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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.

Every Little Thing

I’m grateful the babies are still alive, still getting fed, still growing.

I’m grateful for every little thing about this day, starting with I woke up alive, and relatively pain free. From there, anything else is gravy. I didn’t do much today. I didn’t even think or feel much. I’m on staycation. But I paid attention to the phoebes, the jays, the magpies; to weather, lightning, potential rain; to nutrition, mine and others. I paid attention to the moment as consistently as I could, and remembered quite often to breathe, or rather, to notice my breath, each inhalation, each exhalation, the exact conditions of the body at the time. I’m grateful for each breath that allowed me to read some things, to watch some TV: I’m grateful for things to read and TV to watch, and various individuals who make those entertainments possible. I’m grateful for these five or six senses that let me make sense of, or at least interpret, the world outside this body-mind.

I’m grateful for the garden thus far, and for the One Dog who makes everything else possible.
I’m grateful for even the barest hint of rain.

More Phoebes

I’m grateful the phone camera can get a decent shot, since I’ve shipped off my ‘real’ camera to trade-in on a newer, lighter model with better lenses.

More phoebes in the world can only be a good thing. I’m grateful for the four precious chicks in the second clutch, bigger and bolder each day. I’m grateful their parents are both still alive, catching grasshoppers and other insects in my yarden. I’m grateful to see two or three at a time of the first clutch flying in the woods around the house. A couple of times I’ve watched two phoebes swooping together as though in play, or dance. The more phoebes around, the fewer grasshoppers marauding my vegetables. I’m grateful for more phoebes!

They squeaked all through the party last night, with their parents flying in and out over guests’ heads. I’m not sure how many people noticed them, but I sure admired the birds’ equanimity.

Sunset

I’m grateful today and every day for the gorgeous sunset. I’m grateful to have live through another precious day, a day that will never come again, in a life that continues to be blessed with so many opportunities. I’m grateful to live in a beautiful old-growth forest with ancient tree beings, and fleeting foxes, and an abundance of phoebes, among the many lives that make up this rich ecosystem. I’m grateful for the awareness to appreciate all this precious, ephemeral life, including my own. More about that tomorrow.