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Sunshine

I’m grateful today for another day of sunshine warming the house, charging the batteries, inviting me to take a couple of cat walks morning and afternoon. I’m grateful that Topaz trotted around beside me, and when I went farther than she wanted she simply voiced her objections loudly until I turned around. Her brother used to attack the back of my leg when I went too far for his taste. I’m grateful I can remember that with laughter now, instead of the dull ache of his absence. His was such a strong personality. Hers has always been more reserved, inscrutable… but we’re beginning to understand each other better now that we’re the only two mammals left in the house.

I’m grateful for the warmth of the sunroom these sunny days, so I can bask in there while enjoying morning coffee, writing, reading, or zoom meeting: The rest of the house is so cold without functioning floor heat, and I’m trying to conserve firewood, which is costlier and harder to come by than one might think, so I try not to build a fire until late afternoon. I’m especially grateful that Topaz has leapt the last hurdle in recovery from her catcussion. Six weeks to the day from her tumble, she has finally gotten back on the sunroom table. After she got up today I returned her favorite flat bed to its usual spot there, where she napped until sunset. The round felt bed she fell in will stay on the floor from now on. A couple of weeks ago I started tossing treats in there and she’ll dive halfway in to retrieve them, but she has yet to go completely inside, much less curl up in it.

What a long strange trip it’s been, for her after that bizarre injury, and for me, for all of us perhaps, in another revolution around the sun. Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. I’ll be grateful Wednesday, when we’ll have six seconds more of sunshine than we did today. Thursday, we’re expecting snow for a few days, a white Christmas, and I’ll be grateful for that too.

Tracks in the Snow

I woke this morning after another dream in which Stellar (and Raven, too, this time) were eager for me to go for a walk. So I took Topaz out into the clear cold morning, whistled for the dogs, and set off into the woods traipsing over a light crust of snow. We skirted the does browsing around the house and went out the lion gate, then turned south where the snow was thinner. Neither of us had on the right shoes to go north. I’m grateful for a dream which motivates me to go for a walk, and for a cat who will accompany me.

Fox and fawn, I think…

There were lots of deer prints and trails through the shallow snow, a significant number of little cat tracks, and one stretch where a fox and a fawn followed the same course at different times. Lost in thought, I stepped through the tracks before noticing them, but stopped in time to take them in. In that pause, out in the quiet woods, a sudden sense of belonging swept through me. I wasn’t alone; there were many other creatures living here with me. I’m grateful for tracks in the snow, for the busy, hidden world of animal action they show happening all around and unconcerned with me.

Poetry

Poetry on a plate: I’m grateful for gingerbread biscotti turning out so beautifully!

Thanks

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin, “Thanks” from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin. 

I’ve fallen in love with poetry all over again after years of ignoring it. I’ve fallen in love with a dead poet. I am a poet at heart, have always been, I see the world through a poet’s eyes; not a musician’s, a grocer’s, a farmer’s, a politician’s. I’m grateful for my poet friends Christine, Gary, Diane, Marion, Tara, Jane… and all the poets I’ll never know. Grateful for sonnets, sestinas, odes and lyrics; for free verse and form, for the particular sensitivity of the poetic soul. I’m grateful that my mentors introduced me to the soul of W. S. Merwin, 17th poet laureate of the US in 2010, with this quote:

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree” 

― W. S. Merwin

Why? Why would I want to plant a tree on the day the world is ending, when it will never grow big, when no one will sit in its shade or eat of its fruit? Why would I choose to do that, rather than run around like Chicken Little or try to satisfy every hedonic desire in the short time left? Well…

… Why would I not?

I’m grateful for poetry: for inspiration, consolation, validation, affirmation, transformation…

Diagnostic Imaging

Amy reminded me that I may not have mentioned popcorn yet: I’m grateful for popcorn!

I’m so grateful for all the X-rays, sonograms, mammograms, echocardiograms, CT scans, MRIs, and other diagnostic imaging I’ve had in my life; grateful for the technicians who performed them, the radiologists who interpreted them, the medical schools and personnel who taught these people how to make these images and read them; the doctors and nurse practitioners who’ve shared my results with me. I’m grateful for the various machines, and all their tiny, complicated components, and the decades, centuries, of scientific investigation by thousands of humans whose names I’ll never know, that led to these machines being invented and improved.

And I’m grateful for the nameless lives of various creatures, maybe humans, lost ‘in the interest of science’ as these inventions evolved. This doesn’t mean that I condone testing on animals; simply that I accept that it has been done in the past (and there may be occasions when it’s still necessary, but certainly we’ve come far enough that most of it can be avoided), and I appreciate the sacrifices, willing or unwilling, that test ‘subjects’ have made through centuries. I can feel sorry that some things have happened, and still be grateful for the ramifications of the outcomes.

Anyway, back to the list: I’m grateful for the specific people that work in the Delta Hospital radiology department (and I know I’m not the only one) who consistently show such professionalism, efficiency, and compassion in their work. I’m grateful that my recent brain MRIs show only average signs of ‘aging.’ And I’m grateful that my cervical spine MRIs don’t show anything imminently life-threatening. I could whinge about the catastrophic evidence of: degeneration in the vertebral facets, “reversal of the normal cervical lordosis,” “moderate to severe left foraminal narrowing due to left-sided arthropathy and hypertrophy,” and “central canal stenosis with ventral cord flattening.” It doesn’t sound good, and certainly is enough words to explain this ongoing, worsening neck pain.

Oh well. It is what it is. Accepting this, now I can move forward taking into consideration options, making informed choices on the best ways to minimize physical and mental suffering, adapting my lifestyle with diet, appropriate postural adjustments, exercises, and therapies to improve my health. Yeah, it wasn’t great news, but it was more information than I had before, and reassuring in some respects: I don’t need surgery right now, for example, and there’s no cancer. While my brain may be a little older than the years allotted me so far, my spine might be fifty years older than that. One thing, though: my heart keeps getting lighter and younger every step of the way. Too bad they don’t yet have diagnostic imaging to evaluate consciousness; mine would show I’m getting better every day.

A Room with a View

As we wend our way toward winter solstice and the end of this daily gratitude blog, I begin to consider the many things I haven’t yet mentioned. So many! I’m grateful for a room with a view. When I wake each morning, grateful to be alive, this is the view that greets me. Today, I’m grateful it contains snow, and sunshine, juniper trees and mountains, distant neighbors and lots of space. I’m grateful for the familiarity and beauty of the view, and for the simplicity and comfort of the home from which I see the view. I’m grateful for the sense of stability and security these things impart to my little life, and for intermittent awareness that these seemingly solid elements are fleeting; in the grand scheme of things, as transient as this body I inhabit. I’m grateful for all the causes and conditions in my own life, and the lives of my ancestors, that led to my waking up day after day in this room, with this view.

Speaking of ancestors, I’m grateful for my dear sweet mother, gone these seventeen years; for how she loved and supported me, and how she remains in my life. Instead of guesstimating to slice the cinnamon rolls tonight, I dug into the desk drawer for a ruler, and pulled out this one, which I’m guessing is roughly eighty years old from her name inscribed on it. I haven’t seen this ruler for years, and its sudden appearance as a baking tool startled me into considering her as a schoolgirl, and then marveling that she kept this simple implement all her life, and that I kept it after she died. I’m grateful for the simple things in life and the grand.

I’m grateful that if I wake up alive again tomorrow, I’ll have fresh perfect cinnamon buns for breakfast.

Acceptance

“Yacht Race off Boston Light” three days underway. This pink sky is one of the most challenging sections of any puzzle yet.

Yesterday was interesting. I was too tired to write about it last night, and probably won’t do it justice tonight, but want to express my gratitude to the imaging technicians at Delta Hospital. Everyone was so kind, from the receptionists on. There were some little glitches, at intake and with the MRIs, that would once have really frustrated me, but my growing capacity for accepting things as they are instead of thinking that they should be different served me well.

I may have never met a more tender, compassionate, and sweet tech than Toni, the woman who did the bone density scan. We were practically in tears of loving-kindness by the time she led me back to the waiting room. The MRI tech was very business-like, though also considerate and kind. I remembered Deb’s encouragement to ask for what I needed, so asked for extra pillows to support my knees to reduce sciatic strain; and when the classical music station wouldn’t play, I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb. Remarkably, the only stations that would play were country, and something called ‘soft rock,’ which was horrible. I experienced extreme aversion during the first MRI as the DJ blithered on and on, and when there was ‘music’ its beat clashed with the machine noises inside my head until, despite a concerted effort to remain focused on my breath, I was completely rattled. I squeezed the ‘stop’ bulb again when anxiety rose to unbearable-verging-on-panic, and fortunately that was the end of the first session. I continued in blessed internal silence for the next three tests. It was a lengthy exercise in conscious relaxation, first my face, then abdomen, then shoulders, back to abdomen, back to face–as one area relaxed another tensed up, and I cycled through one after the other, consistently returning attention to the breath. Nothing like a long MRI to strengthen meditation practice.

During the whole second scan, there was a little lump in the pillow, which bored into my head. I breathed through that, but it got worse and worse. It was fascinating to watch my mind deal with all these sensational challenges. She wanted me to keep my head perfectly still when she pulled me out to inject the contrast dye, but I had to insist that she smooth the pillow. It wasn’t really a pillow, just a folded cloth. She was exasperated, and in a hurry. I said calmly, as she prepared my arm to stick a needle into it, “I need to not feel anxious, and I need to feel that you’re not in a hurry.” She softened instantly, apologized, and explained that there were two emergencies waiting and there was only this one machine, and one of her. This put things in a different perspective for me, and we both calmed way down. She thought to put a little lavender patch on my chest, which actually helped a lot. This experience, which was stressful and could have been really horrible, was transformed by my ability to accept things as they were each step of the way, do what I could to change them, and then accept again. And again, there was much tenderness and well-wishing between us as she walked me out.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I left the hospital, for the emotional skill with which I’d navigated the morning, and decided to treat myself to a deli sandwich. But there’s no deli near the hospital, so I stopped at Sonic to see what I could find. At the drive-up menu, I realized I couldn’t bring myself to order factory-farmed chicken or beef, so I left; but circled back and ordered three fried sides. I was glowing with acceptance when the little girl brought my limeade and a small bag, and was only mildly disappointed to find inside the bag just one little wrapped burger. I accepted the error with good cheer, and she said she’d be right back with my order. Way too long later, two more “Welcome to Sonic, may I take your order” queries, and finally my bag of sides, I almost lost it when I opened the bag to find they were small instead of medium, and there was no mayo. Acceptance out the window! Attachment in high gear: I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it NOW! But still, I managed not to be too grumpy. When the manager brought a double handful of condiments and apologized, she said “It’s just the two of us, people didn’t show up…” My perspective adjusted itself instantaneously, all frustration melted, and I assured her it was no problem. We smiled and laughed and wished each other happy holidays.

The food was a big disappointment. But I accepted that easily. Fast food is what it is. I drove home filled with compassion for the people who worked at the hospital, the patients who needed emergency MRIs, the harried staff at Sonic, and deeply grateful for the skill of acceptance.

Recycling

It’s a fraught topic. We want to think that recycling really does help the planet but it’s not that simple. Precycling would be better, just never getting all that junk mail in the first place, and going to the store to buy everything instead of winding up with a mudroom full of cardboard boxes from all the mail order… which invariably results in receiving more junk mail. I’ve been mail ordering more during Covid as have many people, and as a result, I probably have enough cardboard now to make a full-size Christmas tree.

But I’m grateful for recycling, so that eventually I can break it down and drive it to the collection site in town. A wonderful neighbor used to collect recycling for some of us older folks, and deliver it to the recycle bins at the local trash transfer station. It’s sad that our county closed the recycling center there, but that’s part of the problem: it’s no longer lucrative for those in the business, and in many rural areas recycled materials are simply hauled off and buried in the dump. I’ve been told that where I live, it’s more environmentally costly to recycle glass than to throw it away. The best I can hope for these days is that the cardboard really does get recycled and put to good use somehow, somewhere, someday.

Surviving the Day

Detail from “Yacht Race Off Boston Light,” James Edward Buttersworth c. 1880, Liberty puzzle.

It sounds melodramatic on the surface. Why wouldn’t I have survived the day? Why bother to be grateful for something so mundane? Yet this was the first day I’ve driven beyond Crawford since witnessing that shocking wreck on the highway. I passed the scene twice, on my way to Hotchkiss and back. I ran some quotidian errands–gasoline, picking up cat fud at the vet, a few groceries at City Market–and drove home. That’s all. But I was tense and anxious, not only because of the wreck, but the Covid risk of going about in a county that largely never believed in the virus in the first place, flouted the original mask mandate (down to the Sheriff’s department which became an instant hot spot), and has concluded that it’s through with Covid now whether or not Covid is through with it. In the past couple of weeks the county has recorded roughly 1.1 deaths a day from the virus.

We tend to assume, each morning that we rise alive, that today is just another day to spend like any other day, that we’ll make it through this day without dying; and that’s just ridiculous. Lots of people die every day, many of them without pre-existing conditions and without any warning. Shit happens. I’m learning to take nothing for granted. I was grateful to wake up alive again this morning, and I’m grateful for surviving the day. Each night I try to fall asleep with my pulse pounding in my neck. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful to make it to the hospital (and back) for some tests to try to determine what this sensation is about, and pinpoint the cause of other strange symptoms as well.

Or at least rule out some icky options. As Francisco said, “When you know what it is, it’s just pain.” When you don’t know what it is, it can grow into a menacing monster. Driving from town this afternoon, the thought of home beckoned like a lighthouse, as it will again tomorrow. If I can only make it there, and back again to safe harbour, then I can finally relax; then I will be happy. Ha! Each day, each breath, a new adventure.

Artists

I’m grateful to have known many artists. Yesterday I finally reframed two dear artworks, a project I’ve been eager to accomplish for a year, and hung them on the living room wall. I realized with some sadness that most of the artists represented on that wall now are deceased. Dick Higgins was a friend of Auntie’s, and after she died her daughter sent me the small watercolor above. (Dick’s daughter Wendy is a phenomenal oil painter in Santa Fe, specializing in light.) I pirated an old frame and mat that had had a Japanese print in it for fifty years to reframe this one, which is not only a lovely image but also carries the breeze off the Rappahannock River at happy hour.

“Cats on the Furniture” is a print by one of the loves of my life, Daryl Harrison, who died of breast cancer in 2006. She was scientific illustrator for the University of Florida biology department when we lived next door in the 80s, and was staff artist at the Albuquerque Zoo for years before she died. This print perfectly captures her skill and her whimsy. It came in a silver metal frame, and the mat had faded, so I stole the frame and mat from an old pastel my mother made of me and Knobbydog, which always bugged me because she got his head wrong. I’m grateful I know my way around a picture frame.

When I owned a gallery in the 90s, I supported the artists by purchasing a lot of their works. One of my favorites is this fox by an artist still living, Daniel Logé. Another, below, is this lovely spring alpine scene by Richard Van Reyper. I became friends with his daughter when she brought some of his paintings to enter in a show. I was immediately enchanted with his work, and also with his daughter who became a friend. They’re both gone now. Gretchen succumbed with grace to cancer ten years ago, and I just learned that Dick died last year.

My mother painted a couple of versions of this vase with lilies of the valley, her favorite flower. Amy has the more abstract version of it, while I got to keep this one. She died in 2004. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. She loved the art of Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), and this print below, Fudo Falls, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was made the year before he died. Oh wait! That’s a Liberty puzzle!

And it’s not on my wall, but it was on my table for the past few days. Liberty carries a number of Hiroshige prints made into puzzles. I’m grateful to Sarah for sharing her puzzle collection with us here in Colorado, and thoroughly delighted in assembling this first of three. More on that, perhaps tomorrow. I’m grateful for artists and the infinite worlds they bring to life.

Meditation

Monkey mind had me in its grip tonight but meditation quickly calmed the screaming beast inside. (photo from Unsplash)

I found myself ruminating about an upcoming stressful event, and getting more and more physically uncomfortable, feeling flushed and short of breath, anxious, shaky, even angry–all from my thoughts alone. I am grateful I’ve been practicing meditation for years, and recognized a good opportunity to use this skill to calm myself. I lay down and played a 24-minute recorded meditation by B. Alan Wallace called “A Tour of Shamatha Practices,” which focuses the mind on the breath. In no time, my breath calmed, my mind calmed, and I let go of unskillful thoughts and projections. I certainly don’t know what the future will bring: why waste precious time fretting over it? It could as easily go well as poorly, and the attitude I bring to it will largely determine how stressful, unpleasant, or comfortable it will be for me. I’m grateful meditation restored mental balance tonight, and grateful I had the presence of mind to turn to it instead of letting monkey mind ruin my evening.