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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Deer, or someone, have eaten most of the Indian paintbrush along the trail to the canyon. I’m grateful that there are still a few little spots of color. I keep thinking, this is why we need to feed hummingbirds. In a balanced ecosystem, the deer would leave enough paintbrush for all the hummingbirds. But we live in a world out of balance. I believe it really does help, and it’s worth it to us, to supplement the diets of wild birds: we’ve taken over so much of their habitat, it’s the least we can do.
Deer have been starving for the past year, maybe longer. Between drought, and monocultures, they’re now eating yarden plants here that they haven’t bothered for 25 years: the little naturalizing tulips, even the grape hyacinths, in the garden, and paintbrush out in the woods. Neighbors have noticed more of this as well. Stressed wildlife can aggravate humans in their habitat and along the fringes (the ecotones) between urban and ex-urban in this way, eating things they normally wouldn’t need to in order to get the nutrition they require. Ecosystem health revolves around diversity: when they only have hay and alfalfa for much of the year, they weaken. Maybe now they’re figuring out how to diversify and prosper.
That’s been my motto since before I moved here: Diversify and prosper. Seems even more fitting now.
I’m grateful also today for yet another fine female physical care provider, the eye doctor in Hotchkiss, Diane. Her gentle staff of women and her gentle chairside manner made me very comfortable as I embarked upon my fourth healthcare catchup since getting fully vaccinated a month ago. Their Covid precautions are exemplary, and I felt so confident of them that I’d even feel comfortable working there, not just spending way more than my fair share of time as a patient. I’m grateful for their patience with me. I’m grateful I’ve had a whole year to really observe the quality of my vision, and discern exactly what spectacle traits will maximize visual acuity going forward, for the time being; grateful for an eye doctor who was willing to really hear me. I can’t wait to get the new glasses I’ve ordered! Ah, vision. I’m so grateful for vision.
I’m grateful, as an omnivore, that there are neighbors who raise beef, and that I’m able to contribute to their well-being and my own by purchasing their grass-fed, homegrown meat. I wish I could be a vegetarian, sometimes, because it’s better for the planet. But I need meat, and I like it cooked just so, with a little salt. Tonight I’m grateful for the last filet of some grass-fed, grass-finished beef I bought from Wrich Ranch just down the road. And yesterday, I was grateful for ground-beef of the same caliber from right next door, which I buy for Stellar’s homemade dog food, and grateful for the neighbor who delivered it in the snow and packed down the driveway. I don’t eat meat often, but when I do it’s only locally and humanely raised, purchased from people I trust.
The problem with red meat isn’t red meat, it’s our culture’s insatiable appetite for it. We all know that our bodies are healthier with occasional beef than with daily doses, and that factory farming is unsustainable for the planet. Eat less meat less often, savor it more, and grow your own or support local farmers and ranchers whenever possible. I’m grateful it’s so easy and so reasonable in this valley to satisfy my meager, and my dog’s eager, appetites for meat.
I’m grateful we are not experiencing here the catastrophic cold front that has much of the country in its grip, and is devastating cities like Houston. This freak weather pattern, which will become more common, and this freak pandemic, which won’t be gone soon, are both linked to the problem of our gluttony, and not just for meat. We quit calling it global warming years ago when climate change was deemed more accurate, and now it’s time to officially label it climate chaos. We are all connected, all humans, all species, every inhabitant of this earth depends upon the rest. It is my fervent wish that everyone wake up to this simple truth, and start to cultivate more gratitude for what we have and less grasping for what we want. Only through a change in human consciousness will the world be transformed, and thereby saved.