Sometimes, I’m grateful for what isn’t.
I’m grateful today for a lot of things of which I have no pictures, from fresh air and cold tapwater to twice-baked potatoes, from conversations and meditations to a delivery of firewood to finishing my homework. I’m so tired after a full and fruitful day that I’m going to turn out these electric lights, for which I’m also and always grateful, and go to bed.
We passed Ditchley House after an evening drive around the interior of the Northern Neck Peninsula, to entertain the dogs and to enjoy the last of the fall colors.
“Have you been to the ferry?” Auntie had asked. I hadn’t yet. So the Corotoman River ferry provided our initial destination. The river flows softly flat past the ferry dock at the end of the road. Beside the dock lies a small triangle of river sand, below a bluff with opulent private homes on top. We let the dogs out to run on the sandy beach before continuing our ramble.
We wended our way back east and a little south, in the general direction of home, along small roads getting smaller, crossing the peninsula on Goodluck Road. It was almost my last day there, and I hadn’t yet taken a detour to see the hamlet of Ditchley, on a point flanked by two creeks.
I saw Ditchley from across the creek on my walks out to Hughlett Point sanctuary along the Chesapeake Bay. The historic Ditchley mansion, up Dividing Creek from the bay, was once the home of Jessie Ball duPont, a teacher and philanthropist who helped create the Hughlett Point Audubon preserve, where I walked as often as possible during my autumn in Virginia.
From the sanctuary parking lot in the woods, you walk east through a short strip of lovely swampy forest, cross a grassy strip and a low dune, and arrive at the Chesapeake Bay, a couple of miles north of Hughlett Point. There’s nowhere to go if you turn left, but if you turn right, it is a different walk every day, every tide, every weather. The dogs run, Stellar flies, Raven runs away, and I walk and walk barefoot in wet sand or dry, wade in turnunder waves or tidal pools.
Most days I walk all the way to the point, savoring sea and sky and solitude. From the very tip of Hughlett Point I can see Ditchley, so I’d always wanted to drive down Ditchley Road and check out Hughlett Point from there.
It was cocktail hour when we drove past the mansion’s driveway toward the village dock, so we didn’t turn in, though Auntie insisted we should do so on our return. I thought it looked more like a private drive and I said so a couple of times, but she said, “No, this is Ditchley, it is a private home, but they use it for all kinds of public functions. I just want you to see it. We can drive through, there’s a turnaround.”
Then she pulled another friend out of her magic hat and said, “Let’s go have cocktails with Jan.” Jan lives on Dividing Creek, almost to the bay. She wasn’t home, but we walked out on the dock behind her house and watched for a few minutes as the water pinked up, then greyed over, and the sky to the west lit up. The dock had a great view of Hughlett Point, our main objective anyway, so after enjoying that we headed for home. It was dusk, and I was hoping she’d forget about Ditchley House.
As we approached the Ditchley mansion driveway, a sporty red car turned out of it and zipped past us toward the bay. I didn’t like the idea of turning in while they could see us. I was hoping nobody was home. I resisted.
“Turn in, turn in!” Rita insisted, so I made an acute right turn and drove slowly down the colonial-style brick drive through a huge lawn, toward the brick mansion on the right. The driveway narrowed suddenly as it approached the mansion, and passed directly below the foot of the front stairs. I saw with dismay that there was in fact nowhere to turn around but the perfectly smooth green lawn, that the driveway went right up to and around behind the caretaker’s cottage, across a concrete carport, with a grill, bikes, a basketball hoop, and worst of all, a pack of barking dogs. The moment I saw the dogs, I said, “Cover your ears!”
The driveway funneled us through this very private domain: we were bayed up by a large black lab, a midsize gold dog, and a little cocker spaniel. Our dogs were snarling and snapping and barking their heads off trying to get through the car windows. It was a tense cacophony. Our car was so big, and the carport so small and so crowded! I was afraid I would hit one of the dogs snapping at our tires, or knock over a garbage can, or that someone would run yelling out the door. After we slowly, carefully, rounded the back of the house I sped up as fast as I dared and we lost the gold dog, but the big and little dogs pursued us another few hundred feet, Raven and Stellar still snarling and barking.
When they fell off, my dogs settled down. We drove a long silent stretch under arched trees, both of us looking straight ahead, until we turned onto the road. Then Rita turned to me and broke the silence by saying, with a satisfied smile, “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley!”
I laughed so hard I almost lost control of the car. We laughed all the way home. We laughed through our cocktails. Six months later, we are still laughing about Ditchley, when one of us mentions it over the phone.
Auntie turned 85 yesterday. I cherish every laugh with her and every memory of our wonderful autumn together. What I treasure most about that moment, that smile, that “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley,” is that it was utterly unexpected. I should know by now to expect the unexpected from my Aunt Rita, it has always been the way she rolls. But in that moment, after the violence of the barking dogs, the awkwardness of our intrusion through a private home, the tension of our escape from Ditchley, and my anxious sense of guilt, her sweet satisfaction was the last thing I expected.
Eight years have elapsed since I wrote that. I visited Kilmarnock again, but not for the past few years. Occasionally through those years Auntie and I will be chatting, and she will say, “Well… at least we’ll always have Ditchley!”
Auntie died Thursday, after months of suffering. She had a stroke three days after Raven died, the Sunday before her 93rd birthday. After struggling to recover, she courageously chose to relinquish her attachment to living.
There’s been a lot of loss in my world since May. Of them all, I will miss the most my dearest Auntie Rita, my last mother in this world, my friend and role model, my drinking buddy, my favorite person on the planet, whose flair and humor and kindness showed me the way so brilliantly.
Going through photos from our visits through the years, a lot more memories are coming up, bringing laughter, tears, gratitude, joy. She loved to play cribbage, and delighted in a great winning hand…
After cousin Leslie told me that her mother had died, I hung up and walked a few steps farther into the woods, then laughed out loud: in my head I heard so clearly, in that sweet satisfied voice, “We’ll always have Ditchley!”
I’m not claiming that it was she speaking to me; just that I heard her, from within my heart at the very least, though I didn’t realize for two days how much that moment has helped me cope with the loss of her. Having this trove of memories is a gift beyond measure, an enduring connection with her beautiful, mischievous, loving soul.
Bee sightings ramped up over the past month, from crocuses and grape hyacinths to dandelions and tulips, to blooming fruit trees. First the apricot, then the wild plum, then the crabapple. A butterfly I haven’t seen much in the past is also prevalent in the past week, the Anise swallowtail. Hummingbirds have also come to the fruit trees, but so fast I haven’t been able to catch one with the camera.
Despite the lockdown, or perhaps because of it, I am busier than ever outside in the garden. I can’t tell you where my days go, except to say that they are filled with as much color, light, love and joy as I can manage between sunup and bedtime, most of it outside in the garden. Work is of course diminished, as is almost everyone’s in this dire time, but I am doing my best to make the most of extra hours in the day. Fortunately my body is in better shape than it’s been for years, thanks to physical therapy and a healthier attitude, and I’m able to work more in the yard than now than ever before. I’m so tired by the end of the day that I just don’t sit down and post the pictures I’ve taken. Off to bed now, with more thoughts and images to come. Wishing for everyone to lay low, look close to home for joy and beauty, and stay well during this continuing pandemic. Please don’t be impatient and too quick to seek the old normal, which I hope never comes back. The planet and all its non-human inhabitants has appreciated the break from our reckless pace.
When I first heard an interview about Marie Kondo on NPR, years ago, her very phrase “spark joy” sparked joy in me, then and there, as I drove along the highway. I remember exactly where on the road I was, just over that crest beyond Kwiki, where you can look down into the river, across the river, over the fields, to the mountains. There’s a pullout there. Just east of that pullout I heard the phrase spark joy for the first time.
Marie Kondo is a Shinto priestess. Those who deride her approach to things, (gentle, respectful, connected, grateful) are the product of separation from the natural world enforced by the military-industrialist culture that pervades the globe. Transportation, weapons, communication, myriad insidious tendrils of technology wrap around this living planet like so much tangled fishing net, choking the life from her, drowning her in her own effluent as she is pumped dry and belched into a finite bubble of atmosphere. Only the scum of the earth would make a career out of destroying the planet, and so the scum rises to the upper echelons of corporate domination.
But I digress. I felt the truth of Marie’s philosophy in my bones that day, and tingled inside my skin. It reflects the way I have always felt about things, from obviously animate things like Raggedy Ann and my stuffed animals, the orchids in my sunroom; to less obviously inspirited things like rocks, firewood, a brass pelican, appliances, toy plastic spiders, bubble wrap, even nail clippings. Growing up in this dominant “consumer” culture, I’ve had to unlearn the reverence for all things with which I was born. I resent being called a consumer. I consume as little as I can from this planet, and do my best to give back to it.
I have a lot of stuff because most of it came to me, and I attached to it, and couldn’t pass it on through my life. My ancestors, parents (grandparents, great-grandparents) spent time in the Far East, as they called it, Japan, China, the Philippines, from the early days of US colonization well into my generation of cousins. I was raised among oriental antiques and taught the value of good things. Other than that, though, we were a throwaway family like everyone else.
It’s taken a long time for me to even face, much less begin to unravel, the web of stuff that surrounds me. There are obviously enough people who suffer from their inability to organize stuff to make Marie Kondo a superstar. I’m one of them. Generations of things have reached a dead end in me. There is no one to inherit in my line. Generations of things, which I have because each piece speaks to me, holds an association, belongs to some story or person in my life. And/Or, because it’s functional, so why spend money on new materials? I’m a keeper.
But each thing connects to me with a cosmic invisible strand, enmeshes me in a culture of things as surely as the techno-web entangles the earth. Marie gives people like me hope. There is a way out, by cultivating discernment, and a better understanding of ourselves and our values, and learning some simple storage techniques. People embrace the KonMari method because it works.
It’s the age-old adage I was raised with, A place for everything, and everything in its place. It’s appreciating what you have, it is in fact, wanting what you have instead of getting what you want. Is this the fundamental objection some people have to the Konmari method? That they can’t continue to consume everything they want, if they even think about her approach? That they can’t stand to look inside themselves and feel and think about their belongings, and whether, maybe, they need to own so much stuff?
My friend Dawn has helped me with my stuff-culling struggle before, and was instrumental in helping me reduce my ancestral inheritance from one storage unit down to a quarter of a yurtful. Not long after I first heard about Marie, Dawn gave me her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. While I haven’t been able to commit to the process entirely, I have used its philosophy of respecting and thanking things that no longer serve, and its spark joy criterion to help me clear a bunch of stuff from my life. Every time I take a box or two to the thrift store I feel lighter. Every year I resolve to git‘er done once and for all. Maybe this year.
I am learning. For example, all my tea towels bring me joy, and when they age out of the kitchen, they go to work as animal wipes for wet coats, muddy feet, weed seeds. I enjoy every one of the cotton dishcloths I’ve knitted, and they last forever; when one finally gets too old it’s recycled into the tool box for a small work cloth, or into the rag bin for a scrubber. I finally have rag mentality: natural fiber clothing gets used long and hard for its initial purpose, and then it gets shredded into rags to use for cleaning, dusting, and eventually compost.
What Marie teaches is that if we value stuff more, we have less of it. It’s a lesson capitalist, consumer culture would do well to learn. It’s the lesson my friend Jerry knew forty years ago and I failed to grasp completely. I had more of that feeling living in an 8’x40’ trailer when I first landed here, with the bulk of my world outside that one long room, than I do now. More and more stuff accrued after the house was built, the bulky edifice in which I now dwell most of my waking hours instead of outside. Inside, surrounded by stuff, much of it inherited, which overwhelms me.
I’m grateful to Marie Kondo and her method, which is grounded in a deep sense of spirit. Maybe someday I’ll have time and energy to tackle everything all in one month, but meanwhile I’ll just keep on decluttering one drawer, one bookshelf, one file drawer, one windowsill at a time. And still, I’ll have a full house; but everything in it will spark joy. Then I’ll finally have peace of mind. Right?
I cannot believe that it’s been almost two months since I posted. All the apples and tomatoes are harvested and processed, the fall garden chores are done, colors on the trees are gone, and we got our first snow yesterday, a whopping half an inch. It’s been so cold it’s still on the ground. I’ve been crazy busy working on several projects, not the least of which has been Rosie the Dog.
Rosie the Person and I were driving to town in her car. We were ranting about the Kavanaugh confirmation, and feeling helpless in the face of the corrupt, greedy regime in charge of our great country, which has always been great. There slogging alongside the road was a white dog, all skin and bones, and clearly in heat. “We have to pick her up!” I cried, and Rosie pulled over without a second thought. The dog jumped right in the car and curled up on the back seat. We went on to our engagement in town, and I dialed the vet right away.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to take her in, and after two hours of making calls, neither was there space at any local shelter or foster facility. I bought a leash and some flea shampoo, and on our way home we stopped by Doc Gallob’s, who was kind enough to check her out for any potential threat to my dogs. Besides being emaciated there appeared to be nothing seriously wrong with her. He estimated she is around a year old. We swung by Rosie’s house to pick up a crate, and set it up in my mudroom. As day cooled to dusk we stood outside soaping and rinsing the emaciated little pup.
I fed her half a cup at a time every couple of hours that night so she didn’t gorge and vomit. Freezing rain came after dark. The next day, Rosie and I drove her down to Delta to check out a place that said they might be able to take her in a few days. It was already clear to me that this dog was very sensitive and smart. The place did not look adequate. I committed to fostering her until we could find her the perfect home.
Mama Gallob called her Dobie, since that’s where we found her, in the dobies. I tried that, and Dobby like the house elf because it’s a cute name. I tried Pearl because she’s white. I tried a few other names out on her that first full day she lived here, and she did not respond to any. Then, I called her Rosie. She looked straight into my eyes and wagged her whip tail. (Her tail, it turned out, had gotten frostbite and she’s lost the very tip of it.)
The Delta County Humane Society foster mom, Carol, told me to feed her one cup every hour until she left some food in the bowl. That took about a week. At the time I spoke with Carol, she had seventeen puppies and four mamas in her kennel. I asked Carol how she manages to do it. She waved her arm at the kennels: “This is how. I don’t let them in the house. If I let them in the house, forget it.”
I spoke with a neighbor who fosters dogs and asked how she manages not to get attached. “You decide how many animals you can provide optimal care for.” I am topped out at two dogs and two cats, financially, emotionally, and in terms of time. So I decided that I would keep her til she was healthy and ready for a new home, and then let her go. It becomes harder every day to think of saying goodbye, but she does not have the life here that she deserves.
She deserves to live in a house and sleep on a couch and cuddle with a person any time she wants to; she deserves to have a person throw sticks and balls for her for an hour at a time, and run or bike with her up a mountain. She deserves to sleep by the warm fire, or in bed with someone, or under the desk. Here, she lives in the mudroom.
She’s got a large crate filled with beds and blankets, and she’s got her stuffed alligator. She has free time in the mudroom but prefers to stay in the crate even when she can be out of it. We had a mild fall until a week ago, so I was able to latch the screen door and shut the bottom half of the Dutch door to the house, and let her have plenty of time in the sunshine.
She goes outside every time I take my two dogs out, but sometimes she has to stay on the leash if there’s a cat outside too. The Dog People said she looks like she’s a pitbull/bird dog mix. You can see the possibility of both in her; or she could be some other mix. She raises a front paw like a pointer, she runs like the wind, and she growls like a pit.
When I brought her home I figured I could do whatever it took for a couple of weeks. She’s been here almost two months now. In that time, she’s settled in at a svelte 55 pounds, passed through what was almost certainly not her first heat, been spayed, and gotten all her shots. She has learned to come when she’s called, walk through the woods on a leash, and respond quickly to a barklike command when I want her to stop doing something like eating grass, or lunging after a deer. She’s very agreeable.
She is also a little possessive, though she’s getting better: of her mudroom, her crate, her toys, her food, and any food I might have if there’s another dog around. She and Ojo the black cat have taken a dislike to each other, and she isn’t fond of Raven either. So there’s some animal juggling through the course of each day. She loves Stellar and wants to play with him; that may be because he was a great comfort to her when she was in heat, or it could be because he’s the best dog in the whole world. She loves every person she has ever met and greets everyone with a gleeful wiggle. I don’t know how she would be with children, or in a home with other animals.
I suspect that once she is settled into her forever home and feels secure and thoroughly loved, she will be less possessive and even more agreeable; I suspect that she could be taught to get along with a cat, and with another female dog, or with a family’s pack.
But I think even more strongly that she would be ideal as somebody’s one-and-only pet. She wants someone to bond with her the way I cannot do. I cannot love her as I’d like to and as she deserves. I’m married to two older dogs, from a line I’ve known for 30 years, whose lives I’ve held since infancy. And I’m married to two beautiful cats who rule the roost and take up lots of time. I’m just having a little affair with Rosie the Dog, and it’s got to end when her true love comes along. But not until then.
She will be an immensely gratifying dog for the right person, and a frustrating dog for the wrong person. She is very sensitive, smart, and eager to please; she can also get obsessed with something, as she did with Biko the tortoise. She learned where he lived when it was warm, and she jumps into the tortoise pen every chance she gets to see where he is. She doesn’t realize he is in the laundry room now, for winter.
Rosie is the kind of dog that will return the love she is given tenfold. She needs someone who will love her unconditionally no matter if she misbehaves and needs a little training; someone who is capable of communicating with and understanding her smart self. She needs someone who is looking for a best friend forever, and is willing to make a lifetime commitment.
The past few days, I’ve been teaching her to run alongside the car up the driveway like the catahoulas do. She has to stay on the leash because I’m pretty sure she’d take off after deer, and they’re everywhere. The first time she rode while I ran Stellar up the driveway she was obviously anxious. She thought I might be leaving him! But then she got comfortable watching him run, knowing we’d all come home together. On her first run she was a little confused about where to be, but by her second run she had it. She ran 20 mph up the quarter mile driveway, just flying through the field about six feet away from the car, slowing when I slowed.
Even though she doesn’t get much exercise here, she is still happy in the mudroom knowing I’m in the next room, or being with me and the other dogs in the yard, wandering around sniffing, chewing, chasing a stick or ball. She doesn’t like to give it up, though, when she’s got it, and has yet to learn to drop it. She has climbed both the 3′ yard fence and the 5′ dog pen fence, so she can’t be outside without supervision. However, after she climbed the yard fence at dusk, she came running when I called, and hopped back over into the yard. When she climbed the dog pen fence, she showed up wagging her tail at the back door. She wants most of all to be beside her person.
From the beginning, it has been a great practice in non-attachment to have this wonderful animal here and know that I can show her love but not hang onto her. She grows more attached to me each day, and I to her. The challenge is juggling compassion for her with knowing my own limits, and the limits of my household. We picked her up off the road because in a time of upheaval we can’t control, saving this dog was one thing we could do, one small being we could help when we otherwise sometimes feel so helpless.
Now she is ready to find her new home, and I am ready to let her go. I’ve inquired at Freedom Service Dogs in Denver, and they have a long list of requirements, some of which Rosie might be a little fuzzy on, but we may try to get her over the mountains to be evaluated to become a veteran’s service dog. I’m grateful for ideas of other placement services that might find her perfect person. Meanwhile, DCHS has put her profile up on Petfinder.com, and if you click on that you can watch a short video of Rosie the Dog in action.
The breeze is finally cool tonight, and it wants to rain. It’s been a merciless summer so far, except for last Friday night. Relentless heat in the nineties, and no rain for months. The aridification of the West. My field like most on this mesa is at least half brown, with meager green grass. Fires rage, and we’re lucky, with nine reportable fires in the state, and more than twice that many from Oklahoma west, that we are not oppressed with daily smoke, and have not had to evacuate. I feel for those closest to the fires, how the smoke settles down at night and it’s all there is to breathe. Even here sometimes, dawn brings smoky air that sends me downstairs early to close windows and doors. With the heat of the day the smoke lifts, though we get a hint of it from time to time, but otherwise skies are simply hazy. We are desperate for rain.
My skin is turning lizard. Our skin is dry always, and hot by midday, and almost no one has air conditioning, because heretofore we have not needed it. Nights in the high sixties never cool us down enough to make it through a closed-in day. This is climate chaos at play.
But last Friday night, unbridled joy erupted: At last, rain! The band won’t soon forget that night, nor will any of us who happened to be there when it rained. First there was a lightning show in the mountains north and east of town, but the music was good so we stayed, despite the obvious risks: Gobs of electrical equipment, cables across the lawn, the church steeple right across the road, lightning cloud-to-cloud around us in a constant thunder rumble.
Rapidgrass played through the rain at the Old Mad Dog Café downtown, speakers and amps covered in tarps. Many left before the rain, but those who stayed remained until the band was through, well after dark. Some ineffable unity came to the band and the crowd: strangers and friends danced together, streaming onto the dance floor as rain came down; laughing, swinging, cheering, whistling, weeping. Grizzled old-time ranchers whose livelihoods depend on water danced with young hippie transplants, confirmed hermits splashed in puddles with dark-eyed children. We stuck our heads under downspouts, laughing, getting drenched in the welcome shower, dancing, dancing, and the band played on.
A double rainbow heralded a slight break in the rain. At sunset a downpour began in earnest: dancers and drinkers poured inside, and the band followed us through the double doors, continuing acoustically with Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain and a few other tunes, before taking their only break.
People headed to cars and trucks or nearby houses to refresh themselves or change clothes, and most returned for the next set. The band kept trying to quit at the end of their second set and we kept them going for an hour more with piercing whistles and cries of Play all night!!! For the rain of course, I realize now, but in the moment it felt like for the frenzied joy.
It’s been a joyful summer in so many ways, so far. Cousin Melinda came from Kentucky for relaxation therapy, including the best fish tacos ever, chihuahua for a day, a day over the pass at Iron Mountain Hot Springs, and our ritual cocktail party at the Black Canyon right down the road.
In(ter)dependence Day brought more beloved company and festivities to our neighborhood pod, and days before that Felix turned 100. His dearest friends concocted the party of the century. More than 200 people enjoyed live music from Swing City Express (featuring vocals from various local talent), great barbecue from Slow Groovin’ in Marble, and visiting with long-ago and seldom-seen friends. People came from across the globe to honor our favorite centenarian, who was not the oldest person at his party! Felix got covered in lipstick kisses.
Meanwhile, midst all this partying, the garden struggles along in the hottest driest summer I’ve seen in my 26 years here. The magpies have fledged and gone, the redtails in the canyon are learning to fly, and the baby hummingbirds are almost too big for their nest, with tail feathers out one side and sweet faces peeking out the other. Despite myriad fears and stresses over weather, climate, and the demolition of democracy, there is so much wonderful life to cherish and celebrate, every day, right here in our own back yards. Open your eyes. Let me remember to be grateful, every living moment of every day.
We don’t have a lot of fine dining options around here, not like you find in a city. There are some good neighborhood restaurants, but they don’t change their menus for years at a time, and you can’t count on wanting the special. We fill this lack of gustatory variety by eating excellent and often exotic meals at each others’ houses, and we are a bunch of gourmet cooks.
Once in a blue moon, or more rarely really, because we have a couple of blue moons a year, an opportunity comes along for an extraordinary treat. Last weekend about 40 people attended a benefit for the Paonia Experiential Leadership Academy, and enjoyed a six-course meal created by Swiss-trained chef Lucas Wentzel. It was a 5 star meal. A lot of us from Crawford went because Lucas is the son of our dear friends Ruth and Jeff, and his sister Emily runs the school with her husband Phil. So it was the best of both family dining and haute cuisine!
Amuse-bouche translates more or less literally from the French as “Fun for your mouth!” and is an intensely flavored bite-sized appetizer selected by the chef and offered free to each guest. Lucas chose to delight our taste buds with Rosé Valentina (from the menu): “Béchamel & Black Forest Ham in homemade pasta served over a creamy tomato sauce, drizzled with a succulent sage butter. A popular dish from the Italian part of Switzerland, Chef Lucas learned from Chef Valentina herself. Available as a vegetarian option with spinach in place of the ham.”
This dish, I’ll tell you straight off, was my favorite of the night, and they were all delicious. Lucas went all-out with edible flowers for the meal, topping this teaser with a sprig of basil flowers, and adding several other blossoms to the remaining dishes.
The second course featured a creamy roasted carrot soup seasoned with ginger. Now I know the secret to the most full-flavored carrot soup is to roast the carrots first.
This was followed by a ravioli filled with with sun dried tomato, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese in a pesto cream sauce. I am not a goat cheese fan. I try now and again to taste it, because my damn friends all love it, and it keeps showing up. But invariably, a musty goat smell comes out my armpits within ten minutes of eating it and I can’t stand to be around myself. So I typically avoid it. However, that night, I’d have had to miss a course, so I did try it, and it was so mild I barely noticed eating it, and there were, luckily for my neighbors, no after effects.
A kiwi-lime sorbet came before the main course, two tiny delicious scoops of tart sweetness with a slight bitter crunch from the kiwi seeds, which was a perfect palate cleanser.
The main course featured seared salmon with a creamy Béarnaise sauce (or stuffed roasted red pepper for vegetarians), parmesan encrusted asparagus, and a simple jasmine rice topped with another edible orchid blossom which tasted startlingly like watermelon.
For dessert, an exquisite chocolate mousse with a hint of orange, drizzled with a chocolate merlot sauce from local winery Azura Cellars, came atop a plate of sweet white sauce with a pansy flower and strawberry garnish. None of us could eat another bite, and we drove home through a steady rain feeling deliriously satiated.
Considering the quality of the food, the value of supporting this wonderful educational endeavor, and the company, the meal was a great deal. The pastas were homemade, pesto, eggs, goat cheese, and other ingredients came from local farms, and even the chocolate for the mousse came from a Colorado family starting an organic cacao farm in Costa Rica. Students from PELA helped chef Lucas prepare the meal, and their siblings, friends and parents served, bussed, and cleaned up. All this community action occurred at Edesia Community Kitchen in Paonia, a certified commercial kitchen available for events, preparation of value added agricultural products, and weekend wood-fired pizza. PELA’s chef-Lucas dinner is just one more reason I’m so grateful for where I live.
A bleak beginning to bee season had me worried most of this month. After a few honeybees dipped into the first spring crocuses in February, and a few more came for Iris reticulata earlier this month, there were no bees in my yard for weeks. Meaning, more accurately, that I didn’t see any, and I was looking. I checked the irises, the pasqueflower, and the silver buffaloberry daily; I glanced at the first few almond blossoms as they’ve opened this week, and nary a bee, native or otherwise.
But at last the silver buffaloberry is in such bloom that even I can smell it, and I stood under it this morning feeling my first real sense of joy all month. The tree is full of bees: all the honeybees have nearly identical oval packs of pollen on their back legs, incidentally the exact same size as the unpopped buffaloberry buds, and they won’t sit still on a flower. If they’re not just skimming they’re crawling, even ambling across the clusters of tiny yellow blooms, gathering while they may their ample pollen. Plus there are clouds of sweat bees, a few mining bees, and a large black fly or two.
Andrena, or mining bees, are known as a spring bee, and are valuable spring crop pollinators, including fruit blossoms, apples and almonds in particular. However at Mirador this week, there are way more Andrena on the buffaloberry, above, than on the almond tree, which is happily buzzing with honeybees.
I never thought I got all that depressed here in the winter. I think of it as my hibernation, but I’m usually pretty content. This year, late winter, after we’d had barely any winter at all, I found myself getting testy, snappish, and feeling downright dead inside. There were a lot of reasons I could suppose, but the return of the bees has so lifted my spirits that I know part of it was anxiety about their whereabouts. As the garden is coming rapidly back to life, so too is my soul resurrecting.
Sandhill cranes have been flying over most of March, sometimes in the hundreds, definitively trumpeting spring. The flicker in my eaves drills most mornings on the cornice, alarming out insects for her breakfast. Songbirds returned gradually over the past month and now serenade each sunrise.
The redtail hawks are finally sitting on their nest by the road, but nobody returned to the canyon cottonwood this spring. Concerned last summer when the nest appeared abandoned, I watched through the seasons, the weathers, the winds, as my hypothesis proved true: Over time the far side of the nest sloughed off, and by last fall there remained only a small cluster of twigs around the southwest anchor. I surmised it was a young pair of birds who simply hadn’t constructed the nest securely enough, and that a big storm blew out the back of it, dropping the eggs down the canyon side before or just after they hatched.
The leeks I left in the ground over winter are four inches tall and bright green. The leeks I left in the refrigerator all winter are just an inch behind! The last leek harvest was mostly small doubles, and I cut their tops off and stuck them in a bag in the fridge, intending to use them. But they slipped to the back and by the time I found them they were a little shriveled, and I put off using them. I looked at them a few more times through winter, and couldn’t bring myself to either cook with or compost them. Late February I pulled them out to dump in the compost, and found green sprouts emerging, so I split them up and planted them. And they’re coming along fine!
Meanwhile, I’ve still got a beautiful fifty-acre field for sale. I had hoped I could sell it this week to a lovely retired couple, dreaming of doing the very thing with it that I had intended to do when I bought it, before my health and strength fell short of what is needed to nurture that land into a thriving subsistence homestead. When I think about that field’s short history in my life, and its significance to me, and the fact that it is my 401K, I just can’t part with it for 20% under asking price. The domestic water tap alone is worth between $15,000 and $20,000, and water is of course the essence of life everywhere, but especially here in the high desert. At some point, the fact that it’s in conservation easement and borders a 105-acre protected wildlife sanctuary, will be an asset rather than an encumbrance. The perfect buyer will come along, I’m sure of it.
In the meantime, the Dutchman next door intends to fatten up the field with fresh fencing and cows to fertilize and plow the ground. Not selling it this week isn’t the worst thing. And the sense of rejuvenation I have this Easter season, with the advent of the bees, allows me to breathe easy despite my disappointment. Anyone out there “looking to move farther up the watershed” as one new farmer here from California said, call Bob at westerncoloradorealty.com and check out this gorgeous, peaceful piece of paradise.
It started out as an ordinary neighborhood adventure. Billie called this afternoon to see if I might know whose dog was wailing in the cattails at the bottom of our canyon, directly below their deck. Big dog, red collar, tangled in the cattails. They were both sick, and Ken couldn’t go down there today.
He looked pale and drawn when Fred and I pulled up in front of their house. Not the hearty lumberjack who just weeks ago spent three days trimming junipers around my house. He showed us through the gate and to the path down the steep slope from their house to the creek below. I followed Fred, planting my walking poles below me and cautiously clambering down the slippery slope, soft dirt and small rocks sliding, big rocks and bushes, deadfall.
Fred went on and I stopped near the bottom to call Ken. Can you see the dog?
I can’t believe he’s quiet, Ken said. He’s been barking for a loooong time… From his vantage on the deck far above, and from ours, no one could see a sign of the dog, and there was no sound. I stayed on the phone with Ken, while Fred looked for a crossing.
Eventually he just waded ankle deep through the rusty muck of the creek, and walked into the oak brush alongside the cattails. Shhh ~ he held up his hand. A faint whine. He moved along the back side of the cattails. Where are ya, buddy? Ah! He found him, and spent a few minutes unwinding the 20 feet of thick rope attached to him. I could see the dog through the thicket wiggling happily as Fred moved among the cattails. I was suffused with good feelings of neighbors coming together to help neighbors.
We both knew the dog and where he lives. I got in the back of the truck with the dog, and checked his tag for the phone number. I called to make sure someone was home. Have you been looking for a dog? We’ve got him. He was tangled up in the bottom of the canyon.
“He broke his leash,” the guy said. Leash? Broke? The rope was sound, brass fittings on each end.
I know, I didn’t need to say to him, He would have died— Anyway, he interrupted me before I could finish the sentence, with No he wouldn’t! I would’ve found him! (Really? Before dark? When you weren’t even outside looking? Before he froze to death stuck in the mud overnight? Before a lion came for the siren song of his helpless whimper? Would you have known right where to look? Could you have seen him in that thicket if he couldn’t come to you? What if he went quiet then?)
When we dropped the dog off the man offered us another hostile thank you. Fred is a much better Buddhist than I am, and he doesn’t even try. He affably handed over the dog, No trouble. [oh yeah? I’ll be feeling that climb later tonight.] Chatting cheerily about the dogs by name. Being neighborly.
Hey, I said, trying to smooth things over. I wasn’t being critical— He cut me off again so I couldn’t finish the thought. Well that’s what it felt like! he snapped. It’s not like I don’t take care of my dogs! I love my dogs more than I like most people around here!
So do I, I said levelly, looking him in the eye.
I still feel that old urge for vengeance. I want him to realize he was a prick. At the same time that I try to hold compassion for whatever conditions led to him acting so defensive, I still feel angry about him being so snotty, and also for not solving this containment problem a long time ago.
He kept saying that he appreciated our bringing his dog home. But he never asked one question. Where exactly in the canyon did you find him? His rope was tangled up? in the cattails? Oh dear. How did you happen to find him? Oh, it wasn’t you? Who did find him? He didn’t want to know who either of us was. He said, You don’t know me and you don’t know my dogs.
In fact we’ve met several times; it appears you don’t know me, is all. And I do know your dogs. Everybody in the neighborhood knows you can’t let them both loose at the same time. If either one is tied they both stay home. If they’re both loose they run away. Three separate neighbors told me the same thing later, as if I hadn’t heard.
I tried to bring them home to you six or eight years ago, or more, when they’d been wandering that canyon all day and I found them at the mouth of it, panting, dragging. I got the bulldog in the car but the lab ran up the hill and turned down a driveway to nowhere. I sat in that driveway with the bulldog, big red collar with no tag, agonizing over what to do: Do I take the bulldog home with me, go through the rigamarole of radio, shopper, posters, trying to find the owner of the one dog, while the spooky thin dog remains lost in the woods? Or do I turn loose the companionable fat bulldog to go with his buddy, because they’re a team, and they need to be together?
I put him out and sent him after his black lab buddy down that driveway at the top of the canyon. Years later I met their owner, the wife, who thanked me for trying, who explained they can’t let them both loose at the same time, because etc.
No, I did not need to say He would’ve died down there… it just came out. But he would have if he’d had to spend the night out there. I can’t blame the guy for being defensive, though. I can only blame myself, for not dwelling in compassion right in that moment, and just giving the guy the good news that we were bringing his dog home. (But clearly, I argue with myself even now, the rope is not working: These dogs have been getting away for years. Someone who really loves his dogs more than most people would have come up by now with something that works.)
But, as I keep learning over and over, let me look to my own deficiencies, reactions, and conditionings, and not dwell on the behavior of others. I could have taken a different tone, and maybe the adventure would not have ended on a sour note. I’ll leave that behind now, though. The dog is safe, and I’m a little wiser with yet another painful insight about my own tendencies.