Archive | May 2015

Water, water, everywhere…

Claret cup cactus in the woods are full of buds from all the rain.

Claret cup cactus in the woods are full of buds from all the rain.

This morning I planted five morning glory seedlings under the old cat ladder, a rickety wooden ladder to nowhere that makes a perfect trellis for morning glories. I had them there a few years ago and we hoped they’d reseed but they didn’t. Then I planted three nasturtium seedlings that were crying to escape the confines of their plastic tray. We’d had an hour of broken sun, and in this unusually rainy, cool May it felt great to get a few of these starts in the ground, even though it’s not a biodynamic flower day until tomorrow. I just couldn’t wait. Five flats of tender seedlings, flowers and fruits, sat on the metal patio table catching what rays they could.

The dark sky gathering in the south moved quickly toward us and I felt the first drops of rain. Good, I thought, a rain will do them good. As long as it doesn’t hail. No sooner had the thought escaped my lips than I heard ping! on the table. Ping! ping! I scrambled to prop the screen door open and dashed in and out bringing the trays to safety. Darnit. We’re definitely going to have a short growing season this year, at least on this end of it.

At least there’s plenty of water. So much water the fields are emerald green even before the irrigation’s turned on, luminous green below dark storm skies with just a shaft of sunlight streaming through. So much water weeds and bad grasses grow to seed faster than I can find enough dry hours to mow them. So much water the news stations warn of fungus marring lawns. So much water the irises have grown fifty percent taller than ever before, holding close their burgeoning buds day after day, sucking in all the moisture they may; surely they will burst open today!

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” A break in the main line from the Fruitland Mesa water treatment plant left us all conserving what we had in our cisterns over the weekend. No laundry, no dishes, no showers, no flushing, until we knew how long it would last. Just enough to drink and serve the animals, water plants that needed it most, and wash hands. It was ironic to wake up Sunday morning to emergency water measures, because Saturday I met the first California water refugees to arrive in our valley.

I work some days in town at the Church of Art. A family came in to look around. The young man struck up a conversation. The parents were visiting. “We just moved here,” he said. “We bought a farm outside of town. We left California because there’s no more water. We decided to move further up the watershed.”

In the harsh clarity of his statement the future flashed before my eyes. Further up the watershed. More people will be coming here from California, not this time because of land prices or urban sprawl or a back to the land movement, or even to grow legal pot, but because California’s running out of water. They’ll move further up the watershed. These young farmers have moved about as far up the Colorado River watershed as they can and still have any growing season for their carrots, beets, hops.

The first of these water refugees arrived innocuously enough, and seem like good people to add to our side on the fight against fracking that rumbles like a threatening undercurrent through all we do these days. As we talked about his plans for an organic farm, I made sure to mention our two conservation watchdog groups, Citizens for a Healthy Community and The Conservation Center. “You must be sure to join them,” I told him, “they’re our best defense of the watershed.”

For what good is moving further up the watershed if the source gets poisoned by hydraulic fracturing or wastewater injection? Among numerous deleterious consequences of “alternative” petroleum extraction methods such as fracking, watershed contamination ranks among the most alarming. There is no doubt it is happening, and there is no doubt the industry pulls out all the stops to deny it is happening in a shameful and intense propaganda campaign.

The California water refugees brought to mind the thousands of refugees from Africa and Myanmar struggling and dying on the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas, adrift on tons of water they can’t drink. A spectrum of refugees began to take shape in my mind. I didn’t have much time to ponder or pray over that dreadful crisis because more visitors arrived, this time a couple from the Front Range, who plan to retire to their land in this valley in a few years. Another sort of refugee, on the milder end of the spectrum. She’d lost her beehive this year also, and we commiserated about our feelings of guilt and inadequacy. “But,” I reassured her rather grimly, “it’s not your fault. Nationwide, 42% of beehives died this year. The bee crisis is worse than anyone thought.”

Then I said, because it was on my mind, and I think the two issues are connected at a fundamental level, and because they’re planning to move here to enjoy a quality of life that they see here now, “I hope you’re joining the fight against fracking.”

“Oh,” she said, and looked away. “If you want it to be like this when you get here,” I added. Her husband came from the gift shop and they moved silently toward the exit. “Thanks for stopping by,” I said. “Please come again.”

Il pleure dans mon coeur

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

This weekend I camped with a couple of friends, three dogs, and a cat. In some alternate universe it might have been ordinary. Deb and I set off on a long and rich two day adventure three hours away, with my two dogs and diabetic cat and her little dog in the Mothership. We took the turnoff for Cisco, a ghost town in far eastern Utah where river runners take out from Westwater Canyon, the first whitewater stretch on the Colorado River in Utah.

We drove down my favorite highway in the country, Utah 128 along the Colorado River, red rocks, peach rocks, desert varnish, glowing in the rich afternoon light below gathering storm clouds. The muddy river flowed beside us as we drove, and collared lizards basked on boulders beside screaming orange globemallow and yellow prince’s plume, their turquoise scales gleaming in the desert sun.

We met and set up camp with another friend who chanced to be there too, on her way for a rendezvous with her oldest dearest friends. We laughed and talked and caught up, drank wine, laughed some more. Our first morning I drove ahead to secure a campsite in town, and they decided to hike Fisher Towers, a stunning landmark across the road from where we spent the night at Hittle Bottom, a BLM campground on the river.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Several worries had nagged at me. The few days before I set off on any trip unsettle me. I get keyed up. The diabetic cat, the little dog, would that work out in the same small van? The temperature, the weather, would they cooperate with our plan? Would some random tragedy (and here I thought of several specific potential disasters that could) unravel our vacation? No nameless faceless fears for me, mine are all too graphic. Though some underlying anxiety pervades me these days, and I wonder, is it actually increasing or is it simply that my awareness of it grows? Who knows, but I have my suspicions.

And so I found myself driving alone down Utah 128; the red rocks, the river, the winding road itself never fail to soothe me. If it weren’t so bloody hot in summer I would live here. I hummed along the river’s edge through redrock canyons, desert varnish streaking cliffs with iron and manganese oxide, clouds building into tiny thunderstorms on far horizons, walking rains stalking cliffs and canyons, shifting light casting shadows in layers, highlighting first one stunning rock formation then another, quenching rains drenching, cleansing my worries away.

By the time I reached Moab and cellphone reception resumed, I found no loathsome emergency messages, I found the perfect campsite (given the parameters of a commercial RV park), I could breathe. I exhaled, I breathed in, exhaled again. It always takes me a day or two of camping to relax (to let go of the quotidian stressors of my complicated life, to accept the uncertainties of the unpredictable world at large, to forget my seemingly endless responsibilities of managing a household, a livelihood, securing a future) to settle into the immediate impermanence that is the adventure of a road trip.

RV parks are dicey at best when what you prefer is wilderness, solitude, above all space. Or maybe above all shade. I saw one with lots of trees and turned in. The cashier was friendly, spending time with each patron, smiling talking laughing, a beautiful girl of twenty or so and so full of light. I happily waited my turn as she helped Gerhard from Germany check in before me. She said she loved my hat, I said I stole it from a friend, we laughed. She sent me to the perfect spot, large enough for our van and two tents, plenty of shade.

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade...

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade…

...and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

…and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

The Mothership parked with awning extended, the friends arrived and pitched their tents. We ended up with two free spots before us and one behind, lots of space under the circumstances, and a view of the cliffs north of Moab, two shade trees, a fire circle, a picnic table. A fuse was blown in the camper. A minor wrench, I maintained my equilibrium. I walked back to the office for pliers, woefully absent from my toolbox.

Young Katie was walking towards me, clearly shaken. “Are you OK?” I asked. She looked at me, speechless, broken. “What’s the matter?” I reached for her. “I just learned,” she said, “that one of my older brothers hung himself.”

Well. What do you say? What do you do? I held her, she wept, she laid her head against my shoulder. She just found out, a sudden unexpected random life-changing tragedy had befallen her family. None of them will ever be the same. I gave her what comfort I could. She found me some pliers. Once my friend Tom said, “All you can do is practice compassion in the moment, wherever you are, whoever you’re with.”

I felt so keenly for her. How could she know how completely her life had changed? I hope I helped her in that moment. Back at the campsite I told my friends the story. Something dreadful had indeed happened, just not to me and mine. The girls and dogs were safe and well, the cat was fine. I pulled the fuse and found it fried.

In town we found a replacement, and then we drove up into Arches for the afternoon. Two of us had been there before and love it, for one of us it was a complete unknown. I couldn’t shake my sense of Katie’s loss and grief. She had been just minutes before a carefree girl happily doing her job on a beautiful day, and now her life was changed irrevocably. “I didn’t even know there was anything wrong,” she said, wiping her tears. So often we never do.

I have a real issue with suicide. On the one hand, I get it, on the other I can find no excuse. I gave her something to do, finding the pliers, and that maybe helped to ground her. She was self-contained and stoic, and returned to work in the office. Touched by her grief, not my own, I struggled to come back to our day.

As I drove, I had to breathe in that young woman’s suffering and breathe it out, let it go. I had done what I could for her. She needed to get home, be with friends and family. I breathed it in and breathed it out as we drove through the park. My friends’ enthusiasm for the scenery, the drive, the good time we were sharing, and the timeless spectacular landscape all drew me slowly back into our moment, so different now from hers.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

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That night at the picnic table our talk turned to some of the sadder stories in our own lives, suicides of friends and family, abusers we had known and loved and left. We all turned in early to our respective beds, to read and ponder. In the morning overcast and rainy, we drank coffee around the small table in the Mothership, three dogs curled around us and the cat below the bed. Our friend, now dearer, went on her way, and Deb and I packed up the Mothership and came home. It was another good day. Il pleure dans mon coeur, Comme il pleut sur la ville. I know of no one who doesn’t suffer. Sharing our sorrows we sow the seeds of love.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.

 

The Oxytocin Factory

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Yes, things have been happening in the garden, and in the woods. Full on spring has sprung at last after a weird winter, way too warm and dry followed by a frustrating cold and wet spell. Growing things started too soon, stopped, held back, weren’t sure what to do next. But now things seem on track for summer.

The most beautiful thing I saw this week was the first purple asparagus spear poking up from the bed where I planted the crowns a couple of weeks ago.

The most beautiful thing I saw this week was the first purple asparagus spear poking up from the bed where I planted the crowns a couple of weeks ago.

European pasqueflowers continue to delight myself and visitors with their lush purple blossoms and airy seedheads. I observed in another bed that the seedheads fall outward after they grow so tall, and thereby make a ring of babies around the mother plant.

European pasqueflowers continue to delight myself and visitors with their lush purple blossoms and airy seedheads. I observed in another bed that the seedheads fall outward after they grow so tall, and thereby make a ring of babies around the mother plant.

Gabrielle is a born naturalist, and every time she comes to help in the garden she finds a special creature, like this baby garter snake.

Gabrielle is a born naturalist, and every time she comes to help in the garden she finds a special creature, like this baby garter snake. Or maybe it’s a baby bull snake, I can’t remember, they look similar when they’re so small.

In the woods the wildflowers, which started so early like this Indian paintbrush are now more timely.

In the woods the wildflowers, which started so early like this Indian paintbrush are now more timely.

The skies have been crazy gorgeous with all this moisture hovering around.

The skies have been crazy gorgeous with all this moisture hovering around.

And also crazy in an unsettling way like the other morning.

And also crazy in an unsettling way like the other morning.

But the real story of the past few weeks is still the kittens. For the first week I visited twice a day with wet food for Heidi, and just to watch. They grow so fast! Since their proud grandparents returned home I’ve been going every other day to sit with Mary and coo and cuddle with the kittens. Before long, mama felt more comfortable with us handling them, and seemed to enjoy taking a short break from their pawing and suckling. Still, if one of them starts squeaking too loudly she comes running back from her food or her bath to take charge again.

Sitting with that little cat family, just watching them and hearing her purr purr purr, feels like I’m in an Oxytocin Factory. The love fills the air and washes over me. Once I decide it’s time to go home, I just can’t tear myself away. Eventually I leave, but I carry them with me, the feel of their velvet fur and their warm little wiggly bodies, and her consuming devotion to them, and her non-stop purr.

In the two and a half weeks since they were born they have changed so much. At first just a swimming swarm like they were in her womb, they have begun to differentiate into individuals with personalities. Starting at about nine days old their eyes began to open, and it took about four days til the last one peeked out. Then they started to wobble around on unsteady legs. Now some of them can almost stand up straight, and they’re swatting and smooching and playing with each other. Just yesterday the first of them started to react and turn their heads to look around, as if they’re really starting to see the rest of us for the first time. In a few fast weeks more, they’ll all be going off to new homes. I continue to insist that none of them, two in particular, will be coming to mine.

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