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Garden Buddy

At this new nursery, you can take a picture of the tag and it automatically opens a site that will tell you all you need to know about the plant to decide whether it will be a good fit for the zone and microclimate of your yarden. Or, it would if one had service, which is still grievously lacking for Boost Mobile customers in the valley, but there’s no room for that story on a gratitude blog.

I’m grateful for my Garden Buddy, who went on an adventure with me today. The word ebullient came to mind as I observed my sensations driving to pick her up. She was the first passenger in my car in well over a year, and that inspired me to clean it up a bit, which I was too lazy to do for myself, so I’m grateful for that. I was motivated to explore some local farms in search of strawberry starts, some culinary herbs, and a few flowers for my patio pots to feed the bees. We stopped by Zephros Farm, which had a good selection, as well as some unexpected succulents for the new drought rock garden I’m finally realizing into existence after a decade of dreaming. Then we tried a couple of stores that were closed on Sundays, an interestingly retro thing to be, hearkening back to the Blue Laws days of my childhood. But we struck gold at Oasis, a new nursery on the highway next to Big B’s.

But even before the big outing, I was grateful for a lovely morning walk among ancient trees with Stellar and Topaz.
Stellar at the edge of a patch of Laughing Yellow Flowers, aka Thrift-leaf Perky Sue, a lovely native wildflower. They bloom in profusion for a short season, and always make me smile.

After our delightful walk, Stellar didn’t want breakfast, which is unusual but not unheard of this time of year. It was all I could do to get some pills into him disguised in a turkey slice and some cream cheese. He’s been turning up his nose at his multiple daily cheese balls, which has caused me to get creative about pill delivery, trying out some pill pockets, pill paste, peanut butter, and sandwich meats. This finicky turn, and his refusal to eat again this evening, have set some distant alarm bells ringing in my head: But there’s not much I can do about it at this point, at his age and with his back end, and there’s no point in clinging. Either he’ll eat tomorrow when I offer rice and broth, or he won’t, and I’ll decide the next step then. Living with a beloved old dog, there’s less suffering for me in letting him do what he prefers than insisting on diagnosis and mitigation, and I think less suffering for him than in stuffing him with supplements he’s not eager to ingest. We’ll know more later. These unsettling ups and downs, which could be nerve-wracking if I let them.

I did want breakfast, however, and was grateful for yesterday’s cinnamon buns (I only ate two) and my weekly latté, which gave me strength and courage to leave home for the first pleasure outing since Covid. It felt mighty strange to drive somewhere I didn’t have to go, with someone else in the car, windows down despite the chill; it felt even stranger to meet and mingle with unmasked people everywhere we went, and encounter a downright crowd at Big B’s and Oasis. We may have been the only people wearing masks, but one thing I appreciate about my Garden Buddy is that we’re on the exact same page regarding risk and precautions. We were our own little travel bubble, and were both a little giddy in it. At the same time that it appeared as though many people have gone back to the usual-before, there seemed to be an aura of extra gentleness in the people we spoke with, some of whom mentioned the suffering of the past year. I’m grateful for at least one thing about suffering, and that is it’s potential to deepen even the slightest connection among people. It’s brought me and my Garden Buddy closer, and I also felt like hugging everyone I interacted with today. Maybe next outing.

At Oasis I was so grateful to find Mock Orange, a deliciously scented native shrub I’ve been trying to get for a decade, and I grabbed a couple more succulents for the rock garden.

Contentment

This morning brought the promise of rain, which ultimately manifested as only a few misty sprinkles between hours of cool sunshine. Stellar and Topaz walked with me through the woods, I baked some cinnamon buns and enjoyed the sugary treat outside with coffee on the patio as phoebes flitted and titmice tittered, and I finished reading a pretty good novel. Then I attended to my lesson plan and taught the first of eight classes to a second pair of students, embarking on the last practice session before I get certified to teach mindfulness. After that, we walked again, to the canyon in evening sun, and then I made dinner and watched some shows. It was a mundane, simple Saturday, the kind I love, and I’m grateful for every living moment of this day spent in contentment.

I only checked the news headlines a couple of times, and each time I felt discontent, frustrated, angry, and sad. People can be disappointing. Human nature has an evil streak, try as we might to deny it. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three poisons of mind that cause the most suffering in the world. The Buddha recognized them 2500 years ago: They were with us then, and they remain today; they may have evolved along with our other, better qualities as we became the human species, and there may have been an adaptive advantage then, but there isn’t now. I truly don’t see any hope for eradicating them in general, but I can sure do my best to diminish them in my own mind. By choosing to turn my attention away from the so-called ‘news’ that is full of them, and toward the living, breathing planet under my feet, I’m able to water the seeds of gratitude, compassion, kindness and joy. This brings a pure, deep contentment to each day.

I found the motherlode of globe cactuses, some as tiny as a fingertip, while we wandered aimlessly home this morning.
And in the evening, we made it to the canyon where we discovered that the ice has melted in Ice Canyon, and the cottonwoods are leafing out.
I was overjoyed to see the number of buds on the large claret cup cactus on the trail home.

I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to find contentment, after a lifetime of chasing illusory ideals of happiness. I’m grateful for every step that led me here (though I think I could have done without several-many of the more painful lessons along the way), for each right step, and for each wrong step that taught me something, offered an insight, invited a course correction. I’m grateful that I survived my poor decisions, and finally understand the power of choosing where I place my attention.

Green

I’m grateful for the green leaves of tulips, and for these gorgeous orange tulips some of which are throwing more than one bloom.

Today I’m grateful for green things, and not just the usual like lettuce, kale, spinach; spring leaves on the Amur maple or apple or crabapple tree, or any newly leafing tree; or fleetingly lush green fields; but the unusual, like the green pond goo that nearly camouflages the green and brown spotted back of a big fat lady northern leopard frog who hops into the pond when I startle her from the wet green grass at the edge – and the green on her back as well, and grateful that my choices provide habitat for this precious native amphibian.

And I’m grateful for green limes, and the green glass that holds the first margarita I’ve made in a decade. I used a ‘new’ recipe: 2 oz. tequila, 1 oz. Grand Marnier, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, and a half ounce Agave syrup, shaken hard over ice and poured over ice in a salt-rimmed glass. Drink by the pond with the leopard frogs.

I’m grateful for all the green of early May in the high desert, much of which will fade to brown or tan within a month or two in this extraordinary drought, and grateful that I ‘own’ water enough to keep this little oasis somewhat green and moist and fruitful enough to support a little ecosystem through the year.

Rain, Glorious Rain!

Today, I’m grateful for rain! Since it started late last night, we’ve gotten a whopping .23″ by happy hour. Yes, that’s right, less than a quarter of an inch. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. I’m grateful for friends who sent celebratory texts this morning at the height of precipitation, grateful that I have friends who find joy and gratitude equal to my own in this feeble heavenly bounty. I’m grateful on behalf of the parched earth, and the brown mosses, desiccated lichens, and little green growing plants; and on behalf of the insects who need water to live also, and the birds and frogs who need the insects; and so on, my gratitude spans the infinite web of Nature in the high desert.

Boyz Lunch

Roasted leg of lamb with Indian spices

Of the numerous things I’m grateful for today, including wise teachers and more tulips, I’m grateful for Boyz Lunch. I didn’t raise a family or even marry. There was never anyone I always had to cook for. Without cooking for children (the hasty routine breakfasts day after day, the packed lunches, the weeknight dinners week after week after week for years), I never got in the habit of three meals a day. I’ve just recently learned to cook for myself consistently. But I’ve always loved to cook for other people.

Frying cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns and cinnamon…
… to pour over the yogurt-spice marinated lamb before slow roasting.

For about five years I’ve been cooking lunch for two friends, older gentlemen, or as they would say, geezers. They were meeting at a restaurant once a week; things changed, I started cooking, and enjoying the meal with them. The last time we dined together without masks was March 11 last year, the day before the country shut down. We put it on hold for a few months as things settled out, and in June we resumed lunches at a distance outside. At our first lunch back, our dear friend Michael was supposed to come too, but he’d been by then two days in the hospital; our next lunch we spent processing the news that he’d died that morning.

We met the rest of the summer two or three times a month and into the early fall while we could still eat outside. But then the big freeze came, killing so many fruit trees in the valley (as we learned this spring) and Boyz Lunch ceased for winter. What a difference a year makes: Many of our trees are dead from that fluke October freeze, including my almond tree. Some of our friends are dead. Many of my beloveds are dead. So much has changed, and I think, I hope, in a beneficial way. We need to learn to live more lightly on the planet, and this novel coronavirus woke many people up to that truth.

I tried my hand at Parathas, a layered Indian bread which looked pretty easy, but they delaminated while frying and ended up more like sturdy tortillas than flaky flatbreads. Oh well!
Tender spicy lamb, garlic mashed potatoes, salad with seared asparagus, avocado, and homemade ranch dressing, and sturdy tortilla…
… followed by cardamom cake with whipped cream for dessert, all enjoyed together on the patio in the incomparable fresh air.

We zoomed sometimes through the winter just to stay in touch, and today I am so grateful that we finally got to gather again outside, around the table, without masks, all of us with some supposed level of immunity. Recently our zoom conversations have focused on drought, and we circled back to that again today. Where would we choose to move if we had to leave here because of no water? John said, “I don’t have to think about it because I’ll be dead.” Philip and I concluded there’s really nowhere on earth we’d rather be. Where will the climate refugees go when it starts being the US southwest? They’ll go northwest, or northeast, north for sure where there will still be water. But we’ll stay here because it’s home, and take our chances. Then we started talking about The Water Knife

I’m grateful we still have water. I’m grateful that we all made it through Covid – thus far. I’m grateful for the conversation, which is always interesting, and reassuring to me in an odd way. I’m grateful for the friendship, support, and help with firewood. And as much as anything about these lunches, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make delicious food and serve it to people I love who thoroughly enjoy it.

Water

Stellar is grateful that it’s hose time again. He loves drinking from the garden wand, and I’m grateful he’s here with me to enjoy it again this spring.

Have I mentioned water? I can’t mention it too often, nor can I be too grateful for the clean cold water that flows from the West Elk Mountains hither and yon and eventually into my cistern.

Today I watered all the raised beds, only a few segments of which have any seeds in them yet. It’s time to attend to watering daily, to make sure carrots and greens germinate, and to ‘prolong snowmelt’ on the borders and bulb beds. Some of my garden beds thrive in spring with ‘artificial snow,’ so different from what ski areas make. In this case, simply watering as though snow were continuing to melt, from the actual last snow (possibly last week) into June, enables these beds to thrive. Then, come July, I can ignore them for a month at a time, until fall, when I begin the snow season early for them. These are the beds where spring bulbs grow, and then hardy summer perennials well adapted to the harsh dry conditions here. More about them later.

I watered these spring beds, and a couple of other beds, as well as the raised beds. If I don’t keep water on these garden beds from now on, they’ll desiccate in no time. So I’m grateful for water, to have a steady supply for the moment at the twist of a knob, as much as I and my garden need for now. I’m also grateful for finding lost things. Today, I set my glasses in a pot while I was working in the shade, and only missed them for a couple of hours. Yesterday, I found them face down in the pink gravel path. It’s time to start cultivating mindfulness in the garden, as well as bulbs and seeds.

Apricot Tree

I’m grateful I got to have this beautiful creature in my life, if only for five years. I still miss him terribly, but pictures bring back the joy of his soft fur under my hands, his cold nose nuzzling my armpit at bedtime, his lively conversation, and his bright presence everywhere at once in the house and yard. Two summers ago the apricot tree was loaded, and last year too. This year, we expect a light crop, if any.

I’m grateful for the Apricot Tree, and for neighbor Fred who has been pruning it every spring for as long as I can remember. I’m grateful for the tender attention he gives this tree, bringing his ladders, loppers, and pruners, and shaping the tree beautifully with his expertise. It took several years after I planted it for the tree to fruit, and for the next few years while I was in charge the most it ever grew was half a dozen apricots. Once Fred took over, fruits increased year after year, finally yielding more than forty pounds each of the past couple of years. After last fall’s sudden killing freeze, I’m grateful that the tree is even alive. We don’t know yet whether any fruit buds survived, and expect only a light crop if any. He checked out and lightly pruned the peach and crabapple trees, too, and they’re both okay. This will surely be a low fruit year in the valley, but the trees are resilient, and we can hope for more good years in the future, if the extremes of climate chaos don’t kill them first. We’ll know more later.

Fred thinning the cots a couple of years ago. I’m grateful for his lessons in pruning and thinning.
I’m grateful he’s loaned me his ladder for picking, as the tree has grown too tall for me to reach up top.
The apricot tree has been the recovery shelter of choice for birds rescued after stunning themselves on windows. Naturally, no cats allowed then.
Topaz keeping up with me while I was harvesting.
The perfect leaf-line measures the height of deer mouths. I no longer fence the tree because they can’t do much damage to it at this size. I don’t mind sharing the lower leaves and limbs, and they clean up fallen fruit on the ground. I’m grateful for the year-round beauty of this tree being.

Spring Equinox

Topaz after launching herself into a juniper during our walk this morning.

I’m grateful for cosmic equanimity on this day of equal light and dark. The harshest of winter is behind us and the harshest of summer unimaginable yet. Today begins the official sweet spot between extremes, a great place to dwell.

Most of the snow has melted with temperatures in the sixties the past couple of days. A good chance for a little precipitation almost daily over the next two weeks should keep the ground damp; grateful I won’t have to start laying out hoses til April.
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Just when the trail has started to dry! I’m grateful we got in some walks to the canyon during these few days between too-deep-snow-or-too-wet-mud, and more rain. Grateful for more rain ~ look how fast that mud is cracking.
I’m grateful for a surprise in the mail today. I finally admitted that I was never going to get around to making anything with the ancestral linens and laces I’d been saving for many years, and during my winter purge I shipped them off to a friend who creates clothing with such vintage pieces. She returned a couple of them transformed! Thanks, Gaythapie! I can hardly wait til it’s warm enough to wear it out. Except of course I can. No point in rushing ~ soon enough it will be hot and dry ~ Summer Solstice is almost upon us!

Itty Bitty Kitchen Ants

The ants are too tiny for me to get a picture, so here’s a little needle-felted hedgehog that I just bought for Topaz from the Snow Leopard Trust. Topaz isn’t grateful yet for this new toy, but I am, and I’m also grateful for the good work the Trust does on behalf of this magical cat and its surroundings, including human communities.

These itty bitty ants are back in my kitchen, and this year I’m grateful for them. Last year when they first showed up around the cat bowl, I didn’t mind, I’d take the bowl outside and knock them off; but then they started showing up on the kitchen counters as well, and I got annoyed. I don’t like to kill anything, even little ants, but before long I was sweeping them up with a paper towel, and sometimes smushing them on purpose. They just kept coming! Once I’d vented my frustration on them sufficiently, I started to think about them differently. Then they tapered off and disappeared over winter.

Yesterday I noticed a couple of them. Today there were more. Well, I had left dirty dishes on the counter, what could I expect? I’m grateful to the little kitchen ants for providing me incentive to get back on track with keeping the dishes flowing through the sink daily, keeping the counters clean and empty ~ removing the ants’ incentive to invade my kitchen. Thanks, itty bitty kitchen ants!

Speaking of snow leopards, I’m also grateful for this remarkable artist, Steve Nowatzki, whose work I discovered at an art fair in Florida a lifetime ago, and who is still crafting exquisitely haunting etchings reflecting human assaults on the wild world. Above, Melting Snow II.
I’m also grateful for cocktails at the pond (and for the great company) for the first time since last fall. It was 63ºF this afternoon, and only slightly cooler by happy hour.