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Spontaneity

I shook up my morning routine for the first time in a very long while today. Up early and, after a short walk with Stellar, out the door to town. I had a 7:45 PT appointment. On the way home, I made a spontaneous stop at Farm Runners to pick up ice cream, and as usual walked out with more than I intended to–the best kind of good intention gone awry. I’m grateful for being forced out of my comfort zone and stretching my wings, splurging on a homemade blueberry poptart and my first coffee out since Covid. Driving with a go-cup and pastry evoked nostalgia for countless cross-country mornings: waking early, packing up camp, and stopping at the closest gas station or market for a cup of coffee and a doughnut, breakfast of the open road. Now, I am content with a much smaller range.

It’s taken a couple of months and a dozen trips to feel some semblance of the way it was before, when, though I was always eager to head home after appointments or errands, I often added value to outings with extra stops. During this lull in the pandemic, when I’ve had to go out, it’s been with a git-r-done attitude: go, git-er-done, and git home, no lollygaggin. So it was notable that this morning I felt relaxed enough to interrupt that homeward momentum. I’m grateful to be letting go, just a little bit, of the vigilance that has ruled the past fifteen months; allowing for and enjoying spontaneity.

I was grateful to see that the last lone redtail baby has left the river nest. Unlike the phoebes, who fledged all within hours of each other, redtails and other raptors usually hatch several days apart, and consequently leave the nest in sequence a few days apart as their bodies and skills develop. When the eldest chick leaves the nest the youngest is still not fully feathered. The parents, of course, continue to return to the nest and tend remaining chicks until the last one flies.
Though I enjoyed the morning out, I couldn’t be more grateful for a cool, quiet evening in the garden. Clouds rolled in and the breeze picked up, creating ideal conditions to finally get some work done after a week of paralyzing heat.

Each Day

Some days make me feel just as wide-eyed as these little dogs; in fact, most days do, practicing gratitude. I’m grateful today for the opportunity to do chihuahua for a little while; for clearing the air despite the smoke; for getting my hands on some chicks that are all named Dinner; for perspective on some of my less healthy habits; for connection with family and friends; and for the courage to open and play my dusty piano again after years.

I’m grateful that last night’s fireworks over the reservoir didn’t go rogue and cause a blaze, and that no one was stupid enough to celebrate Pioneer Days with home pyrotechnics; I’m grateful that wildfire smoke remains distant and we can still breathe here, albeit with extra sneezing, coughing, and just a hint of nose blood. I’m grateful for each day with breathable air, knowing that fire is certain this summer and location of fire uncertain. A new fire south of Salt Lake has consumed more than ten thousand acres in less than a day, and another four-day old fire near Moab exploded today. Seeing a sky like this evening’s reminds me not only of last summer’s horrendous smoke, but of the tragic summer of 1994, when the Wake Fire in our valley burnt three thousand acres in a couple of days; its impact was quickly eclipsed on its third day by the Storm King fire near Glenwood Springs that blew up and killed fourteen firefighters. Everything we hold dear is so tenuous.

Not only because of wildfire, of course, or the slow-moving catastrophe that is climate chaos, but because impermanence is the nature of all things. Our evening walk was especially poignant in the coppery glow of the smoky sunset: Not only from the oppressive weight of the big picture, but the looming loss of the very personal was readily apparent in dear Stellar’s feeble gait. We turned around before the first gate and he hobbled back in to his comfy bed for the night. I’m grateful for each day that we both wake up alive, and I don’t have to make that horrible decision to call his time. I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that allows me to enjoy our remaining time together, to recognize that one bad day is often followed by a few good ones, and to accept the inevitable end of both our lives. I’m grateful for the inspiration and motivation that comes from knowing that “Death is certain, time of death uncertain.”

Fun

Fun is different for everyone, but I think everyone on the Canary Committee had some kind of fun today walking in the Pioneer Days Parade. I’m grateful for the strong women and two men who made our showing an effective message. As I returned to my car afterward, a porch sitter nearby said, “Y’all sure did a lot of chirping out there!”

“I think we got our message across, don’t you?” I replied. “Oh yeah!” he and his companions agreed. That was one of the more straightforward comments I heard after the parade. Others carried a tinge of drought denial that confused me. We are so clearly in dire straits here on the western slope, in an area that has already increased 4ºF in the past hundred years, the area in the continental US most affected by the global warming of climate chaos. Extraordinary drought is only one of the symptoms. So it felt antagonistic to me when a woman on the Republican float called out to us, “Then don’t take a bath tonight!”

And while it was kind of clever, it also seemed supremely ignorant when a Mennonite man came up to me and asked, “Are you a canary or Chicken Little?” I’m grateful for the equanimity that mindfulness practice has generated in me. I was able to smile and say, “Oh, but this is real.” He laughed and said, “I’m just kidding.” I hope so, but I wasn’t sure. I hope that the other canaries received more supportive comments, but I didn’t stick around to find out. After being out in the largest crowd I’ve seen in a couple of years, I headed for the serenity of home.

I’m grateful the tender seedlings I transplanted last evening survived the blistering dry heat of their first day in the ground. The worst is over for them, I hope. I’m grateful I can provide some dietary diversity in my yard for this gravid doe, though I did eventually shoo her away from the columbine blossoms she was happily plucking. She stepped off a couple of yards and ate a few honeysuckle buds before meandering back toward the pond.

I’m grateful for the fence around the food garden, or I wouldn’t have anything to harvest! I’m grateful for another handful of radishes and half today’s snap peas on their way to the fridge. The other half of today’s peas I tossed into a skillet with the last of the oyster mushrooms and some chopped scallions (those perennial onions) for my evening snack. So simple, so delicious! I’m grateful to be eating food I’ve grown at the end of a full Saturday that included connection with community and nature, a long talk with my soul sister, sweet time with my beloved animal companions, and a nice long nap: My kind of fun.

Continuing Education

Just the simple fact that I keep on learning, something, every day, at least one thing; I’m grateful for continuing education. For example, no wonder my cookies turn out so flat, even when I follow the recipe to a T: I always let the butter get too soft. So chilling the dough in the fridge before I finish even mixing it turns out to be a prize-winning success.

I’m so grateful for the latté ritual that makes the Sundays of this pastoral life hold meaning: ok, not the only thing, but ‘my’ Sunday morning latté is definitely a ritual worth appreciating.

I’m grateful for the national celebration of the arts that is the Kennedy Center Honors; this year it was filmed all over the grounds in the leadup to the final production. I’m grateful to Mary and Chris for both alerting me to the broadcast; and I’m grateful for the technology I have learned to engage with to bring it into our lives. I’m grateful that I live in a rural community that has benefited from Midori’s initiative to bring music to the more random and isolated communities in the country. Our little Blue Sage Center for the Arts, which I’ve watched evolve since its inception into a place where, Cousin Jack was just asking me today, world-class musicians come to perform, grateful that Midori is one of these, grateful to learn more about artists I barely know, and those whose names I’ve known for most of my life. It’s a special place where I live, and I’m grateful for the palpable sense of community that enticed me to stay here, all those years ago.

It was a beautiful presentation that only kept getting better, until at last … well, I’ll leave it that the Garth Brooks segment, which was last, was also the most powerful for me. Grateful, especially, that I can enjoy and participate in this celebration without leaving the comfort of my living room.

Connection

Boyz Lunch today was fried Sesame Tofu with Coconut-Lime Dressing and Spinach, a light fare on the first really hot day of summer.

I’m grateful that the juniper titmice have fledged, and that I was able to get a sort-of shot of the nest hole, after my mind played tricks on me this morning and I thought maybe they’d left behind a chick. So strong was the story I made up from my illusory senses that it took several close perusals of this image and some others to set my mind at ease, and now it seems so obvious. Ah, how we manage to delude ourselves.

Today I’m grateful to be alive, to have friends, to be part of a wonderful, interesting community. In fact, several of them, one in physical space and a couple in virtual space. Also, I’m grateful to live in the multi-species community that is my yarden, cultivating constant connection with Nature. At lunch today on the patio we were all enjoying the phoebes, and observed the chicks’ milestone of venturing beyond the nest onto the joist. THEN, we were astonished to realize that there are actually five chicks!

Say

Medicaid

I’m grateful when Stellar’s youthful senses of hearing and smell perk up at something wild, alerting me to potential delight or danger.

I’m grateful that just about the time I had depleted my savings account after paying over $500 a month on premiums for a health insurance policy with a six thousand dollar deductible, which I frequently met, the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed, and I became eligible for Medicaid. After paying my taxes into the system for forty years (and many tens of thousands of dollars in premiums and deductibles during that time), I felt no qualms or shame in taking advantage of the opportunity to sign up for Medicaid. One remarkable aspect of having accessible healthcare that I wasn’t expecting was the sense of relief: no more weighing dollars and sense when I needed medical attention, I was able to just go get it. Such a load off!

And, like many rural healthcare systems, ours in Delta County relies heavily on patients with public assistance such as Medicaid, Medicare, and the VA to keep its hospital and clinics afloat. Perhaps because of this, or because of their big hearts, I’ve never felt any stigma or shame at any of the facilities where I’ve been treated while on Medicaid, and I kind of thought I would. Furthermore, I’ve consistently received the best quality healthcare of my life during this time. And, I never could have afforded physical therapy in the past–I tried a few times, and just couldn’t pay $100-$200 for each half hour of PT, so never pursued it. And PT over the past five years has literally saved my life, or at least my quality of life.

I’m once again embarking on a course of PT to address the unpleasant limitations of degenerative spinal arthritis, in this case in my neck, which is causing nerve impingement that results in numbness and pain variously in my neck, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers, and which is beginning to seriously infringe on my daily activities, including working at the computer. Not to mention gardening, knitting, reading, sleeping, and more… So I’m really grateful for the TLC and help that I benefit from as a Medicaid recipient.

Sometimes I hear people (including my own family and friends) condemning perfectly decent people like me as freeloaders and leeches, and I know they have no idea that I’m one of those ‘losers’ who ‘take advantage of,’ or worse ‘steal,’ their tax dollars. I don’t respond, because let’s face it, there still is a stigma attached to government assistance. But we all get government assistance in some way, whether it’s public education, or highways, or police and fire protection; we are all interdependent upon each other, we all pay in to the system to the best of our ability, and we all deserve quality, affordable healthcare. As long as Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and Big Medicine continue to operate with profit as their highest value and motivation, there will continue to be people just like me who find themselves in need of a little compassion from our government. Let there be Medicare for All!

And let there be mushroom sandwiches for all, as well. First time ever eating a Lions’ Mane mushroom, and realized today that I needed to eat it asap before it went mushy; looked up recipes, and first thing saw a ‘recipe’ for a sandwich. So simple, so delicious!

Breath

Breathing in the peaceable kingdom, evening.

I focused on my breath a lot today.

I used to drive across the country once or twice a year, for more than twenty years. I felt really confident in my driving, and in my ability to handle anything that came up. But in recent years, while I’m still confident in my driving abilities, I’m less sure of the skills and wisdom of other drivers; also, the pandemic sapped my desire to go anywhere anyway. So I practiced focusing on my breath several times this morning before heading out on the highway, just to keep myself grounded. Then at the hospital, I breathed intentionally to keep calm through the intake and waiting areas. I’m grateful for how well DCMH maintains their Covid protocol, and this time I sailed through the process to get to radiology.

An MRI itself used to make me feel claustrophobic, but the new machine is like a giant donut and much easier to breathe in. I chose classical music, which happened to be a dramatic symphony that meshed in a fascinating way with the sounds of the machine. At the same time, I focused on my breath, with an awareness of thoughts arising and falling away. I surrendered to the noise: It was a lovely meditation. I’m grateful I have learned the mindfulness skills to approach this potentially grueling outing with equanimity, and make the most of what had to be done. We’ll know more later about the outcome, and I’m not worried about it, expecting only to gain information.

Then after I got home and decontaminated with a hot shower (one of the things in life I am most grateful for! Imagine–clean water flowing from the mountains through pipes underground, into a holding tank, pumped via solar power into my home, pouring out hot in a fountain in my very own shower! Life doesn’t get any better), I sat outside on the patio for a long time, just breathing, recuperating the energy it took to sustain equanimity throughout the day. Then I chaired a zoom meeting, and later sat outside again for a long while with Stellar and some cervid friends, breathing with the rhythm of the phoebes’ flights to and from their nest overhead; punctuated with occasional hummingbird frenzies off to the side. I spent a good portion of the day just being grateful for each breath.

Open Heart

The Solitary One. This juniper grows unusually separate from others in a clearing in the woods. Right now it’s surrounded by a carpet of laughing yellow flowers, which don’t show up well in a color photo so I might as well share the more emotional black&white.

I’m grateful for so much today: for sunshine, green growing things, a breakfast burrito for dinner; a meaningful zoom with a talented, compassionate writer friend whose book I can’t wait to see published; new glasses, Stellar doing a little better today, the fragrance of white irises, letting go of my need to control everything; half a dozen hummingbirds zipping around the feeder outside the living room window while the phoebes tag team feeding their chicklets right above the hummingbird fray, and a Bullock’s oriole pops in brightly for a moment… and the list goes on. I started the day participating in a meditation on an open heart, welcoming the richness in each moment of this life, and managed to carry that feeling through a busy morning and a productive afternoon, with moments of grounded relaxation throughout the day. I’m so grateful for the practice of mindfulness, and the joy and contentment it’s brought to my life.

Wednesday

Sudden Erigeron blooming all along the path through the woods.
The first iris now joined by her sisters
Hamburger buns for Boyz Lunch, baked this morning. Grateful for the ingredients, the time, the recipe, the experience and confidence to make them, starting first thing after morning walk and meditation.
Salmon burgers with roasted red pepper mayonnaise, cole slaw, and potato chips. Plus iced vanilla lattés, and Sanibel Cinnamon Delights. Grateful for the ingredients, et. al, and for Boyz Lunch which punctuates my week when it works out for all of us: they give me a good reason to play with food. And they give Stellar some man-time which he savors.
Grateful for naptime outside the yarden gate.
As much as anything else today, I’m grateful for the phoebe nest under the deck. This morning I heard a different kind of chirruping and trained my attention on the nest, to see for the first time this season a parent flying in with food – very small food, perhaps a fly. All day long, their raising labors have begun, there will be no rest for the phoebe parents now for several weeks, and I’ll have a front row seat to a wonderful treat of nature.

Grateful for another Wednesday, to wake in the morning, make meaningful connections throughout the day with people human and otherwise, and come to the end of it still alive, free of regret, filled with contentment for the simple joys of a regular Wednesday.

Next Door Horses

Some mornings they come trotting up to the fence as we walk past; many more they simply graze in the distance. This morning they came to say hello. There are actually three adjoining properties with horses, but those we are closest to are the herd at Spirit Wind Horse Rescue. I’m not an especially huge fan of horses, they scare me, but I do enjoy standing and talking with them when they choose to come up to the fence. They’re curious about me, and even more interested in Stellar.

I’m grateful for another sweet day with my old dog Stellar, who had a rough time moving yesterday but a pretty good day today. I’m grateful for eery day more that I get with him. From the time I first began to think in terms of Stellar’s last days I’ve gotten so many more of them then I expected: each one is a gift. In the weeks before Raven died, I was counting Stellar’s days, expecting only a few more months with him. I’m beyond grateful that I’ve gotten (so far) a whole year more.

Two of them had a standoff over an old tumbleweed. The black horse started nibbling at it, then the palomino vibed her off of it, picked it up, and brought it to me. He seemed almost as though it were stuck in his mouth, and so I gently extricated it from his grip, then carried it home when I left, to my garbage can. There were still plenty of viable seeds on it that I didn’t want horse antics to scatter around. These noxious weeds are splendidly adapted to rolling long distances in the wind dispersing seeds as they go. Why those poor horses were arguing over a desiccated, thorny mouthful is beyond me, but I was grateful to have it handed to me to dispose of.

Sometimes I get to pet a soft nose, or as I did this morning scratch this guy’s big forehead; he stood still and let me after I took the tumbleweed out of his mouth. More often, I simply stand in wonder in the presence of a thoroughly different sentient being. I don’t know much about them, but I understand the allure. I always thought I’d end up with a couple, but it didn’t turn out that way. I have some cowgirl friends who spend as much time as they can with their horses, but I get my horse fix only occasionally, in the right place at the right time, and so I’m grateful for next door horses.