous: -8 degrees Fahrenheit. I still wouldn't call it warmer.

It's been one of those disconnected days. Wednesdays are supposed to be my "reserved for art-making" days... sacred and inviolate... but somehow this one got away from me. I did paint this little study of dried cucumber vine into my journal... but otherwise I got involved in a client proposal, and gathering reference for a project, and fixing some code on my website, and making exhibition plans, and doing laundry, and.....

You know how it goes.

Early afternoon I decided things had gotten out of hand and I headed out to the trail. It was startling to discover that Sands Lake was half iced-over! In the five winters I've been here, there has never been more than a thin line of frost around the edges.

Days like this, in which my plans disintegrate completely by 9:00am, it's even more important to walk. To distract myself from mental chatter and restlessness. To pay attention to a world bigger than the little vortex I create around myself and my "doings."

I noted simple things today-- no headline news. Ice on the lake (dead duck frozen into the crust). Mergansers under a willow tangle on the shore. Slush floating down the river. Squeak of snow underfoot. Watercress still growing bright green in a sheltered ditch, despite the unrelenting cold. Goldfinches. Barking dogs somewhere up the hill. Cold sting of little ice crystals blown up from drifts and into my face. It didn't get completely dark until after 5:30pm.

Huh. I guess this day turned out sacred after all.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Room with a view


New snow yesterday, cold again today. This morning I pulled on my now-quite-familiar Sorels to run a few errands downtown, and to reward my productive week with a little down-time at my usual hang-out, Bongo Billy's Salida Café.

My current journal held one last empty page spread, now graced with the café's familiar window views. "Bongo's" is an auricle of the heart of this community: friends and neighbors come and go; table compositions change like square dance partners; conversations ebb and flow, pulse and rest.

Just the other side of my tea pot, compadre Jeff transcribes the week's haiku from pocket notes to moleskine. Casey, Brice, and Sadie call cheerful greetings to locals, top cups with "the usual," ease perplexed visitors into the routine.
Two tables down a young man looks up from his own journal and smiles at me and mine. Across the room friends crowd over each other's shoulders to look at a laptop screen. Milk steams, coffee grinds. Just outside, shadowy shapes of starlings flutter against grey skies, flash past the window, and are gone.

Last night's band arrives to cart out their equipment. The man with the journal looks at his watch and pushes back his chair. A father negotiates the order of the day with his small daughter. (Home first, THEN swimming pool.) Jeff heads for work.

I should go, too. I gather my things, put on my jacket, clear my dishes and head for the door. The next wave is at the counter, ready to take up the still-warm chairs we've just vacated and join the ever-changing tableau.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Sheep shaped


It's the season for bad sheep puns.

During the winter I help local wildlife managers by "baiting" bighorn sheep herds. Our wild sheep fight a constant battle against lung worm, so for several weeks in January and February a cadre of volu
nteers hauls hay and apple pulp to several sites in area. When we have a good number of sheep coming in to the site, we lace the food with medication. It's less stressful than darting or trapping... for everyone.

I often try to sketch while waiting for the sheep to finish their meal... but I don't usually get more than snippets on paper: an ear, a head, a leg. Too much activity among my subjects. But, as usual, the watching can be its own reward. The lambs can be tentative at first, but once they feel comfortable they command their own space at the table. (Bad sheep pun #1: "Let's call that little pushy one Lambo.") Frequently there are minor squabbles among the adults. Sometimes just a shove, sometimes a half-hearted chase. When disagreements get serious the ewes will butt heads, just as the rams will.

I have a few favorites, of course. There's a big ram at one site who isn't the least bit intimidated by my presence, although he has given ME pause a time or two. And there was Red 42.

Not many of the sheep in these herds are tagged. When I first saw her, Red 42 wore a collar she had received almost 12 years before. Her pale coat was nearly white. She moved slowly, but deliberately, and the rest of her group gave her space at meal time. Her stately pace and her subtle distance from the rest of the herd made her a more cooperative drawing subject, and I felt a certain fondness for her scrappy "survivorhood".

Last year she never turned up at the bait site, and so far this year she is absent as well. I can only assume that her remains are somewhere up the cliff, and although I'm sure she never took much notice of me, I am glad I made note of her.

This year the Grand Dame is Yellow 9. She received her collar the same year as Red 42, which means that this year she is at least 16 years old. I don't know much about her yet, but I'll be watching, and learning. And hoping she'll hold still for my pencil.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

One down, 51 to go.

Can you believe it? The first week of 2007, gone in an instant. I hope this isn't a sign of how quickly the entire year will unfold.

I set out on The Usual Walk around mid-day today, hoping for a bit more warmth than the negative Fahrenheit of our recent mornings. Bright sun dictated sunglasses, bright breeze dictated fleecy scarf. Wind-swept snow dictated Sorels.

I love my boots-- fat and clunky and unfashionable as they are. They're comfortable and warm and waterproof. But I've had them for 8 or 9 years, and they still look new. Season upon season of drought has kept them in the closet.

Sure, we've had a wisp of snow here, a drizzle of rain there, but for years now there's been little to prevent me from wearing plain old walking shoes, month after month. (At least in all my usual haunts.)

But not this winter! We've had three good snowstorms in as many weeks, and my Sorels have seen more miles in that time than in their entire tenure in my possession. Tromp, tromp, tromp. Snow drift in the trail? Bring it on! Slush in the street? No problem. I am wearing boots.

It seems silly, to be so happy about wearing these things. But I know I'm not alone. I see others wearing THEIR Sorels. We glance at each other's footwear and smile a knowing smile: It is snowing. We are out walking. Life is good.

Windswept

Yesterday's wind brought down a big tree in the trail along on the river. I wanted to bring home a big chunk of bark... so subtle and beautiful... but I was barely a third of the way through my walk. I settled for this little piece instead.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

There's no place like home


Tony tells me that this is most likely the nest of a warbling vireo.

1) It is a suspended cup. All vireo species build a suspended nest, unlike most other bird species. Orioles build suspended nests, but this is only 3" across and 4" deep. Definitely not an oriole nest, which is much larger and more like a bag than a cup.

2) Of the locally nesting vireos, the plumbeous nests in coniferous forest, the warbling vireo in deciduous. This nest is woven into a cottonwood branch, therefore... it's probably warbling vireo.

Cool.

Best foot forward

I've been spending quite a bit of time staring at my feet lately.

The snow storms of the last few weeks have made treks around town quite interesting, especially as the regular thaw-and-freeze cycle makes each journey different from the last. Watching my feet is a sort of exercise in self-preservation, although I confess I have still landed on my behind more than once.

As I've focused on the placement of my feet upon snow I've seen the tracks of animals, people, skis, bikes, and cars. Interesting patterns of ice. Crusts of frozen slush castles. My wet bootlaces. Feathers of birds-become-meals. And today, a dollar bill. (One of those a-typical rewards for being observant.)

Yesterday, however, I remembered how to look up.

Friends gathered from near and far for our annual Christmas Bird Count, and we were out at first light to tally up a sense of the fortunes of the feathered mortals. Oh, BRRRR! The time-and-temperature sign at the bank proclaimed 0 degrees Fahrenheit as we headed to the first stop at Sands Lake.

The lake was a wonderland. Mist rose from the surface in great clouds and froze in crystals on every twig, blade, and stone. Ducks and geese were floating spectres, appearing and disappearing in the fog, their heads tucked over frosted backs and down between wings. (It wasn't a scene particularly conducive to identifying and counting species, mind you. We decided to come back later.)

We spent the rest of the day distracted by every little movement, every odd shape in tree or shrub or sky, every chirp or squeak or chip. Nearly 300 pinyon jays swirled over a house on a hill-- a blue and gray (and much more raucous) echo of the earlier lake mist. A lone northern harrier quartered a barren field. Juncos perched on deck railings. Nuthatches bounced downside up through the trees. When the sun disappeared in the west we were still out, peering through the darkness at a great horned owl's silhouette just visible at the top of a power pole.

73 species and copious amounts of pizza after that first ethereal goose, we called it a day. One more look up, into the red-cheeked and weary smiles of my friends, and then? I only had eyes for my pillow.


Monday, January 1, 2007