Had I not gotten violently ill last night, I would have posted my gratitude for Raven and Stellar, yet again. And for letting go, finally. Yesterday I took their faded photos off the food bins that I’d used for them and have been using recently for Wren and Topaz, and replaced them with their current owners. It was hard, even knowing those photos don’t hold their lives, to throw them away, but it was time to let go of the pull of their memories in that context.
I didn’t feel quite right so I went to bed early. I’d only been asleep for an hour when I woke up all kinds of sick, and remained so for about twelve hours. I’m grateful for my Cousin Nurse who talked me through accepting it, there wasn’t much I could do to stop vomiting, but to be sure and sip some liquids as I could. I was able to get out of bed around two this afternoon and sip some dilute ginger ale and water. Once I felt a little better I texted around to see if anyone had some orange Gatorade or some Pedialyte to replenish electrolytes.
I am so grateful for a supportive community: for loving friends who cooed their concern and made various offers to get me something, and for Garden Buddy and her husband who actually had exactly what I needed and made a special trip over to deliver it. They may not even have had it on hand; they were out and about and may have picked it up. Knowing them, they’d have gone to extra lengths to get me Orange! The only flavor Gatorade I can stand–but I would have been grateful for any flavor at that point.
I’m grateful I got so much housecleaning done yesterday, it made it easier to come downstairs this afternoon and rest in the recliner. The slight fever is down a bit, the Covid test was negative, a cool rain drizzles outside, Wren and Topaz have been extra sweet. The awful helpless feeling is gone and I’m just tired and a little queasy now. The fear that it would get worse and all the scenarios that flowed from that are gone. I almost want to eat a cracker now, but I’m heading back to bed. I am grateful that I will survive!
Today I am grateful for community, above all. I’m also grateful for flexibility and strength, my own and others’. I didn’t expect to have to euthanize Stellar, and hoped not to; but that was ultimately the right choice. After toodling along at his own pace, with occasional expressions of discomfort and frustration, but plenty of seeming ease and happy interaction, eager to remain engaged with life, there was a sudden change about ten p.m. Thursday night. Thus ensued a night of horrible suffering for him, and utter helplessness for me. There’s a great disparity between what’s available for hospice care for a person v. what’s available for hospice care for a dog. The meds in my arsenal simply couldn’t touch his pain for several hours. My knowledge of what to do was also lacking. By around 4 a.m. I was finally able to get him drugged enough to relax. We drifted in and out of sleep together on the floor.
A wee-hour email to a friend resulted in an informal vet consult and kind advice at sunup (thank you, K&D). A text to Dr. Tam at 5 led to a short whispered phone call at six, and by the time offices opened at 8, I was making calls trying to find a vet to come here, without success. Several of Stellar’s and my friends rallied around, and converged here at 9:15. Four of us carried him on his blanket out to the van, and settled him on a soft bed. I crawled in and lay curled around him. He never opened his eyes or raised his head. Garden Buddy and Uncle Bill drove me to Houseweart Vet in magnanimous silence. Deb and Rosie set to deepening and lengthening the grave Stellar had been working on for years, under his favorite tree.
When we crossed the river, Stellar raised his head. He knew exactly where we were. There’s a pullover where we used to park and let him run down along the river any time we drove that way. Even though it’s been a year since we’ve done that, wow, those dogs never forget. From then on, he occasionally raised his head and laid it on the console, as he would for any other car ride, any other journey. It was a beautiful thing to see, his calm, his interest, his acceptance, ok, we’re going for a ride! The rest of the time he laid his sweet head down beside mine, peaceful.
At the vet, it couldn’t have gone better. He lifted his head for one last pet from GB, then turned and pressed his forehead against mine in a profoundly moving gesture of connection. Then he settled back into our spoon where he remained calmly through the procedure. Dr. H said, “He’s going to need a BIG hole!” I said, “There are a couple of girls back home digging one now.” He said, “I mean a backhoe hole!”
I cried all the way home. When I paused from crying over Stellar, I looked into the front seats and wept again at the enormous kindness of my staunch, wise, compassionate friends, who took this time out of their day to help us. And they didn’t say a word all the way home; they simply let me grieve in peace within the comforting support of their noble silence, as if knowing that I couldn’t stand to hear a word of condolence.
I pulled myself together when we got home. My gravediggers suggested I take a look to be sure it was right before we carried him down there. I walked to the favorite tree and was staggered by the size of the hole my two lady friends of a certain age had managed to dig, and the enormous mound of dirt beside it. I burst into tears again. I was not alone in that. Rosie said it best: “He was a very good boy.”
There are millions of acts of kindness and compassion every day around the world, which we tend to forget because we never hear about them in the ‘news.’ Yesterday I was overwhelmed with keen awareness of the kindness of others. And the texts, voice messages, emails, and gifts dropped off since yesterday noon have kept my heart buoyed in a sea of love. Stellar loved everyone. He was the epitome of loving-kindness: he brought a sincere intention of friendliness to everyone he met. Many people loved Stellar in their own ways, and his life and death touched them deeply. I’m grateful that I got to be steward of a dog with such a big heart and extensive loving influence.
I’m grateful that a new, unknown friend in Australia shared an excerpt from this poem for me, after I told the story of Stellar’s demise in our monthly zoom meeting; an excerpt in which his mother had switched pronouns and sent him in a card a couple of weeks ago after his own dear dog Oscar had been run over and killed.
Her Grave by Mary Oliver
She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog. She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile—– and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her cunning elbows, and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming perfect arch of her neck.
It took four of us to carry her into the woods. We did not think of music, but, anyway, it began to rain slowly.
Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.
Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.
My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash of happiness as she barged through the pitch pines swiping my face with her wild, slightly mossy tongue.
Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat? He is wiser than that, I think.
A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky.
Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds think it is all their own music?
A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them.
Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment of her long slumber?
A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing.
Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace of his own making?
She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or wait for me, or be somewhere.
Now she is buried under the pines.
Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and not to be angry.
Through the trees is the sound of the wind, palavering
The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste of the infallible energies?
How strong was her dark body!
How apt is her grave place.
How beautiful is her unshakable sleep.
Finally, the slick mountains of love break over us.
After a twelve hour sleep last night, I am strong and stable in my grief today. There is emptiness everywhere I turn; and also, there is his presence in the space around me, and in the space within. I woke feeling skinless and raw. I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow into a new skin of unknown qualities. I hope to bring Stellar’s boundless heart into the person I become without him.
So much more to be grateful for today, and I have been writing bits down all afternoon. But right now I find myself with a budding headache and eyes still crying. I’m grateful to be heading to bed early, with a full heart though an empty house. Topaz is such a small person, and takes up so little psychic space. I’m grateful she went for a walk with me this evening, and came right inside afterward. Meanwhile, there is a gaping void in every corner of the house, and blessed sleep is the only thing that will relieve that in this moment. I’m grateful for a warm bed and a roof over my head. I’m grateful for all the words of love and condolence, and all the help from friends today, and for resilience.
Today I’m grateful for community. It’s not just that I don’t mind what happens, but that I feel safe, connected… protected. I feel part of a whole. I’m grateful for Joseph with his solar expertise talking me through a power crisis; grateful for the safety net around me if my house loses power altogether; grateful for mind training that lets me breathe through that possibility. The tribulations of others give me such perspective that I can truly count my blessings and be grateful for every day that doesn’t end in disaster, or disastrous regret. Even a day with householder crises or disappointment in myself is better than what most people on the planet have to get through.
The general human condition of suffering, resistance, denial and delusion aside, so many individuals I know, or know of, are suffering. A neighbor experienced a terrible accident. He’s lucky to be alive, lucky his home didn’t burn down with his ‘son’ inside. Another friend set up a donation page. Friends shared with friends this link, and by day’s end the initial goal was met. But why stop there? We all know the cost of living is high (as the church sign down the road says), “yet it remains popular.” We rally to support each other. None of us is alone. I’m grateful for community.
It’s why I moved here thirty years ago, and has turned out to be so much more and deeper than Grand Avenue connections, than small tribes of like interests, than geography. Community in this valley extends four dimensionally, maybe five, through time and space, and the complex fields of emotional connections.
“You live in such a beautiful place,” my friends said today when they visited, and that’s only what they could see with their eyes–without the perspective of time, without the texture of ups and downs, of challenges, joys, successes; heartbreaks, losses, conflicts; redemption, aspiration, compassion, unity, and support for one another. I’m grateful for the warm tapestry of community. I’m grateful for virtual friends suddenly brought to life in four dimensions!
I’m grateful for this beautiful day for a picnic, for the hardiness and adaptability of us humans, and of dear Stellar; grateful for another day spent with this unique sentient being, experiencing his Buddha-nature, and the skillful clarity of his trans-species communication.
It was a beautiful morning. I’m grateful that Stellar and I got to enjoy a half-hour ramble off our usual trails, just for a change of pace. He’s doing really well considering he suffered some sort of neurological incident last weekend. You can tell by looking at his left eye, how both lids droop. It was just my best guess, until Karen asked Dr. Dave to check out this and a couple other pictures. His response was:
“The issue would appear to be a neurological one. The two most likely causes are stroke and a viral infection of the nerve supplying the eyelid. Other possibilities are a tumor near the nerve, or a traumatic incident to the nerve. Similar lesions in the brain can cause signs as seen here. In any case palliative care is probably the treatment of choice as there are possibilities of recovery with no treatment.”
I am so grateful for the support and input from these friends, who despite such busy lives of their own took time to consider my concerns for my dear dog. I’m grateful for the bonds of community and friendship, that can lay dormant for a long time and wake when needed at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile, we’re still contending with the hindquarter weakness, notably in his right leg, which tends to turn out and is often unable to straighten under him. But he’s a stoic, noble animal, and he keeps dragging himself up and out whenever I ask if he wants to go for a walk. Once he’s out the gate his nose takes over, and he joyfully sniffs his way through the woods, intermittently looking back for me and adjusting his course to mine. I’m grateful for his perseverance, his devoted companionship, and his unconditional love and acceptance.
Well, it’s official. The end of an era. Stellar seemed to know. He was extra excited to see Tom today. I timed a package to arrive this afternoon, to be sure we’d get to say goodbye on Tom’s last day. He’s been delivering UPS packages here for fifteen years–I was wrong yesterday when I wrote twenty, but hey, not that big a difference at this point. I don’t remember who was the UPS driver before Tom; it’s almost as if there was no time before Tom. We have all come to love and depend upon him over the years.
I wrote a card and signed it from me, Stellar, the ghosts of all my past dogs, and the names of half a dozen other households, including the dogs: Popis and Phoebe, Badger and Hazel, Bear and Dugan, and of course Rocky. Tom gave all the dogs cookies, and had as good a relationship with the dogs on his route as he did the people. Tom and I had a special friendship. We argued about climate chaos, presidents, and other political hot potatoes, but we strove to stay civil and land on common ground. We shared adventure tales, and tender moments around life passages. He sometimes brought me elk steaks or venison when he hunted, and trout and Kokanee when he fished. I still have the last pack of filets in the freezer. I shared jam and salsa, cakes and cupcakes, and occasionally timed my baking to be sure the cookies were still warm when he arrived. He was a staple in my life, and at the beginning of the pandemic he was the only person I saw for some months.
One day a few years ago I was driving home and had just crested the hill when I saw a weird white rectangle on the side of the road. That wasn’t here when I left…what the hell is it? did someone just put up a metal shed? To my horror I realized as I neared that it was Tom’s truck, upside down. Just beyond was an open ambulance. I pulled over and was stopped by the EMT, whom I knew. “Is he okay?! Can I go see him?” She had to ask him before she let me. He sat in the back of the ambulance getting checked out. They let me in to hug him. Someone had run him off the road and sped off. He missed a day or two of work, but was mostly just shook up. Who wouldn’t have been?
Some years earlier, Tom was instrumental in reuniting me with Desmond Turtu after his unauthorized journey across Fruitland Mesa. He pulled up at a house a couple miles west of here and the little girl came running out calling, “Guess what we found?!” She showed him the tortoise that her mother had picked up crossing the road at the top of the canyon that morning. “I know that tortoise!” he said, “That’s Rita’s tortoise!” He told them how to reach me at work. They’d been leaving messages on my home phone all day. When I arrived after work to pick up Desmond, he (Desmond) was sitting in their white-tiled foyer eating watermelon.
I forgot to remind Tom of that escapade as we chatted this afternoon. As usual, we talked about a lot of things, but there was a poignant air today, knowing it was the last time. Oh, maybe we’ll run into each other somewhere down the line, but… I told him I’m never going to order anything ever again. I doubt any of us will cherish another UPS man as we did Tom, always ready with a smile or a laugh, easy-going, accommodating, reliable. Tom loved his job, loved the route and the people, and he will also love not having it. He’ll spend his time hunting, fishing, hiking and camping with his kids and grandkids, and pursuing his bucket list, which includes, next month, “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” for the first time. May he sail through the rest of his life with ease and joy.
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.
Fun is different for everyone, but I think everyone on the Canary Committee had some kind of fun today walking in the Pioneer Days Parade. I’m grateful for the strong women and two men who made our showing an effective message. As I returned to my car afterward, a porch sitter nearby said, “Y’all sure did a lot of chirping out there!”
“I think we got our message across, don’t you?” I replied. “Oh yeah!” he and his companions agreed. That was one of the more straightforward comments I heard after the parade. Others carried a tinge of drought denial that confused me. We are so clearly in dire straits here on the western slope, in an area that has already increased 4ºF in the past hundred years, the area in the continental US most affected by the global warming of climate chaos. Extraordinary drought is only one of the symptoms. So it felt antagonistic to me when a woman on the Republican float called out to us, “Then don’t take a bath tonight!”
And while it was kind of clever, it also seemed supremely ignorant when a Mennonite man came up to me and asked, “Are you a canary or Chicken Little?” I’m grateful for the equanimity that mindfulness practice has generated in me. I was able to smile and say, “Oh, but this is real.” He laughed and said, “I’m just kidding.” I hope so, but I wasn’t sure. I hope that the other canaries received more supportive comments, but I didn’t stick around to find out. After being out in the largest crowd I’ve seen in a couple of years, I headed for the serenity of home.
I’m grateful the tender seedlings I transplanted last evening survived the blistering dry heat of their first day in the ground. The worst is over for them, I hope. I’m grateful I can provide some dietary diversity in my yard for this gravid doe, though I did eventually shoo her away from the columbine blossoms she was happily plucking. She stepped off a couple of yards and ate a few honeysuckle buds before meandering back toward the pond.
I’m grateful for the fence around the food garden, or I wouldn’t have anything to harvest! I’m grateful for another handful of radishes and half today’s snap peas on their way to the fridge. The other half of today’s peas I tossed into a skillet with the last of the oyster mushrooms and some chopped scallions (those perennial onions) for my evening snack. So simple, so delicious! I’m grateful to be eating food I’ve grown at the end of a full Saturday that included connection with community and nature, a long talk with my soul sister, sweet time with my beloved animal companions, and a nice long nap: My kind of fun.
Just the simple fact that I keep on learning, something, every day, at least one thing; I’m grateful for continuing education. For example, no wonder my cookies turn out so flat, even when I follow the recipe to a T: I always let the butter get too soft. So chilling the dough in the fridge before I finish even mixing it turns out to be a prize-winning success.
I’m so grateful for the latté ritual that makes the Sundays of this pastoral life hold meaning: ok, not the only thing, but ‘my’ Sunday morning latté is definitely a ritual worth appreciating.
I’m grateful for the national celebration of the arts that is the Kennedy Center Honors; this year it was filmed all over the grounds in the leadup to the final production. I’m grateful to Mary and Chris for both alerting me to the broadcast; and I’m grateful for the technology I have learned to engage with to bring it into our lives. I’m grateful that I live in a rural community that has benefited from Midori’s initiative to bring music to the more random and isolated communities in the country. Our little Blue Sage Center for the Arts, which I’ve watched evolve since its inception into a place where, Cousin Jack was just asking me today, world-class musicians come to perform, grateful that Midori is one of these, grateful to learn more about artists I barely know, and those whose names I’ve known for most of my life. It’s a special place where I live, and I’m grateful for the palpable sense of community that enticed me to stay here, all those years ago.
It was a beautiful presentation that only kept getting better, until at last … well, I’ll leave it that the Garth Brooks segment, which was last, was also the most powerful for me. Grateful, especially, that I can enjoy and participate in this celebration without leaving the comfort of my living room.
I’m grateful that the juniper titmice have fledged, and that I was able to get a sort-of shot of the nest hole, after my mind played tricks on me this morning and I thought maybe they’d left behind a chick. So strong was the story I made up from my illusory senses that it took several close perusals of this image and some others to set my mind at ease, and now it seems so obvious. Ah, how we manage to delude ourselves.
Today I’m grateful to be alive, to have friends, to be part of a wonderful, interesting community. In fact, several of them, one in physical space and a couple in virtual space. Also, I’m grateful to live in the multi-species community that is my yarden, cultivating constant connection with Nature. At lunch today on the patio we were all enjoying the phoebes, and observed the chicks’ milestone of venturing beyond the nest onto the joist. THEN, we were astonished to realize that there are actually five chicks!