All Impacts Are Unknown

Anything I’ve written in the past few days, whether bucolic praise for my abundant garden, or a rant about epidemic high blood pressure in children, even showing up in toddlers (because everyone is scared shitless at a cellular level), is washed out of my head by this Noah-style flood in Texas.

At the moment my friends in Houston are in a tornado warning while the waters rise in their street. More than two million people are trapped in the fourth-largest city in the country. This storm blew up so fast there really wasn’t any chance for the nearly nine million people in the flash-flood warning region to get out of it. My heart breaks for the suffering to come for the people and the animals in the swath of this historically unprecedented (if you don’t count the Bible) event.

Unfortunately, I can imagine the suffering, so it’s not really unimaginable. Imagine them clinging to the security they’ve known in their homes, then fleeing to neighbors, seeking safety on upper floors, on roofs, wading through waist-high water and getting swept away, losing their grips on their pets or their children, drowning in their water stalled vehicles. There is no end in sight for this before Friday.

Officials decree “Seek higher ground immediately if home floods” and “Do NOT try to shelter in your attic” and “Stay off the roads.” Where do they go? What is the torment of anxiety and fear in their minds?

The National Weather Service just issued this statement: This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown and beyond anything experienced. People were thanking God for saving their lives after the first day of the hurricane, a little prematurely perhaps. How many of them will still be alive, and what will they say about God, by the end of this week? This is our worst fears coming to pass, says the Weather Channel.

What does it matter that here, under bluebird skies, the tomatoes grow monstrous on their vines, the hummingbirds fly from dahlia to sunflower to salvia, leopard frogs bask on lily pads in the pond while the lush pink blooms open slowly to the sun? How do we celebrate and enjoy our little lives in the face of catastrophic suffering elsewhere on this churning planet?

Some people are talking as if things will go back to normal in a few days, in a few weeks; but things won’t, and they mustn’t. As this monster storm stalls over coastal Texas, we need to dig deep into our hearts, whoever we are, whomever we thank for our blessings, and wake up to the truth of anthropogenic climate change. Blind prayers and self-righteous dogma will not save Houston, or the rest of Texas, or the planet.

Last Friday Susan responded to my concerned email with, “I wish you were here to help us find the humor in this experience.” I wish there were humor to be found here. I wish I could help her family. I wish I could help everyone in southeast Texas, or anyone. I wish I could help the planet stop climate change.

But without the vast majority of Americans accepting the truly uncomfortable fact of it, making purchasing and business choices according to that fact, standing up to the US government and insisting that our representatives take seriously the threat of it to our present lives and the future of our planet, nothing I can do by living off the grid, recycling, driving a fuel-efficient car (as little as possible), eating locally and ethically, meditating, and being kind, can stanch the flow of “epic catastrophic” natural disasters fueled by the climate change that our species’ greed has wrought since the Industrial Revolution.

Wake up, America. Watch Texas this week, and WAKE UP.

I know I’m preaching to the choir. Anyone who reads my little blog already has reverence for the wild world and sense enough to know that climate change is not a “belief” but a fact. I’m just lamenting. If this were just a regular Sunday and I were complacently enjoying my little life high and dry, here’s what I’d share:

QUOQ7527The garden continues to give, especially this generous Brandywine. GLQW8474

TZAA1425

Dawn’s overhead sunflower, more than a foot in diameter.

XYIQ5716

At last the grasshoppers are starting to die in situ.

SRIK3123Unexpected guests nourish my soul and lend their hands to my collection: Laura seduces the aloof cat, and Gary plays my heartstrings, I mean guitar.PLRL5539bird-9916bird-9970bird-9978

This Week in Sunflowers

Pollinator-37Pollinator-36Pollinator-9185Pollinator-9215Pollinator-9171

This week in sunflowers… and other yellow things. Diverse native bees, including the sunflower bee (Svastra, I think: the males have unusually long antennae) are buzzing and feeding in the sunflowers, and a few goldfinches have come for seeds but fly too fast from me when I come out with the camera. Grasshoppers continue to maraud every living plant, including the gladioli, giving me a window into a bud.Pollinator-9001

Pollinator-9547

Dahlias are suffering worse than glads from grasshopper predation, though these later blooms are in better shape than those in early summer; enough flower left to provide for this bumblebee. Bumblebees are so complicated, with any one species having so much variety in parts and patterns, queens and workers and males all different sizes with different color sternites, tergites, and corbicular fringes, variable leg part sizes and cheek ratios… It would take more time and focus than I have now to even try to learn them. We have about 13 species in this part of Colorado. But I can’t even remember that many. One, two, or possibly three more species below, on Prince’s Plume, mullein, and Rocky Mountain beeplant respectively.

Pollinator-8969Pollinator-9089Pollinator-65Pollinator-8945Pollinator-8951

Pollinator-9048

Meanwhile, the fernbush, Chamaebateria, has also been blooming, attracting more flies than bees, and a few butterflies as well, including this Painted Lady.

Pollinator-9040

But who will this adorable, soft creature turn into one day? I rescued it from porch sweepings, and dropped it into some leaf litter, but not before examining it on my breakfast plate. Its antennae surprised me, popping out when I scared it, then sucking back into the top of its round face. Here, they’re halfway back in, after shooting straight out in alarm.

Pollinator-62

Dragonfly perched on a radish seedpod.

Pollinator-9250

Those horrible thunks against the window… I heard one on the west kitchen window last week and saw the body drop. Dashed outside, around the Foresteria loosing masses of purple berries to the ground, beyond the woodpile, and tiptoed through the mess of palettes, hoses, wire cages, and empty pots to find this young yellow warbler out cold on the ground. I carried him around to the south side of the house looking for a good shady perch, and set him in a sturdy crook in the apricot tree. Brought the cats inside and left him there for awhile. When I went back he had flown, so that was one good deed for that day.

Pollinator-60

Then, just this afternoon, another smack into the east window. Outside, a tiny hummingbird facedown in a geranium pot. Its beak was a little askew. In my hand it was weightless, but its minuscule heart pounded. Cats secured inside, I set the hummingbird in a shoebox in the shade, putting a twig under its barely perceptible toes, and set a small bowl of water in front of it as it wobbled on its perch. I shut the lid for awhile, then checked, and tipped the water bowl so it could reach without moving. It flicked its threadlike tongue into the water. I dumped the water and filled the bowl with nectar, and it drank again from the tipped bowl.

I shut the lid for another ten minutes; checked again, tipped again, left again. The fact that it was still alive encouraged me, though I was distressed it didn’t fly right off. Half an hour later I returned and opened the lid, tipped the bowl for another drink. I left the lid open and checked again in another half hour, dismayed to see the bird still there. But as I moved toward the bowl, the little bird cocked its little pea-head then zipped out of the box, up and out of sight! Sometimes all they need is a safe space for long enough to get their head on straight.

Not long after that, I caught a goldfinch in the sunflowers.

 

This Week in the Garden

JNKB3937.jpg

This week in the garden has been an antidote. The tightness and pounding in my chest belies the calm I bring to each day hearing this mad rhetoric of nuclear threats in the news. Apparently the Korean War never actually ended; our country once had an opportunity to negotiate the conclusion of that conflict, along with some other diplomatic options, to deescalate rather than fan the flames of this shitgibbon standoff.

My uncle, who just turned 92 and retired from the army a 2-star general, was a strong Trump supporter. “He’s a loose cannon,” John said, “But it’s all campaign rhetoric. He’ll settle down and tow the line when he’s elected.” Well, Uncle John, I wish we could talk again. I’d love to hear your take on that position now. He assured me in that conversation that failsafes exist between the President and “pushing the button.” That’s not what the talking heads on media are saying. They are saying that military officials are obliged to follow the orders of their commander-in-chief.

John said the same thing when I asked him, “What would you not do if ordered to? I mean, what would it take to make a conscientious Army officer, a good Christian, a person with integrity, refuse to follow an order?”

“It would never happen,” he said. “An officer will quit before he’ll refuse to carry out an order.” Leaving in his (or her) place someone who presumably, eventually, would  carry out the order, no matter how heinous. Like initiating nuclear war with North Korea. I also asked him about the possibility of martial law, or a military coup. He brushed me off. “Never happen,” he said. Well, this is a career Army officer who served for decades after his retirement as a military consultant. For my peace of mind I had to trust him.

So now there are these pansy white guys in Washington who’ve never seen war first-hand, ignoring all the urgent counsel from men (and women) who have been to war, the officers and retired officers of our military branches urging them to hold their horses, to not be rash, to not be stupid.

Where people lose track of reality is when they call military trainings “war games.” They’re not games. This diluting of the meanings of words (and the word WAS God), this diluting of raw content into an idea of it saps comprehension.

Have you ever seen a wild animal attack? An alligator, for example? A badger? Until you have, you can’t comprehend the instantaneity of it, nor the savagery. Or a raging wildfire exploding trees? I imagine war is like that. Unless you’ve seen its horrors yourself, you can’t comprehend the magnitude of it, or its unpredictability: how far and fast it can spread, and in what unforeseen directions.

Well, enough about that. It has been an exquisite journey on this planet. Through it all I’ve worshiped only one thing, Life itself, in all its glorious diversity. I live where there are lions; hummingbirds and bees, dogs and cats, ravens, fawns, flowers, rain, clouds and trees bring to my day what joy it contains. If it all ends tomorrow in nuclear annihilation, it’s been a brilliant ride. My heart breaks with gratitude.

This week in the garden is like every other week, in some ways; and like no other week, no other moment, in other ways.

This Week in Food Alone:

QKSR3683

The first BLT of the season, with the first Stupice tomatoes ripening the last week in July, with Bad Dog lettuce and the best ethicarian bacon available in that necessary moment. Plenty of mayonnaise, yay mayonnaise! On light bread, Rudi’s organic oat. Some things you can only compromise so far. Remind me to plant at least one Stupice plant next summer; they give early and tasty.

CHUQ1120

Glacé garni, with lemon twist and two dried Marciano cherries, one great ice cube in a Manhattan.

QWMR4838

The Colonel’s prized Vichyssoise recipe, which I sleuthed and found in his Fanny Farmer Boston Cookbook. He was so proud of this soup. I used homegrown leeks, a hefty Farmers’ Market Yukon gold potato, and extremely local cream.

VMOX9332

MSJK4911

Stuffed Costata Romanesco squash, yum. They doubled in size overnight. I’m trying to catch them in the act.

MKCP4850

Organic white peaches from the Crawford Farmers’ Market, drenched in fresh whole milk from the cows next door, with a sprinkle of organic brown sugar-cinnamon.

RBEP8304

Collecting tomatoes for two weeks, finally enough San Marzano and Stupice ripe to make sauce. Slow-cooked strained tomatoes, with onions in olive oil, plus a splash of red wine. Such gratification to use tomatoes, peppers, carrots, garlic, herbs from my own garden…

KCPC3510

LTWB7368

Steaming from the oven sourdough from the starter Ruth gave me last winter, still going strong, a staple now in my weekly meal plan, finally getting the hang of the perfect loaf.

LJUW0091

Mary’s ultimate ginger cookie recipe with a substitution and an omission, almost Lebkuchen in flavor, a grounding sweet even in summer.

These quotidian moments:

WUSC7242SNBI9716

QWVZ2696

Lola came to like dogs a little bit more after meeting Stellar, Rocky, and Raven. But especially Rocky. And Stellar.

WLWK0491

What is this? I don’t remember seeing this bright red growth in the pinyon tips, and I’ve seen it in a couple of different woods up here on the mesa.

EGGF9672 - Version 2

Black Canyon morning.

SKXP8251PKNZ6913BBNV3940

Finding solace, finding beauty everywhere I can. This week in sunflowers, this week in hummingbirds, this week in shooting stars.

Wild Summer

 

WXUZ9262.jpg

When guests come we always enjoy cocktails at the Black Canyon.

I’ve had company almost full-time for six weeks. It’s been wonderful to see so many beloved friends from across the divide and across the continent, and there have been lots of wild adventures.

UJHT8016.jpg

A picnic at Lost Lake with Kathy and Jean.

Wildlife-8088.jpgWhile Kathy was here, we saw a pair of courting coyotes at the Black Canyon, a big horn sheep and lamb in Colorado National Monument, and two nests of fledgling raptors. Our goal was to see a predator per day, and we very nearly made it.

Wildlife-8120.jpg

She hid her baby behind the sagebrush before we got our cameras on them. Beyond her, the Grand Valley and the Bookcliffs obscured by a raging dust storm.

Wildlife-8115.jpg

The successful redtail nest along the road to town, which fledges two or three hawklets each summer. Below, a pair of golden eaglets in their cliff nest just days before their first flight.

Eagles-7792.jpgBear-5592.jpgTwo weeks ago when Cindy was visiting, she spotted it first: There’s a critter down there, she said. When I first saw the long black tail I thought A black panther! A melanistic cougar… I grabbed the binoculars out of the ammo can beside the bench to identify what that dark blob was: a black bear napping in the canyon, head down, eyes closed, right arm stretched out. We must have been upwind because none of the three dogs noticed. It was uncanny, because she had just brought me a belated birthday present, the long-awaited bear puzzle: 

 

JWJD7201.jpg

But the grand prize of wildlife sightings, the one everyone who comes here hopes to see, eluded them all and came only to me.

I was behind the house, I can’t remember exactly where or what I was doing, when I heard Stellar make an ungodly strange noise, as though he were terribly hurt, or had his head stuck in something. It wasn’t a bark or a howl, or even something between the two; it was an all over the place moaning wail, up down and around. I dropped whatever I was doing and ran toward the sound, calling “Stellar, what’s happened?!”

He was outside the dog pen, as was Raven, with no apparent harm to either, but he was dancing in a weird way and looking inside the pen, and I followed his eyes just in time to see something brown jump over the fence at the back corner. Was it a deer? But it didn’t bound over, and besides they can’t get over that fence like they can the yard fence; we had a tragic episode a few years ago proving that.

It flowed over. Deep inside I knew. This all took about ten seconds as I continued moving toward the dogs. I stepped on past their shed to look over the back fence and saw it trot about fifteen feet beyond the pen, then stop, turn, and look back to where, by now, Raven stood in the corner of the pen barking at it. A beautiful mountain lion stood broadside to us, looking full-face at Raven, for all the world as if it were considering whether to go back and get her.

I slowly stepped closer to the fence, Stellar quiet by my side, my heart pounding, my mouth hanging open. Don’t go back! I thought to the lion. Good girl! I thought to Raven. Time did stand still. I did not know what to do, but my head did not fill with that horrible static it does when I’m in a panic about some human unknown. It emptied of all but wonder.

I processed the fact that I couldn’t get a good picture of it with my phone, even if I could get the phone out fast enough, and so I stayed still, goggling at the scene, which was kind of a standoff: I looked from the lion to the barking dog, back and forth, flickering attention between the two, evaluating possibilities, considering whether to intervene with a yell, wondering where the cats were, and why it had jumped into the dog pen, and was everyone alright? Then I focused on the lion, breathing in my good fortune at seeing it, and then at realizing there was nothing in its mouth: The little cats were safe somewhere else.

It wasn’t a huge lion, but it wasn’t a yearling; maybe a two-or three-year old male, or a female of any age, and not the classic blond cougar we expect. It was redder at the back, with a dark shadow of black-tipped fur along its tail and haunches, lighter at the shoulders and head, with its face russet around the cheeks. It looked back and forth at us. As the energy among us calmed, I slowly reached in my pocket for the camera, and the lion turned and trotted off through the trees.

That whole thing took another ten seconds.

Stellar and I walked into the pen down to the corner where Raven still barked, Stellar as alert as could be, walking just under my fingertips. As he began barking I searched the sagebrush and junipers but there was no lingering hint of the lion. I checked the time: 5:08. I was expecting a call at 5:30 for virtual cocktails. Still catching my breath, I called the cats and brought dogs and cats in for their dinner, shaking just a little as I prepped their bowls, and then I made a good stiff drink.

This makes the sixth mountain lion I’ve seen since I moved to this land. I know there are plenty of them out there, and it’s one reason I love it here. But I’ve never seen one nearly this close to my house. Nor to me!

All kinds of thoughts, of course, ran through my head. I grabbed drink, chips, binoculars, phone and dogs, and went out to sit on the patio, where I simply looked around, feeling very much alive. I wondered if it was still nearby thinking about whyever it had gone into that pen and about the dogs who had chased it out.

I played back the images to lock them in: the glimpse of brown slithering over the tall fence, the long tail and then the lion stopping to look back at us, the rounded reddish cheeks, eye contact. Already it was fading. That kind of sight, we say it gets etched into our memory, but really it starts to fade the second it’s gone, and now I’m left with tissue paper stills of an extraordinary few seconds that pulsated with vitality.

The next evening, around the same time, I walked to the canyon as usual, armed only with walking sticks and two bouncing hounds. When I choose to put my life at risk, it is in this manner: to carry an iced martini in a blue-stemmed glass through a woods where lions prowl, to a canyon where bears and lions dwell, to sit still on a bench overlooking the edge. I count my blessings every day that I am able to live where the chance of being harmed by a wild animal is greater than the chance of being harmed by a feral human.

YCIS0000.jpg

My two best dogs ever in the whole history of the planet: Raven after a dust roll, and Stellar in a field of wildflowers up Leroux Creek just the other day.

wildflowers-8698.jpg

 

Summer After Snow

poppy-7375

poppy-7390

Essentially the same shot, same angle and distance, 24 hours apart, of an Icelandic poppy in a patio pot. 

poppy-6118poppy-6253

After the snow, everything rebounded remarkably. The pink honeysuckle whose limbs had been bent to the ground stood tall and fleshed out with plenty more blossoms, and was full of bees for weeks. A few iris flowers froze but no one stalk completely died, and they continue to bud and bloom their last few, three weeks later.

poppy-6096poppy-7299poppy-7529poppy-7606

The Siberian honeysuckle vine began to open as the pink honeysuckle tree slowed, and bumblebees of all kinds are all over it.

poppy-7086

For a week or two the chives were where it’s at.

poppy-7220

poppy-6405

Columbine blooms madly in various warm shades, attractive to this digger bee and many others.

poppy-7694

Western tiger swallowtails are coming to the potted salvias, as well as many other blooms.

It’s interesting to notice how tense my life becomes without reliable water. For a week the switch on the pressure tank has been failing, and the plumber has been swamped with the more urgent task of repairing a broken water main that supplies a whole neighborhood. I could have found someone else, but I just found him, and I like him, and he’s good. So we waited. When the tank drained and the pump didn’t kick on, I went out and jiggled the switch. As each day passed, the switch failed more frequently, until each time the tank drained I had to jiggle the switch.

It’s a good thing I meditate. We cut back our use of water to necessity, and all the garden got thirsty, but the seedlings and transplants remained a priority, as well as drinking water for people and pets, water for face and hand washing, and of course ice cubes, for cocktails. We were never in dire straits. We were in anxious straits. And that anxiety, despite being modulated by daily meditation, strained my equanimity. I felt tight, and less than whole, simply because the water could at any moment quit altogether. And I realized how thoroughly the structure of my day depends on reliable, constant water. How lucky we are!

He came this morning and replaced the switch. I feel I can breathe freely again. And so I am back to spending hours a day moving hoses and sprinklers, hearing that darn pump grind comfortingly at regular intervals. Within two weeks of having a four-inch snow with one-inch water content, we are enjoying 90 degree days and the garden is in full bloom. We are all thirsty all the time. And now, for awhile, we have peace of mind. And showers.

 

 

Raging Spring

Dramatic weather on the national news: record heat in the Northeast. Katie reports it was 91 in New Hampshire, Julie said 86 in New Brunswick. This afternoon I sawed a large limb off the wild plum, once the snow had dropped off it. Last night late, when I let the dogs out for midnight whiz, I was staggered by the weight of snow on all the trees and shrubs in the yard. With all their spring leaves on, their fading blossoms and baby fruits, they’ve so much more surface to hold the snow.

IMG_4514

A twelve-foot tall New Mexico foresteria outside the front door, flattened by snow. Behind it, that white mound between two junipers is the Amur Maple, easily a fifteen-foot tall sapling, limbs bent to the ground.

This was an especially dense wet snow. Limbs were down all over town.

I’ve felt particularly useless all day. Some national and some extremely local politics have drained me. I woke up anxious, felt like a fish out of water all day. My head is full of spaghetti. I am uncharacteristically dark; or perhaps I am cyclically dark. I gather this is the kind of matrix that causes spring’s swelling suicide rates. Winter has gone and things remain the same; snow returns with vigor. This too will change.

IMG_4532

The wild plum tree, broken under melting snow. Below, the same tree forty days ago…

IMG_3597

IMG_4531

The massive pink honeysuckle, its fragrant blooms just opened days ago and covered in bees, bent this morning under a thick blanket.

IMG_4527

The flowers were resilient. Irises so recently in bloom I’ve haven’t begun to photograph them, bowed but not broken, standing nearly straight by afternoon, after everything melted. Before it started snowing again.

QUGV0792.jpg

Everything all gorgeous last weekend when I started planting annuals in pots, bringing out herbs and dahlias, potting up tomatoes, sprouting peppers.

Tonight I find surprising relief in watching the Weather Channel. Powerful storms rage across the central plains. Twelve tornadoes so far today, again. The winds this spring and last have been planetary. The atmosphere whips itself into a frenzy. We see only a small segment of the world’s weather on our television, maybe it’s different in other countries. We only see, for the most part, the weather over the continental US.

I might have been driving across the continental US this very day. If so, I’d have been glued to the Weather Channel, on TV if I could get it, or on my laptop, if I could get internet wherever I was hunkered down for the night, at whatever state park or back road hotel. Many’s the night I’ve fallen asleep to the weather, having memorized my place on the map, what county I was in so I’d know the name if I heard it under a tornado watch or warning, knowing the nearest towns in each direction, my exact location on the weather map as it flashed on the screen so I could track the radar at night.

There was a thrilling sense of aliveness on those treks across the country; knowing how near I was camped to a train track, so I would know if I heard a freight-train that it might actually be a train and not a tornado; knowing whether I was above or below a nearby dam, in case it blew; taking my chances having weighed all factors I could conceive of, always having an exit plan. I let myself escape the frustrations of today, my own harsh judgments, in the shiver of excitement watching weather. Feet of snow in the Rockies. Trailer park flattened in Kansas, tornado vortex signature in Missouri, spectacular lightning in Oklahoma. I might have been any one of those places today, but I’m not.

I inhale deeply, and exhale, my first relaxed breath of the day: I could have been there, driving my dogs and camper across the country to be with my dear auntie next week for her ninetieth birthday. I had planned to be on the way. But I decided a couple of months ago not to go, and I could not be more grateful. I did something right today, anyway: I stayed home.