I have a lot of tender, lovely wildflower photos to share, but I can’t get this out of my head. Kilauea is erupting again, and I’m grateful to a friend in Hawaii who sent me this link to the USGS livestream. I’ve been checking in on it every now and then the past two days, and when I do I can hardly tear my eyes away. It’s mesmerizing to watch the volcano burble and sputter and flow, and fascinating to see how the scene changes through the course of the day. The camera zooms in and out at periodically, and this evening someone is having a great time focusing on various features. Here are a few screenshots since I tuned in tonight.

I’m grateful for the awe inspired by witnessing the molten rock heaving at the surface of this amazing living planet, and for the mind-boggling technology that makes it possible to watch a live volcano half a world away. You can scroll along the timeline at the bottom of the video to view a time-lapse of lava flow, cloud shadows, and sunset, or stop anywhere along it to view the past twelve hours, and then click ‘Live’ to jump right back to the present moment.

Right Tool for the Job

Tomato last resort: I’ve surrendered to the late planting and cold spring. Time for extra effort. I saw this mini greenhouse hack on Instagram last night and knew it was the last chance for my seedlings. I’m grateful to have the right tools (almost) for the job: I haven’t been without a cordless drill in my adult life, I just lack the right bit for plastic but used a wood bit and barely cracked the box drilling vents. I’m grateful I had a spare craft storage box. This setup should bring them up to speed. We’ll know more later!

One thing I learned this week is that the seed-starting mix I used is crap. So though I was hoping to plant them directly, I also potted up the peppers this afternoon into a rich compost.

Serendipitous Discoveries

I completely accidentally discovered something new on my iPhone Photos app. Lots of other people knew this, I’m sure, but I stumbled upon the ability to isolate a subject from the background. It took about fifteen minutes to pin it down after I accidentally pushed on an image and saw Wren get outlined in light… I’m grateful for these serendipitous discoveries!

My Piano

I’m grateful to own a piano. It was one of the last gifts my father gave me before he lost his mind. He told me to find the piano I wanted and he’d pay for it. I understood that he didn’t mean a Yamaha baby grand, and I shopped for a used upright, which I found in Grand Junction from a private seller.

I played assiduously for a few years after I bought it, and then it’s been in fits and starts. I hadn’t played for years when I tickled the ivories a few weeks ago, and decided it was time to pay the piper. Look at all those apothegms! Of course it needed tuning, so I called The Man.

A visit from the piano tuner of choice on the Western Slope is always fun. Despite my covid precautions I didn’t ask him to mask. I had opened both doors and several windows. “I’ve had all my shots,” he said, “here’s my tag.” I wanted to see his face, so I masked instead.

I was surprised to learn that he’s been keeping a maintenance log inside the piano! After he showed me the inspector’s number hidden inside the front panel and said he’s tuned pianos that actually had a name instead of a number (they were so old), I made him write his name inside my piano.

He grumbled and groaned when I asked if I could film him, but really he was flattered. I promised I wouldn’t put it all over the internet so I’ve limited myself to one still photo. If you recognize him, don’t tell him!

He appreciates my sense of humor and has great laugh lines. Each request I made of him he upped the price, but not really. Like Dr. Vincent he threatens to retire, but after two hand surgeries in recent years he’s good to go for another decade.

When he’s here, I wish I were my piano. I’m grateful for his skill and his way of being. Wren only barked a little, and he did exactly the right thing: ignored her until she was comfortable with his presence. I’m grateful for my piano and the joy its tuning brings me. It’s my aspiration to start playing regularly again.

I’m also grateful for the cheese sandwich I enjoyed after he left, around two o’clock, a late lunch. I’m hungry for bagels and have put that on my to-do list for tomorrow. In the meantime, cream cheese, capers, red onion, avocado, smoked salmon, lettuce, and mayo… and Penzeys Sandwich Sprinkle. Not a bagel, but simple and delicious. I am well aware of the extraordinary good fortune this sandwich indicates, and didn’t take a bite of it for granted.

Citizen Science

My little dingo works on a chew-bone

I just learned about another doggie DNA lab. This one is a non-profit research organization called Darwin’s Ark. You can pay for a DNA test kit, or you can get on the waitlist to get a free one if you answer 10 short questionnaires about your dog. There are 26 questionnaires, each with around 10 questions. I answered all of them, but I doubt that will bump me up in the list. They rely on grants and donations, and only run the DNA tests when they get enough money and a certain number of entrants. So it could be years before I get to do this test for Wren, but I’m interested to see if it provides more information about her breed mix than the first one. They use substantially more genetic markers than Embark, which uses the most of any commercial lab. Even if you don’t want to get the DNA test, the questionnaires still provide valuable data as they work on issues like dog cancer, and ticks.

This is just one of the many citizen science projects that technology and the world wide web make available to anyone to participate in. I’m grateful for these opportunities to provide our everyday observations to teams that can learn and discover. Some others are: I See Change, which was born in the North Fork Valley and now has participants around the world measuring and sharing climate change in their backyards; eBird from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology gathering bird sightings from around the world to advance research and conservation; and CoCoRahs, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, which started 25 years ago on Colorado’s Front Range and now has participants throughout North America and beyond. Technically I’m a member of all these, though I’ve let my participation in a couple of them slide in recent years. National Geographic also has a list of fine citizen science opportunities.


What can you expect? I couldn’t get a picture of birdsong, nor even any birds, so here’s today’s cheese sandwich. The slices are getting smaller toward the heel, so I supplemented lunch with bean salad.

I’m grateful for a cloudless, bluebird sky day, without snow! There hasn’t been a day this lovely since last fall. It started with a phone call from a neighbor that broke through my DND wall at 8:45 am. He saw smoke from his place west of here that looked like it was coming from my house. He just wanted to make sure everything was okay. Living among junipers most of us have a panic button when we see smoke. I was so grateful not only that he called, but that he called back when he didn’t get through the first time, so Do-Not-Disturb deactivated for him. It’s a great feature on these smart phones, for which I’m also grateful.

There’s a tower in my house, so I ran up there with binoculars and was able to identify the location of the smoke as coming from a neighbor’s place a little farther east, and to confidently surmise that he was burning a slash pile. He’s a responsible forester, the ground is wet, and the smoke was small, so I wasn’t concerned. But I was grateful for the feeling of being interconnected in this neighborhood where we look out for one another. And I’m always happy to climb the tower ladder and scope smokes.

The day warmed up just enough to spend a little time outside between work and teaching, and while I was out there I sat down to listen to the first continuous birdsong I’ve heard this year. The Woodhouse’s Scrub Jays were yakking at each other flashing through the trees, and magpies were scolding something, but there were finches singing, and a flock of crows flew overhead. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crow here; we have mostly ravens. But crows are expanding westward ho, and about forty of them flew overhead cawing together. I was dumbstruck. I savored the present moment with the mix of birds… and listened hopefully for the call of a Say’s Phoebe. Not yet, but hope floats.

Wren’s DNA: Spitz

We know that in some species, genetic expression (epigenetics) can be influenced by events twelve generations back. It’s a helpful perspective in working with ancestral trauma in humans: A simple extrapolation confirms how relevant ancestral genetics can be in comprehending inherited canine traits and behaviors. Today I saw in Wren her heritage from the powerful spitz-type sled dogs of the Arctic, coming from both her Pomeranian and American Eskimo components.

Wren is made of seven breeds. I am still excited and grateful to know this, and have been dipping into deeper research on each of them, and into the origins of those breeds. This gives me a map, of sorts, of the world of dogs, dogs of the world, and learning their histories gives me deeper understanding of the each breed. I’m grateful for a glimpse into Wren’s DNA, the fascinating web of interbreeding it reflects, and the technology at my fingertips to explore the implications.

AKC has short, delightfully informative, videos on many of Wren’s breeds including Pomeranian, which I looked up first, since it makes up nearly half of her DNA. Then I looked up Australian Cattle Dog, twenty percent of her DNA and much of her behavior. Altogether, these seven breeds, and their progenitors, contribute to her physical traits, behavioral character, personality, or d) all of the above. Through exploring them, I gain deeper understanding of all the facets of this charismatic, energetic, perfectly agreeable, eloquently communicative little creature who loves routine as much as I do.


The verdict is in, and it makes so much sense. We knew Wren was part Pomeranian, but wondered about the rest. One of her vets guessed miniature Aussie and came darn close. The Australian cattle dog explains both her speckled feet and propensity to herd the cat, and the deer, and me. I can really see that breed in her. I don’t know much about miniature pinschers but find that part interesting.

As for the Supermutt percentage, I’m grateful I finally have the pit bull I’ve long wanted, as well as the poodle. And I’m not surprised there’s a little chihuahua in her, as that’s what her other half was billed as; nor am I surprised that it’s only a small percentage of her genetic material. She’s never really struck me as much chihuahua.

I’m grateful for the science and the top-rated doggie DNA company Embark that made it possible for me to know more about the little mystery dog that came into my life last year.

Citizen Science

Overnight, rain, ice, then a light snow frosted the apricot tree.
Life’s simple pleasures: the cheese sandwich

I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in a citizen science project with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, by signing up for the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative. There are enough categories that anyone can do it. I registered in ‘a certain age’ group with no symptoms or diagnosis; my brother who’s been recently diagnosed registered in the ‘anyone 18+’ group. He’s doing great with medication. There’s also a category for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s but not yet taking medication. There appears to be a link between loss of smell and certain degenerative brain diseases.

This study involves a ‘smell identification test’ which they mail to you, along with a pencil. You get four booklets with ten scratch n’ sniff patches in each book, use the pencil to scratch the patch, and then identify the smell to the best of your ability. Some of these were easy and a lot of them were hard. Kind of smelled like one thing, kind of like another, sometimes not like any of the options. But you have to fill them all in, so you take your best guess.

It was really fun, but awareness of chemical scent residue lingered in my nose for hours, even after a brisk walk up the driveway in driving wind. I was glad it was trash day, and pitched the booklets in the garbage can once I had entered the data online. It was very thorough, leaving no room for error, going through each page of each booklet one at a time, and then checking your answers at the end of each booklet. It felt good to contribute to this research to try “to learn more about how brain disease starts and changes and how to stop it.”

I won’t ever see the results of my test, so I won’t know whether that one patch was supposed to smell like watermelon or motor oil, cloves or apple. But I do think that my sniffer is in pretty good shape, as almost all of the patches smelled like something that was on the multiple choice list. I encourage you to check it out, have some fun, and contribute to this admirable effort sponsored by an admirable foundation started by an admirable and courageous man.

Making the Best

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy the past few days, despite so much to be grateful for. Been practicing turning my attention to what I want it to be on rather than the grumpy thoughts that are trying to claim it, and it’s working. Sometimes it’s an uphill slog, though. Mindfulness isn’t easy, but at least it helps make the mental afflictions less frequent, less intense, and less duration. Each challenge is an opportunity to practice, and practice eventually makes perfect, or close enough.

One thing I’m really thankful for is to have become reacquainted with an old college friend. For some years, I had been under the mistaken impression that he’d died, and was thrilled to stumble on his name when I was searching for another old friend. We’ve been emailing questions, answers, reminiscences… and he sent me this picture of us in his dorm room. I do remember this, but I do not remember how he or we exploded his beanbag chair. It was a great lesson for me in making the best of a bad situation, which I think became his mantra for life. I’m grateful for having this joyful image, and I’m more grateful for finding him alive and well.