QUAIL MUTTERINGS #48. A Caribbean Jaunt (December 2017)





A Caribbean Jaunt

Monkeys and lizards and frogs, Oh my!

The place is exotic and foreign and nice.

White sands, warm weather and beautiful seas

Don’t have to remain such an elusive tease.

Just a few thousand miles

But don’t get too riled.

You’ll make it to the alluring Caribbean.


Pirates and sailboats and snorkeling galore

Bring pleasure, excitement and dreams of more

Sunbathing and drinking incredible rum

Can leave one a bum

But only if succumbing to a snore.


So much to soak in

From those tropical rays

Where they follow you into the aqua marine.


Locals selling their handmade wares

Haggling prices is never that rare

And then you’ll be caught in their invisible snare.


Musical languages heard all around

From vendors to surfers to waiters then bound

To bounce together in a grand tide of sound.


Singing frogs serenade throughout the night

And continue long after you give up the fight

Chanting their chorus toward the Southern Cross.



An After Thought

Beautiful beaches,

Red reefs submerged in crystal clear waters,

Warm, easy breezes brushing over tropical islands

Dotted with Palm trees.

Friendly hellos and helpful advice

And breadfruit prepared into numerous delights.

What’s not to like?

About visiting a place so peaceful and welcoming?


Oh, and by the way –

Dorothy was right after all.

That there’s really no place like home.

There’s no place like home!



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 #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 #15. A Sense of Story – April 27, 2012

QUAIL MUTTERINGS #15.  A Sense of Story – April 27, 2012



            “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” These are the words which the young maiden, locked away in her tall tower, hears when someone wants to come visit her. This is also the world in which I’m living these days as our dance studio’s production of this story nears.

As I wander through the canyon these days the weeds, like Rapunzel’s hair, are growing long and thick. And like the witch in the story I, too, am enjoying the beauty of all the young growth while dreading the work that this beauty requires. She, too, ends up whacking off Rapunzel’s long hair just as we have to weed whack around our house.

Aren’t fairy tales wonderful? I love the way they can take the mundane and magically transform it into something amazing, or at least entertaining. If only we would, in our daily life, look at things in a different light and perhaps enjoy them more fully. It’s constant, isn’t it, seeing or hearing, assessing, and then jumping to conclusions? I’m trying to practice pulling away from what I’m thinking at the time and allow other factors to come into play. The results are sometimes surprising.

For example, it rained a couple of times this week after a lot of us probably hoped that our last weed whacking might have done it for the year. Yeah, darn it, we’ll have to do it again. But if I steer my train of thought to another direction, I realize that these rains have brought the possibility of new growth: more grass for my horses to eat (lower feed bill), a longer and greener spring, a little more runoff for the reservoirs and our water supply… Now the pros seem to outweigh the cons and that feels better.

Every morning, through my open window, I wake to the beautiful symphony of bird songs, especially prolific this time of year. I can hear the Mourning Doves, Black Phoebes, House Finches, and the Canyon Wrens with their descending whistle calls. And at night, if I’m lucky, a pair of Poorwills talk to each other across the canyon. We can see and hear lots of bird activity and it feels so peaceful to us. But this must be a very stressful time of year for them, flying to and fro for nesting materials, finding mates, and taking care of their young – the endless search for food.

As I head up the trail this morning I scan the usual places: the eucalyptus which held last year’s huge nest, the tip of Hawk Rock, the tops of the oak trees on the south ridge… And, oh yes, “There you are, my fine buteo friend.” One of last year’s Red-tail Hawks is perched up at the very top branch of the tall eucalyptus tree near our log cabin. I’m always thrilled to see him.

My dog, Job, and I continue our climb up to the Saddle, the lower swing of the mountain connecting the north and south ridges. The morning is spectacular. The dewdrops everywhere are glistening, thanks to last night’s drizzle, and this morning’s soft, clouded light is interspersed with shards of sunlight dancing through. Four Ravens are carrying on around the highest peak flying in and out of the fog which is beginning to lift off. There are still a few lilacs offering their last remaining blossoms to the wind while the sage and chamise are in full bloom.

Job and I summit the Saddle and start down the other side to sit on a rock outcropping. I cross my legs to settle into a delicious meditation, as well as take in the visual splendor, and Job sits next to me. I hear wild turkeys in the valley below and the creek running toward its destination, San Vicente Lake. Job cocks his head and I turn to listen and hear a bobcat in the distance. Its unmistakable “whisper bark” is welcome to my ears.

The huge purple mountains in the distance are shrouded in various shades of grey clouds. I’ve heard that Cuyamaca means “in the clouds” in the indigenous language. This is one of the most magnificent sights I know of, gazing out over the layers of mountains with the clouds hovering across them. These are the same ridges that I watched the Cedar Fire burn over on that unforgettable night. But now, the view feels gloriously vast and wild. Not much evidence of human kind up here.

Just before we head back down, while I’m standing at the Saddle, the sun bursts through the clouds. I feel a wave of gratitude wash over me and I remember a poster I had hanging in the old house. It read, “The sun shines through even the darkest clouds.” The words were printed over a scene not too different from the one I’m witnessing right now.

Walking back down the trail gives me time to reflect on the things I’d seen or heard: the Ravens, the Red-tail Hawk, the bobcat, wild Turkeys… I had been caught up in my own world and, until now, hadn’t thought about all the different livelihoods going on in that same moment. Who was the bobcat calling? What were the ravens carrying on about? How many wild turkeys were there down in that foggy valley? There must be a million and one stories going on simultaneously.

We call our little farm Gnome Wood, in honor of all those little invisible beings, at least to us, whoever they may be, that co-inhabit the canyon. Each being has her own tale to tell, her own take on something we’re all experiencing. Oh, the stories they could tell.


This spring’s story of Rapunzel will come alive in ballet form (and tumbling and hip hop) to be presented by The Ramona Dance Centre onFriday May 11, 2012 at6:30 PM. The concert will be held in the PAW atRamonaHigh School. Tickets are $5 each or $20 per family. Come enjoy the story!