Monday, September 26, 2011

Huntin' Woollybears

Fall unfolds with a comforting ease and a pace I wish for every September. The aspens scroll from summer’s life-giving greens to autumn's soulful yellows . With the drawing down of late summer and the rise of cooler days, many citizens in the Elk River Valley and Routt County begin to speculate about the coming winter season, and we do so by sizing up weather-predicting folklore traditions.

I and other local residents may stand next to skunk cabbage to check its height. The height of the skunk will be the height of the winter’s snows. The skunk cabbage is easily 6 ½ feet high this year. We may look for beaver damns. The higher number of beaver damns, the harder the winter ahead and this year there are many. We may refer to the Farmer’s Almanac, or check out how deep the chipmunks bury their nuts, or in my case, hunt down woollybear caterpillars.

Woollybears are a very hairy caterpillar appearing on roadways in mid-September and early October. They are found wandering across byways in search of a rock or log in which to spend the winter in their larval state, sustaining themselves in freezing temperatures by producing their own antifreeze. In the spring, they transform into Tiger Moths, a strikingly artistic black and white insect.

I talk to friends and family every year about the woollybears, how I look for them on the road down by the canyon, half-way to town. This year they’ve been hard to find. There seem to be fewer and I wonder why. In my research, the banded woollybear I search for is less common than the more common species,yellow woollybear and saltmarsh woollybear caterpillars found in Colorado. Maybe that's why it's been harder to find them; or I wonder, perhaps the increase in commuter traffic increases the likelihood they'll be crushed: an untimely end to their purposeful journey.

Folklore suggests that the wider the orange band on the black woolly caterpillar, the harsher the winter ahead. There is however, no scientific evidence to indicate there’s any correlation between the two. The band width is actually a record of when the caterpillar was born: the wider the band, the earlier the spring and shorter the winter; the narrower the band, the later the spring and the longer the winter. With that, my search is actually misguided and futile: a wide band width means a shorter previous winter.

So, the band has nothing to do with the winter ahead. But, I hunt woolly caterpillars anyway, as autumn's brilliance slips into the arms of winter’s embrace. I want to imagine a natural world magical enough to believe in. I want to imagine a natural world filled with a wisdom from which I can hear if I slow down enough to listen.

*This blog was originally posted in October of 2008

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Colorado Independent Publishers Association Visits Steamboat

On September 9th, Dan Miller, President of CIPA, and his wife Joyce, provided a day of information on the process of independent and self-publishing for local authors. The day was organized by Sue Leonard of the local SHe Writes Steamboat writer’s group and the first Affiliate Member of CIPA.

In his morning presentation Dan gave attendees an overview of CIPA, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting the work of independent Colorado writers and publishers. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, CIPA provides members with on-going educational opportunities, supportive resources such as editorial, legal, and graphic assistance; and a venue for networking with a wide range of individuals, organizations, and companies involved in all aspects of the book and publishing business.

After lunch, attendees participated in two of those educational classes offered through CIPA’s College: the first was “Comparison of Publishing Options” and the second, “The True Costs of Independent Publishing.” Dan came prepared with an abundance of information for authors who are pursuing their dream of becoming published.

Independent publishing and self-publishing are exciting new avenues for authors to consider, but they also come with the need to be educated and astute about the entire process of writing, publishing, and marketing a book. From my recent experience of self-publishing, At Home in the Elk River Valley, it is not for the faint of heart. But with the book and publishing world ever-evolving and searching for a new norm, the business of self-publishing books, much like independent movie-making, is ripe for the creative and entrepreneurial spirit who finds a certain level of comfort in doing it for him or herself.

Thanks to Dan and Joyce for coming to Steamboat and making our local group, hopefully the first of many new Affiliate Members.

For more information on CIPA, go to:

Andy and Jane Arrive at the Snaffle Bit Futurity

When my children were young there were a couple of holidays that clearly stood out as favorites: Halloween and Christmas were a close one and two on that list. Today, for my son, Andy, the Snaffle Bit Futurity is probably one of those favorite times in his work year that might possibly equate with one of his favorite childhood holidays.

Last evening, he and his horse Jane (Shy and Sly), owned by Dawn Joyce, competed in the herd work: the first of three events at the National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nevada. With the help of internet technology, Pete and I were able to watch his run live via a webcast here at the ranch. With a phone call shortly after his run, it was the closest thing to being there.

Andy and Jane have worked hard over the last year in preparation of the Snaffle Bit Futurity and last night they got off to a solid start in their first go. Their next event will be the rein work on Saturday and the cow work on next Wednesday.

We wish Andy and Jane much success in Reno and hope their days of competition and showing at the Snaffle Bit this year are as memorable as any of Andy’s favorite childhood holidays.

For more information on the Snaffle Bit Futurity and the National Reined Cow Horse Association or to watch the live webcast, go to:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Harvest Dinner

Cassidy recently joined Pete and me at the ranch for a lazy weekend. On Saturday afternoon, as we solved the problems of all living things, she suggested we harvest the garden and make dinner. I had been procrastinating over gathering the garden for several days: partly out of guilt that I might find more things overly mature than ripe and partly out of wishing the season weren’t coming to an end. This year’s cooler and more humid summer days had help produce one of my more successful gardens in recent memory.

With the movement only a group can make when all members are in agreement, we headed out to the small vegetable patch with containers in hand. First we hit the cherry and roma tomatoes and then the green peas, green and yellow beans, mixed lettuce greens, baby carrots, and finally a few potatoes.

As we admired the harvest, Griz lay to the side of one of the raised beds as if he’d longed to rest in the activity of our collecting. Perhaps he knew he was in fact the reason we had any harvest at all. When family and guests see my unfenced garden they often ask how it is the deer don’t freely feast on it. And I’ve always wondered why the many birds that calls the ranch home don’t eat every single raspberry the patch grows. My answer is Griz.

Every morning when I let Griz out, he jets out across the deck and flies in the direction of one of three routes around the periphery of our home. One path goes south and out to the western meadows where the mares and babies have grazed overnight; the second route goes down the driveway and north around the big cabin; and the third goes directly around the house, north through the aspen grove, and out to the hay shed. He essentially covers our home borders. I am convinced he deters any wildlife from wandering into the garden beds and enjoying the season’s hard-won fruits and vegetables.

Over fried green tomato appetizers, tomato bread salad, and steamed green beans and potatoes we all agreed our dinner could never have been purchased: the deep and sweet flavors and textures were more than satisfying, thanks to our unusual growing season and the garden’s loyal protector, Griz.