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Stellar’s Last Days: Poop

I’m grateful every time that Stellar poops on a walk. That means less chance he’ll poop on his bed or on the floor. I’m even more grateful when he poops off the trail, but that doesn’t happen much anymore. He cannot longer squat, so he poops as he walks along. Anyone who has ever loved an old dog, (or a puppy, or any dog, or a cat for that matter) understands the importance of monitoring their companion animals’ digestions, from what goes in and how often to what comes out and how often. It’s not a tasteful task but necessary, part of everyday life as much as attending to our own digestive systems.

There are the jokes about praising your dogs when they poop. But there’s a good reason for doing this: training a puppy, helping it understand what a goooood boy or girl it is for pooping outside not inside. Some puppies learn it quickly, others slowly. I don’t think Stellar every pooped inside. I think he was house trained by the time we got back from Florida after a week on the road in the Mothership. He never pooped in the Mothership. We stopped often enough that he had ample opportunity to learn that lesson, and by then I had learned to always take a puppy out after every time it eats or drinks, and be patient, and praise a good poop.

This is the third winter he’s suffered from neurological damage in his spine, at first presumed to be degenerative as he continued to lose strength, muscle mass, coordination and mobility in his back legs, and began to lose bowel control. First it was just a random golfball on the bed overnight, and then another a few months later. Around that time a friend posted a query on Facebook: “Does your old dog ever leave a hard dry poop in the bed?” Yes! I answered, as did some others. We figured it was just an old dog thing.

Since he moved downstairs a year ago, bowel incontinence has increased. For awhile it was every morning. I adapted his feeding schedule, and made his walks more intentional, and now it’s back down to every few days. There’s a little turd or two in his bed when he gets up for his morning walk. The earlier I get up and walk him, the better the odds for me: less laundry. Also for him, I think. He doesn’t know it when it comes out, but I think he’s a bit ashamed when he notices it. You understand. Old dogs, they’re special. I’m grateful to meet any old dog.

I am so grateful to have Stellar’s last days with him, alone, the only dog I need to love right now. He’s been the most remarkable companion a girl could ever hope for. He’s made patience practice easy and a pleasure. I would be immeasurably lucky to get a thousand more days with him, supremely grateful for a hundred or two, or three; grateful even for only ten more. Ten days from today he’ll turn thirteen. 

Granted, I’d feel cheated by only ten, since he’s finally doing so well (though I’m well aware, every day, that I could get only one more). After two years of steady decline, his health has been slowly improving for the past six months on a magic formula called ‘moleculars,’ a half-homemade diet, and a routine of two short and at least one long walks a day. Long being relative, half a mile or more. 

I was grateful this morning when he chased Cynthia down the driveway. He hasn’t run that far in at least a year. Run being relative also, but he managed a pretty quick wobbly lope that I couldn’t keep up with walking. He got way ahead of me, and she was way ahead of him but he was gaining on her. I yelled her name, and I can’t stop him

She assessed the situation, then walked toward him to turn him back across the field. Overjoyed that he’d caught her, he turned to lead her back to me, still lope-limping, til he spied a deer bone, which he grabbed and chewed, and trotted with toward home. We waved, and she continued on toward the Barn, while I headed home with my dog and my cat. I’m grateful for mid-morning quotidian adventures.

More gratitude for Stellar’s Last Days will be expressed leading up to his birthday… It’s too much for just one post.

Bed

There have been times there’s barely room for me in my bed, but no more.

I’m grateful for my bed, where I’m heading soon. I’m grateful that I have a bed, under a roof, of a house, that I own. So many have none of those things. Grateful that no matter how happy or sad the day, it’s so comfortable that I almost always fall asleep quickly, and sleep through the night. I’m grateful that I get plenty of sleep these days, that I’m not in too much pain or emotional distress to sleep, that I don’t go to bed hungry.

Topaz is the only one left who comes upstairs to bed. Stellar can’t do stairs anymore. I miss him, but grateful there’s more room for me. And grateful that little Topaz picked up the slack when her brother died, and now comes running to cuddle every night when I climb under the covers.
For five years, until last fall, I could count on the little black cat to come hug my arm every bedtime.
I’m grateful for the terrific view from my bed…
… which I usually only see at sunrise…
I’m grateful for every sunrise, each day a precious gift that comes but once.

a Woodstove

“…she sits in solitude for awhile in the deep murmuring quiet of her house, fire humming steadily in the woodstove, the whispered crash inside as a burning log breaks to cinders, coals fall to the grate, the occasional deep breath of the dog on the rug before it, the rainy click and whirr of the fan on top; the woodstove alone creates its own little ecology of sound.” 

For more than half my life, I’ve been grateful for a woodstove as my primary source of heat. It’s kind of like meat: As an ethicarian, I eat meat if I know who killed it. I burn wood if I know who cut it. There are complexities and complications around anything that I’m going to be grateful for, and wood heat is just one of many. But I’m grateful for the woodstoves in my life, the three I’ve owned and the several many more I’ve tended at other people’s homes. Each woodstove, practically each fire, teaches me something new.

This little stove has four air controls: the front doors, an underneath damper, a back damper, and the ashpan door. I think that means there are 16 or 64 variations on how and where I can let in air. Something like that: a lot of options to control airflow.

I’ve learned that the more options for oxygen intake a stove has, the more control I have of the fire. I’ve learned that a top-loading option is a good thing for an older person, and I’ll be sure to get one if I ever buy another woodstove. I’ve learned how to start a fast fire first time-every time with the proper configuration of paper, kindling, and logs: there are more than one way, and I know how to tell with accuracy what will start readily and what won’t; I’ve learned how to resurrect a smoking mess in someone else’s fireplace and, very rarely, in my own woodstove. I’ve made friends with fire.

At least, with domesticated fire. No one really makes friends with wildfire, I think, except maybe some extreme firefighters. I’m grateful for firefighters, men and women who understand how wildfire makes its own weather, and lean into that, season after season. Once I did something good for a slew of wildfire fighters, and that’s one moment in my life I knew I was doing the right thing. I like a small, contained fire, in a cast-iron woodstove, heating my home.

Popis and Raven share the stove early this year.

This little Dovre replaced a big Fisher, my second woodstove, first in this house. It was given to me, and you don’t look a free woodstove in the mouth. I’m grateful for the friends who outgrew it, and let me have it for nothing in my new home. It could eat gigantic logs, almost Manor-sized. Imagine one of those six-foot-across fireplaces with an equally gigantic mantlepiece. It wasn’t that big, but could easily take a few two-foot long logs. It kept me warm for several winters, with many fond memories. Then I bought a much smaller, more fuel-efficient woodstove, with a catalytic combustor.

That was complicated, because I didn’t pay enough attention when I bought it to know that it required hardwoods, not pitchy pines and junipers. I’ve made-do for almost twenty years, burning a combination of soft, hard, and pitchy woods, and getting almost-yearly chimney sweepings. And I’ll make-do for a few more years. It’s still a great woodstove, though it’s suffered some ravages of time. One thing I’ll never buy is a woodstove without glass in the doors. The Fisher had solid iron doors, but my first woodstove, in the tiny homesteader cabin in Jensen, had glass doors, and I fell completely in love.

Ojo and Topaz share the heat last winter. Oh my god, how I miss that black cat.

A glass-doored woodstove brings together the best of a fireplace with the best of a stove: you can see the warmth without sacrificing heat. I love my little, efficient, glass-front woodstove for its heating capacity and its cheering warm light. I’m so grateful for this stove, for the wood that fuels it, for the people who have cut and split and delivered the wood, for the saws, axes, mauls and mallets that enable me to feed its fires, for the dead and down trees that lived and died to unintentionally provide me with fuel, for the kindling cracker that makes it safer and easier for me to cut wood down to starter-size, for the men who have taught me about chainsaws and the women who have inspired my confidence in using them. I’m grateful for the friends who sometimes ferry fuel from the woodshed to my front door, and for my ability to fetch it myself; for the wheelbarrows that have carried countless loads of firewood, and for the matches, endless matches struck against the iron or the sandpaper to light the paper, for the newsprint and tissue paper and bank statements that have ignited fires in these woodstoves for more than three decades.

That first woodstove. I’ll be eternally grateful for that tiny woodstove in that tiny log cabin, and for all that I learned about living while using it. Adaptability, for one thing. And how to pay attention. I’m grateful for Mrs. June Stewart, that pioneer Mormon grandma who rented me that little log cabin, and taught me how to use the little woodstove that came with it. I’m even grateful for my first real lover, who lived on the banks of the James River in Virginia, and was the first also to teach me the first thing about building a fire in a woodstove. I’m grateful forty years later that there is still deadwood, there is still a woodstove, still a life that needs its heat, still a house to heat, still a mind and body capable to feed a woodstove. I know this will not always be so.

The woodstove brings out the best in everyone. Topaz and Raven in a rare moment of sisterly compatibility. Little old Raven. All differences can be set aside. Who doesn’t love to relax and warm up in front of a cheery woodstove?

Friendship

… and more ice! Grateful for Carol who sent this picture of their ice candle New Year’s Eve celebration.

Going into this new year, I’m grateful for friends who have traveled this life with me, those I met just last year and those I’ve known since childhood, those who came into my life along the way and those who may arrive this new year. Thinking of friends this morning, I imagined writing a rhyming ABCs like Edward Gorey’s: A is for Amy who once saved my life, B is for Bethie a multiple wife, C is for Carol who lived in the parks, D is for David who fishes for sharks….

ABCs not for the faint of heart!

That silly imagining got me to reread “The Ghashlycrumb Tinies,” because it always makes me laugh, and besides that, it reminds us that death is certain, time of death uncertain. That recollection motivates me to wake up every day grateful, and determined to live this one precious day to its fullest.

All the little children in Gorey’s story meet a creatively untimely end. In my ABCs my friends wouldn’t die, they’d live each day in genuine happiness, and get plenty of sleep. Auntie told me once that when she couldn’t fall asleep she did what her grandmother taught her: instead of counting sheep, she would name her friends, starting with A, all the way to Z. I asked her about X. She said she was usually asleep by the time she got there. I’ve used this trick a few times to fall asleep. Sometimes I make it to the end and start the alphabet over with different names. I’m flexible: they don’t all have to be alive still, or human, or even actual friends as long as I’ve actually met them. I once shared a house for awhile with a grandpa named Q, so he’s always my go-to there. Once I met Marla’s granddaughter I had X covered.

S is for Stellar, the Very Best Boy. Oh, and more ICE!

Human or animal, girl or boy, F is for Friendship that brings me great joy.

Almonds in Winter

So much to be grateful for in a simple salad.

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.

Red Admiral butterfly pollinating almonds in May.
Ripe almonds in September.

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.

Shelling commences.
Layers peeled away reveal milky raw kernels inside the shells inside the hulls.
They were a bit soft after a year in the freezer, but with some oil, salt, and heat they crisped right up, good as new.

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….

Stellar by moonlight. Grateful, as always, for my good dog, who always gets last bite of everything.

New Dimensions

The Ancient One, a mother-tree I’ve stopped at to offer the same prayer nearly every day for 28 years: Above all, I give thanks

This morning I’m grateful for New Dimensions, a weekly, one-hour radio program more than forty years old, that I have been listening to for almost thirty. Today’s interview with Richard Louv is just one of many that I find profoundly moving. Some of the shows are a bit too… esoteric for my taste, but that’s just personal preference.

“It is only through a change in human consciousness that the world will be transformed. The personal and the planetary are connected. As we expand our awareness of mind, body, psyche, and spirit, and bring that awareness actively into the world, so also will the world be changed. This is our quest, as we explore New Dimensions.”

Each interview brings a unique perspective to some inquiry that inevitably relates to mindfulness. Richard Louv’s latest book, and the topic of Justine Willis Toms’ interview with him in episode #3716, is Our Wild Calling: How Connecting with Animals Can Transform Our Lives – and Save Theirs. Gosh, hasn’t this been my calling all along? Among many other things, he talks about the plague of loneliness, derived in large measure from our disconnection from Nature, that ranks with diabetes and obesity as a US human health hazard. He talks about how urban planning for wildlife (such as grasslands on factory rooftops), and home habitat gardens, can fortify migratory bird corridors, and help restore endangered species. One office building he describes raises endangered butterflies on their all-glass first-floor, so not only is there a plenitude of natural light to lift people’s spirits, when you enter the building you’re likely to have a butterfly alight on your shoulder.

“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and softly sits on your shoulder.” I had a poster in my childhood bedroom with this quote that’s resonated with me ever since.

Louv also discusses the idea of habitat of the heart, a habitat as important to the preservation of Nature as natural habitat, and how we must cultivate this habitat from childhood on, as each generation’s ‘new normal’ becomes acclimatized to less and less wild nature in their lives. I remember climbing the birch tree in the backyard woods when I was in the single digits of my life, sitting in the top branches of its gently swaying slender trunk, just sitting, being part of the woods. Do you have a childhood memory of being with nature in that way? Do your children? I hope so.

Bunny…
Not bunny…

Gratitude practice today starts with New Dimensions, ripples out to include KVNF which introduced me to this show and has expanded my horizons in so many other ways since I moved to this valley, and leads to gratitude for all the conditions of my life that led me to settle here in 1992. Grateful that a deep sense of missing something, in my twenties, led me to trust and rely upon my profound inborn reverence for Nature, and to create this little sanctuary for the Wild, in which loneliness never enters my mind. Ok, sometimes, but not often!

Grateful that the old dog has renewed capacity for excitement when I stray from our well-traveled trail. Grateful to his vet, Dr. TLC, formerly of Morningstar Vet Clinic in Montrose and now treating Stellar with magic potion remotely from Aspen Park Vet Hospital in Conifer.

Christmas Presents

A box from Amy full of little treats, like opening a stocking stuffed by my mother with thoughtful tidbits

I am grateful ~ I can’t help it ~ for Christmas presents. As much as I practice non-attachment to stimulus-driven pleasure, and as much as I don’t want more stuff, I still take “conditional joy” as a friend called it, in opening presents. The pleasure of having some presents to open on Christmas morning hearkens back to the simpler time of childhood: but, the presents I give and get these days are smaller and seem to mean more. A jar of homemade of jam, a special glass, a paper platter of baked treats. We are putting more of ourselves and less of our money into presents, with the genuine satisfaction of knowing it really is the thought that counts.

Amy’s box, for example, was full of thoughtful little gifts. A wooden hook her father made for me in the shape of an R; a jar of homemade peach~blueberry~pepper jam, cloth napkins, chocolate, a couple of magnets, and a gift card for Penzey’s, a social-justice company with great spices and the motto Love People, Cook them Tasty Food. When my mom, aka Santa, stuffed our Christmas stockings she filled them with thoughtful tidbits she’d collected during the year, and at the bottom was the toe present, always the best gift. Opening Amy’s box this morning reminded me a little of opening my stocking, only there were several ‘toe presents.’

Grateful for friends who tied a beautiful wreath to our driveway flagpole. It got a little wind-whipped but still reflects the season.
Chris’s box included a beautiful Ming Dynasty Covid mask, a nice bar Chagrin Valley moisturizing soap, and a cozy turquoise hat too big for her little pinhead.

Grateful for homemade-handmade gifts of fizzy bath salts, an artful marbled bookmark, a pint of vanilla ice cream, a beeswax candle, all thoughtful presents that will disappear quickly or take up little space; but mostly grateful for the thoughtfulness of dear friends who gave me all these bright little treasures, and for those near and far who sent actual Christmas cards, making me feel loved and cared for. I know this holiday is hard for a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, and my heart aches for the copious suffering of others who haven’t got what I have: sufficient food, fresh water, warm shelter, and a life full of friendships, all making it easy for me to feel grateful and perfectly contented spending this holiday isolated, but not alone.

Stellar also enjoys presents, and thoroughly inspected every package. Grateful for UPS Tom, who cheerfully drives the long driveway to leave presents at my gate, even though he’s working twelve hour delivery days.
And always grateful for this elegant fat little cat who greets me each morning.

Patience… Heavy Sigh

Ojo in early August, living the prime of his life.

At last, another one of those recently-all-too-rare days when I can heave a sigh and enjoy the benefits of months of practicing the skill of relaxation; awareness that there has only ever been and will only ever be one thing in Life that I can control: my response to anything. This is true freedom.

A negative Covid test has released me from four months of holding my breath. From Covid only incidentally, the pandemic being one equal part among many distressing external conditions that have cascaded over me this year, and that’s only the overwhelming sadness of a single particle of humanity, the insignificant itchings of a lone flea on a small dry patch of the planet’s skin.

I’ve tried so many ways to say this, and it’s kept me silent since August. Ojo was eaten by a mountain lion.

Lots of Life went on, as usual and unusually, all summer in the garden and the forest: the roller coaster careened through weeks and months of joy and sorrow, contentment and compassion, and the grueling, rewarding practice of mindfulness. Bees pollinated, flowers bloomed and went to seed.

Life began and life ended in the wild.

Don’t look closely if you’re squeamish. If you have a scientific curiosity, however, about the wild world…

All summer long I have accepted deaths, and threats to the lives of others, those I love and those I’ll never know, with equanimity. Years of practice have really helped develop a calm abiding, regardless of what happens. Ojo didn’t come home on August 24, and two mornings later, after numerous searches, I followed a magpie and Stellar’s nose to a grisly scene not far beyond the yard fence in the woods. I felt calmed, knowing what had happened to him, and that it was quick, and he probably didn’t suffer. I suffered less, knowing, than I would have wandering the woods for weeks, months, years, looking for some sign of him.

I gathered up what I could find, three legs stripped of muscle, and his sweet, perfect head, and brought them home to bury under the apricot tree. The shock of finding his remains. The finality of it. A small black cat left a huge black hole in my life, into which, in my darkest moments, all hope and love and light vanishes. On the surface, I’ve kept my sense of humor, and joy in the fawns growing up, satisfaction in the garden harvest, pleasure in connections with friends and family mostly online, interest in my vocation. I’ve rejoiced in Stellar’s unexpected improvement with a new magic potion from his holistic vet, and Topaz has grown fatter and furrier than ever in her brother’s absence.

For weeks I saw him everywhere in the house that he used to perch or sleep. He filled the house and the garden with his remarkable energy. I struggle even now to write any more about him because when I do the ache swells inside and mutes me. One might say, the cat got my tongue.

Meanwhile, the pandemic rages on, infecting more and more people I know, taking the lives of friends and relatives of friends, and as of today more than 1.6 million others around the globe, including 2500 Americans just today. The malice and ineptitude of the Trump regime’s lying, denying, misguiding, and dividing also renders me speechless. Thank god for the integrity of scientists the world over, for the dedication of healthcare workers, for the kindness, compassion, creativity, and fortitude of people everywhere, delivering the best that human beings are capable of during this monumental crisis.

Add to the current regime’s catastrophic handling of the pandemic their escalating onslaught eviscerating environmental protections: It’s been hard to grieve the death of a single cat in the midst of such overwhelming human and planetary suffering. I search my soul for something I can do. I meditate. I pray. I try to offer help and comfort where I can, and fight as I am able. I cherish the wild world that surrounds me, I love the lion that ate my cat, I surrender my self to the larger body of the living Earth who spawned us all. I wake up each morning determined to celebrate the miracle of being alive, choosing to turn my attention to gratitude for all the beauty and joy that each day offers, even in the midst of suffering and loss.

I listened to an interview with Joanna Macy that reminded me that Hope is a verb, Apathy is the refusal or inability to suffer, and “Unblocking occurs when our pain for the world is experienced and expressed.” I recommend it as an antidote for anyone else who feels despair at the suffering of the planet, panic or paralysis induced by this pandemic or the climate crisis, or the isolation of living in a fragmented world. We belong to this Earth, our mother. Hang in there. Happy Solstice.

Goodbye, Raven

Of all the many things I thought I’d write about next, getting high on lilacs, Stellar’s last days, a neighbor’s sudden death, being an introvert on lockdown… Raven dying in my arms last night wasn’t even on the list.

Something must have happened while I was inside making dog food around six. When I called them in to eat, she didn’t come. I called and called, and saw her rise from a strange place by the fence, but she wouldn’t come. I walked up to get her, and coaxed her down and into the house, where she lay on her bed and wouldn’t eat even a cookie. She was moving oddly, all tight and slow. I thought she might have had a stroke.

At the canyon in March

Over the next few hours, she seemed to relax, then she got up on the sofa and I thought that signaled improvement. An hour later she got off the couch and collapsed on the dog bed next to Stellar, unable to move her back end. I lay beside her for the next few hours breathing deeply and calmly myself, massaging her spine and hips the way she likes, telling her what a good girl she has always been, and how I love her. She struggled to turn a few times, her breath coming more labored. Her gums paled, her paws cooled. Her breaths came farther apart, turned guttural, then thinned to a whistle. I prayed for her to be reborn in the best possible life, and rubbed sand from the monks’ mandala on her forehead, to guarantee her a human reincarnation.

In two weeks we would have celebrated her fourteenth birthday. She’s been a joyful, delightful, challenging, loyal companion since she came to me at six weeks old. She died peacefully in her own bed, in my loving arms, at 11:40 pm, of unknown causes.

Grooming her baby brother in March. I don’t know what he’ll do without her.
Double rainbow and the last ice, three weeks ago at the canyon.

IT'S A MIRACLE!

“Get me down, please.” Cyn’s caption of this photo she took this evening

I don’t often drive off the mesa after a drink, but tonight was an exception. I was enjoying a quarantini on a Zoom happy hour with Dawn when my phone, across the room, went off with text dings and call rings. I ignored it until Dawn got a text from Pamela, asking if she knew where I was, saying they had found a tortoiseshell cat at the end of their road…

It’s a miracle. I knew she had gotten in Philip’s or John’s vehicle that day a month ago when she disappeared, but… they both checked, and… somehow… who knows how… she ended up at the end of the road a quarter mile from the Bad Dog Ranch. A month ago yesterday. Both Marla and Pamela saw her in the past few days and thought she was Idaho, her sister who lives at the ranch, but Idaho was accounted for. Pamela said, “I knew it wasn’t Idaho because she’s so furry I can’t see underneath her, and I could see underneath this cat. I thought she was a feral cat from one of the ranches down there.”

This evening, they caught her, carried her home, put her in a crate, and tried to reach me. Dawn and I were chatting away, about the pandemic, of course, and other things, and Dawn checked her texts. “Do you know where Rita might be?” That moment when someone’s face changes so dramatically you know it’s important? I saw that. I leapt across the room to my phone, and saw this picture:

“It’s a long shot, but…” Pamela had checked the pictures on here and matched markings…

“It’s her I’m on my way.”

Twenty minutes later…

Had there been any doubt, which there wasn’t, because I have memorized her face during all my adorations of her, it would have been immediately dispelled when I got the crate out of the car. She began thrashing and butting her head against the grate. She knew she was home. The dogs were waiting in the yard, and she went nose to nose with them. Inside, I took her out in the mudroom, and flipped her upside down just to make triple sure, checking for that sweet flan spot on her tummy. She wiggled out of my arms and butted against the door to get in the house.

She ran right in, pranced around the house, ate half a can of food, ran upstairs, checked out all her sleeping spots. Ojo chased her around hissing and growling. I guess he didn’t miss her as much as I thought he did. I know she smells different. And maybe he was actually happy to be an only cat. She hissed back. She’s thin and tense, and very happy to be home.

One thing’s for sure: this cat is on lockdown for at least two days, if not two weeks. She’s not going outside until I get my fill of cuddles, and feel some sense of certainty that she won’t run off after her taste of the wild. No pun intended. I’ll have to buy another bag of that kibble. And clean the copper sink more often. And fret a little more about keeping cat food supplied during this uncertain time. Although we know now that she can hunt her own food. And, sorry Benny, but I’m glad I didn’t give you her scratching post yet because she used it immediately.

We’re all doing quarantine for various reasons around here, some because of recent flights from both coasts, some from reasonable caution, but we are all extra happy tonight. Topaz is lying on the rug in front of the fire now. Thanks to Cyn and Pamela for catching her and for the pictures, and to my dear friends who are as happy as I am that my ‘forever kitty’ has returned home. It’s made our day: a moment of pure joy and gratitude in this deeply disturbing and uncertain time.

Grumpy, scared and tense kitty on the first leg of her journey home

And it is. I experience waves of terror when I think about the future. But I’ve got a few resources that keep me grounded in the present moment. One is Catherine Ingram’s podcast ‘In the Deep.’ Another is the remarkably sane newsletter from Robert Hubbell. And there’s Telesangha, a weekday morning meditation group: since September 2016 a dear international community has developed in this half-hour telephone sangha that I look forward to each morning, and that years ago caused me to commit to a daily meditation practice without which I suspect I’d be losing my mind to utter anxiety at this point.

My heart grieves for all of Italy, for the horror of the unnatural aberration of death and mourning there during this pandemic. My heart grieves for all the suffering and death worldwide that is happening now and is yet to come as a result of this natural disaster, this once-in-a-hundred years pandemic, this world-changing plague, this inevitable result of too many humans exploiting a finite planet. Amidst all this grievous suffering there are also tiny sparks of joy. The practice, the balance, lies in holding the experience of the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows at the same time.

It is an inconceivable situation. And, for this one iota of life called me, as I learned to breathe with decades ago in a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation, In this moment, all is well. Inhale In this moment, exhale all is well. Over and over. And over. In the next moment, or the next month, or six months from now, it might not be. “We’ll know more later,” as my auntie always says.

Although there are some things, very few things, that we will not know more later about, like the past month in the life of the flan-tummied cat Topaz.