San Luis Valley

A moment of silence.

Honestly, I have been half crazed for the last few months. I have been working at the nursing home much more than I would really like and I have been trying to finish a monumental stack of projects... and sometimes a glass of wine just doesn't take away the tired from all that.

This week I finished that job at the nursing home. I have worked there for one year and fourteen days. It is a place where I have learned a lot about myself as a therapist and, as stressful situations are wont to do, I have located some communication issues in relationships with other people. It would probably be wise for me to blame them on my boss consider the source of those issues before starting another job.

The people who live there are stellar in so many ways. When I am twice the age I am now, I know I am going to be like Nancy. She broke her hip a few months ago. She lived alone in a little house that used to be a potters studio so her kitchen sink is 3 feet deep and her furniture is all 12 inches off the floor. She is a hippy-dippy lady who only eats organic food, does a lot of meditation, is still really strong, and looks a lot like Diane Keaton (so I fancy I am resembling her already). She is funny and socially appropriate and she is completely losing her memory. In fact, she really isn't safe to go home alone anymore. The little things are what get her. How to dial the phone. One minute she remembers, the next she can't do it and it COMPLETELY freaks her out. Then wait, oh yeah, she got it again. Whether the director of nursing who she just remembers as the "lady with the big ears" is mad at her because she didn't say hello when she passed her in the hall just now. Whether she ruined her surgery and has popped her new hip out of the socket because it sort of hurts more today than yesterday. And the anxiety circles and mounts and then she decompensates in to a little pile of Nancy-ness in the pink chair in the corner of her room. That is going to be me.

I know because I have these moments of anxiety and I'm only half her age. What if the vague but unrelenting stomach pain of the last week is really pancreatic cancer and I only have 3 months to live (if that turns out to be true I'm heading straight to Alaska for a bit of a vacation; but really it couldn't possibly be the stress of the job and the imminent changes; nope, must be cancer). What if the little yellow spots on the dishes ARE really mouse pee and not just some random water spray? What if that limp in the dog's right front leg means she won't wake up tomorrow morning and I'll have to figure out whether anyone can dig a hole to bury her when it is still this cold outside? See what I mean?

This was my last week of work there. I feel the anxiety of the work draining away as I sit at my ball winder preparing the balls and balls of yarn for my summer workshops and watching the sandhill cranes feeding in the barley fields across the street. The San Luis Valley is a place with huge skies, 14,000 foot peaks, and lots of wildlife. Some days I go outside to the honking of geese and cranes, see owls and hawks and bald eagles on my drive to work, smell the skunks outside (NOT inside!) my house, clean the carcasses out of the mousetraps (we gave up the live traps--sorry to the mice-lovers out there. It was just too much.), hear the coyotes howling at night around the sheep pens, and I think "lordy, I'm living in Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom." The bald openness of the place gives me pause and makes me stop and stand still. I need that. To stop the anxiety in its tracks by watching a flock of cranes fly spirals overhead in the updrafts. I will miss this place.

Fortunately I can come back and visit often. This little one will definitely make sure that I do.

There are some big changes coming in March and March is upon us. When they are all firmed up and I'm sure I won't be doing another U-turn, I'll let you know what they are! In the meantime, watch for those mouse-pee spots on your dishes just in case.

Warm sunshine

Today is a beautiful sunny day in the San Luis Valley. The temperature is just above freezing and it feels warm and beautiful. As I trek in and outside again to check the dye pots and give them a little stir, I stop to watch the cranes circling high above my house. Sometimes I have to search a long time to locate them as they are circling so high they are just little dots in the sky. On days like this they do big lazy circles around and around, croaking and crying the whole time.

I am making black today. Very light and very dark. I am attempting to level the very light black (gray) with the addition of Abegal SET and sodium acetate to my usual glauber's salt. We shall see if it works.

The sun shines brightly in my south-facing studio and I am happily winding yarn. Life doesn't always seem so idyllic, but it is amazing what a little sunshine, some crane cries, and a pile of yarn can do for me.

Happy Monday from the San Luis Valley of Colorado. (I will let you know how the black turns out.)


The cranes are back. This morning I was re-tying yarn skeins to get them ready for dyeing and I heard them through the double pane windows. I ran outside, and yes, it was the unmistakable sound of sandhill cranes calling. This is the front of the troop. Thousands and thousands more will be arriving in the next few weeks.

These birds are a big sign of hope for me. It is a time of indecision and uncertainty in my little family. The return of the cranes is something I didn't think I would be here to see, but here I am. They make me feel hopeful. Time isn't linear, it moves in circles. The good we plant comes around again. I am so happy to witness the return of these big beautiful birds. They'll be here a few months before heading north to Oregon or Canada to their summer nesting grounds. Maybe by the time they leave I will be following them on my own migration.

Here is a video compiled from photos and video taken over the last year. Listen to the sound of thousands of cranes circling. The cranes arrive in the San Luis Valley sometime around Valentine's Day, stopping here after leaving their wintering grounds at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. They will be here for a couple months before they fly north for the summer. They stop here again in October and November on their way back south with their new young in tow. Most of these cranes are greater sandhill cranes as opposed to the famous flocks of lesser sandhills on the North Platte in Nebraska.

Eppie's Capulin and the San Luis Valley

I work some of the week as an occupational therapist in a handful of rural school districts in the southern half of the San Luis Valley (which is HUGE!). Today I decided to take a little detour on my way home and see if Eppie Archuleta's studio is still in Capulin. I had heard that she now lives in Medanales, NM with her children, but I remember not too long ago there being activity at her studio. Clearly it was longer ago than I thought.
 I don't think anyone has woven here in a very long time.
Eppie is a matriarch in the traditional hispanic weaving community. Her mother was Agueda Martinez and Eppie herself had several daughters who have become famous weavers in their own right. Here is a link to the blog post I did in 2008 which mentions Eppie and remains the number one blog post viewed on my blog (and considering this, I wish I knew more about her and could really do her justice).

Sometimes I like to drive through the less traveled places to get a feel for the real life of a place. The San Luis Valley is a very very large place in area (someone just told me that the state of Virginia could fit inside it, though that seems a bit of a stretch... unless I have to drive to a meeting in Antonito from somewhere like Crestone which could take something like 2 hours) and a very small place in terms of people who live here. It is the kind of place where you run into your boss at the grocery and your neighbor at the Vietnamese restaurant. Frequently. (This means you should be careful what both your boss and your neighbor know about you.) Today I went through Capulin which is a small town 10 miles west of the highway surrounded by center pivot farms and a few Amish families.

As I was coming north I didn't know exactly where I was in relation to my house, but I knew I was south and west of my farm-surrounded rental house. The valley is like this. The roads are numbered differently in each county, but if the mountains are not obscured by forest fire smoke, fog, snow, or blowing sand, you can figure out where you're going. The roads are mostly gravel and run in one mile blocks. They are numbered differently in the different counties, but if you watch the mountains, you can find your way home. I took a quick right knowing I had to head further east and came across another frequent sight in this part of the valley. It was an Amish buggy with two rows of seats containing at least 7 children. The one driving seemed to be a teenager though I suppose there aren't any rules about younger kids driving buggies. I see buggies frequently, fortunately so far, before I have collided with one. Often they are on the paved roads with no shoulders moving 15 mph to my 65. They don't have lights or blinkers. Just one big horse and a little carriage full of children. It scares me. But at the same time I am fascinated by this slower pace and often feel somewhat envious of these people who seem to have simplicity at the forefront of their lives.

The cranes are back. They have returned to the barley fields surrounding my house and seem to be sticking for a bit to eat before heading south to the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico and beyond. Most of the ones I've seen are greater sandhill cranes and they seem so big. Their haunting cries are a welcome sound in the morning as they fly over the house headed for the fields.
This is a place where farming is a way of life.
There are frequently sheep in my yard... which is somewhat appropriate considering the amount of wool I dye. (Starting about 2 months ago we started hearing this loud sound that seemed somewhat like a rifle shot, but it was happening about every 4 minutes, usually at night. The first night I heard it it freaked me out and I closed and locked all the doors and windows. Finally our neighbor was chasing a sheep behind our shed and we asked him what the noise was... coyote gun. It is a propane-fueled pop that scares the coyotes away when the sheep are not in their corral at night. Who knew.)
Wildlife on the road...
Rural places are good. They can bring rest and fill my mind with wide open spaces.

The skunk in the night.

There have been a few issues with this new rental house. By far the most distressing (after I realized propane was not going to cost me $40 a day but a much more reasonable amount) was this one:
(Note: I did not take this photo. Our yard is completely brown, and also, though I almost always have a camera with me, I did not have one at the moment described below when I was trying to keep my dog from getting sprayed at 11pm in my yard.) Apparently this is a common San Luis Valley problem. Emily's first night here (I was finishing up work in Cortez), she heard a horrible screeching and then smelled THE SKUNK BOMB. Apparently it was bad. So bad it probably temporarily addled her smeller because later that day she made the FedEx lady come in and sniff to see if it still smelled. "Yep, pretty bad skunkin'" was the FedEx report. We tried to get someone to come and trap the thing. Our landlord even rented a trap for a night, but we didn't catch it and he took the trap away and "plugged the hole" in this manner:
Now my landlord is a nice enough guy.  He is a laid-back New York Jew who somehow ended up in the wilds of southern Colorado. I'm not all up on my skunk etiquette, but I am pretty sure that this is not a good way to plug a skunk hole.  I could hear the skunks laughing when they saw those baking pans and other yard junk shoved in around that old electrical conduit.

About a week and a half later at the end of my parent's baby-staycation, we had another skunk visitor.  I suppose the laughter at the baking pan "plug" to his entrance should have awakened me, but no, it was the smell. First your nose burns a little bit and then you get this horrible nauseous feeling in your stomach and you wonder if you are going to throw up, and if so, will you make it down the flight of stairs and through the bedroom my parents were sleeping in to the only bathroom in the house before you lose it... or will you have to go barf in the yard with the skunk. Figuring there was absolutely nothing I could do at 2am, I pulled the covers over my head and tried to breathe through my mouth.  Amazingly the next morning all my Mom said was, I thought I smelled skunk! It was bad, but not, according to Emily, as bad as the first time (we suspect that first event was a mating/courtship sort of thing--apparently male skunks tend to spray during coitus... or perhaps it is just foreplay).

Our landlord was, by then, in Australia for an undetermined amount of time and we knew we had to take maters into our own hands. We were unable to get anyone to come and trap it and take it away. One Fish and Wildlife-type person said they could trap it for us but that the skunk would either have to be released on our property or killed. I don't need that kind of bad skunk karma and I didn't want to come that close to the little kitty. 

There was some new snow, so we smoothed it all out and waited. The first night... nothing.  The second night I didn't wake up until 3am. I put on my skunk-hunting pajamas and my coat (the valley is colder than Antarctica in July) and peeked at the hole.  There were tons of tracks.
And I didn't know what to do. If the skunk came out earlier and already went back in again, I didn't want to plug him up in the hole. And what if there were multiple skunks? What else could I do? I left the hole open, exchanged my skunk-hunting pajamas for regular pajamas, and went back to bed.

Emily gussied up the hole making the entrance nice and available with a sweet rock walkway, threw out all the yard trash from the last tenants, and smoothed more snow around the hole so we could tell when our visitors returned (or left whichever the case may be). Nothing. For days.

So we filled the hole in. With big rocks. And railroad ties. If I could have put one of the hulking rusted pieces of farm machinery from the lot out back on top of the boards, I would have.  Hopefully the wire and rock combination will deter any digging at this particular hole in the foundation.

A few nights after plugging the hole, I smelled skunk strongly in the bedroom on the east side of the house. I was sure we'd either trapped one underneath the house or he'd found another hole that I had somehow missed in my obsessive compulsive searching for ruptures in the armory. Coincidentally, at that moment Emily let Cassy my yellow lab and avowed skunk-lover out the back door. I screamed SKUNK!, Cassy shot out the door barking, and frantic pleading from both of us with promises of really good treats brought her back before she got sprayed. I did not want a repeat of the last dog skunking which lingered for literally 6 months (even after the peroxide/baking soda/dish soap bath which does work amazingly well--unfortunately I also ended up smelling like skunk and was completely drenched from the garden hose to boot).

The hole is now plugged. The skunks will need to find another entrance to visit this particularly warm spot under the heater in this house with no floor insulation.  I'm sure it was a nice spot for a skunk--except perhaps for the fact that I'm pretty sure the water from the washing machine was draining under the house. My awesome brother-in-law fixed that a few days ago as the Australia-visitin' landlord hadn't yet sent his "guys" over to fix the obviously frozen drain pipe for the washing machine, and it was unclear whether that would ever happen. It is so nice to have a relative that can fix absolutely anything. And it only took him about 10 minutes. (He is on my "beer-for-life" program... I am not taking new applications.)
Our skunk is apparently still visiting at times. These tracks were running along the dirt road at the side of the house this morning. But so far we haven't had any more under-the-house visitors.

Eppie Archuleta

Today was my last day working at the hospital in Alamosa. It was a good job most days, but being a medically based therapist is really no longer for me. I'm glad to be finished and have some more time for weaving--and also to only have to focus on one job (at the schools) besides my REAL job of being an artist and making fabulous tapestries.
My co-worker Julie didn't know that it was my last day today. But she left me a gift which was far more appropriate than she could have guessed. She is from La Jara which is also the home of famous Rio Grande tapestry weaver Eppie Archuleta. (Actually I think Eppie might live in Capulin, but close enough.) Eppie is one of the even more famous Agueda Martinez's children. Agueda died in 2002 (at the age of 102 I believe) after leaving a legacy in both weaving and famous weaving children. Julie was at a Hispanic Heritage Festival in La Jara recently and met Eppie... and she bought me a little sample of Eppie's weaving (a bookmark). Somehow I felt that it was a good sign for me... leaving the hospital and going forward with Eppie's work in my pocket. They say to follow your bliss, and really I can't think of any other way to find happiness. So maybe with Eppie's talisman on my studio wall and one less job to worry about, I can create some happiness of my own.

Small Town Life

I spotted this sign in Fort Garland, CO right on Highway 160 on my way to Taos to meet with some weaving friends. Fort Garland is only a few miles from my current home. I was struck by the small-town assumption that people would know where Tina's house was. There were no other signs or balloons to mark the yard sale anywhere in line of sight. I guess I haven't lived in the San Luis Valley long enough to know Tina personally. I hope her yard sale went well.

Living in rural Colorado or New Mexico where I have spent the last few years has a lot to teach me. I have more time to look at the landscape--often while driving long distances to work or meet with friends or family. I was wondering about how our environment leads us to choose certain things--a way of building a house or perhaps a color of yarn or technique for the next work of art. Definitely the landscape leads me question what building methods I use when discussing building a house or a studio (hopefully some day soon)... I have always wanted to build a straw bale house and I think this comes partly from growing up in New Mexico where the sky is big and you feel more connected to the ground. A straw bale house feels grounded. The walls are thick and the air inside is cool and quiet in the summer and warm and quiet in the winter. The walls are covered with mud and it fits into the landscape. I imagine the porch where I can watch the thunderstorms in August and dye my yarn. And I wonder if I'll put little designs or perhaps broken tiles into the mud as decoration to make it my own.

Yarn choices also stem from my environment more than I would guess. NM and the San Luis Valley encourage my sensual addiction to yarn and color. Somehow it is a place that feels more real to me than the suburban neighborhood I lived in with manicured lawns in Reno, NV. Somehow experiencing the dirt, the rock, and the cactus under my feet every time I step out the door as well as watching the clouds moving across the Sangre de Cristos, hugging 14,000 ft. Mt. Blanca connect me to the land and maybe to myself. This probably doesn't work for everyone, but for me it is an important part of my life. Somehow yarn is part of that sensual connection. I love nothing better than going to Village Wools or Serendipity and feeling the yarn, imagining knitting a scarf or wondering how that dyed-in-the-fleece yarn would change the look of my tapestry.