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No Internet

Having no internet has highlighted my habits. I’m grateful for the lesson in equanimity. [I tried to post this last night from my phone, and accidentally created it as a new page rather than a new post. I’m grateful that the internet is back on today, and that even with technical challenges on the website, their tech support offered me tools for a workaround.]

Grateful for bumblebees and onions.

Grateful for a lovely walk in the woods with Stellar, and for ancient junipers.

The trees have ears.

Grateful for red cactus flowers.

Habit

I’m grateful that I’ve ingrained the habit of posting daily gratitude practice. Today the internet is down after mind numbing winds. Even if it weren’t, last I tried to access WordPress from my computer I still couldn’t post. It’s frustrating, but I recognize that this is one price I pay for living in the boonies, and also, remember when there wasn’t internet? So it’s no big deal. I’m just glad the habit is so meaningful to me now that I’ll find a way to share my gratitude by hook or by crook, whatever that means. I’m grateful there are a few people out there counting on me to lull them to sleep ♥️

Composure

After sorting and choosing some photos to share today’s gratitudes, I find that once again I’m unable to post in the usual manner from my laptop. Yesterday I solved this by posting some unedited photos from my phone, but today I choose not to do that. If I can’t post a photo from here, I’ll just say I’m grateful today that I woke up alive, that I made choices today that contributed to my genuine happiness, and that I’m grateful to be heading toward a warm, soft, cozy bed for a night of rest. Maybe I’ll sort out this sudden technical glitch tomorrow and maybe I won’t. Either way, I’ll keep my composure, feeling equanimity, for which I’m grateful 😊

And too bad if I can’t post photos, because I took a few good ones today: yet another unexpected claret cup blooming, oh the benefits of following deer trails this time of year instead of the old well-worn people trails; another great lunch, another failed burger bun with the last of the mayo, smoked salmon, St. Angel cheese, and pea sprouts; and lovely light on the apricot tree and irises, with storm clouds in the background. Ah well, so be it.

Electric Light

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’ll Always Have Ditchley”

Kilmarnock library maple tree

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.

At Hughlett Point, Raven looks across Dividing Creek toward the hamlet of Ditchley.

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.

Boardwalk from the parking lot to Hughlett Point beach

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.

Ditchley lies across the water in the trees.
Stellar mastered flight at Hughlett Point.

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.

A different happy hour, with the same view of Hughlett Point from Jan’s dock. The solitary tree on the far shore marks the turnaround at the southern tip of the beach, where Stellar likes to fly.

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.

Rest in Peace, Rita Stephens, May 24, 1927 – August 6, 2010

Three Days Under the Crabapple Tree

Way back in April, honeybee in Tulipa tarda.
Drama in the dandelions
Grape hyacinths keep on blooming despite a deep freeze, and bees keep coming.
Excitement in the tulips
What exactly is going on here in the apricot tree?
Big bees and little bees. Bombus griseocollis?
Anthophora, a digger bee. For awhile, the apricot tree was ‘the bee tree.’ Thankfully, its bloom survived an 11 degree night, perfect timing, and looks like another bountiful apricot crop this year.
Bombus huntii are prolific this spring, thank goodness.

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.

Unperturbed by the presence of two catahoulas in the yard, and a wild woman with a camera, this doe continues to browse where she pleases in the yard.

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.

In Defense of Marie Kondo

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Before the neighbor plowed my driveway, and below, after. Completely unrelated to Marie Kondo, but I don’t want to share pictures of all my STUFF! Hard to believe under all this snow that in just three or four weeks we’ll have flowers emerging again.

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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?

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Rosie the Dog

IMG_4076I 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.

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In the car after we picked her up, and below, a few days later basking in the sun.

IMG_3831I 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.)

IMG_4052The 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.

IMG_4610She’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.

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She is great in the car, and from the beginning has loved to go for a ride anywhere.

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.

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This afternoon at the top of the driveway.

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.

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