Today I’m grateful for this tree, on our usual path through the woods. These ancient junipers frequently remind me how short my own lifespan is compared to theirs, and how much shorter the lifespans of the dear companion animals we love. I’m grateful that I woke up alive this morning, and Stellar woke up ambulatory, and we got to walk to the canyon rim again today, right past this tree that’s been my friend for almost thirty years. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to do that again together.
By sunset, poor Stellar walked like a reeling drunk, and sat down twice on a short loop. Not on purpose. His back legs just collapsed under him, the way they did that one time last winter in deep snow. This evening he was able to get up on his own and hobble forward. But in these last days of his (how many more?) how will we go on if he can’t walk? I’m grateful that I can contemplate this possibility with some degree of equanimity. Every day of the past three months since he made it to 13 has been gravy; every day of the past couple of years since his decline began has been a bonus. I’m grateful that I’ve had the wherewithal to tend him with such devotion, that he’s had the devotion to keep going with me, that we’ve had almost a year together since we lost Raven. My heart breaks at the prospect of waking tomorrow – or the next day, or the next week, or month – and finding him unable to move from his bed. I don’t know what I’ll do. But for now, I’ll go back and snuggle him a bit longer before I head upstairs to sleep. We’ll know more later.
I’m grateful for this first tulip blossom of the season. Many years ago I planted some coral colored regular-sized tulips here, and over time they hybridized with the little red naturalizing tulips, Tulipa batalinii or Tulipa linifolia, I’m no longer sure which, to produce this hardy short bloom with gorgeous thick foliage. Each spring I watch and wait for this particular patch to flower, and am always overjoyed when it begins.
Ah, morning rounds! Today I’m grateful for morning rounds. I’ve been so busy with daily gratitude practice that I’ve practically forgotten my life’s work, but the phoebe last night reminded me. Morning rounds. I heard the phoebe’s distinctive whistle early this morning, but not again all day. A few hundred sandhill cranes flew overhead later morning heading north.
It’s that time of year when every day requires an a.m. survey. How different it feels at 34 degrees on the last day of March after a 20 degree morning than it does at 34 degrees after a 20 degree morning in mid-January. For one thing there’s no snow on the ground, which isn’t a great thing, but makes it nicer to wander the garden on morning rounds. And context is everything: knowing it will only get warmer from here, the chill carries a relaxing nostalgia; January cold is in your face all day long. Morning rounds: So many things to check the status on, from pond rushes to lilac buds, from the Bombay Wall to lawn furniture; the serviceberry the buck broke needs to be pruned or I’ll be smacking my face or wrenching my fingers every time I walk that path.
When Fred pruned the fruit trees last week, he looked at the crabapple and snipped a few branches.
“I’m surprised there’s any fruit left on here,” he said. “Yes,” I said. “It’s weird that no one eats it in the fall. And they were too small to even bother picking. But around this time last year the robins came to eat the fermented fruit.”
Then I picked one and bit into it. “Hmmm, not actually fermented,” I said. “It tastes pretty good.”
Next thing I know, the robins have arrived en masse. I counted five at one time this morning fluttering in from the woods to pick up old crabapples from the ground around the tree, drink at the pond, pluck an insect from the dirt, or pick a crabapple from the tree and fly off with it. I’m grateful for the robins in spring.
Of the many things I’m grateful for today, including waking up alive, some nice walks with Stellar and Topaz, and more crocuses opening their little yellow faces to the sun, I am suddenly, at sunset, grateful for the first sight of a phoebe fluttering onto a hanger on the east patio, wagging its tail up and down. My heart! Summer is coming.
For a couple of years I’ve been planning a new gate between the dog pen and the fenced food garden. Last winter Mr. Wilson cut the gateway, and though I’ve yet to create the actual gate, the way is open now. Once the snow melted and Stellar led me into the dog pen through the new gateway, I discovered a whole new yard space. AND, more garden space! Along the right side backed up to a raised bed there’s a good ten feet of found space to build a raised bed, and then along the left side behind Stellar, another ten or more feet. These beds will start small this year, maybe just a few mineral tubs or other containers, or maybe a few feet of shallow raised beds each, but there’s plenty of room to expand. And since one challenge I’ve noticed in the food garden is an excess of sunshine (believe it or not) and a paucity of shade, this new area will provide a climate-modulated option for some vegetables that need less than 13 hours of full sun per day in mid summer.
The new gate is directly in line with the main garden gate heading east-south-east, and across the dog pen (shady, green, a whole new yard space as well as garden space) there is another potential gateway: a corner of fence that’s been mangled by some large creature jumping over it: elk? deer? mountain lion? Later this summer, I’ll replace the bent fence with another new gate, providing a straight shot from the east door, through the garden, out into a rarely traversed piece of the woods. Expanding horizons by making gates where previously there have been only fences.
I’m grateful I got to spend a whole day in the garden. I chose to leave everything inside undone; today was the first day since sometime last year that it was nice enough to spend the whole day outside. From morning coffee til evening cocktail, Stellar, Topaz and I did our own things out in spring sunshine: Stellar mostly worked on his hole under a juniper, alternately digging and sleeping in it; Topaz inspected our progress and watched birds; I covered the rest of the tulips with chicken wire, cleaned up, rearranged and visualized in the food garden, brought out some hoses and watered for the first time, zoomed with cousins, ate and read and wrote, and planted a few more patches of seeds. After sunset I sat up on the deck and watched the rising of the first super moon of the year. It was a perfect Sunday spent in worship.
I’m so grateful today for friends who believe in me: two who’ve consented to be my students, giving me their attention for several hours a week, and bringing a willingness to learn what little I know more than they do; and one who inspires me in the garden more than any other, with her organizational skills, her sharing of seeds, and her joy and satisfaction in gardening. When my spirits flag, these friends give me new life.
I’m grateful that Stellar’s so agreeable. “Which way do we go? Which way do we go?!” He’s eager for anything we do together, but especially a walk.
“Do you want breakfast?” I ask him. “Oh, okay.“
“Do you want to come inside?” “Do you want dinner?” “Oh, okay.”
“Do you want to lie down?” “Do you want to get up?” “Do you want to go outside?” “Oh, okay.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?” “Where?! When? Now? Yesyesyesyes! Arooooo!”
Peaceable kingdom. “You pretend I don’t exist, and I’ll pretend you don’t exist.” We walk right through them, with barely a ripple, sometimes. Other times they scatter and flee. Who knows why?
Topaz walks with us every afternoon these days, up the driveway and back through the woods. This evening she walked all the way up beyond the top gate, the farthest she’s ever come. Usually she lags far behind and waits for our return. Show showers swept like walking rain along the south flank of Grand Mesa, driven by bracing west wind, some grazing the ground, some just snow virga not touching down. Do I need to take a picture of every cloud? Kinda.
I’m grateful to be learning the art and science of composting. I still don’t put in the time and effort required to get multiple servings each year, but I always seem to get a good few cartloads of nutrient rich dirt for the simple effort of cycling all my food scraps and garden ‘waste’ through a series of three slapdash bins. This morning as Wilson was turning the contents of the two outer bins, in varying degrees of decay, into the center bin to start a new cycle, he found the ancient moose antler I’ve been wondering where it was. Before he closed the bin Stellar took a strong interest in it, but we all decided to leave it to further break down adding more minerals to the mix. I’m grateful to have help in the garden this spring, to do the physically challenging chores while I supervise and get to enjoy the lighter work, like raking spring cleanup clippings into piles to add to the compost bins.
The three bin system works really well. I put rough stuff in one, medium stuff in another, as I clip and cut back and prune and rake, and keep a third pile active adding kitchen scraps and fine material like rotted leaves, old potting soil, grass clippings, etc. When the active pile is full and has sat for awhile, we turn the top layers over into one of the other bins until we reach good compost in the lower part, and that second bin becomes the active pile. In this way, the active compost rotates through all three bins as it goes through its stages of decomposition, eventually leaving a deep layer of compost in the bottom of each bin. I’m no expert in compost – there are probably thousands of how-to websites and videos available – but the system I’ve evolved works just fine for me and my little garden. It’s so gratifying to dig down into a pile and find buckets of rich garden amendment, scraps transformed into dirt like magic, to nourish the garden beds. Healthy, living soil is the foundation of a good garden.
I’m grateful for the Apricot Tree, and for neighbor Fred who has been pruning it every spring for as long as I can remember. I’m grateful for the tender attention he gives this tree, bringing his ladders, loppers, and pruners, and shaping the tree beautifully with his expertise. It took several years after I planted it for the tree to fruit, and for the next few years while I was in charge the most it ever grew was half a dozen apricots. Once Fred took over, fruits increased year after year, finally yielding more than forty pounds each of the past couple of years. After last fall’s sudden killing freeze, I’m grateful that the tree is even alive. We don’t know yet whether any fruit buds survived, and expect only a light crop if any. He checked out and lightly pruned the peach and crabapple trees, too, and they’re both okay. This will surely be a low fruit year in the valley, but the trees are resilient, and we can hope for more good years in the future, if the extremes of climate chaos don’t kill them first. We’ll know more later.