Friday, October 22, 2010

All I have to do is complain

 All I have to do is complain about the lack of rain and it rains.  It's raining now and it rained a good deal last night.  There is a dusting of snow on the high peaks. The skies are my favorite shade of gray and the colors are heightened and saturated.
Early this morning I got out into the mountains in the mist. 
So much can change in a day.  My foot is now well enough that I can run again.  What a delight!  Hobbling around for five months had the affect of making my world--and my paintings--smaller.  It led to increased introspection, or neurosis, depending upon your point of view (just ask the people who live with me), and an idea for a new series of paintings based on life's transitions and inspired by those yellow signs that mark changes in the road.  More about that when the paintings are further along. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Different Autumn

I've been lame in the foot for five months now, and it has changed my painting. Rather than running in the mountains, I am hobbling around the neighborhood and foothills and finding beauty where it lies, which is everywhere. My painting is becoming more focused on unexpected beauty. 

Looking North, toward the upper Santa Fe watershed, at dusk:
As the sun slipped into the West, this doe showed herself to me. My camera recorded an eery silver light.    
A little further upriver, a couple of days later, I joined my daughter's class on a field trip to Nichols Reservior, where we recorded insect populations in the Santa Fe River, learned that the water is still pretty clean here, tracked a bear, and discovered an abandoned beaver lodge, high and dry.   
The boom and bust cycles of water in this desert affect me and my art more than any other single factor. Last fall the skies were cloud-hidden, brooding, and wet. The colors of the landscape were saturated with autumn rains, a rare treat here in the high desert Southern Rockies. The winter brought above average snowfall,

and our luck held until late spring, when the runoff was raging and every cliff became a waterfall.
Then came a summer of little rain and a now a warm dry autumn. I seek out water and find beauty in what there is left.
My paintings of late are small focused moments, maps of a dry season, in which memories of mobility and rain comingle with artifacts gathered last year on long runs in the backcountry.  Click on the painting (The River Is Moving . . .) at the top right of the blog see what I've been up to. 

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Rabbit Diaries, continued

I enjoyed a small foray into Bear Canyon yesterday just after dawn.  Rabbits are still very much on my radar.  This one patiently agreed to pose for a couple of photos.    
I know that a rabbit wants to be in one of my paintings soon.  To that end, I'm doing a little research, 
including contemplating things from a bunny's eye view
No wonder this spot is bunny central in Bear Canyon.  There is a stream just to the right.  To the left is a housing project-sized rabbit warren.   When passing by, I can never resist spending  time here.   It attracts like the field of opium poppies in the Wizard of Oz.  The residents seem to be growing accustomed to me.           
No, this is not a rabbit warren.  That would look more like holes.  This is human land art.  Wherever I go, if I am within 1/4 mile of a trail, there is human land art.  The compulsion to make art is strong.  Most of what I see takes two forms: phallic rock towers or stick-shelters like this one.  The latter seem to be a manifestation of the fantasy of living in the wild.   These creations are everywhere.  The more we trash the planet and its non-human inhabitants, the stronger our fantasies of retreating into their habitat.  The former . . . well, sometimes a phallus is just a phallus, and sometimes it's a pile of rocks.    

Something about leaving traces of my passing in the wilderness goes against my grain.  I'm of the old school "take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints" vein of thought.  Like a bear, I do my best not to leave footprints.  It's a good challenge.  The bears are a lot better at it than I am.   
Like every other mammal, I'm drawn to water.  As summer progresses, it is getting harder to find water.  Below is what's left of the raging run-off that enlivened Bear Canyon a few short weeks ago.  What we laughably call the summer monsoons have started, so I take heart.  Thunder heads are again forming over the mountains as I write this.
Leaving Bear Canyon, I walked through the Randall Davey Audubon Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, where I still have a painting hanging in a group show.   The gallery is part of the original building and has a lovely Old New Mexico feeling. 
I appreciate the access to wilderness that the Center provides, the birdseed they put out that the mule deer come down to feed on, the fact they understand and buy more birdseed, and the work they do educating kids about nature.  If you are looking for a good nonprofit to support, look no further. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Appreciating Summer

I'm a winter person. I've been working on appreciating summer. This work is easier at the crepuscular times of the day, and at night, under the stars. I went out this morning just after sunrise and made my way up Two-Doe Mountain, one of my regular summer early-morning haunts. I tracked a doe and fawn for half an hour and lost them at this stream crossing.

It was a pleasant place to be led to.  It had everything a doe and fawn require: water, food, and dense cover. That last item can be hard to find in the Southwest.

In order to better appreciate summer, I took my camera along to record what inspires me.  Deer, of course. I follow them even when I am not trying to, or trying not to. But deer are for all seasons.  I find magic in snow, but there is inspiration in summer. Here's a shortlist, all shot this morning.
Mountains, and a certain summer color of sky.  Sam Scott, whose artwork and writing you should know if you don't, taught me that the eye sees the three primary colors, and, when one is absent, adds it.  He talks of seasonal color palettes.  On late spring/almost summer mornings like today,  the eye adds a hint of red/magenta along the ridgetops.
Animal homes.
Land art created by the elements. 

This lightning-killed tree is a painting waiting to happen.   It's also a home to more living beings than it was when it was alive. 

I was thinking yesterday about monumental land art like Spiral Jetty, corn mazes, etc.  While there is something there to appreciate, they are monuments to ego, as is, perhaps, all art that is not temporary.  When land art is created by the elements, it is without ego.  Perhaps that's the definition of magical.  But then my eye sees it, and I want to recreate it as a painting, a monument to my ego.  Ha!   

Friday, June 11, 2010


After a 5-week hiatus from running and walking, due to a strange little injury, I went out early this morning for a hike. It was glorious (before the 95 degree heat). I revisited one of the waterfalls pictured in my last post, now dry.

There is still a trickle of water in Bear Canyon. As I walked through tall grasses next to a stream, a baby rabbit stopped in its tracks. I did the same, and sat down. There we were for 20 minutes, joined by a horned lizard and a white butterfly. At first, the rabbit demonstrated its skill at appearing less and less visible without moving a muscle. It appeared to melt into the earth. Then it relaxed and started eating grass.

The last rabbit I saw stood beside a road, dazed, with a huge bloody eye, likely slashed by a raptor. I picked it up and drove for an hour to the wildlife hospital, where, the last I heard, it was recovering. Raptors occasionally blind their prey before the kill. That rabbit's eye has been in my dreams and waking mind ever since. It was invigorating to see a young, healthy, two-eyed rabbit, and lovely to spend twenty minutes with it. 

Sooner or later, a one-eyed rabbit will appear in one of my paintings, perhaps only in a form recognizable to me, and perhaps in the company of a rabbit kit, a horned lizard, and a white butterfly.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Snowmelt Runoff Art

Most of the snow is gone, but the land is still exhibiting some dynamic art.  Follow almost any stream far enough this spring, and it will reveal a waterfall.   In this desert, that is a small miracle.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Redux

I dusted off my bike and went for a ride yesterday. This morning I went for a run up a favorite ridge to check the runoff in several streams.  Who can resist the allure of a heart-shaped rock?  It is going to be a wonderfully wet spring in this high alpine desert.  There has been so much snow that I've been skiing all winter, not running; hence, I'm experiencing that run over by a truck feeling that comes from calling upon a whole different set of muscles.

I found bear and mountain lion tracks near the trailhead/parking lot. With the lion, there appeared to be a kitten.  It's possible, since cougars can go into estrous at any time of the year, like humans, rather than seasonally, like most other mammals. Tracks are hard to read in melting snow, so I reserve judgment. It is definitely an area that has been a cougar's territory for years; of that I am certain. I've seen plenty of signs.

Bears are emerging from hibernation, with cubs.  I saw signs everywhere of them digging like mad to uncover insects to eat. Imagine the appetite you'd work up in 3-4 months. It seems mercilessly ironic that early spring is the time when forest animals starve to death in harsh climates. They manage against the odds to survive a brutal winter, and then, when the sun is shining, the birds singing, the streams flowing, and temperatures rising, they starve. Spring may have arrived, but there is little to eat  for herbivores, omnivores, and, the carnivores who hunt them. All have severely depleted the fat reserves with which they began the winter. I am offering prayers that all beings find enough to eat.
At least one coyote family I've been watching looks reasonably well fed. They are in my neighborhood, in the foothills. We've been crossing paths often lately. I only recently learned that coyotes live in family units, much as we do, not packs. I assume that the small group I've been seeing is a mother, father, and perhaps a yearling from last spring, and that there are probably pups in a den nearby. I'm not going looking for the den. I don't want to be the stressor that causes them to move.  I'm pretty sure of its general location, from the sightings and the howling.

I visited a nearby beaver pond the other day and saw that they, too, made it through the winter. Likely there are kits in the lodge.

I haven't seen any deer yet this spring, but I saw signs this morning that they are heading up into their summer territory, much of which is still covered with hard-pack snow and thus largely out of bounds for me. The deer and other forest animals must treasure this time, before the trails are crawling with two-legs.

I have a problem painting hanging on the studio wall. It is not going where I thought it was, and it is not offering up any guidance re: where it is going, so I suppose it is time to give it a little rest. Perhaps I shall begin a painting that is rich in the greens that I want the deer and bears to find in the forest.

Meanwhile, I am still driving around with my gaiters and yak trax in the trunk, hoping for one or two more good snows.  It looks as though we might see one this weekend, at least in the high peaks.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Accepting that spring has arrived is always a bit rough for me.  I love the snow so much that I get attached to it.  But every year there is a day when I acknowledge that spring is actually here, and I start loving it.  Today was that day.  I went for a hike with my nine year old daughter on what just might be my favorite mountain.  The air was fresh and clean.  We moved over deep soft-packed snow, gingerly trying to stay on top of it, and invariably punching holes in it. Carmen got stuck when she took a high route over the snow-covered roots of a huge fallen pine.  She broke through up to her chest and was held in place by the roots.  I had to pull her out.  The photo above is of our destination, a waterfall that has begun to thaw and flow.  Nothing like the raging runoff we'll experience in the coming weeks, but the falls have broken through the snow.   We'll get another couple of snow storms, no doubt--that's spring in the southern Rockies.                                        
The steady drip of melting snow, and bobcat sign, are everywhere. I'm concerned about the latter.  Just above the falls is a fawn birthing area. Some of the deer have wintered over and others will return soon to give birth.
Even in this steep, shady box canyon, the south facing upper walls are bereft of snow, and the lower walls are warming fast.    
No, Andy Goldsworthy has not been running around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  This snow spiral was created by gravity alone.  These natural sculptures occur when snow falls off a tree on a slope and rolls down, picking up more snow as it goes.  This one is old and its edges have been softened by the freeze/thaw cycle.  When new, snow spirals are often perfectly symmetrical geometric forms.   They surface in my dreams and my paintings.   

Sand Skiing

I found a couple of photos from that sand skiing expedition that I mentioned in the last post (March 15).  Alamosa, Colorado, 1987.   

Monday, March 15, 2010

Diebenkorn in New Mexico

This morning there was a crash or an avalanche or something on the ski basin road. I hope no one was hurt. I and hundreds of Texans in SUVs were turned back. I've been contemplating the carbon footprint we leave behind when we drive out into the wilderness to recreate. Seeing all of those SUVs roaring back down the mountain really drove it home, so to speak.

Last week, I saw a guy riding up the ski basin road on a mountain bike with skis strapped to his back. He put me to shame. I haven't ridden a bike with skis strapped to my back since I was in college. A bunch of us skied the sand dunes of Alamosa, Colorado, in the summer, under a full moon. We drove to Alamosa in a VW bus and marooned our bikes in the sand when we figured out that walking would get us to the base of the dunes faster.  I haven't been riding since I crashed my bike (and my face) last summer. I resolve to look into those new bamboo bikes. Stronger than steel, and only a tiny carbon thumbprint results from their making.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, I've been struggling a bit this week. I finished two rather large paintings last week, so I can't complain.
This one is called The River Is Moving, The Raven Must Be Flying (oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches).  It's one of the more obvious examples of how I process what I experience in the mountains onto the canvas.  Followers of the blog may recall these two photos I shot last fall while on a run in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 

The ravens (actually two shots of the same raven) came back while I was in the studio a couple of weeks ago and demanded that the painting be reworked around them.

For months now, I have been pouring over the images in Richard Diebenkorn in New Mexico. What a gorgeous book. Diebenkorn received his masters degree at UNM. This book features dozens of plates of paintings from that period. The work is raw, primitive, vital, and confident. I like the paintings better than his later, much more geometric and controlled work. The New Mexico landscape is evident in the early paintings. They read like a birds-eye view of the canyons, draws, spires, arroyos, valleys, and mountains of NM, filtered through a dream, or accessed directly through a visual unconscious.

These last couple of months, while under the spell of the Diebenkorn book, I've been out in the mountains on my backcountry skis a lot. It's an El Niño year, which always means great snow for northern NM. While I was struggling in the studio this week, I was struggling with my new skis on the descents. Trying too hard. Measuring my progress or lack thereof. Getting frustrated. Finally, the other day, I began to relax and ride the mountain, feel its contours beneath my feet, feel my feet beneath me in my boots, laugh at myself.  When I went back into the studio, the same thing happened with the paintbrush. I was back in a groove, mapping the land that I'd been experiencing on my skis; painting, not thinking.  There's nothing like a little laughing yoga.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Map Art

Yesterday I wrote about how painting might be considered Land Art; about my painting as map-making.  The primary function of art is the integration of unconscious material into consciousness. Nature and the unconscious are one and the same; hence, I think of my paintings as maps that integrate nature/wilderness into visual consciousness.

As a contemporary art map-maker, I am in good company. Google “map art,” and you will be overwhelmed with the volume that is out there. Elisabeth Lecourt folds maps into representations of clothing. Sara Cardona paints organic forms over topographical maps. Bill Gilbert, co-founder of Land Arts of the American West, transposes his travels, signified by dots and lines, onto topographical maps, with audio narratives, recorded while walking the routes marked on the maps, accompanying the resulting wall art. These he calls “Physiocartographies" (  I’ve been watching Gilbert’s art for some time, with considerable interest. It foregrounds the extent to which we have barricaded, fenced, poisoned, and covered the land. It makes me think of the difficulties encountered by wildlife just trying to get to a spring, a waterhole, a rabbit hole, wherever they happen to be going.  It speaks of the necessity, and the urgency, of  the wildlife corridor approach to land management.  Gilbert's Physiocatrographies are beautiful and engaging.  They make you think.

Juxtaposing Gilbert’s art with Cardona’s, I began to wonder if the dots-and-lines/geometric shapes way of making map art is a man-thing and the more organic designs, like Cardona’s and mine, are a woman-thing. I am probably on pretty shaky ground here, so I will stop, and retreat into my studio.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What does this have to do with art?

I’ve been writing about human coexistence with wildlife. What does this have to do with art? My art, my paintings, have everything to do with wilderness.

My paintings are reflections on my experience of wilderness. Without access to wilderness, I wouldn’t be painting. When people see my paintings, they often say things like “interior landscapes.” I appreciate that every viewer sees something different in my work. Some see emotions, some landscapes, others colors and symbols. Recently, at an exhibition, a woman said “these paintings are maps, aren’t they.” This was the closest anyone has come to divining what I do when I paint. I do not try to make maps, but map making is what happens.

My process goes something like this: I go out running, wandering, or skiing in the mountains, off-trail. I follow water or I find water. I avoid humans. I encounter wildlife. I try to be unobtrusive, but I am human--a giant ape crashing through the forest.  I meditate.  I listen. I explore the land with my body, traversing ridges, climbing scree, bounding down pine-covered spines in the snow, following streams, climbing waterfalls, falling still and watching deer, turkey, muskrat, pika, marmot, ferret, rabbit, raven, hawk. All the while, I am being watched, by mountain lion, coyote, bear; the more elusive beings. I stay out there as long as possible. Often, I think of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening,” the last stanza,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

I come back. I go into the studio. I paint. I remove layers. I add layers. Like weather, water, wind, time. I let the painting rest. I work on other paintings.  Layers come and go. At some point the painting is finished. I live with it for awhile. Maybe it is not finished. Or maybe it goes away. Sooner or later, I realize that it is a map of my wandering in the backcountry. I traverse the land with my body, never in a straight line, rarely on a trail, always following some inner map. I come back, and I paint, with little agenda; no conscious idea what I am doing--the same way I run. 

I consider my work land art. How can a painting be land art? My paintings wouldn’t exist without the land. Without forests, mountains, water, wildlife. They are visual chronicles of my interaction with nature. I make maps.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mountain lions, hunting, and, finally, those cougar book reviews

It’s snowing. You can't see it in the photo I just shot in the back yard, but it is. 

I've finished the shelf of mountain lion books at my local library, and a few other volumes on the subject as well. After a couple of slender glossies that were mostly photography, some of it quite marvelous, I moved on to those that contained no images. Interestingly, all of them were more about humans than lions--and all of them announced this in their titles or subtitles. Over the past few years I have read everything I could get my hands on about deer, and the deer books were in general more about deer than people--facts about feeding and rutting habits, growth, migration, etc. All did, however, make a pitch in favor of herd management, a euphemism for sport hunting. This has its roots in the Old Testament injunction that humans were created to lord over all of the beasts and are not beasts ourselves. I'm betraying my biases, but, in truth, I am ambivalent about hunting. I grew up with it, in rural upstate New York, just two hours from New York City, but it could just as well have been rural Alabama.

The KKK was active in every little town—they ran the volunteer fire departments, an historical connection that goes back to the Civil War. Poverty was endemic, and recession was a way of life. As far as I know, it still is. There was no interstate then connecting our county to the nearby cities of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, which were referred to collectively by locals as “The City,” and visited as little as possible. Hunting was as much a way of life as distrusting outsiders, Catholics, Jews, leftists, and dark- skinned people, few of whom ever ventured into the county.

Nearly every male hunted. Those who didn’t were suspect. The primary prey was deer, but folks shot anything that moved at every opportunity, whether it was edible or not, whether it was in season or not. Since humans wiped out all of the large predators in the Northeastern United States before I was born, and, hence,  deer do overpopulate and starve to death, I can see what leads people who study deer to conclude that hunting by humans is more humane than starvation.

It is the reality and culture of hunting that I find repugnant. The deer books I read made hunting sound noble, compassionate, legal, and sober. Where I grew up, it was none of those. I doubt that this is any different anywhere else in the U.S. I have not seen it to be, in my travels and changes of residence. Hunting is about getting drunk and cruising the back roads at night with a spotlight. It is about getting drunk, sitting in a blind by the side of the road, putting out bait, and waiting for deer. When they come, you take the heads, if they are bucks, maybe a steak or two, and leave the rest. It is about shooting animals, wounding them, and going back to the truck for another bottle of whiskey and a bag of pork rinds, because who wants to follow the damn things; that would entail walking. It is about wounding and torturing animals because it is fun; because it displays one’s masculinity and superiority. These practices were not the exception, they were the norm. I am aware that there are a few hunters who engage in the activity legally and are perhaps sober, who subscribe to some sort of ethics. Even fish and game department statistics bear out this gruesome picture, and they are the nation’s primary proponents of hunting; it pays their salaries.

End diatribe.

I was supposed to be reviewing mountain lion books. I was pondering why mountain lion books are primarily about people and deer books are more concerned with deer. There is a simple answer: we are fascinated with pumas in a way that we are not with deer, because pumas have been known to kill and eat us. The fact that we are much more likely to be killed by dogs (dogs kill approximately 24 people a year in the U.S., as opposed to 50 human deaths in the past hundred years in the U.S and Canada attributed to mountain lions), lightning, automobiles, and each other is irrelevant.

We are hard-wired to respond to large predators, we have exterminated nearly all of them on the continent, and the few that remain are potent symbols that light up our reptilian brains and collective unconscious with a thousand-watt jolt. We love to tell and to hear stories that confirm their existence. They confirm that maybe there is something left of nature, something we have as yet been unable to destroy. A kernel of our own nature, our own wildness.

In The Beast in the Garden, David Baron tells a story of cougars and humans in Boulder, Colorado in the 1980s and early ‘90s. It reads like a thriller, with mountain lions prowling on the edges of the city and growing in numbers, a menacing tabula rasa onto which human fear, anxiety, vulnerability, and superiority is inscribed.

Baron takes the perspective of indignant residents of Boulder’s mountain canyons, transplants from faraway cities, without acknowledging his biases. He cites, as evidence of the increasing mountain lion population, a log kept by two Boulder residents, of cougar sightings solicited from Boulder citizens, a notoriously unreliable tool of estimating wildlife populations. The main offense committed by the decidedly evil pumas is the killing of pet dogs kept in outdoor pens at night by canyon residents. That the trauma of pet death could have been avoided by educating newcomers to the benefits of keeping their dogs inside in mountain lion country is lost on him.

In my own city, Santa Fe, some humans built a house a couple of years ago in a scenic canyon with a year-round running stream, a wildlife oasis. A canyon where I enjoyed the sighting of my 5th mountain lion. These  humans left their old, infirm dog outside at night, a backlit MacDonald’s sign for hungry cougars, and they called Fish and Game when a cougar killed the dog. Fish and Game spent our tax dollars on a professional cougar killer and his pack of hounds, who dispatched an old male cougar within hours. This is the sort of response that Baron is lobbying for throughout The Beast in the Garden.  I would much rather have seen the Animal Control folks cite the humans for pet neglect.

With shaky science, much gothic scene-setting, like “the city had entered a cougar plague,” and cougars doing a lot of “lurking in the shadows,” Baron appeals to the pathos of human fear. The funny thing is that the cougar plague that he spends most of the book setting the stage for never happened. One human was, regretably, killed by a cougar, in 1991, a sad story that was apparently the raison d’etre for the book, but after that, the lions faded “inexplicably” back into Boulder’s canyons, forests, and network of abandoned gold mines.  Perhaps some people started keeping their pets indoors. 

If you want to learn something about pumas and cultural anthropology, read Chris Bolgiano’s Mountain Lion: An Unnatural History of Pumas and People. With none of the exaggerations, appeals to pathos, and anthropocentrism that Baron employs, Bolgiano traces the cultural history of cougars and humans in North America. It is a good read; at times tragic, at times entertaining, insightful throughout. Cougars have not fared well against human guns, traps, and cruelty.  The first few chapters are hard to read, if one has any compassion for animals.  Bolgiano’s studied observations on the puma as evolving repository of human anxiety, fear, myth, and romanticism make this book a fascinating and worthwhile read.

By far the best cougar encounter story I’ve read is a chapter in Craig Child’s most recent book The Animal Dialogues. Childs lays bare his own biases, emotions, and mythologizing, while drawing the reader inexorably in to his impeccably drawn backcountry universe and inside his head. Childs’s cougar story could only be his. It is the logical extension of his persona, his awareness, and his unsentimental and total absorption in the natural world. The man describes dancing with a cougar that is likely intent on eating him. Whether it is true or not—and I believe that it is--I don’t care. Like all of the narratives in this book, it’s one you can’t put down. I read the whole volume in a night.

It’s still snowing, it’s sticking, and my skis are calling my name.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mountain lion encounters

I've met seven mountain lions in the wild. They are also called cougars, puma, panthers, wildcats, and catamounts, among other monikers. I prefer mountain lion, puma, and cougar, which I use interchangeably. I recall each encounter pretty well. The first was 35 years ago, and the most recent was last fall. All but one were near my Santa Fe home, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (depicted in the last post). The first was in southern Colorado, growling across a high-altitude chasm. I was a young, foolish cougar neophyte from the Northeast. It didn’t occur to me that it could have jumped that crevice as easily as I could skip a stream, had it so desired. It didn’t occur to me to be afraid.

I must be lucky, or smell funny, to have encountered so many of them, when others who spend more time in the backcountry have seen none. I've a habit--as readers know-- of following and observing deer, the cougar's favorite food. But that doesn't explain the seven encounters. I was not tracking or observing deer when any of the lion encounters occurred. I think and dream about them frequently. I read in the Mountain Gazette last week that a Colorado Division of Wildlife officer, summoned after a cougar sighting, left a home-owner with the parting words “Most people who see them change forever” (Stew Mosberg, Letter to the Editor, quoting Agent Dorsey). I’ve been thinking about that.

I’ve changed forever seven times. That actually sounds about right. Each sighting has unearthed a new dimension of my dreams, poetry, painting, consciousness; my imagination, which is purring along in overdrive all of the time even without external stimuli. The puma is as potent a symbol of masculinity as it is femininity. It is a hundred pound (give or take) killing machine that can take down prey several times its size. It succeeds in 90% of attempted deer kills when it is able to conceal itself within 30 feet, researchers say. It kills by stealth. That’s feminine. It meows. I’ve never heard it, but I believe those who have. When in estrous, it screams and cries and wails like a grieving woman. Its movement is equal parts muscle, sinew, and, grace; it is a cat. Every time I’ve seen a cougar, it has made me feel intensely alive. It has brought dreams of a mountain lion bursting violently into my house to reveal herself as a heartsick mother searching for lost kittens. It has colored my paintings, inspired poetry, doubled me over with laughter at the absurdity of trying to outrun my station on the food chain, made me feel lucky, terrified, and hyper-aware.

I’ve no cougar photos to post here. I read in Chris Bolgiano’s Mountain Lion: An Unnatural History of Pumas and People, that nearly every published cougar photo was taken by a paying client on a hunt moments before the cat was treed by hounds and shot to death. A few, says Bolgiano, might have been snapped on the more recently popular photo hunts, on which professional hunting guides tree cougars with hounds for the benefit of photographer-clients.

My encounters with pumas were sufficiently visceral to preclude photography, even if I had had a camera in my hand when they occurred. Each one elicited the electrical adrenaline pin pricks of fight-or-flight and shut down all mental processes.  No doubt I would be a better Buddhist (less cognitive, more aware) if I had a cougar in my field of vision every minute. Which reminds me of a line from the Flannery O’Connor story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” Having just murdered the obnoxious grandmother whom O’Connor makes you want silent by the end of the story, The Misfit remarks, “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

My intention today was to review some books about mountain lions and people that I’ve read in the past few weeks, as promised in my last post. That will have to wait until a future post, as will my stories of cougar sightings. I’ll close with a poem I wrote five years ago.

The Easy Path

Riding my bike
up Mt. Shirley this morning
deer tracks everywhere

By the light of last night’s disintegrating moon
they had taken the path
I now traveled

Trailing them
all the way to the top
a mountain lion

Ascending in the quiet morning
I felt their fear
their restlessness

Near the top the lion caught them
Hoof prints in all directions
Front hooves splayed out
The mark of a dragged carcass

I stopped
of tracking what remained of the kill
to the place a lion would hide it
half covered with leaves and pine needles
while following its thirst or resting nearby
before going back for the legs
the face
having first opened the chest surgically
with one-inch retractable razors
carving a bowl
empty of heart
lungs, liver

I headed instead up the path traveled
by my own kind
the easy path

Monday, January 25, 2010

Weather prayers answered

In the last post, I was wishing and praying for more snow.  The weather deities responded generously.  Three storms hit us with snow, rain, and hail.  When the clouds lifted I snapped this shot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.   Click on it to check out the enlarged version.   

I've been reading books on mountain lions and will review two of them in my next post.  I'd like to hear from others who have had encounters with mountin lions in the wild.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Downhill bounding, bobcats, and a prayer for snow

It’s that tough time of winter—the freeze and thaw cycle is in effect, and we haven’t had new snow for awhile. It’s an icy world out there in the forests. When I get out in the backcountry less, I find it a challenge to make art. I am not a believer in making excuses for not practicing one’s profession, though, so I am making art all the same. I plan on working on some watercolors of ravens and bluebirds today, but who knows what may happen when the brush is in the hand.

This photo, looking west to the Jemez Mountains from the top of Picacho, indicates how bereft of snow the south and west slopes are.

The snow is hanging on a little longer at higher elevations and on north-facing slopes, as this second photo shows.  When I shot this, I was about to bound down the spiny ridge at right center.  Thompson Peak is the backdrop.

Thanks to a marvelous little product called the YakTrax traction device, which is essentially snow chains for running shoes, I am still out there running. I’ve been enjoying running up Picacho, getting warm on the steep ascent, and then bounding downhill off-trail, into Bear Canyon.  Downhill bounding in snow is one of my favorite activities. The socks get a little wet, so I save it for the end of my run.

I continue to encounter bobcat tracks and scat everywhere, as well as the occasional retreating bobcat, and I conclude that bobcats are doing well indeed in my little corner of the Santa Fe National Forest.  I am concerned for the deer I’ve come to know in the area, however.  I am sure that they are not happy at the proliferation of their bobcat neighbors. May we all coexist with the least possible suffering.