Winter Wandering

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Lots of deer browsing in the winter garden, especially after our first real snow days before Christmas.

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Snow is half melted by the end of this peculiarly spring-like week, but still covers much of the forest floor. I finally took my husband-camera out for a walk this week, after months on the shelf. Both of us.

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Ojo and the dogs came along. I forget somehow, sometimes, who I am and what I love. 

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But an hour in the woods with animals and camera, and I begin to remember.

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Orion astraddle the horizon and I’ve not yet had my cocktail, I know it’s deep winter. Yet the breeze this afternoon where I sat on the rim of the canyon, bright sun reflecting on golden cliffs, snow-capped ledges, snow draping slopes and trees, the stream running fast with rapid melt, Ice Canyon sighing, all that and the breeze brushing my cheeks as it flowed down canyon… so poignant. What was that particular quality of air, not quite warm, well shy of cold, but so gentle, an evocative caress? What did it bring to mind that was so specific? It was spring. It was a downstream April breeze, moist, with the faintest remnant chill of winter.

Roadkill Tetrazzini

 

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There’s one stretch of road, on the way up the canyon to town, where wild turkeys often cross. They feed in the field below, and roost in trees uphill. In spring we watch the males’ magnificent displays as we cruise slowly by. Those of us who live here are pretty careful driving that stretch, though some of us have joked for years about hitting one for Thanksgiving dinner.

Yesterday, driving home from errands, feathers still flew as I approached the body; must have been a vehicle one or two in front of me that hit her. The bird, still warm, was missing her head. I put her in the back seat and drove home, thinking Do I really want to do this? But at least this way, I had the choice to butcher her, or throw her off the canyon for lions if I decided not to try.

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I tied her feet to a juniper limb in the driveway, and pulled some skin off to assess the damage. One side was pretty thoroughly smashed, but the other side looked good.

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After removing the tail, wings, and separating the body from the hanging legs, I texted this picture to David, my go-to hunter, captioned What now? He lives for turkey season. I knew it would get his attention. I had a lot of questions.

I wondered, for example, if it would ruin the meat if I got some of the green guts on it. And what tool would cut off the feet? And how to begin cutting up the body. Also, if I got turkey offal or blood into the splits in my fingertips, would I get sick and die? By the time he called me, I had the body rinsing in the sink. David talked me through the rest of the process.

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He explained about bloodshot meat: The breast on the hit side was deep red, shot through with blood that would make its flavor too strong for me, but, he said, I’ll bet you have two dogs that would love to eat that! Indeed I do.

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I filleted the breasts and the tenderloin off the ribcage, and put the carcass into the dutch oven full of water to make stock for the dogs. The two pieces on the left were damaged in the collision and deep red throughout. 

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I chopped up the bloodshot breast and loin and threw them in the skillet with some olive oil, then wrapped the good meat in freezer paper. 

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Cooked, it looked pretty good! I tried a tiny crisp piece, and it wasn’t bad… but it was strong and different, and by then I’d had enough of dead turkey for the day.

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While the dog food sizzled and the stock came to a boil, I went back outside to deal with the legs. First, as David told me where to bend the leg, I cut off the shattered thigh with the knife, then used my Felco garden pruners to cut both legs off the feet.

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After rinsing the legs clean in cold water I wrapped them, too, and popped it all in the deep freeze. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the meat, but knew I didn’t feel like eating it right then. Then, outside to sort the carnage.

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I suspected that a young naturalist friend might want the feet,  good wing and remaining feathers, so once I’d wrapped the guts and bloody feathers up in the newspaper that had caught the drips, I poured about an inch of kosher salt in a brown paper bag, and stood up all the parts, weeping ends down in the salt, to preserve them til I could get the whole deal to her aunt’s deep freeze. Such beautiful feathers! And the little curled feather ruffs that became of the skin that pulled off so easily. Who knew?

My neighbor with the milk cows gave me some kefir grains the other day. I gave up making kefir last spring because it just kept getting ahead of me; I couldn’t use it up fast enough to justify the cost of the milk I ended up wasting. This morning I transferred the grains for the first time. The kefir rollercoaster begins again! She said, I use it for everything I’d use yogurt or sour cream for. And I thought, aha! Turkey tetrazzini! A childhood comfort food with a wild twist. When my houseguests arrive this weekend, guess what we’ll have for dinner?

Maybe. We’ll see what they think of the idea of roadkill tetrazzini. Either way, I’ve practiced my homesteading skills, proven to myself I can be resourceful in a way I’ve resisted in the past (I have a friend who routinely eats roadkill, and I have balked when it’s been offered), and made use of an otherwise wasted life. And the dogs are loving their treats. Mother forgive us for our speed, I pray every time I pass a dead animal in the road. We don’t need to move so fast.

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The black cat survived his third Halloween. He is so precious! In for the night, awaiting dinner.

Processing Peppers

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Summer’s BLTs melt into autumn’s grilled cheese. One tomato left!

I’ve come to cherish my garden peppers: shishitos, paprika, jalapeño. I’ve grown peppers before because they’re gratifying; easy to start, often prolific, but I haven’t really loved them until this summer. After a couple decades living in the southwest, I finally sometimes crave a bit of heat in my food; I’ve made friends with the jalapeño.

This summer I picked up a jalapeño seedling from Zephyros Farm, and started a dozen shishitos, some of which I traded for 3 Leutschauer paprika peppers that the Bad Dogs started.

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The jalapeño I planted in a patio pot, and it gave me dozens and dozens of bright green peppers through the summer. Grasshoppers hammered its foliage but that seemed to spur it to greater production. I froze three batches of chopped jalapeños in oil in an ice tray, then popped the cubes into freezer bags for cooking. After chopping the first batch without gloves, my fingertips caught fire. Since drinking milk helps with mouth burn, I thought, I soaked them in a splash of cold cream. It did help. And the plant continues to flower and fruit; before the big freeze I brought it into the sunroom, and it’s got half a dozen new peppers already.

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Shishito peppers provided buckets of delectable appetizers, for cocktails with neighbors…

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… or solo. Just a small batch flash-fried (blistered) in olive oil in a hot skillet, then sprinkled with fresh-ground salt, and served with an adult beverage.

I nurtured those little shishito peppers from seeds in a salad box, lovingly watching over their sprouting and first leaves, potting them up, bringing them in every night for weeks, waiting til late June to put them in the raised bed, wrapping them first with walls-o-water, then covering with row cloth. And finally, with trepidation because of the grasshopper infestation, opening their cover to give them full sun. They thrived.

I planted the paprika peppers at the south end of the same bed. They grew almost two feet tall and were covered in fruit which never ripened. I read somewhere that this particular Leutschauer variety ripened to a bright red by the end of August in Ontario, and made the mistake of assuming a shorter season than they actually require. At our altitude, with nights consistently in the 40s by September keeping the soil wet and cold, these peppers will need to be started much earlier next year; I’ll also plant them in pots so I can bring them inside to finish if need be. Apparently nights should remain above 50 for them to turn scarlet.

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The evening before the first deep freeze, I picked a huge bowl of green peppers, taking nearly all the fruits in hopes they’d ripen off the stalk. 

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Only a couple of them turned red. Most remained green, even those with blackened shoulders. 

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Baker Creek support suggested I could try drying them anyway to make paprika powder. The first batch I roasted at 350 for about twenty minutes, turning a few times, then turned the oven down to 200 and dried them for about five hours. After they cooled, I tried to powder them in the food processor, but that didn’t work. The blender did; I pulsed them, then sifted, then pulsed a few times, and made about a quarter cup of paprika powder. Seemed like an awful lot of trouble for what I got, until I tasted it.

Attempting to improve the result, I roasted the next batch at 400 for about 12 minutes, took them out and let the oven cool to 200, and cut out the seed cores before drying the peppers. It took only slightly less time for them to dry, though they were bigger peppers. For the amount of paprika I use in a year, I got plenty, with a decidedly richer flavor than store-bought.

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Roasted, dried green Leutschauer paprika peppers before grinding; kind of a muddy color…

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Two batches of paprika from a summer’s worth of water, TLC, and three pepper plants. Hmmm.

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My kitchen counter at the height of harvest season…. and below, after preserving.

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Green tomato pickles, roasted green tomato salsa, regular red salsa, paprika, and two types of tomato sauce, with a few stragglers in a bowl. Counting the bags of sauce in the freezer, I can have some kind of homegrown tomato treat almost every week til the next crop comes in!

Driving around the valley the past couple of weeks has been spectacular, and achingly poignant. On the way to town the other day, against a backdrop of dark grey raining clouds, the slopes of Saddle Mountain emerged in sunshine a rainbow themselves, yellow and green aspen, orange oak, blue and purple shadows down juniper green hills.

The road down Rodstrom Grade its own cascade of colors, sandstone cliffs frothing with wild clematis seedheads, spent blossoms of rabbit brush lining the road; russet, orange, red serviceberry, squawbush and apricot trees, cottonwoods turning the canyon gold, chartreuse and yellow. Always a chance on this road of bobcat, coyote, lion or bear. I turn on and off the radio as I drive.

In just the past month, this country, this world, has changed so much, multifarious threats escalating. I tune in and out of the “news” a dozen times a day, tracking the next climate chaos disaster: hurricanes, wildfires, famines, human migrations; shuddering at the latest lies and doublespeak from the current regime; weeping at the most recent man-made tragedy; gauging the latest threat of nuclear war.

Like the proverbial frog in a pot of water, we unwittingly adapt to climbing tensions that will ultimately boil us alive; we are crashing toward some unforeseen finale. We might consider ourselves lucky if the Yellowstone supervolcano blows before our democracy does.

Driving home from town, a view never before seen, never this exact amalgamation of earth forms, rain light, autumn palette: Fresh snow on the north end of Mendicant Ridge as mist rises, exposing sunlit slopes through the shadowed gap between Saddle Mountain Lands End. Heavy grey rick-rack clouds lift to reveal a window deep into the West Elk mountains: caught in a beam of sunlight, silhouettes of ranges recede into lighter deeper blues and greys, pale rain falling lightly over layers of gold and deep green aspen-fir slopes. Exquisite wild world, each moment unique.

This is what’s real. This precious watershed, a pawn in the battle for our public lands, our lives and livelihoods that depend on the clean water, clear air, and healthy soil that provide the foods that sustain us. I pack the pantry and the freezer with peppers and tomatoes, and cherish each hazy day.

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The yard begins to give in to winter.

 

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

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

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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Dragonfly perched on a radish seedpod.

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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.

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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

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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:

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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:

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

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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.

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Black Canyon morning.

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