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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.

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.

Learning

Today, among the many things I’m grateful for including Stellar and me both waking up alive, is all the learning I’ve done in this lifetime and the lessons I’ve been able to share with others; I’m grateful for teachers and students. One of my greatest teachers has been gardening: it has taught me so much about impermanence, about unintended consequences, and about unexpected benefits. Gardening has taught me to let go of attachment to outcomes, to accept constant change, and to rejoice in the simplest successes. Today, I’m grateful that the raised beds are finally filling up with the starts I’ve been nurturing for a couple of months. I’m grateful that the last unexpected freeze is behind us and that I didn’t put all these starts out just a couple of weeks ago, because I would have lost most of them to a late freeze. I’m grateful to accept myself as a learner, still learning life’s lessons, and I’m grateful for teachers of all species.

Perennials

I’m grateful today for things that come back year after year, perennials. In the wild woods, these delicate native penstemons, P. comarrhenus, grow sparsely out of bare ground. Another name for them is dusty penstemon, which (this year anyway) captures the essence of their endemic range in the Colorado plateau and canyonlands of the southwest. I stumbled upon this one on the breakfast loop this morning; the flower spike seemed to have grown and blossomed within just a couple of days.

In the garden I’m grateful for perennial onions, which not only keep growing where they’re planted year after year, they also self-sow prodigiously. I started my patch with a small clump someone gave me, and they provide scallions and leek-type onions year after year. The bees love their flowers, and I can harvest the roots from early spring into winter. This year I’ve had to pull out my original nursery patch to make room for another crop, but I’ll keep mine going with a row along the back of the whole east bed. Now I’ve got a big box of perennial onions looking for new homes. If you’d like a clump to start your own endless onions, let me know right away. Otherwise, I’ll just chop and freeze them, but I probably won’t get to that until Saturday afternoon or Sunday. I’m also grateful, of course, for my little Topaz.

Free to good homes, there are enough perennial onions here to start half a dozen new gardens. Or fill my freezer; your choice 🙂

People Who Let Me Be Myself

I’m grateful for another Boyz Lunch today, outside on the patio, hummingbirds flitting through, Stellar lying next to John, John’s hand on his head; grateful for these and other friends who accept me just the way I am, and through the years have supported me in my ongoing exploration of how that is, as it changes (like everything does, always, ineluctably); grateful for people who have loved me through my many incarnations in this lifetime; grateful for a safe habitat in which to spread my wings.

Oh, and watch for a bunch of canaries in the Pioneer Days Parade on Saturday! I’m grateful for Ellie, Mary, Suki, Brad, Danielle, Kim, Ana, Kathy, and everyone else who has chipped in energy, time, money, and creativity to create and support the countywide, non-partisan Canary Committee in their efforts to bring attention to the extraordinary drought affecting our particular habitat in Western Colorado, and the dire need to conserve water.

I’m grateful to finally harvest enough lettuce from my garden to feed friends, for Gosar’s sausages (available at Farm Runners), for Cousin Bill’s reminder of how delicious roasted cauliflower is, for Penzey’s Justice that Amy introduced me to, and for the ease of a salad made with canned beans: so simple, so delicious! I’m grateful for another day alive in this body aware of all the sensory pleasures life offers, and for learning the mindfulness skills that enable me to experience each day with gratitude and meaning.

Radishes

I’m grateful all five phoebe babies made it through their first 24 hours. I spooked them several times this morning walking around the west side of the house; they scattered each time from a different roost on the ground, then perched on anything convenient like this string of prayer flags. A strange light filtered through a sudden smoke bank that rolled in from the southwest, eventually obscuring the mountains and carrying that chilling scent of wildfire. That surreal color suffused everything for a couple of hours. I’m grateful the fires aren’t closer.

Grateful for yet another new claret cup cactus in bloom. Such a great year for them!

I’m grateful for the first harvest of radishes. I wasn’t crazy about radishes, but they’re fulfilling to grow. And this variety is crisp and light, spicy but not too hot. I’m grateful for being open to changing my taste, my habits and attitudes toward food and everything else.

Fledging

It was a big day here. I’m so exhausted you’d think I were fledging. I came downstairs shortly after sunrise to let Stellar out after hearing his nails click on the floor. I was horrified to see a Phoebe fall from the nest – but wait, it hadn’t fallen, it had flown. I couldn’t miss this, so I didn’t even go back upstairs for the camera phone. I grabbed the big camera and went outside.

There were three phoebes already out of the nest, squatting all over the patio.

They could barely fly, with their brand new wings and their stubby little tails, yet they kept fluttering from one surface to another.

Once they discovered the cat ladder, the real fun began. Back and forth, back and forth. Topaz, however, had by now been locked inside for the first hour of the day, given up, and gone back upstairs to bed. Not a peep from her the rest of the day. More hours went by, well-spent as far as I was concerned. I’d been waiting for this day since May 19, when the chicks first hatched. In the previous week, the speed of their growth astonished me.

From the ladder, back and forth to the old cable wire that I leave hanging just for this reason, to the old insulation hole in the adobe double-wall, to the ladder, to eventually, hours later, the honeysuckle and the rose bush beyond the patio. Mama and Papa continued to take turns feeding the babies, but how could they tell who was who? I noticed that sometimes they’d feed the same chick three or four times in a row, until it just wouldn’t open its mouth again, then they’d take their bug to another. Their instincts came through though: when any of them approached another, well, they just kept opening their mouths to receive food, even if it was just another chick coming in for a landing. Sometimes they got lucky.

Even after being fed they squawk.

Everything went really well. Four chicks out of the nest, each getting its turn getting fed, but the fifth chick just would not leave the nest. Even as the others explored sensations of flight, tested their quickly growing limits, I swear even their tail feathers seemed to grow before my eyes, stretched their wings, the fifth chick simply wouldn’t leave.

Mama continued to feed it, teasing with the insect and making the chick reach for it again and again before relinquishing it, and once actually got on top of the chick, I think urging it to leave the nest. I began to despair of it leaving ever, as the first four chicks flew from the ladder one by one, out into the trees east or north of the house.

The last chick flexed its wings a few times, but remained alone in the nest for more than an hour, before finally joining a few remaining nest mates on the ladder. But they, too, flew off, leaving the last little bird alone on the ladder for a long time. I couldn’t leave. I pretended to read, time marched relentlessly on, it was getting close to noon, I could hear the rest of the family chirping from around the north side of the house, and still the last little bird lingered on the ladder.

Some other things happened.

I was grateful that I had no firm commitments on my calendar until evening, when I had a group to lead online. I could bide my time outside. I had started the morning rapt with joy, completely immersed in the huge little drama unfolding with the Phoebe family. By eleven, as I sat anxiously watching the last little fledgeling sleeping on a rung of the ladder, anxiety assailed me: what if they left it there? what if no one came back for it? what would I do? how would I save it? I observed these thoughts arise, only mildly disturbed by them. Even as my mind raised anxieties, a more detached awareness simply watched it all unfold, waiting patiently, reassuring the rest of me that it would all be okay no matter how it went down, and more specifically, calmly insisting that they would never have invested that much energy into bring the chick to this point in its life only to abandon it. Finally, I saw a parent approach it with food, trying to entice it off the rung. It took another hour, but eventually, the last chick flew to the rosebush, then to the maple, then on around beyond the house. I went inside. By then it was hot, and I was exhausted from my irresistible seven-hour vigil. I went inside to meditate and nap.

Come evening, cooled down, I went outside again to water the vegetable beds; stepping around the north end of the house to turn on the hose, I saw them all stacked up along a shelf support in the tool area. Before dark, they had dispersed to several other perches. I kept thinking they’d return to the nest overnight, as last year’s clutch did for a few days after hatching, but didn’t see that before I went in at dusk. I’m grateful for an absolutely perfect day watching the greatest show on earth, a participant observer in the thrilling action of a special day in the life of a single bird family. May they all live through the night, and the summer, and the next few years.

Change

I’m

Though it isn’t always comfortable, I’m grateful for change; and more importantly, I’m grateful for my increasing capacity to handle it with equanimity. I’m really not crazy about random technical changes that show up unexpectedly on websites like this one, where now I can’t seem to add a caption to an image. But if I could, I’d write under the first picture, above, that where once there stood a lush almond tree, which froze to death last fall, there is now a blank corner for me to design a new planting; change provides unlimited opportunity. I am sad to lose the almond tree, but there was nothing to be done for it. I’m grateful I had helpers come this morning, who cut the rest of it down, and dug out the stump, which was sending up vigorous sprouts from the rootstock, which was wild plum, not almond. I dug up the very first sprout from that rootstock over a decade ago, and planted it: it grew into a beautiful, hardy shade tree (below) that fills with bees every spring while flowering, and even provided half a dozen plums last year.

Now

Where once there was a patch of weeds in the lowly, forgotten dog pen, there is now a beautiful wooden raised bed built by Mr. Wilson, eagerly awaiting the little tomato and pepper plants I started hardening off today, gradually increasing their time outside in real sun incrementally over the next five or six days. And below, where once there were empty beds and tubs (not all that long ago), garden riches are growing. Without change, there would be no growth.

Quail Eggs

I stopped into Farm Runners last Saturday to pick up some mushrooms, they have lovely fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Nearby in the cooler were a few packs of quail eggs. Quail eggs! Never have I ever. So I grabbed (carefully) a package, knowing I’d come up with something to do with them for Boyz Lunch.

A dear friend ended up coming by on Monday so I made her a burrito with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and mushrooms, with fresh wild asparagus on the side, and tested the timing for a soft-boiled quail egg. I’m grateful that Farm Runners also offers these 12-inch tortillas (a foot wide!), that I had Bad Dog Ranch happy-chicken eggs, homemade hot sauce, and that neighbor Mary gave me a big bunch of wild asparagus when I passed her out picking on my way to town. I’m grateful that Nancy came for lunch and a walk and a heartfelt talk, and let me experiment on her palate.

Quail egg perfectly soft-boiled, but very hard to peel! And different from chicken eggs, even the best: they taste so rich and buttery.

So for Boyz Lunch today, I boiled the remaining quail eggs (for two minutes), then scooped them into ice water to stop the cooking. A couple of them floated on top, and I recalled that with chicken eggs that means they might be bad, so I pulled those out early, and later fed them to Stellar, shells and all, after cracking them open: they smelled fine, and he was almost as ecstatic as Philip and John were when I served them this starter plate.

Mary Berry’s quail egg-salmon-asparagus salad with tarragon dressing. I’m grateful that tarragon grows in the garden, and that Amy found me this recipe the other night when I couldn’t search the internet myself; grateful that we can find a recipe for any combination of ingredients on hand with a few taps of the fingers on the miraculous world wide web. Grateful that my geezers were ecstatic with this starter dish, and the sirloin tips in mushroom gravy over rice that followed it…
…and that they also loved the brownie-shortbread dessert. Grateful that Amy sent me this recipe too, with the note “You need this!” I’m telling you, whoever you are, if you love chocolate, shortbread, or butter, you also need this recipe.

Above and beyond the culinary delights of this day, I’m grateful for good friends old and new, for great neighbors, for all the opportunities, connections, and experiences in this singular day that will never come again; grateful to have waked up alive, made the most of the day, and be heading to my cozy, clean bed right now.

Okay maybe not so clean, at least on the outside, but that’s not entirely my fault. At least the sheets underneath the blankets are clean. I’m sure grateful for this cuddly little cat, no matter how much she sheds or how many weed seeds she carries inside.
And always, always grateful for my sweet old man Stellar, who had another rough day today, but hope lives.

Birds and Bees

Say’s phoebe perched on the candlestick in front of the living room window reflecting the bluebird sky.

I was sitting at the patio table watching the phoebes take turns bringng food to their newly hatched chicks when one of them paused to watch me. I’m so grateful for these intrepid little birds! They commonly nest in human structures and don’t seem bothered at all by our activity. Below, papa brings a delicious grub to chicks still too small to be seen above the nest rim; mama feeds a hungry little mouth (my first glimpse of this brood); and then she carries away a poop pellet. I remember this from last year: she’ll feed a baby, wait a moment until it upends itself, then grab the pellet as it pops out. How efficient!

Meanwhile, in the vegetable garden, the perennial onions are in bloom and full of bees of all stripes. This digger bee made its way around a whole blossom (with a mineral tub planter in the background), sharing the bounty with a tiny sweat bee.

Resting at the patio table again after planting out the first tomato and the scarlet runner bean, this Bullock’s oriole caught my eye on a hummingbird feeder. I immediately went inside and sliced an orange in half to supplement the sugar water, which is hard for them to get from the small hummingbird-tongue sized holes. They are infrequent enough visitors during migration to make buying an oriole feeder impractical, so I try to keep oranges on hand for the few weeks in spring that I sometimes see them. Each sighting is a real treat.

On another break, I took the camera over to the single pale iris by the tortoise pen, where I’d seen a bumblebee earlier. No bees, but this lovely beetle which I remember from last summer was the main feeder on the white irises. Then the juniper titmouse caught my attention, bringing food to its babies in the hollow juniper in the center of the pen. Noticing me with the camera trained on its hole, it took awhile to approach, before darting into the hole with a flick of its tail feathers, and remaining there til I left. So cute! I’m grateful for the winged residents of the yarden, and for the luxury of time in my day to observe and connect with them.