Sean had surprised me with a half-hour visit on his way around the world, just long enough to have a cupcake and a cup of tea, and to climb the gumbo limbo tree that had replaced the big juniper just outside the spider gate.
“We have to walk a fine line here,” he said as he restrained himself from kissing me. It was alright. When he left shortly thereafter we kissed with pursed unhappy lips, but it was alright. At least I got to see him one more time.
I also dreamed the crocuses were up as the snow melted. Half the snow melted in a day, revealing patches of giant crocuses, twice the size they used to be, in brighter shades of yellow, orange, purple, blue and green. Other small, glorious, strange bulbs also emerged in groups of three or five among the extravagant crocuses.
I am grateful for dreams. These days, they’re more comfortable, like clouds and flowers. For decades there were nightmares mixed in with the absurd, about as dense as citron in a fruitcake, along with rare and lucid prophesies. I haven’t suffered a nightmare in a couple of months, and can’t remember the last one so it couldn’t have been traumatic. The most recent absurd, delightful dreams which may or may not hold meaning came this morning.
The crocus part is not far off of true; some years recently they’ve bloomed in early February. I’m so grateful that the first possible crocus may be only three weeks away, and this thought welcomed me to wakefulness today: a day, a week, otherwise fraught with uncertainty bred of a mean man’s evil ego. I’m grateful for all the true American patriots, who represent this week what my father, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, great-greats, all the way back to the founding of this great country strove for, the service women and men who will do what they must to protect the authority of the United States Constitution, instead of some aggrieved minority’s dream of what they think it should be.
But I digress. Dreams of all kinds, healthy and delusional, seem to be coming to mind all day as time progresses inexorably toward nightfall, farther away now than it was three weeks ago, creeping toward equinox. The garden wakens. Crocus dreams grow beneath the dirt.
This morning, I’m grateful for a message from Neighbor Mary, sharing lyrics that touched her from Dolly Parton’s “Paradise Road.” I’m grateful for Spotify, where I could type in the title and hear Dolly’s sweet voice instantly. Think about that. Grateful (despite problematic negative consequences for society and planetary health) for all the technology, the inventors and coders and the people who put tiny chips of precious metals in a little silver box that delivers the world to my lap, and grateful for the people who mine and those who recycle those precious metals. But back to Dolly.
Paradise is a state of mind / Down the road of life and time And the friends we meet / Make the travelin’ sweet / On Paradise Road. Sometimes now when the world is mad / I find that place I’ve always had Inside my soul / It’s paved in gold / Paradise Road.
~ Dolly Parton, Paradise Road
I’m grateful for the authentic joie de vivre and gratitude for life she exemplifies, as well as her resilience. I actually know someone in person kind of like Dolly in those ways, and she also sings a sweet “Happy Birthday”… why, it’s Neighbor Mary! I’m grateful for these inspiring examples of genuine happiness, in the wide world and in the neighborhood.
I was just getting ready to tend to the sunroom, when Dolly’s lyrics arrived, and was wondering what music to play among the flowers as I watered orchids and groomed geraniums. And now, I’m grateful for hours of Dolly Parton’s music, and for “Backwoods Barbie,” which I’d never heard before, which seguéd to Patsy Cline and Emmylou to carry me through lunch.
I’m grateful for everything in this title, separately and together. Zoom. Cooking. Amy. And zoom cooking with Amy. It’s a silver lining of the Covid cloud. Back in May, I sent her a recipe for homemade gnocchi and asked if she wanted to make it with me and share zoom dinner. Thus began a joy we have shared ever since.
Amy and I have been friends for almost fifty years. And her parents have been parents to me, as well, whenever I have needed them to be, and friends the rest of the time. My gratitude for Amy knows no bounds. Cooking, drinking, and eating is our favorite thing to do when we get together. She lives in northern Virginia, not far from where we grew up. We met on the first day of seventh grade, and that friendly little red-haired girl saved my life that year. Through the decades, I’ve always visited when I traveled back there. And then she saved my life again during the months I spent there when my mother was dying sixteen years ago.
Amy’s been coming to visit for the past few years, including during apricot season two summers ago (when she saved my life again, by helping harvest and put up pounds of fruit), but not this summer, and so we started zoom cooking instead. She’s also been watching cooking shows for years so has lots of tricks up her sleeve. We used vanilla bean seeds for something that apricot summer, and she poured some sugar in a jar and tossed in the scraped pods. “In a couple of weeks this’ll be great in your coffee or something else,” she said, and it was.
In August we made Fish Cheesos, with the trout, and garden produce, in cheddar cheese taco shells. This recipe came from a Keto cookbook: you pile a quarter cup of grated cheddar for each shell, about 4″ apart, onto parchment paper and cook at 400°F for 6-8 minutes, until they’re melted flat and the edges start to brown. Let them cool about 3 minutes, then drape them over wooden handle spoons or something until they harden, about ten minutes. Then…
I couldn’t be zoom cooking with Amy like this without the help of the Bad Dogs, who kindly shop for me these days because of some underlying conditions that make me super cautious about Covid. I’m especially grateful to Philip, who shops most often, and earnestly tries to fill my list of often obscure ingredients. I try to compensate them for their trouble with fresh baked bread, rolls, or cake to hand over upon grocery delivery.
After the collard sandwiches, we made Marcella’s pasta bolognese. I laughed the whole time I was making noodles because it was just so much fun. We more or less take turns suggesting the menu. After bolognese, we made squash and peanut stew. Since our neighborhood dinners have been more or less on hold all year, it’s been great to be cooking with Amy and have the chance to use so much garden produce.
The next menu item was Bombay Rolls, which included a chutney with lots of fresh coriander. Amy made them according to the recipe so her stuffing was green, but with no access to fresh coriander here in December, I used a jar of Kasundi I had canned earlier in the summer. It wasn’t nearly as spicy as it seemed when I cooked it, but the Bombay rolls were fun to make and delicious anyway. We cheated and used store-bought puff pastry for this meal. Our ambitions had started to slacken.
But, egged on by the Great British Baking Show, I threw down the éclair challenge, and that brings us up to last Friday night. The recipe calls for a total of 11 eggs, and I was late getting started since I had to wait for groceries. I’m so grateful for local, freerange ranch eggs for much of the year that it’s hard to shell out the dough for storebought, but in deep winter nobody’s hens are laying around here. As soon as Philip brought the eggs, I started catchup with Amy, who had already made her creme patisserie and was starting on her choux pastry. I was grateful for a snowbank right outside the door, since there was no room in the fridge to cool the filling.
While we baked, we talked about the Capitol, where Amy used to lead kids in summer camp. We compared Manhattan recipes. We talked about work and friends and everything else. We carried on two separate conversations at the same time: I said something about our technical challenge, “I kept stirring and it formed a ball which kept breaking up as I stirred…,” and Amy said, “She has several professional photographers she hires to take portraits of the family….”
I’m grateful this weekend for zoom cooking with my old friend Amy, and grateful for all the years of ease and lessons and love that life has given us to share. One day, we’ll cook together again in person, but until that time, and onward after our next visit, I hope we’ll be zoom cooking for the rest of our years. We’re already batting about ideas for our next challenge.
Today I’m grateful for carrots. Shortly before the ground froze, I pulled a surprising number of big purple carrots from a bed where I’d scattered a bunch of random seeds in the spring. I took out a few from the fridge today (grateful for the Sunfrost refrigerator) to make a carrot-ricotta tart. Here it is January, and I’m still eating carrots I harvested months ago, surprise carrots at that!
Grateful that carrots seem to grow well in my garden most years, that they are quick and resilient, come in various shapes, sizes, and subtle flavors, that they last for months in the fridge and brighten a cloudy winter day with stored summer sunlight. Grateful that I had time and energy to tend the garden all summer, grateful for water, for the fence that keeps the deer out and the friends who helped build it, for raised beds, good dirt, and homemade compost to nourish the soil.
The last of 2019’s almond crop, store-bought organic romaine and cheddar, and homemade ranch dressing: so much to be grateful for within a simple salad in deep winter. Grateful for the almond tree, that feeds bees in spring and provided pounds of fruit last year; this second crop proved the tree is not a bitter almond after all but a sweet one. This year, drought and an exceptionally hard spring freeze yielded only a handful of nuts, which I left for birds and squirrels. I still had a bag frozen from the previous summer, and thawed them out last week intending to bake or cook with them. After thawing, I slow-roasted them with a spritz of olive oil and some kosher salt, until they were crunchy, and set them on the counter to cool.
I keep snicking a few here and there over the next few days til I can get time to bake, and next thing I know, there aren’t enough left in the bowl to grind for a torte. A couple more days and all that’s left is a handful for salad. Oh well, and yum! Each crunch is a reminder of all that each almond took to get here.
I tried the “tarp under the tree whack it with a broom” method of harvesting, but it felt all wrong, smacking the limbs of the living tree, so after a few whacks I gathered the sheet and went back to snapping individual nuts or handfuls off the twigs. Over the course of a few weeks, I harvested several bowls full and enjoyed sitting outside processing them. Most I used before I harvested the next batch, and I saved the last in the freezer.
So, today I’m grateful for almonds in winter, and grateful for this trip down memory lane. I’m grateful for Philip, who among other demonstrations of friendship delivers groceries, grateful he’s survived Covid to once again bring cheddar cheese and greens, grateful for the growers and pickers of organic romaine, the makers of cheese, all the people all along the trail of ways these foods get to the store, drivers, road maintainers, all the conditions that make it happen that Philip can buy lettuce in December….
It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Weobegone — wait, no! It’s been a challenging month here at Mirador. Lots of life happening hard and fast, life including death, of course. Without the garden, exquisite pollinators, and five years of serious mindfulness practice under my belt, the weeks since Raven’s death would have been even more tumultuous.
What with Raven dying, auntie’s stroke, Michael’s imminent demise, another friend in major-medical limbo, Stellar on his last legs… the cherry tree dying, the phoebe nest knocked down and chicks devoured… the little and the big, all against the national backdrop of socio-political upheaval (and hopefully, awakening), and the slow-moving catastrophe of climate chaos; it’s been like log-rolling in a swift river, but I’m no longer a beginner: I’ve stayed afloat, dancing on the rolling crashing logs, keeping my balance. That takes practice.
Each spring, time with lilacs becomes more precious. Each year, time on earth becomes more precious. Various plants in the garden command their share of my attention during their unique brief windows, and my devotions keep pace as well as I can. A hidden blessing during this Time of the Virus for me has been more time, more time, what most people ask for on their deathbeds. More time than ever before with the lifegiving lilacs.
Suffering keeps going deeper, taking a turn you hadn’t anticipated. How does anyone ever think It can’t happen to me? The more I learn of what can happen, the limitless, infinite array of possibilities that might occur in any moment of any day, that expanding cone of possibility that flows outward, infinitely, from every individual sentient being based on the sum total of conditions present within and without that individual in that precise and only moment, the more gratitude I cherish for each and every moment of my life that holds beauty and serenity.
Bee sightings ramped up over the past month, from crocuses and grape hyacinths to dandelions and tulips, to blooming fruit trees. First the apricot, then the wild plum, then the crabapple. A butterfly I haven’t seen much in the past is also prevalent in the past week, the Anise swallowtail. Hummingbirds have also come to the fruit trees, but so fast I haven’t been able to catch one with the camera.
Despite the lockdown, or perhaps because of it, I am busier than ever outside in the garden. I can’t tell you where my days go, except to say that they are filled with as much color, light, love and joy as I can manage between sunup and bedtime, most of it outside in the garden. Work is of course diminished, as is almost everyone’s in this dire time, but I am doing my best to make the most of extra hours in the day. Fortunately my body is in better shape than it’s been for years, thanks to physical therapy and a healthier attitude, and I’m able to work more in the yard than now than ever before. I’m so tired by the end of the day that I just don’t sit down and post the pictures I’ve taken. Off to bed now, with more thoughts and images to come. Wishing for everyone to lay low, look close to home for joy and beauty, and stay well during this continuing pandemic. Please don’t be impatient and too quick to seek the old normal, which I hope never comes back. The planet and all its non-human inhabitants has appreciated the break from our reckless pace.
How is it that with all this extra time on my hands I still can’t unclutter my house? Oh yeah… the garden is waking up.
I simply don’t have words to convey the maelstrom of emotions that swirl within like March winds this spring. Above all there is gratitude for the many blessings this life has given me so far. I’m grateful to be an introvert who works from home anyway. I’m grateful that I have a reasonably healthy body, though my immune system is not robust and neither is my right lung, which never quite fills all the way. I consider myself to be fairly high risk, and so I’m grateful I have friends willing to shop for me and deliver necessities. I’m grateful I’ve worked hard for nearly thirty years to create this beautiful refuge, which now offers solace and peace amid global turmoil, and I’ll be grateful when I am again able to share it with people.
Other emotions may be less healthy but are also valid: rage at the rampant greed and graft manifesting at the highest levels of government during this pandemic when all humans should be working together to stave off despair and death; disgust at the ignorant response by trump cult believers that is causing so many more Americans to sicken and die; despair that the dying petroleum industry and the politicians that subsidize and profit from it take advantage of our distraction to rape and pillage even more egregiously our fragile planet. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention: Broaden your information horizons.
Meanwhile, the Say’s phoebes are back shoring up at least two nests around the house. A day after they first fluttered into the yard, I took last year’s nest off the top of the ladder leaning against the north wall, and lay it down so I could use it this summer if I needed to. The next day I felt so bad that I gathered scrap wood, tools, and screws to build a little shelf in the same spot where I could replace the nest. But once I stood there with all the materials I realized it would be way too complicated, so I propped up the ladder against a joist to provide corner stability, and tucked the old nest securely back into place. It’s one small thing I can do…
Ojo cracked me up the other morning. I could tell the day before that he wasn’t feeling well. When he’s constipated, (and also preceding the loss of his first four lives), he contracts in on himself, curls into a tight ball, his cheek fur flares out because he pulls his head in like a tortoise, and he moves sluggishly if at all. He sat on the patio chair for an hour, refusing to come in even when I shook the treat can. Although it’s possible he was just pouting, because he’s an emotional little fellow. Either way, dusk was coming so I picked him up, tight little black ball, and carried him in, whence he disappeared and I didn’t see him for hours.
I mixed powdered psyllium husks into his dinner with extra water, and in the morning gave both cats a squirt of catnip-flavored laxatone instead of their first breakfast before letting them out. An hour later, I fed him his usual quarter can. Shortly, I took the dogs out, and called the cats for a walk. Ojo and Topaz both wanted to come in for second breakfast, but I said, No, you have to walk first, I want to see you poop.
So they came running along behind me and the dogs, sprinting past me in their usual tag-relay game, one or the other shooting up into a juniper occasionally. Ojo plopped down in the dusty trail and rolled, meowing, not unusual for him, but I missed that in this case it was the first sign that he didn’t want to walk. I rubbed his tummy fuzz and walked on.
Around the next curve he attacked my ankle, ran up meowing and grabbed my pants leg and gave a quick bite. I laughed and walked on, as he continued to meow, stomping along angrily behind me. A couple more times he lunged but I kept going; then he grabbed my ankle again, and this time he was very persuasive. He did not want to walk! Still laughing, I turned around and up the hill. He shut right up and walked a yard in front of me the whole way home, where he got another quarter can and so did Topaz, and then they sprawled on the living room rug at total ease.
I draw some firm lines with them. I won’t feed them before first light, or let them out before sunrise; both must be in before sunset. Both those lines ensure my peace of mind in different ways. Experience with numerous cats has taught me that if you give a cat an inch in the morning, you’ll be getting up earlier and earlier to feed it until you’ve lost two hours of your usual sleep. On the sunset line, if these cats aren’t in by dark I won’t sleep until they are. They seem to take turns, one every few months, trying to get away with it.
But in a moment like that morning, when one of them had such strong feelings, I was happy to change my plan to accommodate his need. They ask for so little, and give so much. I still see in them the kittens they were, and also imagine the old cats I hope they will survive to become. But I know cats only have nine lives, and around here those can go pretty fast. So I treasure every day with them, and accept their their little quirks and demands, and do my best to keep them happy.
Ojo and his siblings are four and a half years old next month. They all remain happily alive in four neighborhood homes, although Ojo has been whisked from death’s door four times (that I know of). Topaz has not. She is self-sufficient, often aloof, and sweet as pie. He is a perpetual surprise, a spoiled mama’s boy who wants what he wants when he wants it, and won’t take no for an answer. They still make me laugh every day.
Thankful for the physical well-being and energy I’ve had this summer that has enabled me to keep up with the garden (though not with sharing its joy online!). Above, a selection of late-summer delights, starting with a plumtini, just a martini shaken with a very ripe plum, yum!
Thankful for half a dozen perfect strawberries gleaned from as many plants. Maybe next summer they’ll do better, but each fruit was certainly a burst of flavor as bright as its color.
The past months have been a whirlwind of harvesting, pickling, canning, freezing, cutting back, drying, fermenting and other fun fall festivities. I’ve been spinning through each day drenched in gratitude, swimming in astonishing colors, savoring and storing for winter the flavors of summer.
It’s almost impossible to believe I am the same person as that awkward little girl in the DC suburbs who spent every free minute curled up in an armchair reading books. How did I come to be here? Living close to the land in this fertile valley for almost half my life now has allowed me to approach some understanding of my true nature, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.