The Fourteener

When we bought land in New Mexico, we knew we had about a year to build our house–which meant we had about a year to experience as much of Colorado as we could. On our list: the fourteener. Colorado boasts nearly 60 mountains that reach 14,000 feet or more. We chose Mt. Evans, originally named Mt. Rosalie.

(Obviously, the mountain had an indigenous name before it was called Mt. Rosalie, and there’s now a movement afoot to restore a Native name to this mountain, since Governor Evans was the guy who participated in the Sand Creek Massacre, and his legacy is not a good one.)
mountain goat
Our first trip to the mountain was a warm-weather scouting expedition. We’d heard the hike was sort-of okay for dogs, so we brought Dulcie to the Summit Lake Trailhead to check things out. It quickly became clear that Dulcie isn’t enough of a mountain dog to safely handle rough terrain, and it also quickly became clear that if we were going to hike the mountain for real, we’d have to leave early to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms.

hiker with puppy

Hiker (and puppy) racing against the storm

So we planned ahead, and when the stars aligned, we put Dulcie in the kennel for a few days, got up at 5:00 AM to drive to the trailhead, and began the ascent.

mt evans 7
I love being in the mountains, and the higher we climbed, the more gleeful I became. We saw other hikers–most of them far younger than Steve and I–but for much of the hike we were alone with the mountain goats and the bighorn sheep.

In the rock field at the very end, we had a bit of a scare when I developed hypoxia, with numbness and shooting pains in my hands and an epic headache. I stumbled about, confused. Steve had to boost me over the larger rocks. My fingers swelled up like sausages, and (to quote “Hotel California”) my sight grew dim.

mt evans
I don’t know when we’ll attempt another high-altitude hike like this one. We’d have to stay overnight at elevation for several days beforehand to take the edge off the altitude sickness, and we’d probably have to take Diamox as well. But I’m thrilled and grateful that we made the climb, for we saw sublime, ethereal landscapes and wild, fantastic beasts, and we conquered the mountain.

mt evans 1

mt evans 6

man on mountain

Steve recreates Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog”

The Paint Mines

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Do people still use the expression “salt mines” to describe tedious work? I’m always on the hunt for interesting idioms, and spending time with The General (age 90+) has enabled me to discover some choice archaic phrases, like “brown study,” a melancholy reverie.

paint mine rock formationsBut we’re not talking about brown today; we’re talking about pink. My Canadian brother recently sent me some Prairie Rose Salt from the potash mines near Saskatoon. It’s delicious, it’s salty, and it’s definitely pink, like these rock formations at the Paint Mines Interpretive Park in Colorado.

paint mine rock formationspaint mine rock formationsTucked away in a mini-canyon somewhere in El Paso County, the Paint Mines are hidden from view, and you could walk right past them and never know they were there. We took a bumpy drive over gravel to find this place, where the red clay was once collected by Native Americans for pottery.

One more photo, for scale, and then it’s back to the salt mines.

Convention Report: Wiscon 42

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Wisconsin sunsetThis past year has rushed by like a Japanese bullet train, and my blog has been a Dickensian orphan: neglected, unloved, and underfed. So I’m belatedly creating posts about hiking adventures, conferences, and reading highlights in 2018. Bear with me, since there will be no attempt at chronology.

My last post was about bobcats, and this one features a badger, so let’s just start with WisCon, the feminist science fiction and fantasy convention held over Memorial Day weekend every year in Madison, Wisconsin.

I picked up my friend Sandy in Menomonie, where I got to see the World Fantasy Award statue that her husband, my dear friend Mike Levy, won posthumously for his book Children’s Fantasy Literature. Previous to this year, the World Fantasy Award statuettes all featured the face of H.P. Lovecraft, notorious racist, so the new Yggdrasil design is a great improvement. Mike’s gravestone is located at the edge of a forest on an island in Menomonie, where the leaves create soft, dappled shade, and it makes me happy to think that Sandy has an image of the great mythical tree to keep close.
World Fantasy Award Statue
Sandy and I enjoyed the conference, which included parties and readings and panel discussions, and everything you might expect from a science fiction convention. We dressed up for parties and banquets.

Wiscon banquetAlso, there were badgers all over town.

wisconsin badger

Since my novel Arcanos Unraveled is set in Madison (and the Isle of Arran), I got a thrill revisiting some of the places described in the narrative—everything except for the steam tunnels. Arcanos Unraveled references a network of steam tunnels that runs beneath the University of Wisconsin-Madison–tunnels in which my protagonist Anya encounters a golem. But it’s illegal to enter the tunnels in real life, and though I may not be a better person than Anya is, I am more law-abiding.

Arcanos Unraveled is about knitters and coders, a magical university, punch cards, werewolves, and scheming academics. It’s currently finding an enthusiastic audience, and one reader compared it to Diana Wynne Jones’ beloved academic satire The Year of the Griffin, which made me very happy indeed. Sure, it’s fun to get royalty checks from Australia, Luxembourg, and wherever, but it’s a hundred times more rewarding to know that my story has found a home in the world.

As you know, bobcat…

bobcatI’ve been obsessed with foxes lately, but this fearless bobcat (captured on my security feed) strutted right past me on Sunday afternoon, and now I’m whipsawing between worry and delight. Worry, because my kitty Mithril wants to sneak out the back door every chance he gets. Delight, because hey, we have a neighborhood bobcat.

As you know, bob*cats are willing to eat anything, so I need to keep Mithril indoors forever, and supervise Dulcie when she’s in the yard.
Dulcie and the birdbath

Sandia mountains in snowThe bobcat can hang out in the mountains at the top of the arroyo, where there’s plenty of other things to eat. Mithril, meanwhile, can go on dreaming.
cat with attitudeWe’re mostly settled in New Mexico, but it still seems strange to call this place our home. It’s been only two months since the move, though it feels like the better part of a year. Packing our books and china, selling the old house, finding a moving company, outfitting the new house—it’s all been rather consuming, and I’ve had my head down (with blinders on) since July. I’ve been seriously obsessed. To misquote Longfellow, “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make move.” We got safely to New Mexico without any major injuries and without breaking too many of our things, but every time I see a Penske or U-Haul truck, I feel a twinge of sympathy. Good luck, fellow travelers, and don’t drop anything on your toes.

Because building a new house is the perfect time to reassess how you want to live, and what you want to own and why, I’ve been gulping down books about organization and decluttering, and I’ve deaccessioned a fair number of items—bulky furniture, abandoned hobbies, clothes and books that needed new homes long ago. We gave away desks and chairs, a leaf blower, a lawn mower, crates of books, a giant wardrobe, and more. I thought I’d purged everything I didn’t need before leaving Denver, but when we arrived in Albuquerque, I realized there still was more to sell or give away.

Books on minimalism have a lot of appeal lately, but I’ll never be a straight-up minimalist, since I love books and textiles and music and my pets way too much. (And my pets aren’t clutter; they’re family.) In terms of getting all of my stuff under control, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up was a useful place for me to start, although Kon-Mari’s devotees would probably look at my book collection and consider me a hopeless case. I also got some help from Margareta Magnusson’s wryly humorous The Gentle Art of Swedish Death-Cleaning, which is not morbid at all, but is really about joyously putting your affairs in order so you can get on with living your life. That book has been particularly useful because my current writing project deals humorously with the fraught nature of legacies and inheritance. Magnusson is a bleakly funny, occasionally scolding grandmother, and my favorite quotation from her book is this one: “I have death cleaned so many times for others, I’ll be damned if someone has to death clean for me.” Sadly, I can relate to that.

The brevity of life also appears as a theme in The New Minimalism: Decluttering and Design for Sustainable, Intentional Living (that’s quite a title!), which reminds us that possessions and obligations are marvelous things, but only the ones we choose intentionally because they bring meaning to our lives. It’s the Goldilocks theory or the principle of lagom: everyone needs to find the “right amount” (for them) to create a meaningful life.

I mostly find meaning in creating things, and at this point I’m finally settled enough that I’m working on a new novel, having swept away enough clutter to see my way forward.

*Not having any friends named Bob, I’ve been waiting for eons to use the phrase “As you know, Bob” in a sentence. So in that sense, our neighborhood bobcat has done me a favor.

Desert Halloween

Dulcinea-Halloween-2018

Every year at Halloween, Dulcinea dresses up for our cameras, and this year her pumpkin-themed photo shoot took place in the Bear Canyon Arroyo, near our new home. The arroyo is a wilderness cutting through the center of the city, and the coyotes, the foxes, and the mountain lions use the broad riverbed to make their way down the mountain. The roadrunners live there all the time.

The roadrunners usually move too swiftly for me to photograph, but at times they enjoy perching on a rock just outside my gate, their wild eyes scanning for lizards and insects.

roadrunner 2

roadrunner.jpg

These crazy birds are great favorites of mine, and I have to confess I was greedily delighted when my parents gave me a pair of woven Navajo roadrunner cushions for my new house, which they’d bought in Chimayo back in the 60’s.

chimayo roadrunner

So far, I haven’t felt inspired to write any stories about roadrunners. (Why should I, when Looney Tunes did it so well?) Instead, my literary obsessions have landed on an even more elusive creature: the wily fox, subject of a future post.

The Land of Enchantment

home sweet home

So, you may have noticed that I’ve been missing in action for some time. My excuse is that we’ve moved to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, where we’ve built a house on the edge of a great arroyo.

We still haven’t unpacked all the boxes we’ve brought from Colorado, and I don’t have the faintest idea what happened to my piano books, but we’re at home in our new place, and we’re ready for what’s next.