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Each Day

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.”

Fun

Fun is different for everyone, but I think everyone on the Canary Committee had some kind of fun today walking in the Pioneer Days Parade. I’m grateful for the strong women and two men who made our showing an effective message. As I returned to my car afterward, a porch sitter nearby said, “Y’all sure did a lot of chirping out there!”

“I think we got our message across, don’t you?” I replied. “Oh yeah!” he and his companions agreed. That was one of the more straightforward comments I heard after the parade. Others carried a tinge of drought denial that confused me. We are so clearly in dire straits here on the western slope, in an area that has already increased 4ºF in the past hundred years, the area in the continental US most affected by the global warming of climate chaos. Extraordinary drought is only one of the symptoms. So it felt antagonistic to me when a woman on the Republican float called out to us, “Then don’t take a bath tonight!”

And while it was kind of clever, it also seemed supremely ignorant when a Mennonite man came up to me and asked, “Are you a canary or Chicken Little?” I’m grateful for the equanimity that mindfulness practice has generated in me. I was able to smile and say, “Oh, but this is real.” He laughed and said, “I’m just kidding.” I hope so, but I wasn’t sure. I hope that the other canaries received more supportive comments, but I didn’t stick around to find out. After being out in the largest crowd I’ve seen in a couple of years, I headed for the serenity of home.

I’m grateful the tender seedlings I transplanted last evening survived the blistering dry heat of their first day in the ground. The worst is over for them, I hope. I’m grateful I can provide some dietary diversity in my yard for this gravid doe, though I did eventually shoo her away from the columbine blossoms she was happily plucking. She stepped off a couple of yards and ate a few honeysuckle buds before meandering back toward the pond.

I’m grateful for the fence around the food garden, or I wouldn’t have anything to harvest! I’m grateful for another handful of radishes and half today’s snap peas on their way to the fridge. The other half of today’s peas I tossed into a skillet with the last of the oyster mushrooms and some chopped scallions (those perennial onions) for my evening snack. So simple, so delicious! I’m grateful to be eating food I’ve grown at the end of a full Saturday that included connection with community and nature, a long talk with my soul sister, sweet time with my beloved animal companions, and a nice long nap: My kind of fun.

Learning

Today, among the many things I’m grateful for including Stellar and me both waking up alive, is all the learning I’ve done in this lifetime and the lessons I’ve been able to share with others; I’m grateful for teachers and students. One of my greatest teachers has been gardening: it has taught me so much about impermanence, about unintended consequences, and about unexpected benefits. Gardening has taught me to let go of attachment to outcomes, to accept constant change, and to rejoice in the simplest successes. Today, I’m grateful that the raised beds are finally filling up with the starts I’ve been nurturing for a couple of months. I’m grateful that the last unexpected freeze is behind us and that I didn’t put all these starts out just a couple of weeks ago, because I would have lost most of them to a late freeze. I’m grateful to accept myself as a learner, still learning life’s lessons, and I’m grateful for teachers of all species.

Perennials

I’m grateful today for things that come back year after year, perennials. In the wild woods, these delicate native penstemons, P. comarrhenus, grow sparsely out of bare ground. Another name for them is dusty penstemon, which (this year anyway) captures the essence of their endemic range in the Colorado plateau and canyonlands of the southwest. I stumbled upon this one on the breakfast loop this morning; the flower spike seemed to have grown and blossomed within just a couple of days.

In the garden I’m grateful for perennial onions, which not only keep growing where they’re planted year after year, they also self-sow prodigiously. I started my patch with a small clump someone gave me, and they provide scallions and leek-type onions year after year. The bees love their flowers, and I can harvest the roots from early spring into winter. This year I’ve had to pull out my original nursery patch to make room for another crop, but I’ll keep mine going with a row along the back of the whole east bed. Now I’ve got a big box of perennial onions looking for new homes. If you’d like a clump to start your own endless onions, let me know right away. Otherwise, I’ll just chop and freeze them, but I probably won’t get to that until Saturday afternoon or Sunday. I’m also grateful, of course, for my little Topaz.

Free to good homes, there are enough perennial onions here to start half a dozen new gardens. Or fill my freezer; your choice 🙂

People Who Let Me Be Myself

I’m grateful for another Boyz Lunch today, outside on the patio, hummingbirds flitting through, Stellar lying next to John, John’s hand on his head; grateful for these and other friends who accept me just the way I am, and through the years have supported me in my ongoing exploration of how that is, as it changes (like everything does, always, ineluctably); grateful for people who have loved me through my many incarnations in this lifetime; grateful for a safe habitat in which to spread my wings.

Oh, and watch for a bunch of canaries in the Pioneer Days Parade on Saturday! I’m grateful for Ellie, Mary, Suki, Brad, Danielle, Kim, Ana, Kathy, and everyone else who has chipped in energy, time, money, and creativity to create and support the countywide, non-partisan Canary Committee in their efforts to bring attention to the extraordinary drought affecting our particular habitat in Western Colorado, and the dire need to conserve water.

I’m grateful to finally harvest enough lettuce from my garden to feed friends, for Gosar’s sausages (available at Farm Runners), for Cousin Bill’s reminder of how delicious roasted cauliflower is, for Penzey’s Justice that Amy introduced me to, and for the ease of a salad made with canned beans: so simple, so delicious! I’m grateful for another day alive in this body aware of all the sensory pleasures life offers, and for learning the mindfulness skills that enable me to experience each day with gratitude and meaning.

Radishes

I’m grateful all five phoebe babies made it through their first 24 hours. I spooked them several times this morning walking around the west side of the house; they scattered each time from a different roost on the ground, then perched on anything convenient like this string of prayer flags. A strange light filtered through a sudden smoke bank that rolled in from the southwest, eventually obscuring the mountains and carrying that chilling scent of wildfire. That surreal color suffused everything for a couple of hours. I’m grateful the fires aren’t closer.

Grateful for yet another new claret cup cactus in bloom. Such a great year for them!

I’m grateful for the first harvest of radishes. I wasn’t crazy about radishes, but they’re fulfilling to grow. And this variety is crisp and light, spicy but not too hot. I’m grateful for being open to changing my taste, my habits and attitudes toward food and everything else.

Fledging

It was a big day here. I’m so exhausted you’d think I were fledging. I came downstairs shortly after sunrise to let Stellar out after hearing his nails click on the floor. I was horrified to see a Phoebe fall from the nest – but wait, it hadn’t fallen, it had flown. I couldn’t miss this, so I didn’t even go back upstairs for the camera phone. I grabbed the big camera and went outside.

There were three phoebes already out of the nest, squatting all over the patio.

They could barely fly, with their brand new wings and their stubby little tails, yet they kept fluttering from one surface to another.

Once they discovered the cat ladder, the real fun began. Back and forth, back and forth. Topaz, however, had by now been locked inside for the first hour of the day, given up, and gone back upstairs to bed. Not a peep from her the rest of the day. More hours went by, well-spent as far as I was concerned. I’d been waiting for this day since May 19, when the chicks first hatched. In the previous week, the speed of their growth astonished me.

From the ladder, back and forth to the old cable wire that I leave hanging just for this reason, to the old insulation hole in the adobe double-wall, to the ladder, to eventually, hours later, the honeysuckle and the rose bush beyond the patio. Mama and Papa continued to take turns feeding the babies, but how could they tell who was who? I noticed that sometimes they’d feed the same chick three or four times in a row, until it just wouldn’t open its mouth again, then they’d take their bug to another. Their instincts came through though: when any of them approached another, well, they just kept opening their mouths to receive food, even if it was just another chick coming in for a landing. Sometimes they got lucky.

Even after being fed they squawk.

Everything went really well. Four chicks out of the nest, each getting its turn getting fed, but the fifth chick just would not leave the nest. Even as the others explored sensations of flight, tested their quickly growing limits, I swear even their tail feathers seemed to grow before my eyes, stretched their wings, the fifth chick simply wouldn’t leave.

Mama continued to feed it, teasing with the insect and making the chick reach for it again and again before relinquishing it, and once actually got on top of the chick, I think urging it to leave the nest. I began to despair of it leaving ever, as the first four chicks flew from the ladder one by one, out into the trees east or north of the house.

The last chick flexed its wings a few times, but remained alone in the nest for more than an hour, before finally joining a few remaining nest mates on the ladder. But they, too, flew off, leaving the last little bird alone on the ladder for a long time. I couldn’t leave. I pretended to read, time marched relentlessly on, it was getting close to noon, I could hear the rest of the family chirping from around the north side of the house, and still the last little bird lingered on the ladder.

Some other things happened.

I was grateful that I had no firm commitments on my calendar until evening, when I had a group to lead online. I could bide my time outside. I had started the morning rapt with joy, completely immersed in the huge little drama unfolding with the Phoebe family. By eleven, as I sat anxiously watching the last little fledgeling sleeping on a rung of the ladder, anxiety assailed me: what if they left it there? what if no one came back for it? what would I do? how would I save it? I observed these thoughts arise, only mildly disturbed by them. Even as my mind raised anxieties, a more detached awareness simply watched it all unfold, waiting patiently, reassuring the rest of me that it would all be okay no matter how it went down, and more specifically, calmly insisting that they would never have invested that much energy into bring the chick to this point in its life only to abandon it. Finally, I saw a parent approach it with food, trying to entice it off the rung. It took another hour, but eventually, the last chick flew to the rosebush, then to the maple, then on around beyond the house. I went inside. By then it was hot, and I was exhausted from my irresistible seven-hour vigil. I went inside to meditate and nap.

Come evening, cooled down, I went outside again to water the vegetable beds; stepping around the north end of the house to turn on the hose, I saw them all stacked up along a shelf support in the tool area. Before dark, they had dispersed to several other perches. I kept thinking they’d return to the nest overnight, as last year’s clutch did for a few days after hatching, but didn’t see that before I went in at dusk. I’m grateful for an absolutely perfect day watching the greatest show on earth, a participant observer in the thrilling action of a special day in the life of a single bird family. May they all live through the night, and the summer, and the next few years.

Continuing Education

Just the simple fact that I keep on learning, something, every day, at least one thing; I’m grateful for continuing education. For example, no wonder my cookies turn out so flat, even when I follow the recipe to a T: I always let the butter get too soft. So chilling the dough in the fridge before I finish even mixing it turns out to be a prize-winning success.

I’m so grateful for the latté ritual that makes the Sundays of this pastoral life hold meaning: ok, not the only thing, but ‘my’ Sunday morning latté is definitely a ritual worth appreciating.

I’m grateful for the national celebration of the arts that is the Kennedy Center Honors; this year it was filmed all over the grounds in the leadup to the final production. I’m grateful to Mary and Chris for both alerting me to the broadcast; and I’m grateful for the technology I have learned to engage with to bring it into our lives. I’m grateful that I live in a rural community that has benefited from Midori’s initiative to bring music to the more random and isolated communities in the country. Our little Blue Sage Center for the Arts, which I’ve watched evolve since its inception into a place where, Cousin Jack was just asking me today, world-class musicians come to perform, grateful that Midori is one of these, grateful to learn more about artists I barely know, and those whose names I’ve known for most of my life. It’s a special place where I live, and I’m grateful for the palpable sense of community that enticed me to stay here, all those years ago.

It was a beautiful presentation that only kept getting better, until at last … well, I’ll leave it that the Garth Brooks segment, which was last, was also the most powerful for me. Grateful, especially, that I can enjoy and participate in this celebration without leaving the comfort of my living room.

First Flight

Those mom and pop phoebes are indomitable, like Mother Nature herself; constant, though not as sure as the sunrise. Anything could happen to any one of them on any day: a peregrine falcon, for example. But in general, they’re pretty safe here. They put up with me coming and going underneath them, and I suspect en evolutionary advantage to those phoebes who nested near humans: their risk pays off in having fewer (more cautious) predators.

In no time at all, they are climbing out of the nest, stretching their wings. Where is the fifth one? I’ve been watching the houseplants below the nest, no one has fallen out. I can’t really see them from the patio table, my outside office, without binoculars or the zoom lens, so sometimes I take pictures and only know what I’m looking at later.

I’m just grateful they’ve made it this far. Grateful that I have the opportunity to live in such close proximity, grateful they trust me, grateful to first hear their first wing stretches fluttering, and later witness ‘first flight,’ the first time both feet left a firm surface and this baby bird experienced the sensation of flight.

There seems to be a jay nest just north of the birch tree, possibly in an old abandoned magpie nest. It was here I think I heard the screeching from yesterday, before imagining the worst case scenario for a titmouse chick. I flustered a lot of them this evening just before I came in from the pending, blowing storm. Nothing has happened so far except some lighting and thunder, but overnight we got 3 one-hundredths of an inch of rain. I’m grateful for every milliliter of it.

It was interesting to observe: lying in bed around midnight hearing the first drops coming down on the metal roof, and then a steady thrum. Watching my mind attach with relief to the sound of rain, and immediately begin to constrict with the assumption that it wouldn’t amount to much, that it would end all too soon. The rain intensified, and for a moment I almost believed it would last, but then, over the course of a few minutes, the volume dwindled, and then shut off. Oh well. At least I have phoebes.

Though I know I won’t have them forever, I treasure them while they’re here: a healthy approach to every joyful thing in every day. So many things I’ve been grateful for during this one precious day that will never come again, including the opportunity to teach a mindfulness class to two dear friends, a delicious lunch, a hot shower, access to stream a film about the Dalai Lama, and the recommendation to watch Ballerina Boys, a fascinating documentary about an all-male ballet troupe that’s been showcasing a scintillating blend of classical ballet and drag comedy for 45 years. Literally every moment, every breath, is an opportunity to be grateful for something.

Connection

Boyz Lunch today was fried Sesame Tofu with Coconut-Lime Dressing and Spinach, a light fare on the first really hot day of summer.

I’m grateful that the juniper titmice have fledged, and that I was able to get a sort-of shot of the nest hole, after my mind played tricks on me this morning and I thought maybe they’d left behind a chick. So strong was the story I made up from my illusory senses that it took several close perusals of this image and some others to set my mind at ease, and now it seems so obvious. Ah, how we manage to delude ourselves.

Today I’m grateful to be alive, to have friends, to be part of a wonderful, interesting community. In fact, several of them, one in physical space and a couple in virtual space. Also, I’m grateful to live in the multi-species community that is my yarden, cultivating constant connection with Nature. At lunch today on the patio we were all enjoying the phoebes, and observed the chicks’ milestone of venturing beyond the nest onto the joist. THEN, we were astonished to realize that there are actually five chicks!

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