Next week it’s my birthday! I’m so grateful just anticipating that I’ll get to have another one! Dawn was going to come over for a birthday dinner and puzzle night. We had it planned for weeks. She was kind enough to agree to isolate for four days prior to our date, and we both planned to take rapid antigen tests shortly before she came over. But because of my high risk factors for Covid, and the Omicron surge, and the fact that we both were, unavoidably, around unmasked people in confined spaces four days ago, and the recent suggestion that the rapid tests may not be as reliable for Omicron, we adapted to a plan B.
I roasted a chicken with garden carrots and some sweet potatoes, and steam-sautéed some garden green beans from the freezer. She baked shortbread. She delivered the cookies and picked up a box of dinner and a new puzzle, and drove the couple miles back home. Then, we zoomed together for dinner, put away our dishes, and opened our puzzles. It was almost as good as being in the same space working on the same puzzle–not quite, but almost. The camaraderie was still there, the quiet focus on the puzzles interspersed with meaningful conversation.
The virus sucks. The ignorance that facilitated and perpetuates the Covid crisis sucks. I feel profound compassion for the healthcare workers who are overwhelmed because of the sheer stupidity of a staggering number of humans. It’s my patriotic duty to stay healthy and well. Given that this is the world we live in for now, I’m grateful for adaptability, and for the ongoing tolerance and acceptance my friends show for my super high risk threshold.
It sounds melodramatic on the surface. Why wouldn’t I have survived the day? Why bother to be grateful for something so mundane? Yet this was the first day I’ve driven beyond Crawford since witnessing that shocking wreck on the highway. I passed the scene twice, on my way to Hotchkiss and back. I ran some quotidian errands–gasoline, picking up cat fud at the vet, a few groceries at City Market–and drove home. That’s all. But I was tense and anxious, not only because of the wreck, but the Covid risk of going about in a county that largely never believed in the virus in the first place, flouted the original mask mandate (down to the Sheriff’s department which became an instant hot spot), and has concluded that it’s through with Covid now whether or not Covid is through with it. In the past couple of weeks the county has recorded roughly 1.1 deaths a day from the virus.
We tend to assume, each morning that we rise alive, that today is just another day to spend like any other day, that we’ll make it through this day without dying; and that’s just ridiculous. Lots of people die every day, many of them without pre-existing conditions and without any warning. Shit happens. I’m learning to take nothing for granted. I was grateful to wake up alive again this morning, and I’m grateful for surviving the day. Each night I try to fall asleep with my pulse pounding in my neck. Tomorrow, I’ll be grateful to make it to the hospital (and back) for some tests to try to determine what this sensation is about, and pinpoint the cause of other strange symptoms as well.
Or at least rule out some icky options. As Francisco said, “When you know what it is, it’s just pain.” When you don’t know what it is, it can grow into a menacing monster. Driving from town this afternoon, the thought of home beckoned like a lighthouse, as it will again tomorrow. If I can only make it there, and back again to safe harbour, then I can finally relax; then I will be happy. Ha! Each day, each breath, a new adventure.
Before I returned Sarah’s puzzle, “Matisse’s Studio” (from artwork by Damian Elwes), I wanted to do it again. My strategy on this round was to pull all the pieces easily identified as the paintings on the studio walls and quickly assemble as much as I could of those little gems.
Having only looked at the box lid once, using Seymour’s Rule, I couldn’t recall which paintings went where in the scheme of things. The flat edges of most of them are designed to trick the puzzler into sorting out more edge pieces than are really puzzle edges.
Having wrapped up the paintings and determined that they did include actual puzzle edges and two corners, I then assembled the sea, with its near beach and far city shore, followed by the balcony. These steps were pretty easy, with the distinctive color of the sea and two key whimsy pieces including a mermaid, and the balcony’s definitive railing.
Assembling the remaining components took more time. Colors and shapes are key, but in true Matisse fashion, Elwes splashed mixed up colors all over the place. Then the brilliant puzzle designer created intricate cuts with flimsy connections.
I persevered, soaking up the bright colors on a couple of grey days, delighting in the details that emerged as each little section revealed itself. So many separate little scenes!
And the precious edges, the flat-edged pieces providing only a skeletal framework, sitting in place awaiting the filler pieces which don’t look like edges at all. Then finally, the delight of completion. I like to save a special piece for last; in this case, a special multi-piece.
Naturally, after finishing the puzzle again, I had to explore more Matisse. He was one of my mom’s favorites, along with Cézanne, and I’m just beginning to understand why. It was fun to see where Elwes got his inspiration. And then to ponder how art evolves over time, from one artist finding inspiration in others, and whole trends, movements, schools, developing through time and space. I loved Art History in college. I’m grateful to have grown up with Art as a value and activity in our home; grateful to have lived near and frequently visited the world-class art museums of downtown Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian galleries; grateful to have seen, felt, absorbed in real life the magnificent works of Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Rubens, Rembrandt, Munch–I’m kind of hating in this moment that the names which come readily to mind are all males, and am grateful to be learning recently of equally talented female artists who were shamefully underrepresented in the art lessons of my youth.
But setting aside that can of worms, here are some random paintings chosen from the many Matisse images available online, which may have been among those which influenced Elwes’ delightful rendering of “Matisse’s Studio.”
I was awakened this morning by a soft kangaroo kick in my face, two little furry-toed feet practically in my mouth as Topaz stretched out on her back alongside me. I’m grateful for the little purrball snuggling in the morning. She’s still not quite right in the head, and we may go get her eyes and ears examined next week in Montrose, as none of those seem to be functioning the way they should. But she’s otherwise almost back to normal, and I’m grateful for that.
I’m grateful for the delightful diversion provided by this charming puzzle full of exquisite detail both in the artwork and in the laser cut. I used to enjoy doing these puzzles with other people sometimes, before the pandemic. It’s an intimate act to sit heads bent close over a puzzle table, singing along to music or chatting amiably, passing each other pieces that fit with the different sections we’re working, cheering each other on. I also used to enjoy doing them alone, so I’m grateful that my pleasure hasn’t been diminished with my cautious solitude.
I learned recently of several more Covid infections in vaccinated friends, so I’m even more grateful for getting the booster. I watched with deep emotion the trailer for the new documentary “The First Wave.” As a culture, perhaps as a species, we are about to drop all precautions and pretend that this ongoing pandemic isn’t happening, despite the evidence of what we see and know. Why? Because we’re tired of it; we want to get back to normal. Like that’s ever gonna happen. This stunning film chronicles four early months in 2020, and filmmaker Matthew Heineman told The Guardian, “One of the greatest tragedies of Covid is that we as a general public were so shielded from the realities of what was happening…. If it was easier for journalists and film-makers to get inside hospitals and to show the public how this was all actually going down, how people were dying and the horror of what was happening, I think it would have changed the narrative…. It saddens me that this issue that could have brought our country together further divided us, that truth and science became politicised.”
And for a refreshing change of pace, because we must also experience joy as well as outrage, check out the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards from NPR, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. My favorite is the “Majestic and Graceful Bald Eagle.” Maybe. I’m grateful for Kathleen for many reasons, including finding this in my inbox this morning.
I’m grateful today that I had no real ill effects from the booster; grateful that I slept long and well last night, and that everyone I love (that I know of) woke up alive this morning. Even though CC felt poopy after her booster shot yesterday, she was still alive and still had her sense of humor; even though S had a kidney removed last week, the cancer is gone and he’s recovering well; even though Topaz still isn’t quite right in the head, she’s getting better and she snuggled most of the night. And grateful there are many more people whom I love and who love me, and as far as I know they are all fine.
Grateful I’ve been able to spend a couple of hours throughout the day on this delightful puzzle, assembling tiny vignettes one at a time and then piecing them together and noticing even more brilliant details. And some subliminal influence must have been at work this morning, because I craved and made a bean and cheese burrito for lunch, on one of those delicious gigantic spinach tortillas from Farm Runners, with homemade fermented hot sauce. Grateful for groceries and for growing food.
I’m grateful that I can still walk to the canyon even without a dog, which I did for the first time today–I think for the first time ever. There was a lot more to notice since I wasn’t keeping at least one eye on a dog the whole way: various birds, silence, the feel of my own footsteps. As I sat in silence on the bench, pondering things, there was a sudden noise which I recognized as something crashing down in Ice Canyon–but there was hardly any ice. I got up to check it out, and just inside the curve visible above, there had been a rock slide. I got so lost in contemplation that I plumb forgot to take a picture of the aftermath. I’ll do that tomorrow. The next thing I did was call my friend who once upon a time took a photo of me standing under the tiny waterfall, where now there is a pile of boulders–right where I had been standing! In cosmic time, it was a near miss. I’m grateful for perspective, for humor, for true friends, and for more time to puzzle…
I’m also grateful for Krista Tippett and her podcast “On Being,” which I’ve been listening to during this puzzle. Yesterday I caught up with Katherine Hayhoe, chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy, and climate ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance, talking with Krista about how we can still put the brakes on the climate crisis. “Talk about it,” is one of her main strategies, and she makes a strong case for that. Today I listened to Pico Iyer talking with Elizabeth Gilbert about solitude, gratitude, and mindfulness, three of my favorite things.
Not even noon and I had a long list already of things I’m grateful for today: Waking up alive and spooning a purring kitty, swimming bare legs in cool sheets, not having to jump out of bed right away to take any dog out for a walk; stepping outside into a brisk sun morning, flowers on Stellar’s grave, saying a prayer for him that makes me feel a tiny bit better, sun for the solar panels, hot coffee, Telesangha, a new puzzle. Then I drove twenty minutes to a fairly well-stocked grocery store where I could also get a Covid booster. I’m posting early today, anticipating that by evening I’ll be very, very sleepy…
Driving home from shopping, I was pondering my gratitude for a seamless errand run: in and out of Farm Runners where they had everything I wanted, close parking at City Market, an uneventful booster shot from friendly pharmacy staff, and a trunk full of groceries. I was grateful to see many more people wearing masks in the store, grateful I can afford to feed myself, grateful for all the hands, hearts, and minds that went into supplying the grocery store from the growers and makers of the foods I purchased, to the drivers and lifters and the infrastructure that made it all get to this little out of the way store, to the roads and those who built and maintain the roads… I was happily contemplating all these things, when, just around the curve by the big red barn, I witnessed a horrific accident unfold.
Fifty yards ahead, an SUV was apparently turning around, pulling from the shoulder onto the highway right in front of the southbound pickup truck in front of me. The truck braked and swerved as the SUV continued to turn across into the northbound lane. I pulled over and pulled out my phone as soon as I saw the truck clip the front of the SUV, which got pushed aside. It didn’t look too bad at that point. But the truck continued off the road down a shallow bank, and then it got really ugly as the truck seemed to roll over several directions all at once, parts of it flying off into the highway with fresh each impact. The truck came to rest. It was smashed to bits. By that time I had 911 on the phone. “Is the truck on its wheels?” the dispatcher asked. I wondered why she asked that, but was happy to say that it was.
The SUV pulled over on the intersecting road. A middle-aged woman got out. By the time I had finished describing what where when, the young man driving the pickup had also gotten out. I was immensely grateful to see him on his feet and inspecting the damage, so grateful that everyone survived. They both began to remove debris from the road. I was grateful for a cell phone and service, grateful there was no blood, no need to administer first aid. There was a lot of oncoming traffic, which slowed and passed around. Another guy pulled over and got out. I waited awhile to make sure there was nothing more I could do, then drove on home, experiencing the very human reaction of feeling grateful that, this time, it wasn’t me.
I drove very carefully. I thought about how radically different today turned out for both of those people than either of them expected, how each of them suffered trauma in their different ways, and I felt deep empathy for both of them. I was very grateful to get home to my quiet little life in my quiet little house in my quiet little yard.
I realized the second I hit “Publish” last night that I had just spouted something old, a view at odds with what I actually currently believe. Yes, intellectually, philosophically, mentally, we are each alone; but, fundamentally, energetically, elementally, spiritually, we are All One. All sentient beings are interconnected in ways Western science has yet to fully comprehend, but at the forefront of consciousness studies is the dawning recognition that we are literally all connected. So, when I remember this, and I think in cosmic terms, and even in the sense of community, networks of friendship and support, I do recognize that I’m not really alone.
Further, I really feel this in my bones, my inherent belonging in this world teeming with life. From the microorganisms living in symbiosis with my body whose cells outnumber my human cells 10:1, to the insects in my summer yard, to the brilliant avifauna of tropical forests represented in today’s completed puzzle, we depend upon each other. We are all animated by the same force. We just don’t really understand what that is yet, or what to call it. Life. But I feel it. I’ve lived close to the earth for most of my life in one way or another. The boundary between inside and outside is quite permeable at my house. Even as a little girl climbing the poplar tree, and hating boys who burned ants with a magnifying glass, I’ve felt my connection with all living things profoundly for as long as I can remember. It’s made for a hard life, among a species who’s so hard on the planet. I’m grateful for acceptance, resilience, and equanimity, all recent acquisitions which contribute to contentment and joy, even in times of loss and grief.
I pay a lot of lip service to solitude. But it hasn’t really been solitude all these years, it’s been the absence of live-in human companionship. There has always been a strong dog presence in my home, for 38 of the past 40 years, and those two dogless years were back in my 20s. Now I am without a dog again, and living alone, truly alone, because you can’t really count an aloof cat and a hibernating tortoise. It is cold comfort that I have no regrets about euthanizing Stellar when I finally chose to: I’m still alone. But, the truth is, I am always alone, no matter what connections I recognize; we are all always, ultimately, alone. So I’m grateful for the capacity for solitude, and for the opportunity to explore it in more depth than I have for the past forty years, with gentle curiosity and self-compassion.
Here I am doing a beautiful Liberty Puzzle, and thinking of Auntie, who introduced me to the joy of these remarkable functional artworks; very aware of her absence. Listening to Eva Cassidy crooning Songbird, keenly aware of her premature death. Hearing the absence of Stellar’s every breath. So much loss! It’s only human. And it’s human also to continue to find joy, delight, and contentment in the unutterable beauty of this fragile life, and to feel gratitude for each and every day.
It was a rough holiday season here at Mirador. The worst of it, on one level, was the dogs, who each suffered for three straight days, first one then the other, with diarrhea. It was a real shitstorm. I was up every hour or two for that whole week letting one then the other out, and entered the new year as sleep deprived as a new mother. But from a big picture perspective, this latest escalation of US dominance and prerogative in the Middle East is just about my worst nightmare, for so many interconnected reasons.
Consider the Iranian spider-tailed viper found only in the limestone mountains of western Iran. Imagine that you are that creature. You hatched from an egg, and you have grown up just the way your millions of years of evolution have conditioned you to do. The tip of your tail looks just like a spider, with a pale bulbous abdomen and a bunch of legs. When you’re hungry you emerge from your cave and coil, perfectly camouflaged on the limestone rocks, and ever so slowly wave that tail tip about, until a bird comes to eat it. Then you strike and eat the bird. It’s a marvel of adaptation, one of the most amazing examples of caudal luring in the animal kingdom. There you are, in your remote desert-cave, living your amazing, singular life, and some corrupt, lying, power-hungry bozo an ocean away decides to start World War III. KABOOM!!! You are no more.
Spectacularly unique endemic species like the Iranian spider-tailed viper live on all continents. Endemic means that they exist only in one particular place or habitat on the planet. We have a few here in western Colorado: the Colorado hookless cactus, for one, and the Gunnison sage grouse, as well as four ancient and endangered fish species. Most of our endemics are threatened by habitat loss and destruction, much of it from extractive industries.
The astonishing variety of reptiles and other animals native to the wartorn Middle East, as we call it, or center of the universe as they might refer to it, diminishes with every bomb that some regime explodes. We humans are destroying the planet in many ways by the needs and greeds of our sheer numbers, but the worst culprit by far is our addiction to petroleum, and the lengths we will go to to get more of it.
For 150 years the Petroleum Industry has fed this addiction and knowingly deceived us about its consequences, with evil disregard for Life on Earth in pursuit of their obscene profits. The climate crisis that now rages unchecked is the end result of the stupid greed of a small number of heartless magnates over the past century, though we are all complicit for having bought into or been born into this ‘consumer culture.’
Imagine that you are a tiny marsupial, a joey still confined to your mother’s pouch, and she is running or hopping for her life ahead of a monstrous fire that sweeps at the speed of wind across the only home you’ve ever known. And that fire is faster than you. More than half a billion animals have perished in the Australian wildfires this season, and countless more are suffering. Entire endemic species may go extinct on that continent. Don’t let industry propaganda fool you: there is no question that this disaster is a direct result of the climate crisis perpetrated by the petroleum industry.
Perhaps you are a refugee from Sudan or Central America fleeing unlivable conditions that have arisen from the climate crisis, and you traverse seas and countries to find safe haven, just to continue to live your fragile, single human life. You get somewhere and you’re not welcome, and you try to move on hoping you’ll find refuge somewhere farther along. Or you die on the journey. Or you are imprisoned at the border.
I cannot bear the pain of living in this world for another minute. My heart breaks constantly, and I am filled with rage.
And yet, here I am, with my delusions and my hopes (many of which are the same things), with my best intentions, with my random prayers, with my gratitude and appreciation, witnessing the magnificent, minute, grand and ever-changing exquisite beauty of existence on this fragile planet. I continue on with a crushing burden of guilt for my part in this human shitstorm that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for many species including our own.
How is this not visible in every living moment to every living human on this spinning globe? We are but a tiny, miraculous speck in an increasingly incomprehensible universe. As the inter-relationships among all things become more clear, the very nature of Life grows more divinely mysterious. Not only is the largest living organism on the planet an underground fungus, but Gaia’s crust is actually alive. We the human species are a tiny part of an immensely complex organism.
We are all one. None of us is a single unaffected, unaffecting life. But how does this awareness help us? How do we do something in the service of Life, to protect and preserve the LIFE that we revere above all in this world?
It’s hard to be a Buddhist and practice acceptance during this time. It’s hard to cultivate loving-kindness for the people in the regimes of this country and others who perpetuate war, hate, misogyny, and genocide. I personally can’t do it. I believe there are enlightened people who can. I try not to hate, but I hate. The most cogent expression I’ve encountered of the crisis facing us is Roshi Joan Halifax’s Friday Fire Drill Speech.
Who wins if the US goes to war with Iran? Not the Iranian spider-tailed viper. Not the people of the US or Iran. Not the young men and women who will lose lives and limbs. Not the parents and children of those soldiers. Whose stocks have soared since the US president’s reckless assassination of a revered Iranian general? The manufacturers of weapons, the manufacturers of the devices from drones to jets that deliver those weapons, and the Petroleum Industry. Those will be the winners in another war. Their wins are short-sighted and will be short-lived. Another war will only speed up the already accelerating climate catastrophe.
This isn’t what I want to write about. But I must. We must talk about it with open, breaking hearts, to our friends and families, with people who share our beliefs and with people who don’t. We must meet on the common ground of our shared planet. I implore you to vote for compassion in the next election, whatever country you live in.
Vote in your own self-interest, which is not the interest of the Petroleum Industry, the Weapons Industry, or the corporate billionaires who have won tax cuts that only hurt you. Stop voting for their interests and vote for your own. In the US, vote to save the place where you live from reckless energy extraction, vote for comprehensive healthcare and a decent living minimum wage, vote for extensive upgrades to our failing public education system, and the crumbling roads and bridges we travel every day in our petroleum driven vehicles. Vote for science-based solutions to this climate catastrophe, for renewable energy to power our homes and vehicles, for common-sense kindness, for the protection of Life on Earth.