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Lifegiving Lilacs

Western tiger swallowtails frequented the lilac while it bloomed in May.

It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Weobegone — wait, no! It’s been a challenging month here at Mirador. Lots of life happening hard and fast, life including death, of course. Without the garden, exquisite pollinators, and five years of serious mindfulness practice under my belt, the weeks since Raven’s death would have been even more tumultuous.

A different individual shows resilience. I noticed right away that its right rear wing is tattered, but it took awhile to see that its hind end looks wounded, as if in a narrow escape from a bird…
… perhaps from a phoebe, like this one stalking beneath Buddleia alternifolia, domesticated butterfly bush’s wild ancestor, and an annual feast for pollinators that blooms after the lilacs are spent.
Red admiral butterflies were also prevalent, in varying stages of weatherbeaten.
Elegant flower fly, is what I’m calling this. Pretty confident that it’s some species of syrphid fly, a beneficial family that eats aphid larvae.

What with Raven dying, auntie’s stroke, Michael’s imminent demise, another friend in major-medical limbo, Stellar on his last legs… the cherry tree dying, the phoebe nest knocked down and chicks devoured… the little and the big, all against the national backdrop of socio-political upheaval (and hopefully, awakening), and the slow-moving catastrophe of climate chaos; it’s been like log-rolling in a swift river, but I’m no longer a beginner: I’ve stayed afloat, dancing on the rolling crashing logs, keeping my balance. That takes practice.

Spring’s generous reminder that change is constant, the mourning cloak.
For years I’ve heard ‘hummingbird moth’ and ‘sphinx moth’ used interchangeably to name the creature below. I just saw this translucent winged, brush-haired type identified online as a ‘hummingbird moth.’ Correction on IDs always welcome.
Many sphinx moths enjoyed the lilacs. So their larvae might eat tomatoes, there’s enough love for everyone in this garden.
Elusive broad-tailed hummingbird made my day. Elusive to the camera, plenty zipping around but hard to catch at the lilac.
After a few days the lilac grove got crowded…
A digger bee feeds congenially beside a swallowtail.
A well-traveled common buckeye butterfly sups by a bumblebee.
Bombus huntii, I presume? At times the lilac was thick with them.
I was surprised by the apparent aggression of many bees, as they seemed to attack each other and also butterflies… as though there was not enough to go around. I witnessed far more collisions than I was able to document.
The requisite honeybee holds fast.
A raucous crowd each day long kept me close to the lilac for weeks, absorbed in the thrills of nectar competition, absorbing the purifying aroma.
Another Papilio rutulus, because for the fleeting time they’re here, why not wallow in them?

Each spring, time with lilacs becomes more precious. Each year, time on earth becomes more precious. Various plants in the garden command their share of my attention during their unique brief windows, and my devotions keep pace as well as I can. A hidden blessing during this Time of the Virus for me has been more time, more time, what most people ask for on their deathbeds. More time than ever before with the lifegiving lilacs.

Suffering keeps going deeper, taking a turn you hadn’t anticipated. How does anyone ever think It can’t happen to me? The more I learn of what can happen, the limitless, infinite array of possibilities that might occur in any moment of any day, that expanding cone of possibility that flows outward, infinitely, from every individual sentient being based on the sum total of conditions present within and without that individual in that precise and only moment, the more gratitude I cherish for each and every moment of my life that holds beauty and serenity.

After lilacs, the pink penstemons: orchard bee on Penstemon pseudospectabilis.
Anthophora enjoying P. palmeri
Swallowtails seem to be courting in the tangled limbs of ancestral butterfly bush while it blooms in early June. May they breed well and prosper. Because why not? Who can get enough of them?

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.

Shitstorms

Raven and Stellar at Ice Canyon, before the dog plague struck.

It was a rough holiday season here at Mirador. The worst of it, on one level, was the dogs, who each suffered for three straight days, first one then the other, with diarrhea. It was a real shitstorm. I was up every hour or two for that whole week letting one then the other out, and entered the new year as sleep deprived as a new mother. But from a big picture perspective, this latest escalation of US dominance and prerogative in the Middle East is just about my worst nightmare, for so many interconnected reasons.

Consider the Iranian spider-tailed viper found only in the limestone mountains of western Iran. Imagine that you are that creature. You hatched from an egg, and you have grown up just the way your millions of years of evolution have conditioned you to do. The tip of your tail looks just like a spider, with a pale bulbous abdomen and a bunch of legs. When you’re hungry you emerge from your cave and coil, perfectly camouflaged on the limestone rocks, and ever so slowly wave that tail tip about, until a bird comes to eat it. Then you strike and eat the bird. It’s a marvel of adaptation, one of the most amazing examples of caudal luring in the animal kingdom. There you are, in your remote desert-cave, living your amazing, singular life, and some corrupt, lying, power-hungry bozo an ocean away decides to start World War III. KABOOM!!! You are no more.

The Iranian spider-tailed viper. Yes, that’s her tail. Photo by Patrick müller.

Spectacularly unique endemic species like the Iranian spider-tailed viper live on all continents. Endemic means that they exist only in one particular place or habitat on the planet. We have a few here in western Colorado: the Colorado hookless cactus, for one, and the Gunnison sage grouse, as well as four ancient and endangered fish species. Most of our endemics are threatened by habitat loss and destruction, much of it from extractive industries.

The astonishing variety of reptiles and other animals native to the wartorn Middle East, as we call it, or center of the universe as they might refer to it, diminishes with every bomb that some regime explodes. We humans are destroying the planet in many ways by the needs and greeds of our sheer numbers, but the worst culprit by far is our addiction to petroleum, and the lengths we will go to to get more of it.

For 150 years the Petroleum Industry has fed this addiction and knowingly deceived us about its consequences, with evil disregard for Life on Earth in pursuit of their obscene profits. The climate crisis that now rages unchecked is the end result of the stupid greed of a small number of heartless magnates over the past century, though we are all complicit for having bought into or been born into this ‘consumer culture.’

Imagine that you are a tiny marsupial, a joey still confined to your mother’s pouch, and she is running or hopping for her life ahead of a monstrous fire that sweeps at the speed of wind across the only home you’ve ever known. And that fire is faster than you. More than half a billion animals have perished in the Australian wildfires this season, and countless more are suffering. Entire endemic species may go extinct on that continent. Don’t let industry propaganda fool you: there is no question that this disaster is a direct result of the climate crisis perpetrated by the petroleum industry.

Perhaps you are a refugee from Sudan or Central America fleeing unlivable conditions that have arisen from the climate crisis, and you traverse seas and countries to find safe haven, just to continue to live your fragile, single human life. You get somewhere and you’re not welcome, and you try to move on hoping you’ll find refuge somewhere farther along. Or you die on the journey. Or you are imprisoned at the border.

I cannot bear the pain of living in this world for another minute. My heart breaks constantly, and I am filled with rage.

And yet, here I am, with my delusions and my hopes (many of which are the same things), with my best intentions, with my random prayers, with my gratitude and appreciation, witnessing the magnificent, minute, grand and ever-changing exquisite beauty of existence on this fragile planet. I continue on with a crushing burden of guilt for my part in this human shitstorm that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for many species including our own.

How is this not visible in every living moment to every living human on this spinning globe? We are but a tiny, miraculous speck in an increasingly incomprehensible universe. As the inter-relationships among all things become more clear, the very nature of Life grows more divinely mysterious. Not only is the largest living organism on the planet an underground fungus, but Gaia’s crust is actually alive. We the human species are a tiny part of an immensely complex organism.

We are all one. None of us is a single unaffected, unaffecting life. But how does this awareness help us? How do we do something in the service of Life, to protect and preserve the LIFE that we revere above all in this world?

Looking forward to happier times…

It’s hard to be a Buddhist and practice acceptance during this time. It’s hard to cultivate loving-kindness for the people in the regimes of this country and others who perpetuate war, hate, misogyny, and genocide. I personally can’t do it. I believe there are enlightened people who can. I try not to hate, but I hate. The most cogent expression I’ve encountered of the crisis facing us is Roshi Joan Halifax’s Friday Fire Drill Speech.

Who wins if the US goes to war with Iran? Not the Iranian spider-tailed viper. Not the people of the US or Iran. Not the young men and women who will lose lives and limbs. Not the parents and children of those soldiers. Whose stocks have soared since the US president’s reckless assassination of a revered Iranian general? The manufacturers of weapons, the manufacturers of the devices from drones to jets that deliver those weapons, and the Petroleum Industry. Those will be the winners in another war. Their wins are short-sighted and will be short-lived. Another war will only speed up the already accelerating climate catastrophe.

We are all one. All pieces in a great cosmic puzzle.

This isn’t what I want to write about. But I must. We must talk about it with open, breaking hearts, to our friends and families, with people who share our beliefs and with people who don’t. We must meet on the common ground of our shared planet. I implore you to vote for compassion in the next election, whatever country you live in.

Vote in your own self-interest, which is not the interest of the Petroleum Industry, the Weapons Industry, or the corporate billionaires who have won tax cuts that only hurt you. Stop voting for their interests and vote for your own. In the US, vote to save the place where you live from reckless energy extraction, vote for comprehensive healthcare and a decent living minimum wage, vote for extensive upgrades to our failing public education system, and the crumbling roads and bridges we travel every day in our petroleum driven vehicles. Vote for science-based solutions to this climate catastrophe, for renewable energy to power our homes and vehicles, for common-sense kindness, for the protection of Life on Earth.

In the midst of the shitstorms, in the winter sunroom, a tiny personal victory …
… and gustatory delight
Clinging to another winter pleasure that eases my despair. Balance is found by cultivating the capacity to be with both the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows

Pleasure Hunting

“The Hunt” was painted by Scottish artist Robert Burns around 1926, as part of his coherent Art Deco interior design for Crawford’s Tea Rooms in Edinburgh.

Deep into the first puzzle of the season, a light snow drifts down again. We’ve all ordered our puzzles for the year, and since everyone else’s were primarily blue hues, I chose different colors. There are so many factors to review in choosing only one puzzle per year. When I first got addicted, I made my selection solely by the image itself. As it became clear that more recent puzzles feature more complex cuts, I began looking for harder puzzles, those with fewer edge pieces, smaller pieces, more intricate whimsy pieces, and now, knock me over with a feather, there are several with alternative solutions!

How did I never think of doing this before with the whimsy pieces?
All the pieces are whimsical but whimsy pieces have a recognizable shape, either an animal, plant, person, or part thereof, or they’re geometrical or symmetrical. Whimsy pieces are at the heart of what makes these puzzles works of art in their own right.

The seemingly infinite variety of the cuts, as Liberty’s designer gets more inventive season by season, brings surprise and delight in each new puzzle; older puzzles in our community collection continue to gratify as I do them again with a different strategy each time: from the outside in or the inside out? starting with a color, or a figure, or clockwise or counter-clockwise…? The designer’s puzzler fans here are growing with him and seek more complexity in each puzzle we choose. This winter we’ve all opted for challenging puzzles, one even designated “Experts Only.”

Opening the puzzle box that enticing new puzzle scent wafts out. I have a particular way I sort the pieces, as I unpack them from their tissue paper nest. Whimsy pieces all to one side, obvious edges at the top, and then some other classifications as each unique puzzle invites. People have asked if I have a strategy, and the truth is that the particulars of each puzzle dictate how I sort its pieces, and all following aspects of my strategy: each strategy is unique as the puzzle that shapes it. So I’ve sorted all the pieces, played Forest House with them, and it’s time to stretch my legs, my back, give my eyes a break from close-up for awhile.

I look away from the table, and movement out the south window catches my eye, three does leaping the picket fence. A small forky buck strides up under the apricot tree.

No wonder the does leapt. As he stalks stealthily west across the yard and leaps after the does, I notice a good-size three-point buck in the brush left of them. Scanning for more I glance away, then am drawn back by odd movement. The buck has something caught in his antlers, and seems to be struggling to scrape it off — is it wire? God no! I’m always worried I’ve left some stray piece of wire or fencing around that will accidentally snag a buck.

Then I see he’s got a juniper branch stuck in his antlers: he does, then suddenly he doesn’t, then he does. Then he stands tall with his white antlers free of green twigs, and looks to the right, into the woods, from which emerges a larger three-point buck, stalking in that wild restrained way of rut. The smaller buck casually veers off to the south, and the big buck comes to the same juniper, a small sapling I see now, about four feet tall, and rages through it with his antlers in the same manner. Both have been spreading their scent all over this little tree from their forehead glands. Topaz sleeps in her cushioned bed on the sunroom table missing the whole thing. She would’ve enjoyed watching it. The large buck turns back into the woods, herding an older doe ahead of him.

Not a great photo, but observe the buck’s lips, partially obscured by a twig: His upper lip is curled, and nostrils squeezed, in the rut behavior called flehmen, where he inhales directly into a scent organ beyond the roof of his mouth. Many mammals do this for different reasons, and in this case he’s scenting the female he follows in hopes of breeding.
The observed distracted by the observer, he drops his lip and watches me for a moment, before continuing after his quarry.

It’s been a thrilling wildlife interlude, more fun than I could have asked for in a ten-minute break. After they’ve all moved past the boundary fence I let the dogs out to read the air, and we stroll around the yard before returning to the now oddly more relevant puzzle.

Not only is this ‘complex whimsy’ piece that stands on its own four feet precious by itself, but with the first connecting pieces in place it reveals one of Diana’s nymphs. The other nymph lurks in the corner…
This kind of truly whimsical detail just brings me a quick hit of joy. And they pop up throughout doing the puzzle, like little mental pop rocks all sweet and fizzy.
Corners can now be made of three pieces, not just two! Notice the little bat full of toes?
While sorting, there seemed to be a lot of flat edge pieces. There are actually a lot of flat fake edge pieces semi-symmetrically arranged, above, and below.

At this point, on the third morning, I can hardly bear to finish the puzzle, yet I can’t stop myself from working it. So few pieces left, only barely easier than it was at the beginning to find a matching space for each. So complex, so alive, a naturalist’s delight. Fleas as one-of-the-leopard’s spots! A tiny monkey face in the top left corner and another half monkey, magpies flying all across the top; pink toes, too many feet! But they all fit into their perfect places perfectly. It’s time to invoke Kathleen’s Rule.

I’ve been working so far with Seymour’s Rule, which is usually called into play before starting the puzzle, but can be invoked at any time. Seymour’s Rule dictates that you may look at the cover image once, before starting the puzzle, and never again until you finish it. At first it seemed unimaginably challenging to me, and I excused my lack of willingness to play it by saying, I enjoy the original artwork too much to not look at it from time to time while doing the puzzle. But now looking makes the puzzle too easy, seems almost like cheating, which is what Seymour obviously thought, and also Philip, who insists on this rule.

To start a puzzle, I usually pick a distinct color there’s not too much of, in this case the black jaguar’s pelt, and gather and assemble as many pieces as I can find of it, sometimes invoking Kathleen’s Rule for just that section. There are always missing pieces, that show up later in the puzzle with just the tiniest fleck of the color.

Kathleen’s Rule states that once you pick up a piece from the table, you must place it before you can pick up another piece. You may slide pieces around to get a closer look, but once you’ve lifted it, it must go into its proper slot. You don’t want to invoke this rule too early in the puzzle, or it might drive you mad, so it’s usually only called when there are a few dozen pieces left out. However, I find myself enjoying doing more of a puzzle in this methodical, meditative way, and often start with nearly half the pieces left. But of course I bend the rules when I play alone. All except the cardinal rule, No Food or Drink on the Puzzle Table!

I like to save a special piece for last, which, again, the nature of the puzzle dictates.

And there she is, Diana and her Nymphs, and her jaguars, and monkeys, and magpies, in her mythical jungle, together after two and a half days of concerted focus. A weekend well spent, with a few chores and exercises squeezed in between bouts of obsession that left me with a stiff neck and blurred vision. Next long weekend, I’ll tackle the alternative solution, unless another puzzle comes my way first. Notice how the weird, imperfect symmetries of the original solution now make sense.

It took a few times looking at this image to discern that it’s a stag’s head. Getting my myths mixed up, I thought at first perhaps it was a tree. Now it’s so clear I see nothing else: Actaeon, the hapless hunter who stumbled upon goddess Diana bathing naked, and whom she subsequently turned into a stag.

Why I Didn’t Report That Rape

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… a spoonful of sugar… 

It was the only one that happened to me, let’s get that out of the way. Was it violent? Sure, in a way; no knife or imminent gun, just brute force, and my willingness to submit without escalating the violence. There were plenty of guns in the house, though, and a temper that took them out on rabbits in the desert: the guns and the temper, he took them both out together, and with them took out some rabbits. Taught his little four-year-old how to do that, too, so I often wonder what kind of man that poor kid grew into. Maybe as macho a one as his dad, who, though, still retained a soft spot for his college (occasional, accidental) lover, another macho athletic man. But that kind of hypocrisy is another issue. (Or is it?)

I was raped in my ex-boyfriend’s bed within minutes of making it clear that I was breaking up with him. So why didn’t I report it? Well, I could just hear the arguments, because they were and still are pervasive in our culture. They’re already in our heads. (If you aren’t aware that you’re hearing these patriarchal voices in your head, you’re in even more trouble.) So that while I knew this was rape, I also believed that no one else would think it was ‘a serious rape.’ And we lived in a small, intense community in a rural outpost. I wasn’t willing to fight about it, it was best for me to just lie there and survive, then walk away.

In that case, the argument would have been similar to a wife claiming rape, maybe more insidious, and it was this: You went over to his house. You’ve already fucked him a hundred times, you can’t claim rape. Something like that. “It wasn’t really rape,” or “It wasn’t really rape.” The idea that if she’s already your woman, it isn’t rape. I say maybe more insidious than the argument against a wife’s claim, because an entrenched idea of ‘ownership’ remains a sad condition of marriage; with a girlfriend, the idea that no doesn’t mean no expresses an even deeper level of gender-based ownership, i.e., men rule women.

We saw this gender-based entitlement on vivid display in the second half of yesterday’s hearings. I personally could not watch, the heartrending snippets I heard in the morning having sent me into flight mode. But I listened and watched some evening news coverage, and saw the tempers explode and the spittle fly, and the ‘snarls of hatred and contempt,’ from Kavanaugh, Graham, and other angry white men. Somewhere in here is where the hypocrisy issue lies, claws nestled in those dark hearts. Are these really the people you want making the decisions that will affect your children’s, and your grandchildren’s, lives?

Women, if you live with a bully for a husband, or boyfriend, or father, you are living with abuse; if the man or men in your life belittle, degrade, threaten, slap or beat you, you need to see it for what it is. You don’t deserve it. You may not be able to argue or stand up to your abuser right now, but you can step into the privacy of your secret ballot this November, and every election, and say NO to the prevailing culture that now sanctions this abuse of a nation.

And now for some gratuitous beauty:

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Life goes on, turn, turn, turn….

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It helps to make time to appreciate beauty and the company of friends.

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It helps to walk with dogs.

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It helps to allow both joy and sorrow, love and rage, faith and uncertainty, in your heart at the same time; to practice equanimity… with ferocity, when necessary. 

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Living fire in the back yard, and in the ‘extended’ back yard.

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