A year ago tonight, right around this time, my little Raven dog fell off the couch and never moved again; she died in my arms a couple of hours later. I still don’t know what killed her. It could have been a heart attack, stroke, or some toxin she ingested. She lived through her mouth and was forever eating things she shouldn’t. Like an entire loaf of poppyseed bread off the counter in two minutes. Like half the book club cake off the table. Like, maybe a handful of small green seed potatoes that may have resulted in solanine poisoning, but I’ll never know. It happened fast, and peacefully.
The next morning I buried her in the garden, deepening a hole she had dug under a sagebrush. Yesterday I pulled a few weeds from around the stones on top, and planted some violas and a columbine. I’m grateful she essentially dug her own grave, so I didn’t have to. I’m grateful that beautiful, smart, mischievous dog came from Dog World to live with me when she was six weeks old, and made me laugh and cry for almost fourteen years. I’m grateful that after all that (fleeting) time, after her many dramatic veterinary events, her life ended in quiet two-hour cuddle instead of some awful, bloody, tragic spectacle and/or a frantic trip to the vet. I’m just grateful for Raven.
While I try to be ‘self-sufficient,’ at least as much as a human can be in this interconnected world, I still really appreciate help. This morning Mr. Wilson brought a helper, Juan, and together we all got a whole lot done in the yarden. We started out by trespassing on the land next door, to liberate an old juniper from a former fence. The poor tree had been tangled in barbed wire for so long it had grown around some of it. I’d already pulled some coils free of the bark but it took the young men to untangle the wires completely and cut them off where they’d been absorbed into the tree. We salvaged two vintage fenceposts from the mess to use in the next project.
Another salvage operation: the old old shed in the dog pen that was here when I moved in almost thirty years ago, but was badly leaning with a rotten roof by now. They took off the old roof, straightened the shed, and braced it with numerous old posts, and will finish the job next time. I’ll have a shade structure for more garden work and storage, and Stellar and any future dogs will have a safe shed over the old old dog house, which was already old when Thelma gave it to me in 1994 – but so well constructed it’s still perfectly sound. The cardboard boxes will carpet the ground under wood chips as a ‘natural’ weed barrier.
I couldn’t do any of these things I’ve done today without the help of other people. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, but when I really pause to examine everything good in my life it all comes back to education or assistance from other human beings. I don’t know about you, but I really am interconnected with everyone else. I rely on help from others for everything from the luxury of yard work to the fundamentals of feeding myself. I’m grateful to recognize this truth, and it motivates me to want the first question I ask in any situation to be How can I help?
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 to have gotten phone service back today after more than a week without; and to get a call from dermatology that it was a basal cell and it’s all gone; and to have had stamina and strength to start playing with a rough draft of the rock garden; and for the first iris to bloom, and the last tulips, and the first lilacs, and for the Fuji apple blossoms. I’m grateful that Stellar was happy today: happy to eat, happy to walk, happy to nap, happy just to hang out with me all day.
I’m grateful for my Garden Buddy, who went on an adventure with me today. The word ebullient came to mind as I observed my sensations driving to pick her up. She was the first passenger in my car in well over a year, and that inspired me to clean it up a bit, which I was too lazy to do for myself, so I’m grateful for that. I was motivated to explore some local farms in search of strawberry starts, some culinary herbs, and a few flowers for my patio pots to feed the bees. We stopped by Zephros Farm, which had a good selection, as well as some unexpected succulents for the new drought rock garden I’m finally realizing into existence after a decade of dreaming. Then we tried a couple of stores that were closed on Sundays, an interestingly retro thing to be, hearkening back to the Blue Laws days of my childhood. But we struck gold at Oasis, a new nursery on the highway next to Big B’s.
After our delightful walk, Stellar didn’t want breakfast, which is unusual but not unheard of this time of year. It was all I could do to get some pills into him disguised in a turkey slice and some cream cheese. He’s been turning up his nose at his multiple daily cheese balls, which has caused me to get creative about pill delivery, trying out some pill pockets, pill paste, peanut butter, and sandwich meats. This finicky turn, and his refusal to eat again this evening, have set some distant alarm bells ringing in my head: But there’s not much I can do about it at this point, at his age and with his back end, and there’s no point in clinging. Either he’ll eat tomorrow when I offer rice and broth, or he won’t, and I’ll decide the next step then. Living with a beloved old dog, there’s less suffering for me in letting him do what he prefers than insisting on diagnosis and mitigation, and I think less suffering for him than in stuffing him with supplements he’s not eager to ingest. We’ll know more later. These unsettling ups and downs, which could be nerve-wracking if I let them.
I did want breakfast, however, and was grateful for yesterday’s cinnamon buns (I only ate two) and my weekly latté, which gave me strength and courage to leave home for the first pleasure outing since Covid. It felt mighty strange to drive somewhere I didn’t have to go, with someone else in the car, windows down despite the chill; it felt even stranger to meet and mingle with unmasked people everywhere we went, and encounter a downright crowd at Big B’s and Oasis. We may have been the only people wearing masks, but one thing I appreciate about my Garden Buddy is that we’re on the exact same page regarding risk and precautions. We were our own little travel bubble, and were both a little giddy in it. At the same time that it appeared as though many people have gone back to the usual-before, there seemed to be an aura of extra gentleness in the people we spoke with, some of whom mentioned the suffering of the past year. I’m grateful for at least one thing about suffering, and that is it’s potential to deepen even the slightest connection among people. It’s brought me and my Garden Buddy closer, and I also felt like hugging everyone I interacted with today. Maybe next outing.
This morning brought the promise of rain, which ultimately manifested as only a few misty sprinkles between hours of cool sunshine. Stellar and Topaz walked with me through the woods, I baked some cinnamon buns and enjoyed the sugary treat outside with coffee on the patio as phoebes flitted and titmice tittered, and I finished reading a pretty good novel. Then I attended to my lesson plan and taught the first of eight classes to a second pair of students, embarking on the last practice session before I get certified to teach mindfulness. After that, we walked again, to the canyon in evening sun, and then I made dinner and watched some shows. It was a mundane, simple Saturday, the kind I love, and I’m grateful for every living moment of this day spent in contentment.
I only checked the news headlines a couple of times, and each time I felt discontent, frustrated, angry, and sad. People can be disappointing. Human nature has an evil streak, try as we might to deny it. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three poisons of mind that cause the most suffering in the world. The Buddha recognized them 2500 years ago: They were with us then, and they remain today; they may have evolved along with our other, better qualities as we became the human species, and there may have been an adaptive advantage then, but there isn’t now. I truly don’t see any hope for eradicating them in general, but I can sure do my best to diminish them in my own mind. By choosing to turn my attention away from the so-called ‘news’ that is full of them, and toward the living, breathing planet under my feet, I’m able to water the seeds of gratitude, compassion, kindness and joy. This brings a pure, deep contentment to each day.
I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to find contentment, after a lifetime of chasing illusory ideals of happiness. I’m grateful for every step that led me here (though I think I could have done without several-many of the more painful lessons along the way), for each right step, and for each wrong step that taught me something, offered an insight, invited a course correction. I’m grateful that I survived my poor decisions, and finally understand the power of choosing where I place my attention.
I’m grateful for so many things today, including hot running water, cold drinking water, and water in hoses for the yarden. I’m grateful that the Say’s phoebes are happily nesting right over the living room window and the juniper titmice are nesting in the hollow tree in the tortoise pen. I’m grateful that the redtail in the Smith Fork nest is clearly sitting on eggs or possibly even chicks the way she was poised on the edge of the nest when I drove by this morning. I’m grateful for another day alive mostly at home, mostly with Stellar, working, resting, walking, and eating good food. And I’m grateful for every little green thing that sprouts and grows in the garden, including the eight red-potato plants breaking through, six tiny new carrot cotylodons first up in the tub, and the radish sprouts in the tire. I’m excited every morning to go out into the yard-and-garden, the yarden, and see what’s new. I’m grateful after another full day to sit down in the evening with a relaxing adult beverage and a long conversation with my people, the Dog People, in Florida. And that unspools another long, circular thread of gratitude in my thoughts for all the years of love and growth, adventure and comfort, dogs and more dogs, these dear friends have brought into my life. So many good things come in circles, including potatoes in a bucket, cocktails, seasons, friendships, and the days of our lives.
Today I’m grateful for green things, and not just the usual like lettuce, kale, spinach; spring leaves on the Amur maple or apple or crabapple tree, or any newly leafing tree; or fleetingly lush green fields; but the unusual, like the green pond goo that nearly camouflages the green and brown spotted back of a big fat lady northern leopard frog who hops into the pond when I startle her from the wet green grass at the edge – and the green on her back as well, and grateful that my choices provide habitat for this precious native amphibian.
I’m grateful for all the green of early May in the high desert, much of which will fade to brown or tan within a month or two in this extraordinary drought, and grateful that I ‘own’ water enough to keep this little oasis somewhat green and moist and fruitful enough to support a little ecosystem through the year.