If We Lived Within Our Means

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I arrived home from the deserts of Arizona yesterday. I enjoyed the moments, after the rain, when the sun shone warm on my face and a breeze lifted my hair. I think you can guess where this is going.

Back in Grand Lake, Colorado, where the temperature was a balmy 34 degrees last night, I breathed a sigh of relief. The dry air brushed against my hands and curled under my hair to give me a chill, but the kind of chill that is friendly and invites you to put on a roomy sweatshirt.

This morning in the strident sun, it’s 23 degrees and perfect. The smooth snow advertises a pillowy comfort while my littlest dog runs along its hard-shell top with the tiny steps of a toddler trying not to slip. New Ponderosa Pines and tiny firs demonstrate resilience in this pine-beetle-wasted lot, their needles vibrant and clearly vigorous.

Yes, there was green grass and budding flowers in the desert city. Every time I’m down there I wonder about the cost.

A few summers back, I straddled the headwaters of the Colorado river, amazed that the seepage in a green meadow would become the high class rapids I rafted down a decade ago. It all begins here, maybe 15 miles from where I live.

I think most of us know that the Colorado River only began reaching the sea again in 2014 after the U.S. and Mexico made the Minute 319 addendum that now allows the waters to reach the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez. I’m frustrated that the addendum was even needed.  Every time I see the crops, homes, and flowers of the Salt River Valley, I’m reminded that the 12th largest metro region in America, with a population of more than 4.5 million people, shouldn’t be there.  The people, the crops, the golf courses full of sprinkler systems for exceed the capability of that area’s water. Instead, they take long showers, mostly unaware of the source of their water. The Salt River project obtains water from the Colorado River, among other sources.

Water and oil don’t mix. And water will be the resource we battle over in the future.

Even as the Colorado River now finally returns to the Sea of Cortez, much of the snow melt in the Never Summer range in Colorado runs into the Grand Ditch, built in 1890, and flows to the east side of the front range in Colorado. Another reclamation project, the Adams Tunnel, takes water pumped from Grand Lake into the Shadow Mountain Reservoir and sends it 13.1 miles, an exact half-marathon, under Rocky Mountain National Park and to the dry eastern slopes of Colorado. Originally this water was intended for agriculture, but more and more it supplies water to the growing population in Eastern Colorado. The Front Range Urban corridor extending from Denver to southern Colorado Springs has more than 4.8 million people alone.

I wonder how this story ends? Reading post-apocalyptic books, especially Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus, shows us the imagined possibilities of what all this man-made manipulation could create. After turning the dark pages of this potential future, I’m always hoping for something better. Could nature simply choose to reclaim the alterations we’ve made for its own purposes? Could we reverse the damages in time?

What would the world look like if we lived within our means?

 

The Fox and the Vole: A Snow Thought

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The world is hard-shell icing around my house. The snow sparkles in the thin light and single-digit temperatures make me think about untenable environments. There are moments in our lives when we are breaking through the candied snowscape, up to our knees with the crust scraping our shins. Each step herculean, we have to remind ourselves that things might get better soon—the snow will melt one day.

The other day a fox hopped up on a rock outside my kitchen window. Remaining in taut, watchful motion, he leapt up through the air to earn the perfect arc and dove nose first into the crusty snow. Up he came with a vole.

I’m sympathetic to both sides of this situation.

Under the crusty snow, voles and other small creatures can live in relative comfort because the temperature remains around 32 degrees, thanks to that shell and the inches of insulation between the frigid outside air and the tunnels at ground level.

Back to untenable environments. The fox trots so lightly that he skips across the crust. The vole tunnels underneath and is warm where it appears cold. It makes me think about how we navigate difficulties. Sometimes we are all brute strength and ignorance, plowing through the obvious obstacle. And sometimes we should remember to tread lightly, immerse ourselves in the environment, or wait awhile to step into it at all.

Even so, sometimes the fox will get the vole. Sometimes we break through the snow. Always, the season shifts, the leaves come out, and there is an opportunity to try again.

Preparation

White world,
Snow whirling,
My crunching steps.
Burning beetle trees assault my senses.

The whinging 2-stroke whine
Blading by,
Dogs pulled close,
diesel fumes.

Then just wind.
Snow globe flakes
A rainbow glitter,
Crows cawing.

The dogs are deep under snow,
Then with deer bounds,
Emerging frosted and
Wild.

Another month and then what?
Snowflakes traded for rain?
White melts for green?
Motors in another world?

My brother, and me, in the Green Tunnel.
Dogs back in the world of white.
A backpack, my two feet,
“And miles to go before I sleep.”

My Friends…

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I’m so very grateful for my friends. I have friends who randomly boost my self-confidence for no good reason except they think I should have more and they love me. (Sissy, this is automatic for you, but it’s required of family so thanks for holding up your end of the contract…). And in thinking of friends, that gives me a few snapshot moments to share with you.

I was going to write about life balance and when do we sweep up tumbleweeds of pet hair when thinking of tumbleweeds reminded me of the road trip to Vegas, to attend a mutual friend’s wedding. On this voyage, we struggled to keep the Honda Pilot on the road in the mother-of-all high winds. Gretchen was laughing and steering with the wheel actually angled to the left when a tumbleweed whipped across the oncoming freeway lanes, then bounced over the median and wrapped itself like an alien life form into the grill of her car. The tendrils, writhing in the side wind and forward motion of the car made it nothing short of evil—absorbing the car into its hungry form. We knew we would be next. The beast had a lot of stickers, but we managed to pull most of it off at the next gas station. Except she still found traces of it, 6 years later when she sold the car. We were the kind of people who showed up in Vegas, found the nearest book store, and chose to drive through the night to both leave the city early and beat a snow storm on the way home. We were the perfect match to “do” Vegas our way, much as we still “do” life the same way now. Gretchen gave up more of her time than any person should to photograph Sterling and I at dressage shows—our best pictures came from her.

There are too many memories with these friends, and really too many friends, to mention here, but two more are important to note. One was one of those magical nights that took on a Disney quality, in all the right ways. I remember a New Year’s Eve when we found our way to four narrow seats in the Spanish Riding School in the heart of Vienna. Holly and I put the guys on the outside so we could lean close and exult in the performance before us. I couldn’t believe that the horses I had been reading about since Marguerite Henry’s White Stallion of Lipizza (of course illustrated by Wesley Dennis) would be performing before us that night. I know that I, for one, uttered whispered squeals to see them passage into the arena. Earlier, walking the streets, I had imagined Marguerite Henry’s character, Hans Haupt, who had taught his cart horse, Rosy, to piaffe, gaining him the right kind of attention to eventually become a Spanish Riding School student himself. In that New Year’s celebration where, later, a firecracker would bounce off my face in square that I remember being near Votivkirche, we watched unbelievable athleticism and grace in the willing, beautiful horses performing that night. We had already traveled all over in Austria in this whirlwind Christmas Holiday visit making that part of the world and the dancing white stallions forever belonging to our friendship. Gus, today, is the physical embodiment of this magic, the ultimate gift in the period of a year that began so badly. Leading me to…

This one memory stands apart in its perfection with Laura, even though there are uncountable more that deserve mention. It too centered on a New Year’s Eve, not too many years later. The day before, my then-husband said he was leaving. Laura dropped everything she had planned for that holiday evening to arrive at my house and provide me with a bottle of wine, which she usually didn’t drink but knew that I would, and solid company. She sat with me while we watched the surprisingly appropriate movie, “Failure to Launch,” and the person who “just didn’t want to be married anymore” moved his things out of our rented house (chosen for its proximity to his work in a failed attempt to keep us together). We didn’t lift a finger, ourselves, except to refill my glass. Laura brought the right-size bottle. The day and the evening are fuzzy, not from too much wine even though the wine was good, but from too much pain. As a superb equestrian and animal lover, Laura knew exactly what I needed, sitting by me, making me smile, and letting me know I wasn’t alone. We have so many other times full of laughter until we couldn’t breathe and adventure beyond our comfort zones, but that day stands apart as a prime hallmark of our friendship. And she also has a gift for naming, coming up with Gus for the handsome horse Holly gave to me

(And Kimberly who was in town and took my stunned self to dinner, showing me the love of a friendship, begun with horses at the county fair, and spanning 38 years…)

I guess it comes down to horses and friends who see me through the moments when life wrenches itself out of balance or just randomly decide that I am “awesome” and tell me so. As undeserving as it feels, it also feels great! Each is intertwined with each other, the horses and the friends. I’m so lucky to have them all