I’m grateful for so much today: for sunshine, green growing things, a breakfast burrito for dinner; a meaningful zoom with a talented, compassionate writer friend whose book I can’t wait to see published; new glasses, Stellar doing a little better today, the fragrance of white irises, letting go of my need to control everything; half a dozen hummingbirds zipping around the feeder outside the living room window while the phoebes tag team feeding their chicklets right above the hummingbird fray, and a Bullock’s oriole pops in brightly for a moment… and the list goes on. I started the day participating in a meditation on an open heart, welcoming the richness in each moment of this life, and managed to carry that feeling through a busy morning and a productive afternoon, with moments of grounded relaxation throughout the day. I’m so grateful for the practice of mindfulness, and the joy and contentment it’s brought to my life.
While I try to be ‘self-sufficient,’ at least as much as a human can be in this interconnected world, I still really appreciate help. This morning Mr. Wilson brought a helper, Juan, and together we all got a whole lot done in the yarden. We started out by trespassing on the land next door, to liberate an old juniper from a former fence. The poor tree had been tangled in barbed wire for so long it had grown around some of it. I’d already pulled some coils free of the bark but it took the young men to untangle the wires completely and cut them off where they’d been absorbed into the tree. We salvaged two vintage fenceposts from the mess to use in the next project.
Another salvage operation: the old old shed in the dog pen that was here when I moved in almost thirty years ago, but was badly leaning with a rotten roof by now. They took off the old roof, straightened the shed, and braced it with numerous old posts, and will finish the job next time. I’ll have a shade structure for more garden work and storage, and Stellar and any future dogs will have a safe shed over the old old dog house, which was already old when Thelma gave it to me in 1994 – but so well constructed it’s still perfectly sound. The cardboard boxes will carpet the ground under wood chips as a ‘natural’ weed barrier.
I couldn’t do any of these things I’ve done today without the help of other people. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, but when I really pause to examine everything good in my life it all comes back to education or assistance from other human beings. I don’t know about you, but I really am interconnected with everyone else. I rely on help from others for everything from the luxury of yard work to the fundamentals of feeding myself. I’m grateful to recognize this truth, and it motivates me to want the first question I ask in any situation to be How can I help?
I’m grateful for my Garden Buddy, who went on an adventure with me today. The word ebullient came to mind as I observed my sensations driving to pick her up. She was the first passenger in my car in well over a year, and that inspired me to clean it up a bit, which I was too lazy to do for myself, so I’m grateful for that. I was motivated to explore some local farms in search of strawberry starts, some culinary herbs, and a few flowers for my patio pots to feed the bees. We stopped by Zephros Farm, which had a good selection, as well as some unexpected succulents for the new drought rock garden I’m finally realizing into existence after a decade of dreaming. Then we tried a couple of stores that were closed on Sundays, an interestingly retro thing to be, hearkening back to the Blue Laws days of my childhood. But we struck gold at Oasis, a new nursery on the highway next to Big B’s.
After our delightful walk, Stellar didn’t want breakfast, which is unusual but not unheard of this time of year. It was all I could do to get some pills into him disguised in a turkey slice and some cream cheese. He’s been turning up his nose at his multiple daily cheese balls, which has caused me to get creative about pill delivery, trying out some pill pockets, pill paste, peanut butter, and sandwich meats. This finicky turn, and his refusal to eat again this evening, have set some distant alarm bells ringing in my head: But there’s not much I can do about it at this point, at his age and with his back end, and there’s no point in clinging. Either he’ll eat tomorrow when I offer rice and broth, or he won’t, and I’ll decide the next step then. Living with a beloved old dog, there’s less suffering for me in letting him do what he prefers than insisting on diagnosis and mitigation, and I think less suffering for him than in stuffing him with supplements he’s not eager to ingest. We’ll know more later. These unsettling ups and downs, which could be nerve-wracking if I let them.
I did want breakfast, however, and was grateful for yesterday’s cinnamon buns (I only ate two) and my weekly latté, which gave me strength and courage to leave home for the first pleasure outing since Covid. It felt mighty strange to drive somewhere I didn’t have to go, with someone else in the car, windows down despite the chill; it felt even stranger to meet and mingle with unmasked people everywhere we went, and encounter a downright crowd at Big B’s and Oasis. We may have been the only people wearing masks, but one thing I appreciate about my Garden Buddy is that we’re on the exact same page regarding risk and precautions. We were our own little travel bubble, and were both a little giddy in it. At the same time that it appeared as though many people have gone back to the usual-before, there seemed to be an aura of extra gentleness in the people we spoke with, some of whom mentioned the suffering of the past year. I’m grateful for at least one thing about suffering, and that is it’s potential to deepen even the slightest connection among people. It’s brought me and my Garden Buddy closer, and I also felt like hugging everyone I interacted with today. Maybe next outing.
This morning brought the promise of rain, which ultimately manifested as only a few misty sprinkles between hours of cool sunshine. Stellar and Topaz walked with me through the woods, I baked some cinnamon buns and enjoyed the sugary treat outside with coffee on the patio as phoebes flitted and titmice tittered, and I finished reading a pretty good novel. Then I attended to my lesson plan and taught the first of eight classes to a second pair of students, embarking on the last practice session before I get certified to teach mindfulness. After that, we walked again, to the canyon in evening sun, and then I made dinner and watched some shows. It was a mundane, simple Saturday, the kind I love, and I’m grateful for every living moment of this day spent in contentment.
I only checked the news headlines a couple of times, and each time I felt discontent, frustrated, angry, and sad. People can be disappointing. Human nature has an evil streak, try as we might to deny it. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three poisons of mind that cause the most suffering in the world. The Buddha recognized them 2500 years ago: They were with us then, and they remain today; they may have evolved along with our other, better qualities as we became the human species, and there may have been an adaptive advantage then, but there isn’t now. I truly don’t see any hope for eradicating them in general, but I can sure do my best to diminish them in my own mind. By choosing to turn my attention away from the so-called ‘news’ that is full of them, and toward the living, breathing planet under my feet, I’m able to water the seeds of gratitude, compassion, kindness and joy. This brings a pure, deep contentment to each day.
I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to find contentment, after a lifetime of chasing illusory ideals of happiness. I’m grateful for every step that led me here (though I think I could have done without several-many of the more painful lessons along the way), for each right step, and for each wrong step that taught me something, offered an insight, invited a course correction. I’m grateful that I survived my poor decisions, and finally understand the power of choosing where I place my attention.
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.
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!
Today I’m grateful for this tree, on our usual path through the woods. These ancient junipers frequently remind me how short my own lifespan is compared to theirs, and how much shorter the lifespans of the dear companion animals we love. I’m grateful that I woke up alive this morning, and Stellar woke up ambulatory, and we got to walk to the canyon rim again today, right past this tree that’s been my friend for almost thirty years. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to do that again together.
By sunset, poor Stellar walked like a reeling drunk, and sat down twice on a short loop. Not on purpose. His back legs just collapsed under him, the way they did that one time last winter in deep snow. This evening he was able to get up on his own and hobble forward. But in these last days of his (how many more?) how will we go on if he can’t walk? I’m grateful that I can contemplate this possibility with some degree of equanimity. Every day of the past three months since he made it to 13 has been gravy; every day of the past couple of years since his decline began has been a bonus. I’m grateful that I’ve had the wherewithal to tend him with such devotion, that he’s had the devotion to keep going with me, that we’ve had almost a year together since we lost Raven. My heart breaks at the prospect of waking tomorrow – or the next day, or the next week, or month – and finding him unable to move from his bed. I don’t know what I’ll do. But for now, I’ll go back and snuggle him a bit longer before I head upstairs to sleep. We’ll know more later.