Black Bears, Chokecherries, Cubs, and Grubs


cinn 8-19 2This past August in Northern New Mexico, the black bears came out of their caves, down the mountains,  into the apple orchards (and, yes, sometimes into cabins). It had been a fertile winter, and each female was accompanied by one, often two, babies, who would mew and chortle as they climbed high in the apple trees, stripped clean the chokecherry bushes along the Sapello River, and searched for grubs under rotting logs.   Don't believe anyone who tells you that bears only come out at dawn or dusk because these baby bears were  like puppies,  playing and eating all through the day, with only short breaks for naps.

"Destruction" by Joanne Kyger (accompanied by photos I took this summer)

 8-8 mama bear copy

First of all do you remember the way a bear goes through a cabin when nobody is home? He goes through the front door. I mean he really goes through it. Then he takes the cupboard off the wall and eats a can of lard.

8-8 apple bear copy
He eats all the apples, limes, dates, bottled decaffeinated
coffee, and 35 pounds of granola. The asparagus soup cans fall to the floor. Yum! He chomps up  Norwegian crackers stashed for the winter. And the bouillon, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, onions, potatoes.
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                                                He rips the Green Tara poster from the wall. Tries the Coleman Mustard. Spills the ink, tracks in the flour. Goes up stairs and takes a shit. Rips open the water bed, eats the incense and drinks the perfume. Knocks over the Japanese tansu and the Persian miniature of a man on horseback watching
a woman bathing.
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                           Knocks Shelter, Whole Earth Catalogue, Planet Drum, Northern Mists, Truck Tracks, and
Women's Sports into the oozing water bed mess.
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                                                                     He goes
down stairs and out the back wall. He keeps on going for a long way and finds a good cave to sleep it all off. Luckily he ate the whole medicine cabinet, including stash of LSD, Peyote, Psilocybin, Amanita, Benzedrine, Valium and aspirin.
8-10 bear running
Here are some facts I learned about black bears from the American Bear Association:

Black Bear Facts

Did you know that although they are called black bears, colors can range from black to cinnamon brown, silver-blue and, occasionally, even white? The white bears are called "Spirit" or "Kermode" bears.

Ten Fast Facts About Black Bears

1.  eat mostly berries, nuts, grasses, carrion, and insect larvae 2. have color vision and a keen sense of smell 3.  are good tree climbers and swimmers 4.  very intelligent and curious 5.  can run up to 35 miles per hour 6.  weigh an average of 125 to 600 pounds 7.  go without food for up to 7 months during hibernation in northern ranges 8.  usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs during the mother's sleep every other year 9.  can live over 25 years in the wild (average age in the wild is 18) 10.  are typically shy and easily frightened

Watching the bears this summer, I felt honored by their presence, as if they had opened my eyes and ears and allowed me a small peek into their world. I wish them well, I hope that now that the apples are gone they are feasting on acorns, fattening up for their long winter nap.

I wish them to be safe and to sleep well.




"Go, Dog, Go!" : A Canine Tribute to Dr. Seuss

Looking for inspiration for your writing?Watch dogs play; read Dr. Seuss. Better yet, play with dogs, read Dr. Seuss with a child on your lap.

Maddie and Mochi

IMG_0827 IMG_0828“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!” Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

BessieZoe jumping“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” Dr. Seuss

Fionarunningcopy“You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So... get on your way!”

Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!


“Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)” Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Go, Dog, Go  is my favorite Dr. Seuss book; the dogs make me smile ("Do you like my hat?" "I like that hat. I like that party hat") and they make me feel safe, especially when they are all bundled in bed together. I can't think of a better way help a child learn to read and love books than to read a book with them.
What is your favorite Seuss book? Why?


American Bison Gives Writing Tips of the Day

  American Bison bull on the Rio Mora National Wildllife Reserve

Tip 1: Take the time to ruminate on your idea. A good writer, he says, is a deep thinker.

Tip 2: Keep an eye on your goal. Remember that you want to be a writer and take the steps to get there.

Tip 3:  Get your facts straight. Did you know that American Bison are not buffalo? Just because they are called buffalo, does not make them one.

Tip 4: Look at things from a different perspective. Sit down behind a bush, look round, take notes. How do things look differently when you sit on the ground rather than stand  on your feet or stare at a computer screen.

Tip 5: Get outside and trust your senses. What do you see, feel, smell, hear, taste? Bring that detail into your writing. Look at the bison's coat. How would you describe it?


This American Bison bull is part of a herd that lives on the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge  north of Las Vegas, New Mexico. The herd lives and roams freely on these 4,600 acres of protected land.

Did you know that there most bison carry genes of cattle from interbreeding? The Yellowstone herd of over 3000 are the only genetically pure American Bison managed by the  Department of the Interior.

Bison rolling copy Steve

How to create a "buffalo wallow."  Photo by Steve Winston

Did you know that American Bison roll around on the open prairie, creating large dust bowls called “buffalo wallows?” When they roll in the wallows, they crush any small junipers trees growing in the area. This is actually a behavior which protects the environment for the bison. Junipers are invasive trees that suck up precious water and take away space from the grasses that the bison live on. By tromping out the junipers, the bison keep the prairies open for grasses and grazing.


Look around you. What fact of nature can you use for a creative writing prompt?

How to Make a Flying Stained Glass Window

Western Tiger Swallowtail ButterflyThe drought still sits over northern New Mexico, but in Sapello Valley, at 7600 feet in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, light rains have fallen 8 out of the last 11 days.

The Navajos call these "female rains". They fall slow and steady, sometimes for hours, softening the surface of the dry soil, allowing the moisture to soak in.

mid-July 2006 flowers 060

Grasses that were shriveled and brown two weeks ago cloak the pastures in green.  In the early morning light, bright blue flax, yellow Mexican Hats, purple penstemon  dot the hill in front of our house. Ruby-throated hummingbirds zing in and out of the soft pink fuzz on the apache plume.

Apache plume 2

As if in answer to the prayer that these rains last,  a butterfly with a wing-spread of 5 inches sailed by me, and landed on the blossom of a purple penstemon, its wings slowly pumping up and down, a stained glass echo of the yellows, blues, reds, purples and greens all around: a Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. In the afternoon, as thunderheads built up, turned from white to deep black, and the rumble of thunder promised another visit of a soft female rain,  three golden swallowtails sailed around the garden, flying stained glass windows promising, if not an end to the drought, a gentle  and colorful respite.

Look around. What colors do you see?  How will you bring those colors into your writing?


Charles Bukowski, Praying Mantis, and the Meaning of Life

Hatching preying mantis repel out of the egg sac One summer morning I watched as over 100 miniscule pale green praying mantis repelled out of their two-inch long egg sac. Within an hour they had dispersed around my garden, ready to take  unwary insects. For weeks I would find them, under a leaf, sitting on the red petal of a rose, twice the size from the day before, barbed front legs held in prayer, ready to pounce.

So, how do praying mantis, rapscalllion poet Charles Bukowski, and the meaning of life all fit together? That is your question for the day.

Here's Bukowski repelling out of his egg sac, singing his answer to the meaning of life as he goes.

the last song 

driving the freeway while listening to the Country and Western boys sing about a broken heart and the honkytonk blues, it seems that things just don't work most of the time and when they do it will be for a short time only. well, that's not news. nothing's news. it's the same old thing in disguise. only one thing comes without a disguise and you only see it once, or maybe never. like getting hit by a freight train. makes us realize that all our moaning about long lost girls in gingham dresses is not so important after all.

And if that whets your appetite, try this one locks

I moved into a new place and decided to change the locks . . .

 So, do you see a connection, or am I just day-dreaming, imagining myself a green bit of rapscalllion poet, repelling through life?

Rocking our good friend and fellow writer: Petey Salman

Petey rain

Last month our good friend, cousin, and fellow writer, Petey Salman, experienced a major cerebral hemorrhage. She is, at this time, in a care facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Those of you who are part of Green River Writers Workshops know that Petey is a lover of writing. I hope you also know how much your friendship and support have meant to her and how much she looked forward to the workshop each summer. Here is a part of a story that Petey wrote several years ago. I hope Petey knows that we are there to rock her back in the right direction, just as she would rock us.

From “Whale Rocker” by Petey Salman

Helplessness makes me nuts.

Not the ordinary kind of helplessness, like running out of gas or having the three-day flu or screwing up your checking account. No, I mean the big life or death kind of helplessness:  kittens dumped by the freeway, birds falling out of their nest, homeless people trapped in a blizzard. Make or break situations. Most people shrug their shoulders, say, "That's it. Too late," but I've always had this idea that, with a little effort, you could stop things before they got to that point. Too late, I mean.

Spiders, dogs, cats, birds, hamsters--yes, even people. You name it, I've saved it. Saving is in my nature, some aberrant strand of DNA that impels me to rescue any creature that is helpless or in imminent danger. Years ago my high school sweetheart called me “Saint Polly of the Lost”. And my family swears I have an invisible sign on my door that cries out "Come--and I will take care of you." I say you can save almost anything if you're committed to it.

Take whales for instance. For years people didn't understand why whales stranded. Those great mammals were usually left on the sand to die because humans didn't know what to do with them. Let me tell you, beached whales die a really horrible death. It's not that they can't breathe on land; they are mammals, air breathers. They die because they're so damned heavy that once on shore, without the buoyancy of the sea to support them, their great weight slowly crushes all their internal organs. Sometimes they even start to decay inside a long time before they actually die. Needing an answer to why the whales persisted in swimming ashore, someone decided they must be committing suicide. Ludicrous as that notion was, the theory was accepted as truth for a long time. Finally, after years and years, another person figured out that possibly the whales were really in some sort or trouble, and maybe pushing them back into the water would help. At least that was a step in the right direction.

For a long time, hundreds of volunteers would keep the whales wet until the tide came in and then push the big mammals out to sea. The only problem was, most of the whales turned around, stranded again, and died. At that point it appeared that saving whales was an impossible task.

At last a naturalist, a dedicated saver, I'm sure, hit on the idea that whales have some sort of directional gyroscope in their brains which freezes up when they strand. Even if they are finally pushed back into the water, their gyroscopes are still frozen; the whales turn right instead of left, so to speak, and swim right back to shore. The solution was simple: Rock the whales back and forth while waiting for the tide. That would jar loose the gyroscopes and the whales would swim straight out to sea instead of turning back. It worked like a charm. The man was right and the whales swam seaward.

I saw the whole thing on a PBS special and decided right then and there I wanted to be a whale rocker. Forget that I lived in a landlocked state in the Southwest and had only been to the beach a half dozen times in my life. Like I said, anything is possible if you're committed.

Every night when I went to bed, I would lie in the dark and imagine myself on some distant beach, accompanied by other whale rockers, hands pressed against the chamois-soft, damp skin of a beached whale. Legs braced, all together we would push, then release, push and release, forcefully trying to rock the whale and unlock the gyroscope before the tide came in.

I imagined I was the leader of the rocking crew, organizing environmentalists, villagers, passersby, local law enforcement-- every able body pressed into service to save the whale. And when the volunteers were finally organized into two long lines on either side of the mammal, I would gently rest my telescoping ladder against the whale's great head and scramble up so I could look into its large eye while it was being rocked. It was the only way I could think of to comfort the whale, let it know we meant no harm.

For years I fell asleep gazing into the whale's eye.


Hungry Hummer Sings for His Supper

Hummer and yucca copySo, they say your need to appeal to the senses when you write, that you need to help your reader's nose smell the warm afternoon air, her skin feel the small breeze from the hummer's wings, taste the sweet nectar in the red yucca blossom, hear the hum of the powerful wing muscles beating hundreds of times a second, see the over-lapping emerald feathers shine in the afternoon sun. Or you could just take a break, let your reader take in the photo.

A picture, sometimes, says more than a thousand words.


Ancient Jack Russell Terrier Clicks down hallway: Time to feed me! Now!

In response to the prompt“The food I crave . . .

fiona2 She sniffs, pushing her shiny black nose against one of the small hard brown lumps in her bowl, sniffs again, the tip of her nose at the end of her graying muzzle turning up ever so slightly. She sniffs, sighs, turns, and clicks way across the hardwood floor. "That is not," she sighs, turns around twice in her round bed by the fireplace, "the food that I crave." She sighs again, curls her arthritic back in a small arch, her black nose resting on one back leg, her ribs stretching under her tight old skin as she breathes slower, deeper, a soft snore, her ears relaxing, twitching.

The food that I crave . . . and she is off again, out of her stiff old body, back into her pliable, flexible young body, feet stretched out in front, in back, nose to the ground, under the corral fence, between the horses' legs, zig-zagging back and forth across the field.

She smells pine needles, turkey droppings, fresh horse manure, green grass.

FionarunningcopyShe flies across the field seeking the food that she craves and suddenly, as if a switch is turned off, she stops.

She cocks one ear, then the other, turns her head with full concentration towards the ground to the right, sniffs, standing on three legs, right paw lifted as she stares, not hearing the red-shouldered hawk circling  in the blue sky above, calling, “Scree, scree,” higher and higher overhead, not hearing the burbling of the river or the pickup clanking down the road way above her. She sniffs. Here, here is the food that I crave, and she leaps straight in the air and down on front feet, frantically digging dirt on both sides of her, a speeding dynamo after the food that she craves.

And then she stops, sits back, looks around, takes in the burbling water, the screeing hawk, the clanking pickup, and the empty hole in front of her, still giving off the warm scent of the gopher that was there only seconds before. Gone. But look, another gopher head pops it head up three feet away.

She jumps, jaws clamp down. She shakes her head hard, the squeaking stops. She swallows, fur, bone, warmth.

Now, that is the food that she craves.

The old dog curls tighter in front of the fireplace, gives a dreaming yip, then gets up, clicks back to her bowl and sniffs. Nope, just small brown lumps,

not the food that she craves.


Overcome Writer's Block: Get up close to nature

Tulip and aphidsOn the day that you think you can't think of anything to write about, go outside and look with new eyes. Get down low and up close.  Ask yourself some new questions: What if I were an aphid, living on a tulip? What would my world look like? Feel like? What does the nectar of a tulip taste like? If I were an aphid, would I know that I looked like an emerald gem on an opal field? I could write a book on the life of an aphid on a tulip. What can your write when you look at the world from a new perspective?

Rio Mora Wildlife Refuge: A treasure from the old west


Rio Mora Wildlife Refuge, Watrous, New Mexico

Two weeks ago we sat on the rim rock above the  Mora Valley in northern New Mexico and listened to the  call of a raven, breathed in the scent of sun on pinion needles, and thought how lucky we were to be here, in this protected piece of land with no cars, no garbage, no amenities, no other humans. All that was missing was a glimpse of the resident herd of "buffalo" (American Bison). We knew the odds of our seeing them in this 42,000 plus acre Refuge, were pretty low, so we were happy with hiking about, checking out old stone outcroppings, trying to identify the birdsong.

And then, just as we were about to leave and explore the ghost town of Loma Parde, out from behind a big pinon below us walks a big bison, then another, and another, cows and calves and yearlings all stretched out like a string of ancient, furry, black pearls.

The herd of American Bison at the Rio Mora Wildlife Refuge near Watrous, New Mexico. We were sitting on a cliff above the valley, admiring the view and the old stone house, wondering if we would be lucky enough to see "the buffalo" some time during the day, and then they came in a long string out of the junipers and pinions. Some of the yearlings hopped about and head-butted each other.

Be sure and support your local National Wildlife Refuge. Without the open land, without contact with animals and birds, we will all be less human.