Of the many things I’m grateful for today, including waking up alive, some nice walks with Stellar and Topaz, and more crocuses opening their little yellow faces to the sun, I am suddenly, at sunset, grateful for the first sight of a phoebe fluttering onto a hanger on the east patio, wagging its tail up and down. My heart! Summer is coming.
For a couple of years I’ve been planning a new gate between the dog pen and the fenced food garden. Last winter Mr. Wilson cut the gateway, and though I’ve yet to create the actual gate, the way is open now. Once the snow melted and Stellar led me into the dog pen through the new gateway, I discovered a whole new yard space. AND, more garden space! Along the right side backed up to a raised bed there’s a good ten feet of found space to build a raised bed, and then along the left side behind Stellar, another ten or more feet. These beds will start small this year, maybe just a few mineral tubs or other containers, or maybe a few feet of shallow raised beds each, but there’s plenty of room to expand. And since one challenge I’ve noticed in the food garden is an excess of sunshine (believe it or not) and a paucity of shade, this new area will provide a climate-modulated option for some vegetables that need less than 13 hours of full sun per day in mid summer.
The new gate is directly in line with the main garden gate heading east-south-east, and across the dog pen (shady, green, a whole new yard space as well as garden space) there is another potential gateway: a corner of fence that’s been mangled by some large creature jumping over it: elk? deer? mountain lion? Later this summer, I’ll replace the bent fence with another new gate, providing a straight shot from the east door, through the garden, out into a rarely traversed piece of the woods. Expanding horizons by making gates where previously there have been only fences.
I’m grateful I got to spend a whole day in the garden. I chose to leave everything inside undone; today was the first day since sometime last year that it was nice enough to spend the whole day outside. From morning coffee til evening cocktail, Stellar, Topaz and I did our own things out in spring sunshine: Stellar mostly worked on his hole under a juniper, alternately digging and sleeping in it; Topaz inspected our progress and watched birds; I covered the rest of the tulips with chicken wire, cleaned up, rearranged and visualized in the food garden, brought out some hoses and watered for the first time, zoomed with cousins, ate and read and wrote, and planted a few more patches of seeds. After sunset I sat up on the deck and watched the rising of the first super moon of the year. It was a perfect Sunday spent in worship.
I’m so grateful today for friends who believe in me: two who’ve consented to be my students, giving me their attention for several hours a week, and bringing a willingness to learn what little I know more than they do; and one who inspires me in the garden more than any other, with her organizational skills, her sharing of seeds, and her joy and satisfaction in gardening. When my spirits flag, these friends give me new life.
I’m grateful to be learning the art and science of composting. I still don’t put in the time and effort required to get multiple servings each year, but I always seem to get a good few cartloads of nutrient rich dirt for the simple effort of cycling all my food scraps and garden ‘waste’ through a series of three slapdash bins. This morning as Wilson was turning the contents of the two outer bins, in varying degrees of decay, into the center bin to start a new cycle, he found the ancient moose antler I’ve been wondering where it was. Before he closed the bin Stellar took a strong interest in it, but we all decided to leave it to further break down adding more minerals to the mix. I’m grateful to have help in the garden this spring, to do the physically challenging chores while I supervise and get to enjoy the lighter work, like raking spring cleanup clippings into piles to add to the compost bins.
The three bin system works really well. I put rough stuff in one, medium stuff in another, as I clip and cut back and prune and rake, and keep a third pile active adding kitchen scraps and fine material like rotted leaves, old potting soil, grass clippings, etc. When the active pile is full and has sat for awhile, we turn the top layers over into one of the other bins until we reach good compost in the lower part, and that second bin becomes the active pile. In this way, the active compost rotates through all three bins as it goes through its stages of decomposition, eventually leaving a deep layer of compost in the bottom of each bin. I’m no expert in compost – there are probably thousands of how-to websites and videos available – but the system I’ve evolved works just fine for me and my little garden. It’s so gratifying to dig down into a pile and find buckets of rich garden amendment, scraps transformed into dirt like magic, to nourish the garden beds. Healthy, living soil is the foundation of a good garden.
I’m grateful for the Apricot Tree, and for neighbor Fred who has been pruning it every spring for as long as I can remember. I’m grateful for the tender attention he gives this tree, bringing his ladders, loppers, and pruners, and shaping the tree beautifully with his expertise. It took several years after I planted it for the tree to fruit, and for the next few years while I was in charge the most it ever grew was half a dozen apricots. Once Fred took over, fruits increased year after year, finally yielding more than forty pounds each of the past couple of years. After last fall’s sudden killing freeze, I’m grateful that the tree is even alive. We don’t know yet whether any fruit buds survived, and expect only a light crop if any. He checked out and lightly pruned the peach and crabapple trees, too, and they’re both okay. This will surely be a low fruit year in the valley, but the trees are resilient, and we can hope for more good years in the future, if the extremes of climate chaos don’t kill them first. We’ll know more later.
I’m grateful for oncoming spring in the garden, and for precipitation that keeps nourishing the tiny bulbs pushing their flowers up here and there. I’m grateful to see the first leaves emerging from the forest floor, though most of the green shoots are weeds; I’m not sure what this little red cluster will become. I’m grateful for another day walking with Stellar among ancient junipers sculpted by centuries of seasons and stressors. I’m grateful for another day sculpting myself by choosing where I place my attention.
I’m grateful for another chance to try my hand at orange sticky buns, which turned out just as well the second time. The dough seemed really wet and was hard to maneuver, and there was a little too much filling (as if!) ~ but they baked beautifully. Anyone who might happen to come to prune my fruit trees in the next couple of days, or to deliver groceries ~ and I’m grateful for anyone who might! ~ will surely go home with some sticky buns. I’m grateful every day for where I live, for so many reasons. I’m grateful for good neighbors of all species.
I was texting with a friend just now who lives near Boulder. A friend in DC had texted me. We were all feeling sad for the world.
Is there a meditation for that? I wondered.
I woke this morning feeling as flat and grey as the sky, and that was ok: it was neutral. I accepted the internal clouds and gave myself over to a day off. I need one every week or two, the more the better, and it’s been a hard-pushing ten days. Just internally. Not like I’m out breaking rock. I felt sad for the world and everyone in it
(Except for me, suddenly. And for once, I didn’t feel altogether guilty; I felt grateful.)
Stellar rose from his bed.
Get up, I told myself. I turned my attention to what the night outside might hold: the waxing moon overhead, sky deep cerulean, an evening star, a soft shifting cloud palette of blues and greys. Stellar sometimes likes to linger by the door. I want him to walk with me for several reasons. I started around the south end of the house and heard a Great-horned Owl calling to the north. Suddenly energized, I stopped, listened, again, again, the same call, hoo-hoo hoohoooo…
I first think to call the owl to stir Stellar’s jealousy and bring him to my side. He’s been known when I’ve talked with owls before to sidle up whining, throw himself on the ground, and roll. If I’m talking to an owl or a tree or anything else in the garden too intently, he used to do that. No more! Either he doesn’t hear, he doesn’t care, he knows it doesn’t matter, or… Still, I hope to bring him to my side, so I echo the owl’s call. Then I think, There’s no reason I can’t call him in, too.
I’ve always believed in Dr. Doolittle, assumed though that I could never really speak to the animals; but now, as I spend more uninterrupted time alone, I reconsider… I had phoebes practically landing on my shoulder last summer. The owl hoots again, after a pause.
Hoo-hoo hoohooooo… another pause. I call back. A pause. He calls again. A pause, then I call back. Then a long silence.
He soars in from the north woods, skimming juniper tops, dark and silent, big, wings outstretched he banks up, perches atop the tower roof. He turns his head and looks at me. I face him looking up, dumbstruck. For a full minute or two we observe one another. Listen, I caution myself, don’t speak. I open my chest and breathe, press my feet into the ground, looking up at his silhouette against the darkening blue sky. Breathe. Open.
I know how smart these owls are. Were I willing to feed him I could train him to come. Instead, I merely want to welcome him, assure him I’m a benevolent force in his world, offer him my home, shower him with my attention, awestruck. Only connect. This is my moment with the Divine. I stand silent, hands in pockets, opening my heart and life to him.
Hoo-hoo hoohooooo… In sync with the rhythm of his call he fluffs and twitches his tail upward, posturing, seeking, watching me. A pause.
Hoo-hoo hoohooooo, I reply. He registers my response, then flies off to the south and disappears.
Did I answer right? I don’t know quite what I said to that owl, but I know it had to be nice. I could hear it in his voice as surely he could hear it in mine.
The owl feels our pain, and sings his own loneliness.
Today I’m grateful, as I have been most Sundays since last summer, for my newfound, longlost cousins on my mother’s side. Cousin Jack initiated a weekly zoom call among his siblings and their mother, and kindly included me, Auntie, and Auntie’s daughter in his invitation. It’s been heart-filling to be back in touch with these four boys and two girls with whom I spent many special occasions through our growing up years. Sometimes my brother shows up, sometimes some of their grown children show up, and even young grandchildren. In each session, their mother Clara is there at 93 with tech assistance from granddaughter Amanda or one of her visiting children. In the first couple of months, Auntie Rita was able to attend also, even though for half of those times she struggled with the effects of her stroke.
But she was there fully for a few sessions before the stroke diminished her capabilities, and it was delightful to observe her and Aunt Clara speak together, sharing their thoughts and lives, their concern for each other, much as they had for around seventy years as sisters-in-law. Remarkably, these two women were born on the same day of the same year. And it was wonderful that Auntie was able to see many of her nieces, nephews, and grand-nieces and -nephews a few times before she died, and they her. For me, it’s been a real gift to feel connected to family again as I haven’t since my mother died. And I hadn’t felt connected to these grown cousins for decades before that, as we all went our separate grownup ways, and because I’d been branded a black sheep by their father, my Uncle the General: for my radically compassionate philosophy he considered me a communist, and said so, which is how I know.
Oh well! We don’t all ~ or even many of us ~ share the same political views, which has been a little challenging for me. But the camaraderie, the teasing, the humor and affection that we shared as children chasing each other around the grounds of the Distaff Hall, playing hide and seek in the Knoll House, sharing holiday dinners at one another’s homes, feels stronger than it ever did as we have all lived through enough of life to be tender and accepting with one another. The three siblings ~ a father and two mothers ~ that bind us as family have all died; only Clara remains, one mother among us, and they are kind enough to share. I’m protective of my time these days, but our Cousins’ Zoom is an event I prioritize each weekend, because it brings me such joy, and a feeling of connection I realize I have longed for since long before The Time of the Virus.
I’m grateful for cosmic equanimity on this day of equal light and dark. The harshest of winter is behind us and the harshest of summer unimaginable yet. Today begins the official sweet spot between extremes, a great place to dwell.