2017: Can You Do a Blue Wave Without a Pussy Hat?

2017 did not go the way I was expecting, at all.

When it started out, I was moving along with the intentions I set forth the winter before: investing time in planning adventures with outdoorsy friends, working on growing my birding year list, trying new state parks with my family, hiking, camping, taking little trips to explore nature, doing a little geocaching and biking here and there – the typical things my family does, usually because this is what I want to be doing.

But then something happened, and I guess really the seeds of what happened were planted in November, with the election.  I had some feelings about the election that I was working through.  I wanted to take the feelings of despair I was feeling and use them for motivation but I didn’t know what to do.  On the way to work, I would typically listen to the Thom Hartmann show, because it came on before one of my favorite programs, Democracy Now.  Thom’s radio show would usually end with some call for people to get involved in our democracy, and he also made some statement that resonated with me about “now is the time to double down our efforts”.  Also, I had this desire to find people in my community who were more “like me”, who thought like I did.

Somewhere in there, I had been spending an occasional Sunday afternoon in a cooking group that I had found via Facebook.  It seems we must have gotten together soon after the election and found ourselves talking about it.  We all realized we were all on the same page with our thoughts. Later, the woman who hosted those events invited me to another group.  We started meeting in homes together about once a month following the Women’s March.

In the spring, the March for Science was happening and I planned to go.  My friend from the cooking club and then the neighborhood club had introduced me to yet another group or two, and next thing I know, I was making signs at the house of another woman, and meeting a few other women from this other new group at the march with our signs.  There were so many new groups forming and so many people to meet, so many chances to get involved.  By the time March rolled around, I had fully become a part of the Resistance.

In the end, I found my tribe through all this.  I became much more interested in these efforts than in the hobbies that I previously was spending my time in.  This is why I wasn’t writing much in here anymore.  I felt like this journal was mostly for my outdoor experiences, and I was having tribal experiences instead.

I made like 50 new friends this year, several of them that I consider my “inner circle” now, and we did so much together.  We met to write postcards, to meet candidates, to hear speeches, to plan events, to support those running for office, to engage voters, to stand up for the things that meant something to us.  We were calling our representatives on a regular basis to voice our opinions.  Some of us were able to sit down with our local reps and talk to them, or be involved in virtual town halls.  We attended rallies and marches together.  We ate and met for drinks together, even howled at the moon together to express our frustration with the political theater and yet our strength in our female pack.  We made signs, hosted fundraisers, listened to (and sometimes critiqued) speeches, and went block walking.  We spent time learning about election strategies from various courses and classes, learned about environmental issues from the Citizens Climate Lobby,  and went to listen to former politicians talk to learn from their experience (Al Gore, Joe Biden come to mind).  Many of those people in the group were getting on the ballot themselves, running for everything from precinct chair to running for Congress.  We were registering voters and working on getting the vote out.  And we will be doing MORE of those things this year, to prepare for the 2018 midterms.

This is a photo from an event I planned in September to bring candidates and voters together.  I was very proud of this event.  This was a helpful kickoff event for some campaigns and helped the candidates get their petitions signed to get on the ballot without having to pay a fee:

I feel like through all of this, I have learned so much about myself, about what matters to other people, about leadership and about politics. This is something that is bigger than any of us as individuals, and it is part of the legacy we will be leaving.  I was so proud to see my middle son decide on his own to write a letter to his Congressman expressing his thoughts on climate change and a desire to move away from the use of fossil fuels, and it was so exciting to see that he got a letter back in response (even though it was full of typical GOP speak).  It has not been in vain, this example we are setting.

There were a few other surprises this year.  I did not think at the beginning of the year that I would be invited to speak at a conference in Connecticut and get to go exploring their wineries with a former colleague and her friend, or that I would end up visiting Reno’s wild horses and hiking in Lake Tahoe, and the trip to Switzerland came out of nowhere.  I still have stories I want to write about that trip.

This coming year, I know a little about where it will lead but not all.  I just found out that I was confirmed to be a speaker at a HUGE conference in Denver in the summer, so I know there will be a trip to Colorado next summer, and that I will visit Bastrop again in the spring, and I am sure I will keep birding, geocaching, hiking, biking and exploring the state parks with my family.  Also, though, I will be keeping the Resistance alive, because it has become a part of me now that I feel I won’t be able to let go.  I know there is a tough fight ahead of us but I really feel like the left has been energized so much through this past year, that there is no way that there will not be a blue wave coming in 2018, and it will be so exciting to feel like I was a part of it.

I still don’t have a pussy hat, though.  😉

Nevada’s Wild Horses

It was a crisp July morning, and I was counting steps in the Mountain View Cemetery in Reno, Nevada.  Or rather, I was counting plots.  Forty six plots down from the end of the row, and about five plots back from the road.  This is what the guy at the office told me, when he went over the cemetery map with me.  He had highlighted the road and the closest tree to use as a landmark, and in the blank space at the top of the page for the person’s name to be visited, he wrote “Wild Horse Annie” instead of Velma Johnston.

“Everyone knows who that is,” he said.  Everyone around here, probably.

It was a little harder to count the plots than what I anticipated.  In this cemetery, there were no headstones.  It was just plot markers, some covered over so that I had to use my shoe to clear the weeds to be able to read them.  There were some kind of animal feces everywhere, was literally over almost every step or near every plot, which surprised me.  It looked like a small dog had free run of this place for years without pickup, or perhaps it is some kind of wild animal with dog-looking scat.  It took me some time to finally find it, the grave of my idol.

I sat on the grass beside the plot, paying my respects.  I pulled out the poem I had written for her twenty years ago, after reading a newspaper article about the Bureau of Land Management turning a blind eye to their own people doing the very thing that was prohibited in the legislation Velma helped to pass: adoption of mustangs in order to sell them to slaughterhouses.  I want to say that the article at that time stating that some BLM employees were adopting up to 100 mustangs a year to turn around and sell for meat on the hoof.

Now there is a different kind of battle being waged over the mustangs, and as I read the poem to Velma’s grave, I realized I should have made some kind of nod to that in this poem as well.  Honestly, I thought I would be overwhelmed with emotion reading the poem to her, but when I was done, it felt pointless.  I did not feel her spirit here.  I was just reading a poem to a flat plot stone on a hillside cemetery.

After this, I got in my rental car and took the Pyramid Valley exit off of Highway 80, heading towards the Palomino Valley National Wild Horse and Burro Center. The landscape along the way seemed very familiar to me.  Perhaps it used to be the way home when I lived near here.

I think I was expecting something fancier when I pulled up to the holding facility.  There was an area at the front entrance that had three information boards posted.  A big building containing hay and some equipment was right inside the fence, and there was a sign on the entrance gate that said “Check in at office”.  I went inside the brown office building to the right of the entrance gate.  There were a handful of offices, but just one person appeared to be there, a long rangy cowboy type of guy.  He got up from his desk in a back office when I came in, and I told him I was here to check in.  “You’re checked in”, he said, and waved me off.  “Can I drive around, then, and look at the horses?” He said no, I had to walk from here (although I saw two other cars that had driven down to the paddocks), and that they just ask that people be careful of the equipment and watch where they were going.

So I took a walk.  It was the middle of the day and a bit hot.  It was dry heat, and the dust from the paddocks added to my feeling of being dehydrated.  I forgot all about creature comforts, though, once I got my first look at the beautiful horses in the pens.  Pen #10 was the first one I came to, and it had mares and foals of every color.  I counted about 100 head in that pen alone.  There was another pen of mares and foals around the corner, maybe another 50, and then there were smaller pens of what appeared to be two year old mares, yearlings, one dun male (maybe a young stud) by himself.  Altogether, I saw over two hundred horses out here, but there were more paddocks further off, although they appeared to have smaller numbers.  In my estimation, there were probably close to three hundred head.

 I wanted to judge for myself the body condition of these animals, to determine if the horses really were starving up there on the range.  All the animals had plenty of hay to eat here, though, good alfalfa, and I have no idea how long they had been at the holding facility.  A few animals seemed thin, but a few animals seemed fat, and for the most part, they were in normal body condition.

One thing that struck me about these horses was a reminder that they really are wild.  Think about how close you can walk to a domestic horse, even a mare with a foal or a yearling.  What is the normal flight distance for a domestic horse with little human experience?  These horses kept surprising me with how great their flight distance was.  For some of the mares, it was one hundred feet, and for the more brave, it might have been six, but on the average, it was about twenty feet.  If I was closer than twenty feet, like when I started to approach the fence to take a picture, they would run off to the other side of the paddock.  When I stepped past their hay manger and they caught a sudden sight of me,  I spooked the whole pen of young mares.  I sneezed once, and heard hooves fleeing the general area.

However, there were a few that really wanted my attention.  In one of the paddocks, two sorrel mares caught my eye, and then started walking briskly towards the fence line towards me, even sticking their faces out of the poles and trying to sniff me.  I did allow them to smell me, even though there were signs saying “Keep away from fences”.  I thought about how it would feel to give them a good curry, to put a saddle on their back, how they might be to ride.  They were on the small side, maybe 14 hands.  Most of the horses out there were not very tall.  One of the yearling fillies, a grey, was taller than the rest of her cohorts.  She was also very curious and she really wanted my attention.  She kept putting her face outside the fence and I really wanted to pet her, but I was a little concerned she might bite.

On the way out, I stopped to see the two pens of burros.  There was this baby burro that was the cutest thing I had ever seen.  It was the size of a dog, and it had this little tuft of a forelock that was blowing in the breeze.  My heart just melted, and I walked closer to get a better look.  As I approached, I heard a sound in the air, something that sounded a bit like Native American flutes and a twinkling.  For a minute, I felt like something magical was happening, but then I realized it was the wind whipping through the pipes of the corral gate.  Or, maybe this was Wild Horse Annie’s spirit.  It would make more sense for her spirit to be watching over these descendants of the Virginia Range herd that she committed to protecting, rather than that turd-covered graveyard, right?

I watched the baby burro and his mom for a bit, then I walked to my car, the pipe music still in my ears and tears running down my cheeks.  I was overwhelmed with emotion, then, thinking about the House Appropriations Committee’s vote last week (July 18) to allow these surplus animals to be euthanized.  Up to 92,000 mustangs will be in danger of dying, including animals like these ones I saw today, if the Senate makes the same decision after their August recess.  I imagined that grey filly with a needle in her neck, injecting her with Euthasol.  I thought of that baby burro, dying for no reason other than there are too many wild horses and burros, and not enough range, not enough adopters.  Memories of euthanizing horses while working for vet clinics filled my mind.  Even though it could be worse – the government could be allowing them to go to slaughterhouses – it still sucks that so many can die.  I cried for that baby burro and all those beautiful horses all the way back to Reno.

Later that afternoon, I took a drive down south to see the range and try to find some horses in the wild.  I saw about five bands of horses, a total of probably fifty animals, but I also saw a lot of range not occupied.  Sometimes we think it is the greed of the ranchers that is causing this to happen, that it is because they want grazing rights instead of allowing the mustangs to have the land.  I did not see any cattle, and the only sheep I saw were contained on their own property.  The range land that I saw was rough.  There was little grass, but a lot of rocks and sagebrush and small mountains to climb up and down from.  I realized that is probably why they needed helicopters to round them up.  The mustangs were probably surefooted out there and were used to it, but regular horses might have a hard time on that landscape.

I talked to a local when I stopped to buy my kids some candy.  She said that sometimes they were shipping off small bands of the wild horses to places like Montana and Wyoming, where there was more grass and predators to control the population.  She wished that they could dart the stallions and make them sterile.  The basic problem is that the horses keep breeding and there is not enough predators to keep the population down, nor grass to keep them alive.

I don’t know what the solution is for the wild horse.  I know the ideas we have come up with are not working.  I know that I don’t want them to die, and I still want them to range free, somehow.  It makes me very sad, and I wish I could save all of them.  I feel Wild Horse Annie’s passion tugging at me to take action, but I am not sure how yet.  The only thing I can think is to put pressure on the Senate not to accept the mass execution of the surplus horses.  But what, then?

SMTX: Ringtail Ridge Natural Area

There is something exciting about following a path, not knowing where it leads you to.  Sometimes, you find something interesting along the way, something that sparks your curiosity and imagination, something that connects you to the past but then also makes you wonder about the future.  This is how we felt about the unexpected encounter with this tipi.

However, if you had been Todd (my best friend’s husband), you might have been prepared for this sight, because you would have looked at the trail map ahead of time and seen the tipi marked on there.  I wasn’t doing such things, but instead had, of course, loaded up a geocache on my phone for us to find.  And no one was surprised about that part.  There is something comforting about hanging out with people who really know you, know all the things that motivate you.

It was Todd’s idea that we check this place out after dinner, because he knew that exploring a natural area is something that our family (or at least the two parents) would be completely interested in.  Our littlest one had some fun finding sticks, of course – this is what he is completely interested in.

It was a neat place to check out, although I was starting to suspect by the end that it might have been a better idea not to go right after dinner, or on a day when we had two meals so close together.  We had a late lunch in Luling at the best BBQ in town (City Market), then had chased that with a pizza dinner at a place in San Marcos with really neat pizza (Pie Society).  We kind of lost some impetus at the end because I wasn’t feeling great, and we had allowed the toddler to be loose and explore, and he kept stopping to look at every rock and crevice.  We were much faster when Jason carried him on his shoulders (we had not packed our Osprey for this journey).

It is nice, though, that San Marcos has these kinds of natural places to go explore.  The city does a good job, from what we have seen, of allowing pockets of wilderness to exist within the city.  We were surrounded by apartments, but on the trail, you could easily pretend they didn’t exist and just focus on the shrubs, cedar, and stones around you.  This kind of focus allows your mind to wander into a more primitive place, a place I like to go because there, I can leave all the other things behind.  In this place, there is nothing but being aware and present, and taking the trail one step at a time.



Solitude in Cross Creek Ranch

A rare thing happened last week.  My two year old came home from daycare and went to sleep.  Suddenly, we had spare time.  I offered my husband first rights of refusal, but he wanted to stay home.  Not me.

I left and headed out to my favorite place, the wetlands at Cross Creek Ranch.  I out some headphones on to listen to some new music I had downloaded (Missy Higgins, after my friend Mel recommended her to me).  On the way there, I felt the absence of a friend.  I thought in my head about what it would be like to be pointing out all the reasons why I loved this place to someone.

It has been so long since I have had some time to just chill out with a girlfriend, to paint our nails and listen to each other’s music, tell each other about our books, show each other our neighborhoods.  Perhaps this is just a function of age, of distance, of stages in our lives.  The friends I do have, we live across town from each other, and our conversations are always punctuated by side conversations with kids.  We only have time to talk to each other after work, before bed, or in between kids activities and dinner times.  It is not that often, and I feel like I just can’t get enough.

When I got to the wetlands, I was walking through the grass on the backside of the ponds looking for a rare red-vented bulbul (bird).  I was listening to my music at first, but then I realized that I was missing half of the outdoor program by having my ears plugged.  When I took out the headphones, I heard the raucous calls of the grackals and the coos of the doves.  I smelled something wild, something mammalian, and I made up some creatures that it could have been until I realized it was actually just the smell of cattle beyond the fence line.  I found a bleached out turtle shell, feeling the thrill of discovery and a childish desire to pick it up and keep it as a treasure.  I wandered further down a wild path than I intended to, trying to figure out what bird was making a loud alarm call (a green heron chick).  I spotted one of these chicks on a soft place beyond some reeds, all plump and feathery, walking swiftly on stubbly legs towards the safety of the water as I walked past.

I stood for a bit on on of the boardwalks, watching the water move towards me in gentle waves.  I wanted to put my hands on the railing, but when I looked down at it, I realized it was covered in white heron poop.  In fact, the whole boardwalk looked white-washed in it.  I kind of laughed at the absurdity, that these birds have claimed this place from us so thoroughly.  Again, I felt the pain of being alone, a wish that I had a friend who lived near me that I could share this laugh with.

If I had a friend with me, though, we would have been talking to each other, and I would have missed all of those smells, sounds, sightings, thrills and discoveries – all of those things that were so stress-relieving about this walk.  It is the full immersion with nature, a full disconnection with the exterior world of work and household chores and worrying about other people that makes this type of thing so rewarding for me.

It still would be nice to have a friend who lives close to me, though, to be able to call when I had a spontaneous hour alone, someone to join me in trying out that cool little coffee shop, farmers market, wine store, free yoga class – whatever.  I was hoping to meet someone like that in Hike it Baby, and although I did make one good friend sort of kind of through that, she still lives kind of far for spontaneous adventures.  I hope that I will meet someone in these new groups I have joined who can be my new neighborhood friend, but I am still in those early stages so I am not sure yet.

Later, over the weekend, I got the opportunity to spend some time with some friends, some old and some new.  I met some really awesome ladies and got to know some others better, spent time with a friend out at a park with our babies, and some time laying on another friend’s couch with my little one asleep in my arms.  I realized that missing a friend doesn’t mean that I don’t have friends in my life, but it is maybe just that I am missing a stage of having friends that is probably a thing of the past.   Maybe friendship just looks different in your forties.  Perhaps at this age, we can have friends on deeper levels – friends to learn from, engage in activities with, commiserate about motherhood with, experience new things with, march and resist with, and that’s okay.