Even as the aspens are just past their peak in the high country, canyon cottonwoods are turning golden. I’m grateful for the spectacle of fall colors across the valley and on the mountain slopes, more glorious this year than it’s been for many past. Grateful for a long wet autumn.
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?
Finding Lost Things
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.
This Week in Tiny Lives
Her name is Wren. It came to me last week as I pondered “Ready,” which she responded to, and “Fen,” which I kind of liked better. Then those two merged into Wren, a sweet, delicate, little brown bird. Wrennie. She doesn’t know it starts with a different letter than Ready, and she came to it immediately; maybe thinking I’d developed a sudden speech impediment with that middle consonant.
Then, several people said, “Oh, like Ren and Stimpy?” What’s that? I had no idea there was a cartoon about some revolting creatures called “Ren, an emotionally unstable and sociopathic Chihuahua; and Stimpy, a good-natured yet dimwitted cat.” So no, NOT like that Ren; like a canyon wren, or a house wren, or a Carolina wren…
In the woods, May is the blooming month. Lots of little lives burgeoning.
Little Tigger fluctuated between eating well and gaining a bit, then losing weight. Last Wednesday he seemed listless. We had an appointment with a vet for the next day, and I had to go to the audiologist that afternoon, so I called a local foster expert, and she suggested giving him straight honey with a syringe. I did that for a couple of doses and he vomited after each dose. I cut back the dose and lengthened the interval and he seemed to keep it down and perk up. That night I offered him the food/formula slurry and he ate it well. Thursday morning he ate well again. I took them all to the vet with some stool samples, and the diagnosis was that he was “loaded with parasites.” He was also tested for FIV, and fortunately was negative. They gave him subcutaneous fluids to hydrate him. All three kittens were dosed for parasites, and we were sent home with medicine to administer daily for a week.
Tigger ate well Thursday and Friday, cleaning his own bowl and finishing off Smokey’s when he left some in it. I was so relieved to have him sorted out and on the mend. This morning, when I came down at seven, he lay limp in the corner as his brothers climbed and called for breakfast. I set them in their boxes with food, and picked up the tiny boy. It was clear to me that he was dying. I cradled him in my shirt and sang to him. He lay there, softly ticking… I thought it was a death rattle. After awhile, it dawned on me that it was a slow-motion purr.
I remembered Foster Friend telling about holding a dying puppy on her chest overnight, dosing it with honey, and how it came back to life. I thought about dehydration. I mixed a little water with maple syrup, and began to drip little bits into his mouth. He swallowed, his eyes brightened; I thought either I was prolonging his agony or I was reviving him. When I saw him lick his paw, I committed to the revival story. For the next few hours I gave him intermittent drips of fluid. He meowed a few times, yowled a few times, rested quietly, swallowed more, looked up at me… As I meditated and then talked with friends on zoom, he got very quiet and still. By the end of our conversation he was dead. I wrapped him in a cotton square, and buried him in the garden with Stellar.
I felt sad. I’m grateful for the skill of equanimity. Through the morning I kept things in perspective. Even as he lay warm and loved against my heart, there were thousands of kittens around the world dying of parasites in awful surroundings; there were human babies suffering malnutrition, neglect, and worse; there were species going extinct, and wars ravaging lives and cultures; there were politicians lying and corporations conniving; there were good people dropping dead in the prime of their life, and a pandemic surging again with a new, even more contagious variant. In a world of suffering, I loved a tiny kitten through his short little life and his inevitable death. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Meanwhile, more little lives continue sprouting in the garden. The first potato leaves emerge from mulch as tiny peach buds open. I turn my attention to the ample beauty and life that remains to be nurtured as the garden rollercoaster ramps up…
Aspen forests begin to turn gold on the slopes of Mendicant Ridge. I’m grateful to have enjoyed another full day of life today, three full seasons into this gratitude practice. And grateful, as always, to have spent this day in the company of this sweet old dog, and these ancient junipers.
I’ve been fascinated by the art of Bonsai since I was a child. I’m grateful that my mother brought awareness of this art, as she did many other arts, into my life. Most of my adult life I’ve kept a variety of trees and shrubs, mostly jades, in miniature, but never really learned the skills of Bonsai. The attraction has intensified in the past few years, and I’ve started several bonsais in training, including a couple of French lilacs, a pink honeysuckle, lemon geranium, culinary sage, and my pride and joy, a redwood. After hearing a friend in Australia wax eloquent about the fragrance of the jasmine hedge outside her house, I ordered a jasmine bonsai which arrived yesterday. I’ve always loved the scent of jasmine, too, and long intended to have one potted in the house. It’s not blooming at the moment, of course, and arrived dry but not desperate. It seemed like the perfect splurge.
I’m grateful to know about Bonsai, to have seen several astounding Bonsai shows and collections through the years, to have the facility and leisure to pursue this interest; grateful for the whisper of mortality to motivate me to get on with it already, and ramp up my focus on this pastime. Pastime. Pass time. Past time. No time like the present. Passing time, not killing, wasting, or spending it. Choosing to pass my time among yet more living beings, with the art of miniature trees. Why not? I’m grateful for choice, internet ordering, transport services, and other people with similar interests; grateful to live in a world where, all other things being as they are, I’m able to derive some small pleasure and satisfaction from a few little potted trees that conditions have allowed to take root in my house. I think Jasmine will be very happy here. I look forward to potting down some of the trainees this fall, and setting up a dedicated bonsai table in the sunroom for winter.
A resilient survivor, this apricot tree! She suffered the same brutal freeze last October as the almond tree who died, and the peach tree who lost half her limbs, and the desert willow, who has emerged finally this summer like a Dr. Seuss tree. The apricot tree simply curtailed her blossoms and turned her attention to her leaves, filling out beautifully.
And not only her leaves! She did make maybe a tenth of the blossoms as last year, maybe fewer, and now has some nice fat fruits. In the whole canopy, though, this is the densest concentration I found. But most of them are still green, and smaller, so she could surprise me. I doubt I’ll be making jam; and the Raspberry Queen down in Hotchkiss has only harvested a cup or two of berries from her prolific patch. Indeed, the fruit trees and shrubs have suffered this past year, from erratic weather in this new climate of extremes.
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.