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Spiderwebs

I’m grateful for spiderwebs, their fragile beauty which belies their tensile strength. I’m grateful for spiders, of which I haven’t seen enough this summer. I was delighted to spot this web backlit by early sun when I sat on the bench at the canyon rim this morning. Little Wren was dancing around in the woods as I enjoyed the view when this little web in the mountain mahogany caught my eye. The leaves are starting to turn in the shrubs on the edge and in the cottonwoods below. Autumn is coming.

I processed another batch of ripe tomatoes today, a mix of Pizzutello (the orange ones), Roma, Amish Paste, and Jamato: Sliced into halves (though a couple of large Jamatos I quartered), lightly squeezed of seeds, and tossed in olive oil with rosemary sprigs and some J&M ground Italian spice garlic, then roasted at 400℉ for about 35 minutes, til most of the liquid had evaporated and some tips were just beginning to char. I tasted one–it was delicious–but scooped the rest into two freezer bags to call on later.

This afternoon I made a batch of sourdough cinnamon rolls. The dough is so delightful to work with. As I work with various types of bread dough more and more, I’m really beginning to understand how people truly fall in love with it. And I’m learning how to work it less and let it transform itself more, to make a softer dough that rises better. This dough started out a sticky mess, but after it sat in a bowl for a few hours, with me just stretching and turning it a few times in the bowl, it turned into this pillowy, smooth ball. I gave it a few pats and enough quick rolls with the pin to make a 14″x20″ rectangle, slathered on brown sugar-butter-cinnamon sand, and rolled it up. Another rise in the pan, then a short bake at 413℉. I’m grateful I finally looked up temperature adjustments for bread baking at high altitude: it’s 1℉ for every 500′ above sea level. This time, the rolls baked perfectly. I look forward to sharing them tomorrow with a friend in need.

Consciousness

Alan Alda as Dr. Gabe Lawrence on Season Six of ‘E.R.’

We all wonder what it is. Is it intuition, memory, awareness? No one can really say, even scientists. So we’re each free to interpret this word, consciousness, as we like… as long as we tacitly agree to some parameters. For me, the word consciousness sprang to mind the other night when I was in the kitchen doing dishes, watching ‘ER’ out the corner of my eye, and I heard a voice that took me only a fraction of a second to recognize.

That’s Alan Alda, I thought, as I turned to the TV to see who was speaking. I chose awhile ago to spend some of the remaining hours of my precious life watching ‘ER’ because I wanted, after reading some random article, to see the role in which George Clooney got his big break. He’s an admirable actor for his talents, and an admirable human for his values and actions, in my humble opinion. Anyway, it’s my choice how I spend these precious hours, and he’s pleasing to watch. As is the entire show, it’s good TV. It was indeed Alan Alda, brought on cast no doubt to keep people hanging in after Clooney left the show. (Season Six brought lots of new people on board, and it’s working for me. I’m grateful to know when and how I’m being manipulated, so I can choose whether I want to go along with it.)

With a predictable story arc, it’s clear he won’t be here long. But the point is, in that instant in which I heard and recognized his voice, I thought about consciousness. It’s been years since I heard his voice, a lifetime since it was as commonplace as any voice I knew, when he starred in M.A.S.H. and I heard him every week for years, and still decades later, it was unmistakable, instantly recognizable. It surprised me. Back then, Alda was ubiquitous; today he’s like a madeleine, a few recorded words bringing back with startling clarity a past reality, a lost time. I’m grateful for the consciousness that can string these disparate times together with the instanteous thread of a single voice.

I’m grateful too for the consciousness of ancient trees. Here is the Triangle Tree, with three distinct sides instead of a circular trunk. How do you measure the radius of an isosceles triangle?

Side 1 (pay no attention to the date)
Side 2
Side 3. All shot within two minutes of each other, equidistant from the tree, near sunset this evening. I’m grateful for The Triangle Tree.
I’m grateful for a healthy dinner, more or less, of a BLT salad. Nothing could be easier: lettuce, chopped tomato, mayo, salt, pepper, and crispy bacon. So simple, so delicious! I’m grateful for the cousciousness embodied in me to appreciate time, space, and food.

Finding Lost Things

I’m grateful we got to start out the day with a nice walk to the canyon, greeting our old tree friends, and taking stock of more erosion deeper into the woods.
Most of our trails to the rim experienced some transformation, this one with a new rill snaking quite a long way down the center.

What happens when I get a burst of inspiration to tidy up or reorganize is that I always lose something. Awhile ago I did a kitchen project in which I bought a few new shelf and drawer accessories, and really got the pantry and cabinets in order. Not long after that I was searching for the J&M granulated garlic refill that my neighbors produce for their marvelous garlic grinder. I was sure that I had a packet somewhere, but scoured my spice racks and drawers and couldn’t find it. Some weeks after that, I was searching for the Chaat Masala that my cousin had sent me last winter, and I knew that I had done something sensible with it when I reorganized, but it had vanished. It was reminiscent of Breadgate, but I didn’t get quite so attached to finding it. And a week after that–this morning–I opened a little flat drawer in a lower cabinet looking for something else, and voila! There were the missing spices. I had quite logically put the flat spice bags in there instead of trying to cram them into the racks with the bottles and boxes. I’m grateful for finding lost things, and for being able to laugh about it.

In other food news, all the string beans are tapering off production, while the paprika peppers continue to ripen. Lunch was a simple BLT wrap. Wren and Biko each got a green bean, but Biko turned up his beak and Wren ate them both.

And I’m grateful that we got to end this precious day that will never come again with a stroll to the west fence, and view this surprising cloud configuration.

Erosion

Little erosion…
Medium erosion…
Big erosion…

I’m grateful for erosion. Without it, we wouldn’t have canyons. Imagine that. None of the drama, beauty, adventure; no more of the unique habitats, microclimates, and endemic creatures of canyons… like the adorable canyon wren with its unmistakable song (be sure to click ‘Listen’ in the link). No Grand Canyon, no Black Canyon of the Gunnison (pictured above), none of the other fabulous canyons around the world. Not that I’m a huge fan, and not that it will be feasible for much longer, but no hydropower dams which admittedly provide electricity and irrigation water to a lot of humans… Besides forming landscapes, erosion can also benefit the planet by distributing nutrients…

I realize that I’m in over my head, because as I search the internets for benefits of erosion, I find a 10:1 ratio of articles about “why erosion is bad and benefits of erosion control”: Not many specifics about why it’s good. It depends on your point of view, I guess. For certain, erosion doesn’t play nice with human efforts to control the environment, and the more intensely we have tried to shape the planet to our will, the more we have decided that erosion is a problem to be reckoned with rather than accepting it as a natural force of evolution. So I’m gonna be grateful for it anyway, because of canyons.

A peppertastrophe today as a result of yesterday’s deluge, perhaps. The main trunk of the huge, healthy scorpion pepper broke! None of the peppers have entered their final ripening stage, and they won’t ripen off the plant until a certain trigger point is reached with the perfect combination of daylight and temperature. I’m grateful for equanimity and ingenuity. I was disappointed but shattered as I might have been a few years ago, and immediately set about trying to salvage what I could.
After a few efforts to stabilize the plant in water I was grateful to find the perfect rock to hold it in a bowl. I’ll figure out something more stable and permanent tomorrow if it doesn’t drop dead, and try to limp it along hydroponically for a few more weeks until the peppers start to turn yellow.
And in kitchen successes, yesterday’s dilly beans above, and today’s bread and butter pickles below. I’m grateful for another precious day alive in this beautiful world.

Deluge

Grateful for garden goulash for lunch. I gathered all the scraps from pickling dilly beans and freezing spiralized zucchini this morning, tossed them in a pan with bacon grease and a chopped tomato, and cooked up veggies for Wren’s food for a few days plus a lunch wrap for me. So simple, so delicious! And making the most of food scraps.
A good dollop of the veggies on top of cheese, avocado, and mayonnaise, on a tomato tortilla rolled up for lunch.

I am grateful for the deluge that blessed us this afternoon in the valley, on the mesa. It poured for a good forty minutes, nourishing the drought-stricken land. Both patios were underwater and pathways were streams. I’m not the only one who stopped what I was doing (reading) and gawked at the downpour. I’m grateful to live among people who appreciate this gift from the storm gods; to know that my friends and neighbors also paused in their everyday lives to marvel at the glory of this rain.

It wasn’t quite a Hundred Year Flood like they got in Moab last weekend, a desert town a few hours west of here; nor was it like the five Thousand-Year Floods that have occurred in the US this past month. And maybe this particular rainstorm wasn’t a direct effect of climate chaos like the record-breaking floods in Dallas, Kentucky, St. Louis, Illinois, and Death Valley since July 26. Maybe our storm was just an extra heavy monsoon rain, but it was definitely unusual for this area in recent years, and most welcome. I’m grateful it didn’t last much longer, because it actually could have overflowed the patio into the front door. As it was, and rarely happens, wind and rain came from the east for part of the storm, melting adobe down the living room window. I’m grateful that all the other sides of my house got stuccoed years ago. I’m grateful I had the presence of mind this time to go outside and squeegee the window while it was still wet, so tomorrow I’ll only have a few streaks to wash off instead of a curtain of dried grit.

After the storm I wandered around the yard assessing erosion, and hunting for Biko. I was kind of worried he might have gotten caught in a puddle and drowned. As cold as it got so suddenly, he might not have been able to move if he’d been tucked in somewhere water was flowing, which happened to be most of the yarden. There are half a dozen places he tucks in for the night this time of year; he could have been anywhere else, too. I started my search in the dog pen where he hides in the dogloo or the dog house when he senses rough weather coming. But the ferocity of this storm caught us all off guard. I circled the yard checking his other hidey-holes, and found him under the lavender-cotton by the top gate.

He was a little muddy and very cold, but I rinsed him off in a puddle and brought him inside for the night, quite relieved to have found him.
After all that excitement, I prepped cucumbers and onions to chill overnight for B&B pickle making tomorrow.
And then Wren and I walked up the driveway just before sunset…
…returning to the yard just in time for another gorgeous spectacle.

Flowers

A possibly better shot of the sleeping sunflower bees taken by the husband camera rather than the iPhone. I’m grateful for a computer upgrade that has allowed me to process the husband’s photos again after a software drought all summer.

I’m grateful for some time with my husband camera over the past weekend, and for the flowers blooming in the yarden. Not so many nor so profusely as in past years, but still plenty for the birds and bees that are here. It is alarming that I haven’t seen several species of native bees that were common a couple of years ago. But I’m grateful for the few bumblebees and honeybees I see, and for the sunflower bees. And for this red-bellied wasp. Too tired tonight to look her up, and can’t remember if I know her name. We all know how that is.

Grateful for the wild cleome (Rocky Mountain beeplant, an old favorite) that seeds itself. I pluck the easily identifiable seedlings early in the season where I don’t want them, and let them grow where I do. I always let plenty of them grow for the bees and hummingbirds, all of whom love it.
Grateful for a thriving snapdragon crop for the bumblebees and sphinx moths.
And grateful for the red salvia the hummingbirds love, and the hummingbirds who love it.

Bursts

I am grateful for bursts of flavor, like these Leutschauer peppers provide. I sliced the first two ripe ones today to dry for paprika, and tasted a tiny slice. It was sweet, and fruity, and kind of hot but not too hot, like the surprising little jigsaw peppers. Of course, I made sure I didn’t get any seeds with the paprika as I did with the little purple pepper. And I started with a smaller taste. It was gratifying to taste actual flavor rather than just want to run for the milk. This may be the year I take my tolerance up another notch. And not just for hotness, but for a lot of other resistible things in life, also.

Little jigsaw peppers drying whole in a tiny bowl
Paprika slices in the hanging dryer
I’m grateful for tastebuds! Even as the heat lingered on my lips and tongue, I plucked from the tree outside a wild plum. Another burst of entirely different flavor: sweet, tart, and barely bitter, mingling in my mouth with the pepper, a taste sensation.
Another milestone this afternoon, Wren and Topaz waited at the door to go out together.
A burst of a different sort brought most welcome water to the neighborhood, enough for puddles. I’m grateful for cloudbursts, too.

Pain Relief

On top of or underneath her bed, Wren can sleep anywhere in any position.

I’m grateful that neither my car nor my house ever got egged–until now! And even so, that it wasn’t a malicious act by miscreant youth, but an unfortunate accident. I parked under–just barely under–a tree this morning when I went to see my favorite PT for a little body work. I’m grateful for her, for her kind, nonjudgmental attention to this challenging corpus, and her strong hands and wise mind; and grateful for the pain relief I get for a little while after seeing her. Also, I’m grateful that she lets me bring Wren to our sessions, and that Wren is a pretty good little girl while we’re there, settling eventually onto her bed–after she reassures herself that PT means me no harm. Anyway, we got in the car, and I noticed a yellow streak down the center of the windshield. At first It thought maybe it was sap, but realized that it was egg yolk–and there was a tiny smashed egg at the top. But it was too late, I was already driving home. I resisted the impulse to turn on the windshield wipers, anticipating that that would just make a worse mess. After I got home, I hosed off some of it, then scraped the hardened yolk, then scrubbed the residue with window cleaner. Now I have a shiny clean windshield. I’m grateful that my first thought was compassion for the birds who lost their egg, and that even as I cleaned it off I didn’t resent nature or anyone else for the trouble, just felt bad that a little bird won’t be born.

After returning home, I microwaved a home-frozen burrito and topped it with sour cream, homemade salsa and hot sauce, and avocado. I was grateful for this simple, delicious, nutritious lunch, as I am for every bite of food I have the luxury and luck to enjoy.

The Pedal

I’m grateful that the new pedal for the sewing machine works! It’s not perfect: it doesn’t want to stay plugged into the back of the machine. But I braced it to stay put, and got some projects finished yesterday. The fifth and last panel for the sunroom curtains (which I started twenty years ago) is together, the one on the left with the eyelash viper appliqué. Only one curtain is actually assembled and hanging, and now I have four left to finish decorating and sew onto the Warm Window lining. Originally I planned these to insulate the five sunroom windows from winter cold, but as our winters became increasingly mild (along with some major distractions) I kept putting it off. Now I’m motivated to finish them, and another shade for the landing window, to insulate the house from summer sun and increasingly uncomfortable heatwaves. I’m very grateful that I’m fortunate enough to have an adobe house whose temperature remains relatively stable season to season, year to year; knowing full well there are millions of people who don’t have this kind of protection as our climate becomes increasingly unstable.

The first thing I sewed with the new pedal was the gown-curtains. They’re not fancy or fussy, with some rips and raw edges here and there, but they’ll do the trick of mitigating hot sun in the east and west windows in summer, and tempering the cold in winter. And finally making something out of that gown? A priceless feeling of accomplishment.
Here I am in the gown in college, on the way to a costume party with my page, Brian. It was only fair that he was my servant this year, since I was his slave the year before that…

I’m grateful to have these old photos to prompt memories of fun times and special people. But I’m thinking about digitizing just a few special images and throwing all the rest–all the loose photos in boxes, all the albums from childhood, from generations of ancestors before me, from the Colonel’s Army days, from my mother’s last year–just throwing them all away. They take up so much space. And after I’m gone, who will want them? Do I even want them? There’s a certain discomfort in looking at them now, especially those that cover my life. I’m no longer that person. I no longer know Brian, or almost anyone else from my past. I found in looking through the album that contained these two pictures, in looking at these two pictures, that much more than happy memories comes up: memories of embarrassing moments, emotional wounds, longings unsatisfied, choices made, chances missed, a melancholy retrospective. I don’t want to look backward at what and how my life was. I don’t want to think about that girl or her angst. For every fun or happy moment, there were hours of anxiety and dissatisfaction. I didn’t know who I was or what really mattered to me. And none of that past matters now, when there is so little future left.

I want to look forward, not backward. Who am I today? Who do I want to be tomorrow, if I get there? I’ve found contentment in the simple life I lead, close to the land and the wild, growing food, listening to birds, watching clouds; cherishing each day on this beautiful planet even as I witness its unraveling. Finding gratitude and joy in the smallest things:

Baking Aunt Clara’s biscuit recipe, and eating one warm out of the oven with the first taste of apricot jam…
Serving an amuse bouche of blue cheese-stuffed portobellos for Boyz Lunch…
…trying a new recipe with eggplants from the garden, stuffed with a peanut-spice mixture and then steamed in a pot of same…
… serving the Boyz eggplant, stuffed squash blossoms, and a bowl of garden zucchini and orach with créme fraîche and parmesan, along with biscuits, and chocolate chip cookies… enjoying their enjoyment of the food and our time together, and deriving deep satisfaction from serving a meal grown mostly in my garden.
And, of course, I’m grateful for and find meaning in giving a good life to this dear, comical little creature.