Today, I’m grateful for rain! Since it started late last night, we’ve gotten a whopping .23″ by happy hour. Yes, that’s right, less than a quarter of an inch. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. I’m grateful for friends who sent celebratory texts this morning at the height of precipitation, grateful that I have friends who find joy and gratitude equal to my own in this feeble heavenly bounty. I’m grateful on behalf of the parched earth, and the brown mosses, desiccated lichens, and little green growing plants; and on behalf of the insects who need water to live also, and the birds and frogs who need the insects; and so on, my gratitude spans the infinite web of Nature in the high desert.
Today, I’m grateful for the fullness of Sunday morning, all this beauty and adventure in the first hour awake. I’m grateful the day unfolded in peaceful ease, a little yarden work here, a little homework there, some housework mixed in, and a couple of zoom visits, including cocktails with Miss Sarah Belle: I’m grateful that the universe threw us together by chance 32 years ago and that she opted to open her great heart and mind to me. And, I’m grateful that I finally saw the mama phoebe pop her head up out of their fortified nest after he sang to her from the top of the birch tree. Life’s simple pleasures.
Stellar, Topaz and I went for a long, slow walk this morning, stepping off the beaten path onto a trail we’ve – well, I’ve – never walked on before. They may have, and certainly plenty of wild creatures who blazed it. I turned to look back, and if I hadn’t known where I was I’d have been lost: same trees, different angle, it was a new place. I love losing myself in these woods, am grateful that for all the years I’ve lived here I can still wander aimlessly, stop, and not know where I am – for at least a few seconds, and sometimes several minutes. It’s comforting to belong to something larger and more mysterious than me.
We wandered for half an hour, slower and slower. We slowed until we stopped in silence, and simply stood still. After awhile I heard a soft tap-tap high above. I looked up to see a brilliant white-breasted nuthatch looking down at us from the top of a juniper snag, his head cocked. Then he went back to tapping the dead wood for food. Eventually he flew to another tree.
Then I caught the faint but unmistakable whiff of smoke. It was too warm for anyone to have an inside fire going, and I couldn’t see the horizon for the trees surrounding us. It was time for coffee anyway, so we turned for home. I’m grateful I could text a neighbor with a view to find out that there was no obvious plume nearby. She said the sky was hazy to the west, and we assumed it was the usual clearing fields with fire or burning ditches that happens every spring. It was the first day in many that it wasn’t too windy to burn, though still exceptionally – dangerously – dry.
We continued slowly toward home on narrow deer trails rarely traversed by our ten feet (or at least my two), and suddenly found ourselves in front of the Triangle Tree. I knew when I discovered it last fall that one day I’d find it in just the right light, and here it was! From this angle, it looks like a majestic old juniper in full sun.
After spending some time savoring the Triangle Tree, we ambled on home and went straight to the pond for Stellar to drink. By then it was already 70º and he was panting heavily after his relaxing exertions. Well, I was relaxed, after waking with a head full of unruly thoughts which got swept away by the wonder of losing myself in the woods. At the pond, I was grateful to see the first northern leopard frog of this season, a big fat female in the curly rushes.
Of the numerous things I’m grateful for today, including wise teachers and more tulips, I’m grateful for Boyz Lunch. I didn’t raise a family or even marry. There was never anyone I always had to cook for. Without cooking for children (the hasty routine breakfasts day after day, the packed lunches, the weeknight dinners week after week after week for years), I never got in the habit of three meals a day. I’ve just recently learned to cook for myself consistently. But I’ve always loved to cook for other people.
For about five years I’ve been cooking lunch for two friends, older gentlemen, or as they would say, geezers. They were meeting at a restaurant once a week; things changed, I started cooking, and enjoying the meal with them. The last time we dined together without masks was March 11 last year, the day before the country shut down. We put it on hold for a few months as things settled out, and in June we resumed lunches at a distance outside. At our first lunch back, our dear friend Michael was supposed to come too, but he’d been by then two days in the hospital; our next lunch we spent processing the news that he’d died that morning.
We met the rest of the summer two or three times a month and into the early fall while we could still eat outside. But then the big freeze came, killing so many fruit trees in the valley (as we learned this spring) and Boyz Lunch ceased for winter. What a difference a year makes: Many of our trees are dead from that fluke October freeze, including my almond tree. Some of our friends are dead. Many of my beloveds are dead. So much has changed, and I think, I hope, in a beneficial way. We need to learn to live more lightly on the planet, and this novel coronavirus woke many people up to that truth.
We zoomed sometimes through the winter just to stay in touch, and today I am so grateful that we finally got to gather again outside, around the table, without masks, all of us with some supposed level of immunity. Recently our zoom conversations have focused on drought, and we circled back to that again today. Where would we choose to move if we had to leave here because of no water? John said, “I don’t have to think about it because I’ll be dead.” Philip and I concluded there’s really nowhere on earth we’d rather be. Where will the climate refugees go when it starts being the US southwest? They’ll go northwest, or northeast, north for sure where there will still be water. But we’ll stay here because it’s home, and take our chances. Then we started talking about The Water Knife…
I’m grateful we still have water. I’m grateful that we all made it through Covid – thus far. I’m grateful for the conversation, which is always interesting, and reassuring to me in an odd way. I’m grateful for the friendship, support, and help with firewood. And as much as anything about these lunches, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make delicious food and serve it to people I love who thoroughly enjoy it.
I’m grateful for the wild plum that grew from a shoot I chopped from the rootstock of the almond many years ago, and planted. It blooms reliably, and even produced a few tart plums last year. The bees love it, and it frequently hosts the first butterfles of the season. I’m also grateful for the view!
One of the ideas that is used in the lineage of mindfulness training that I’m cultivating this year is that of mental hygiene. We spend at least five minutes a day attending to our dental hygiene, why do we not spent at least that amount of time attending to our mental hygiene? The idea has been bugging me for the past six months, as I’ve begun spending far more time on mind training than I have on physical training or fitness, never mind teeth. I tend to clench my jaws during sleep, funneling all the day’s anxiety into the night rather than dealing with it while the sun’s up. As a result, I found out today, the surfaces of some of my teeth are crazed like old china.
But that didn’t really worry the dental hygienist I saw for the first time, with gritted teeth, a bit worried that they were in as bad shape as they felt. In fact, for not having been to a dentist in almost three years, my teeth are in great shape, and I was grateful again today, as yesterday, for the compassionate care of a qualified female medical professional. The only thing Jen was really worried about throughout the teeth cleaning was the “aggressive sound” of her instruments on my delicate dentition. She apologized several times for it, reassuring me that though it sounded bad it really wasn’t. In between jaw stretches, when she had her hand out of my mouth, I reassured her that it didn’t sound aggressive, it sounded like progress.
“You’re doing great,” she cheered me on several times. I felt safe again, from the moment I walked into her office. I used to be not fond of the smell of disinfectant, and normally might have gagged at the scent when I entered. However, in Covid times, I found the aroma comforting, and relaxed immediately after meeting her. No one else in the office the entire time, everything I encountered spic n span (until my muddy shoes touched the chair), and what seems like a solid protocol for both her and her patients’ well-being. It was the most fun I’ve ever had getting my teeth cleaned, and though I kept feeling my body tense up as she scraped gently away, I also kept being able to release, let go, relax. One thing that amazed me is how did she manage to put so much pressure on the scraper, or the floss, as the tartar resisted, and then not let the tool or the floss plunge into my gum when it finally released? I was impressed with her control, and surrendered to her capable hands and the general feeling that I’d chosen well to trust her. I’m so grateful to have finally found again a place I feel safe getting my teeth tended, and inspired to pay more attention to them myself. Her intake questionnaire asks, among many other things, Do you want to keep your own teeth? YES! I answered emphatically. Floss more, was essentially what she said.
I’m grateful for my teeth, that they’re in such good shape 62 years into this life, that they serve me so well, that I know now to be gentle in what I chew to protect their fragile enamel (No ice chewing, she advised), that regular brushing and occasional flossing has been enough to keep them stable for three years, that she accepts ACA insurance so I can go back more often; I’m grateful for my teeth for all they do for me daily, crunching into celery, tearing and chewing a lamb chop, lending emphasis and clarity to facial expressions. And for all they have done for me in the past. May these teeth keep on biting, tearing, chewing for several more decades!
My gratitude today began of course first thing in the morning when Stellar and I both woke up alive and able to take a nice long walk through the forest. But it really kicked in late morning when I met my new primary care provider at the clinic, a nurse practitioner who made me feel heard and seen in a way no doctor has since the great Adam Zerr left the valley. Christi Anderson heard everything, and then asked if there was more. There was. And then she asked if there was more. There was. And then she said, “I look forward to taking care of you.” All with lots of eye contact and genuine compassion and interest. I felt a lot healthier walking out of there, simply from feeling heard and seen completely. It’s so important, whether it’s with a healthcare provider, a partner, or a friend, to feel heard and seen for who you are.
And that might have been that for today’s post, except that tonight I attended the third and final webinar on a resilient ‘circular’ local economy, hosted by one of our environmental watchdog groups, Citizens for a Healthy Community. Another of the clinic’s doctors attended this workshop to speak about integrating healthcare proactively within the main focus of the series, the ‘nutrient dense’ agriculture of this amazing valley. I’ll not go into any recap of the series, which consisted of a total of almost 8 hours over three Mondays, but I’ll share the link to the recorded workshops, in which so many entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, and others explained their amazing passion projects.
I moved here almost thirty years ago because I found what I had been looking for without knowing it: a palpable sense of community. Though in the past decade I have retreated into my hermitage on the fringe, this community continues to sustain me in a very fundamental way, and there really are no words to express my gratitude for the gift of living here, among these generous people so deeply connected to the earth our mother. I have been uplifted and inspired by everyone who spoke in these three workshops, and was honored to attend simply to witness and learn the depth and breadth of interconnection among all these non-profits and individuals, from community elders like food activists Monica and Chrys, to relative newcomers, all dedicated to supporting the ecosystem of this beautiful agricultural valley which is also a progressive creative center in food and many other arts. One of the most exciting things I learned is that there is now a countywide Farm to School food garden/curriculum in the nine elementary schools.
I’ve often thought that I found in this valley a safe place to plant myself and flourish; a place where I could be heard and seen so that I could find my voice and my vision. I am grateful every single day that I chose to settle here in the North Fork Valley.
Today I’m grateful for connection. Through the magic of Zoom, I connected with cousins in five other states, and my eldest goddaughter in a sixth. It was windy most of the day and challenging to be outside, so it was a good day for zooming inside. There are those, I imagine, who are sick of Zoom and might feel it doesn’t offer real connection; but this digital platform has been a lifeline for me the past year of physical distancing, and brought miraculous opportunities to connect with real people in real ways once unthinkable and now taken for granted, bringing me back into connection with friends and family from my past, and creating new connections with people I never imagined.
I made a yummy omelette with Havarti and three fresh fat asparagus, mixed a Bloody Mary with last year’s homemade tomato juice from the pantry, and spent a couple of hours with my dear girl in Brooklyn. Later, the weekly cousins’ zoom brought connection with distant family, a recipe for Turketti which I can hardly wait to try, and a couple of cross-country bird reports of interest, including Bill’s sighting of a phaenopepla, a rare desert songbird who resembles a black cardinal. I’m grateful to have seen one many years ago, and today enjoyed empathetic gratitude for his seeing one though he had no idea how lucky he was. I’m grateful to have been reminded such a marvelous creature exists on this same planet. I’m also grateful for the sense of connection I felt with the food I ate, the water I drank throughout the day, and the earth those gifts came from.
I’m grateful today that these seedlings are doing so well! I think I’ve finally got a handle on how to start them. In the past, I’ve tried many different mediums for starting them, in many different types of containers; I’ve watered from below, and they’ve damped off from being too wet. They’ve gotten leggy. This year, they all look pretty solid, and I’ve just planted another flat full of various tomatoes and peppers that should sprout in a few days. Since I don’t know when I’ll get around to adding on a greenhouse to the south end of the house, I’ve ordered a larger, 3-tier LED grow light stand in hopes of growing more starts with a lot less moving of trays and pots in and out for weeks before I can plant in the ground. So I’m grateful not only for the first healthy seedlings of the season, but for the ability to grow even more going forward, and filling the garden with organic, extremely local food plants and flowers, to nurture everyone in this little ecosystem.