Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Chill out

December 6, 2017

This 62 seconds of peace and tranquility brought to you by yours truly. Relax, breathe, and turn up the wintry sounds of North Taylor Creek. Feel free to share.

Lems Boulder Boots rock

March 1, 2017


I used to write outdoor gear and clothing reviews for fancy magazines like Outside, Snow Country and Rocky Mountain Sports. I’m no longer in the business of reviewing outdoor products and clothes even though it was fun and somewhat lucrative in terms of cash and swag, but I recently made a purchase that inspired a few words.

The purchase was a pair of Lems Boulder Boots. I chose the Timber color (green).

Until now I have been unable to find any sort of casual shoe that is comfortable, health-promoting and suits my lifestyle. I have weird feet. I’ve always had weird feet. What I found with the Boulder Boot is they let my feet do what they are designed to do, almost like being barefoot. This builds foot and ankle strength and promotes health throughout the body.

These boots are made with a big toebox that accommodates my wide forefoot and spread-out toes. They are also “zero-drop” which means there is no difference in height from the heel to the front of the shoe. However, they have enough outsole protection that rocks don’t poke through to the bottoms of my feet. They also are very flexible and in fact are advertised as “packable.”

My size is 47 (U.S. 13) yet they don’t appear huge when I wear them with jeans.

I live in the mountains, manage livestock, have a neurodiverse kid in school (which means I spend a lot of time in the school). I often find myself in situations not quite right for my Muck boots and not quite right for leather or dress shoes either. For example, I might meet with staff at the school, go to guitar lessons with my son, take a short hike, then tiptoe through manure to turn a horse out on the way home and wade through snow to throw hay to my burros.

I’ve worn the Boulder Boots hiking on the trails around here. I’ve worn them to business meetings. I even wore them while speaking about autism and endurance for life to a casual audience of about 50 people at The Back Room in Westcliffe recently.

These shoes are right in step with all that. You won’t likely see these boots reviewed in any fancy magazines which is why I mentioned them here. The only issue I have with the Boulder Boot is I now want a second pair. Maybe blue this time . . . Or black . . . Or maybe the leather model.

Don Con giving away music to fund new album

November 30, 2014

Taos musician Don Conoscenti, well known in Central Colorado music circles and a former San Luis Valley resident, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund production of a new music album.
As incentive for the campaign, Don Con is giving away all of his previous music — about 10 albums — as a free music download through Dec. 31. Donations of any amount are welcome.
Known nationally for his song “The Other Side,” which became popular after the 9/11 terror attacks, and regionally for his song “Beautiful Valley” about the SLV, Conocenti’s music explores the spiritual nature of life in the mountains and deserts of Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
For more information about the music and to donate to the kickstarter program, visit

Between Autism and Alzheimer’s

December 3, 2012


By Hal Walter

Of all the holidays, Halloween is the one festivity that seems to turn out the entire Westcliffe community.

If it’s a school day the kids strike out as soon as the bell rings at 4 p.m., swarming in costume, many with parents in tow, to the downtown business district. Some of the adults wear costumes as well.

It amounts to a street party as the kids trick-or-treat the various shops and restaurants in the golden sunlight. For the grown-ups it’s a chance to socialize, and take time to actually talk with people you often only share waves with on the highway.

Over the years, the trick-or-treat routine has become less stressful. Our autistic son Harrison has gotten much better at the drill. In fact, this year in his “No. 2 costume” he often led the way in his little group of friends’ quest for candy.

It wasn’t always this way. I can still remember the first years when he’d follow the other kids into the establishments, and then quite often not find his way back out. Inevitably Mary or I would have to find our way through the sea of kids to locate him wandering around in the store or sidetracked by something inside. A couple of times he passed right through the store, through the back office and into the alley.

Some social skills are still lacking. Rarely does Harrison greet the proprietor with a proper “trick-or-treat” or say “thank-you.” We’re still working on that. But at least he doesn’t vanish inside the store.

It’s become customary for one family to host a Halloween dinner party for kids and parents. Afterwards we take the kids out to hit up some of the neighboring homes for more candy.

Actually candy and autism are a really bad mix. It’s a concession we make to allow him the social experience. After Halloween is over we toss most of the sugary GMO-laden junk.

But this year Harrison definitely ate too much of the junk early. At the party there were a couple of disruptive outbursts. Afterward, when we went out in the dark for more trick-or-treating, he did what he had not done in years — at one doorstep he dashed past a woman holding a bowl of candy and disappeared inside. His friends crowded the doorway, and I stood on my toes trying to see what was going on. Suddenly he came rambling back out the front door.

Number2 copyAt last another Halloween appeared to be over and we were driving home from the festivities. At the point where our road turns off the highway there was another vehicle out ahead in the oncoming lane moving very slowly. I judged its speed and distance, then went ahead and made the turn.

As I drove down the county road, I noticed in my rearview that the car had turned off the highway then stopped. About a mile later I noticed it was moving. As we rounded a bend it appeared the driver was flashing the brights.

I kept on driving. But the car drew closer and the headlights were clearly blinking more frantically. Here it was, Halloween night, and I wasn’t sure if it was someone needing help or whether it was some drunken crazy person, highway robber, a case of road-rage or whatever.

Finally we reached a place where there’s a sharp hill, a cattle guard and a driveway pullout on the right. As I passed over the cattle guard I cranked the car around in the driveway entrance, facing the driver of the following car and ready to roar away in the opposite direction if necessary.

What pulled up was an old man with Alzheimer’s, disoriented and lost. He first apologized for alarming us, but beyond that the discussion was muddled at best. He was aware enough to acknowledge he was lost and wanted help, but when I turned our car back around he apparently then thought he had been talking to two different people. He was 83 years old, driving a car around on Halloween and didn’t seem to have a clue where he was or how to get home.

Mary went into nurse mode with evaluative questioning while I found the miracle of cell-phone service right there and called the sheriff’s office. The dispatcher seemed to know exactly who we’d found, and said his wife had reported him missing that evening. Could we wait with him until the deputies arrived?

Of course.

We tried to make conversation as we waited. He was incredibly polite. We asked about his career life, his family; despite his lapses he was still quite sharp about these matters. Meanwhile he seemed preoccupied about his oxygen bottles. Were they in the back seat? Yes, they’re right there I told him. He asked this two more times. Once he got out and checked the bottles for himself. Then he asked me about the bottles again. It was a strange mix of memory loss and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I have struggled with most of my life and which I now am aware also often accompanies autism.

All the while Harrison sat in the back seat of our car, happily sorting through his Halloween candy. The bright but waning gibbous moon was low in the sky over the Wet Mountains and I stood outside between the cars, my son with autism in one and the old guy with Alzheimer’s in the other. One in his early years and the other surely in his final few. One preoccupied with candy and the other with oxygen bottles. One with poor social skills and a near photographic memory, the other ultrapolite but unable to remember where his house is. The differences were striking, but some of the parallels were unnerving.

Finally the deputies arrived. The old guy asked if he could drive his car home and one of the deputies courteuosly told him they wanted to make sure he made it home safely. The old gent politely agreed.

They helped him into the passenger seat and soon he was on his way.

Ridgeline elk

March 7, 2012

A walk in the cold night air

January 5, 2012

I really don’t care for this time of year when it gets dark right in the middle of the afternoon.

Call it seasonal affective disorder, winter depression, hibernation or whatever you want. It seems all wrong when the sun goes behind the mountains before 5 p.m.

My ranchito is 35 acres, and it’s split between a flat pasture of about 15 acres, with another “back pasture” that borders an upscale subdivision where residents are mostly ranching “ag status” for their property taxes. The cattle tend to not be overly active grazers and so there’s quite a bit of forage left on the land.

The fence between my property and this subdivision is pretty much destroyed. The ancient cedar posts are rotted and the rusty barbed wire has been stretched and broken countless times by deer, elk and bear over the decades. Despite my attempts at repairs, the fence falls further into decay each year, and at this point it’s going to require considerable time and expense to fix it.

Because of the condition of this fence I’d declared this larger pasture a “wilderness area” in recent years and have not used it much for grazing. However, with hay availability low and prices soaring, I couldn’t ignore the grass, and began to experiment with letting my burros out to graze for short periods of the day. In the evening I’d whistle to call them back in with grain.

There were a few times I forgot to whistle until after dark. Generally I was lucky and the sound of hooves eventually gave way to their visages, trotting or galloping, their eyes bouncing in the flashlight beam. Once, I was already in bed when I remembered they were still out, and I had to get up, get dressed and go out looking for them. That time I found not only was my fenceline in disrepair, so was my adjacent neighbor’s. The burros had actually gone out my back fence, then crossed back onto that vacant 50-acre lot. When I arrived they took off running in the moonlight, back to the gate where I easily caught them and brought them home.

Then one night I whistled repeatedly to no response. I waited until late evening before dressing in goose down, getting out a flashlight, halter and lead rope, and heading out to search for them. It was 17 degrees, and a heavy frost had already coated the brush and grass. It sparkled in the Xenon ray as I wandered around, shining the light here and there, amazed at the dozens of eyes beaming back at me.

Unfortunately they were all eyes of deer and not burros.

Despite my disdain for early sunsets, I am somewhat a creature of the night, a trait shaped in part by years of toil as a nighttime newspaper editor. Somehow, walking around in the dark seemed a refreshing departure from the typical, with frost crystals glittering like diamonds and stars twinkling overhead. A pack of coyotes howled to a chilling crescendo in the not-so-distant distance. Deer bounded closely back and forth, confused by this strange whistling cyborg that had invaded their usually tranquil space. Their musky odor seemed suspended on the night air.

I found one burro, Redbo, on the neighboring property. I haltered and led him as I continued the search. I watched his ears for clues to his buddies’ whereabouts, but Spike, Laredo and Ace were not to be found, and it occurred to me at some point that perhaps I was out there searching for something other than burros. I finally brought Redbo home and went to bed. I had literally been out in the cold night for two hours and had found the experience way better than, say, satellite TV, Facebook and even some books I’ve read lately.

Next morning I drove the subdivision roads and spotted the other three burros carving out their own ag status about a mile as the raven flies from the back fence. However, I was not exactly free to move about the country. School was out for parent-teacher conference day, and for the parent of an autistic child, simple tasks like catching these burros can sometimes be a logistical challenge. This one, for example, involved a 30-mile U-turn to the daycare in Westcliffe.

Once back home, I left on foot through the back fence. The burros had climbed the steep, cactus-studded south-facing hillside, then taken a fairly rugged, snow-covered trail through the timber on the north side. I found them near the place I’d seen them earlier in the morning. When I approached they galloped away at high speed.

I jogged after them until they reached a crossfence and turned along it. I finally gained an angle on the critters, but there was a break in that fence and Spike and Laredo passed through. Luckily, I was able to get between them and Ace, and eventually got the paint burro stopped and haltered.

There was a subdivision road nearby and I had the idea of trying to drive the other two burros ahead of Ace, loose-herding them homeward. This worked. For a while. Then Spike and Laredo took a sharp righthand turn off the road and struck out cross-country at a lope. The clock, it seemed, was running, too.

Clearly outnumbered, outrun and outsmarted, I jogged Ace back home, then went back after Spike and Laredo. But they had disappeared again by the time I returned. I had now run out of time and needed to get to the parent-teacher conference.

The conference followed a previous meeting about Harrison’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that had brought the usual soul-searching about geography, jobs, real estate, special schools . . . money. Tuition at the Temple Grandin School, for example, is $20,000 — multiply that by 10 or 12 years. In the final analysis, we are pretty much where we are, for now.

At the conference we were thrilled to learn Harrison got three A’s on his report card. The D in math, his favorite subject, may seem mystifying to those who don’t understand how it’s often difficult to assess his understanding of anything through conventional assignments and tests.

When I got back from the second U-turn it was nearly dark, and by now there had been a couple friendly phone calls about the free-ranging burros. Mary could now hold down the fort while I went out to retrieve them. I easily found Spike and Laredo grazing alongside the subdivision road about a mile from home. I walked right up to Spike and haltered him. We jogged home in the early evening darkness with Laredo following all the way. I stopped at the front gate and looked at the new stars.

A slight hint of sunset was still hanging on the Western sky, and a fresh breeze was on the air. It was too early for sundown but at least I was outside. In about a month the days would be noticeably longer. The back fence could wait until I get to it.


October 6, 2011

Fall splendor in the Sangre de Cristos

October 3, 2011

Bob Wahr

August 17, 2011

Temple Grandin, animals and neurodiversity

July 1, 2011

Harrison riding Nibbles at Adam's Camp in June.

There was a “Wide Load” approaching, and the truck traveling ahead in our lane hit the brakes. I in turn hit my brakes, and that’s when Harrison lost his lunch.

I pulled over to the first pullout along the Arkansas River on U.S. 50 to assess the damage. We had no change of clothes, no wipes, and precious little time before Temple Grandin was to begin her lecture, “Autism, Animals and Visual Thinking,” at the Buena Vista High School gym.

The first thought was to just turn around and go home. But then I realized the Salida Wal-Mart was closer than home at this point. At least we could get a change of clothes, a cheap towel to fashion a makeshift booster chair cover, and something to clean up Harrison and the car. A pit stop there, and some food from Amica’s to go, and we found ourselves in a packed gym well before Temple took to the stage. It was amazing how many longtime friends were in the audience, and luckily a couple of them had saved seats for us.

Who is Temple Grandin? Many do not seem to know of her, and if you don’t I recommend the movie “Temple Grandin,” which won five Emmy Awards in 2010. She also has written several fine books, including “Animals in Translation,” “Animals Make Us Human,” and “Thinking in Pictures.”

If you are the parent of a child with autism, perhaps Temple Grandin personifies hope – she’s autistic but is a university professor and has designed many livestock handling facilities in the U.S. If you work with animals, Temple Grandin offers a picture of how animals see things. And if you are someone who may be on the “neurodiversity” spectrum, Temple Grandin helps provide meaningful insight.

So for me, her talk was valuable on several levels. And actually, her entertaining sense of humor caught me totally by surprise.

For example she described the autism spectrum as including a wide range of people from those who are non-verbal to Einstein — “and half of Silicon Valley.” Later she described “geeks, nerds and aspergers” as being the same thing, and referred to diagnosing autism as “behavioral profiling.”

She expressed disgust at the wholesale use of drugs to treat autism, and suggested instead that parents consider dietary adjustments and more exercise to help their children.

Grandin stressed the need for more participatory learning opportunities, as opposed to theoretical, to give those with different minds an opportunity to learn. She said it’s disappointing schools have stopped offering classes in subjects like sewing, autoshop, welding, and other educational programs where students actually learn to make or do something. She thinks this has carried over into society at large and it concerns her that our work force is becoming less and less capable of making and fixing things. I agree.

In reading Grandin’s books I realized that I had already arrived at many of the same conclusions and techniques in my dealings with animals, though I had never really put words to any of them as she has. A person who learns to see things the way animals do develops a manner of approaching them, and also starts to look ahead for things that may spook them, like a flapping flag or a glint of light — animals notice these things as part of the overall picture, while most people only see a “generalized image.”

There was a point during the lecture when my son ran out onto the gymnasium court where Grandin was speaking. She turned and looked at him and then took a few moments to collect her thoughts. I wondered if she could tell or if she wondered if he was autistic.

A few moments later she was discussing different sensory issues, and mentioned something she called “slow attention shifting.” She used the interruption caused by Harrison as an example to demonstrate how when her train of thought is disturbed it takes a while for her to get it back on track.

Ironic as it was that my son provided the example, I realized as soon as she said it that I too have this issue. When I get interrupted while talking, working or even doing the dishes, it’s difficult for me to regain my focus. Or, more specifically, it takes me much longer than most people to get back to the task.

Grandin’s latest book, “The Way I See It” is largely about visual thinking. She see things in pictures. As an example she offered Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (one of my favorite paintings) as a visual thinker’s interpretation of some rather complex mathematical equations. Verbal communication, she says, tends to cloud some ways of thinking.

It’s not often that we get the chance to hear someone of Temple Grandin’s caliber speak here in Central Colorado. In what I thought was her best quote of the night, she said: “When you’re weird you have to sell yourself.” The statement brought cheers from the crowd, and I thought how so many of us have our quirks, not excluding the choice to live in this particular geographic region.

That little token of wisdom made the entire drive, vomit and all, worthwhile.