I am so grateful to live among animals, wild and domestic, large and small, feathered and furred. They give me belonging.
Funny how our expectations and standards change as our conditions change. Stellar had a really good day, and got a long walk to the canyon this morning, and a medium walk around the sunset loop this evening. Some years ago, this wouldn’t have seemed like a big deal to me, but after the past year with him, and especially the past few months, it’s momentous. I’m grateful that he had the mobility for two walks today.
And in between Stellar’s two walk, there was a lot more to be grateful for, including a little bit of actual rain. Not more than a couple of minutes, but rain nonetheless; again, changing standards. In this climate induced drought, even a trace of rain and a cool breeze is something to celebrate. There may have been a rainbow, or trace of one, but it was time for me to come inside for … Zoom Cooking with Amy!
Some days make me feel just as wide-eyed as these little dogs; in fact, most days do, practicing gratitude. I’m grateful today for the opportunity to do chihuahua for a little while; for clearing the air despite the smoke; for getting my hands on some chicks that are all named Dinner; for perspective on some of my less healthy habits; for connection with family and friends; and for the courage to open and play my dusty piano again after years.
I’m grateful that last night’s fireworks over the reservoir didn’t go rogue and cause a blaze, and that no one was stupid enough to celebrate Pioneer Days with home pyrotechnics; I’m grateful that wildfire smoke remains distant and we can still breathe here, albeit with extra sneezing, coughing, and just a hint of nose blood. I’m grateful for each day with breathable air, knowing that fire is certain this summer and location of fire uncertain. A new fire south of Salt Lake has consumed more than ten thousand acres in less than a day, and another four-day old fire near Moab exploded today. Seeing a sky like this evening’s reminds me not only of last summer’s horrendous smoke, but of the tragic summer of 1994, when the Wake Fire in our valley burnt three thousand acres in a couple of days; its impact was quickly eclipsed on its third day by the Storm King fire near Glenwood Springs that blew up and killed fourteen firefighters. Everything we hold dear is so tenuous.
Not only because of wildfire, of course, or the slow-moving catastrophe that is climate chaos, but because impermanence is the nature of all things. Our evening walk was especially poignant in the coppery glow of the smoky sunset: Not only from the oppressive weight of the big picture, but the looming loss of the very personal was readily apparent in dear Stellar’s feeble gait. We turned around before the first gate and he hobbled back in to his comfy bed for the night. I’m grateful for each day that we both wake up alive, and I don’t have to make that horrible decision to call his time. I’m grateful for the mindfulness practice that allows me to enjoy our remaining time together, to recognize that one bad day is often followed by a few good ones, and to accept the inevitable end of both our lives. I’m grateful for the inspiration and motivation that comes from knowing that “Death is certain, time of death uncertain.”
I’m grateful today for witnessing so many facets of the miracle of life. The phoebe babies are big enough to peek over the edge of the nest, and I was stunned to see four yellow mouths instead of three. I watched off and on today as their parents flew more or less nonstop back and forth bringing bugs. The chicks would wake squeaking until one was fed, then their fragile little forms would droop back into sleep, their heads sometimes draped over the edge like the one in back. The central chick is stretching its delicate feathering wing.
I stopped into Farm Runners last Saturday to pick up some mushrooms, they have lovely fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Nearby in the cooler were a few packs of quail eggs. Quail eggs! Never have I ever. So I grabbed (carefully) a package, knowing I’d come up with something to do with them for Boyz Lunch.
A dear friend ended up coming by on Monday so I made her a burrito with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and mushrooms, with fresh wild asparagus on the side, and tested the timing for a soft-boiled quail egg. I’m grateful that Farm Runners also offers these 12-inch tortillas (a foot wide!), that I had Bad Dog Ranch happy-chicken eggs, homemade hot sauce, and that neighbor Mary gave me a big bunch of wild asparagus when I passed her out picking on my way to town. I’m grateful that Nancy came for lunch and a walk and a heartfelt talk, and let me experiment on her palate.
So for Boyz Lunch today, I boiled the remaining quail eggs (for two minutes), then scooped them into ice water to stop the cooking. A couple of them floated on top, and I recalled that with chicken eggs that means they might be bad, so I pulled those out early, and later fed them to Stellar, shells and all, after cracking them open: they smelled fine, and he was almost as ecstatic as Philip and John were when I served them this starter plate.
Above and beyond the culinary delights of this day, I’m grateful for good friends old and new, for great neighbors, for all the opportunities, connections, and experiences in this singular day that will never come again; grateful to have waked up alive, made the most of the day, and be heading to my cozy, clean bed right now.
Stellar and I are both grateful today for an unexpected visit from the tiny dogs and their person. He hasn’t seen his main girlfriend Popis for a very long time, and she brought her new adopted sister Phoebe Snow Reno. (Her name is too big for her body.) He was beside himself with excitement, and now he’s unwakeably asleep. But even before that interlude, we were grateful for a good walk to the canyon on an early spring morning, greening trees, flowering shrubs, birdsong, and strong enough legs. Then we were grateful for a thrilling sensory discovery when we took an untried shortcut: a mammoth Fremont holly, far taller than I and at least twenty feet across. The flash of yellow caught my attention, but then the scent arrested my footsteps. I turned immediately toward it, inhaling deeply.
After a good morning rest for Stellar, and a few hours of work for me, the tiny dogs stopped by and gave us a break from our exertions. Stellar wore himself out, utterly distracted by and unable to focus with two of them to pay attention to. It was quite the interlude.
Remarkably, after another several-hours rest while I worked, Stellar had the stamina for a third walk. As we meandered home we discovered another natural treasure, a huge, perfectly circular, claret cup cactus that we’ve never passed before, the first in bloom I’ve seen this season. I’m grateful for all these quotidian wonders in a single day, not the least of which is that this old dog keeps on ticking. Also I’m grateful that this old body I inhabit can keep up with him: we are perfectly matched in pace these days, and equally easy to please.
I’m grateful this time of year for lilacs, for their various colors, their feeding of bees, their intoxicating scent. Some years I can smell them from the other side of the house in late afternoon. Not this year, tough, their blooms are sparse. Maybe the buds froze in the last frost, or maybe the pre-buds were damaged by The Big Freeze last fall, the one that killed the almond tree, and it looks like the peach tree may not make it, either. Grateful that the lilacs survived! I make a point to walk that side of the house several times a day even when I don’t need to, just so I can stop and inhale deeply of the flowers: my head tingles from the inside, like a jump into Suzi’s pond invigorates the skin. I feel cleansed breathing lilac air.
A year ago tonight, right around this time, my little Raven dog fell off the couch and never moved again; she died in my arms a couple of hours later. I still don’t know what killed her. It could have been a heart attack, stroke, or some toxin she ingested. She lived through her mouth and was forever eating things she shouldn’t. Like an entire loaf of poppyseed bread off the counter in two minutes. Like half the book club cake off the table. Like, maybe a handful of small green seed potatoes that may have resulted in solanine poisoning, but I’ll never know. It happened fast, and peacefully.
The next morning I buried her in the garden, deepening a hole she had dug under a sagebrush. Yesterday I pulled a few weeds from around the stones on top, and planted some violas and a columbine. I’m grateful she essentially dug her own grave, so I didn’t have to. I’m grateful that beautiful, smart, mischievous dog came from Dog World to live with me when she was six weeks old, and made me laugh and cry for almost fourteen years. I’m grateful that after all that (fleeting) time, after her many dramatic veterinary events, her life ended in quiet two-hour cuddle instead of some awful, bloody, tragic spectacle and/or a frantic trip to the vet. I’m just grateful for Raven.
Stellar, Topaz and I went for a long, slow walk this morning, stepping off the beaten path onto a trail we’ve – well, I’ve – never walked on before. They may have, and certainly plenty of wild creatures who blazed it. I turned to look back, and if I hadn’t known where I was I’d have been lost: same trees, different angle, it was a new place. I love losing myself in these woods, am grateful that for all the years I’ve lived here I can still wander aimlessly, stop, and not know where I am – for at least a few seconds, and sometimes several minutes. It’s comforting to belong to something larger and more mysterious than me.
We wandered for half an hour, slower and slower. We slowed until we stopped in silence, and simply stood still. After awhile I heard a soft tap-tap high above. I looked up to see a brilliant white-breasted nuthatch looking down at us from the top of a juniper snag, his head cocked. Then he went back to tapping the dead wood for food. Eventually he flew to another tree.
Then I caught the faint but unmistakable whiff of smoke. It was too warm for anyone to have an inside fire going, and I couldn’t see the horizon for the trees surrounding us. It was time for coffee anyway, so we turned for home. I’m grateful I could text a neighbor with a view to find out that there was no obvious plume nearby. She said the sky was hazy to the west, and we assumed it was the usual clearing fields with fire or burning ditches that happens every spring. It was the first day in many that it wasn’t too windy to burn, though still exceptionally – dangerously – dry.
We continued slowly toward home on narrow deer trails rarely traversed by our ten feet (or at least my two), and suddenly found ourselves in front of the Triangle Tree. I knew when I discovered it last fall that one day I’d find it in just the right light, and here it was! From this angle, it looks like a majestic old juniper in full sun.
After spending some time savoring the Triangle Tree, we ambled on home and went straight to the pond for Stellar to drink. By then it was already 70º and he was panting heavily after his relaxing exertions. Well, I was relaxed, after waking with a head full of unruly thoughts which got swept away by the wonder of losing myself in the woods. At the pond, I was grateful to see the first northern leopard frog of this season, a big fat female in the curly rushes.