Snow on September 15?


My first purchase: a wool hat

by cheri

On Tuesday last the temperature was 85 degrees. We turned the noisy AC on in our room.


Paradise Valley, Livingston, Montana on a grey hazy day

On Thursday last the temperature plummeted to 32 degrees; we found ourselves looking for soup and crackers in Livingston, Montana.


A study in greys in Livingston, Montana

Akin to Texas weather, Montana’s (evidently…) can change like a high school girl’s latest crush.

On our way to Southern Idaho, we headed out through small towns like Twin Bridges and Dillon.

I took a picture for our good friends from high school, the Dillons.




Should I have my boots repaired or hit the lounge?

Then, the driving became serious and long. The terrain–sagebrush, sagebrush and sagebrush took me back, once again, to those brave souls who forged the West and traveled here on horseback. Invariably, when traveling in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, you cannot help but think of the Corps of Discovery.

Here is Beaverhead Rock, where upon seeing it as Sacagawea traveled with Lewis and Clark, she remembered it as a summer childhood home and reunited with her brother, the chief of the Shoshone, who then helped the Corps of  Discovery. This fact, in itself, has to be one of the most serendipitous moments in the entire story!


Beaverhead Rock


Naples yellow, burnt sienna, and sap green


We have now reached a place which reminds us (unfortunately) of the PC California lifestyle: Ketchum, Idaho.

Don’t get me wrong: the surroundings are stunning! But I will have to look through the spandex to see the trees.

I do plan to see Ernest Hemingway’s grave (and his 4th wife, Mary’s, as well) and conclude the lazy day by wandering the downtown and watching all of the beautiful people.

Posted in Life, My photography, Places | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

From Goodkind Block to the Lower Madison


by cheri goodkind block

On my way out of Helena, I noticed this stout historical building that bore my maiden name Block. I wondered who Misters Goodkind and Block were. After consulting the Helena history of this building, I learned that Mr. Wise and Mr. Goodkind ran a wine, liquor, and cigar building in the late 1890’s on this block.

On to Bozeman, Montana, and a morning of fly fishing.

We left Helena for the short drive to Bozeman down Highway 12. I’ve visited Bozeman before but had entered from the North Yellowstone direction. Always on the photographic lookout for horses, I saw in the distance behind a large cattle truck, behind a large Swift 18-wheeler, behind a chubby silver Airstream pulled by a ginormous black Dodge duelie, I saw….a herd of black horses grazing on the hillside.

Oh Goody-Goodkind, I thought and rolled the window down so the bugs that had met their smattered death on my side window would not spoil my photograph. The driver, my husband, immediately rolled his side down to adjust the air pressure in his inner ear. As you can imagine, it was a noisy, smoky din in the car.

I snapped a burst of photos and Miss Block-Wisely said, ” Those horse aren’t moving.”

That’s because they are sculptures, Miss Block.


A rigid herd outside of Bozeman

We entered Bozangeles (unfortunately, the California zeitgeist has begun to permeate Montana) in time to find our lodging and prepare ourselves for some serious river fishing.


Amsterdam, Montana


Quiet anticipation on the Lower Madison at 8:00 am


Geologic angst on the river


The fire that came through here three years ago is still evident


A wild brown trout about 20 inches that Ron released after catching. No planted fish have been let go into the Madison since 1979 since “catch and release” is the way here.

I’d like to note here, for the record, that I caught a 7 inch baby rainbow. How I hooked it, I do not know.


Treeless mountains on the river, too. Rain is in the air. Snow too. 


Cat tails in green

When one travels to a place like Montana, where for the most part, people are in the minority of living things, one begins to wonder about so many different things.

What was this place like when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came through the area in 1804 with the Corps of Discovery?

What would it be like to go to the store without battling traffic?

Will the massive immigration from within and without  that is clogging the West Coast from Vancouver, Canada, to San Diego, California, continue on like an invasive plant,  eating up open space?

Will there be trout in the Madison for my great grandchildren?

Posted in Life, Murder at the Monument ( a story of New Mexico), Politics | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Southern Idaho


The Payette River

By cheri

Battling the traffic and crowds at all Bay Area airports has become a way of life for those of us who live there. So much so that we are jarred into a mindset which tells us that this jam-packed insanity is the new reality.

Not so in Idaho.

The Boise airport was a throwback to the early days of air travel. Few people walking to and from their gates; no line at the car rental agency; a pace conducive to civility.

Like any large city, Boise had its share of “traffic.”  Out of the city in 20 minutes with a stop-and-go similar to local city auto movement, we headed up Highway 55 towards McCall, Idaho where we would spend our first night.

Up the gorgeous Payette River Scenic By-Way we traveled. At about 3000 feet elevation the river became a torrent of whitewater rapids as the snowmelt injected voluminous  mass. The narrower the river, the more tumultuous the whitewater. And then the river widened to look like a glassy lake. Small islands, similar to Jackson’s Island (where Huck and Jim hid after Huck staged his own death) sprouted up at places on the Payette.

The smoke from the myriad fires burning in Oregon and Idaho sullied the skies and my photography.


The Payette River

Perhaps the most exciting moment for me was the surprising presence of a small herd of horses and one mule flying down the dusty mountainside on their way to the beach on the Payette.


“Surf’s Up!”

Imagine their surprise to find that humans were occupying their secret spot.


“My friends are coming. Hay, what’s in that cooler?”




Looking through my camera lens was like what I imagine it is to have a cataract.

All scenes, muted and colorless, were also accented by a faint smoky smell,

Up in McCall, Idaho the first night, we escaped the haze. A sweet lake and, we understand, a robust ski season, around which this town’s economy seem to be dependent, was a welcome cooling vision.

We wandered down by the beach, reminding ourselves of the small children’s beach at Chamberlands in Homewood, California, where we had difficulty last month finding a patch of sand on which to locate a blanket, we stood in disbelief at the crowds on this children’s beach.


McCall, Idaho

And then there was this image:



Dusk in McCall, Idaho

Posted in My photography, Nature photography, Places | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Fall approaches


by cheri

One lone wasp tried to invade our dinner  last night.

The owlets have fledged.

The dry grasses on the California hillsides, once long and wavy, have been eaten to the nubs by the Angus cattle grazing across from our gate. Angus calves are being born each night.

The squirrels have snatched every last walnut off our trees. The locust trees are dropping their dollar-shaped leaves. The rattlesnake I killed last week has been eaten by the buzzards.

I’ve switched from short to long yoga pants. My windbreaker is on the floor of my closet.

The yellow, blue, and orange umbrellas on our patio are arguing with me.

Dinah is beginning to grow her winter coat.

The ivy on the house is turning color. All the rats must be disappointed.

Everyone is settled into school.

I become sentimental this time of year.

My gratefulness increases like the soup cans in my pantry.

Fall approaches.

Posted in Life, My photography | Tagged | 8 Comments

Saturday poetry for the bored

by cheri

On Texting:

I’d rather talk on the phone than text,

for reasons you might fully expect.

I’m human with feelings and eyes,

my language, expressive, such that I’s

certain to use the wrong word,

thus rendering our conversation absurd.


On Yellow Labradors:

My rugs went to the doctor for cleaning,

Leaving the hardwood exposed to the preening

of licking and scratching, of flicking and latching

onto it hundreds of yellow hairs, dropping and plopping,

Until I in a fit of vacuuming rage, I scream out “Stop”

shedding you miserable hairy, to which the hairs

said, “Let go, Miss Cheri.”


On Barn Owls:

Alone in my house late at night, I

hear the sound of the barn owls in flight.

A grating, a satiating,  a Natural restating

of the obvious–a waiting

for meaning in a world

as shocking

as the talons

that pierce the rat’s head

in the night.







Udo, I miss you today, especially.

by cheri block

I am trying as mightily as a yoga master to stay in the present moment.

It’s hard when your inconsiderate neighbor’s yappy dog continues to bark.

Bark. Bark, Bark. Pause. Motorized vehicle. Pitched irritated bark. Another motorized vehicle. Hammering. Bark.

All on a Sunday.

The shattering of calm amidst the wistful breezes of my late-August reverie.

I know. It’s 1967 and I am frisky and quick like a little filly looking for a colt. Its “going back to school” time.  Cheerleader practice in the cool cement shadows of the amphitheater, walking home through the football field, its carpet of freshly cut grass like catnip to an impish feline. My new school clothes- tweed and wool- to be worn in November, laid out on my bed in my powder-blue room, freshly starched blouses, my mother’s fragrant kitchen and my father’s fun.  My jeep.

This Sunday afternoon, I lapse into unremitted sentimentality and loss. Mainly loss of quiet. G-d Damnit. I now see how ranchers resort to shooting wolves after their sheep.

“Let it go, let it go, let it go,” I tell myself in soothing internal language.

Even my own dog Dinah, who only barks at an occasional rustle in the night, is annoyed today.

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden that one could suffocate on too much courtesy, but I wouldn’t mind trying to come up for air.

Oh God of the Eclipse, of Cosmic Justice, of Just Desserts–please bring upon my noisy neighbors the curse of the Carmelite Nun.

And now, to a Chardonnay.



Posted in dogs, Life, My childhood, Parenting, People | Tagged , , , | 18 Comments

Our owlets

by cheri sabraw

I called Irv the other day.

Irv, we are being overrun with rodents! I know I was the Pied Piper of Mission San Jose High School, but the rats, mice, vols, and gophers have taken my reputation to a new high!

Irv, also known affectionately as the Bird Man of Sunol, constructed and installed our owl box four years ago. In return for his Four Seasons of owl boxes, Irv requested a good bottle of zinfandel, one that  sold at least for $10.00.

Regular readers of this blog know that after three years of vacant housing, a delightful barn owl family inhabited the box in March of this year. Needless to say, few rats or mice are carrying on across the creek. Templeton and Ratatouille! Leave town.

On our side of the creek, a different story–one of Camus’ The Plague (without the plague)– is unfolding.

We have been Rat Zapping (aka electrocuting) rats the size of  small loaves of bread in our attic, Dinah’s dog run, wood piles, our pump house and the upper garage. While trying to run his legal business, my husband is also serving as pest control agent. The animal control company that finally herded our bats off the property last year is booked up for weeks.

Ive called back.

Cheri, you are in luck. I made a perfect box for the Superintendent of the Sunol Regional Park and he refused it, so it is YOURS. When can I come up to inspect the old box, clean it out, and straighten it up? Irv generously offered on the telephone.


The new box, not yet erected.

Gosh, Irv. Come as soon as you can. We need a new box in our lower meadow ASAP. But I do not know if the owls across the creek are out of their box.

Irv assured me they had probably left this late in the season.


Unpacking the new box.


Straightening the old box. Little did they know it was inhabited.

Irv and Hizzoner pulled and pushed to straighten the owl box.

P1090361Then, they lowered it. Irv planned to install a pulley system and clean out the box. He can tell how many owl “clutches” have been using the box based on the depth of the owl poop.

As you can see, Irv is opening the trap door, ready to clean out the flooring.


Oh God, Irv mutters.

P1090368Hizzoner cradles one egg, two 2-day old owlets,and an egg whose inhabitant is trying to emerge.

I stifle any of my concerns and just keep photographing.

But then the BIG surprise. Out of the box flew the mother barn owl–out into the bright daylight and into the dark wood. It all happened too quickly for me to snap a picture.

P1090364Hizzoner cradles his new Grand Owlet in hopes that Irv would quickly install the new gadget.

P1090395Irv and Hizzoner stop for a little refreshment brought to the site by the photographer, still stressing about the little ones without their mother.

P1090415The new gizmo finally on, Irv demonstrates how it works. No more articulating arm to lower and raise the owl boxes.

Cheri, do you want a green or yellow PVC handle? Irv asks.

Green, Irv.

And yet, I fretted about the three babies and an egg most of the afternoon.

Would their mother come back after all the ruckus to her house? All the noise, the talk, the scrapping and drilling?

Irv figured that the last clutch was made up of five chicks and this one, four.

Cheri, thanks to you and your husband’s insistence on an owl box, the world has nine  more barn owls. Take joy in that accomplishment.

My joy was complete when, after sitting in the darkening olive orchard later in the evening, waiting for owls to emerge from the forest, we were heartened to hear and see at least five owls circling the orchard, clicking and calling in a sound other-worldly. Almost like radar.

And then, by the light of the moon, the mother flew to her box.



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Are you macro or micro?

by cheri sabraw

Last night with my grandsons, heading down to Morro Bay to see Spiderman, the older 14-year-old asked me which songs I would like to have him load on his Spotify account so that we could listen to them while we were driving.

Had his grandfather been in the car, a long list of songs would have trailed out like a  line of Conestoga wagons heading west.

I could only think of a few songs and yet I have been listening to music for most of my life.

His grandfather not only would have provided him with the songs but also the lyrics. And yet, his grandfather cannot remember the author of the book he read last month.

How to explain this?

Well, grandson, it has to do with focus–macro and micro. Are you macro or micro?

Are you this?


The Piedras Blancas Rookery, 2017 photo by c. sabraw

Or are you this?


I continued.

Whether one actually listens to lyrics or notices the intricacies of a painting, may have to do with what is going on in one’s life. Or not. It may have to do with the degree of distraction that enters the mind while listening to lyrics or studying the hands in a famous oil painting. Or not.

I would argue that most of us are either micro-inclined or macro-inclined.

Is the bigger picture more important than the small detail?



Moonstone Beach, Cambria, California 2017

I love the big picture which helps me cope with the small details of life.

And yet, it is in the details that I feel the pain, relish the moment, slog around in the quicksand.


What about you?

Posted in Life, My photography, Nature photography | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Conformity be gone!

P1070315by cheri sabraw

Behind a zebra’s pattern of stripes and curves and slants,

Lie fundamental questions that trigger gripes and nerves and rants.

We look somewhat alike, with tails and ears and eyes,

We eat and drink in jovial style all the ales, beers, and ryes.


We adorn ourselves in feathers, in pinks and creames and corals,

We begin to blend together in winks and dreams and morals,

We conform just like a jello mold of watery sugary stuff

And before we know it, we’ve become the same and oh! is that enough?


So, I shout on this glorious morn, to you and you and you,

It’s time to differentiate from gnu to ewe to zoo!

Become yourself with all your warts of fat and hairs and skin,

Kick up your heels, forget your spots and venture out within.





Posted in Life, My photography, My poetry, Parenting, People | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Happy Birthday, Dinah

by cheri

Today is Dinah’s 9th birthday.

My has time gone by.



As with all of us who move through the continuum, she is aging.

Her girth is wider.

She must eat at very specific times or she pesters.

Some of her teeth are missing (from chewing rocks).

She naps.


She now ignores all wildlife that populate our acreage.


But, for a 63-year-old, she is remarkably youthful. I’d like to think we have this in common.

She has boundless enthusiasm and smiles whenever possible.

She is continent.

Her coat is soft and full, thanks to the Omega-3’s and fatty acids in her food.

Exercise is still her thing.


She barks at strangers on the road.

She adores treats.

She helps older people (than she) when possible.


She copes with other members of the family, even when they annoy her.


She detests technology and thinks it is ruining culture.


For Dinah’s 9th birthday, she is going to take me for a walk up the road now.

Happy Birthday, Dinah!

Posted in dogs, Life | Tagged , , | 17 Comments