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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.

Stellar’s Last Days: Junipers

High-Low

14 and 41, low and high today.

I’m grateful for this high-low thermometer. I’ve been keeping track of the temperatures with it for 21 years. Twenty to thirty degrees between high and low any given day is pretty normal, winter or summer. One of these days I’m going to sit down and transcribe all the data from the past two ten-year garden journals, in which temperatures and general weather conditions are recorded. I’m grateful I started keeping track all those years ago. There have been some changes in the weather patterns, and I look forward to charting them.

I’m grateful that the crocus leaf tips emerged undaunted from beneath the last big snow, which snow brought much-needed moisture to the mountains as well, raising the current snowpack to 87% of normal: not nearly enough to combat the drought, and less moisture than normal is expected through spring, but better than it’s been for most of the winter. We’re staring down the barrel of another desperate drought year. But for the moment, the high country is buried in snow, and the low country down here at 6800′ is warming into mud season. I’m grateful even for mud season, which makes a mess of everything but signals the coming of spring! Spring is in the air, despite uncommonly cold nights, and we’re up to about an extra hour of daylight since deep winter. I’m grateful for these little natural gifts, snow, mud, light, and a balmy hour or two on sunny days.

I’m grateful that Stellar, wobbly as he is, can walk through the woods again after a couple of days where the snow was just too deep for him.
We both wobbled these past couple of days, punching through uneven crusty snow that grabbed at our feet, compromising our balance. I’m grateful we can both still amble through the trees despite our feeble knees.

Friends I’ve Never Met

This little girl lives across the country. I’ve never met her, nor her mother, in person. But her mother is one of a number of friends I’ve made virtually along the mindfulness path I embarked upon in earnest five years ago. She and I have met almost monthly with a small sangha on zoom for that whole time – even pre-Coronaverse, a new world in which I’ve become friends with a number of other people on the path this past year. I’m grateful for all of these dear people who’ve come into my life online, and hope to meet some of them in person eventually.

Little R will be three in June. Her mom texted me this picture with the caption, Look what R found in her drawer and wanted to wear. Still fits!! She’s wearing a bunting I knitted for her ‘welcome to the world’ present, which she received when she probably could have fit inside one sleeve. I’m grateful my hours of knitting are still keeping this little girl warm, that she wanted to wear it, and I’m grateful her mom made my day with this surprise picture. My joy in this simple text and all it conveys brings tears to my eyes.

I’m grateful again today, as always, for waking up alive, and finding my dear Stellar alive downstairs in his bed. It still breaks my heart that he can no longer climb the stairs to sleep with me, but he seems content in his own bed. And I’m grateful that he feels so good these days that he eagerly strays from the trail. For most of last year, he was so feeble that he could only plod along ahead of me, head down. Nowadays, he’s always following his nose out into the trees, and sometimes gets so far ahead of me I can’t see him. I’m grateful that he always stops and waits for me. From our walk this morning – he’s blurry in most of them, that’s how well he’s moving!

Stars

I’m grateful for the American Birch just north of the house, and the stars beyond her to the west.

I’m grateful for clear dark skies between snowstorms, and the stars that shine in familiar constellations. I’m grateful for the white-barked trees I planted in my yard years ago. These aren’t great photos; they’re not even good photos. But come on! These are photographs of white-barked trees in the middle of the night with stars beyond in outer space that I shot with my telephone. There are people who might take that technology for granted, maybe people who grew up with it, but it boggles my mind. Even a few short years ago this wasn’t possible with your average cellphone, and today anyone can take pictures of stars. With a telephone.

I’m grateful for the little aspen, and the Big Dipper northeast of her.
To the southwest, Orion dances over the big juniper by the gate.