Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mesa Verde

I went to Mesa Verde National Park on Friday. It was my third visit. I spent about ten hours in the park that day. The Cliff Palace (middle photo) guided tour (ranger-guided tours are mandatory for Cliff Palace and Balcony House, and for Long House, which is only open Memorial Day-Labor Day) was very full, but very well-handled by the comedic and extraordinarily knowledgeable ranger. The architecture and artistry of the "Ancient Ones" is breathtaking up close. Cliff Palace is, as the latest theory goes, apparently more of an ancient storage unit than living quarters. No matter what purpose it served, the entire place is utterly amazing, and it's a testament to someone's foresight that the park was not destroyed by a dam (such as thousands of ruins under "Lake Powell"), totally looted by selfish pot-hunters, or otherwise compromised by the most recent settlers of this continent.

I was actually more intrigued by Square Tower House (bottom photo), which visitors cannot access directly but can view from the Mesa Top Loop Road on Chapin Mesa. And the self-guided Spruce Tree House, below the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum, is also beautiful, with a rebuilt kiva to explore and those helpful rangers on hand to answer questions. (I count several past and present national park rangers as friends, and I can only say, bless you all for helping to preserve these places. Even if you do sometimes have to answer dumb questions from the public.)

Tidbits I recently learned about juniper trees, of which plenty can be found all around the park (the entire Southwest, actually): they take eight years to grow one foot in height, and 300 years to achieve a 14-inch diameter (!). So some juniper trees were around to witness the ancient ones living here...imagine that. You might walk by, sleep under, gather nesting from, collect ghost beads from, a tree that an ancestral Puebloan also touched, hundreds of years ago. Makes the mind boggle, no?

Everything really is connected. How hard is that to understand? I admit it is challenging for me sometimes, such as acknowledging my own connection to those forms of life I find distasteful (George W. Bush, certain people in Durango, despots across the globe, the "sleeping" man or woman who sedates him/herself with TV and blindly continues to devastate the earth in minor yet important ways that he/she doesn't even realize). But we really must do so. It all counts. It really does.

Imagine. A 1500-year-old juniper tree that was present for the cliff dwellings being built. Will today's young juniper trees still be around 1500 years from now so that our descendants can also marvel over the fact these trees were witness to our existence? Only if we all both become and stay aware....


Thursday, May 10, 2007

a little bit about bears

First off, today is my friend David's birthday--happy b-day, buddy! (Won't dare say how old he is now unless he gives me his express permission....)

Saw a movie last night called Papa Bear, about this amazing New Hampshire man, Ben Kilham, and all the extraordinary work he's done with American black bears over the last 14 years. I highly recommend the film for its story, its message, its proof that wild animals are not quite as distant from us as we think--that we can and do connect with them. (And do remember that they are wild and can still harm or kill you--caveat emptor and all that.) Here's a link to Ben's website, which also has his own remarkable story, which makes his work and film even more compelling:

Also shows that "average joes" (and average janes) can make incredible discoveries that academically trained professionals can miss: Kilham discovered something about bears that no biologist had ever realized, and that discovery is now named after him. It's just a cool story. Be prepared for tears as well, is all I will add.

Bears...they've been coming up in my life lately! Interesting.... If I had a picture of one I'd post it. Since I don't, I'll just say this: Take Good, Long Naps, and Keep an Eye on Your Honey! ;)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

open space

So as I've been reading Landscape of Desire, I realized/wonder if the Michelle in the book is the same woman I knew in Utah years ago, who led similar trips...Hmm, small world.

My grandmother sounds much stronger, which is really, really nice. Feisty!

The day here is mixed: sudden, quick rain, hotly shining sun, blue blue blue skies, rolling puffy white-and-gray clouds, more sun. My morning run up a nearby gulch was beautiful. You round a corner and the sounds of town just vanish, replaced by the sounds of a peaceful yet busy wilderness: birds, trees rustling, small critters foraging in the underbrush. This same lovely area is, I'm told, being pursued by developers who want to consign yet more open space to the rule of the condo, the gated community, the inexorable push of humans who simply cannot abide to stay in the spaces they've already created, who must, it seems, keep rolling on into sanctuaries that really have no need for houses, roads, sewage systems, streetlights, displaced or murdered rabbit and coyote and bird and rodent families.

When I was growing up, my grandparents had thirty acres of land behind their house, a stone's throw from downtown Los Angeles. The land, which was not theirs, was a playground for me, often wandered by me and my mother. Red-tailed hawks lived there. Coyotes. Rabbits. Owls. Snakes. All sorts of bugs and other critters. Lots and lots of trees, flowers, grasses, bushes. A developer wanted to put houses on it, for years. And for years, community residents fought back. I remember pulling surveying stakes out of the ground and throwing them away. (I was monkey-wrenching before I'd ever heard of the term!) Probably about three or four years ago, development finally struck. I don't know how the developer won; most likely waited until the most vocal opponents were moved away or dead. Enormous and not very attractive houses, so close to one another they practically touch, are constantly being built, to the discordant drone of hammers and drills, workers shouting, and the angry whine of saws. My grandparents got cracks in the walls of their home from trucks bearing building materials (concrete? I'm not sure what) driving their overly-heavy loads down the street. You can see into the windows of the houses directly behind my grandparents' house.

Someone saw open space and had to, just had to, sell what I'm sure were insanely overpriced lots. Someone got rich quick, so that the hawks and coyotes and birds and snakes and rabbits and flora and the playgrounds of wild little kids and their nature-loving parents could be destroyed. Who needs open space in Los Angeles anyway, right? It's not like there's much anyway. (And what does exist burns down a lot, like 4,000-acre Griffith Park is right now, because so much open space next to so many human homes is never allowed to burn either naturally or through control means, resulting in wickedly ravenous flames when a spark finally does catch--usually created by a careless human.)


Hmph. I do love people, the human community. We can be endlessly fascinating. Clearly, I'm a fan of the Internet. Of instant communication. Of a connected world that can lead to so much more awareness, recognition, information, knowledge. I wonder if it ever adds up to wisdom. Sometimes, I just have to roll my eyes and wonder. I mean, really: I wonder. Why are some so blind, so greedy, so clueless? What is it? What are they missing? What are we missing? How did we miss the clues?

And so I do what I can, which is write. That's my work, my voice. I write. I don't really know if anyone's listening, yet. In the meantime, I just write.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

wild, wild thoughts...

I just discovered a book called Landscape of Desire: Identity and Nature in Utah's Canyon Country, by Greg Gordon, published in 2003 by Utah State University Press. Just barely started to read it, and already it resonates so strongly with me--he is one of my tribe, I can tell already. I am so excited to read it. (Have to admit I already saw some typos with punctuation that annoy me, but then, I am an editor, and I notice such things.) This is similar to the sort of writing I like to do. The passionate call of language, of wilderness, of the flow of thoughts and feeling and ideas, all are zipping along my veins at this very moment. Gotta go write!

Another note: Just finished reading House of Rain: Tracking A Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest by Craig Childs (Little, Brown, 2007). Amazing, amazing work he did. Lots of wandering around, looking into those people. Really cool theories, and lots of stuff I now want to go out and explore myself. I did a complete review of the book on, which can be seen here: (see Desert_Gal review; that's me!).

And, although my links to books on my blog are through, which is an amazing bookstore in Portland that I once had the fortune to visit and browse for hours (driving in their parking garage, by the way, was a terrifying experience; don't recommend that part of it), I admit has a corner on the market, and I do write reviews there. However. I should put my money where my mouth is, eh? Hmm, more food for thought....

Monday, May 07, 2007

babcia, ravens, & wolves

Here's my grandmother, my Babcia, in a picture I took in March when I visited. She's doing much better, sounds stronger, and is more her usual funny self. I am relieved, although she will still be in the hospital for at least three more days. It's been fun talking to her. SHe's had several visitors in the past days, and apparently is awash in flowers.

I took a walk by Junction Creek today, which is a really beautiful, fast-flowing, clean stream that runs down a steep, narrow canyon that is lined with trees and squirrels and chipmunks and birds and hikers and very happy dogs leaping in and out of the water. I passed by one woman walking a beautiful St. Bernard named Honeybear (she had gorgeous amber markings) and a contented-looking Persian-type cat in a pet-carrier on the woman's chest. Kind of cool. I wonder if my little feline terror, Bella, would ever consent to such treatment? Hm.

I also observed a shiny black raven flying to its nest high in a rocky crag above the river. It did so several times, and it was either feeding little ones, eating something up there, or plumping up the home base with more twigs or whatever makes prime raven nesting material these days. Seems the right time of year for chicks (hatchlings? ravelings?), but I didn't have my binocs and I was a bit too far away to get a good look. It was still darn cool to see, though, even if I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking at.

Just thinking about wolves. Did a little reading up on how their lives are doing lately in the good ole contiguous United States, and it seems they're mostly doing well, but there's concern about them. Concern about them coming back too strong. Concern about them being shot to extinction again. Concern because, well, they're wolves. Wolves have freaked people out, historically.

I must admit I've never seen one. I know people who swear they're in southern Utah, swear they've heard them howl or even seen them there. These people may also have been under the influence of self-grandiosity at the moment, however. Hard to tell. Regardless, wolves have already been found in northern Utah, and they will be down south again someday too.

It would be kind of cool to hear one howl, I must admit, while out in the wild. I might feel differently if I have had my horse or dog or small child or gimpy friend with me at the time--but right now, sitting securely in my little home amidst many people and no wolves (none that I know of around Durango, that is), I just think, Wow. How cool would it be to hear a wolf howl in the Utah wilderness someday?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

late afternoon musings....

Wow, I'm on a roll today. Guess it's because I've had this blog for a year and only started writing posts for the first time last night...go figure. Or maybe it's also because I'm avoiding things. Ah! Likely story, that one.

Things on my mind & heart:

My grandmother's in the hospital with pneumonia, kidneys not in good shape, and she's just really, really tired-sounding. She's around 86, I think, and she's a wonderful hoot. From Poland, still speaks with an accent that many of my friends found indecipherable. Her stories are amazing, very funny, quite well-delivered. I'd really like to see her right now. Last time I saw her was in early March.

I'm in the midst of one article query, about three short essay ideas, and a blurb for a book (I write back cover copy for a line of romances. Who'd'a thunk you could do that, huh?). It is now 5pm and I have successfully avoided approaching all those alluring occupations all day... I did go on a walk by the river earlier, the Animas River, runs right through Durango (my current place of residence, although not my home--more on that in some other post). Rather gloomy here today, overcast, dribbling rain on us now and then. Yesterday it snowed, flurried, slurried, snowed some more. It was in the high 70s last week. Spring in the Rockies.

Anyway. That's what's occupying me right now, for the most part. Hmm, maybe I should a) call my grandmother again (she's in California) and then b) do some writing....

How to be a real Western woman

My Top 10 List, in no particular order, subject to change due to whim or new information or my mood any given moment:

1) Drink hard coffee (tea is acceptable too, but an occasional cup o' joe is de rigeur; preferably something brewed locally, organically, or even by yourself). By hard coffee, I mean none of that designer sh*t that involves flavors, syrups, triples of anything, or ridiculously fancy names. Cream & sugar are grudgingly allowed, if you really must.

2) Read your local Western authors. In fact, BUY them! Ideally, from local, independent bookstores. This goes beyond Abbey, folks, although he was a very interesting fellow who published many, many a rant (some of which are really hard to get through--how many of you have actually not only read but finished Desert Solitaire?) that are still very worthwhile and alarmingly prescient. I list a few suggestions elsewhere in this little blog; feel free to check them out and add your own. (The focus being on Western, please.)

3) Um, live in the American West. And even though I was born and raised in California, I must say that my home state doesn't really count (well, perhaps just the southern portion, which I called home for most of the first 30 years of my life and where my family still resides). Yes, the truth can now be revealed: California is in reality a planet called Land of the Mass Consumerists, Smoggists, and Cluelessists, most of whom don't really have interest in the real American West and all the threats against it. I mean, L.A. sucks up water from Colorado. What the hell, eh? (I still love my home state in many ways, so don't get too offended. Unless you really, really want to.)

4) Walk the land. The Western land. Walk. Not drive through a national park, saying wow, ooh, aah, and checking out the easy tourist attractions (which, don't get me wrong, are usually spectacular). Get out and walk, find your favorite spot, and claim it as your own, in your heart at least, since the homesteading days are long behind us. (Note: if you can't walk for whatever reason, at least find a spot of the West you love, either through the web or reading or word-of-mouth, and then claim it as your own. This is still acceptable. Particularly if you tell others that there are sacred, wild, beautiful spots in the West worth homesteading with the heart.)

5) Do NOT, under any circumstances, ever, publicize your most sacred, beloved spots in the West. Otherwise they may turn into the latest Aspen, Sedona, Durango, Jackson Hole, Park City--all of which once existed as secret, gorgeous little unknown towns, until some developer jackass decided to get mega-rich, mega-quick. If you must publicize your sacred, beloved Western space, it should only be in order to save it from a similar fate. Unfortunately, usually by the time someone must publicize their spot, it is often on the way to extinction.

6) Cook, clean, do the laundry, and run all the errands. For yourself, that is. In your own car, on your two feet, on your own two wheels, on horseback, on public transportation. (If you have someone else doing them for you, you're either too rich to be a real Western woman, or you may be a genius if it's your significant other, in which case you must tell me your secrets.)

7) Know about at least one thing within a 100-mile radius of your home that is endangered (say, a species), contaminating the water (say, a toxic dump), contaminating the sky (say, a wickedly burning factory that runs nonstop), or otherwise impacting the quality not only of your life, your neighbors' lives, your children's lives, but of the Earth's life. Yep, that little dirtball we affectionately call home, as in, the only home we have.

8) Please know the name of your state senator, representatives, and at least a few folks on your town's/city's council or whatever governing board. Please. Then check into whether you should have, or should in the future, vote(d) for her/him. Really.

9) Love the wide open spaces. Even if you live in a town of millions. There's a reason you don't live back East, right?

10) Dress with a bit of flair. You got style, woman, even if it's been buried since 1972. Yes, a real cowgirl hat can go with heels and a skirt. Yes, Chaco's go very well with Carhartt's. Yes, you can dress however you want; this isn't Paris or Milan, thank god. (Though I would love to visit Paris one day, intimidating as all those impeccably dressed French woman look.)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

big horn sheep, a sleeping ute, and the canyon lands

Very, very cool skull with complete horns (this would have been a find, most likely, rather than a kill, for those of you concerned about such things) mounted on the wall of the pottery shed at Kelly Place, an amazing little b&b/retreat center in McElmo Canyon in Cortez, Colorado. They border the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, serve truly divine food (all you with meat & potato diets, look elsewhere), and are right under Sleeping Ute Mountain (the other photo), a sacred place to the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. Worth a look-see... Check them out at Go for the separate lodging, the little casitas, rather than the rooms in the main lodge; the walls are paper-thin and you can hear everything--and I do mean everything, even bathroom specialities. I've stayed there twice, both times with programs with this amazing company:, another place you should check out...but only if you think you can handle it! It can be a little unnerving when your soul starts talking to you--or rather, when you finally start listening to your own soul....

Anyway, thought the picture was cool. Both of them. Had to share....