I’m grateful for living with a tortoise. Biko is about 23 years old. I got him when he was one, but I just don’t remember exactly which year I got him from a zoo where he was captive hatched. He’s a leopard tortoise, a species native to South Africa, who semi-hibernates inside over winter, but free ranges through the yarden all summer.
Biko is the last of three tortoises that have lived here. One got too big and I hurt my back lifting him: He found a good home in Florida. The second one took a ten-day unauthorized journey and was found, but didn’t survive that winter for unknown reasons possibly having something to do with his autumnal misadventure.
For as long as I’ve had tortoises, I’ve had dogs trained to find them at the end of the day. It’s essential in spring and fall, when it’s too cold overnight to leave them out. And it’s good practice in the summer, so the hunter doesn’t forget the job. It took Wren all of last summer to learn what I was asking her, but as soon as spring came and Biko was out again, she knew immediately what to do. The catahoulas used to bark when they found a tortoise. Wren sits down beside Biko wherever he is tucked in.
This evening we had a special guest, so we hunted Biko before heading to the canyon. He was still out foraging, and when Wren found him she sat down like a good girl for her reward. Biko just plowed right into her.
I’m especially grateful today for a short but deeply meaningful visit with another old friend who happens to be in the valley for a few days. She captured Wren’s heart as quickly and easily as she did mine all those years ago when she first smiled across the counter at Moonrise Espresso. It was pure delight to spend a few hours together on a gorgeous early-summer day with heartfelt conversation, laughter, and a few tears.
Grateful as always for Zoom cooking with Amy, spontaneously this evening. A simple snack of Baked Cheese and Onion Dip to go with our adult beverages and easy conversation. Despite the deep freeze nights there were still a few green chives in the garden, and I had a jar of pickled jalapeños in the fridge for zesty garnish. A sweet garden onion from the pantry, some staples of cheese and mayonnaise, and dinner was made. I was horrified to discover NO Ritz! But dug through some old bags of mostly stale tail ends of fancy crackers til I found a serviceable variety, and tossed the old ones in the compost.
I’m grateful for the intangibles in a day; not to be confused with the immeasurables, but including them. I’m grateful for the feeling of joy of just waking up alive, for the excitement and potential I feel at the end of pranayama class with a beloved teacher and the sense of understanding that passes between us even on zoom; for the joy of teaching and the sincere caring for the students in my classes (and graduates) to whom I can offer some help and guidance in navigating challenging lives; for the sense of humility I experience knowing that I’m just a step or two ahead of them on this journey to peace and contentment in a culture that demands more of us than we can realistically expect to render. I’m grateful for the facets of my life that I experience and treasure every day which cannot be captured in a photograph. Also, I’m grateful for those moments that can be.
Today winterizing began in earnest, deep-cleaning the sunroom in preparation for bringing in all the cacti, geranii, potted herbs, and a few peppers that I can’t bear to lose to colder nights. Above, one of the two Datil peppers, which I dug up and potted to bring in so that I can at least have a chance of some ripening. These hot peppers are native to St. Augustine, Florida, and apparently need a much longer season than I could give them here. Below, I also potted up the single Tabasco pepper plant, which took so long to produce blossoms, then flourished; but alas, it hails from Mexico and the US gulf coast states, and also wants a longer season than I could provide. Hoping these two pepper plants, and a little Scorpion that hasn’t even flowered yet, plus one of the Jigsaw peppers, will all thrive in the sunroom for a month or two more, without spawning aphids.
I’ve created a monster! My goal in spring was to have Wren trained by fall to race around the yard and find Biko quickly and consistently. She is doing an excellent job of that, when she can tear herself away from nibbling on the lush green grasses brought up by an extra rainy September. She runs ahead of me checking under sagebrush, rabbitbrush, juniper, and sits down when she finds him. However, when I pull him from his burrow each evening to bring him inside, she jumps at him and follows me, dancing around as I set him down in his indoor spot, then barks and sits down beside him to tell me she’s found him again! In the mornings, she yips and prances until I follow her into the laundry nook where she finds him yet again; each time expecting a treat, of course. And of course she gets one.
I was grateful this morning to greet this young fork-antlered fellow, and a spike as well, when I stepped out the door with Wren. I was grateful throughout the day for the opportunity to spend more time with my visiting friend, and grateful for the generosity of a neighbor who offered her studio for him to sleep in since he’s allergic to cats. I’m grateful that the stormy weather broke so that we could eat outside and walk, and enjoy a hot tub at his impromptu B&B. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to relax a bit more each day with him: this level of company, of connection, of face-to-face conversation, was a bit anxious for me at first, having become so accustomed to solitude and silence.
I’m grateful on this cold rainy day for the ingredients and ability to make chicken soup; for the stove and fuel to heat the burner and for the pot; for the fragrance wafting through the house; and for a friend to share the soup with.
I’m grateful for Paula’s raspberries: I’m grateful for her friendship, and that she’s invited me to come pick at my leisure in summers past from her gorgeous organic patch. I’ve had a batch in the freezer for a couple of summers that I have picked away at, doling them out judiciously. But it was time to use the last of them all up at once, partly so they wouldn’t go useless and icky and partly to make space in the freezer for the harvest of my own efforts this summer. It occurred to me overnight to make a quick batch of jam with them, so that’s what I did this afternoon. I boiled equal parts raspberries and sugar for about five minutes and scooped out a some to strain for syrup. Then kept boiling the rest for another five minutes, and scooped it into a jar for jam.
I happened to strain the syrup into the martini shaker, which was the most convenient vessel at hand. So once I poured it into a jar I rinsed the shaker with gin and stuck it in the freezer for later. I’m grateful for ‘breakfast for dinner’ tonight, which I haven’t done in a very long time: two pieces of sourdough toast with butter and still-warm raspberry jam, and a raspberry martini with port instead of vermouth. This will not win me any points in my weight-loss challenge. I’m grateful for support in that endeavor, and I swear this will be the last time I eat two pieces of toast and jam for dinner, at least for a long time.
I’m grateful to Sandra for being curious about my dream, and spurring me to analyze it a little more rather than just forget it. The live mammals that so horrified me were a rare (imaginary) catlike species from Africa who had been caught by a local hunter I know; they were essentially skinned white, their flattened heads and strongly slanted eyes even more noticeable without their fur. This speaks to me of a couple of undercurrent sorrows I hold at bay most of the time with gratitude for the moments in this precious life, since there’s not much else I can do. (Don’t misinterpret: I do what I can, but it’s not much.) Honoring our pain for the world means recognizing this Sixth Extinction we are in the midst of, as a headline today highlights; and also holding awareness that as we exploit species for food or whatever else our greed desires, we will continue to unleash more and more spillover infections like the current pandemic.
Meanwhile, on the home front, there is so much to be grateful for. I woke up alive, for one thing. The house had cooled overnight and I shut all the windows to keep the cool in all day as the temperature rose to 95℉ outside. I’m grateful for a meaningful meeting with graduates of the Mindfulness Foundations Course that I’ve been teaching, and for right livelihood. I’m grateful there’s water for the peach tree. And for me. I’m grateful for bright spots in the kitchen like this new little pot for a single serving of soup, or for melting butter; grateful for popcorn. And for a frozen banana bread scone which heated up beautifully in just ten minutes in the oven this morning…
…and grateful for the perfect scone-sized plate which I chose because it makes me so happy, no matter what I serve on it, to get to the bottom and see the little wedge of Brie. Who designed this plate, and why? What possessed anyone to think that this simple illustration would sell a plate? But it did, to Amy, for me, and it delighted me when I opened the gift, and delights me to this day years later, just to see that little brie and think of Amy, and of all the evenings over five decades when we sat together once in a blue moon eating Brie and bread. I’m grateful for this simple symbol of friendship so loaded with meaning, especially when it’s empty.
And I’m grateful there wasn’t more fallout from an intimate predator/prey interaction this evening, right after the hour I spent practicing patience and equanimity on tech support, and before our soothing walk to watch the sun set. Wren was minding her own business, nosing about in a flower bed, when Topaz got up and stalked her. How cute, I thought, she finally wants to play. She lunged, Wren ran, she lunged again, Wren ran farther, and then Topaz went after her in earnest. It looked a lot like this. Or this. But really more like the first one: she grabbed Wren’s flanks just like a lion would, and left a hole on each hip before I broke it up. There was hissing, screaming, growling. It’s not like dogs, I think, where you let them sort it out a bit and only break it up if you need to. Wren was outmatched in terms of weapons, or might have killed Topaz if she’d really fought back. I wasn’t willing to risk it. So…maybe they won’t end up cuddling in front of the woodstove this winter. But there’s still time! Hope springs eternal. I’ll get a squirt bottle loaded just in case.
Another evening walk to the west fence, on top of a full and restful day. I’m grateful for this sunset, and hope to savor many more with my little friend. What a dazzling array of clouds and colors. I’m grateful for the support expressed by several readers in response to my post yesterday, one of whom shared a lead to this column about BA.5, the latest Covid variant sweeping the nation. Feeling less alone in my cautious solitude today, thank you! I’m grateful for other ways to connect than in person, and grateful for the vast, magnificent sky and its reassuring perspective.
I am always grateful for Boyz Lunch. Today, the company of my dear lunch boys assuaged the melancholy left by the ghost of lamented potential; and also just the fleeting visit from an old friend. It was fun to plan the meal, use preserved tomatillo salsa from last summer’s harvest, soak and cook dried black beans from Rancho Gordo instead of opening the usual cans, and make enchiladas with corn tortillas from a regional tortilleria. Yellow rice is so much easier than I knew, just add turmeric. The meal took some thought and preparation but was ultimately so simple, so delicious.
I combined three recipes to make the most of what I had on hand, adding cream cheese and cheddar to the shredded chicken, (cooking rice in the leftover chicken water); mixing cream, sour cream, cumin, and more leftover chicken water in the blender with the salsa verde then pouring that over the filled and rolled tortillas in a 9″x13″ baking dish. I’m grateful, as always, to have a well-stocked spice rack, pantry, and refrigerator. I’m grateful for my ‘personal shoppers’ who continue to coddle me through covid. I’m grateful for every little piece of the puzzle that comes together to create, serve, and enjoy lunch weekly with an intimate club of three that’s been dining here for nearly six years. I’m grateful for the acceptance and gratitude we share for each other and for our precious, impermanent time together.
I’m grateful to live so close to one of the most spectacular canyons in this country, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, protected as a National Park. I’m grateful to live near the North Rim, by far the less visited part of the park. Usually on a summer Wednesday morning there might have been one or two cars parked at the ranger station, a couple of tents in the campground, and no one else on the rim drive overlooks. I guess with Yellowstone closed for flooding everyone decided to come here. I’ve never seen so many cars at the ranger station, a dozen at least, and four or five at the nature trail parking pullout. There were people everywhere!
I’m grateful for the sweet melancholy of caring enough to miss someone I barely know when he’s gone… enough to grieve the wild world, the ancient trees and fragile lives in this park, for the state that the human species has brought this planet to… enough to wish the best for all beings, even humans, even so… I think I prefer this to not caring.