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 hate to admit that I’ve been taking ‘outside’ for granted recently. Or at least, I haven’t been spending as much time in it as I ‘should.’ There is this sense of clinging to the natural world on this refuge, of imminent loss, exacerbated by smoky skies; a sense of foreboding. My spatial consciousness contracts and expands according to my capacity to hold all things in awareness: moments of tenderness and beauty, of brief connection with other souls human and non-human, of empathy and compassion, of color and life, and at the same time this clutching void of mortal uncertainty. I am perpetually aghast, with a thick sugar coating of delight. Holding it all together in desperate equanimity. Growing pains.
I don’t have a picture. It happened too fast. This morning we were rambling through the woods, off the main trail, Stellar about two feet ahead of me. He practically stepped on and then stopped and stuck his nose into what I thought was a tiny dead spotted fawn curled up under a tree. I don’t know what happened first. If I hadn’t yelled, “Stellar, leave it!” the fawn might have just lain there. But it seemed like the same instant I called out, the fawn burst up and leapt away, startling both of us. A couple of yards away as it flew the fawn almost trampled Topaz; it screamed (a tiny little scream) and did a half-cartwheel, knocked against some small limbs, leapt a down log, and quickly disappeared.
Topaz followed it with her intent gaze, and though I looked I could no longer see it. I think she could, and I think it didn’t run far. We all three stood there for a few minutes to catch our breath. Then I asked Siri, “What happens when a fawn gets spooked?” seeking some reassurance that it would be fine.
None of Siri’s answers related to a fawn, and were along the lines of “Afraid of your phone? Here’s how to overcome that fear.”
So I tried again, spelling FAWN, and Siri directed me to a number of options which all told me not to disturb a fawn. Too late for that! But one of them did say, if I had removed a fawn from where I found it hiding, to return it to the same area and its mother would come searching for it. So I set aside my anxiety, trusting in the strong maternal bond to reunite the pair, and we rambled on our way. I’m grateful for spotted fawns, for seeing one so tiny so close, so fast and strong.
I’m grateful for all ten feet that enable Stellar and Topaz and me to walk through the woods most every morning. After visiting the Survivor, whom we haven’t been to see in a couple of months, we came home and rested by the pond, where they both drank and I meditated.
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.
I’m grateful that Stellar’s so agreeable. “Which way do we go? Which way do we go?!” He’s eager for anything we do together, but especially a walk.
“Do you want breakfast?” I ask him. “Oh, okay.“
“Do you want to come inside?” “Do you want dinner?” “Oh, okay.”
“Do you want to lie down?” “Do you want to get up?” “Do you want to go outside?” “Oh, okay.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?” “Where?! When? Now? Yesyesyesyes! Arooooo!”
Peaceable kingdom. “You pretend I don’t exist, and I’ll pretend you don’t exist.” We walk right through them, with barely a ripple, sometimes. Other times they scatter and flee. Who knows why?
Topaz walks with us every afternoon these days, up the driveway and back through the woods. This evening she walked all the way up beyond the top gate, the farthest she’s ever come. Usually she lags far behind and waits for our return. Show showers swept like walking rain along the south flank of Grand Mesa, driven by bracing west wind, some grazing the ground, some just snow virga not touching down. Do I need to take a picture of every cloud? Kinda.
I’m grateful for cosmic equanimity on this day of equal light and dark. The harshest of winter is behind us and the harshest of summer unimaginable yet. Today begins the official sweet spot between extremes, a great place to dwell.
I’m grateful for mud, as I’ve mentioned before, because in the desert, mud=life. We’re in such an extreme drought cycle that we can’t afford to complain about mud season anymore, probably ever. Let’s surrender to gratitude: we need every drop of water the skies can deliver – we always have in this region, it’s just more apparent recently. Topaz is too young to understand this, and she prefers to avoid mud. I’m grateful to have this cat who walks with us like another dog; I’m grateful for all the cats who’ve happily walked with me like dogs in this forest.
Ojo cracked me up the other morning. I could tell the day before that he wasn’t feeling well. When he’s constipated, (and also preceding the loss of his first four lives), he contracts in on himself, curls into a tight ball, his cheek fur flares out because he pulls his head in like a tortoise, and he moves sluggishly if at all. He sat on the patio chair for an hour, refusing to come in even when I shook the treat can. Although it’s possible he was just pouting, because he’s an emotional little fellow. Either way, dusk was coming so I picked him up, tight little black ball, and carried him in, whence he disappeared and I didn’t see him for hours.
I mixed powdered psyllium husks into his dinner with extra water, and in the morning gave both cats a squirt of catnip-flavored laxatone instead of their first breakfast before letting them out. An hour later, I fed him his usual quarter can. Shortly, I took the dogs out, and called the cats for a walk. Ojo and Topaz both wanted to come in for second breakfast, but I said, No, you have to walk first, I want to see you poop.
So they came running along behind me and the dogs, sprinting past me in their usual tag-relay game, one or the other shooting up into a juniper occasionally. Ojo plopped down in the dusty trail and rolled, meowing, not unusual for him, but I missed that in this case it was the first sign that he didn’t want to walk. I rubbed his tummy fuzz and walked on.
Around the next curve he attacked my ankle, ran up meowing and grabbed my pants leg and gave a quick bite. I laughed and walked on, as he continued to meow, stomping along angrily behind me. A couple more times he lunged but I kept going; then he grabbed my ankle again, and this time he was very persuasive. He did not want to walk! Still laughing, I turned around and up the hill. He shut right up and walked a yard in front of me the whole way home, where he got another quarter can and so did Topaz, and then they sprawled on the living room rug at total ease.
I draw some firm lines with them. I won’t feed them before first light, or let them out before sunrise; both must be in before sunset. Both those lines ensure my peace of mind in different ways. Experience with numerous cats has taught me that if you give a cat an inch in the morning, you’ll be getting up earlier and earlier to feed it until you’ve lost two hours of your usual sleep. On the sunset line, if these cats aren’t in by dark I won’t sleep until they are. They seem to take turns, one every few months, trying to get away with it.
But in a moment like that morning, when one of them had such strong feelings, I was happy to change my plan to accommodate his need. They ask for so little, and give so much. I still see in them the kittens they were, and also imagine the old cats I hope they will survive to become. But I know cats only have nine lives, and around here those can go pretty fast. So I treasure every day with them, and accept their their little quirks and demands, and do my best to keep them happy.
Ojo and his siblings are four and a half years old next month. They all remain happily alive in four neighborhood homes, although Ojo has been whisked from death’s door four times (that I know of). Topaz has not. She is self-sufficient, often aloof, and sweet as pie. He is a perpetual surprise, a spoiled mama’s boy who wants what he wants when he wants it, and won’t take no for an answer. They still make me laugh every day.