QUAIL MUTTERINGS #47. Writing: Navigating the Obstacles (September 2017)

I must admit that I’ve been negligent about writing Quail Mutterings lately. My excuse is the same as everyone else’s: no time. But the fact of the matter is we all have the same amount of time available to us in a day and, for the most part, we simply decide, either consciously or unconsciously, how to spend it. For me, besides following my usual “to-do” lists, I’ve chosen to work on my other writing for the time being.

After retiring from The Dance Centre over a year ago, I’ve begun writing a fictional series about a dance studio. Each novel will focus on a different story ballet and include the adventures of some of the dancers. There doesn’t seem to be much available, in this vein, for eight to fourteen-year-old ballet-obsessed girls. There are plenty of books for horse-crazy kids so why not for dancers? They’re just as rabid for stories about their passion and so, I figured, who better to tackle this project than me? Thirty-seven years of fodder ought to keep me going for quite a while, I should think.

Last spring, when I had the rough draft of the first few chapters done, I met with a group of young dancers at a local elementary school. Each followed along on their pages as I, or a former student of mine, read aloud. We had the best time. Some of them contributed ideas about things they would like to see included in the story or ways to make it more interesting. It was a win/win. I got tips from my target audience and they got “extra credit” for participating.

Since finishing the full rough draft of the manuscript I, once again, am attending writer’s groups and classes. Having my work read and critiqued is essential in this process. The endless details to address in the re-writing and editing phases, such as believability, character point of view and arc of plotting, are next to impossible to get right without other’s feedback.

So now, back to the quail for a moment. I can only afford brief visits to mental wanderings while entrenched in my chosen endeavor. There are literally hundreds of quail in the canyon these days. Yesterday morning, during my run, I accidentally flushed out dozens of them from the sumac bushes lining the trail. I panted my apologies and carried on. After cooling down I took a cold shower. Not by choice, just no hot water. I suppose I’ll have to turn away from the writing project again and attend to the demands of a no-longer-functioning water heater. Things were going so well! Why now?

This morning, after a short writing session, it was time for a break. I headed down to the kitchen for a drink of water. Before taking a sip I noticed a fairly large bird lying in the dirt outside. It reminded me of a Porwil, but it was late morning, so that wasn’t right. I guess it startled when I went outside and it took off. Through the leaves of the Red Berry bush I noticed movement on the other side. I held still and watched. It was a big, beautiful doe. While watching her walk toward the trail I looked around for the two fawns who usually come around with their mother. Perhaps this was a different doe. Anyway, she made my day.

Since I’ve committed to this writing project for now, I’m not going to lead any of the docent-led hikes out at Ramona Grasslands Old Survey Road this fall. I will, instead, take walks on my own when I feel the need to break up the writing concentration sessions. Power hikes, walking meditations, trail running… whatever it takes. Plus working, of course. That goes without saying. And then, after looking up the mountain at the wet boulder beneath our water tank, I hiked up there to play detective. Great. It’s just what I thought it was. Our water storage vessel has sprung a leak! The fun never stops. The writing goes on hold once again.


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 #17. The Buzzards are Back (August 1, 2012)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #17.  The Buzzards are Back (August 1, 2012)


            During the hot summer months my usual hikes up the mountain turn more into walks down the road. The trails are now covered by weeds and brush obscuring the resident rattlesnakes. This year hasn’t seemed too bad yet, I’ve only seen three so far, but I’d rather be safe than sorry and opt for the path a little more traveled – at least for now.

As I write this though, my nineteen-year-old son, Chance, is walking back down the dirt road. He’s been trimming the trail leading to the Saddle with long-handled pruning sheers and a folding saw. He tells me that he saw three deer this morning. The first he came across earlier during his run and then later there were two fawns up at the Saddle. He’d heard a noise and jumped up onto a boulder to observe them. They just looked at him, since he was holding still, before heading up toward the 2,200 foot peak. He said that their ears looked overly large compared to their small heads.

The image reminded me of our visit to the town ofNarainJapanwhere the deer seemed to outnumber the people in the streets surrounding the large, central park. We had gone to visit our oldest daughter, Jessie, while she was an exchange student studying Japanese.

These days I prefer to start out walking in the early mornings before the sun peeks over the ridge. Dawn has always been my favorite time of day. When I let myself sleep in and don’t go outside until the sun is already shining I miss the exciting awakenings in the canyon. The song birds begin their joyful melodies pre-dawn, about the time the Poorwill ceases its nighttime call. The Red-tail Hawks have already flown from their sleeping perches and are circling high above. The rabbits are hopping about finding tasty morsels under the bushes and young squirrels are cavorting over the boulders.

Mussey Grade Roaddead ends into a gate overlooking San Vicente Lake. To me, walking or riding a bike down the old winding cement road feels like being on vacation. It strikes me sometimes how this paradise lays practically in my own backyard. The only downside is that the more difficult part of the walk, or ride, is on the way home – huffing and puffing at the end of the exercise instead of near the beginning when I’m fresher and have more energy. But as they say, “It’s all good.”

The Mussey Grade creek is still running – a little more than a trickle. That’s pretty good considering how late in the year it is and how little rainfall we’ve gotten. I chuckled happily to myself when I peered down through the grass and noticed the sparkling water below on last Sunday’s walk. A neighbor had joined me that morning, forgoing her usual late slumber, grateful for the incentive to exercise.

This area known as Fernbrook had also been called Buzzard Gulch in the past. During all my years growing up here, and on into my thirties, dozens of big, beautiful vultures nested in the eucalyptus grove down our dirt road. My dad used to “Caw… Caw…” at them when he was outside working in the yard. He seemed to have a real affinity with them. I’d forgotten about that, but was later reminded when I noticed our eucalyptus tree full of them one morning shortly after Dad returned home from open-heart surgery.

Does this mean he’s gonna die? I thought. Or are they his protectors? Well, I guess they were the latter.

By then most of the vultures had vanished. Now, decades later, they’ve come back. In the mornings they can be seen atop telephone poles sunning their outstretched wings and surveying their domain below. In the evenings these shrouded sentinels can be spotted dominating entire eucalyptus trees. They are back! And I love them! When driving by I roll down my window to talk to them. “Hello, beautiful! You guys are gorgeous!” I don’t even care what the neighbors think.

These Turkey Vultures have lots of wrinkly, red skin all over their heads and necks. Sometimes they can be so ugly that they’re beautiful. I find them to be tremendously awesome beings. They live off of everybody else’s discarded waste and make do.

Recently my daughter, Kali, convinced me to go get a pedicure with her. I reluctantly agreed deciding that having someone else massage and decorate my toes once every couple of years or so might not be too bad. I selected a color that could blend in with the shade of dirt that I tended to walk around in. But she informed me that it was “Not my color.” She stated matter-of-factly that I should “Do red.” At last, a burgundy nail polish was agreed upon.

For the next week, every time I happened to glance downward I was taken aback. My sympathetic nervous system informed me that my toes were bleeding! Each time my brain had to re-adjust to the “painted toenails.” And then I would think of the buzzards with their floppy, red skin hanging off their heads encrusted with all the disgusting trash and dead things that they eat. Somehow, I’ll bet that this is not an image that most women see when they look down at their recently pedicured feet.

Anyway, we seem to be having a fairly mild summer, although it hasn’t been very consistent. We run the gamut through dry, humid, hot, warm, cooler, nice breeze, no breeze… But I really do appreciate these long days of summer. So many more activities and fun can be packed in and enjoyed. When I was a kid summer was my favorite time of year. Probably because there was no school. And I could swim in the pond. Perhaps things haven’t changed all that much. I still enjoy many of the same things I did half a century ago.



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. Chi directs the Ramona Dance Centre. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com