Even as the aspens are just past their peak in the high country, canyon cottonwoods are turning golden. I’m grateful for the spectacle of fall colors across the valley and on the mountain slopes, more glorious this year than it’s been for many past. Grateful for a long wet autumn.
I’m grateful for another beautiful fall day. The brief brutal cold of ‘pre-winter’ has passed. Nights are mild in the twenties and thirties, and days warm up thirty degrees or more. The moon has filled and slowly wanes, days are bright with sun in bluebird skies. (I never understood the ‘bluebird sky’ until I saw a mountain bluebird male.) It’s perfect weather. I’m grateful the old dog is still alive to enjoy a few short wobbles through the woods with Topaz tagging along. Grateful to be learning from him just how much gentleness I possess, and how much more I can stand to grow.
I’m grateful for the golden beauty of my imperfect little aspen tree, its symmetry twisted by a heavy snow years ago. Like me, the tree is flawed but doing its best. I’m grateful for awareness and humility. I’m grateful for the winding down that comes with fall, a welcome transition between the rollicking thrill of garden season and the respite of winter’s hibernation.
I’m grateful too, for the first ever two-part Zoom Cooking with Amy. Tonight we snacked with cocktails, then whipped up a sweet, soft dough for morning. After the dough rests in the fridge overnight, we’ll reconvene with coffee to bake…to be continued!
We’ve been planning it for weeks. I chose traditional Greek moussaka because I wanted something to do with the Navdanya eggplants I grew. I’m not a huge eggplant fan (we had a falling out many years ago), but I want to like them. This Asian variety is hardy in this climate, and gave more fruits than any previous eggplant I’ve grown. This moussaka recipe calls for potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and eggplant, all of which I was delighted, and grateful, to provide from my own back yard.
Even the tomato paste came from my garden! It is such a gratifying feeling to reach in the freezer and pull out a cube of homemade tomato paste, all that summer distilled into one little frozen block. The lamb in the meat sauce came from a nice rancher I know in the next valley over. It was a busy day, so I fit in making the first sauce with my morning coffee…
…and I whipped up a quick béchamel on my lunch break. With both sauces in the fridge I went to teach my first mindfulness class, filled with gratitude for all the day had brought so far.
Stellar rallied this morning after a long night’s sleep, eager to take a walk, and excited to see Mr. Wilson when he came to cut up slab wood for the stove. Stellar spent most of the morning here by the gate, one of his all-time favorite locations, keeping watch over his domain as always. I’m grateful for another day with him, and I showered him with attention every chance I got.
“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
After class, and another short walk with Stellar, wheezing as he went, it was right back to zoom cooking with Amy. Our first task was to slice the eggplants a centimeter thick, salt them, and set in a colander.
Three of the precious few russet potatoes lent their texture and flavor as the bottom layer in this recipe. As the eggplants baked, the potatoes were sliced, fried first, then layered into a buttered pan…
One layer of eggplant covers the potato layer, which in turn gets covered by the meat sauce…
Another eggplant layer, topped with the béchamel sauce, and shredded parmesan…
And baked til golden brown! Amy has the patience of a saint. She’s two hours ahead, so she didn’t even sit down to eat til after nine p.m.
I’m grateful for a full day with lots of meaningful connection, celebrating joy in the face of sorrow, attending to a full range of emotions and letting them flow through. I’m grateful for Stellar’s resilience, rainclouds, mindfulness practice, teaching, a warm evening fire in the woodstove, and zoom cooking with Amy, moussaka edition. I’m sure I’m grateful for way more than that that I can’t remember, and I’m grateful for the warm soft bed I’m heading to now.
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.
I am not innately optimistic. I’m deeply terrified about the future of the planet. I’ve taken a media fast since last Thursday.
But this morning I am calm. Seven sandhill cranes flew overhead while I sat under the golden-leafed apricot tree, watching a pair of leaves dangle from a filament. They’ve been hanging there for two days despite breezes that lift one or two leaves from the tree every few minutes. The sandhills flew low, and circled seven times just beyond my fence, before continuing on south.
More sandhills fly over now, their ancient grekking call lonesome in the blue primeval sky. May they live on long after our species declines. The beauty in every moment in this place pierces me. The fragility of life on earth shudders through me with every breath. Some mornings are like this.
I start and end my days these days with meditation. It’s been a long time coming, this regular practice. Years of I don’t know how, or This can’t be right, or worse than interior criticisms, the expectations of the few groups I’ve tried through the years. I met a wonderful teacher five years ago, or remet her, and now meditate with her every weekday morning for half an hour through a phone group called Telesangha. Before bed, and sometimes before morning meditation, I meditate with the Insight Timer, a free app on my phone that has not only a timer, but a community, and nearly 3,000 available guided meditations.
From chanting and music to Metta and Zen, from Germany, Australia, and Japan, there are meditations to suit every mood of every person. I’ve tried dozens in the past month, some effectively putting me to sleep at night, and some appropriately energizing me for the day. This morning I struck gold.
Sometimes I bail out early, if the music is jarring, or the method incompatible. I tried one a few weeks ago that turned out to be a visualization (not a meditation) leading me to a white sand beach; that much was fine. Then a boat appeared on the shore, and the sweet lady’s voice led me into the boat, which left the shore (Where’s my paddle?!) and carried me to a deserted island (How will I get back?!) then led me into a path through the jungle (What venomous snakes lurk beneath the leaves? What predators in the trees?) to a clear blue pool. Ahhh. There is a ladder down into the pool. (Really? A ladder?). By this time I am clearly not relaxing, but I am amused at my reaction to this well-intentioned fantasy, and so I meditate on that. Finally she leaves me alone to soak in the pool for a few moments of silence. I do begin to fall into a calm awareness. But suddenly she is there, taking me up one rung of the ladder after another at an excruciatingly slow pace. I am back in the boat and rowing fast for home before she even has me out of the pool. I’ve made up my own oars. I won’t do that one again!
But this morning. I listened to it first last night, and fell almost instantly asleep with the utterly soothing voice of former Buddhist monk Stephan Pende Wormland. Even more did I need “Rest in Natural Peace” this morning, one day before the election that will determine the course of our country one way or the other, and ultimately could determine (or maybe just accelerate) the fate of our beautiful, vulnerable planet. So I listened to it again.
“Beyond your thoughts is a space containing nothing…” Past the point where I drifted off last night, I was jolted by an epiphany when he said, “The next thought you are going to have, where will it come from? Look.” In that moment, he allowed me to access the stillness below thought, beneath everything. I will listen to this one again and again.
And while other friends joke about moving to Iceland or New Zealand if we end up living in a Trumpscape, I will pack my bags and my animals into the Mothership and drive to the Bay of Fundy, from whence I will take a ferry straight to Copenhagen.
Apricot leaves fade through chartreuse to bright yellow, gild the tree and fall from the top down, gilding ground. Everywhere I look I see an Andy Goldsworthy project with these leaves. Dare I take the time to play? Dare I? Yes, I do.
Cottonwood leaves in the backyard canyon have all gone to ground now, and autumn fades through November toward winter. My gratitude knows no bounds.
In Black Canyon of the Gunnison National park a few weeks ago, I walked with friends to Exclamation Point on one of National Geographic’s “10 Best Easy Hikes with Big Rewards.” Others are in Italy, Nepal, Ireland, New Zealand… this one is twelve miles from home.
This cactus, happening now in my sunroom…
…and this, an orchid which explodes with fragrance at certain times of day, catching me off guard as I pass.
In deep white winter, I can’t live without all these geraniums with blooms of various hues, named after the friends who gave them to me: Cynthia, Mary, David, Deborah, Diane… and Virginia, the one I brought back from there twelve years ago. And that sweet black cat, who is FINE, after all that.
Russet tones of autumn emerged first last month in the Amur maple samaras, now already dried and set with seed. This maple never does as well as the other, on the south side of the house. They’re in different soils, one in native clay and the sad one in more sandy soil. I need to deep water with some extra nutrients before fall gets away.
I’ve seen first hand how leaving a cluster of peaches on a limb will result in crowded misshapen small fruit, how even two opposite on a stem can smash together and provide haven for earwigs, how too many along a slender limb can bend it to the ground; all the things Fred warned me about as he urged me to thin thin, thin.
Nevertheless, my sweet tree delivered bowl after bowl of delicious peaches, that I gave away, froze, cooked into peach jam, infused into vodka, gin, and brandy, and canned in a special syrup…
Canada Peaches! In a twist on the bourbon peach recipes found online, I packed each half-pint jar with peaches, adding about a tablespoon of maple syrup, then filling with half simple syrup and half Canadian whiskey, before processing in a boiling water bath. I hope these last long enough to eat some mid-winter by a toasty fire.
And of course a couple of peach pies.
I ate the last fresh peach this morning, and harvested the two remaining apples on the heirloom tree, I’m so sad I can’t recall its name. Are the finches feasting on wild sunflower seeds also marauding the Fuji apple? It doesn’t appear so; the leaves are grasshopper eaten but the fruit is sound, and so much of it, more than ever before, dozens of apples, I’m so happy I thinned them! At least 59 Fuji apples. I’ve got my eagle eye on these, watching for predation by those pesky birds.
September is like the last hill on the roller coaster. You’re near the top, the wild rush of August harvest has unwound behind you, there is that last push of fall fruits and vegetables to get in before the varmints git ‘em. Rosie has a big squirrel in her garden. I’ve got a stray deer here and there reminding me it’s time to put up fences around trees and shrubs whose protective rings I’ve repurposed on smaller plants throughout the summer. Someone ate two fat cheeks off the biggest tomato of the season; just yesterday I thought that’s about ripe, maybe I should pick it, but it wasn’t ready to let go, and I didn’t come back. This morning’s rising sun highlighted the glistening dips in its flesh when I chanced to glance over from the patio, where I sipped coffee and listened to the raucous sound of morning.
Cynthia led a meditation on sounds last week that’s reminded me to cherish more the wild sounds and deeper silence where I’m blessed to live, like the cacophony of finches in the wild sunflower patch that sprang up on the south side. It’s been years since I’ve lived with a constant musical soundtrack, and for the past several I’ve lived with only intermittent music through the course of my waking day. More and more I find myself eschewing external music, to simply hear, and listen to, the music of nature: birds, crickets, wind, bees, coyotes at night, more coyotes this summer than I have heard in many years.
A great-horned owl has come a courting me. It must be me he woos, because I’ve listened long and faraway and do not hear another. And so I croon back to him a few times, though Stellar doesn’t like it and tries to make me stop, and soon I do stop, because it isn’t fair; I can’t give the owl what it’s looking for. But I sure do enjoy exchanging hoots with it for a few minutes on a clear full-moon night, or any other.
Rain moved through again last night, this time early enough to leave a double rainbow in its wake. I alerted the Bad Dog Ranch that they were centered beneath it. The next day I received a rainbow alert from them. I love this about where we live, that we care about rainbows.
This morning, rain-washed and crisp, the golds of autumn jingle forth. Last Saturday we noticed the first hint of aspen turning up on Mendicant Ridge. By Tuesday the yellows were distinct, and after that storm moved over Wednesday night, the golds are glowing bright, clearly delineated patches among shades of greens, siennas and ochres, treed and rocky slopes. Air is brisk and the dogs are frisky.
Great cumulus clouds march in close formation lockstep briskly through blue sky, white tops glowing, their grey treads gliding low. It’s too spectacular not to walk the frisky dogs up the driveway, where I meet my sweet neighbor and we stroll our rural, precious neighborhood.
Fall blows in on these winds that feel portentous. March winds last longer than they used to, and winter winds start early, in late summer. The breeze sometimes is just a bit too strong; I feel the atmosphere whipping up, winding up all this energy, that later, maybe elsewhere, will unwind with a fury. Ever since I watched the film Melancholia earlier this summer, I’ve viewed this world differently, trusting and allowing myself to sense and feel the changes, the subtle shifts in seasonal events, in their timing, likelihood, or nature. Something is coming, and all I want to do is make jam.
Apricot jam, peach jam, plum jam, chokecherry jelly, salsa hot and mild, and the new house specialty, Canada Peaches. Also plum brandy, peach vodka, plum syrup, plum sauce, pickled beets and cukes, and all the blanched greens, peeled and unpeeled fruits, tomato sauce and peppers in the freezer, let me feel I’ve made the most of the garden this summer.
At the end of the day, though, it’s not about my garden and what I’ve grown and what I’ve put up and what I’ve enjoyed this summer. It’s about what we’ve all tended and grown and loved and eaten and shared and put up for winter, it’s about what we all do in our lives here on this fragile planet. It’s about not just this apple, but all them apples, too! The change that’s in the wind is about me and you, and the choices we make in the next few weeks. To be continued…
Young hummingbirds find the potted flowers appealing. This one circled the yellow snapdragons sipping from several. Honeybee in pursuit.
With cutting back and a few feedings through the summer, and I mean just a few, the snapdragons and other potted flowers are blooming again, with bells on. And hummingbirds. And bees. Cooler days and nights, and a few good rains, really rejuvenated them after the dog days of July. Dog days, ha. This was a pretty mild and cool summer. Cooler nights, five to ten degrees lower many nights than the same time last year, have also contributed to the tomatoes’ lack of productivity. I haven’t seen the dear old doe for weeks, and wonder if she’s eaten her last from my garden, from this good green earth, and moved on to feed a lion, or just sink back into the flow. So I’m finally harvesting a handful of small tomatoes, or, a small handful of tomatoes, about once a week.
Funny how the garden changes so dramatically over the course of the summer, but does it so slowly, in barely perceptible increments, so that one day I look across a certain way and see how completely different it is from the last time I looked. Rabbitbrush is in full bloom already, and it seems the hummingbirds are heading out a little early, though still plenty in my yard. The skies have been full of Canada geese the past few days, flying over in ribbons of dozens at a time, honking enthusiastically about their journey. The bee plant continues to flourish and hum, blooming garlic chives are also full of bees, and fall peas have just pushed through the ground.
More fun with Rocky Mountain bee plant, Cleome serrulata.
Honeybee on blue mist spirea, Worcester gold variety. This reliable late-season flower is buzzing with bees from early August into late September.
Bees flying in and out of the hive on an extra warm day last week show up as golden specks against the still-green rosebush.
I’m glad I got the beehive all set during October, with insulation panels and straw bales around the pedestal. Working early on a few cold mornings I was able to get the panels on and the straw bales situated without disturbing anyone. We had such a mild, long, lovely autumn! The colors in Buck Canyon, the Smith Fork, and along the North Fork seemed to last longer than usual and shine more brightly. Did I say that last fall? Each fall is such a delicious season, each fall unique; each fall a new and wondrous season unfolding like you’ve never seen it before, feeling so like the first fall you can’t remember another; each fall a treasure, maybe the last fall ever.
Rocky on the rim of Buck Canyon two weeks ago.
Stellar surveys his domain.
At a leisurely pace, I have been cleaning up the yard for winter, which is almost here. Light snow overnight here, still falling in a haze over the mountains. Not a lot of cover up there, just a freshening of the white blush that’s remained since our last snow weeks ago. All the trees have lost their leaves, except the almond, oddly green. But they’re fading fast. Planted on the southeast corner of the house, its microclimate, backed by an adobe wall that soaks up sun from early morning til late, mulched with pink gravel, and edged on two sides with brick and concrete, allows it extra warmth.
One of my favorite junipers on the rim, with Needle Rock and snow-covered Coal Mountain far beyond.
A walk in the woods the other day captures the spirit of impending winter.
Stellar in the Sitting Tree
The first icicles form and fall in Ice Canyon. Raven watches, flummoxed by the sound of their crashing down.
A sharp wind blows this morning. I continue to revel in all the deciduous leaves that flutter and clutter the paths, the beds, the yard. It’s been so long since I’ve had autumn leaves to enjoy, their colors first, then their scents and sounds. The giant rose is dropping yellow leaves everywhere around the tower. Beech and aspen, elder, nanking cherry, snowberry have all now lost or are losing their leaves, their baring branches showing this summer’s growth. This cold, drizzly day foreshadows winter. Already I’ve settled into hibernation mode. Such early dark brings closure to the day with so many hours left to stay awake. A time of deep interior begins.
This winter I am writing the book that has been in me since I completed Killing Mother. I continue to delve into the love and disillusionment between my parents, in hopes of understanding all of us better. Reflecting on their lives and histories before I knew them, and exploring who we all were, in that military culture, as I grew from a bright-eyed happy child into the woman I am today. But, it’s a novel, so I can make shit up. I’m participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, to jump start this story that has been murmuring in the back of my mind for years. By November 30, I need to have written 50,000 words, more or less in a rough draft form. As of this morning, I’m up to 20,963; not quite halfway there and just over halfway in time.
Today my mother would have been 84. She loved my yard and would have been content to sit by the pond with me for hours, except for the bees…
Yesterday Ruth and I drove up on Grand Mesa, from the Colbran road off 133 up and across west to Overland Reservoir, then back down Stevens Gulch Road to Paonia. What a treat the colors were, despite the pervasive haze from fires far to the west.
Where we picnicked.
A half-day’s drive to enjoy all this, but still our back yard. Too grateful for words.