Aspen forests begin to turn gold on the slopes of Mendicant Ridge. I’m grateful to have enjoyed another full day of life today, three full seasons into this gratitude practice. And grateful, as always, to have spent this day in the company of this sweet old dog, and these ancient junipers.
I’m grateful for my own breath, and for the breath of the forest. This morning, after a quarter inch of rain last night, we walked through the woods, and I chanced to turn and see backlit by the rising sun, the respiration of a juniper tree. Or so it seemed to me. With each exhalation the tree released a mist. I’m grateful to live at a pace where I am able to notice such quotidian natural phenomena, and grateful that my old dog makes sure I get out to walk early in the morning.
I’m grateful, too, that he make sure I get out and walk in the evening, when we go search for Mr. Turtell, which is what Stellar calls Biko. Find Turtell, I tell him, and he trots off ahead of me around the yarden perimeter. He almost always finds Biko on the first circuit, and gets rewarded with a handful of treats. Sometimes he’s a bit vague, and I encourage him, Show me! Then he will bounce on his front feet and bark, to make sure I know which sagebrush to look under.
I’m grateful after twenty years to have come to understand a bit of a tortoise mind; grateful to live with a keeper of slow time. Biko is like a sundial, reliably tucking in under a sagebrush or juniper where the last rays of light will fall in a day, and/or where the first will come in the morning. Over the years I’ve learned to look in certain places certain seasons. In a yard full of late afternoon shade, see how he has parked himself where he’ll get the longest, last rays of sun. My knowledge of his habits, and Stellar’s help, will be increasingly important over the next few weeks as temperatures approach Biko’s threshold. Tomorrow, the forecast is a low of 38℉, just below his tolerance of 40º. We’ll go for a turtle hunt around five, and bring him inside until morning. I’m grateful for the arrival of autumn, with its breath of fresh air.
It was a beautiful morning. I’m grateful that Stellar and I got to enjoy a half-hour ramble off our usual trails, just for a change of pace. He’s doing really well considering he suffered some sort of neurological incident last weekend. You can tell by looking at his left eye, how both lids droop. It was just my best guess, until Karen asked Dr. Dave to check out this and a couple other pictures. His response was:
“The issue would appear to be a neurological one. The two most likely causes are stroke and a viral infection of the nerve supplying the eyelid. Other possibilities are a tumor near the nerve, or a traumatic incident to the nerve. Similar lesions in the brain can cause signs as seen here. In any case palliative care is probably the treatment of choice as there are possibilities of recovery with no treatment.”
I am so grateful for the support and input from these friends, who despite such busy lives of their own took time to consider my concerns for my dear dog. I’m grateful for the bonds of community and friendship, that can lay dormant for a long time and wake when needed at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile, we’re still contending with the hindquarter weakness, notably in his right leg, which tends to turn out and is often unable to straighten under him. But he’s a stoic, noble animal, and he keeps dragging himself up and out whenever I ask if he wants to go for a walk. Once he’s out the gate his nose takes over, and he joyfully sniffs his way through the woods, intermittently looking back for me and adjusting his course to mine. I’m grateful for his perseverance, his devoted companionship, and his unconditional love and acceptance.
I’m grateful for so many things today, but mostly for the fact that I came to the end of it still alive. I’m grateful for walking after rain with Stellar and Topaz, for their sweet friendship, for golden September light.
There was no particularly extra danger to my life today, except that I drove twenty miles to town and back, and went into the post office and the grocery store. Even pre-Covid I’d have been aware of the slight uptick in risk that entails: anyone can get killed in a car wreck a quarter mile from home. But since Covid, these minor everyday risks we all take without giving them much conscious headspace feel magnified a hundred times. Just going into the grocery store for half an hour feels like sticking my neck out way beyond comfort. There’s a somber air in the aisles these days, a fraught undertone. I’m not defiant like those who put us all at risk, but I feel equally defensive. The public fisticuffs of last fall lurk just beneath the surface in the silence as strangers pass without smiles. A sense of relief when you recognize and connect with someone you know.
So I was glad to get home this evening, and walk again in the woods, again after rain; grateful for another few tenths of an inch in a lovely intermittent drizzle over the past twenty-four hours. Grateful for no dramatic thunderstorm with lightning’s fires. Grateful that out of all possible random misfortunes that can befall a human life, my good fortune and my body held up for another day. My heart kept ticking, my lungs kept breathing, and beauty continued to stream past me. I’m grateful for this precious day.
I can’t fix Afghanistan. I can’t fix Haiti. I can’t fix climate chaos. It can be discouraging. But I can be kind and cheerful with the new UPS man. I can grow flowers for the bees and vegetables. I can meditate with loving-kindness on man’s inhumanity to man, and abuse of women. I can hold the horror in one hand and the beauty in the other, the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows, and bring them to some symmetry. I can express gratitude for the random distribution of conditions in my life, that let me live in relative peace and ease compared to the rest of the world.
Comparisons are odious. I heard this from a poet in the context of writing; but lately I’ve begun to wonder. It seems to me that comparisons, through the appropriate lens, are often excellent reminders of just how great our lives are, if we don’t live in a war zone, and we do have running water and electricity in our homes, get to choose what we eat, grow our own food, read what we like, choose our thoughts, and so much more. Americans take liberty for granted.
While Rome burns, I turn my attention to a gift bun from the local popup bakery. Gratitude. After coffee from across the equator, and the sticky bun flavored with the Asian native cardamom, I turn my attention to the rattlesnake pole beans, growing so tall that I a) finally get the Bean Stalk story, and b) needed a step-stool to pick them. I can barely keep up, and was grateful to learn that they also make good dried beans. I might stop harvesting the ‘immature pods,’ any day now, and let the rest mature and dry, for soups or chili and some to plant next year.
Grateful also for two new cucumbers to add to the weekend’s harvest, enough now to make some pickles. Real pickles. I’m grateful to accept the benefits of fermentation, and for the means and knowledge to make real pickled pickles, not only the quick kind with vinegar.
Cucumbers, garlic cloves, ripe dill florets, and a horseradish leaf (all from the garden) in each jar; bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, mustard seeds and allspice sprinkled into the quart jar, and a single tiny hot pepper added to the pint jar. How beautifully they packed! Then glass weights on top of brine, a pickling lid, and into the pantry til the weekend. I’m grateful for the morning light on junipers and that big old dog, for sweet treats, pole beans, and pickles. I’m grateful every day for the roof over my head, water in the pipes, the power of the sun, the love and support I get and give, and the courage to know that nothing lasts. I am grateful for equanimity.
I’m grateful every single night when I go upstairs to bed and see that the new neighbors across the canyon haven’t installed a giant ‘security’ light on their house. I leave the drapes open to the darkness of night: a spotlight shining in on my bed would infringe on my freedom! Not to mention the wasted energy and disruption to wildlife. I’m grateful for the nearly primal darkness of night where I live.
I’m grateful for silence: for the privilege to live in a place where there are occasional moments of true silence, with barely a murmur from nature and nothing manmade. I once knew a deeper silence, before the ringing in my ears. Now, almost always when there is no external sound, and the songs and thoughts in my head are taking a brief rest, there remains a tone between my ears. Its exact nature varies but it’s always there. Except for very rare moments when it disappears, and suddenly a clear, open silence spreads through and over me, and everything else. I’m grateful for these fleeting moments of true silence, and for all the other times in my days where all I hear is the hum of life around me, soothing the buzz within.
“Both male and female S. rufus are territorial; however, they defend different types of territories. The more aggressive males fight to defend areas with dense flowers, pushing females into areas with more sparsely populated flowers. Males generally have shorter wings than females, therefore their metabolic cost for hovering is higher. This allows males to beat their wings at high frequencies, giving them the ability to chase and attack other birds to defend their territory. The metabolic cost of short wings is compensated for by the fact that these males do not need to waste energy foraging for food, because their defended territory provides plenty of sustenance. Females on the other hand are not given access to the high concentration food sources, because the males fight them off. Therefore, females generally defend larger territories, where flowers are more sparsely populated, forcing them to fly farther between food sources. The metabolic cost of flying farther is compensated for with longer wings providing more efficient flight for females. The differences in wing length for S. rufus demonstrate a distinct sexual dimorphism, allowing each sex to best exploit resources in an area.”
I copied this straight from Wikipedia. Fascinating. Fair? For some reason, I trust their information for basic science, though I might be skeptical for more subjective knowledge. Around here, we call these birds “little bulldogs,” or more subjective epithets. I love them despite their aggression; they are beautiful, remarkable creatures. I am grateful to have the Rufous and the other two species zipping around the yarden all day, intensifying in the evening.
I woke feeling sad, after yesterday’s descent into the stark reality of climate chaos. I thought I might feel sad forever. I’m grateful I’ve learned to accept sadness, and impermanence: I’m grateful for allowing things to be as they are in each moment, and for the reassuring knowledge that everything changes, nothing remains the same for long.
Nothing external has changed, of course: insects are still in decline worldwide. But I trudged out on this crisp, damp morning with Stellar and Topaz by my side, and strolled to visit this split tree. I felt better already, just letting myself be sad, and finding beauty at the same time, balancing grief and gratitude within equanimity.
And then there’s the cheese sandwich, cookout edition. I’ve been thinking about this for days. I had frozen a hot dog leftover from Michael’s memorial, which I thawed and sliced. All the hot dog condiments slathered on wheat bread, sliced cheddar, and potato chips completed the assemblage: a whole cookout in a single sandwich. Yes, it’s a temporary pleasure, lasting only as long as the sandwich itself; but, the making of it, the thinking it up, and definitely the eating of it, all while remembering Michael and last week’s party, lifted my spirits. Life’s simple pleasures. I’m grateful that my life includes the conditions to have on hand all the ingredients of a cheese sandwich, the technology to keep them fresh, the leisure to dream about then make one, the awareness to savor the process and every bite, and the reasonable expectation that I will eat again tomorrow.
Despite this climate-chaos induced exceptional drought, the indomitable will to live that permeates all plants and animals keeps us living to our utmost. I am grateful for the resilience of Life.