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Thoughts from a windy March

By Hal Walter

Hearing an owl hoot in the middle of the day is considered by some an omen of death or at least serious bad luck, which I suppose would make sense since I heard the owl on the day after my 51st birthday.

Misfortune? It’s relative. Death? I suppose I’ve reached to point of understanding none of us are getting out of here alive, and odds are my time here is more than half up.

Before we dwell too far upon the negative, let us also take comfort that owls can bring messages of circumspection. And that can be a good thing. Owls are also a symbol of higher wisdom. And I figured at this point this owl didn’t care what time of day it was, just so long as the damned wind didn’t carry its voice away.

April may be the cruelest month, but around here March will kick your ass. For weeks on end the wind has been gusting, turning the sky black with dust, the pastures to sand, and moods to a collective mental tar pit.

Local legend has it that the black cloud from the west is sand from the Great Sand Dunes drifting over the Sangre de Cristos with the spring winds. I think this is a misconception. For starters, if it was indeed sand in the air, we’d feel it pelting us from on high and the result would not be pretty. Also, as a young geology student, I actually learned the dunes were formed by winds sweeping dirt and grit across the San Luis Valley. When the debris reaches the angle of repose at the Sangre de Cristo range, the lighter dust was lifted away, but the heavier grains were left behind in huge piles at the base of the mountains. The sand dunes actually were formed over millions of years because sand is too heavy to carry over the mountains.

Today’s spring gales turn the sky black with dust, and I believe much of it to be from agricultural fields in the valley. On any given windy March day you can see these black clouds form at any latitude along the range, and the dunes are at the extreme southern end.

Another legend has it there’s a Ute curse on the Wet Mountain Valley that precludes happiness of white settlers. This actually may have merit. You might sometimes see it in the faces of ranchers who have weathered years of schizophrenic weather, realtors who have made and lost fortunes in property sales, small business owners, some Lone Eagles … parents who have lost young children. Though none of this can be considered a unique matter of geography, it all seems so much more tightly in focus in a small and somewhat isolated community. Moreover, the harsh and unforgiving ecosystem can be a difficult place to carve out a living, a social network, a life.

Of course all of this appears as so much whining compared to the trials of people dealing with an earthquake and subsequent tsunami and resulting nuclear disaster. Or in places where bombs and missiles are raining down primarily so the rest of us can continue to drive our motor vehicles with impunity. Sometimes it seems Mother Nature and our world leaders are taking directions from the same Ouija Board. Just know that Mother Nature bats last.

Meanwhile the wind scours the landscape. Going outside seems almost impossible. But staying inside and listening to the roar is even more unbearable. From experience, and also because an old rancher once clued me in, I know this time of year the wind will blow and blow and blow until it snows. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should be contacted at once with this bulletin.

There are some breaks in the gale. One still and heavenly March evening I dropped the hay for my burros into the feeders under the gathering moonlight, and stood there watching and listening as the munching and crunching commenced. The first stars were shining and the hooting of an owl echoed off a far hillside. Interesting cloud formations stood out against the fading sunset.

Amazing how far north the sun has marched as the equinox nears . . .

For a few moments I forgot about the nuclear disaster in Japan, the war in Libya, and the tragedy that sadly took a young local boy’s life. Or, on a personal level, that my son has autism and I don’t know who will take care of him if he can’t take care of himself after we’re gone. There are some big questions in life that don’t have any answers. Sometimes a few quiet moments simply listening to animals eat helps me to accept that so much in this world doesn’t make sense and never will.

A few days later the wind had stopped, and a gentle snow began to fall. The wisdom of the owls continued to bounce off the hillside.


Hal Walter writes and edits from the Wet Mountains.
You can keep up with him regularly at his blog: