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Scarlet Runner Beans

All summer they provided nectar for hummingbirds. I planted them for the flowers, and they’ve never produced many beans in previous years.

But this year, though they began to bloom late, they did make a lot of flowers, and eventually a lot of big beans.

Today I pulled them all off, prior to the coming freeze. I read that pole beans should be harvested before a hard freeze, and most of them were already mature, though not dry on the vine. I do NOT remember the beans being this scrumptious berry color. I’ll dry them on a tray until the pods are tan and the beans rattle in them, then spread the beans out to dry further before storing in a jar. I pulled all the pod beans today, including the last prolific rattlesnake pole beans. I’m grateful for a day spent putting the garden to bed, another day with an enthusiastic dog, another precious day in contemplation, and I’m especially grateful today for scarlet runner beans.

Self-Compassion

Grateful that Stellar made it to the canyon rim another time… wondering if this ‘dying’ story is all in my head… knowing it isn’t, and patience is essential. Choosing to place my attention on the joyful times we share in a day, rather than the ongoing signs of decline.

Yeah, I behaved poorly… Years in the making, layers of labels, resentments, dashed expectations, “different world views,” and a final cascade of events and emotions…. “It was justified.” Still, I behaved poorly, and I’m grateful that I can have compassion for my old sorry self who used to let her mental stories lead her way, and still takes me over, though it’s been a long time…. I’m grateful today that I can observe the processes of “my” mind as I reflect on all the layers of this event, and of how it came to be. Though I’m not clear yet, I’m grateful for mindfulness skills that can help me at least know the possibility of clarity, feel the grace of self-compassion, and aspire to forgiveness.

Grateful for this happy place, this garden, and for living at the edge of these mountains, inside the kaleidoscope.
Grateful for the ongoing gift of rattlesnake pole beans…
…For knowing, finally, how to tell when these weird little cantaloups are ripe: a yellowness comes over the rind when they’re ready.
Grateful that Stellar once again made it to the canyon rim this morning…
…that he made it home again, through the day again, to help me water the marigolds, and inspect the harvest.

It’s hard not to think in terms of last: is this his last walk to the canyon? his last drink from the hose? his last night? his last day? I’m grateful for all this painful awareness, reminding me constantly of what a constant companion he has been for almost fourteen years. And he still is, though it’s so different. He would still fight to the death to protect me, if he could move fast enough. I’ve remained the ‘parent’ as he has gone from infant to elder before my eyes, in no time at all. The challenges of this, too, shall pass. Nothing lasts forever. Death is certain, time of death uncertain.

Grateful to bring in the last of the harvest today, save a few hardy greens that will come in before the hard freeze mid-week: The threat recedes in both intensity and time. Paltry zucchini, ample green tomatoes, the last few okras and rattlesnake beans, and the single solitary purple pepper that grew this year. Grateful that nothing ever stays the same, and that I’m learning to trust and be kind to myself as I surf the sea of impermanence.

Mind Training

I’m grateful this morning that I didn’t get myself into a bigger snit this week, over a cascade of events that I experienced as aggravating and stressful. I lost my temper–but only a little bit–with the person I felt had put me in a no-win situation. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice for tempering my reactions throughout the experience, helping me keep a compassionate and friendly perspective, and for enabling me to let go once it was all resolved satisfactorily.

I’m grateful for the mind training I’ve engaged in this past year, which allowed me to recognize these worries as projections of mind rather than reality, thereby keeping rampant emotions in perspective. Frustration and resentment simply buzzed around my head like an angry bee from time to time, rather than dominating the field of love and serenity that Stellar and I have been cultivating during these last precious days together. (How many now? Ten? One? Another month?)

I can’t imagine what a mess I would have been two years ago in the same situation. Actually, I can imagine, and this clear awareness is so much easier; this letting go so much healthier. The angry bee has flown, ravens chat nearby, a sweet fall breeze stirs leaves and flowerheads. Stellar lies on his bed in shade beside the patio table where I write, resting comfortably after two short wobbles around the breakfast loop earlier. I’m grateful for the new regime of comfort meds that have given us both more physical ease, and therefore peace. Perhaps these palliative measures may extend his life a little longer, I don’t know; but the important thing is that they are giving him a better quality of life, whatever its duration.

I’m also grateful for an impressive carrot harvest. Time to bake some carrot muffins!

Letting Go

I might as easily have chosen to highlight my gratitude for the Bibiliofillies, but I am grateful today for letting go. I’m grateful for the capacity to quit reading a book, or watching a show, or otherwise removing my attention from one thing and turning it to another. This is the very essence of mindfulness, the ability and willingness to choose where we place our attention.

Tonight, the Bibliofillies met on zoom to discuss our month’s selection, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, by George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, which we read awhile ago. The latter was a work of fiction; tonight’s subject, an academic analysis of numerous classic Russian short stories, and the arts of writing, and of reading. (I can’t tell you how many stories, because I didn’t get past the first chapter.) A few fillies loved it; some were almost neutral; the rest of us, well, to say we despised it would be an exaggeration, but needless to say the various opinions made for lively discussion. This is why I’m grateful, at least once a month, for the Bibiliofillies.

I bristled at the author’s (a middle-aged white man) initial assumption that he knew what I was thinking. From there it went downhill. Though I did find some redeeming features in what I read, I did not want to keep reading, one of Saunders’ essential criteria for a successful short story. My perspective aside, (for what does it matter anyway?), having this safe place to express it, laugh about it, adapt it, is… priceless.

It’s essential to adapting to be able to let go. There is so much to let go of every single day. I’m grateful that I can let go of attachment to ‘my’ point of view more and more often these days.

Life is so much easier now that I’m simply letting things be as they are, instead of trying to control them. I also used to bristle when people told me, “You think too much!” Turns out they were right, but for the wrong reasons. And if I didn’t hang onto an emotion, I couldn’t consider that it mattered. Letting go was never easy for me. So I clung to, among other things, my own judgements, expectations, mistakes; I harbored grudges, fed them with repetition. Michael was right: I did have a ‘victim mentality.’

Death is certain, time of death uncertain.

I’m so grateful that I’m learning to let go, of everything. Emotions can actually flow through, and that doesn’t make them less real or less valid. The faster I let go, the faster I learn the lesson. The lesson I learned this month was that I don’t have to finish reading every book, or watching every episode of every season of a show, or a movie to the end. I don’t always need to know what happens next: as in a bad dream, I can take my attention by the hand and walk away. I can choose where to spend my precious attention. I don’t know how much I have left. I’m grateful for letting go of things that don’t nurture me.

I’m grateful for the salutary effects of prednisone, which have given Stellar new strength to walk to the canyon. Today may have been the last time; or maybe not. Living in this strenuous uncertainty requires focus almost as complete as blowing glass: anything you drop could be catastrophic.
Stellar was excited to see his buddies at Boyz Lunch today, as they were to see him looking so lively. I’m grateful for the option of gently, comfortably, letting go of this magnificent life that has graced my own for nearly fourteen years. And grateful for the geezers, too.
I’m grateful for endless cherry tomatoes from the garden this summer; grateful to still have the stoneware bowl my mother made fifty years ago that holds them; grateful even so to know that if the bowl one day breaks I can easily let it go; and grateful for the imminent relief of letting go of garden maintenance, as we approach a hard freeze six nights away from now.

Satisfaction

I’m grateful today for the satisfaction of doing what I had to do, for work, for dogs, for the house and yarden. Grateful for curiosity which has allowed me to slow down and observe without attachment. Grateful for the satisfaction delivered by a BLT with leftover chicken. Grateful to go to bed after a long day, without being too hard on myself or anyone else, and with only some minor regrets. Grateful for mindfulness practice.

This Life

I’m grateful that I made choices along the way that led me to be in this life, right now, right here. I could have done so much worse for myself. I could hardly have done better. I’m grateful for so many things in this life, friends, this community, this place. I’m grateful for all the amenities I’ve mentioned before, for the ancient forest around me, the animals both tame and wild who’ve shared my world. I’m grateful for the teachers, the ancestors, the fruits of their labors and of my practice. I’m grateful for this life in which I can make time to lie in the garden with my old dog for hours as he finds his way out of this life. I’m grateful for this life in which I have come to know patience, acceptance, surrender, and joy in the face of suffering.

I’m grateful we made it through another sweet, tender day together.

My Decision

It’s been a sweet and peaceful day at Mirador. Stellar seems more comfortable than he’s been in a week, and so am I. Having made the decision yesterday, I’m at ease with whatever happens next. And after that. And next after that…

He slept well, moved well (relatively), ate well, and napped well. He doesn’t breathe so well when he walks, but he remains eager to go for one when I ask, and we took four short walks between sunup and sundown. I worked at the computer, in the kitchen, and in the garden intermittently. It rained overnight, and again this evening. I’m grateful for one more precious day with him.

I’m also grateful for my decision: we are both more relaxed than we’ve been in a long time. Even though I told him repeatedly over the past month, as his condition deteriorated, that it was all ok, that everything was fine, that he was the best dog ever in the whole planet, he could feel that it was inconvenient, that I was annoyed with the flooded pee pads and the poops. He could tell the difference between what I said and my true feelings. What happened last night was total surrender to the way it is, so that it really is no longer an annoyance or an inconvenience. When I reaffirm the perspective that “I don’t mind what happens,” life is so much easier.

I’m grateful for the first batch of fermented hot sauce: yikes! Those Thai Dragons really give it a kick.

I’m grateful for harvesting the bulk of my eggplants today, in preparation for Zoom Cooking with Amy. We’re making Moussaka on Friday night.

I’m grateful for that tomato paste I cooked the other day. Today I scooped the frozen cubes out of the ice tray into a freezer bag for storage.

I’m grateful for the potatoes I grew. This afternoon I dug up the last of them, in anticipation of more rain. The KVNF Worms said it was fine to store them in the garden til freezing unless there was a big fall rain, which might make them sprout. I’m grateful for the little rain last night, and when it poured with lightning and thunder this evening, I was glad I had dug the potatoes this afternoon.

Just one little potato sprouted, so my timing was good to bring in the last of the Yukon Gold, russets, and red potatoes. I have a plan for the littlest of them, which will be revealed later.

I’m grateful for the leeks I grew, and for the gift of a chicken. I’ve been wanting to cook this skillet roasted chicken with caramelized leeks for awhile. So simple, so delicious! Stellar and I will both enjoy it for a few days. I’m grateful for friendship and support, and for one silver lining of Covid (and of contemplating death): reassessing my values and nurturing with more attention the relationships that nurture me.

Dead Dogs

Stellar enjoying his nose on our short walk this evening, after a long few days.

Tonight, as I reflect on them, I’m grateful for all the dogs who’ve died on my watch. There was Sam, the pregnant stray I picked up in college; Knobby, who picked me up at a campground; Mocha, renowned for her sweetness; serious Mr. Brick, the golden bobtail, my first puppy; mischievous Raven, who died in my arms. Each of them died a different way.

I see growth over the course of this progression in my understandings of life and death. Karmically speaking, I can only hope that by the time dear Stellar dies, I’ve been able to purify the negative karma I incurred when I had Sam put down. The memories still traumatize: She won’t feel a thing, they assured me. She bucked and fought on the table, the whole time glaring at me in wide-eyed terror. It was the most horrible thing I’d experienced thus far in my young life. And the reason I did it? I’m ashamed to admit it, because now, knowing about no-kill shelters like Best Friends, I would never have even considered it. I rationalized it as the most compassionate thing to do, and it was the most compassionate way I knew at the time.

The object of my thoughts for days has been whether or not I could ever euthanize Stellar. During his seizure Sunday night, I was perhaps too willing to let him go, prematurely welcoming relief of my own suffering (and inconvenience, I have to admit). All this morning I perused online Buddhist perspectives on euthanasia. I spoke to his vet around noon, and she thinks he may have a bladder infection that’s exacerbating ‘everything else.’ So I drove to town this afternoon to pick up antibiotics.

I’ve had a couple of dreams in the past six weeks after which I vowed I would not have him put down. It’s never gone really well. The best deaths have been those rare affairs when a beloved dies on their own. A local vet came out after staving off Knobbydog’s time for a week; I ended up sleeping outside on the patio with him his last two nights before she came with the shots. A friend had helped me dig a grave down near the canyon rim: I’d never have had the courage to buy this land without the security of Knobbydog. He had a fast-growing cancer in his mouth, and was half dead by the time we took that last walk. As the vet strode briskly ahead down the trail, chatting, Knobby stopped to sniff the base of a juniper. After what seemed to me sufficient time (for his last long sniff, really?), I hurried him along. To his death.

We stood on the lookout rock together, the three of us, the vet chatting, Knobby sniffing the breeze and looking his last look into the canyon, I so sad. She gave him a sedative. After a few minutes she suggested we should walk to the graveside before he fell asleep. There under the Ancient One, I sat on the ground and held his knobby head in my lap, my arms around him, while she gave the lethal injection, chatting all the while about people I neither knew nor cared about. ‘Just shut UP!’ I kept screaming in my head. I have always regretted that I let myself feel rushed, and rushed him along. Also, I vowed to never have that vet come kill another pet for me.

So I had Doc Vincent come put down Mocha, when she could no longer rise for walk or food due to kidney failure. He was the exact opposite. He strode through the gate while I explained to Brick and Raven, and by the time I got inside he’d already wrapped the rubber around her leg. She, objecting, had crab-walked across the living room to get away from him. I gathered her into my lap on the couch and held her, cooing, while he finished the process. We had a communal funeral for her and Michael’s cat Luna, burying them both in the hole I’d dug to plant a peach tree the following spring. While that death went more smoothly, it still unsettled me. I happened too fast, and she was frightened. She didn’t understand.

Mr. Brick… I tried to let him die on his own. It was in the low twenties night after night, and he wouldn’t come inside. Paradoxically I both feared and hoped he would freeze to death, but he just hung on day after day. After days of pacing, he chose a favorite spot down by the pond and didn’t get up. But he didn’t die. Raven required a midnight run to the ER vet in Grand Junction. Stellar was a puppy and needed a lot of attention. I was exhausted. By then I’d come to believe that if I was going to do it, I should do it myself. So I consulted with another vet, gathered up my mom’s leftover morphine, some sleeping pills a friend kicked in, and my own Lorazepam prescription, and mixed up a brew, which I fed him with a syringe. But still I was impatient. It felt like hours and still he didn’t die. I feared then that he might wake up and keep living like a vegetable. I can’t write what I did next, but again, my intention was pure. Though again, tinged with concerns about convenience. Anyway, it worked, and I felt like he never woke up, though his head thrashed. Ack.

How much negative karmic imprint have I incurred so far? This is why Raven’s death was such a gift.

Some of the things I read this morning suggested that we listen to our pet; some argued that euthanasia is the compassionate option, others that it is the easy way out. Some raised the question of whose suffering are we trying to relieve? Many referred to the Buddhist precept of ‘no killing, not ever,’ and also used karma as a basis for ruling out euthanasia, both the pet’s karma and the person’s. Karma aside, since I’m still not clear in my understanding of nor faith in it, there was one argument that has stuck with me all day: The sense of betrayal and confusion a pet might feel when the loving hands that cuddled become the hands that kill. I thought of Sam, of course.

As I lay beside Stellar tonight, my forehead against his, stroking his soft ears, his thick ruff, his thin legs, it came clear to me. Just thinking about euthanasia had thrown a wall between us, was robbing my attention from whatever life remains to him. I chose to reaffirm my dream-inspired vow not to kill. There was an immediate sense of relief, a letting go, a flood of love released. We both relaxed. I reassured him as I did during the seizure that I will do whatever it takes to make sure he’s comfortable, and be fully present with him until his journey’s natural end. I committed to attend him with boundless patience. I felt deeply the true value of his precious life; understood viscerally for a moment the meaning of sentient being.

Maybe the antibiotics will slow down his inevitable demise, give him a few more walks in the woods, slow down the flow of pee and make him more comfortable; maybe not. He’s in doggie hospice now either way. Between the seizures and his deteriorating hind end it’s clear his neural pathways are failing. My mission is simply to ease his transition. I’m grateful for all the dead dogs that led me to this realization, and for the mindfulness practice that enables me to receive it with equanimity.

Allowing Joy

I’m grateful today for allowing joy, in the face of sorrow, in the simple things: making a batch of salsa verde with tomatillos and peppers from the garden; eating some on a burrito with fresh chopped tomatoes and sour cream. I’m grateful for having the burrito in the freezer from when I made it a few weeks ago, to pull out for a quick, delicious, healthful meal at a moment’s hunger; grateful for all the implications of that gift.

I’m grateful for finding delight in the creative work of others, being joyful for their success. I’m grateful for camp, for British humour, for the return of the Great British Baking Show, and Season 3 of Drag Race UK; grateful to surrender my grasping mind occasionally to the entertaining delusions of being human. I’m grateful also for an increasingly healthy relationship with death, and all the ramifications that carries for a more meaningful and joyful life; and grateful for my soul sister who sent me this article about precisely that. I’m grateful for my growing capacity for allowing joy in this world of impermanence, of constant, inevitable loss.

All the Little Pieces of this Day

I knew it would be a good day when it started like this.

First thing after our sunrise walk was to pick squash blossoms, and a couple ripe paprika peppers. I sliced the peppers open to dry, and put the blossoms in water til I could get back in to stuff them. I’m grateful for the colors of the foods I harvest, for running water, and for the little honeypot I used as a vase.

Then the day got better! Pillsbury pop’n’fresh crescent dinner rolls are not just for dinner anymore. I love the way the spiraled tube pops open on its own at this altitude: it’s like a Christmas cracker, and it startles you when it pops open somewhere in there as you’re peeling the paper wrapper off the tube. Then, a few strategically placed chocolate chips…

So simple, so delicious! Yes, I’m attached to these sensory pleasures, all of them, but I’m aware of my attachment, and of the pleasures’ impermanence, and so I savor these quotidian delights all the more for knowing their transience: tomorrow could be an entirely different day.

Throughout the day there were more delights, ever time I stepped outside. An unexpected seedling…

… a dramatic view…

…the Best Boy Ever by my side…

…a bountiful mixed harvest…

…a second evening walk! And then back inside for supper, those squash blossoms that I stuffed when they were fresh-picked this morning, with a tiny slice of ham, chiffonade basil, and a bit of Laughing Cow cheese. I forgot to eat them for lunch, so whipped up a light batter this evening, dredged them in cornmeal, then fried in bacon grease and olive oil.

A simple dip of whisked mayo and Ume plum vinegar. I’m grateful for all the little pieces of this day, and grateful I chose to pay attention to them, rather than dwell in the land of helpless overwhelm.