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This Precious Day

I’m grateful for so many things today, but mostly for the fact that I came to the end of it still alive. I’m grateful for walking after rain with Stellar and Topaz, for their sweet friendship, for golden September light.

There was no particularly extra danger to my life today, except that I drove twenty miles to town and back, and went into the post office and the grocery store. Even pre-Covid I’d have been aware of the slight uptick in risk that entails: anyone can get killed in a car wreck a quarter mile from home. But since Covid, these minor everyday risks we all take without giving them much conscious headspace feel magnified a hundred times. Just going into the grocery store for half an hour feels like sticking my neck out way beyond comfort. There’s a somber air in the aisles these days, a fraught undertone. I’m not defiant like those who put us all at risk, but I feel equally defensive. The public fisticuffs of last fall lurk just beneath the surface in the silence as strangers pass without smiles. A sense of relief when you recognize and connect with someone you know.

So I was glad to get home this evening, and walk again in the woods, again after rain; grateful for another few tenths of an inch in a lovely intermittent drizzle over the past twenty-four hours. Grateful for no dramatic thunderstorm with lightning’s fires. Grateful that out of all possible random misfortunes that can befall a human life, my good fortune and my body held up for another day. My heart kept ticking, my lungs kept breathing, and beauty continued to stream past me. I’m grateful for this precious day.

Grateful for a simple pleasure at the end of the day, of a beautiful ear of fresh corn with butter and salt. So simple, so delicious!
Grateful for a beautiful late-night surprise, rain-sparkled blue grass in the headlamp.

Compassion Film Festival

Unrelated to the Film Festival, but a delightful example of interspecies cooperation: Biko heads for his food as Stellar drinks.

I’m grateful for the Compassion Film Festival out of Carbondale, CO, which just wrapped up a week of feature films, short films, and workshops. The past two years it’s been virtual, which has enabled anyone to partake of the wonderful films and workshops. The standout film for me this year was “The Shepherdess of the Glaciers,” an extraordinary documentary filmed over three years by the brother of Tsering, a woman who tends her flock of 300-400 sheep and goats in the high Himalayan Plateaus. The footage alone is stunning, but the heart in the film is magnetic. I couldn’t look away for a minute.

A total of 20 films, three features and 17 shorts, made this well worth the $25 ticket, and I’m grateful I could stream it into my living room. I sometimes take this technology for granted–but not often. I regret that I didn’t think to share this festival until it was over, but sign up now to get in on next year. I’m grateful for Aaron Taylor and the rest of the crew for curating this wonderful collection. I’m grateful I can travel the world at my own tortoise pace, from the comfort of my home, my own safe speckled shell.

Equanimity

I can’t fix Afghanistan. I can’t fix Haiti. I can’t fix climate chaos. It can be discouraging. But I can be kind and cheerful with the new UPS man. I can grow flowers for the bees and vegetables. I can meditate with loving-kindness on man’s inhumanity to man, and abuse of women. I can hold the horror in one hand and the beauty in the other, the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows, and bring them to some symmetry. I can express gratitude for the random distribution of conditions in my life, that let me live in relative peace and ease compared to the rest of the world.

Comparisons are odious. I heard this from a poet in the context of writing; but lately I’ve begun to wonder. It seems to me that comparisons, through the appropriate lens, are often excellent reminders of just how great our lives are, if we don’t live in a war zone, and we do have running water and electricity in our homes, get to choose what we eat, grow our own food, read what we like, choose our thoughts, and so much more. Americans take liberty for granted.

While Rome burns, I turn my attention to a gift bun from the local popup bakery. Gratitude. After coffee from across the equator, and the sticky bun flavored with the Asian native cardamom, I turn my attention to the rattlesnake pole beans, growing so tall that I a) finally get the Bean Stalk story, and b) needed a step-stool to pick them. I can barely keep up, and was grateful to learn that they also make good dried beans. I might stop harvesting the ‘immature pods,’ any day now, and let the rest mature and dry, for soups or chili and some to plant next year.

Grateful also for two new cucumbers to add to the weekend’s harvest, enough now to make some pickles. Real pickles. I’m grateful to accept the benefits of fermentation, and for the means and knowledge to make real pickled pickles, not only the quick kind with vinegar.

Cucumbers, garlic cloves, ripe dill florets, and a horseradish leaf (all from the garden) in each jar; bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, mustard seeds and allspice sprinkled into the quart jar, and a single tiny hot pepper added to the pint jar. How beautifully they packed! Then glass weights on top of brine, a pickling lid, and into the pantry til the weekend. I’m grateful for the morning light on junipers and that big old dog, for sweet treats, pole beans, and pickles. I’m grateful every day for the roof over my head, water in the pipes, the power of the sun, the love and support I get and give, and the courage to know that nothing lasts. I am grateful for equanimity.

Help

I’m grateful to have experienced today the joy of being helped. After visiting on Thursday, Hilary offered to come help me clean up the pond. I’ve been waiting three years for the right day and the right person to help with this overwhelming task. Today it all came together. It was cool enough to work pulling and cutting around the pond, yet hot enough to then get into the pond to work. The two little dogs found shade under the garden cart. Stellar mostly stayed inside, where it was cooler, on his soft bed.

Hilary pulled mint and chopped cattails, while I worked the Worx weedwhacker on weeds and grasses. After that we tackled the pond, clearing a huge biomass of rushes, roots, mint, muck, and a few accidental lilies. She did all the really hard work, cutting, chopping, loading the garden cart, hauling to the compost pile. While I got to wade in cool water, gently nudging, cajoling, and pulling up soft roots. I was careful with my hands, and it felt great to be doing something, however little, after all this time. Still, yes, I overdid, and am paying for it with extra pain this evening. What a gift her cheerful energy was, and how her mindful attention allowed me to trust her with the means and the goal: what plants to ‘harvest,’ which to leave, and the overall vision of simply liberating the free flow of water.

All the hours of hard work barely scratched the surface of the pond congestion after three years of letting it go wild. But it was a perfect project for an August afternoon, a great start. And I experienced the unusual sensation of letting someone help me who wanted to authentically enough, that by being helped I was giving her gratification also.

What was almost entirely overgrown now has lanes of clear water through it, a clean outlet, and water lilies that can breathe. Much more to clear eventually, but having made a good start with help and support, having overcome the inertia of that first step, I am grateful to know I can take a cooling dip once in a while, and nibble away at this elephant one bite at a time. I am grateful for help, and for the reverse gift of accepting help from one who wants to give it.

Unexpected Gifts

I’m grateful for garden art.

I’m grateful today for unexpected gifts. A formerly Zoom-only friend arrived in person this morning as she kicks off an indefinite walkabout with her two dogs in an RV. I’m grateful for the string of recent conditions that led to our acquaintance, and for heartfelt connection over a walk, meditation, and morning in the garden. As John Bruna says, “You never know who you’re going to meet today.”

Stellar is a very good boy, always open to meeting new friends, he and shared his bed with little Huck.
The latest painting by Auntie’s friend Lynn, who lives at the beach and loves bright colors, and Auntie, as much as I do.

Another unexpected gift, another precious connection, came this afternoon in a delightful phone conversation with one of Auntie’s dearest friends, whom I’ve been thinking of a lot over the past year, knowing she would be missing Rita as much as I do. Another ‘virtual’ friendship turned more real: we’ve corresponded briefly before, mostly over reading recommendations, but never had the chance to just chat. From the moment she answered the phone we were laughing, sharing stories, memories, and opinions, and the spirit of Rita was alive between us. I’m grateful for the unexpected gifts of two bright new friendships.

The Food Chain

Not food, for us anyway, but just a delicious color.

I picked two cucumbers, one way ahead of any others, and one more for enough, and made a quick half-pint of refrigerator pickles, with a perennial onion, dill, and coriander from the garden, some kosher salt, and the leftover brine from yesterday’s dilly beans. I’m grateful for food from the garden, as it begins to come into the kitchen daily at the beginning of this harvest season.

I’m grateful for food in general. I don’t take for granted that there’s always enough in the house to feed me and the animals; I know for many people that isn’t the case. I’m grateful for the conditions of my life that, for the time being, ensure that we have food; knowing that this could change with a moment’s misfortune. I’m grateful that I can buy avocados, bacon, croissants, and mayonnaise at the store. What a remarkable time and place to live in, where all these foods are delivered from near and far to a nearby supermarket, filling aisles with choices. I know there are many places in the world where this isn’t so.

I mixed up these store-bought foods with the first cherry tomatoes and some late lettuce from the garden, and created a gourmet sandwich that filled me for the day. So simple, so delicious! I’m grateful for my own appreciation of food, a simple yet essential pleasure, and to live in a community that values food. I’m grateful to know where most of my food comes from, and to think about where the rest of it comes from, knowing that the food I enjoy relies upon the efforts of many people to make it onto my table. I’m grateful for the root sources of food, the plants and animals, and all the plants and animals and other living things that their lives depend upon. I’m grateful for the food chain, the food web, that results in food on my table.

Darkness

I’m grateful every single night when I go upstairs to bed and see that the new neighbors across the canyon haven’t installed a giant ‘security’ light on their house. I leave the drapes open to the darkness of night: a spotlight shining in on my bed would infringe on my freedom! Not to mention the wasted energy and disruption to wildlife. I’m grateful for the nearly primal darkness of night where I live.

Tom

Well, it’s official. The end of an era. Stellar seemed to know. He was extra excited to see Tom today. I timed a package to arrive this afternoon, to be sure we’d get to say goodbye on Tom’s last day. He’s been delivering UPS packages here for fifteen years–I was wrong yesterday when I wrote twenty, but hey, not that big a difference at this point. I don’t remember who was the UPS driver before Tom; it’s almost as if there was no time before Tom. We have all come to love and depend upon him over the years.

I wrote a card and signed it from me, Stellar, the ghosts of all my past dogs, and the names of half a dozen other households, including the dogs: Popis and Phoebe, Badger and Hazel, Bear and Dugan, and of course Rocky. Tom gave all the dogs cookies, and had as good a relationship with the dogs on his route as he did the people. Tom and I had a special friendship. We argued about climate chaos, presidents, and other political hot potatoes, but we strove to stay civil and land on common ground. We shared adventure tales, and tender moments around life passages. He sometimes brought me elk steaks or venison when he hunted, and trout and Kokanee when he fished. I still have the last pack of filets in the freezer. I shared jam and salsa, cakes and cupcakes, and occasionally timed my baking to be sure the cookies were still warm when he arrived. He was a staple in my life, and at the beginning of the pandemic he was the only person I saw for some months.

One day a few years ago I was driving home and had just crested the hill when I saw a weird white rectangle on the side of the road. That wasn’t here when I left…what the hell is it? did someone just put up a metal shed? To my horror I realized as I neared that it was Tom’s truck, upside down. Just beyond was an open ambulance. I pulled over and was stopped by the EMT, whom I knew. “Is he okay?! Can I go see him?” She had to ask him before she let me. He sat in the back of the ambulance getting checked out. They let me in to hug him. Someone had run him off the road and sped off. He missed a day or two of work, but was mostly just shook up. Who wouldn’t have been?

Not only dogs and customers loved Tom, but also his co-workers, who decorated his truck for a big sendoff this morning.

Some years earlier, Tom was instrumental in reuniting me with Desmond Turtu after his unauthorized journey across Fruitland Mesa. He pulled up at a house a couple miles west of here and the little girl came running out calling, “Guess what we found?!” She showed him the tortoise that her mother had picked up crossing the road at the top of the canyon that morning. “I know that tortoise!” he said, “That’s Rita’s tortoise!” He told them how to reach me at work. They’d been leaving messages on my home phone all day. When I arrived after work to pick up Desmond, he (Desmond) was sitting in their white-tiled foyer eating watermelon.

I forgot to remind Tom of that escapade as we chatted this afternoon. As usual, we talked about a lot of things, but there was a poignant air today, knowing it was the last time. Oh, maybe we’ll run into each other somewhere down the line, but… I told him I’m never going to order anything ever again. I doubt any of us will cherish another UPS man as we did Tom, always ready with a smile or a laugh, easy-going, accommodating, reliable. Tom loved his job, loved the route and the people, and he will also love not having it. He’ll spend his time hunting, fishing, hiking and camping with his kids and grandkids, and pursuing his bucket list, which includes, next month, “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” for the first time. May he sail through the rest of his life with ease and joy.

Stellar says farewell to the main man in his life…

Resilience

The rain shower overnight resulted in .17 inches of measurable precipitation, leaving all the thirsty growing things refreshed.
In particular, mosses that were grey and crusty miraculously greened up by morning.
Mosses and lichens glowed in early morning light.
Dog and cat enjoyed a companionable ramble with me.
Tiny piñon trees climb from the duff while their parents die in shocking numbers from drought and beetles.
Even faded sagebrush is reinvigorated with just a bit of rain.
The notch-eared doe that has been mowing down my patio garden finally brought her twins to the edge of the yard. They’re too small to jump the fence, but she parked them outside and came on in to continue her feast, which will ultimately nourish them, so how can I possibly mind? I was so grateful to see the twins with their mother, after we spooked them in different directions the other evening.
And then, this afternoon, a veritable downpour from the east washed mud off the adobe walls…
…and made actual puddles. The ferocity of the storm, which dumped almost half an inch in half an hour, made me anxious for the phoebe nest under the deck, so after it was all over, I went outside to check the chicks.
I was delighted to find that their new nest location was the only dry space under the deck. The torrential rain must have stirred up terrestrial insects: for at least an hour, as I ‘napped’ on the couch inside just under the nest, an adult brought food every four to twenty seconds. This frequency, well beyond the normal four to five minute span, must have made up for that horrible day when twenty minutes elapsed between feedings and the chicks screamed the whole day. That was an anomaly for sure, and since that awful day (awful for me and for the chicks), feeding frequency has increased daily, reaching its peak in the hours after today’s rain. The babies have doubled in size.

Despite this climate-chaos induced exceptional drought, the indomitable will to live that permeates all plants and animals keeps us living to our utmost. I am grateful for the resilience of Life.

Grateful, too, for the love and laughter, the joie de vivre and resilience of dear friends, who gathered to celebrate some happy milestones; grateful for the elegant setting, and delicious local food so thoughtfully prepared and offered. Grateful, no matter what happens next, for these good times. Grateful above all for the gift of another exceptional day alive.

Michael Soulé

A portrait I made of Michael in 2013.
I’m grateful for my dear friend Michael Soulé, who died a year and a month ago. I took this shot when we traveled to Yellowstone together. We were enjoying a nice picnic in the vast wilderness, not another soul around, endless views… when… absolutely nothing happened. This was my first photoshop ever, in 2003: I used the image of a grizzly from a bookmark I got at the visitor center book store.

Michael and I hung out together for about a decade, between his second and third wife. He was smart, funny, sensitive, deep, spiritual, thoughtful, and many other superlatives, in addition to being globally known as the Father of Conservation Biology. He was naughty and mischievous, also, and great fun to be around. I’m grateful to be able to call him friend. He suffered a massive stroke last summer, leaving his bereaved bride of ten years, a valley full of friends, a beautiful extended family, and a world full of friends and colleagues, all of whom miss his warmth, brilliance, humor, and dynamite smile. Tonight, a few of us, finally able to during this break in the pandemic, gathered at my house to celebrate his life.

I’m grateful for everyone who helped put together the party, and contributed from afar. I’m grateful for all the stories and insights that were shared to celebrate and honor him, helping each of us know him just a little better through the eyes and hearts of others. I have a soul full of history with him, and few words to share it.

Michael and I frequently discussed death in its many incarnations, including ‘the coming plague,’ which he lived to see the beginning of with Covid-19. He practiced Zen Buddhism, and inspired me to deepen my study of the philosophy that became my guiding light. I told him several times that when he died, I would shave my head in his honor. The opportunity arose this evening. I’m grateful for all our friends who took a swipe at my pate with his electric trimmer, and I’m grateful to June for offering it to me afterward. I was honored to accept it.

Much fun was had by all removing my locks.
Much fun was made of my perfect whorl. As The Colonel used to say, “It’s nice to be the object of innocent merriment.”