Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Early Turnings

These first photos were from my evening walk on the very first of the month. 

The month in question being August, I didn’t credit the blood-red leaves to seasonal change. I figured there was simply something wrong with this tree.

The color is somewhat washed out here, so one might be
forgiven for presuming this tree really has a blight.
Two evenings later, I’m walking home down the the other side of the street, and I see this. There’s something wrong with this tree, too, right?

Before this, the earliest I’ve seen leaves changing was on the 15th of August, in Anchorage, Alaska. They’re not fully gone over like the leaves on these maples, though. The edges of the leaves on the birches take on a rusty color, with bits of yellow peppering the broader surface.

The color change accelerates rapidly, however, and peaks on the next to the last weekend in September. After that one spectacularly golden Saturday, the glorious reds and yellows all fade to dead, dull brown before they begin dropping from their branches in volume. When you wake up on the first of October, it’s nothing but knotty, skeletal fingers reaching for frigid gray skies fattening with the first snow.

Autumn as most of us know and love it lasts for a little over six weeks. This schedule was rigidly adhered to for all the turnings I witnessed from 2001 through 2003.

There are many differences to be observed between Anchorage and where I am now. Anchorage is high latitude; Monte Vista is high altitude. Anchorage is a boreal swamp built on the accumulated debris of the erosion of the Chugach Mountains into Cook Inlet. Monte Vista is an alpine desert. Every factor that determines how the leaves change color and fall—the light, the air, the soil, and water quality— is different.

The third day of August, and I’m like, “Are you kidding me?”

At least autumn in Colorado’s San Luis Valley is good through Thanksgiving. One thing I did pick up on during my first fall here last year is that every individual tree seemed to run on its own schedule. Some were indeed bare by the first of October, while others were just getting started on their change. But there will be color through November.

Meanwhile, it’s already cool enough in the mornings that I need to wear my heavy winter robe. Soon these windows will be closed at night. It’s been a breathtakingly brief summer. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

After (Yet Another) Fine Summer Rain

Ah, Summer 2017. The shortest, yet sweetest summer I’ve ever known.

I read somewhere that the San Luis Valley has gotten three times the amount of rainfall than normal this season. I’ve wasted a few precious minutes trying to confirm this, and all I can say is it sounds about right. If the metric for a desert is an area that gets less than ten inches of rain per year—and the San Luis Valley gets 9.57 inches on average—then we’ve shed our high alpine desert status, if only for this year.

The grass is green and growing in our front yard for the first time in what is probably ages (our house was empty for years before we bought it and moved in). The potato crop across the high valley is coming in weeks early. It’s probably been the best year for local agriculture in recent memory. 
One of our prettier ferals, Blondie, enhances this shot of the afternoon light on our supernaturally green lawn.

It’s somewhat inconveniencing if you like to take your evening walks, only to get ambushed by yet another thundershower, but I’ll take the thundershowers over drought and wildfires any day, any season.

Standing water on the basketball court at Chapman Park. 

Muddy track at Chapman Park. I had to make my circuits in the grass.

One day I’m going to get the perfect shot of this vista from the northwest corner of the park.

It’s getting dark, the bugs are biting, and the mosquito sprayer truck is stinking up the town. Time to head back.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

More Backtalking the Negativity

This is the meme that gave me the idea to do this as a series. I don’t know why I didn’t find it until now. Okay, actually, so I do—I’m terribly disorganized, and I’ve got a lot of closet/desk/housecleaning to do.

The timing works, however, because of two coincidental encounters this week which inspired another line of thought on this. My good friend James Robert Smith in North Carolina described a conversation he’d had with some younger people and how they were nonplussed when he mentioned the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield. I’d had a similar encounter the previous weekend with a college student who did not recognize the name of the poet James Dickey, nor even recognize Dickey’s most infamous work, Deliverance

You probably don’t know either, and that’s fine. Suffice it to say Rodney Dangerfield and James Dickey were at the top of their respective professions in the latter half of the 20th century. They did great works, earned all the accolades. They inspired people, made them laugh. But only for a while. Now they’re the kind of people only the old people remember. And when us oldsters check out....

I’d say they’re better off than the Van Goghs who toil in obscurity and poverty all their days, only to find wealth and fame when they least need it, years after their deaths. You gotta do what you can while you’re here. 

Most of us, myself included, would be perfectly happy to be Rodney Dangerfield or James Dickey, earning money and love while we’re alive. We won’t care when we’re gone, so why should anyone else? Which brings us back to our most motivational demotivational meme, and why it’s so motivational after all. 

We’re not expected to be anyone or amount to anything at all. At least not beyond the necessarily limited and incomplete image others have of us...and if this doesn’t drive home why you shouldn’t care what most people think of you, then I don’t know how else to put it. 

The bottom line here is you’re free to screw up. This frees you to learn from your mistakes, get up one more time than you fall, and do what you have to do to get away from all the people busting your chops and putting you down.

Set yourselves free, people. Your haters have already opened the door of your cage for you. You can either stand there giving them what for, like they actually care what you think, or you can run out and away, with no more than a “Thanks” shouted over your shoulder, if that.

Of course, you could just live your life, marking time until you die, save everyone the trouble of forgetting you after you die. You’re forgotten either way, right? It’s up to you. That’s the beauty of it.

Feral Porch Party

We started leaving a bowl of kibble out for the ferals on our block about a week or so ago. I have to catch myself and refrain from filling it every time I find it empty, which is generally within 15 minutes of filling it. I don’t want my own cats to suffer for these ferals which have gotten by just fine, more or less, since we decided to help out. A topic for a Patreon post, I suppose.

Sunday night, the penultimate night of July, we had baked chicken legs, the bones of which we’d left in the bowl along with some kibble. While chicken bones are invariably fatal to dogs, cats have a more circumspect way of cleaning the bones, if not eating them outright. (I’ve watched a cat systematically crack such a bone with her back teeth and devour it whole, to no ill effect.) We went inside to see which cats from the neighborhood would show up.

First up was one of the four “ginger snaps” we know of in our immediate neighborhood. She spent a lot of time looking around before tucking in.

Puff can only look on, disgusted.

She was only interested in the kibble. Then the tortie came up and began working the meat from the chicken bones. This particular ginger doesn’t care for the company of other cats, and quickly departed.

Tortie got as much as she could from the bones, successfully gnawing off their ends. Then this one showed up to get what she could. I hadn’t seen this one before.

Then the rest of the party started showing up.

This wasn’t even all of them. There’s a second white kitten, the two big white cats, and a few more I know I’m missing that aren’t here, which only emphasizes just how many cats we have around here. No wonder so many of them were starting to look skinny compared to last year. A couple of litters over the winter made the difference.

Fortunately, our neighbor on the next block was able to get most of these trapped and fixed. (You can tell which ones were trapped, fixed, and released by a single clipped ear, usually their right one.) It’s going to be a long couple of winters for these survivors, though. Also, she didn’t catch them all. Our story is far from over.

This chapter had some amusing bits, though, especially when I realized—from the migration of the cats to the other side of the porch—I had left my plate outside on the table.

Who knew ranch dressing would be such a hit with a kitten? At least she’s not (we hope) lactose intolerant by this point. The corncob left behind got worked over,too.

It was heartening to see the gingers defer to the tiny white kitten, who pretty much got everything there was to get on this plate. Keep in mind the gingers got most of the kibble earlier, so they didn’t go hungry. Indeed, the gingers are our most frequent visitors. 

This last one is the one that came to gnaw the bones after Tortie. I didn’t know she was still around; I presume she backed off when the mob gathered, and decided, along with Clarence the Cross-Eyed Siamese and others, that there weren’t enough scraps worth jostling for. She did seem to enjoy the solitude on the table, though, keeping vigil for the better part of a half-hour before going wherever these things go when it gets dark. 
What’s ironic about this shot is the shamrocks on the table. They’re outside because Puff is the one cat of our five who compulsively eats houseplants. They’re safe out here among the ferals, though.

My wife and I have noticed some of these cats sitting comfortably about our porch as if they already live here, although they still scatter when we come through the door. Most don’t run entirely away, though. They will stand at a distance and wait to see what we’re going to do—and no doubt hope it’s to drop kibble clattering into that bowl in the corner. 

This is about as comfortable as we like them with us. With five cats in the house already, we can’t take any more. not in evidence here. I have a feeling this situation will change as the weather cools, then freezes. All the more reason to finish this and get my Patreon pitch up and running.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

New Year in August

The Ski-Hi Stampede Rodeo weekend came and went, and despite some unusually soggy weather in the afternoon and evenings, was probably the best attended in a while, if ever. I was here for the one last year, and that seemed a low-key affair compared to this time. It’s not just the rodeo going big, though. 
Already looking forward to the next thing. Artist E. Sprouse-Rowe is all over the Valley with her quick-draw art. She’s refreshingly prompt, with her Stampede promo art down and this up by Tuesday.

The valley seems to be taking in more traffic than last year. There are more house-sized recreational vehicles towing SUVs down US 160 than you can conceive of even existing, nearly half a million dollars and more of hardware rolling down the road, one after another. Every other license plate is from New Mexico or Texas. On Saturdays, entire squadrons of motorcycles brap through town.
The quiet is almost eerie, given that this road has been rockin’ since shortly after June got going. Since the rodeo left town Sunday night it’s as if someone turned off the spigot. Of course, school starts any day now, depending on where you live.

Maybe I’m just noticing it this time out, given the distractions of having just moved in last summer. I’ve always had a feeling about this place, though. I told my wife the San Luis Valley would be the next big thing in this state. The summers are simply too pleasant, the scenery outside of town too spectacular, and there is so much available real estate to be had for a song. 
Most of that available real estate looks a lot better than this, too. I took this photo because I liked how the lilac paint job looked in the late afternoon light.

I regret not having made it to the actual rodeo, nor anything else other than the Friday and Saturday morning parades. We’re low on funds, and I’m frantically working up my nerve to do the videos and get the Patreon page up. Meanwhile, I’ve redone the blog, adding pages to the tabs below the banner. It took me long enough, but I finally figured out how to make Blogger’s label system work for me. 

In the course of going through my blogposts, I’ve noticed I’ve got a lot more than “Zombies, music, and fits of observational Tourettes” going on.” Although my novel excerpts outnumber everything else, there is still enough content under each tab to keep non-zombie fans occupied. I do enjoy taking my happy snaps, trying to get a striking shot. If I could only raise enough money to afford a DSLR and all the lenses necessary to the kind of photographs I want to capture...well, after I get out from underneath some credit card debt. Hence the Patreon.
I’m going to miss these walks to Chapman Park to walk laps on the quarter-mile trail once it gets cold, which won’t be long now. It was a short summer, Charlie Brown.

There’s a lot that needs to happen this month if I’m getting through the winter. All this and the third book in my SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series. Nothing to do now but to do it. So....
The road is calling. It says, “Put away the camera, go home, and get back to work.”

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Fred Nietzsche Might Have Been a Difficult Employer

“Do not let anyone suggest Plato to me. In regard to Plato I am a thorough skeptic, and have never been able to agree to the admiration of Plato the artist, which is traditional among scholars.” —Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, or How to Philosophize with a Hammer (1889).

The quote above accompanied the following cartoon on one of my favorite Facebook pages, Nietzsche Internet Defense Force. I have no idea to whom the copyright is attributed, only that it isn’t mine.
I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Plato, either, although I did find his Allegory of the Cave apt, if risibly overwrought as a metaphor.


These tall gangly flowers grow tall on the south face of my house, and are generally seen throughout Monte Vista. The town of Saguache, just up the road from us on US 285, is having a festival dedicated to these beauties on Saturday. They even have a contest for best-looking yard, something I’d like to see a lot of towns get behind, mine included.

What brings us to this post is a day this week when I was wandering around the southwest part of town on my way to Chapman Park, and encountered this host of red, white, pink, and green monsters, looking for all the world like a mob of tall flower-faced aliens massed along the side of one yard.

I must say, I am rather taken by these things. They’re big, they’re sturdy, and they stay blooming and beautiful for weeks. They’re a nice touch to the short-but-sweet growing season here in the San Luis Valley.

Yes, this is eye-level.

What especially impressed me about this scene was the demonstration of toughness, the stalks coming right out of the seams of the curb and sidewalk. It’s a living parable, a wordless tale of encouragement from life itself.

Imagine the shots I would have gotten with a good DSLR as opposed to a pocket digital. I should start a Patreon. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Cats of Summer 2017

Yes, this still isn’t a cat blog. I just had a story and some pictures to go with it, so....

Mama Kitty (far right) watches her two white kittens.

The first thing I noticed about Big Pink when we first visited it last summer—aside from the fact that it was going to need a lot of work—was a big orange cat walking through the backyard like he owned the place. Which, in a way, he did. He was one of the numerous feral cats on our side of Monte Vista that occasionally took refuge in and around the wood-framed chicken-wire cage in the northeast corner of our back yard.

I haven’t seen this many cats roaming around a neighborhood since I used to live in the old working class/college student neighborhood south of Rosewood Drive in Columbia, SC. Even most of those belonged to people. These cats are completely free, and with the exception of that one very special kitten who came up to us on a moonlit night in September, they are very wary of humans. It was nearly a year before I learned how they survived, even in the deepest, snowiest, below-zero pits of the long San Luis Valley winter.
From left to right, the Yeti and Clarence the Cross-Eyed Siamese keeping watch from atop a rail of the chicken-wire cage in our backyard.

The answer to that mystery came as part of the answer to another mystery, when the cats started disappearing. I had names for most of them, and when I no longer saw the Yeti (big, raggedy white cat), Tomzilla (large orange tabby), or Tuxedo Rags, or Clarence the Cross-Eyed Siamese, or Mama Kitty, or any of the various kittens that showed up after the last snow, I was becoming concerned. Was Monte Vista Animal Control finally getting serious about the feral cat issue? This couldn’t be the case, as I had read that the man  in charge of Animal Control had recently resigned. 

One evening I saw the orange female we call Mama Kitty (we’re certain she’s Luna Toonie’s mom) trotting about the perimeter of our house, looking for her two white kittens. It was heartbreaking to watch.

Then Mama Kitty disappeared.

I’d figured that was it for the feral cats here on my side of Monte Vista. I could only hope they met a more-or-less humane end.
This photo, as with the other depicting these cats, was taken after they began returning to their old haunts. Not all of them are in evidence, though.

Then Clarence showed up again. I almost didn’t recognize him because his once-matted fur had been cleaned and groomed. It was at a community picnic that I met the neighbor who had the answer to these mysteries—and was indeed responsible for them. 

When a veterinarian in Alamosa who works with these ferals ran a week-long special on spayings and neuterings, our neighbor began setting traps for the cats. She got every one she could, but not all of them. She noted one was already pregnant, although she did catch the orange Mama Kitty before she could get knocked up again. That was good to know.

In course of conversation I learned that the cats use several of the many abandoned houses about our neighborhood for shelter during the worst weather. Also, there are people who leave bowls of food out, including the neighbor.

Still, there will be some suffering. There already is some suffering, as I note that the cats that have come back have not put back on their weight. They were already losing weight before the great mass trap-neuter-release; I suspect a food source has either run out or been closed to them.
This is the best photo I have of Tuxedo Rags, from when he crossed our porch last January. He was looking pretty beat-up just before he disappeared. He’s also one of the few who has not returned to the yard. I suspect he may have been put down.

To die of “natural causes” as a feral means to either get run over by a car, mauled to death by a dog or a rival cat, freeze, die of poisoning, or starve. I’m sure I’ve missed some. None of these are pleasant, painless deaths.

And yet, they are free. I’d link to the post if I could remember any keywords, but someone once posed the question of whether the shorter lifespans of outdoor cats weren’t of far better quality than those who spent their days indoors, as our five cats do. For as red of fang and claw as nature is, so are the ferals, and enjoy the opportunity to exercise those very instincts with which they were born. Whereas our cats spend their days lounging about floors and furniture when they’re not looking longingly through the window to a world denied them.
Miss Luna Toonie here literally came out of the night and chose us as her family. Although she shows the normal curiosity for what goes on outside, she doesn’t like actually being outside. It’s safe to say this one has no regrets.

It’s one of those things for which there are no pat answers. All we can do is leave a bowl of food out on the porch, and hope the ones who need it worst find it first.