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Old Age

I’m grateful for another morning walk to the canyon rim, and for the last vestiges of ice in Ice Canyon, its melting portending full on spring.

I’m grateful today for the love and empathy that’s come my way from people reading recent posts about Stellar. We saw the new vet today, and her report is that he’s in tip top shape – his blood work is perfect, “not even a liver enzyme out of place” – except that he is losing control of his back end. Which we knew. It’s just getting precipitously worse recently. We made it to the canyon again this morning, and I got him in and out of the car twice, and he loved the ride to the vet in Delta, and he loved visiting with the vet, and now he’s sleeping the sleep of the – well, of the 103-year old dog who’s had a big day. Yes, that’s his main issue, he’s about 103 years old. I’ll be grateful to make it to any number of Old Age.

I told the vet, “He’s directionally deaf,” and she said, “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.” I said, “He’s losing some vision,” and she said, “Of course he is at his age.” I’m grateful for this good news about my old dog: it relieves some anxiety, thinking now that I don’t have to be thinking of how soon I might have to put him down, but instead can just think about whether we’ll have to invest in a little cart to help him get along. As long as nothing else is wrong with his huge ancient body, and his heart, mind, and soul are healthy and happy, I can relax and enjoy his good company for as long as the most of him holds out. I told the vet today, as I’ve told many people, “This dog is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my whole life.” In so many ways, that’s the god’s honest truth.

Full circle: I walked here 29 years ago with a big male dog, and met this tree who encouraged me to stay. That dog is buried under the cairn in front of the Ancient One, as Stellar stands to her left, encouraging me to come on home and make his breakfast.
By popular demand, here’s the recipe I used for the Big Soft Ginger Cookies in yesterday’s post. I’m eternally grateful to neighbor Mary for sharing with me this indispensable comfort food. I LOVE how she annotated the recipe! I’m so grateful for good neighbors ♥️

Morning Rounds

Ah, morning rounds! Today I’m grateful for morning rounds. I’ve been so busy with daily gratitude practice that I’ve practically forgotten my life’s work, but the phoebe last night reminded me. Morning rounds. I heard the phoebe’s distinctive whistle early this morning, but not again all day. A few hundred sandhill cranes flew overhead later morning heading north.

It’s that time of year when every day requires an a.m. survey. How different it feels at 34 degrees on the last day of March after a 20 degree morning than it does at 34 degrees after a 20 degree morning in mid-January. For one thing there’s no snow on the ground, which isn’t a great thing, but makes it nicer to wander the garden on morning rounds. And context is everything: knowing it will only get warmer from here, the chill carries a relaxing nostalgia; January cold is in your face all day long. Morning rounds: So many things to check the status on, from pond rushes to lilac buds, from the Bombay Wall to lawn furniture; the serviceberry the buck broke needs to be pruned or I’ll be smacking my face or wrenching my fingers every time I walk that path.

When Fred pruned the fruit trees last week, he looked at the crabapple and snipped a few branches.

“I’m surprised there’s any fruit left on here,” he said. “Yes,” I said. “It’s weird that no one eats it in the fall. And they were too small to even bother picking. But around this time last year the robins came to eat the fermented fruit.”

Then I picked one and bit into it. “Hmmm, not actually fermented,” I said. “It tastes pretty good.”

Next thing I know, the robins have arrived en masse. I counted five at one time this morning fluttering in from the woods to pick up old crabapples from the ground around the tree, drink at the pond, pluck an insect from the dirt, or pick a crabapple from the tree and fly off with it. I’m grateful for the robins in spring.

Phoebe!

One of last year’s mating phoebes ~ I believe I saw one of the same pair this evening.

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.

A New Gate

A new gateway from the garden to the dog pen opens up a whole new world of gardening possibilities.

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.

In trying to straighten the mangled fence and failing, I suddenly realized it was the perfect place for yet another gate.
I’m grateful for nature’s resilience and creativity. Exploring the old dog pen which I haven’t used for a couple of years, freshly revealed by access through the new gate, I discovered several rotted dog rugs that have been reclaimed by Mother Earth. The moss is only on the old rugs, nowhere else around them.

Stellar’s Last Days: Friday Walks

First walk, eight a.m.

I’m grateful that Stellar’s so agreeable. “Which way do we go? Which way do we go?!” He’s eager for anything we do together, but especially a walk.

“Do you want breakfast?” I ask him. “Oh, okay.

“Do you want to come inside?” “Do you want dinner?” “Oh, okay.”

“Do you want to lie down?” “Do you want to get up?” “Do you want to go outside?” “Oh, okay.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?” “Where?! When? Now? Yesyesyesyes! Arooooo!”

Second walk, ten-thirty a.m.

Peaceable kingdom. “You pretend I don’t exist, and I’ll pretend you don’t exist.” We walk right through them, with barely a ripple, sometimes. Other times they scatter and flee. Who knows why?

Fourth walk: five p.m.

Topaz walks with us every afternoon these days, up the driveway and back through the woods. This evening she walked all the way up beyond the top gate, the farthest she’s ever come. Usually she lags far behind and waits for our return. Show showers swept like walking rain along the south flank of Grand Mesa, driven by bracing west wind, some grazing the ground, some just snow virga not touching down. Do I need to take a picture of every cloud? Kinda.

Late March late day light on middle-aged junipers. Stepping among them slowly with my dear old dog and companionable cat smooths the ruffled feathers of a hectic week. It’s Friday night and the weekend beckons full of promise. Two full days of perfect spring weather to putter in the garden. I’m grateful to look forward to tomorrow.

Apricot Tree

I’m grateful I got to have this beautiful creature in my life, if only for five years. I still miss him terribly, but pictures bring back the joy of his soft fur under my hands, his cold nose nuzzling my armpit at bedtime, his lively conversation, and his bright presence everywhere at once in the house and yard. Two summers ago the apricot tree was loaded, and last year too. This year, we expect a light crop, if any.

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.

Fred thinning the cots a couple of years ago. I’m grateful for his lessons in pruning and thinning.
I’m grateful he’s loaned me his ladder for picking, as the tree has grown too tall for me to reach up top.
The apricot tree has been the recovery shelter of choice for birds rescued after stunning themselves on windows. Naturally, no cats allowed then.
Topaz keeping up with me while I was harvesting.
The perfect leaf-line measures the height of deer mouths. I no longer fence the tree because they can’t do much damage to it at this size. I don’t mind sharing the lower leaves and limbs, and they clean up fallen fruit on the ground. I’m grateful for the year-round beauty of this tree being.

Another Day

One tiny monarch crocus hard hit by the last storm, but more buds emerge.
The first grape hyacinths bloom in the blue bed

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.

Along the trail through the woods a little mystery emerges, about the size of a quarter. I can’t wait to see what this is!

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.

This Owl

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.

“You belong.”

The owl feels our pain, and sings his own loneliness.

Spring Equinox

Topaz after launching herself into a juniper during our walk this morning.

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.

Most of the snow has melted with temperatures in the sixties the past couple of days. A good chance for a little precipitation almost daily over the next two weeks should keep the ground damp; grateful I won’t have to start laying out hoses til April.
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Just when the trail has started to dry! I’m grateful we got in some walks to the canyon during these few days between too-deep-snow-or-too-wet-mud, and more rain. Grateful for more rain ~ look how fast that mud is cracking.
I’m grateful for a surprise in the mail today. I finally admitted that I was never going to get around to making anything with the ancestral linens and laces I’d been saving for many years, and during my winter purge I shipped them off to a friend who creates clothing with such vintage pieces. She returned a couple of them transformed! Thanks, Gaythapie! I can hardly wait til it’s warm enough to wear it out. Except of course I can. No point in rushing ~ soon enough it will be hot and dry ~ Summer Solstice is almost upon us!

Itty Bitty Kitchen Ants

The ants are too tiny for me to get a picture, so here’s a little needle-felted hedgehog that I just bought for Topaz from the Snow Leopard Trust. Topaz isn’t grateful yet for this new toy, but I am, and I’m also grateful for the good work the Trust does on behalf of this magical cat and its surroundings, including human communities.

These itty bitty ants are back in my kitchen, and this year I’m grateful for them. Last year when they first showed up around the cat bowl, I didn’t mind, I’d take the bowl outside and knock them off; but then they started showing up on the kitchen counters as well, and I got annoyed. I don’t like to kill anything, even little ants, but before long I was sweeping them up with a paper towel, and sometimes smushing them on purpose. They just kept coming! Once I’d vented my frustration on them sufficiently, I started to think about them differently. Then they tapered off and disappeared over winter.

Yesterday I noticed a couple of them. Today there were more. Well, I had left dirty dishes on the counter, what could I expect? I’m grateful to the little kitchen ants for providing me incentive to get back on track with keeping the dishes flowing through the sink daily, keeping the counters clean and empty ~ removing the ants’ incentive to invade my kitchen. Thanks, itty bitty kitchen ants!

Speaking of snow leopards, I’m also grateful for this remarkable artist, Steve Nowatzki, whose work I discovered at an art fair in Florida a lifetime ago, and who is still crafting exquisitely haunting etchings reflecting human assaults on the wild world. Above, Melting Snow II.
I’m also grateful for cocktails at the pond (and for the great company) for the first time since last fall. It was 63ºF this afternoon, and only slightly cooler by happy hour.