Monday, February 13, 2012

Playful Avians

Our blue heeler/border collie cross, Griz, always jets out the door first thing in the morning. I ask him every morning to wait politely at the door before I open it. But once I do, he twirls like a discus thrower before his release and then sprints to the fence in front of the house near the mares. Then he goes around the house to the barn and then onto the rental cabins. My husband and I have interpreted this intense circling journey around the property as a result of his guarding and protective instincts. He must go out into his territory and carry out his responsibilities to secure the property.

Once Griz has secured his home, he often sits on the deck or out in the snow watching his world wake up to the new day. Out of the corner of my eye this morning, I spotted Griz surrounded by two magpies. Even though they are spectacular in their black and white, they can be noisy and unfriendly as they fly from cottonwood to cottonwood. Known to aggressively drive off other species of birds, I anticipated they would be sassing Griz. And then I fully expected Griz to do some of his own harassing, but the three creatures seemed to be creating their own quiet interaction. I’d never seen magpies act so congenial. The three seemed to be friends. I wanted their low key play to go on, but the magpies casually wandered off and Griz calmly searched the ground for what looked to be like more of their scent.

Later in the day, I took Griz and Emma snowshoeing with me. As we approached the top of the hill, I heard a rather loud “Caw!” It was so loud; it made me think first that a fox or a coyote might be ahead of us. But high above I realized it was a large eagle with white on the tips of its tail, at the edge of its wings, and a beautiful white diamond shape underneath its wing. The sight reminded me of Native American designs and I thought, “So, this is how their art was inspired.” I later discovered I had spotted a young Golden Eagle, prevalent in the Western United States and still sacred to Native American people: only certifiable Native Americans enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are allowed to collect eagle feathers for ceremonial use. They often are used in ceremonies recognizing unusual leadership and bravery.

As I made my way up the last steep pitch, the eagle and two ravens, known for their acrobatic flying skills, went at each other like military pilots practicing dog fight maneuvers: fast, sharp turns, with the kind of energy it takes to kill, but quickly this practice session was apparent, just neighborhood play. Later, the Golden Eagle and one of the ravens, usually adversaries, continued sailing on a small thermal, shadowing one another, at a sort of military ease. The raven sailed just above the eagle and then at its side, the eagle’s dihedral wings taking full advantage of the wind’s lift allowing him to drift and float and turn and rest. Around and around they soared the two of them, enjoying the relaxing moments after the energized play and practice of their role as predators in their habitat on the hill.

These playful avians made me pause today as I watched what seemed to be unusual behavior between the magpies and Griz and the ravens and the eagle. I’m usually watchful and aware in my habitat, but after I told Pete about my sightings, he said, “Yeah, if only we stopped and looked more closely, more often, what would we see?”

*Essay first posted 2/27/09

Friday, February 10, 2012

Winter Carnival Begins

Every year residents and visitors alike look forward to the Steamboat Springs annual mid-winter Winter Carnival celebration. With its beginnings in the early 20th century, ski events have always taken center stage. Carl Howelsen, a Norwegian, organized the first Winter Carnival with a ski jumping competition.

In later years, a variety of ski events and games were added. Included in those are the exciting skijoring events which take place on Lincoln Avenue, Steamboat's main thoroughfare. Each weekend morning, snow is imported from stashes the city collects during the winter. After the events take place, it is removed. This year, due to the drought, man-made snow is being prepared to lay down for the events.

For an interesting look into skijoring, go to:

For more information on the Steamboat Winter Carnival, go to:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Listening to Winter's Rhythmic Refrain

With a deep winter drought in northwestern Colorado in full swing, I realize how much I love and now miss the rhythm and movement of the normal winter season. That very well may be the reason for the following poem I wrote recently. Perhaps I should have titled it, "Longing for Winter's Rhythmic Refrain."

Listening for winter’s rhythmic refrain
I hear, on lovely snow laden bough,
A magpie flutter, dust, and preen
And with delicate delight beneath a crystalline sky,
A finch flits from aspen perch to bare lilac bush
I look again and see what I cannot hear
Listening for winter’s rhythmic refrain
The sun’s slide to a low horizon
An evening’s soothing, silent adagio
And in the still and dark, I wonder, “Is it sprite, commuter or mime?”
Off the path, an aspen branch, an orchestral baton
Gathers creatures of wood and land
Listening for winter’s rhythmic refrain
Knowing a still peace turns with a breeze,
And tempests trumpet, leaving denizens to burrow and cocoon.
In deep retreat, I long for notes
Of an inner score, in keys of major and minor,
With beats of lento, presto, and allegretto
Listening for winter’s rhythmic refrain
I await a melody of soulful spirit and song.
How I love winter’s solstice sweet sound
The coming, the going, the quiet and the storm
Fluttering, flitting, and singing with delight
The sound and stir of trumpets brings me to life
Listening for winter’s rhythmic refrain

Friday, February 3, 2012

Gruden's Professorial Pigskin-ese

In the months of December and January, when winter chores are done, Pete and I have always enjoyed an afternoon of football. I developed a love of football early by playing childhood pick-up games, then viewing early professional games in the 60s on a black and white television, and then as the sport grew, on to Monday Night, Thursday Night, and Sunday Night NFL games.

In recent years, when I do watch, I'm most interested in the story line of the game and listening to competent, entertaining commentators. I'll ask my husband, "Who's favored? Who's injured? Who's about ready to be fired?" and so on. And I consistently make it a point to watch when Jon Gruden, the feisty former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is in the booth.

While watching one of his last Monday Night Football games, I began writing down the many phrases Jon uses to colorfully describe the game and the play, thinking it might make for some poetic fun. The following is what transpired after I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard.

Gruden's Professorial Pigskin-ese

Jon paints the play with a sure and rapid fire:

You see, “The quarterback checks it down with rhythm
Looks to go vertical with a quick release
The offensive line, a road grader, moves the pile
So out of the shotgun with pocket awareness
The quarterback looks to go to the house
With his go-to-guy and a bullet on the money

But the defense reads the enemy’s mail
Loads the box, blitzes the line, and drops a house
Linebackers encroach, penetrate, and seal the edges
Safeties interrupt their routes and spear man to man
They finish through the whistle, flip the field
And then into space with an outside hitch they go all the way home

While Jon Gruden won't be in the booth on this Superbowl Sunday, I will be watching and hoping the game is a game: that whomever wins, earned it and that whomever loses, loses after playing with all their heart.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Emma's New Outlook

Two weeks after cataract surgery, Emma seems to have a new outlook. She's obviously happier when she meets and greets, and uncharacteristically relishes a back scratch and words of praise. I told my daughter, "She really seems to be happy again." Cassidy replied, "Maybe it's about her new (clear) quality of life."

On Monday, Dr. Chavkin, a veterinarian ophthalmologist with the VRCC in Denver, examined her left eye and was pleased to find very little inflammation, the incision site healed, eye pressure within normal limits, and a clear, healthy view of the optic nerve. I told him, "I think both you and Emma are champs."

This successful cataract surgery on a Boston Terrier and good post-surgery recovery was a wonderful achievement in my mind. Dr. Chavkin felt Emma's chances for a successful outcome were good even though the risks are a little higher in some Boston Terriers. Knowing Emma, I also believed she was a good candidate: young, physically healthy, and with a record of successful orthopedic surgeries and recoveries.

So, off she and I go. Emma may re-enter the world of dog ability this summer; and I won't worry so much about her running into equipment, trees, and other things on the ranch now that her site has been renewed.

Thank you, Dr. Chavkin, for the gifts of sight and newly found comfort and joy.

For more information on the VRCC, go to: