STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND

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Men wear guns in the post office.

Men wear guns in the grocery store.

Deer graze a few feet outside my bedroom window. One has figured out how to sneak grain from our bird feeder.

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The Sangres are sometimes brick red in the early sunrise, sometimes slate gray, never the same from one day to the next.

A hummingbird that loved our feeder stayed with us far beyond the proper time to migrate. For a brief moment one afternoon a flicker paused on the ledge of our patio, ladderback pattern of feathers just a flash of color and design, and then he was gone.

Clouds in formations never glimpsed in Oklahoma crouch on the crown of the Sangres, or dip to the floor of the valley and obliterate the mountains behind a bland gray curtain. The wind and the contour of the Sangres give them a weather pattern all their own. We had two of the somewhat rare lenticular clouds in the valley recently.

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I didn’t get a photo of our own example of lenticular clouds, but this photo taken in 2003 in New Hampshire by J. D. Rufo and found on the internet is very similar to the two that formed over our valley.

We watched the side of a mountain in motion as a mass of tumbleweeds slid down and blocked the road and obliterated visibility. Again, I have no photos. The event was over within just moments, but it was as if the side of the mountain came alive with the moving thistly globes. For a few days the plague of tumbleweeds dominated the local news.

Snow devils like Oklahoma dust devils sometimes dance across the landscape.

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Foxes, coyotes, antelope, mountain sheep, elk, eagles, wild turkey and deer are all neighbors. Bears live here in the valley also although we’ve only seen two of them crossing the highway in Hardscrabble Canyon. One got into the kitchen of a man who lives across the valley from us on the flank of one of the mountains.

We’ve been coming to the Wet Mountain Valley for several years in the summer so our decision to move here permanently was not a quick decision. However, thinking about moving and actually moving are two totally different animals.

As we struggle with the realities of this move—stowing too many things we couldn’t part with, filling out change of address forms, remembering where we put whatever it was that we stowed earlier, locating services that we previously took for granted, getting new drivers’ licenses and new car tags—the valley continues to show us why we decided to move here although the summer reasons are a bit more convincing than the winter ones. We treasure the memory of autumn color transforming the mountains as our winter continues.

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There’s snow on the mountains as I write this, a white mantle that frosts the peaks like sprinkled powdered sugar. The floor of the valley is white as far as we can see in both directions. It has been like that since mid-November when the temperatures settled into the zero to forty-five range and have stubbornly remained there. During the day we rarely get above freezing. We’re expecting yet another snow in the next day or two. This relentless weather pattern has been a revelation, coming as we do from Oklahoma City where shirtsleeve weather in January is the norm rather than special.

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The mountains are an eternal presence, either a dark fortress or a barricade, depending on my mood. After many years on the flat plains of Oklahoma, each mountain morning is a revelation.

Sun, shadow, clouds, snow and mountains, deer, antelope and gun toting cowboys—a new reality and a strange new land for us Okie flatlanders.

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