Archive | July 2016

Summer Trees

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Mindfulness teaches us to be with all things as they arise, and let them pass through us in the moment, and move on. May I remember to be with both despair and joy as they come, and let them play on through.

The fruit trees are generous this summer, and none more so than the apricot. Throughout the valley, peaches, pears, apples, all ripen extravagantly. A banner cherry harvest for the commercial orchards, and I’ve enough in the freezer for three pies thanks to Ellie and her prolific sour cherries, tiny shiny scarlet globes best pitted with a simple squeeze between fingers and gentle tug on the stem, too small for the pitter. No one has seen a fruit year like this for a very long time. Everyone is grateful.

Everyone is rolling in apricots. Neighbors are having a cookout to lure people to take away theirs. Suzi is generously drying the first round from my tree, and I’ve just picked the third. As many remain on the tree as I’ve already harvested. I’m staying just ahead of the birds; they peck the very ripest and every few days I pick what’s almost perfect and finish ripening on the counter. I get lucky and find some at their peak unpecked.

The more I pick the more I see I never saw before. Fred tried to warn me: Don’t be greedy, he said, and encouraged me weeks ago to thin them to a fist width apart. I couldn’t do it. I did thin them some, a couple of times, as I did with the peaches both before and after he gave me a hands-on lesson. Eight or ten peaches on a limb this size, he said. Maybe I should go thin them again, if the apricots are any indication. Which, of course, they are. I’m so grateful for his pruning, his advice, his instruction.

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I have three times more apricots in one wooden bowl than I’ve ever had on this tree in all its fifteen years. (When did I plant it? Fifteen? Twenty years ago? Somewhere in between? I’m grateful I can no longer remember everything. It makes interacting with people easier, but it doesn’t really help in the garden.) Fresh apricot recipes are stacking up in my recipe folder. The tortoise and the mule deer eat those that drop, or that I throw over the fence if they’re scarred or nibbled or too green, or if there’s a wasp feasting inside.

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After the third harvest... still plenty for people and other animals.

The apricot tree after the third picking… still plenty ripening for people and other animals. Never in any of my gardens through the years have I seen such bounty.

I’ve harvested three big bowls and one small one in the past week, with more to come. A generosity of apricots. And still they glow in abundance on the bright green tree, strolling grey storm clouds behind them. An uncontrollable satisfaction rises in my soul, the joy of a gardener. Because of me, the time, the water, the help tending through the years, this fruit tree thrives and gives back lavishly this summer.

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Another summer tree didn’t fare so well last week, a big juniper. We had a knock-down drag out lightning storm. People were talking about it for days. It was right on top of us, some said. I felt the electricity, said others. It was SO loud! more exclaimed. At Tai Chi, Deborah said The whole sky lit up, you could see every leaf, and there was a bolt through it, and in the bolt a fireball. Twice I saw that. I saw it and thought, Did I really just see that? And then it happened again.

In twenty-four years in this valley I haven’t experienced a lightning storm quite like that. An occasional strike too close for comfort in a wide-spread or fast moving cell. Once while I was standing in my open French door lightning struck a juniper not far in front of me and knocked me back a step. But never an intense cluster for fifteen minutes right on top of the neighborhood, one hard bolt after another, sky lighting up and crashing in the same instant, over and over. The dogs pressed close on the couch where I lay watching a movie. Then it passed, and we all started to relax.

After awhile I smelled smoke. Oh no! From the tower I scanned all directions and could not see flame or flickering, but the strong smell blew on a steady wind from the south. I called dispatch and learned that a truck was on the way to a burning tree somewhere in the next block.

I couldn’t sleep for hours. I climbed the tower again and checked the air before turning in, and found it sweet and pure.

It turned out Cynthia had also smelled smoke, ventured out with a lantern toward the canyon, and found the burning tree, initiating the chain of calls that led the brave fire laddies to it. Grass was burning all around it, she said. It was scary! It could have lit the woods on fire and burned down all our houses if she hadn’t located it right away. It was scary. The volunteer fire department put it out and chopped up the tree with chainsaws to make sure the fire didn’t lie down overnight, to spring up again the next hot dry day with a breeze.

It happens sometimes that a fire lies down in a snag or a hollow and smolders for hours or days before just the right wind ignites it and literally blows it up into a sudden monster fire, like the Wake Fire outside Paonia in ’94. A guy dutifully went out that night and put out the tree, but it blew up the next morning while the whole community was downtown celebrating July 4th at the Cherry Days Festival. The fire burned 6000 acres and three homes in just two days, at that time the fastest fire on record in the state.

Or just across the mesa in ’05 when a ditch burn crept into a stump and lay down for days after the rancher thought he’d extinguished it. Ladies started arriving for a Clothes Exchange, and when I greeted them at the gate after setting up the patio, they said What’s that behind you? A thick plume of black smoke rose beyond the trees. A dozen women ate and drank and tried on each others’ cast-off clothing as a helicopter hauled water from the reservoir and the slurry plane flew overhead. We were half naked anyway and flashed our tops. The pilot dipped his wing. Ellie called to report that a half dozen more guests were turned away at the fork in the road, the mesa was closed at all roads leading in, and we might be evacuated in ten minutes. There was a scramble to load up the Mothership with pets and valuables just in case.

The day after Cynthia’s Tree burned up, a gullywasher, a real Florida frog choker my visitor called it, dumped half an inch in half an hour, with only a few thunderclaps and lightning bolts in the distance. The monsoons are upon us. That evening we went down the road for dessert. It was a relief to know the smoke that greeted us came from the fire in the metal pit that would toast our marshmallows, on a perfect cool summer night in the warm company of our million dollar neighbors.

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Gourmet s’mores made with Lindt salted caramel chocolate, pre-melted in a skillet in the fire.

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Hope is Slender

A false sense of security.

A false sense of security.

A few years ago I was pulled over on I-70 by a Colorado state trooper just inside the state line from Utah. I’d been visiting back east, and didn’t think twice about saying that when he asked where I’d been. “Coming home from Virginia,” I said. What? Oh. Well, I sometimes go around the mountains instead of over them when there’s snow on the passes.

He asked for license, registration, proof of insurance. I handed him my license and got worried when I couldn’t find registration or insurance in my purse. The Mothership was up to date on both, but it was winter and I hadn’t yet stuck the year on the license plate because of snow, mud, and inherent laziness. That’s why he stopped me. A routine traffic stop.

“I’ll have to look in the glove compartment,” I told him, and he nodded. “I have a gun in there,” I said.

Can you see where I’m going with this? I was a white woman and he was a laid-back Colorado state trooper on a virtually empty interstate through the desert, instead of I a black man in a city, any city, and he a frightened urban cop.

“Nice and slow,” he said, or something less cliché. I put the holstered pistol on the seat where he could see it and rifled through the papers, and still no proof of either. He took my license back to his car, ascertained that I was insured and registered, and cautioned me to be sure and put those proofs in the glove box as soon as I got home. I gave thanks.

I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said about the shooting of Philando Castile during a “routine traffic stop.” My heart breaks for him, his family, his community, for all the innocents shot these past days, these past years, by cops who lack the training, skill, wisdom, compassion or decency to make the right call in so many complicated, fraught situations. And my heart breaks for the police officers shot in Dallas, in Grand Junction, Denver, Pittsburgh, in Any City, USA. Not to mention how I feel about Orlando, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown and other mass shootings and random snipings by lunatics.

I fear the escalation of violent reaction (or reactive violence) in our culture, in our world. From routine traffic stops gone horribly awry to all the wars raging across the planet, our human violence is out of control. The fear and despair that settled over me on 9/11, as I watched Manhattan in chaos on TV and the Pentagon smoking from my parents’ patio, has only been buried by years of living in this peaceful valley, it has not been dispelled. The certainty on that Tuesday morning that I’d witnessed the first volley of World War III has not dimmed in the least. We are in it.

And the reactive violence that spawned and spurs this globally now spreads like contagion through the streets of our cities, foreboding some weird kind of civil war. Fear, rage, and the uncontrolled grasping that underlies them are not cultural traits, they are human traits. I hope, though “hope is slender and for fools,” that we as a species can put the brakes on this entropic crash, but it is sure hard to believe that the powers of love and simple human decency can turn this spiral upside down.

Though daily I am grateful for my many blessings, for life, water, flowers, bees, trees, dogs, and kittens, for shelter, beauty, music, love, community, I don’t really know how to live in this world. All the good food and all the good friends can’t put my heart together again.