Tag Archive | climate chaos

Hubris

Human hubris is not something I’m grateful for, let me be clear. But it seems to be a fact of life and a condition of our species’ nature. So I just want to name it. It’s time, as a friend said today, to call it ‘climate catastrophe’ instead of ‘climate change.’ It’s been time for awhile. Extraordinary drought, extraordinarily high sustained winds, and apparently a downed power line, today led to an extraordinary wildfire in the Boulder/Denver suburbs. By the time I turned off the TV an hour ago, more than 600 homes had been destroyed. No count yet on loss of life. Not to say this could have been avoided, given the human population of the area, and the trajectory we’ve been on sabotaging our planet’s climate for the past 150 years. Thinking, somehow, that we were in control!

As someone who lived in one of those decimated neighborhoods said to me twenty years ago, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” I had picked up Girl Scout cookies at her house, and asked how she felt about the new subdivision under construction across the field behind her cul de sac. Hers was a neighborhood about twenty years old, small homes separated by quarter acre yards. The new subdivision was McMansions jammed together wall to wall, hundreds of them in the same area that dozens of homes occupied in her neighborhood. She smiled with generous equanimity and said, “They’ve got to put ’em somewhere.” A symptom of my privilege, I suppose, or my good fortune, that her answer surprised me.

In my neighborhood, where homes are separated by ten, twenty-five, or forty acres, and could also all be incinerated by a wildfire, I get grumpy that a new neighbor leaves on a glaring ‘security’ light overnight, shining right into one of my windows. If you can’t stand the dark, why move to an area like this? I wonder. We who’ve lived here awhile are grateful for our dark skies, and find these new spotlights a distressing intrusion. As, I imagine, do the wild animals whose land we share. Ah well. Worse things have happened, like the Marshall Fire. I live with the keen awareness that a single lightning strike, or careless cigarette, or rogue firework, can destroy my neighborhood. And still it feels, watching these planetary winds, these astonishing wildfires, these unprecedented floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, that I live in the safest neighborhood I possibly could. And for that, I am grateful.

I’m not grateful that the US Congressional representative for my neighborhood is psycho criminal insurrectionist Lauren Boebert, and I was super surprised to get a robocall from her–note that the transcription typo is Siri’s error, and the voice sounded right, and the message was on her point–from a number apparently registered to the Palestinian Territories. WTF? Did anyone else in this district get such a robocall? I could go on about that.

It might seem as though my three day break from the gratitude blog has soured my disposition! In truth, I’ve done a heroic job of staying positive over the past year, I’ve enjoyed a few days of going to bed early with a good book, and I’m still just as grateful for all the good things in my life, and in the world, as I have been. But I am experiencing a lack of patience today with stupidity. And I’m allowed a lapse, we all are. I spoke with one friend today who zoomed with a bunch of triple-vaxxed friends the other night, and a third of them had Covid. I spoke with another friend whose Trumpista family had gotten together for Christmas and half of them now have Covid, from her 4-year-old niece to her 70+ lung-cancer-missing-two-lobes sister. She is enraged at them all, and I can’t blame her. Equanimity, acceptance, compassion, and loving-kindness are not easy to practice. And yet, the alternative realm, in which I used to dwell, is just dark and pointless. I finally had to turn off coverage of the fires, and stream “Drag Race Italia” to reset my attitude.

There is so much beauty, grace, and kindness in this world, human and otherwise, that we can sense and experience if we choose to focus our attention on those things. There is so much that is out of our control, from the weather to the choices of others, that will only make us sick with despair if we choose to focus on that. Mindfulness is a balancing act: to be able to know the truth of all that is dark in human nature at the same time as knowing all that is good and bright. We maintain our sanity, our compassion, our humanity, by choosing to turn our attention to what we can influence, and letting go of all that we cannot. We can always affect those around us in a beneficial way by acts of generosity, kindness, compassion; by remaining calm in the shitstorms–or firestorms, or wind or snowstorms–around us; and by appreciating the most basic gifts our lives provide, from electricity and running water to enough food and the other species who share our world: cats, dogs, birds, deer, trees, bees, bunnies, wallabies (depending where you are!) and so many more, even spiders and snakes.

I’m grateful for eggs, mushrooms, onions, cheese, homemade hot sauce, and fresh parsley from a pot in the sunroom; grateful for a quick omelette for lunch today, and for all the friends and neighbors with whom I connected on this crazy busy day.

Angry Monk

This monk is pissed off! Bottled water in Tibet these days: He’s tying together plastic, pollution, greed, and climate chaos, with his personal experience growing up in Tibet in the 70s and 80s, when you could dig fifteen feet underground almost anywhere and be rewarded with pure, fresh water. Tibetans would have laughed at the idea of paying money for water! These days, he gesticulates, bottled water everywhere. The best thing you can do for the planet is stop buying bottled water. It’s heartbreaking, inspiring, delightful–miraculous, actually…

I’m grateful that I can be watching an actual Tibetan Buddhist master (who is 7500 miles from the roots of his tradition, and is actually present at the Yoga Tree down the road), from the comfort of my recliner twenty miles away, on the screen of a foldup super-computer. I’m grateful for the Yoga Tree and the Creamery, and all the other people in this valley and everywhere who make it possible for these monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery to travel to small towns with their ancient wisdom. It’s amazing that I am receiving profound teachings from a representative of a lineage going back to Gautama Buddha 2600 years ago. It’s technology, among many other things, that enables this astonishing connection. And it is technology, and our insatiable desire for more and better of everything, that has led to climate chaos.

“We all have responsibilities to be more content with our life and try to protect Nature as much as we can,” he continued, after explicating the six primary delusions of attachment, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt, and wrong view. We need to do the inner work to understand these issues, he taught, and from our balance will flow more balance for the world. A couple of people pointed out that we need to do something now, we don’t have time to rely on doing inner work.

“Recognize interdependence. When self-cherishing is reduced, cherishing of others will grow…. Start from yourself and then teaching your family, friends, near and dear ones,” he explained, “and one becomes ten becomes a hundred… like the coronavirus, this too will spread,” he said. It was a hopeful image, this goodwill for the planet and commitment to the well-being of all creatures great and small spreading exponentially like a virus, until, in my imagination, even our governments, our policies and laws, entire cultures across the globe begin to truly reflect the interdependence of all life on earth.

He concluded the lesson with this pearl: “Die without remorse, and your next journey will be great and fortunate.” I just wonder, where do we come back to in our next life if we’ve destroyed our species and much of the planet? Meanwhile, I’m just grateful when I can live one day without regret.

Scarlet Runner Beans

I was grateful first thing this morning, and pretty much all the rest of the day. Stellar was excited to walk to the rim, barking his intention as he waited for me outside. Aprés walk, we enjoyed a chocolate croissant.

I’m grateful the scarlet runner bean vine is finally taking off. Hammered hard by deer outside the fence, they struggled to gain many blooms. Once the wild sunflowers grew up they provided a barrier to the voracious does, and the vine was able to blossom. I planted eight seeds: only one of them sprouted. Look at her now!

I planted it for the hummingbirds, and finally was in the right place at the right time today to catch a few enjoying the nectar. The first one checked me out before feeding on the flowers. Thereafter they ignored me. I am grateful for intrepid little hummingbirds.

I’m grateful for scarlet runner beans, and grateful I had some time today to sit with and appreciate them in their flourishing glory. I’m grateful for the gentleness of this day just passed, mild ambient temperature, flowers all around, abundant harvest of tomatoes and tomatillos, joyful energy expended in the kitchen canning and cleaning. I’m grateful for finding support this evening in being with the excruciating awareness of life’s vivid, finite beauty.

This Peaceful Day

I’m grateful for hanging out this evening on the patio with a relaxed cat and dog, in relative silence, punctuated by the scrub jays’ racket in the trees.

Here, between the inferno to the west and the deluge to the southeast, weather extremes swirling in ever more intense waves through the atmosphere, here in this little yarden on this high, dry mesa, it’s a calm, balmy day. I dwell in a near-constant state of overwhelm when awareness extends from coast to coast, monitoring weather. So much is happening all the time; so many lives changing, souls suffering, not only humans but other beings: insects, trees, bears and fawns, predators, prey; birds of all feathers fleeing fire. Snakes, rodents, roaches, great floating orbs of fire ants, all uprooted by rain, and mammals drowned; alligators climbing to higher ground, and houses washed away, some with people in them. Hurricanes today stay twice as strong for twice as long after landfall as they did fifty years ago.

I am grateful for this one peaceful day that I got to experience here in this one little yard in this vast plateau between extremes. I’m grateful for contentment and equanimity.

I’m grateful for this peach, the sum total of this year’s peach crop. The single peach and the robust greenery speak to the resilience of this little tree whose prognosis in spring wasn’t promising. I’m grateful the peach tree survived last autumn’s killing frost, and practically thrived with some extra TLC.

I’m grateful for this recipe, Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil. I spiralized the first garden zucchini and tossed it in the pan instead of pasta. The sauce involves blended corn, scallions, parmesan, and oodles of fresh basil. So simple, so delicious! Grateful for homegrown food, and the conditions of this life at this moment that allow for all the luxuries of this peaceful day, this spot of stillness here, amidst the uncontrollable atmosphere.

A House

Mountains invisible this morning, eight miles away. Midday it smelled not only smoky, but downright acrid, from fires in California.

I’m grateful today, especially, and every day, for a roof over my head, and four walls; windows and doors I can open or close at will; a kitchen, bathroom, sleeping loft, and some other sort of rooms: I am profoundly grateful to live in a house. Especially today, when many people have lost their houses to wildfires ravaging the American West, the Mediterranean, Europe, and other parts of the globe; and when many have lost their houses due to evictions, and other manmade catastrophes. I’m grateful that after our smoky walk this morning, we were able to retreat into the relative safety of our little mud hut, close up all the windows and doors, turn on the new swamp cooler (for which I’m also deeply grateful), remaining cool, comfortable, and safe, and breathe fairly clean air all day.

I’m grateful that it cooled down a lot today, and tonight well after dark the stars are out in a clear sky, smoke having settled or blown through. My throat is sore, my nose itches and runs, my eyes are scratchy; Stellar wheezed and panted all day but sleeps quietly at the moment. What about the hummingbirds? Their minuscule lungs! How do they manage in this smoke? And we’ve got it easy. Farther west, closer to the fires, in the fires… it boggles the mind and breaks the heart, the hardship and suffering of humans and all the wild creatures. I’m grateful for the temporary luxury of shutting it all out, closing my eyes, and sleeping between soft, clean sheets for one more night at a time.

Michael Soulé

A portrait I made of Michael in 2013.
I’m grateful for my dear friend Michael Soulé, who died a year and a month ago. I took this shot when we traveled to Yellowstone together. We were enjoying a nice picnic in the vast wilderness, not another soul around, endless views… when… absolutely nothing happened. This was my first photoshop ever, in 2003: I used the image of a grizzly from a bookmark I got at the visitor center book store.

Michael and I hung out together for about a decade, between his second and third wife. He was smart, funny, sensitive, deep, spiritual, thoughtful, and many other superlatives, in addition to being globally known as the Father of Conservation Biology. He was naughty and mischievous, also, and great fun to be around. I’m grateful to be able to call him friend. He suffered a massive stroke last summer, leaving his bereaved bride of ten years, a valley full of friends, a beautiful extended family, and a world full of friends and colleagues, all of whom miss his warmth, brilliance, humor, and dynamite smile. Tonight, a few of us, finally able to during this break in the pandemic, gathered at my house to celebrate his life.

I’m grateful for everyone who helped put together the party, and contributed from afar. I’m grateful for all the stories and insights that were shared to celebrate and honor him, helping each of us know him just a little better through the eyes and hearts of others. I have a soul full of history with him, and few words to share it.

Michael and I frequently discussed death in its many incarnations, including ‘the coming plague,’ which he lived to see the beginning of with Covid-19. He practiced Zen Buddhism, and inspired me to deepen my study of the philosophy that became my guiding light. I told him several times that when he died, I would shave my head in his honor. The opportunity arose this evening. I’m grateful for all our friends who took a swipe at my pate with his electric trimmer, and I’m grateful to June for offering it to me afterward. I was honored to accept it.

Much fun was had by all removing my locks.
Much fun was made of my perfect whorl. As The Colonel used to say, “It’s nice to be the object of innocent merriment.”

Apricot Tree

A resilient survivor, this apricot tree! She suffered the same brutal freeze last October as the almond tree who died, and the peach tree who lost half her limbs, and the desert willow, who has emerged finally this summer like a Dr. Seuss tree. The apricot tree simply curtailed her blossoms and turned her attention to her leaves, filling out beautifully.

And not only her leaves! She did make maybe a tenth of the blossoms as last year, maybe fewer, and now has some nice fat fruits. In the whole canopy, though, this is the densest concentration I found. But most of them are still green, and smaller, so she could surprise me. I doubt I’ll be making jam; and the Raspberry Queen down in Hotchkiss has only harvested a cup or two of berries from her prolific patch. Indeed, the fruit trees and shrubs have suffered this past year, from erratic weather in this new climate of extremes.

Today I’m grateful for the first few apricots, ripening on the resilient tree.

Sunrise

Grateful to wake up to this view from my bed.

Literally (I don’t see enough of them, as a night owl) and metaphorically: sunrise on the next phase of this unpredictable journey through life. I’m grateful for another amazing day of retreat, and for the accomplishment of certification as a mindfulness teacher. So much gratitude!

And always grateful for the big Stardog, and the glory of the garden.

First Flight

Those mom and pop phoebes are indomitable, like Mother Nature herself; constant, though not as sure as the sunrise. Anything could happen to any one of them on any day: a peregrine falcon, for example. But in general, they’re pretty safe here. They put up with me coming and going underneath them, and I suspect en evolutionary advantage to those phoebes who nested near humans: their risk pays off in having fewer (more cautious) predators.

In no time at all, they are climbing out of the nest, stretching their wings. Where is the fifth one? I’ve been watching the houseplants below the nest, no one has fallen out. I can’t really see them from the patio table, my outside office, without binoculars or the zoom lens, so sometimes I take pictures and only know what I’m looking at later.

I’m just grateful they’ve made it this far. Grateful that I have the opportunity to live in such close proximity, grateful they trust me, grateful to first hear their first wing stretches fluttering, and later witness ‘first flight,’ the first time both feet left a firm surface and this baby bird experienced the sensation of flight.

There seems to be a jay nest just north of the birch tree, possibly in an old abandoned magpie nest. It was here I think I heard the screeching from yesterday, before imagining the worst case scenario for a titmouse chick. I flustered a lot of them this evening just before I came in from the pending, blowing storm. Nothing has happened so far except some lighting and thunder, but overnight we got 3 one-hundredths of an inch of rain. I’m grateful for every milliliter of it.

It was interesting to observe: lying in bed around midnight hearing the first drops coming down on the metal roof, and then a steady thrum. Watching my mind attach with relief to the sound of rain, and immediately begin to constrict with the assumption that it wouldn’t amount to much, that it would end all too soon. The rain intensified, and for a moment I almost believed it would last, but then, over the course of a few minutes, the volume dwindled, and then shut off. Oh well. At least I have phoebes.

Though I know I won’t have them forever, I treasure them while they’re here: a healthy approach to every joyful thing in every day. So many things I’ve been grateful for during this one precious day that will never come again, including the opportunity to teach a mindfulness class to two dear friends, a delicious lunch, a hot shower, access to stream a film about the Dalai Lama, and the recommendation to watch Ballerina Boys, a fascinating documentary about an all-male ballet troupe that’s been showcasing a scintillating blend of classical ballet and drag comedy for 45 years. Literally every moment, every breath, is an opportunity to be grateful for something.

Fragrance

My own! I found ‘my own’ Fremont holly this afternoon by its fragrance. All fragrance in the desert is enhanced by heat, it seems: an afternoon walk through the juniper-piñon forest smells so different than a morning walk, once the sun has softened the saps. I relish these hot walks, but rarely indulge anymore, the paths too hot on bare dog paws, and the ambient temperature hard on Stellar’s respiration recently, in his last aging days. But this afternoon late we took a short loop walk north and west of the yarden, a path we travel many mornings when it’s cooler, less fragrant, and that’s when I smelled it.

A gentle whiff, a hint, on the warm breeze… at first, a nose-tickling memory, that big holly uphill, just south of the fenceline… too close… there’s one nearby, I can smell it… I followed my nose even as Stellar followed the path ahead, and saw through the trees, off to the right, a bright yellow glow beyond deep green boughs. A treasure found! ‘My own’ Mahonia fremontii, in ‘my own’ woods! I knew there had to be one, and knew this was the season to hunt for it with my nose. This shrub has grown here for decades invisibly; I’ve walked within forty feet of it almost daily the past few years. Only by noticing its cousin elsewhere nearby, inhaling its intoxicating, almost cloying aroma, and paying attention, did I manage to find it this spring.

Not nearly as huge as the neighbor’s, nor as tangled, ‘my own’ Fremont holly stands alone and sculptural between a tall piñon and a few junipers, not far off the Breakfast Loop trail, toward the draw before the horse ranch. In the heat of late afternoon its fragrance intensified, leading me to it. I’m grateful for fragrance: of the wild holly, the white iris, the pink honeysuckle covered in bees, the last lilac… Grateful, too, though frightened, late this night, for the fraught, forewarning fragrance of smoke on the dark breeze: there’s a fire somewhere, already. We’ll know more later.