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Resurrection

Male and female evening grosbeaks and house finches flocking together rested in the top of the birch tree the other morning.

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, did I mention that before? I had a lot of recovering to do from the drawn-out demise of Stellar, which was physically and emotionally grueling; and actually quite a bit of settling into a new normal without some of my closest friends who also died over the past two summers, from Ojo to Auntie to Michael and more. This spring does feel a bit like a resurrection for me, and what better day to acknowledge that than Easter Sunday?

Looming larger these days in the back of my mind is how will Topaz receive a new addition to the household? I am pretty much ready for a dog!

I pulled out the new husband-camera which has also lain dormant all winter, and realized I had no idea how to use it, so I also pulled out the manual and spent some hours today figuring out all the knobs and buttons — most of the bells and whistles will have to wait for another day. I haven’t even attached the ‘good’ lens yet but still got some pretty pictures. The two nights of deep freeze last week did not destroy all chance of apricots this year, at least up on this mesa. The tree was loaded with buds, and while most of them had just opened before the freeze and are now toast, it seems that many unopened buds survived and are blooming in this next round of balmy weather. I hope that the valley orchards fared as well.

It was this Mourning Cloak who arrived yesterday that inspired me to bring out the big camera and get ready to wallow in my favorite pastime again. Last year, the ‘good’ lens lost its auto-focus and would have cost a lot to repair. So I dove in headfirst and sprung for a camera upgrade and two new lenses. It helped a lot that I could trade in the old husband and all his lenses at B&H Photo, my go-to AV store in NYC. They offer great help over the phone, and reliable goods and shipping.
While I waited for the butterfly to come in range of my seat on the bench, I missed a bumblebee but got a mediocre snap of a honeybee. There were just a few other small native bees buzzing around; maybe because it was windy, and is still kind of cold at night… or maybe because there are fewer bees even than last year. The loss of the almond tree last year has cut their spring smorgasbord sadly in half.
Not many native pollinators seem to care for forsythia, but this western yellow-jacket was enjoying having it all to itself.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

The Mindful Life Community daily guidance this morning brought suddenly and vividly to mind the journalism teacher in high school, Dottie Olin, who became a lifelong friend. She inspired me then, and I became editor of the paper. For three decades we stayed in touch, visited when I was in town, and her joie de vivre and boundless joy in life grounded me in unstable times. I was grateful to visit her often during the months I lived in Virginia while my mother was dying, and we became even closer. She continued to inspire and support me well into her 80s. Shortly after my mom died and I moved back home to Colorado, I got a note that she was dying of lung cancer. She said, “It’s nobody’s fault but my own,” as she had smoked all her life. She was at peace because she had lived fully and with so much love. I was devastated to lose her as well as my mom in the same year, 2004. I hadn’t thought about her recently, and love that she came to mind so vibrantly as someone who lighted a fire in me and rekindled it through the years. Just the thought of her this morning lifted my energy and got me outside and moving around in the garden, motivated to make the most of this beautiful spring day, this precious day that will never come again.

This Week in the Garden

Birds return. This is the first evening grosbeak I’ve seen here in decades. Neighbors with feeders have flocks of them. My feeder tree used to regularly host black-headed grosbeaks, but even then the evenings were rare. He squawked his plaintive question a few times before flying off. I was grateful I happened to be outside as he was passing through. Also this past week, the first robin lit in the budding apricot tree, and last Saturday, joy of joys, a phoebe sang his descending syllable seductively from treetops. He’s flown afield seeking his mate, but I’m sure he’ll return.

After watching a video I can’t find again on economically filling a new raised bed, I started with a layer of punky aspen someone delivered a few years ago. Light as balsa wood, these ‘logs’ weren’t fit to burn, but laying them into the bottom of the raised bed provides bulk that will decompose over years. On top of the wood, a layer of fine wood chips, and on top of that some old pots’ worth of soil. Good organic growing soil will fill the top 8-10 inches for planting. As years go by, I’ll amend the top as the bottom materials break down.

This ‘potato bin’ seemed like a great idea years ago when I bought it, but I didn’t understand potato cultivation back then and ‘it’ failed. After increasing success with potatoes the past couple of years, I think I know what I’m doing with it this year. We’ll know more later!

Garden Buddy shared a video and some sweet potatoes, and we’re both experimenting with rooting organic sweet potatoes to grow slips to plant, in hopes of a harvest. This distinctly southern tuber may not grow well here, but we just like to experiment with all kinds of things.

Above, raised beds amended and fluffed are ready for planting. Below, perennial onions are already providing scallions.

Organic straw is hard to come by these days. Any straw that hasn’t been sprayed and labeled ‘weed-free’ is hard to find. I love to mulch with straw, but mulching with straw that’s been treated with herbicides doesn’t make any sense to me. I think it’s one reason my earliest gardens failed to thrive: I failed to question what certified weed-free signified. Duh, of course it’s been sprayed! So this year I’m trying sawmill waste that GB located. I hope these fine, lightweight wood shavings will have essentially the same effect. Peas are already planted along both sides of the trellis here, and a few of last year’s kales that came up and had to be lifted were transplanted to the center where when peas climb the trellis the kale will have shade. It’s all trial and error, live and learn, curiosity and equanimity.

Tulips and giant crocus coming up from last year.

Onions, fennel, leeks and snapdragons coming along under lights; a new pot of eggplants just sown, as well as a ginger experiment. Below, the tray of pepper seedlings almost all sprouted.

Here at Mirador, we are all grateful for the big thaw, for the little rains, and so far for abundant sunshine. Does come less frequently to pillage the yard as fields green with variety far and wide. Birds sing outside, Biko has emerged from torpor and spends most days in his round pen basking and grazing, Topaz demands a walk every day; the promise of spring wakens this dormant body as well. Emerging from my own shell, spending more time outside, I find myself missing a dog more than before. It is almost time. Speaking of dogs…

Little Topaz sitting with me, and dear Stellar’s mortal remains, in the garden. His favorite spot in life turns out to be an ideal shady place for a chair and table, protected from the strong spring winds, with a comprehensive view of the whole fenced garden. A peaceful place to rest between joyful efforts.

While I don’t feel the need to defend owning a gun, I do feel inclined here to respond to a little pushback about the shooting blog. First, numerous people in the neighborhood, including me, have asked the owners of those bad dogs to contain them, to no avail. The sheriff has been called on those dogs, to no avail. So attempting to scare them back home with a couple of shots was in no way rash or unreasonable. Second, in this county as in much of the west, it is legal to shoot to kill a dog who is harassing wildlife or livestock. It’s not uncommon, and while I may not agree with that law, I understand it. Anyone who knows me knows how dear dogs are to me, and knows I wouldn’t have hurt those bad dogs. And now you know it, too! May all beings be free from suffering, including the bad dogs and their careless, overwhelmed owners.

Hargila

“Hargila,” the greater adjutant stork, feeding in a garbage dump. Image attributed to netzfrauen.org.

This half-hour film is mind-blowing in many ways. Shot by a Cornell Lab of Ornithology photographer in Dardala, India, where half the world’s population of endangered greater adjutant stork supports its growing population by scavenging the dump alongside humans, the film celebrates the conservation efforts of one woman who changed a culture’s relationship with this prehistoric bird. The film came to me courtesy of KarmaTube.org in a weekly newsletter that I recommend for inspiring stories, along with kindspring.org which features accounts of kindness.

Kindness has always mattered to me, as much as honesty, compassion, and gratitude. I was never that great at any of them, but have always appreciated and valued them above all. Traits to aspire to. I’m mulling over what the next blog project will focus on; kindness is an option, or letting go. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore these ideals and practice them to the best of my limited abilities. I’m grateful for the inspiring efforts of people all over the world who are doing what they love and making the world a better place as they do, and I’m grateful I took the time tonight to learn about the Hargila.

Sweet Dreams

Today I’m grateful for sweet dreams of Stellar. I’ve had a few. They make him feel not quite so gone. This morning’s was the sweetest so far. We lived in suburbs much like where I grew up, houses with backyards connecting, streets that meandered in neighborhoods. Stellar was gimpy but okay and we went for a walk to a little park nearby. Across the street and up the hill a guy came out of his house with a greyhound on a leash. Stellar took off running to see the new dog, and I followed, assuring the guy that it was okay. I was delighted to see him moving so well. He got there and greeted the greyhound and then wagged and pranced around as another dog came out. As the neighbor and I stood talking, Stellar got excited about something and ran over to a tall tree.

For a moment there was both Stellar on the ground and a bald eagle leaping into the tree. The eagle was gimpy too, so he had to hop up the birch tree from branch to branch. Higher up there was a hawk, and the two of them danced around from limb to limb for a few minutes cordially assessing one another. Then Stellar hopped up farther to the hawk’s nest. I worried there might be chicks in the nest and he might eat them, but he poked his white head into the nest and sniffed, then stepped away.

A few minutes later a little hawk chick stuck its grey spiky head out. Then it fledged, and another chick fledged–they were bigger by then–and Stellar approached the larger chick and put his beak on the chick’s neck. I worried he might grab it and shake it, but he simply touched it gently with his bill and looked down at me. He had that same look in his eagle eyes as he does above. We stood below and marveled at the four raptors in the tree.

It was time to head home, so I stood beneath the tree and patted my outstretched arm. “Come on down, baby, time to go home.” Eagle Stellar hopped down branch to branch and landed softly on my arm, and we turned to leave. He was still happy and rambunctious after his adventure in the tree, and of course he couldn’t fly because of his gimpy wing, so I cradled him in my arms as we crossed through back yards on our way home. “Gooood boy,” I crooned, “I’m so proud of you…”

Then the damn alarm went off, jolting me out of the dream. But I woke with a smile, and the sweet sensation that Stellar is out there in his bardo trying on potential new identities, thinking he might like to come back as an eagle in his next life.

Wild Turkeys

Ocellated Turkey. Photo: Ray Wilson/Alamy, via Audubon

I’m grateful for wild turkeys. I now know of three kinds, after learning about this ocellated turkey endemic to only a few parts of Mexico and Central America. No wonder early Europeans who colonized North America thought our wild turkey was a type of peacock! They had probably seen this one first. I’m grateful that wild turkeys live here and I get to see them sometimes on the way to town, hens and chicks crossing the road, toms strutting their stuff down in the fields; grateful they’ve adapted well to human encroachment. I’m grateful that I once tested myself by bringing home a roadkill wild turkey that was hit by the car before me, and that I passed the test (that link is not for the faint of heart).

The third kind of wild turkey is the whiskey, of course, which I found in the back of my cupboard this morning while looking for bourbon to use in the Bourbon Pecan Pie I was baking for Thanksgiving dinner up the road. The pie was well-received, but it was a bit more trouble than it was worth, in the cook’s humble opinion. The crust included in the recipe, however, was so simple, so delicious. I’m grateful there are a few pieces left for breakfast this weekend; grateful for leftover domestic turkey for a sandwich, and for leftover mashed potatoes; and grateful for dinner with triple-vaxxed friends, my first indoor dinner party since winter 2020.

Western Scrub Jays

I’m grateful for this smart, beautiful, sociable (some might call them noisy) Corvid. At least one pair nested in the yarden this year, using an old magpie nest in the juniper just north of the house. They stayed pretty far from the patio while the phoebes were nesting, but now that that family is gone, the jays are getting bolder. I welcome them drinking at the bee bowl, and enjoy watching and listening to them eat the acorns in the Gambel Oak, and flit around the patio pots in hopes of scavenging something, perhaps a few stray dog kibbles, or a treat from the compost bucket. I’m grateful for Western Scrub Jays, whatever variety it is that lives here.

I’m also grateful, as always, for hummingbirds, a dozen or so still zipping around all hours of the day among feeders and flowers; mostly juveniles and females, though I saw but couldn’t capture an adult male broadtail.

Berries

I’m grateful for berries. These bright berries on the blueleaf honeysuckle, Lonicera korolkowii provide food for birds from now throughout winter, ripe or dried in situ. This gorgeous bush is native to ‘The Mountains of Central Asia,’ which I just learned is a very specific geographical ecosystem, also home to half the world’s wild snow leopards. The Mountains of Central Asia is a biodiversity hotspot consisting of two major mountain ranges which extend among six countries, including Afghanistan. I’m grateful that this plant thrives in our climate and is a beneficial habitat shrub and not an invasive species.

Little purple berries on New Mexico Foresteria also feed birds, in particular the Townsend’s solitaire which I have seen yearly in this shrub. Not technically berries, but I’m not being technical. They look like berries, they feed like berries–but they taste pretty awful to me. Anyway, the flowers are full of tiny native bees in spring, and abundant berries in late summer also provide bounty for wildlife. I’m grateful to have this buffet in my landscape.

Some limbs on some of the junipers are laden with ripe juniper berries. Again, pseudo-berries, but berries is what we call them. Most of my dogs have nibbled them off the ground when they’re plentiful, with gusto; they were a food fad a few years ago; they feed wildlife; they are purported to have health benefits and healing properties; and they flavor gin. I’m grateful for juniper berries in the yarden.

I’m grateful for raspberries! I’m grateful that I savored and saved last summer’s gift of a gallon raspberries, and still have some left this summer, since the crop was paltry in this drought. Nurturing a new cluster of water kefir grains, I splurged and put a few frozen raspberries in to flavor yesterday’s decanted batch. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful for a healthy, fermented raspberry soda. Actual berries or illusory facsimiles, I’m grateful for berries: fruits of the labors of bees and bushes.

Harvest: Squash Blossoms

I’m grateful for the astonishing bounty of my garden! I’m grateful for the water, the soil, the raised beds, the seeds and sets, the years of learning, adapting to, and exploring the infinite lessons of gardening, the main one of which is making friends with impermanence. I’m grateful for squash blossom time! The first blooms of many squash are all male flowers, which are expendable, and it’s even beneficial to harvest them until some female, fruit-making flowers arrive. Can’t let ’em go to waste! This morning’s harvest included four big squash blossoms, three winter and one zucchini.

Experimenting, I stuffed each of them with a piece of Laughing Cow cheese, and a plug of homemade pesto, twisted them shut, and refrigerated them until happy hour.
The right tools for the job: I rolled them in a simple batter of egg and cream, then dredged them in flour, followed by breadcrumbs, and set them in hot olive oil…
…turning on all sides until they were crisp: so simple, so delicious!
Took them out onto the patio at dusk, where I enjoyed them in twilight silence, broken only by a few nighthawk swoops, some crickets, and four or five phoebes flying around the roof. Grateful for fried squash blossoms on a perfect evening with wild companions.

Reliability

Stellar has been the most reliable friend a girl could hope to have. I’m grateful for another good day with him, another long walk along the canyon rim, another day of dependable trust and companionship.
Is every town as grateful for their UPS man as we are? I’m grateful for the town’s sign, and for Tom’s cheerful reliability over the past twenty years. I intend to show my gratitude, when he delivers his last package to my house tomorrow, with a few farewell gifts: a box of Milk Bones, a big hunk of cake, and a fifth of Crown Royal. I hope everyone will shower him with their own gratitude. Since he probably won’t be stopping at everyone’s house tomorrow, I’ll happily include your name on my ‘thank you-best wishes’ card if you let me know by noon, or pass along a little something as a couple of people have already asked me to do.
It’s hard to say for how many thousands of years Say’s phoebes have been reliably reproducing in this area. I’ve spent half an hour trying to find out online. I can say, though, I’m grateful that the species has been reliably nesting under my deck for the past three years. Today, three chicks took their first flights, not going far, and I think they all returned to the nest at nightfall. More on their fledging tomorrow.

Simple Pleasures

It’s not that these transient pleasures, like a cheese sandwich or a dog walk or the phoebes, in and of themselves bring genuine happiness. It’s that appreciating the simple pleasures of a complex world, among my confounding species, on this fragile planet, imbues life with contentment for me. I finally feel as safe as is humanly possible, walking out here on the edge of impermanence, after all those years chasing certainty and running from death.

The phoebe chicks have spilled out of their nest! These four little lives are almost ready to take flight. They haven’t started flapping yet, but I’m sure tomorrow they’ll be stretching their wings. As a friend said the other day, It’s so nice that their home and your home are so close together that you can watch everything and get to know them so well. Indeed it is. I’m grateful for the simple pleasure of living in harmony with other species.