My big success for the day was capturing a phoebe fledgling at twilight with the new camera. Again, not such a crystal clear lens, but clearly a juvenile phoebe. Several of them and at least one parent were flying around the house this evening. If I should die tomorrow, I’m grateful tonight for my private success of raising at least one little bird, or helping to, anyway. We are a brutal species, in a brutal cycle, on this fragile planet. There were other quotidian delights today as well. These moments are not how society generally measures success.
I’m grateful for all the pollinators. I haven’t even cracked the manual for the new camera, and the current lens won’t give me the crystal clarity of the macro lens on the old camera, but I’ll get there eventually. Meanwhile, playing around with it this morning I caught a few pollinators doing their thing. Imagine where we’d be without them! So grateful for pollinators, and the fruits of their labors.
I’m grateful for the 4000 species of native bees in North America, and the dozens that forage and nest in my yarden. They’re responsible for pollinating about three-quarters of all our food plants, but their very existence is not well known to the general public. I didn’t know about them until I started raising and photographing honeybees, and paying attention to all the other pollinators I discovered through my camera lens. There aren’t nearly as many individual bees or bee species in the garden this summer, making me cherish them all the more. You can learn to identify and plant for native bees with the Wild Bee ID app put out by the Center for Food Safety, and enjoy some of my better photos while you’re at it.
It arrived yesterday, just an hour too late to capture the newly fledged phoebes. After a busy day, I took it out to play this evening, just fooling around with the zoom, without even learning the thousand and one functions and settings. I’m grateful for the means to purchase this amazing camera, grateful for the technology that allows me to have far more ‘film’ than time so I can shoot to my heart’s content and throw away a thousand images to save one good one. I’m grateful for B&H Photo in NYC for their help and expertise whenever I need new camera gear, and grateful to JT for turning me on to them. Following the gratitude trail, I’m grateful for the countless individuals who designed, experimented, and constructed for many decades to create this camera, and for the materials, and for the countless people who mined and melted and melded those raw materials into this astounding piece of equipment; and for the FedEx lady who delivered it a scant 27 hours after I ordered it, and for all the human ingenuity and labor, and the transportation and infrastructure, that allowed that. It’s an amazing world, despite the tragedies perpetrated by our species.
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?
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.
I was grateful this morning to find myself with both leeks and potatoes in my hands, fresh out of the garden. There’s only one thing I think of with both those vegetables: vichyssoise! It was my father’s favorite soup, which I’ve known my whole life. Today I thought of him, grateful for his culinary skills and interests that he transmitted to me. I’m grateful for many things about today, including vichyssoise.
It’s not that these transient pleasures, like a cheese sandwich or a dog walk or the phoebes, in and of themselves bring genuine happiness. It’s that appreciating the simple pleasures of a complex world, among my confounding species, on this fragile planet, imbues life with contentment for me. I finally feel as safe as is humanly possible, walking out here on the edge of impermanence, after all those years chasing certainty and running from death.
I woke feeling sad, after yesterday’s descent into the stark reality of climate chaos. I thought I might feel sad forever. I’m grateful I’ve learned to accept sadness, and impermanence: I’m grateful for allowing things to be as they are in each moment, and for the reassuring knowledge that everything changes, nothing remains the same for long.
Nothing external has changed, of course: insects are still in decline worldwide. But I trudged out on this crisp, damp morning with Stellar and Topaz by my side, and strolled to visit this split tree. I felt better already, just letting myself be sad, and finding beauty at the same time, balancing grief and gratitude within equanimity.
And then there’s the cheese sandwich, cookout edition. I’ve been thinking about this for days. I had frozen a hot dog leftover from Michael’s memorial, which I thawed and sliced. All the hot dog condiments slathered on wheat bread, sliced cheddar, and potato chips completed the assemblage: a whole cookout in a single sandwich. Yes, it’s a temporary pleasure, lasting only as long as the sandwich itself; but, the making of it, the thinking it up, and definitely the eating of it, all while remembering Michael and last week’s party, lifted my spirits. Life’s simple pleasures. I’m grateful that my life includes the conditions to have on hand all the ingredients of a cheese sandwich, the technology to keep them fresh, the leisure to dream about then make one, the awareness to savor the process and every bite, and the reasonable expectation that I will eat again tomorrow.
I’m grateful for insects of all stripes and sizes, from the tiniest kitchen ants to the fattest bumblebee, the most dramatic dragonflies to the most humble butterflies, like the juniper hairstreak–which I’ve seen none of this summer. I miss them. Nor was there a single Mourning Cloak. Ironic. There haven’t been as many moths at night, either. Nor bumblebees, nor honeybees, and the very few dragonflies I’ve seen have been in the phoebes’ beaks. Come to think of it, there haven’t been as many spiders in the house as usual, just the same annoying black flies. And even the flies, those massive hatches that used to happen certain seasons, I’ve not seen for a few years.
I’m grateful that we’ve never had a huge mosquito problem here, and that I’ve never gotten a tick bite at Mirador. Grateful that fleas have never plagued my pets as they used to in Florida. But this recent dearth of insects has me horrified. I’ve mentioned a few times in past years that bees have come later than they used to, in fewer numbers. But with my all-too-human capacity for denial, I’ve noticed, mourned, and moved on to the next soothing delight. Flowers; what bees there are; chocolate…
I’m grateful that I’ve spent a year intensively cultivating equanimity, coming to terms with the future I’ve known my entire life was inescapable. I saw it in dreams when I was still in single digits. I’m grateful that since I was a child, I’ve been friends with most insects, saving spiders and flies from my mother’s swatter, carrying them gently outside; avoiding stepping on ants; refusing to pin butterflies. I’m grateful that through the years I’ve paid attention to insects, noticed and cared about them. I grieve the insect apocalypse for so many reasons. I weep for the wild world, large and small.
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.