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.
It’s February! Time for the raptors’ return! Last week I spotted three redtail hawks on power poles on the drive home from town. A couple days later I walked the campground loop at the state park, and we saw a rough-legged hawk, above. In a cottonwood by a ranch house on the road home a bald eagle perched. As I pulled into the driveway a redtail circled over the house. The first true harbinger of spring, the retails’ return. Also, even though it snowed today, yesterday’s high temperature was 57℉. I’ve pulled the first seed packets that need to be planted indoors 8-12 weeks before the last frost. Spring is coming!
I’m also grateful for those brain docs who offered a free brain-health cooking series. Yesterday I learned to make a tofu scramble that tastes almost like scrambled eggs, along with sweet potato hash (steaming is the secret to cooking them through!), and simple sautéed greens which I seasoned only with a squeeze of rangpur lime. Thanks, Kathy!
Things I’m grateful for today: waking up alive; a beneficial acupuncture treatment; seeing a Basque shepherd on the highway with dogs, and a flock of sheep coming onto the road from a field, with more shepherds and dogs; the redtails’ return signaled by several on power poles along the highway; a cozy fire and a hot shower; a delicious sandwich for lunch; a peaceful meditation this afternoon; zoom tea with Kathleen; a single Manhattan with the drag queens raising love on ‘We’re Here’ in Temecula, CA; an early night to bed; and many other simple moments of breath and awareness. I’m also grateful for the friends and teachers who have helped me come to this place in this tenuous life where anything can happen at any time, and for the conditions of relative comfort and ease that characterize my days despite chronic pain and global grief, and for joy in the sight of a mountain bluebird’s flight across the road, and the flicker who lives in the eaves.
I’m grateful for the mental exercise of this gorgeous puzzle that occupied my free time for the past ten days, a record long time from start to finish. It was so challenging in so many ways, and I’m finding it challenging even to write about it. I’ve taken a lot of pictures of the process, and noted my thoughts along the way, and I just haven’t found the hours it will take to do it justice in a post. But I intend to! I’ll have to start right after lunch to avoid getting to normal blog time and finding myself too spent to do it. Maybe tomorrow! I’m grateful tonight, after a full day, for resting.
Meanwhile, I’m grateful today for orchid blooms coming on again as they do each winter. Here’s one of the first, a little one I pulled from a pot it outgrew. I’d been saving this hollow log for months until the right orchid happened along. This looked pretty tragic when I put it in there, but it immediately revived and after only a few weeks in the log it started a flower spike, and has now graced me with its first blossom.
And, I’m grateful to have my desk back! I normally leave a puzzle up for a couple of days after I finish it, but it’s been ten days without my desk, and using the computer on the sideboard or my actual lap was getting uncomfortable. So after photographing each bird card in the puzzle this afternoon I broke it down. It’s very gratifying to spend time with all the pieces again disassembling the puzzle, remembering how puzzling some of them were along the way, recalling the satisfaction of finding matches, or simply delighting again in the whimsy pieces and the genus of the cut designer.
I feel a little like the lower red bird in this picture: “WTF?” This is definitely the hardest Liberty puzzle I’ve done in my decade of doing them. And in a way, the most fun, because it is so hard. It’s several dozen (feels like a hundred) tiny puzzles in one. I’m grateful to know a little bit about birds of paradises, the many tropical habitats and the myriad birds that inhabit them. I know what a rhea and a cassowary look like, that hornbill species have various styles of keratinous casques on top of their bills, that many wild pheasants resemble their domestic counterparts with more flamboyant colors, that there are several varieties of actual ‘birds of paradise,’ and so on. So matching birds to their names was not as challenging as it might have been. Naturally, I’m using Seymour’s Rule, in which I look well at the box top once, and never again. My strategy for this puzzle has been this:
First, to piece together the main title, ‘Birds of the Tropics.’ After putting together the title three nights ago, my next step was to pull out all pieces with bits of bird names on them, and piecing those together. This puzzle is a compilation of trading cards published c. 1889 for Allen and Ginter cigarettes, by a tobacco company in Richmond, Virginia. This came as a surprise to me when I looked it up. I’m glad I did–it gave me a clue to the Tropic Bird, which has til just now been only a title, widely separated on the table from its swooping white image.
Noticing a lot of reds, I decided to group all pieces with even a speck of red in them, and begin to build birds onto their names red first.
Some of the reds don’t belong to bird cards, but to a few vignettes scattered throughout. It’s taken two days of balancing between concerted focus and intermittent play to get most of the bird cards started, and only a few of them completed. I’ve stalled on the red strategy but not given up on it; meanwhile, I’ve branched out to yellows and dark blues, and am also constantly scanning for particular shapes that stand out. Many of the birds are represented not only by their colorful images, but also by a whimsy piece the shape of the bird.
I’m familiar with the bright fiery hues of tanagers native to the US, so I was searching all the red bits for something to attach to the Paradise Tanager above. I finally decided to ask Siri for help, and he pulled up a pile of images all resembling this adorable bird below. As I added a couple more pieces to the card title, I became perplexed: I don’t see how those brown tail feathers are going to turn into a Paradise Tanager… unless they got it wrong in 1889? But maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Pleasant surprises are consistently part of the Liberty puzzle experience. I’m grateful for this warm long-lasting pleasure to turn to throughout this cold holiday week.
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?
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.