I’m grateful for most surprises these days, as I can experience them as neutral at worst most of the time, and good, fascinating, or delightful at best in almost every case. I can imagine some surprises that would be distressing, but why? Why would I want to make myself suffer even more than everyday life itself demands?
I am so grateful to live among animals, wild and domestic, large and small, feathered and furred. They give me belonging.
I’m grateful today that Stellar had strength and stamina to walk all the way to the canyon this morning; that he has survived to see the cottonwoods leaf out again; that even though he’s lame and deaf and got cataracts, his sniffer still works great; and that he had such a good day we could take another walk this evening.
I’m grateful for a couple of quick cool showers, the first after I worked all morning in the yarden in brutal heat, and the second at the end of the day; I’m grateful I set up my shower so that the water flows directly out to the base of the birch tree and from there along a row of chokecherry and mountain ash, so I can shower without guilt even during drought; indeed, if I were to curtail showers I’d threaten the health of the ecosystem. I’m grateful for the water itself that flows from the high mountains, for the infrastructure to channel and hold and transport it and for the people through the years who made this possible.
I’m grateful the clouds moved in late afternoon and cooled off the yard and house, even though there was no rain; grateful that tomorrow’s high is forecast to be a temperate 90º instead of today’s 98º in the shade. Grateful also, of course, for nutritious food, including morning glory muffins that Garden Buddy brought the other day, and for cardamom cake that Deb couldn’t eat, for lettuce and peas from the garden, avocados and mushrooms from the store, and for a cheese sandwich at lunch, among other gustatory delights. And I’m grateful for other simple delights as well, such as Doe’s reactions to Biko, who stalked her a bit like he stalks the dog, and made her jump and leap a couple of times, which made me laugh when I recovered from being startled. I just love watching the expressions of the deer as they watch me and my pets move through our mutual yard.
I’m also grateful tonight that I noticed the dog food still cooking on the stove an hour after I meant to turn it off, that I didn’t go to bed with it still cooking, and that remarkably it wasn’t burnt. Through a particular lens, there is always something to be grateful for in any situation: it could always be worse.
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.
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.
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!
We ambled along deer trails this morning, enjoying new trees and views and some angles we haven’t seen recently. Stellar picked his way zigging one direction then zagging another on the amazing network of narrow trails that criss-cross the forest floor, as I followed amiably. I heard a little buzz from the tree just ahead on the right and knew instantly there was a hummingbird nest nearby. While Stellar investigated smells on the ground, I tiptoed around the tree intently examining limbs but could find nothing. The hummingbird flew to the next tree south, and I knew she was keeping an eye on me. I continued my stealthy inspection around an intertwined tree, then stepped back onto the deer trail. The hummingbird buzzed closer, and I realized I was getting warmer.
The nest was in the tree across the trail from the first I suspected, just above eye level. Mama zoomed past again. I took a quick step close to snap a second shot and then left her in peace. Reaching the camera above the nest blind without getting too close, I didn’t know what I’d get. I was grateful to get this image.
But I was grateful for the thrill of discovery even before I saw the picture. Just knowing that a certain sound in a certain context signifies these tiny treasures nearby brings a sense of joyful satisfaction. Even if I hadn’t located the nest I would have hummed happily the rest of the day, just from knowing I knew there was a nest in one of those trees: I marvel at my good fortune to live here and know these woods so well.
The walk continued to reveal surprise treasures. It’s a very good spring for the claret cups. Their scarlet blossoms, backlit by early morning sun, sparkled like jewels scattered on the forest floor in numbers I’ve not seen before.
Our lovely Sunday morning continued back at the house, where we sat on the patio, I with a latté and a book, Stellar with a big smile, enjoying the flowers, the phoebes’ feeding flights, and the hummingbirds’ frenzy at the new feeder.
After a full day of yarden work, cousins’ zoom, meditation, and coursework, it was time for Zoom Cooking with Amy! Tonight we made an easy smoked salmon taco, following the recipe in this video that Amy sent last week. We both had flour and corn tortillas, and tried one of each. A quick slaw of carrot, celery, and Granny Smith apple, with a basic sauce of mayo, mustard, lemon juice, cumin and salt, some flaked salmon, and a bit of lettuce on top. So simple, so delicious!
After dinner it was still light, and Stellar had the strength to go for another walk, so we strolled again into the woods. We came upon one of the same cacti from a different perspective, and it was new again to both of us.
Then a white glint through the trees caught my eye, a strangely symmetrical shape, and I walked over to examine it. Another treasure: a reminder of impermanence, making all the treasures this day held even more precious in retrospect.
I’m grateful today for witnessing so many facets of the miracle of life. The phoebe babies are big enough to peek over the edge of the nest, and I was stunned to see four yellow mouths instead of three. I watched off and on today as their parents flew more or less nonstop back and forth bringing bugs. The chicks would wake squeaking until one was fed, then their fragile little forms would droop back into sleep, their heads sometimes draped over the edge like the one in back. The central chick is stretching its delicate feathering wing.
My own! I found ‘my own’ Fremont holly this afternoon by its fragrance. All fragrance in the desert is enhanced by heat, it seems: an afternoon walk through the juniper-piñon forest smells so different than a morning walk, once the sun has softened the saps. I relish these hot walks, but rarely indulge anymore, the paths too hot on bare dog paws, and the ambient temperature hard on Stellar’s respiration recently, in his last aging days. But this afternoon late we took a short loop walk north and west of the yarden, a path we travel many mornings when it’s cooler, less fragrant, and that’s when I smelled it.
A gentle whiff, a hint, on the warm breeze… at first, a nose-tickling memory, that big holly uphill, just south of the fenceline… too close… there’s one nearby, I can smell it… I followed my nose even as Stellar followed the path ahead, and saw through the trees, off to the right, a bright yellow glow beyond deep green boughs. A treasure found! ‘My own’ Mahonia fremontii, in ‘my own’ woods! I knew there had to be one, and knew this was the season to hunt for it with my nose. This shrub has grown here for decades invisibly; I’ve walked within forty feet of it almost daily the past few years. Only by noticing its cousin elsewhere nearby, inhaling its intoxicating, almost cloying aroma, and paying attention, did I manage to find it this spring.
Not nearly as huge as the neighbor’s, nor as tangled, ‘my own’ Fremont holly stands alone and sculptural between a tall piñon and a few junipers, not far off the Breakfast Loop trail, toward the draw before the horse ranch. In the heat of late afternoon its fragrance intensified, leading me to it. I’m grateful for fragrance: of the wild holly, the white iris, the pink honeysuckle covered in bees, the last lilac… Grateful, too, though frightened, late this night, for the fraught, forewarning fragrance of smoke on the dark breeze: there’s a fire somewhere, already. We’ll know more later.