Letting Go, Kitten Edition

Most dogs sleep on top of the cushion…
When she’s not sleeping, she’s getting bolder and more at ease exploring the woods with Topaz and me, enjoying the May flowers like this scarlet gilia.
Yesterday we were walking near the giant Fremont holly, and just as I wondered if it was blooming yet and turned to go find it, its distinctive fragrance led me right to it.

Topaz is much happier this evening than she’s been in a month. At five a.m. I startled awake to her hissing and growling at the kittens in their crate downstairs. I tossed and turned for awhile, and tried to call her upstairs. Eventually she came, and let me rub her belly (and finger comb an awful amount of weeds from her fur). It soothed both of us back to sleep. Later in the morning, I delivered the kittens and all their belongings to a shelter staff member who met me in Hotchkiss. I hope Topaz doesn’t think she accomplished this by hissing at them this morning. It was in the works for days.

I’m grateful that mindfulness kept me from locking into a judgmental, agitated assessment of the shelter. Last week I was finally able to speak with the director, who was appalled and apologetic to hear of my unfortunate experience with the foster coordinator, and let me know I wasn’t the only one with complaints. We were able to have a clear, open conversation about all that went awry, and appreciate each other’s honesty and grace. Once the director reassured me that my experience with FC wasn’t characteristic of the shelter as a whole, I was able to examine my motivations and assess more accurately the reality of keeping either or both kittens.

I reflected that when FC had said I should bring them back when they’re two months, because “people are always coming in wanting a kitten,” I had a knee-jerk reaction to the way he had just manhandled them, and thought No way am I bringing them back here. So part of my motivation to keep them was to protect them from him, or from any abuse. Part of my initial motivation for fostering them had been to maybe end up with a kitten, but that was purely a selfish longing. I was able to admit that the one I fell in love with, and would have kept, was the one who died, and I realized as I continued to care for the others, and cuddle them, that–cute as they were–I wasn’t feeling the same connection to them. Also, to think that I was the only person who could give them a good home was just ego.

At the same time, I considered carefully my attention budget and my energy level, and realized I didn’t have enough of either to take on longterm responsibility for another little life. There were numerous pragmatic reasons–including Topaz–to let them go now that they were weaned and active enough to need, and deserve, a lot more space and interaction. Finally, I thought about attachment. It came clear to me that spiritual growth is my highest priority; simplifying my life and letting go, my path.

Buddha advises us to relinquish attachments, knowing that all things are impermanent and that clinging brings suffering; and knowing that at the end, whenever that comes, we all have to release our attachment to our own life. So by practicing letting go of attachments as we age, especially to things we care about, we can practice for the ultimate letting go, and die with grace and ease rather than fear and suffering. With this in mind, I’ve already begun giving away some valued heirlooms to younger family members, and being more generous with other things as well. So I looked hard at my attachment to having a kitten (or two), and it vaporized. I looked at my attachment to outcome, also, and understood that even if I kept I could not prevent them from coming to a sad end (like Ojo). Understanding the shelter conditions and policies–they would be housed together and given daily affection and enrichment activities (like training to high-five), and there is a comprehensive vetting process for adopters–I was able to release my fears for their future.

And so it came to pass that this morning, on my way to get my second Covid booster, I handed off the precious little beings with sincere gratitude for all that I learned from the experience, from how to bottle-feed kittens (which might come in handy some other time) to the importance of understanding, patience, and letting go, and lots of insights in between. I am at peace having made a wise choice, Wren misses them, and Topaz is delighted. I hope she doesn’t think she can get rid of Wren the same way!

Loving Photography

Nuff said.
My friend Sean made this picture tonight in eastern Washington as it was just beginning to rain. He lay down on the flagstone and called me as he waited for the ground around him to get just wet enough to leave a dry impression of his body. How we met is a funny story for another time, perhaps. But we have a lot of the same interests and photography is one of them. This is not a great photograph. Nor are the images that follow that I shot tonight. But the beauty of loving photography is that it’s not necessarily the resulting image that matters; it’s the making of the image in the moments it’s created that carries the significance and fills the heart.
Early, I wondered if we’d get to see the eclipse here. But clouds cleared as night deepened.

The total lunar eclipse of the full flower supermoon tonight has been captured with super fancy cameras the world over and there’s no image I can add to those that will appear in the news tomorrow. But the joy I derived this evening from sharing life with my friend, then sitting on my deck for hours with a cold martini slowly warming as it waned, and a warm little dog zipped into my sweatshirt and my dear departed mother’s little Audubon Nikon binoculars, acquainting myself with my new husband-camera and his super special lens, at one with crickets and the universe, well… that’s priceless.

Loving

Loving may be the healthiest thing we can do. It doesn’t matter so much who or what we love, but that we engage our hearts in connection with other living beings. I love my crabapple tree, and make time to appreciate it every day that it’s in bloom, and as its petals fade and blow off in these planetary winds, settling on top of the pond; and I pay attention to it through its fruit growing cycle, and as its leaves turn in autumn, and as they fall off toward winter.

I love this new little dog, and feel tenderness when I see her fall asleep in the sun while I sit under the crabapple tree sipping morning coffee. I found the original shelter she came from in New Mexico on Facebook, and messaged them to find out more about her. No wonder she’s so well-behaved. She wasn’t a stray, she was an owner surrender: she came from a family with children and cats, but there was another baby on the way and the mother couldn’t manage it all. I look at Wren sometimes and think, How could anyone give up this little dog? And then I remember something I heard the other day: a friend said, “Any time I think of someone How could you do that…?, the Universe eventually says, Lemme show you….” When we judge others for their choices, we often find ourselves before long in a similar situation making similar choices that we never thought we would or could. Roe v. Wade comes to mind…

So instead of wondering how someone could have given up this precious little being, I asked the shelter to please let that woman know, if they had the opportunity, that her dog has found a safe and happy forever home, where she is making an old lady a wonderful companion. She jumps up from her pink princess bed to follow me every time I go outside, and feels safe enough now to explore the yard on her own, but she comes running whenever I call her. She’s progressing well in her turtle-hunting training, and investigates the compost bins more frequently than is strictly necessary.

This evening, in the weird yellow-grey light of dusty-windy sunset, she followed me into the lilac pen, where we circled the blooming shrubs just wishing the phone could capture the heady aroma as well as the shifting colors. This year lilac flowers are profuse, though still fleeting. I make time multiple times each day to spend attention on the lilacs, loving these shrubs in this brief, abundant, drunken season.

This Week in Tiny Lives

Her name is Wren. It came to me last week as I pondered “Ready,” which she responded to, and “Fen,” which I kind of liked better. Then those two merged into Wren, a sweet, delicate, little brown bird. Wrennie. She doesn’t know it starts with a different letter than Ready, and she came to it immediately; maybe thinking I’d developed a sudden speech impediment with that middle consonant.

Then, several people said, “Oh, like Ren and Stimpy?” What’s that? I had no idea there was a cartoon about some revolting creatures called “Ren, an emotionally unstable and sociopathic Chihuahua; and Stimpy, a good-natured yet dimwitted cat.” So no, NOT like that Ren; like a canyon wren, or a house wren, or a Carolina wren…

In the woods, May is the blooming month. Lots of little lives burgeoning.

Topaz is adapting to walks with Wren, and continues to examine the kittens from a few feet away now and then, but mostly just continues to live her prima donna life, going about her routine with her pretty little nose in the air.
Wren is fascinated with the kittens, as they are with her. When I open the crate to bring them out to eat, she is right there, and helps corral them as they scatter.
After his setback, Smokey went back on the bottle for a few days, but is now eating a slurry of canned kitten food mixed with formula.

Little Tigger fluctuated between eating well and gaining a bit, then losing weight. Last Wednesday he seemed listless. We had an appointment with a vet for the next day, and I had to go to the audiologist that afternoon, so I called a local foster expert, and she suggested giving him straight honey with a syringe. I did that for a couple of doses and he vomited after each dose. I cut back the dose and lengthened the interval and he seemed to keep it down and perk up. That night I offered him the food/formula slurry and he ate it well. Thursday morning he ate well again. I took them all to the vet with some stool samples, and the diagnosis was that he was “loaded with parasites.” He was also tested for FIV, and fortunately was negative. They gave him subcutaneous fluids to hydrate him. All three kittens were dosed for parasites, and we were sent home with medicine to administer daily for a week.

Tigger ate well Thursday and Friday, cleaning his own bowl and finishing off Smokey’s when he left some in it. I was so relieved to have him sorted out and on the mend. This morning, when I came down at seven, he lay limp in the corner as his brothers climbed and called for breakfast. I set them in their boxes with food, and picked up the tiny boy. It was clear to me that he was dying. I cradled him in my shirt and sang to him. He lay there, softly ticking… I thought it was a death rattle. After awhile, it dawned on me that it was a slow-motion purr.

I remembered Foster Friend telling about holding a dying puppy on her chest overnight, dosing it with honey, and how it came back to life. I thought about dehydration. I mixed a little water with maple syrup, and began to drip little bits into his mouth. He swallowed, his eyes brightened; I thought either I was prolonging his agony or I was reviving him. When I saw him lick his paw, I committed to the revival story. For the next few hours I gave him intermittent drips of fluid. He meowed a few times, yowled a few times, rested quietly, swallowed more, looked up at me… As I meditated and then talked with friends on zoom, he got very quiet and still. By the end of our conversation he was dead. I wrapped him in a cotton square, and buried him in the garden with Stellar.

I felt sad. I’m grateful for the skill of equanimity. Through the morning I kept things in perspective. Even as he lay warm and loved against my heart, there were thousands of kittens around the world dying of parasites in awful surroundings; there were human babies suffering malnutrition, neglect, and worse; there were species going extinct, and wars ravaging lives and cultures; there were politicians lying and corporations conniving; there were good people dropping dead in the prime of their life, and a pandemic surging again with a new, even more contagious variant. In a world of suffering, I loved a tiny kitten through his short little life and his inevitable death. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Meanwhile, more little lives continue sprouting in the garden. The first potato leaves emerge from mulch as tiny peach buds open. I turn my attention to the ample beauty and life that remains to be nurtured as the garden rollercoaster ramps up…

Orange tulips gladden the end of a raised bed…
…and the crabapple tree glows gloriously.

Kitten Chaos

Pitbull and Tigger

Fostering these kittens is a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s also been fraught with frustrations but not from the kittens: communications with the shelter have been sketchy from the start, supplies inadequate, and there was an unfortunate visit with the foster coordinator last week that traumatized at least three out of four of us.

Three people told me three different ages for them. The person who called said they were two-and-a-half to three weeks old, one maybe older. They had been brought in that morning by a person who “picked them up from a place where there were a lot of cats.” They needed to be placed that night. I was excited to take them. I’ve hand-raised baby parrots, but always wanted to bottle-feed something and was happy to help out.

The woman who delivered them to me in the Safeway parking lot, about halfway between the shelter and my home, said the black one was already spoken for and named Smokey. She gave me the name and number of the woman who had brought them in and said she’d like some updates. She also gave me one can of powdered formula, a small bag of kitten food cans, a heating disc, a package of one bottle and several nipples, and some cursory verbal instructions. When I asked again how many weeks old they were, she said “three-ish.” Later the foster coordinator told me they were listed as four weeks old at that time.

It seemed like it would be easy enough. Mix the formula, warm it, and give them the bottle. It wasn’t that easy. For five days, they failed to ‘latch’ onto the nipple, and feeding was cumbersome, messy, and insufficient. That first night I searched online and found the Kitten Lady videos, learned what was supposed to happen, and also learned about the ‘miracle nipple.’ The next day I let the foster coordinator (FC) know they weren’t eating well, and he suggested I look up the Kitten Lady. It occurred to me then that it would have been helpful if they had arrived into my naive, first-time foster care with an instruction sheet and a link to the Kitten Lady. By then I knew I would be back in Junction on Monday to meet the potential new dog, so I arranged to bring the kittens in for a lesson in bottle feeding. He mentioned then that he had these great miracle nipples that might help. Why, I wondered, had he not sent the miracle nipples along in the first place?

Then I learned that the woman who found them and claimed Smokey has an email address at the shelter. If she worked there and wanted the kitten, why did she send it out to be raised? A small question, and I’m sure she had her reasons. But then why so vague about the kittens’ provenance?

After a couple of days I advanced the largest kitten onto a slurry of the canned paté and formula in a bowl, feeding him in a tall cardboard box, and he ate well. Smokey progressed to the slurry after a few days, but Tigger ate very little and had liquid poop, a big no-no according to the Kitten Lady. At one point all the kittens had loose stools.

We took the kittens to the shelter on Monday, and after coming and going from the room several times the FC finally set us up with a bowl of food for the older kittens–a large bowl full of adult-size cat food shreds, ¾” long by ⅛” wide, that both Pitbull and Smokey dove into. All the way, face first. It didn’t seem right to me, but I figured, hey, he’s the foster coordinator, he must know that’ll be ok for them. Stupid me.

Then he gave me a lesson on bottle-feeding Tigger, during which he did everything the Kitten Lady had expressly said not to do, including forcing the nipple into the mouth, and turning the kitten onto its back to feed it. I said, “Here, let me try,” and took Tigger back, holding him gently and offering the nipple.

I asked again, to clarify, whether they were supposed to supply everything I needed to foster. Yes, absolutely everything, was the answer. “I’ll need some more canned food,” I said, and proceeded to list the remaining obvious supplies: wipes, litter, more formula mix. Resupply had been part of the plan we’d agreed upon, and I was surprised that I had to specify everything I’d need, and that it wasn’t already boxed up for us. I mentioned that I live 90 miles away and wouldn’t be able to come back for more. FC left the room again to gather supplies. In short order the tiny kitten began to suck. How wonderful it would have been to have had the miracle nipples for the first five days of fostering, instead of the unwieldy puppy nipples that came. Meanwhile, Pitbull and Smokey in the crate got covered in goo from the food.

When Tigger was done feeding, I handed Smokey, who was a mess, to FC to wipe down while I cleaned Pitbull. There was a box of wipes on the table, but FC struggled to open the new, sealed box he had brought for me, until I pointed out there was an open box right there. Then FC took Smokey across the room and held him over the garbage can as he cleaned him, kitten screaming, while I wiped down Pitbull. When Smokey was returned to me bedraggled and limp, he was still goopy, so I gently wiped him down again.

FC had set a small bag of litter, a sack of canned food, and an opened half-can of formula (“this should be enough”) on the table. Once the kittens were back in the crate, I said I’d need some help getting stuff to the car. “Oh. Sure,” he said, and gathered the supplies into his hands. After we left, it struck me that everything about his attitude and actions suggested he was stoned.

A mixed bag of adult cat food…

Smokey was still wet and limp when we got home. I dried and cuddled him. Over the next 48 hours he ate less and less, his little belly bloated. Monday night I discovered that the entire bag of canned food was adult cat food, not kitten paté. I texted FC to ask if they could ship me some kitten food or reimburse me for buying some, since kittens have different nutritional needs than adults. FC responded with, “Oh my goodness, I’m sorry, I didn’t look close enough but it was in the kitten section!!” He said he’d look into options. Three days later he got back to me, saying he still didn’t know about reimbursing or shipping, but that the adult food should be fine. Not on my watch. Meanwhile, I’d already asked a friend to pick up some kitten food while she was in town.

On Tuesday I put Smokey back on the bottle instead of offering slurry. By Wednesday afternoon he had become listless and quit moving. I thought he was going to die, and planned to take him to the vet on Thursday morning. That evening I gave him a warm soak in the tub, then held him and rubbed his belly for awhile, thinking maybe one of those shreds had gotten impacted or I don’t know what. It was an anxious night, but I was delighted in the morning to see him romping again with his brothers.

It’s Monday again. I ran out of litter yesterday, and formula this morning. Wipes will be gone tomorrow. It’ll be almost three weeks until they reach the alleged two month age at which I supposedly relinquish them back to the shelter. Tigger has gained only 10g in 10 days, about a tenth of what he should have. After his setback, Smokey is eating well and gaining weight again after losing for three days. FC has responded vaguely and slowly to my missives, saying he can’t guarantee that they’ll reimburse me for the cost of the supplies I’ve ordered, and that I’ll need to bring Tigger to a vet in Junction because they don’t have one in Delta. A local vet provided enough formula today to tide us over until the can I ordered arrives Thursday. Litter and wipes are on the way. I’m taking Tigger to a closer vet on Thursday and will pay the bill myself, since I intend to keep him.

Topaz is skeptical of the kittens, and they are of her.

I understand that all shelters are overrun and understaffed these days, but I am disillusioned with this unprofessional, slacker approach from an organization that had a good reputation and relies on volunteers. There are a few other annoying details, but I’ve gone on long enough. It’s been a joy to tend to these kittens, and a headache to deal with the logistics. A couple of four hour sleeps each night and a nap or two each day, and my mindfulness practice is in tatters. I’ve alienated a friend with my impatience, and let my best self down. I won’t be fostering for this shelter again, for sure, and I doubt I’ll foster anything ever again anyway, since I’m what they call a “foster fail”: I’m going to keep both the tabby kittens, giant little Pitbull and tiny sweet Tigger. After the time, energy, affection, and money I’ve invested, just let that FC try and take them away from me!

Meet Ready!

I am too tired to write much, except to say that when I was finally ready, so was she!

I found her on Petfinder when I was shelter surfing online a couple of weeks ago, and the stars finally aligned for us to meet. I’m so grateful to GB, who drove me up there so that I could cuddle her all the way home from Grand Junction, and was more optimistic than I that it would work out. She’s very timid, having been first a stray on the Navajo reservation, then in a shelter down there, then shipped up to GJ with a bunch of other puppies and dogs since there aren’t as many dogs available in Colorado.

I thought about naming her Fennec, since her profile picture on the website reminded me, and others, of the adorable North African desert fennec fox. But she doesn’t seem like a Fennec, and it’s too hard to say over and over.
So her ‘working name’ for now is Ready, just like in the dream, and it works really well: “Ready, come! Ready, go! Ready, ride? Ready, up; Ready down, Ready dinner…” Her computer-generated name online was, get this, Stella! But I just couldn’t keep it. Also, she is not really a Stella.

She was billed as a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, but I think they got it very wrong. Chihuahua I can see, but not Pom. Pamela thinks maybe she has some red heeler in her because of her freckled paws; I think she may have Basenji because I haven’t heard her make a sound in more than 24 hours! David says she has coyote ears. Coyotihuahua! We’ll know more later, because I’m interested enough to spring for a DNA test somewhere down the line.

You might think a new little dog for a day wouldn’t exhaust me (even with the slight and dissipating tension of monitoring her interactions with Topaz), and you’d be right. I was already tired when she joined the family because I’ve been ‘fostering’ three little kittens for a different shelter in GJ for a week, up at least once in the night to make sure they get adequate feeding. Two have graduated to canned food but the littlest, Tigger, is still on a bottle, and not thriving.

Smokey, on the right, was spoken for when the kittens were delivered, whew! That left only two for me to think about rehoming when they turn two months. This alleged fostering lasted about three hours for Tigger before I knew I’d be keeping him. The largest kitten, on the left, I’ve named Pitbull, for a couple of reasons, which I may go into another time.
This is NOT the ideal nipple for a three-week old kitten! If you’re ever going to foster bottle-baby kittens, look for the ‘miracle nipple’ instead of the standard package.

He’s what they refer to as ‘a fussy eater.’ I don’t think it’s really his fault, or even mine. The shelter didn’t give us ideal nipples at first, but yesterday we took the kittens with us to the city, to get a lesson from the foster coordinator. That didn’t go so well, but we did get a better bottle, and today he’s latched on a few times if only for a few seconds; an improvement, however slight, and I think he may have gained a few grams by morning.

Certainly, he’s gained a friend. I was beyond delighted this morning when I had fed Tigger, and Ready jumped into my lap and curled up, letting him snuggle. As tired as I am, I’m realizing the nourishing potential in physical connection with these warm little lives. If I had four new mechanical things or four new work projects that required this much time and energy, I’d be thoroughly depleted. But I get a lot back from caring for these animals, and am soothed by a steady two-way flow of oxytocin. And bless little Topaz, who has tolerated these intrusions with surprising equanimity. I’m making sure she still gets all she ever wanted from me, which is a couple of walks a day, full food bowls, a treat game in the evenings, and to sleep in bed with me at night. It’s a little challenging right now, but I’m confident it will smooth out over time into a new, sweet, balanced family.

Resurrection

Male and female evening grosbeaks and house finches flocking together rested in the top of the birch tree the other morning.

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, did I mention that before? I had a lot of recovering to do from the drawn-out demise of Stellar, which was physically and emotionally grueling; and actually quite a bit of settling into a new normal without some of my closest friends who also died over the past two summers, from Ojo to Auntie to Michael and more. This spring does feel a bit like a resurrection for me, and what better day to acknowledge that than Easter Sunday?

Looming larger these days in the back of my mind is how will Topaz receive a new addition to the household? I am pretty much ready for a dog!

I pulled out the new husband-camera which has also lain dormant all winter, and realized I had no idea how to use it, so I also pulled out the manual and spent some hours today figuring out all the knobs and buttons — most of the bells and whistles will have to wait for another day. I haven’t even attached the ‘good’ lens yet but still got some pretty pictures. The two nights of deep freeze last week did not destroy all chance of apricots this year, at least up on this mesa. The tree was loaded with buds, and while most of them had just opened before the freeze and are now toast, it seems that many unopened buds survived and are blooming in this next round of balmy weather. I hope that the valley orchards fared as well.

It was this Mourning Cloak who arrived yesterday that inspired me to bring out the big camera and get ready to wallow in my favorite pastime again. Last year, the ‘good’ lens lost its auto-focus and would have cost a lot to repair. So I dove in headfirst and sprung for a camera upgrade and two new lenses. It helped a lot that I could trade in the old husband and all his lenses at B&H Photo, my go-to AV store in NYC. They offer great help over the phone, and reliable goods and shipping.
While I waited for the butterfly to come in range of my seat on the bench, I missed a bumblebee but got a mediocre snap of a honeybee. There were just a few other small native bees buzzing around; maybe because it was windy, and is still kind of cold at night… or maybe because there are fewer bees even than last year. The loss of the almond tree last year has cut their spring smorgasbord sadly in half.
Not many native pollinators seem to care for forsythia, but this western yellow-jacket was enjoying having it all to itself.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

The Mindful Life Community daily guidance this morning brought suddenly and vividly to mind the journalism teacher in high school, Dottie Olin, who became a lifelong friend. She inspired me then, and I became editor of the paper. For three decades we stayed in touch, visited when I was in town, and her joie de vivre and boundless joy in life grounded me in unstable times. I was grateful to visit her often during the months I lived in Virginia while my mother was dying, and we became even closer. She continued to inspire and support me well into her 80s. Shortly after my mom died and I moved back home to Colorado, I got a note that she was dying of lung cancer. She said, “It’s nobody’s fault but my own,” as she had smoked all her life. She was at peace because she had lived fully and with so much love. I was devastated to lose her as well as my mom in the same year, 2004. I hadn’t thought about her recently, and love that she came to mind so vibrantly as someone who lighted a fire in me and rekindled it through the years. Just the thought of her this morning lifted my energy and got me outside and moving around in the garden, motivated to make the most of this beautiful spring day, this precious day that will never come again.

This Week…

The apricot tree is in full bloom… a gorgeous and melancholy sight, as temps are predicted to fall well below freezing tomorrow night…
Magpies are nurturing a nest right outside the kitchen window, which will provide entertainment for months.
Biko has been enjoying his days outside in his round pen, coming inside each evening with an assist from me.
The does are coming around less often as surrounding fields green up. This is Stripe, who has extra small ears for a mule deer, and a white stripe down the length of her nose, which is not quite visible here because of the sun.
How did I never think to fry a burrito in butter??? So simple, so delicious.
Sometimes an image just demands the camera.
The bonsai jasmine is finally blooming, and its intoxicating fragrance fills the kitchen each evening.
I cook a skillet of beans once a week or so for burritos or whatever. Yesterday I craved cheesy grits also, and plunked some on top of the black beans. So simple, so delicious!

It’s been quite a week, full of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral events and perceptions. The days swirl by in a dance of mind with matter, and by the end of each day I’m too tired to post. In appreciation of those who have noticed my absence, I am sharing my simple gratitude today for another week alive, one precious day after another; without further ado, but with heartfelt thanks for the love and support of my community and friends across the country.

This Week in the Garden

Birds return. This is the first evening grosbeak I’ve seen here in decades. Neighbors with feeders have flocks of them. My feeder tree used to regularly host black-headed grosbeaks, but even then the evenings were rare. He squawked his plaintive question a few times before flying off. I was grateful I happened to be outside as he was passing through. Also this past week, the first robin lit in the budding apricot tree, and last Saturday, joy of joys, a phoebe sang his descending syllable seductively from treetops. He’s flown afield seeking his mate, but I’m sure he’ll return.

After watching a video I can’t find again on economically filling a new raised bed, I started with a layer of punky aspen someone delivered a few years ago. Light as balsa wood, these ‘logs’ weren’t fit to burn, but laying them into the bottom of the raised bed provides bulk that will decompose over years. On top of the wood, a layer of fine wood chips, and on top of that some old pots’ worth of soil. Good organic growing soil will fill the top 8-10 inches for planting. As years go by, I’ll amend the top as the bottom materials break down.

This ‘potato bin’ seemed like a great idea years ago when I bought it, but I didn’t understand potato cultivation back then and ‘it’ failed. After increasing success with potatoes the past couple of years, I think I know what I’m doing with it this year. We’ll know more later!

Garden Buddy shared a video and some sweet potatoes, and we’re both experimenting with rooting organic sweet potatoes to grow slips to plant, in hopes of a harvest. This distinctly southern tuber may not grow well here, but we just like to experiment with all kinds of things.

Above, raised beds amended and fluffed are ready for planting. Below, perennial onions are already providing scallions.

Organic straw is hard to come by these days. Any straw that hasn’t been sprayed and labeled ‘weed-free’ is hard to find. I love to mulch with straw, but mulching with straw that’s been treated with herbicides doesn’t make any sense to me. I think it’s one reason my earliest gardens failed to thrive: I failed to question what certified weed-free signified. Duh, of course it’s been sprayed! So this year I’m trying sawmill waste that GB located. I hope these fine, lightweight wood shavings will have essentially the same effect. Peas are already planted along both sides of the trellis here, and a few of last year’s kales that came up and had to be lifted were transplanted to the center where when peas climb the trellis the kale will have shade. It’s all trial and error, live and learn, curiosity and equanimity.

Tulips and giant crocus coming up from last year.

Onions, fennel, leeks and snapdragons coming along under lights; a new pot of eggplants just sown, as well as a ginger experiment. Below, the tray of pepper seedlings almost all sprouted.

Here at Mirador, we are all grateful for the big thaw, for the little rains, and so far for abundant sunshine. Does come less frequently to pillage the yard as fields green with variety far and wide. Birds sing outside, Biko has emerged from torpor and spends most days in his round pen basking and grazing, Topaz demands a walk every day; the promise of spring wakens this dormant body as well. Emerging from my own shell, spending more time outside, I find myself missing a dog more than before. It is almost time. Speaking of dogs…

Little Topaz sitting with me, and dear Stellar’s mortal remains, in the garden. His favorite spot in life turns out to be an ideal shady place for a chair and table, protected from the strong spring winds, with a comprehensive view of the whole fenced garden. A peaceful place to rest between joyful efforts.

While I don’t feel the need to defend owning a gun, I do feel inclined here to respond to a little pushback about the shooting blog. First, numerous people in the neighborhood, including me, have asked the owners of those bad dogs to contain them, to no avail. The sheriff has been called on those dogs, to no avail. So attempting to scare them back home with a couple of shots was in no way rash or unreasonable. Second, in this county as in much of the west, it is legal to shoot to kill a dog who is harassing wildlife or livestock. It’s not uncommon, and while I may not agree with that law, I understand it. Anyone who knows me knows how dear dogs are to me, and knows I wouldn’t have hurt those bad dogs. And now you know it, too! May all beings be free from suffering, including the bad dogs and their careless, overwhelmed owners.

This Week in Food

It’s been a busy week in the kitchen. I’m grateful I don’t need to hear or speak while I’m cooking. The poor ears are still not back to normal a week after the pistol mishap, but I remain optimistic. Meanwhile, it’s all I can do to keep up with the dishes generated by the food frenzy. Last week I baked a Cookies n’ Cream cake for a small birthday dinner, and saved some to finish off at Boyz Lunch.

Before their cake, though the Boyz got a spicy potato and green pea curry over Basmati rice, recipe thanks to Honey Badger. That lasted me days longer in various iterations, including cold with mayo (an impromptu Indo-potato salad), and a couple more meals supplemented with curry-roasted cauliflower.

Another exciting gustatory treat that provided several meals was sheetpan Bibimbap. I’ve never had Bibimbap before but it looked easy and fun–and it was both! The kale came out like chips, the Lions’ Mane mushrooms were succulent and crispy outside, sweet potatoes tender, and red onions perfect. The instructions were very particular (like some people I know) about not mixing things together on the pan or in the bowl: “divide the vegetables evenly… placing them in four neat piles over each portion of rice.” Topped with a fried egg, the whole pile is drizzled with sesame oil and a dollop of gochujang.

Then the directions enthusiastically recommend mixing everything together before diving in!

The last best savory indulgence was “the gnocchi that keeps on giving.” I made a large batch of sweet potato gnocchi weeks ago and froze it in batches. I sautéed sliced Lions’ Manes with Penzey’s chicken and fish seasoning (Lions’ Manes are apparently a good substitute for crab so it seemed like a good match) and set them aside, then threw in more butter and oil along with the slightly thawed gnocchi and some fresh rosemary. After the gnocchi browned and crisped I tossed the mushrooms back in, then served it up for lunch. So simple, so delicious!

I don’t use mixes often, but am trying to master homemade baked doughnuts, and the pan came on sale with three flavors of mixes. It’s taken numerous tries, but I finally succeeded with some high altitude adjustments to the mix, and a special baking spray from King Arthur. This was the first batch of chocolate. They’re getting almost good enough to serve guests!

Perhaps the piéce de resistance from the kitchen this week was focaccia. I learned some things about the sourdough and the resting state with the last batch, and was ready to dress up this one. It definitely wants fed sourdough, not discard, to get the requisite puffy rise; and plastic wrap works better to keep the dough soft overnight. I also refrigerated this batch as directed, since the mudroom is no longer cold enough. All evening and well past bedtime I dreamed about how I would decorate in the morning.

I knew I wanted our mountain silhouette and a rising sun, and used grapefruit zest for the outline and red onion for the sun. I made a big one for the birthday girl next door, and a small one for me–I mean, to practice on. Then I made cattails with perennial onions (already sprouting in the garden) and kalamata olive slices. Rosemary represents the conifers on the ridges and a dusting of flaky sea salt just like the snow up there now, with bonsai sage leaves for the sagebrush on the slopes. Closer in, a broccoli tree with red pepper fruits, Thai basil flowers, parsley and various herbs and spices completed the tableaux.

I delivered the large one along with a cream cheese spread made with leftover bits of herbs, and sat down to enjoy the same for lunch. It tasted even better than it looked! All that, and I still managed to get some work done today, and a couple of things going for the garden. Stay tuned next for “This Week in the Garden.”