Writing In The Rockies

Blending In

Blending In

The colors and markings on this red-tailed hawk blend perfectly with its surroundings.

As wildfires rage across the globe, here in the northern Colorado Rockies we’ve been blessed with lush green forests and meadows. We fall asleep every night to the murmur of Panhandle Creek, and feel a strong sense of reprieve. We’re grateful for the rain we’ve had this season.

Since moving into our mountain community, we’re learning about the importance of forest management and wildfire mitigation. Every year, we haul truckloads of deadwood to the slash depot and weed-wack the area around our cabin to reduce fuels in the Home Ignition Zone. Though we’re working with our neighbors to increase the fire resiliency of our community, we understand the need to prepare for the changes that will come with a warming planet.

The good news is there seem to be lots of options in nonflammable and fire-resistant building materials. We’ll use stone on the lower half of the cabin, but we’ve been pleased to learn about the options available in nonflammable concrete log siding. Those concrete sidings come in lots of varieties, ranging from the gorgeous hand-hewn log look to some that don’t look much better than the old vinyl siding. We’ve had several samples mailed to us, with more to come. Our first choice was extremely heavy and cost about twice as much as the second set of samples. On the plus side, those were light, much easier to work with, and filled with insulation. We have more research to do and more samples to come. Ultimately, we’ll be balancing affordability with a natural appearance that (like the beautiful hawk above) blends into our landscape.


Three of the nonflammable concrete log siding samples we’ve received so far.


Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.

A Dream Materializing

A Dream Materializing

A bull moose nibbles wildflowers along the Panhandle Creek.

Craig and I recently marked our 30th anniversary in the same Santa Fe Bed & Breakfast where we celebrated our silver anniversary five years earlier. At that time, I was recovering from a fall on the ice that broke my back and wrist, and grieving the loss of my friend and mentor, Sam Hamill.  We found solace in the NM landscape, the Santa Fe architecture, galleries and art, and this B&B. Their mattresses are the perfect blend of soft and firm, but Craig had to help me in and out of the tall bed where I slept on rolled towels to minimize the pressure on my spine. I had forgotten that. What I did remember was the kiva in the corner of our room where we built a fire and watched the light and shadows flicker across the rustic beamed ceiling, and how each room was decorated with art the innkeepers had collected on their world travels. I remembered our hosts’ warmth and hospitality, the fresh fruit on our table, the beautiful common rooms, and gourmet breakfasts.

Traditional adobe architecture welcomes guests to the El Farolito Bed and Breakfast Inn.

The trip to Santa Fe this spring for our 30th again came at a time of major transition. In this case, I had just turned 61—the age my dad was when he died of bladder cancer—when I learned I had melanoma and squamous cell skin cancers. Days after the last of several small surgeries, Craig was laid off without warning after 26 years with the same employer. As we drove south through that sacred land, we were both a bit shell-shocked. El Farolito B&B was the perfect place to collect our thoughts and plan our next steps.

Years ago, Craig and I dreamed of buying a fixer-upper on the Oregon coast, and opening a small B&B where writers and artists could find inspiration. That dream reemerged when we moved full-time to the mountains. We envisioned a place where writers could come to hike and fish, or watch the birds and wildlife. A place where they could find solitude and nature. It’s my idea of a writer’s paradise.

When the Spokane cabin is finished, it will have 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a gas fireplace.

We bought the little cabin on Spokane and started updating it with the thought that we could stay there while we did the renovations on our home. We hired an architect, tossed all of the balls in the air, and then began running into challenges. It turned out our first architect wasn’t reliable. There were also easements that needed to be addressed, and county codes that downsized our initial vision. But Craig’s “early retirement” has turned out to be a blessing because he has the time now to devote to these projects. As a result, we found a wonderful new architect who solved problems we didn’t even know existed. The plans are beautiful.

Drawings from the plans of our B&B overlooking Panhandle Creek and the riparian environment where wildlife thrives.
We are converting this small log cabin into a comfortable writing studio.

When it’s all done, our basement will house a comfortable and welcoming B&B with a view of the Panhandle Creek. It will have a private entrance through a covered deck and another deck over the Panhandle Creek with a hot tub and a gas firepit. The Spokane cabin, looking out over the Roosevelt National Forest, will be a two bedroom, two bath retreat with the tiny log cabin for a private writing studio. Like our favorite B&B in Santa Fe, we hope to provide a place where guests can draw solace, find peace and quiet, and heal, while surrounded by natural beauty.

In anticipation of future writing workshops and retreats, as well as helping other writers’ dreams materialize, we founded Panhandle Creek Publishing. I’m very excited about our beautiful first book, Kunterbunt, which will be released this year. I look forward to sharing more about that in coming days.

The path to our Writers’ Haven hasn’t been easy, but we are beginning to see our dream materialize. It’s a long shot, but we are hopeful that we can break ground and get the foundation, walls, and roof up before winter. I’ll keep you posted.

Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.


The Visitation

The Visitation

The Great Horned Owl is the most common owl in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. We often hear them calling to each other, especially in the winter when the Creek is frozen and silent, but it’s rare to see them. They are nocturnal hunters, and their wings are lined with finely textured feathers that allow them to descend soundlessly onto their prey. When we are lucky enough to see them, it is usually dusk or dawn, when there is just enough light to catch its wings silhouetted against the sky as it flies between trees.

Owls hold a special significance to me. They bring me back to my childhood in Alaska, where they were often depicted on Tlingit totem poles. Owl was said to have flown to the ocean to bring back fire, burning his beak shorter in the process. Traditionally, the owl is associated with prophecy and wisdom, a messenger of the gods. Once, when I was a child, two snowy owls landed beside me in a hoar-frosted birch. I can still see their golden eyes.

So, when we sat down for dinner the other night and saw the owl in the tree next to our deck, I leapt across the room to grab my camera. I shot first through the window, because there was a good chance he wouldn’t be there long. Then I headed outside, walking as quietly as I could in my leather moccasin slippers over dried grasses and pine needles. I crossed the yard between snow drifts, looped around the fire pit, and slowly crept up under the deck. The owl was still there, watching me inch closer with my camera. He waited, framed against the conifer, as I snapped pictures in the dying light.

In my hurry to get out the door, I hadn’t thought to grab a coat or shoes. Standing in the wind, the temperature dropped until I could no longer hold my camera steadily. When I turned to go back, he launched off the branch and swooped into the silver tree. I was able to get a few more shots there before I went back in and then, from the window, watched him return to the same bare branch beside the cabin. This time, I quietly opened the sliding glass door and crept outside onto the deck. Again, he waited as I took pictures in the dying light, until he was barely visible. As we finished dinner, we could still see the dark shape of his body. And the next morning, there he was on the same branch. He finally flew off when Craig took Max outside.

We human beings tend to search for meaning in the natural world. I suppose that, historically, our survival has depended on the navigation of forces beyond our control (seasons and weather, the cycles of the moon, drought and floods, wildlife and hunting conditions, etc.) and, to some degree, that is still true. While most of us in this part of the world have indoor plumbing, heating, and electric lights, there is still much that is beyond our control. That need to understand, or make sense of the unknown, is passed from one generation to the next, founding religions and mythologies, making us a species of story-tellers.

Whether or not the Great Horned Owl carried a message from the gods or heralded an era of transition and its accompanying lessons, this was a highly unusual visitation. And a Rocky Mountain memory I’ll cherish.

Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.


Good Things

Good Things

In the past two posts, I’ve shared some personal health news. That’s not something I normally do, but for some reason, I felt compelled. I told myself that my little trial might convince someone to grab their hat as they walked out the door. I hope that’s true. But, I think, on some level, I was also reaching out for support. It’s scary hearing the “C” word. I am happy and relieved to share that the latest surgery produced good margins. From henceforth, I will be gratefully mindful of wearing hats and sunscreen.

In some ways, writing a blog is like a cross between journaling and sending smoke signals into the wind. You pour something of yourself into it, even if the writer is not actually the topic of the blog. In my blog, I thought I would share the beauty of the Rockies, maybe a little about my writing journey. My hope is that readers – you – will find inspiration in your own natural world. And, at some point, I hope I will be able to invite you into my world with writing workshops and comfortable writing retreats.

So, while I hoped to share my Rocky Mountain muse with you – a gift of natural beauty and inspiration – you have shared the support and words of encouragement that I needed to hear in the moment. Thank you for your kindness, so much.

More Good Things

The lovely Winslow Writers, above, have been preparing for a very special event. The Spring Equinox Reading will be an evening of stories, poetry, and music, featuring Royston Hunget on the fiddle.

If you can join us on Monday, March 20th, at 6pm, in Fort Collins, we would love to see you! Contact me here for further details!


Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.


Savoring The Beauty of Winter

Savoring The Beauty of Winter

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Snow falling on snow, the crackle of fire in the woodstove, a hot cup of tea, and a good book. As I write this, snow is falling. Owls call to each other from across the valley. The creek is hushed beneath layers of ice and snow. I love winter. The reality and the metaphor.

Steinbeck’s quote, above, resonates deeply for me right now. There are the changing seasons, and there are “Life Seasons.” And, really, what is life, but a season? We’re here for such a short time – there’s both beauty and loss in every moment.

I want to thank all of you who have sent encouraging messages since I shared my cancer diagnosis. I’ve had two minor surgeries, so far. The first was successful, but the second results weren’t to the doctor’s liking. They called this afternoon to say he wasn’t comfortable with the margins, so I’ll go in again next Tuesday. I’m grateful that he’s thorough. I know many of you have gone through this and come out the other side.

As Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Thanks to impermanence, everything is possible.” So, we’ll savor the beauty of winter, knowing that spring is on its way.

Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved


On Hope

On Hope

Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists adopt the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.

~Rebecca Solnit

I learned today that I have cancer. Two biopsies both came back positive – one for squamous cell carcinoma, the other for melanoma.

Earlier this morning, I was listening to an On Being podcast with Rebecca Solnit, and I was moved by the clarity of her observations about hope. She’s written a great deal about finding hope in the darkest places, and the way our best selves emerge in a crisis. She spoke about the power of stories to influence our thinking – like “womb” and “tomb,” two words evoking dark places – one of nurturing, growth and possibilities, the other of death, decay, and returning to the earth.

I think they caught it early, but I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter. Last week, I celebrated 44 years of sobriety – every day of it a miracle. And this day is no exception. Sunrise on pristine snow, critter tracks through the trees, a talk with my daughter who’s recovering from an illness (along with her daughter), a couple of short calls to catch up with friends, and then this afternoon with my mom, her laughing about the latest book she’s reading, later a good visit with a client who’s working on a fabulous book, and Craig calling to say he’s getting a car wash on the way to pick us up. Mom’s spending the weekend with us. She loves the fire in the woodstove, the snow on the trees. Says she’s not bringing her book, because she’s going to do some writing.

It’s these little things that feel so full of life and love and healing.

Mary Oliver said, “All eternity is in the moment.”

I’m grateful for this moment, and all it encompasses.


Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.

Winter in the Rockies

Winter in the Rockies

Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself. A white flower grows in the quietness. Let your tongue become that flower. – Jalaluddin Rumi

Winter is quiet in the Rockies. The weekenders have returned to their busy lives in the city – work, shuttling kids, running errands. Those of us fortunate enough to live here full time bundle up and slow down.

The snow falls and melts, and falls again. As the weeks go by, there is less melting and more accumulation. The ice thickens and becomes covered with snow, silencing the creek’s gentle murmur. A thick white blanket insulates the earth, muffling sounds – the owls calling to each other, the coyotes celebrating a kill.

We awaken predawn to a cold house and begin our morning rituals. Craig builds a fire in the wood stove while I put the kettle on. I sip my tea while he reads aloud – Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, the Dalai Lama – something that helps us adjust our mindset, I read our Rumi poem for the day, invite the bell to sound, and then sit a short meditation as the fire crackles into warmth. On the mornings we drive into town to work or spend time with my mom, sometimes our meditation is only five minutes. Still, it helps. We are not Buddhists, but we’ve found we have much to learn from many traditions.

We’re often asked about the commute. A little over an hour, we try not to do it more than three or four times per week. It’s a beautiful drive. In the winter, we leave in the dark and watch the sunrise slowly illuminate the horizon, reflecting on the frozen lakes and snow covered trees.

The days we are here more than compensate for the days we are not. Even when we’re driving through the snow.

Copyright © 2022 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.

Writing the Mystery

Writing the Mystery

Yesterday morning, I opened my eyes from meditation to see translucent bodies dancing outside the window. Gusts of wind were scooping up powder from the deck and sending it swirling into the east. Gradually, dark trees emerged from the foggy gloom like sentinels. I found myself transfixed; words formed and dissolved, as I grasped at the moment’s magic. What I settled on is this:

Morning dawns through mountain fog, as powdery snow puffs and swirls steadily eastward like a spirit migration.

And when I say “settled,” that’s what I mean. If I’d sat there for another hour, or the entire day, I suspect I would never have found the words to recreate the reality of that moment.

Life transcends words – every moment of it. And yet, I am compelled. I think we all are – writers – compelled to attempt recreation through inadequate words, and trust that those same words will take on a life of their own and create something new in the reader.

When I reread what I wrote, I see again the wonder of that moment, but the words also conjure up something fresh and original. My hope is that they will conjure, in the mind of another reader, something worthwhile in the context of their own lives. In this way, writers and readers move together through the mystery of this moment.

To my writing friends, I think you’ll understand when I say we must forgive our shortcomings and continue to explore where writing leads us, trusting that the words will find their way.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
–Jack Kerouac

We’ve seen this bunny’s tracks for months, but here he sits in watchful contemplation. Wishing you all a Happy Lunar New Year!

“In Chinese culture, rabbit is the symbol of longevity, peace and prosperity. Rabbits are optimistic, kind-hearted, sensible and highly approachable.”


Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.





Two ravens alight,

share a branch in falling snow,

then fly away home.



Copyright © 2023 Carmel Mawle. All rights reserved.