“The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation”. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Scholar
When the Sandhill Cranes start circulating high in the New Mexico sky in March, it’s a sign they are beginning their journey northward to their summer grounds in the Northern Rockies. We decided to follow them to one of their stopover points where they rest and feed along the way, in the San Luis Valley, where New Mexico meets Colorado. This song reminds me a little bit of their journey, all the unknowns, as well as how our own trip through life seems sometimes.
On the way there just past San Antonio Mountain on highway 285 we saw Pronghorn (Mai’s photo above). We rolled into the San Luis Valley in late afternoon and took the back roads towards Monte Vista. Amish buggies spooled by, drivers guiding the horses with reins. We arrived at the National Wildlife Refuge and explored. At dusk we were by the barn near the entrance to the loop road, and I heard an owl hooting close by. I couldn’t see it, but I kept walking towards the sound. I found myself at the base of a power pole with a lamp on top. The next hoot was right over me, and I looked up past the light and there was the owl, perched on the poletop. He turned his head directly towards me with an intensity fired by the current of the universal being flowing right through him. I felt like I was nothing but a distraction. Soon after another owl hooted from far away, and the owl above me took off towards those sounds. It was the beginning of his shift. He was wired. It was like me at the start of a bikeride.
The refuge stewards wetlands for the birds to rest at night. During the day these flying dinosaurs roam the vast San Luis Valley picking up bits of food from cuttings left in the farmers’ fields, and other things Cranes like to eat. We spent two days and nights in the high valley with the wildlife, making sure we were at the refuge during the most active times for animals, at sunset and sunrise. Just the sheer vastness of space and clarity of air opens your senses and refreshes your mind. It’s a special place I’ve described in more detail in previous writings.
The lifeblood of the valley and every place is the water. If Cormac McCarthy’s epic Western novel, Blood Meridian, covers how not to open up the landscape–in my reading of the novel, the cycle of violence is so complete it comes round to annihilate the perpetrators of violence themselves–the Crane migration through the San Luis Valley tells of a better way. They follow the life meridian, water and the abundance it creates, and nurture themselves on the way. The Rio Grande starts up in the mountain chains above the valley and threads its way down through New Mexico, weaving together Mexico and Texas, flowing into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is cold up there in Colorado, but it was so beautiful, Mai and I didn’t mind. With the high altitude–the valley floor is over 2000 meters above sea level, and the mountains are twice as high–the sun is also powerful, and hits your skin with great intensity. But it takes a while to warm up from the cold, vacuous nights! Because of these harsh conditions, and geographic isolation, not that many people live there, and the night sky is premium. I took a walk early one morning around the town of Monte Vista where we were staying to check on the stars, and the milky way and all the rest of the cosmos are still sprent across the blackness, envoys of beauty.
On our third day there I took a little bike ride before we headed out to follow the river back home. I pedaled the farm roads that meander between the fields. Nature is so powerful there, the water gushing, it invigorated my heart and mind. Every day we have an opportunity to begin again, and it’s never too late to remember the old ways of navigating life on earth, and integrate them with all the information we observe with our new ways of seeing and communicating with each other. Here in the San Luis Valley the snow keeps falling, the river is replenished, and each day nature instructs us. When I listen I hear it, life emerging. The talk of the Cranes reminds me of that, as they celebrate each day living their life, following the way.
Here are a few other posts I’ve made that include the San Luis Valley:
Pictures of Great Sand Dunes https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/cool-sunshine/
A description of valley geography https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/a-complete-world-great-sand-dunes-continued/ (this post is hyperlinked above)
A quick visit https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/cycling-up-americas-mountain/
And more posts on Cranes (with much better close-up pictures of Cranes!):
Whitewater Draw, AZ https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/the-year-of-the-bird/
Bosque del Apache, NM https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/homecoming-with-the-birds/
Bernardo, NM https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/bird-flight/
And Mai’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/