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Help

While I try to be ‘self-sufficient,’ at least as much as a human can be in this interconnected world, I still really appreciate help. This morning Mr. Wilson brought a helper, Juan, and together we all got a whole lot done in the yarden. We started out by trespassing on the land next door, to liberate an old juniper from a former fence. The poor tree had been tangled in barbed wire for so long it had grown around some of it. I’d already pulled some coils free of the bark but it took the young men to untangle the wires completely and cut them off where they’d been absorbed into the tree. We salvaged two vintage fenceposts from the mess to use in the next project.

Another salvage operation: the old old shed in the dog pen that was here when I moved in almost thirty years ago, but was badly leaning with a rotten roof by now. They took off the old roof, straightened the shed, and braced it with numerous old posts, and will finish the job next time. I’ll have a shade structure for more garden work and storage, and Stellar and any future dogs will have a safe shed over the old old dog house, which was already old when Thelma gave it to me in 1994 – but so well constructed it’s still perfectly sound. The cardboard boxes will carpet the ground under wood chips as a ‘natural’ weed barrier.

They also unearthed some more rocks in the forming rock garden, and removed more weeds and grasses to increase my creative palette. I’m grateful for young muscle.
After they left, I was hungry and tired, and pulled a leftover breakfast burrito from the freezer. I’m grateful for a freezer, grateful I’ve learned how to make flour tortillas, grateful I learned to like beans, grateful for the peppers I grew last summer and the recipe I learned online to make fermented hot sauce straight from my garden; grateful for sour cream, and eggs, and the foresight to freeze a burrito for later. Next time, I’ll make half a dozen extra to freeze individually for some quick, delicious lunches when there’s nothing else handy.

I couldn’t do any of these things I’ve done today without the help of other people. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, but when I really pause to examine everything good in my life it all comes back to education or assistance from other human beings. I don’t know about you, but I really am interconnected with everyone else. I rely on help from others for everything from the luxury of yard work to the fundamentals of feeding myself. I’m grateful to recognize this truth, and it motivates me to want the first question I ask in any situation to be How can I help?

And I’m grateful for this new King Arthur sourdough pizza crust recipe that takes half a day instead of overnight to be ready to cook, and for the experience I’ve gained making pizzas over the past year so that I can indulge in healthy, homemade pizza anytime. Among the best pizzas yet, with homemade tomato sauce, local andouille sausage, red onions and mozzarella cheese.

Wild Plum

I’m grateful for the wild plum that grew from a shoot I chopped from the rootstock of the almond many years ago, and planted. It blooms reliably, and even produced a few tart plums last year. The bees love it, and it frequently hosts the first butterfles of the season. I’m also grateful for the view!

Small Joys

A flat grey cloudy morning revealed an old tree in a new light I’d never quite seen like this before. I’m grateful for shifting perspectives.
On an afternoon walk, another delightful surprise in the woods, the tiniest globe cactus I’ve ever seen in bloom.
I’m grateful for horseradish from the Bad Dog Ranch a few years ago that’s now making babies, and for the mineral tubs given by my Garden Buddy to supplement the raised beds with more growing space; and I’m grateful for regionally adapted seeds from across the big canyon. Here I planted carrots in concentric circles starting from the horseradish. Why? It seemed like a good idea. We’ll know more later!
Inspired by the circle idea, I then tucked in radishes around the edge of this tire planter. The’ll grow and mature quickly, and not long after the tulips are done I’ll be able to pull radishes, and then grow something else in this pot. I’m grateful for the tire pots given by some neighbors when they moved, and for every color in these gorgeous yellow tulips. Here in the filtered light of an overcast midday…
… and here closed up this evening.
I’m grateful today also for a second attempt at homemade corn tortillas, much better than the first, filled with cheese, beans, avocado, sour cream, homemade salsa and hot sauce, and fresh pea shoots, for a fun, fulfilling and delicious lunch. I’m grateful for the small joys of living this particular life.

The Forest

The mysterious little anemone on the forest floor last month turns out to be what I thought it was, Indian paintbrush. I experienced a little time warp back then, thinking It can’t be paintbrush, it’s way too early. Then I remembered, it’s late April when it blooms, not when it emerges. And it’s scarlet flowers coincide regularly with the arrival of the first hummingbirds, usually around April 24.
The little buckwheats I mentioned the other day. Though this juniper forest doesn’t get ‘carpeted with flowers’ as some wetter ecosystems do in spring, I’m grateful for its delicate gems tucked and scattered about the forest floor.
I’m grateful for this early morning light on The Survivor, and that Stellar was able to walk all the way down there yesterday. This amazing ancient juniper was cut deeply with a saw, probably 70-100 years ago. Whether the tree was down first, or fell as a result of the attempted murder, the sawyers gave up and the tree survives. I’m grateful for this inspiration to never give up.
I’m grateful to walk through the forest in all different lights at all different times of day, and occasionally stumble upon the perfect slant of sun to light a tree’s face without shadows.
I’m grateful for even a little bit of snow today, and for a lot of apricot blossoms, and for the magical beauty of the two juxtaposed.
I’m grateful for the distinctive song of the Western Meadowlark, and for hearing a new sound from one this evening, perhaps an alarm call, which startled the heck out of me as we walked past at dusk. I had just put my hand in my coat pocket and touched my phone when this loud stuttering whistle went off. I pulled my phone out to see if it was some signal from it! In short order I realized it had to be a bird, and Stellar was off with his nose to the ground so I looked for a ground nest before I spied the meadowlark on the fencepost straight ahead. Checking the field guide later I learned that indeed meadowlarks build their nests on the ground. We’ll have to be more careful walking through there from now on. I’m grateful for filters which can turn a pretty bad photo into an impressionistic ‘sketch.’

Old Age

I’m grateful for another morning walk to the canyon rim, and for the last vestiges of ice in Ice Canyon, its melting portending full on spring.

I’m grateful today for the love and empathy that’s come my way from people reading recent posts about Stellar. We saw the new vet today, and her report is that he’s in tip top shape – his blood work is perfect, “not even a liver enzyme out of place” – except that he is losing control of his back end. Which we knew. It’s just getting precipitously worse recently. We made it to the canyon again this morning, and I got him in and out of the car twice, and he loved the ride to the vet in Delta, and he loved visiting with the vet, and now he’s sleeping the sleep of the – well, of the 103-year old dog who’s had a big day. Yes, that’s his main issue, he’s about 103 years old. I’ll be grateful to make it to any number of Old Age.

I told the vet, “He’s directionally deaf,” and she said, “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.” I said, “He’s losing some vision,” and she said, “Of course he is at his age.” I’m grateful for this good news about my old dog: it relieves some anxiety, thinking now that I don’t have to be thinking of how soon I might have to put him down, but instead can just think about whether we’ll have to invest in a little cart to help him get along. As long as nothing else is wrong with his huge ancient body, and his heart, mind, and soul are healthy and happy, I can relax and enjoy his good company for as long as the most of him holds out. I told the vet today, as I’ve told many people, “This dog is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my whole life.” In so many ways, that’s the god’s honest truth.

Full circle: I walked here 29 years ago with a big male dog, and met this tree who encouraged me to stay. That dog is buried under the cairn in front of the Ancient One, as Stellar stands to her left, encouraging me to come on home and make his breakfast.
By popular demand, here’s the recipe I used for the Big Soft Ginger Cookies in yesterday’s post. I’m eternally grateful to neighbor Mary for sharing with me this indispensable comfort food. I LOVE how she annotated the recipe! I’m so grateful for good neighbors ♥️

Morning Rounds

Ah, morning rounds! Today I’m grateful for morning rounds. I’ve been so busy with daily gratitude practice that I’ve practically forgotten my life’s work, but the phoebe last night reminded me. Morning rounds. I heard the phoebe’s distinctive whistle early this morning, but not again all day. A few hundred sandhill cranes flew overhead later morning heading north.

It’s that time of year when every day requires an a.m. survey. How different it feels at 34 degrees on the last day of March after a 20 degree morning than it does at 34 degrees after a 20 degree morning in mid-January. For one thing there’s no snow on the ground, which isn’t a great thing, but makes it nicer to wander the garden on morning rounds. And context is everything: knowing it will only get warmer from here, the chill carries a relaxing nostalgia; January cold is in your face all day long. Morning rounds: So many things to check the status on, from pond rushes to lilac buds, from the Bombay Wall to lawn furniture; the serviceberry the buck broke needs to be pruned or I’ll be smacking my face or wrenching my fingers every time I walk that path.

When Fred pruned the fruit trees last week, he looked at the crabapple and snipped a few branches.

“I’m surprised there’s any fruit left on here,” he said. “Yes,” I said. “It’s weird that no one eats it in the fall. And they were too small to even bother picking. But around this time last year the robins came to eat the fermented fruit.”

Then I picked one and bit into it. “Hmmm, not actually fermented,” I said. “It tastes pretty good.”

Next thing I know, the robins have arrived en masse. I counted five at one time this morning fluttering in from the woods to pick up old crabapples from the ground around the tree, drink at the pond, pluck an insect from the dirt, or pick a crabapple from the tree and fly off with it. I’m grateful for the robins in spring.

Stellar’s Last Days: Friday Walks

First walk, eight a.m.

I’m grateful that Stellar’s so agreeable. “Which way do we go? Which way do we go?!” He’s eager for anything we do together, but especially a walk.

“Do you want breakfast?” I ask him. “Oh, okay.

“Do you want to come inside?” “Do you want dinner?” “Oh, okay.”

“Do you want to lie down?” “Do you want to get up?” “Do you want to go outside?” “Oh, okay.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?” “Where?! When? Now? Yesyesyesyes! Arooooo!”

Second walk, ten-thirty a.m.

Peaceable kingdom. “You pretend I don’t exist, and I’ll pretend you don’t exist.” We walk right through them, with barely a ripple, sometimes. Other times they scatter and flee. Who knows why?

Fourth walk: five p.m.

Topaz walks with us every afternoon these days, up the driveway and back through the woods. This evening she walked all the way up beyond the top gate, the farthest she’s ever come. Usually she lags far behind and waits for our return. Show showers swept like walking rain along the south flank of Grand Mesa, driven by bracing west wind, some grazing the ground, some just snow virga not touching down. Do I need to take a picture of every cloud? Kinda.

Late March late day light on middle-aged junipers. Stepping among them slowly with my dear old dog and companionable cat smooths the ruffled feathers of a hectic week. It’s Friday night and the weekend beckons full of promise. Two full days of perfect spring weather to putter in the garden. I’m grateful to look forward to tomorrow.

Apricot Tree

I’m grateful I got to have this beautiful creature in my life, if only for five years. I still miss him terribly, but pictures bring back the joy of his soft fur under my hands, his cold nose nuzzling my armpit at bedtime, his lively conversation, and his bright presence everywhere at once in the house and yard. Two summers ago the apricot tree was loaded, and last year too. This year, we expect a light crop, if any.

I’m grateful for the Apricot Tree, and for neighbor Fred who has been pruning it every spring for as long as I can remember. I’m grateful for the tender attention he gives this tree, bringing his ladders, loppers, and pruners, and shaping the tree beautifully with his expertise. It took several years after I planted it for the tree to fruit, and for the next few years while I was in charge the most it ever grew was half a dozen apricots. Once Fred took over, fruits increased year after year, finally yielding more than forty pounds each of the past couple of years. After last fall’s sudden killing freeze, I’m grateful that the tree is even alive. We don’t know yet whether any fruit buds survived, and expect only a light crop if any. He checked out and lightly pruned the peach and crabapple trees, too, and they’re both okay. This will surely be a low fruit year in the valley, but the trees are resilient, and we can hope for more good years in the future, if the extremes of climate chaos don’t kill them first. We’ll know more later.

Fred thinning the cots a couple of years ago. I’m grateful for his lessons in pruning and thinning.
I’m grateful he’s loaned me his ladder for picking, as the tree has grown too tall for me to reach up top.
The apricot tree has been the recovery shelter of choice for birds rescued after stunning themselves on windows. Naturally, no cats allowed then.
Topaz keeping up with me while I was harvesting.
The perfect leaf-line measures the height of deer mouths. I no longer fence the tree because they can’t do much damage to it at this size. I don’t mind sharing the lower leaves and limbs, and they clean up fallen fruit on the ground. I’m grateful for the year-round beauty of this tree being.

Another Day

One tiny monarch crocus hard hit by the last storm, but more buds emerge.
The first grape hyacinths bloom in the blue bed

I’m grateful for oncoming spring in the garden, and for precipitation that keeps nourishing the tiny bulbs pushing their flowers up here and there. I’m grateful to see the first leaves emerging from the forest floor, though most of the green shoots are weeds; I’m not sure what this little red cluster will become. I’m grateful for another day walking with Stellar among ancient junipers sculpted by centuries of seasons and stressors. I’m grateful for another day sculpting myself by choosing where I place my attention.

Along the trail through the woods a little mystery emerges, about the size of a quarter. I can’t wait to see what this is!

I’m grateful for another chance to try my hand at orange sticky buns, which turned out just as well the second time. The dough seemed really wet and was hard to maneuver, and there was a little too much filling (as if!) ~ but they baked beautifully. Anyone who might happen to come to prune my fruit trees in the next couple of days, or to deliver groceries ~ and I’m grateful for anyone who might! ~ will surely go home with some sticky buns. I’m grateful every day for where I live, for so many reasons. I’m grateful for good neighbors of all species.

Lessons

This once-beautiful pink stone represents a lesson in humility that I learned twenty-five years ago, which still causes pangs of regret almost daily. But just little bitty pricks of regret, no more waves of guilt or shame.

Today I’m grateful for lessons: The avalanche of lessons I’m learning now, and the lessons I’m planning to teach; the easy lessons, and the hardballs I’ve tried to dodge throughout my life, thrown at me again and again til I finally catch on… I’m grateful for all kinds of lessons.

Is anything ever NOT a lesson?” she complained.

Nope. Nothing is ever not a lesson. Everything’s a lesson. I knew this twenty years ago but I wished it to not be so, so I kept looking for the thing that wasn’t a lesson, that was just a thing. And I can assure you there isn’t one. There’s no such thing. There is no thing in this life of being human that isn’t a lesson. 

I’m grateful for all the lessons represented here, and also for tulips emerging around the garden Buddha…
…their tender leaves protected from marauding mule deer with old chicken wire; grateful to have that lying around.

I’ve finally absorbed these words of wisdom, “Let me be a learner, learning life’s lessons.” I find that only by slowing down enough to even try to understand breath can I begin to absorb and embody this life’s lessons.

Lessons can be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. The good news is that doesn’t matter: they’re all good, any lesson learned is a good lesson, no matter how many tries it takes. So I’ve surrendered to the fact that nothing is ever not a lesson, and I’m enjoying learning again! Once I quit resisting, much of what was unpleasant became neutral, and many things heretofore neutral became a cause for gratitude. And even that doesn’t matter. The ultimate lesson is to hold all the lessons in equal regard, pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral: this is one facet of equanimity.

I’m grateful I only wrenched my big toe trying to get this shot, and didn’t sprain my ankle; practically running alongside Stellar (grateful he can move that fast!) trying to get ahead of him, watching the camera not my feet on uneven terrain. There’s at least one lesson in there.