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Intangibles

Zoom cocktails with Amy on Saturday, which I tried to upload from my phone but didn’t realize it hadn’t worked. I’m grateful for a spectacular fall color display on Mendicant Ridge and all the mountains around, whether or not I make it up into the high country to drive or walk among the brilliant aspens. I’m content to witness it from the plateau looking up, knowing and recollecting the feel, the scent, the ambience of an aspen forest in fall.
I’m grateful for this little imp, and grateful that she didn’t fall off the edge of the deck. Look at that face!
I’m grateful to watch the full moon sidle up behind the mountains on a balmy October evening, sharing the moment with my dear friend across the country.

I’m grateful for the intangibles in a day; not to be confused with the immeasurables, but including them. I’m grateful for the feeling of joy of just waking up alive, for the excitement and potential I feel at the end of pranayama class with a beloved teacher and the sense of understanding that passes between us even on zoom; for the joy of teaching and the sincere caring for the students in my classes (and graduates) to whom I can offer some help and guidance in navigating challenging lives; for the sense of humility I experience knowing that I’m just a step or two ahead of them on this journey to peace and contentment in a culture that demands more of us than we can realistically expect to render. I’m grateful for the facets of my life that I experience and treasure every day which cannot be captured in a photograph. Also, I’m grateful for those moments that can be.

I’m grateful for quotidian moments of levity like this Marine cut mullein top.

Today winterizing began in earnest, deep-cleaning the sunroom in preparation for bringing in all the cacti, geranii, potted herbs, and a few peppers that I can’t bear to lose to colder nights. Above, one of the two Datil peppers, which I dug up and potted to bring in so that I can at least have a chance of some ripening. These hot peppers are native to St. Augustine, Florida, and apparently need a much longer season than I could give them here. Below, I also potted up the single Tabasco pepper plant, which took so long to produce blossoms, then flourished; but alas, it hails from Mexico and the US gulf coast states, and also wants a longer season than I could provide. Hoping these two pepper plants, and a little Scorpion that hasn’t even flowered yet, plus one of the Jigsaw peppers, will all thrive in the sunroom for a month or two more, without spawning aphids.

The bounty of unripe peppers on this Tabasco plant made it feel worthwhile to bring in before nights get too cold. Biko will also be coming in regularly at night now, until he decides it’s time to hibernate in the laundry room.

I’ve created a monster! My goal in spring was to have Wren trained by fall to race around the yard and find Biko quickly and consistently. She is doing an excellent job of that, when she can tear herself away from nibbling on the lush green grasses brought up by an extra rainy September. She runs ahead of me checking under sagebrush, rabbitbrush, juniper, and sits down when she finds him. However, when I pull him from his burrow each evening to bring him inside, she jumps at him and follows me, dancing around as I set him down in his indoor spot, then barks and sits down beside him to tell me she’s found him again! In the mornings, she yips and prances until I follow her into the laundry nook where she finds him yet again; each time expecting a treat, of course. And of course she gets one.

Just Being

I’m grateful that my grownup cat Topaz, whose nose has been out of joint since the kitten adventure, and not quite straight even after three months with Wren, finally jumped up on my lap this afternoon for no reason. She kneaded and purred, and curled up for a short visit as I picked weeds out of her thick fur. Wren got a little anxious about it, and came up to inquire; she and Topaz went nose to gentle nose for a few seconds with no tension. It was sweet. We all hung out for awhile in the shade of late afternoon on the east patio, doing nothing, content to just be. I love these peaceful breaks in the day, where I simply pause, take a time out from the busyness of correspondence, work, dishes, practice, anything, just being in open awareness for a few minutes.

Atmosphere

Last night’s beans for lunch, sautéed in oil and butter with a few good shakes of some Penzey’s spices. So simple, so delicious!
Yesterday’s cucumbers transformed into bread and butter pickles…
…and the leftover pickling syrup poured over lettuce, feta, red onions, and cashews for dinner salad.
Amazing clouds at sunset in all directions: North…
… South…
…and West…

I’m grateful for another full day of mindfulness, considering my values and trying to put them into action. One of my deepest values is gratitude, of course; another is savoring wholesome food and making the most of the gifts I’m given; yet another is witnessing the beauty of this fragile planet. I’m grateful for its atmosphere, what I can experience of it anyway: the clouds above, aridity and humidity, heat and cool as they fluctuate with day and night; and each breath inhaling air here as pure as anywhere. I’m grateful for a friend to spend these precious days with, and the atmosphere of playful joy she brings to everything we do.

Wren, Again

I’m grateful for the garden, as always; the bulbing fennel continues to plump up in the perfect combination of early light and late shade.
In the right light my friend Deb’s house glows a mile away as if floodlit.

This evening we stepped outside for sunset. The light was that spectacular low, late light after rain, sun slicing along the horizon under a heavy blanket of stratus clouds, air crystalline cool after a long drizzly day. I’m grateful for this wet respite, and grateful for the spectacle of sunset.

As I stood at the west fenceline snapping images, Wren sat and trembled at my left heel, watching horses in the pasture beyond, itching to investigate them. I lost myself for a moment in the clouds and light. When I turned for her Wren had disappeared. I’ve learned not to panic and yell, because she’s never far and she comes instantaneously when called. I’ve never had a dog like that. Even wonderful Stellar took a few seconds to lug his big beautiful body my way. Wren turns on a dime and goes into warp drive when I whistle or call even softly. So I looked around close, and then farther away.

I felt a frisson of fear when I saw those two big white rogue dogs I lost my hearing over, trotting single file through the woods fifty feet away, heading south toward their home, oblivious to me. Then they moved into a lope, and behind them ran my fierce little watchdog chasing them out of her territory! I laughed aloud as they picked up their pace, and when I whistled she turned and sped over to me, so proud of herself.

I’m grateful for Wren, again today. She is full of surprises.
I don’t even remember the name of this perennial I planted so many years ago, but this is the best it’s ever looked. I’m grateful for red flowers.

42+

The most perfect western tiger swallowtail I have ever seen. She must have just emerged from her cocoon. Not a tear or tatter on her as she feeds on the perennial onions in full bloom the past couple of weeks.

It’s been a challenging few weeks. Between internal and external events, I’m tired all the time. It’s hard to rise to each occasion. But from this glum place, I’ve reached a conclusion: I need to return to my daily gratitude practice. And why bother with a thousand words, when a couple of numerals and some pictures can do the job? So, catching up for the past couple of weeks, here are just some of the things I’m grateful for…

Honeybee on the crabapple tree a couple of weeks ago.

42+ is a gratitude practice from the Active Hope course I just completed this evening. It’s freely available online, and one of these days I’ll probably facilitate a group engagement similar to the one that just ended, hosted by a friend. Today, I’m grateful for (4) having been given the opportunity to take the course, having made the commitment to take it and participated in it fully, and for the wonderful classmates I shared the eight-week journey with. I’m grateful to (2) Deborah Sussex for offering the course for free, and for her skillful and open-hearted facilitating of it through an increasingly difficult time in our country, when active hope is needed more than ever. The + part is how I will express my gratitude: right here, right now. Many thanks, Deb, Denali, Kes, Renee, and everyone else, for the inspiring experience of virtual connection.

I don’t know western bumblebees well enough to identify this one who was enjoying the lilacs in their glory. I also enjoyed them every single day of their bloom, snipping a couple of clusters each evening to bring inside for their fleeting, saturating scent.
I’m grateful for Zoom cooking with Amy a couple of weeks ago…
…grateful for Topaz and Wren getting along…
…for the claret cup blossoms…
…for garden asparagus from Kim, and for pesto with cashews and garden arugula, and for the Instagram inspiration to combine them…
I’m grateful that Garden Buddy had some extra plastic jugs after a well-meaning neighbor crushed all those I’d been saving to use for frost protection. Grateful to have all the little peppers and tomatoes in the ground, just in time for the last freeze–ha!–but saved by the jugs.
Grateful for Boyz Lunch again outside, with a fantastic frittata and orange chiffon cake…
… and for the silly pleasure of a successful latté stencil.
I’m grateful for daily Wordle laughs with cousin Melinda, and the gentle, mind-tickling competition between us.
Grateful for pea flowers a few days ago, and the first fragile pea pods just forming today.
Grateful for this bean sampler and a couple of extra treats from this small, fabulous heirloom bean company, and grateful to SB for turning me onto them. Looking forward to making many healthful meals with these dried goodies as the garden harvest comes in.
Grateful for time with this little old man who stayed with us the past week while his mama traveled. Almost fifteen, and I’ve known him since he was a pup. Dear old Rocky is grey and wobbly now, but still full of spunk in the morning. He’s teaching Wren some good habits, and we’re trying to preclude her learning some bad ones as well.
And finally, I’m grateful for this little cuddlebug, who softens my heart more and more each day with her irrepressible Piglet energy and her unconditional love.

Poor Little Wren

A. She doesn’t like snow! She did everything she could to avoid going out in it yesterday. Fortunately for her, it didn’t accumulate much, and fortunately for all other living things, it actually carried quite a bit of moisture, leaving good puddles when it all melted this morning, and soaking into the ground pretty well.

B. She got traumatized at the vet this morning. The good news is, she isn’t diabetic; and, she didn’t fight the blood draw as ferociously as she did the other procedure. She’s had loose stools since she arrived almost a month ago, to varying degrees. She got treated a few weeks ago at the Delta vet for ‘stress colitis’ and put on a special, very expensive, short-term diet, which seemed to improve things for the short term. But it’s just been getting worse since we transitioned that diet a week ago to a high-end small-dog kibble. I wondered if maybe she had picked up coccidia from snoofing the kittens, or had not been thoroughly wormed at the shelter she came from. So off we drove to the local vet on this gorgeous, damp morning, Wren snapped into her new carseat, nasty bagged poop sample on the back floor.

I brought them both in, dog and sample, and held her on the exam table as we waited for the doctor. When he approached her behind, I naturally thought he was going to take her temperature, so I tightened my grip. She screamed, thrashed, screamed, bit me, screamed, writhed, latched onto my ring finger and ring (Please don’t swallow that stone!), and screamed some more. She fought every bit as hard as Raven did whenever she was on the vet table, and I was grateful Wren only weighs eleven pounds. The vet grunted “Move her up, move her up.” I didn’t know what that meant or why, imagined the thermometer stuck in her butt, but I scooted her up the table and looked over my shoulder. A stream of poo ran down the table and he stood there with a dry swab.

“Jesus!” I yelped. “What are you doing?! I brought in a sample!”

“Oh, you brought a sample?” he muttered.

It took me a few minutes to regain my composure, and Wren a bit longer than that. I handed her to the assistant, and went to the sink to wash the blood and shit off my hand. OK, that sounds worse than it was, there wasn’t much of either, it was just a couple of small tooth wounds on my pinky and a little smear of poop on my wrist. Though I remained disgruntled, I managed to be pleasant for the rest of the visit as he ran the Giardia test and listened to her heart and lungs. Despite her occasional little cough, her lungs sounded good, and her heart strong. He drew a few drops of blood from her foreleg and found her glucose to be safely in the normal range. But the Giardia test turned up positive.

Giardia is a nasty one-celled parasitic organism that passes through feces and contaminates water and soil. It’s almost impossible for a human to drink from wild water anymore, even in high mountain streams, without getting infected, because domestic grazing animals have contaminated source water. Giardia is not uncommon in kennels and shelters, it turns out, especially if cleaning protocols are inadequate. Not making any accusations, but the most likely source of Wren’s infection is one of the three shelters she passed through on her way here, or else she arrived at the Shiprock shelter with it from her previous home. Fortunately, it’s unlikely that Topaz, Biko, or I will get infected from Wren, as various strains of Giardia infest different host species. But, it’s possible, and we’ll be doing some more thorough cleaning than usual this weekend.

By the time I left the vet, their tiny waiting room had gotten crowded with unmasked people despite the “One at a Time” sign on their door. I was still shaken and grumpy. I carried that grump with me as I drove back to town and went into Farm Runners for a couple of groceries. The mushrooms weren’t in the cooler where they should have been but were in a counter drying out; no one in there wore a mask; the first clerk coughed so much she had to leave the counter; the second clerk nattered on about how good the tortillas are–Like I don’t know that? Like that’s not why I’m buying them?!

I had to laugh to myself about my poopy attitude. I didn’t manage to muster a smile behind my mask, but at least I didn’t voice any of my irritation or act it out. I was, as usual, so grateful for my mindfulness practice, which in this case allowed me to understand why I was impatient and grumpy. Everything in the store that annoyed me was exacerbated by the residual experience of anger, trauma, and frustration from the vet office. I could see clearly that I was in the grip of an emotional refractory period, and was able to get through it without any regretful reactions. Once home, I showered off the bad attitude and ate some delicious spring risotto topped with crispy baby shiitakes, while Wren curled up in her bed and licked her wounded pride.

Poor little Wren. What a rough ride she’s had these past few months: given up, shipped through three shelters, her kittens taken away, a constantly upset tummy, and now this indignity. But I promised her, it will just get better from here on out. “Her name is Wren and she’s home,” I croon to her often as I hold her close.

Meet Ready!

I am too tired to write much, except to say that when I was finally ready, so was she!

I found her on Petfinder when I was shelter surfing online a couple of weeks ago, and the stars finally aligned for us to meet. I’m so grateful to GB, who drove me up there so that I could cuddle her all the way home from Grand Junction, and was more optimistic than I that it would work out. She’s very timid, having been first a stray on the Navajo reservation, then in a shelter down there, then shipped up to GJ with a bunch of other puppies and dogs since there aren’t as many dogs available in Colorado.

I thought about naming her Fennec, since her profile picture on the website reminded me, and others, of the adorable North African desert fennec fox. But she doesn’t seem like a Fennec, and it’s too hard to say over and over.
So her ‘working name’ for now is Ready, just like in the dream, and it works really well: “Ready, come! Ready, go! Ready, ride? Ready, up; Ready down, Ready dinner…” Her computer-generated name online was, get this, Stella! But I just couldn’t keep it. Also, she is not really a Stella.

She was billed as a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, but I think they got it very wrong. Chihuahua I can see, but not Pom. Pamela thinks maybe she has some red heeler in her because of her freckled paws; I think she may have Basenji because I haven’t heard her make a sound in more than 24 hours! David says she has coyote ears. Coyotihuahua! We’ll know more later, because I’m interested enough to spring for a DNA test somewhere down the line.

You might think a new little dog for a day wouldn’t exhaust me (even with the slight and dissipating tension of monitoring her interactions with Topaz), and you’d be right. I was already tired when she joined the family because I’ve been ‘fostering’ three little kittens for a different shelter in GJ for a week, up at least once in the night to make sure they get adequate feeding. Two have graduated to canned food but the littlest, Tigger, is still on a bottle, and not thriving.

Smokey, on the right, was spoken for when the kittens were delivered, whew! That left only two for me to think about rehoming when they turn two months. This alleged fostering lasted about three hours for Tigger before I knew I’d be keeping him. The largest kitten, on the left, I’ve named Pitbull, for a couple of reasons, which I may go into another time.
This is NOT the ideal nipple for a three-week old kitten! If you’re ever going to foster bottle-baby kittens, look for the ‘miracle nipple’ instead of the standard package.

He’s what they refer to as ‘a fussy eater.’ I don’t think it’s really his fault, or even mine. The shelter didn’t give us ideal nipples at first, but yesterday we took the kittens with us to the city, to get a lesson from the foster coordinator. That didn’t go so well, but we did get a better bottle, and today he’s latched on a few times if only for a few seconds; an improvement, however slight, and I think he may have gained a few grams by morning.

Certainly, he’s gained a friend. I was beyond delighted this morning when I had fed Tigger, and Ready jumped into my lap and curled up, letting him snuggle. As tired as I am, I’m realizing the nourishing potential in physical connection with these warm little lives. If I had four new mechanical things or four new work projects that required this much time and energy, I’d be thoroughly depleted. But I get a lot back from caring for these animals, and am soothed by a steady two-way flow of oxytocin. And bless little Topaz, who has tolerated these intrusions with surprising equanimity. I’m making sure she still gets all she ever wanted from me, which is a couple of walks a day, full food bowls, a treat game in the evenings, and to sleep in bed with me at night. It’s a little challenging right now, but I’m confident it will smooth out over time into a new, sweet, balanced family.

Stellar’s Birthday

January 28, 2015. In loving memory. Happy Birthday, Best Boy.

Today, Stellar would have been fourteen years old. He almost made it! It’s been a contemplative day and I’ve missed him a bit more than in recent weeks. But I’m okay, and celebrating what a wonderful life he had, we all had together. In mindfulness, we talk about the importance of choosing where to place our attention. From the moment Stellar arrived in my life, he was always a joyful and restorative focus for my attention. Hours at a time passed when I was occupied with other things, work or people or other obligations, but even then he was always present in the background like a bass rhythm, my anchor, my rock.

Stellar at about two months old, the last time I had three dogs. Raven teaches him to dig, and grumpy Uncle Brick supervises. (There’s no sound in this video.)

When he had been with us about eight months, serious Mr. Brick was diagnosed with cancer and declined quickly. In the last week of his life, I’d sit inside with him doing Reiki. The energy flow between us was palpable to me, and also to little Stellar outside; at a certain point in my session with Mr. Brick, when the energy hit a particular frequency, each time at the same level, Stellar would come tap at the window. That’s how strong our connection was. I don’t think he ever thought of himself as separate from me.

Thoughts arise almost every day about getting another dog, and I know I will eventually. But each time those thoughts come up, after I follow the fantasy (which varies widely) for awhile, I settle into the memory of my big beautiful boy, the best dog ever on the whole planet, and realize that I’m still not ready, yet. There is too much of him still with me, the body memory of his giant presence, the clarity of his gaze into my eyes, the total belonging of us together. I miss all my past dogs, memories of each of them colored to a large or small degree with some regrets; but I miss Stellar with a pure, clear love untainted by doubt or rue, one connection unsullied by human errors, misperceptions, judgements. He was one true thing I did right in life. I’ll be grateful forever for the solace and joy of this little bhodisattva who graced almost fourteen years of my time on this planet.

Mr. Brick and Stellar, spring 2008. He was two months old.
Three months old. Forgive the indulgence. I’m trying to post pictures I haven’t shared here before.
Back when we used to get big snow, 2010. He was two.
At Dameron Marsh, Virginia, 2011. He was three.
At Hughlett Point, Virginia, 2013. He was five.
Stellar and Raven singing in another precious day, 2014. He was six.
January 2015. He was seven.
May 2015, driving the Mothership without a license.
Silly boy, 2016. He was eight.
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Topaz and Stellar, 2016. She was just one.
November 2016
Autumn at the canyon rim, 2017. He was nine.
Another pretty good snow, 2019. He was eleven.
May 2020. He was twelve. We were both mourning the death of Raven.
November 2021, a year before he died.
May 2021. He was thirteen. Rest in peace, dear boy. You’ll live in the hearts of those who loved you as long as we live.

Ready

Dameron Marsh, Virginia

I’ve had a series of dog dreams since Stellar died. Symbolic or otherwise, they have featured greyhounds, a Great Dane, others I’ve forgotten, and dear old Stellar, younger. People ask me now and then if I’m thinking about getting another dog. Of course, I reply. But not until after winter. What kind, they ask. I don’t know. Whatever kind shows up at the right time. Maybe a puppy, maybe an old dog, or maybe two whose people died and they need to be adopted together. Maybe a dog that just shows up in the yard, or on the side of the road, or maybe I’ll go to a shelter–when I’m ready. But for now, I’m enjoying not having to get up at the crack of dawn and go outside in the freezing winter morning; enjoying lots of quiet time while no one is depending on me.

And frankly, I’m still recovering from the intensity of the mutual devotion during Stellar’s last months, even years; in fact, of his whole life. He was like no other dog, no other relationship. We were continuously connected at the heart and the soul from the moment I first held him. I still look up from the kitchen counter sometimes expecting him to be lying there across the living room; I still jolt a bit when I drive home from somewhere and he isn’t here to greet me. So I’m not in a hurry to get another dog. So don’t send me anymore dogs on Facebook that need a new home, or even mention a catahoula pup.

However, there’s been some comfort in the dreams. I had another one this morning. Stellar and Raven and the new dog were romping in a field as I watched. Suddenly Stellar took off like a streak across the field and I called after him but he didn’t stop. Raven looked at me, then took off running after him, and the new dog followed them both. “Hey!” I yelled, “Stellar! Raven! Come back here! Hey–!” I realized I didn’t know what to call the new dog. I didn’t know his name yet! He looked a lot like Stellar, almost a clone, just a lot younger and a tiny bit smaller. “Hey! Come back!” But they all disappeared over the hill.

Fred and Mary pulled up in their blue VW bug, and I got in, and we started tracking the dogs. We drove for endless miles up the east coast, catching sight of them once in a while and then losing them. Hours… We drove by a big-box store parking lot, and saw a few people around a couple of pickup trucks who were trying to round up three dogs and collar them. “We’ve gotta check,” I cried, “those could be my dogs!” But they weren’t. We drove on through the parking lot, and there on the far side, frolicking along a stream, were Raven, Stellar, and the new dog.

Bennett Spring State Park, Missouri

“Stellar, come!” I called, and he did, and I called Raven, and she came, and I tried to call the new dog but remembered that I didn’t know his name yet, but that was okay because he just followed the other dogs right into the back seat of the VW bug, and they all piled on top of each other with me in the middle, and I was so relieved. We were all laughing. I said, “I don’t even know this guy’s name yet.” Fred mentioned a friend who had looked after him a couple of times, and said, “She told me his name.”

“What?” I asked, “What’s his name?”

And Fred said, “Ready. His name is Ready.”