QUAIL MUTTERINGS #46. What The #$@*? (June 2017)

Who, what, when, where, why and how did we get our country, the world and mother earth into such a mess? What the #&%*? I’m sorry. I just can’t go there right now. So instead, I’m going to try my best to focus on my own little neck of the woods and attempt to stay as positive as I can. There is A LOT to be positive about here. Still.

Right now I’m rereading Walden, taking a trip down memory lane, back to simplicity, serenity and integrity. As a teen, before ever reading Thoreau or any Zen Buddhist writings, I felt this way. I may not have been able to put it into words, I still can’t really, but it’s what resonated deep inside me and continues to do so. However, words are far too limiting to describe what really matters. We can only hint at or allude to what’s really important. Or what’s actually real. Or not.

I’ve been observing this beautiful juvenile Red-tail Hawk for the past month or so. He’s as big as his parents, but they continue to bring him food. He cries off and on all day long; a very distinctive call, one I became familiar with while obsessed, for months, with a pair of fledglings several years ago. Almost daily, I walk up the canyon with my monocular and find him perched on some boulder or in a tree along the canyon walls. I love him. From following the others around before, I became more adept at being able to know where to look even if he isn’t calling. It’s a special privilege to be able to catch a glimpse into their world and be allowed to live alongside them.

Going back to Thoreau, this spring I got to visit his old stomping grounds: Concord and Walden Pond. It was March and a thin layer of ice topped the southern portion of this large pond and snow lined the path along that side. A cold breeze blew across the water and I drew a scarf over my nose. Sunlight glittered off the rippling, mirrored surface and small waves lapped at the opposite sandy shore. Nestled amongst the pines was the site where Thoreau’s small abode had been. In another area, a replica of the structure he’d built for himself allowed one to go inside and experience the economy of size and necessities. There was just enough room for a cot, a small writing table and chair, and a wood-burning stove. It was all he needed. Actually, it’s all any of us really need.

Closer to home, after a winter of unusual amounts of rain, our ponds are now full. Wildlife abounds in the continued green of almost-summer, uncharacteristic for this time of year. Spectacular super blooms decorate our spring and I look out at the bright yellow river of Seep Monkeyflowers growing where the creek ran less than a month ago. Stunning. Little Western Toads hop through the tangle of wildflowers sprouting across the creekbed. House Finches, Canyon and House Wrens use the nooks and crannies of our log cabin walls as their condominiums adding grasses and weeds for interior comfort. Daytime choruses serenade us and fill the canyon with voices of many species of birds, too numerous to list. The Western Toads up the canyon, bullfrogs from the pond down the canyon, and owls combine for the nightly symphony. Our windows remain open so we don’t miss anything.

The ravens have returned to the area out by the horses and goats to lay claim to their rightful territory. Back when our beautiful donkey was still around they used to stand on her rump and peck out the wooly hair beneath, which had not been shed yet for the summer. She seemed to appreciate the massage and they, for their labors, took the fur to line their nests. Nothing like the barter system. You scratch my itch and I’ll scratch yours.

I go outside to sit on the porch toting my apple with almond butter, a delicious snack by-the-way, and watch dozens of baby squirrels play on the rocks. They snap their tails back and forth and run away from each other as if playing tag. Lizards sun themselves nearby, lazily aware of probably everything. Aahh, to appear so unconcerned, but be, nonetheless, aware. I find myself taking lessons from them. Studying the Zen of lizards. I decide to practice more, keeping in mind some words of Buddhist wisdom.

I vow to develop understanding

in order to live peacefully

with people, animals, plants, and minerals.


I vow to develop my compassion

in order to protect the lives

of people, animals, plants, and minerals.


I wish you all happy wanderings, peaceful meditations and productive contemplations.


Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.

You can follow us on www.Facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #45. To Each and Every One (February 2017)

The creeks are running, wildflowers are beginning to bloom, frogs perform their nightly symphony, and the birds are already courting. The essence of spring is hovering all around, teasing us, as another big rainstorm threatens. Nature is a powerful force, one which is most beneficial to all when we work with it rather than against it.

We are so fortunate for all the caring individuals who’ve continued to spend so much of their time and effort to ensure that large swaths of our natural environment are set aside for preservation. Without the forests we couldn’t breathe. When a species goes extinct there’s no getting it back and we shouldn’t pretend to know the consequences of that. Everything on earth is interconnected in ways that our poor, miniscule brains cannot even fathom. And to pretend to know what we cannot possibly understand can create catastrophic and torturous results. Life is too precious to let short-sightedness guide us.

I was fortunate, last summer, to visit Costa Rica and stay for a week in my cousin’s house. In order to get there we had to put the car in four-wheel-drive to make it up the side of the mountain on their two mile long dirt road. Howler monkeys screamed all around us and toucans perched in nearby trees. The surrounding jungle had its own fantastic and unfamiliar sounds. We kayaked through muddy waters and watched spider monkeys clamor out on the branches above us. Sloths were difficult to spot since they slept high in the trees, remaining very still. Iguanas crawled everywhere and brightly colored, poisonous lizards attempted to camouflage themselves on leaves and rocks. As protected habitat, much of this natural world remains.

Having the freedom to travel to other countries is indeed important. It allows us to experience how others live. Otherwise, we can lead ourselves to believe that our own perspective is the one true vision. What feels like fact actually turns out to be opinion. But we can be so easily swayed by someone who sounds more sure of himself than we are. I was substituting at the local high school last week and overheard a group of boys talking about our changing immigration policies. One of them said, “Only the bad ones are being deported, not the good ones. It’ll be alright.”

I was horrified. But, being a lowly sub and having the charge of thirty or so boisterous teenagers, I didn’t step in. Maintaining some form of control and having a list of things to accomplish that hour, didn’t give me much time to spare. I now wonder what I could have said that would have made a difference. I might have asked, “So, who makes the decision regarding the good ones versus bad ones? You? Me?” Our opinions might vastly differ.

I’ve already noticed a shift in how some people view us women. We have come a long way in regards to personal freedoms including the right to vote, own land, wear pants, and make our own decisions about reproducing. Can’t we all, as a caring and supposedly big-brained species, take a step back and look at the broad view? I think we must in order to stop pointing fingers and getting into the “us versus them” mentality. It’s a no-win situation.

We all want a choice. What to eat, how to live, who to marry or not, how to raise our children… We are all created equal. We’re all immigrants in one way or another. We all want our civil liberties and social justices. Let’s take care of one another and not judge someone just because they may seem different. Instead of contributing to the polarization of people, why not embrace each other and work together in order to help our entire planet survive in as healthy a state as possible – for our children and grandchildren, ad infinitum? I think it’s a worthy goal. Don’t you?


Peace is elusive

Flitting as moths to the light

Searching to find

Chasing to catch

It will certainly escape us

Unless we just be it.


Chi Varnado’s memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com

You can follow us on www.Facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #44. The Digital Age (January 2017)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #44. The Digital Age (January 2017)

We all have our strong suits. For me, it’s definitely NOT technology. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been born into the wrong era. I like Model-As. The engine design is straightforward and strictly mechanical. If something fails it does not have to be hooked up to a computer for analysis. Usually, the repairs could be made with what the owner had stashed in the shed: baling wire, nuts and bolts, gasoline for cleaning parts. I also prefer windows that open to air conditioning; book research as opposed to surfing the web; and not being available 24/7 for countless, often unnecessary interruptions.

I prefer to live my life as real experiences, things I can sink my teeth into, rather than vicariously participating in random, unchosen forays. I realize in my wording of this that my biases come through, and it’s a little sad. Sometimes I feel like I’m left farther and farther behind in a culture that spends so much time transfixed to a device.

“Hello! Is there anybody REALLY out there?” At times it’s a little lonely.

Unfortunately, for folks like me, writing in this day and age absolutely requires an online presence. I’m alright spending “some” of my time on a device making that happen, but not as much as necessary to reach an audience. My computer skills are gradually improving, as is increasingly mandatory, but not adequately. I’m realizing that my happiness diminishes the more time I spend attempting to promote myself online. Therefore, I have decided to invest a little money to have someone else help out. The younger generation doesn’t seem to mind these tasks as much as I do and they possess a faster learning curve in this field than me. It was a long time in coming, but it feels like the right decision for me.

Click the image or the link to view the Facebook pages mentioned in this post. https://www.facebook.com/gnomewoodcanyon

In the short time she’s been involved, Mercy has rebuilt my website, created a business Facebook page, and coached me, tiny step by tiny step, dragging me kicking and screaming, into the modern age. I’m in over my head, concerning the technical details of “existing online.” Being such a troglodyte, I’m not even fully aware of everything she’s doing on my behalf. That is partly the beauty of it. I learn this stuff on an “as needed” basis. Perhaps, as intended, I can now spend more of my quality time actually writing instead of telling everybody about my writing and tweeting about myself. Moving on…

I sit here today in an elementary school library at a table with three children who are typing vigorously into their Chromebooks and two who are working independently on worksheets. They will tell me when they need help on their work that they’ve been sent out of their classroom to do. I’m finishing up a half-day substitute job, staying for my required number of hours, supervising their independent study time. So I write, modeling constructive behavior while making it clear that I am available to them.

These kids have been born into a new age where they must be willing and able to spend their life-blood researching, reporting, and staying connected on their digital devices. I’m glad that my time began earlier, in the last century. A lot of my writing begins free-hand, pen on paper, sitting outside or in the car waiting or here at school in-between tutoring sessions. Sometimes, I now type my ideas directly into the computer. I’ve learned to do it both ways. I have at least three or four literary projects going at a time which keeps my interest alive. But now, it’s nearing the end of my sub-job day and I can’t wait to go home and take a hike. Time to go outside and play!



Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail are available on www.amazon.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.