Tag Archive | gratitude

“We’ll Always Have Ditchley”

Kilmarnock library maple tree

We passed Ditchley House after an evening drive around the interior of the Northern Neck Peninsula, to entertain the dogs and to enjoy the last of the fall colors. 

“Have you been to the ferry?” Auntie had asked. I hadn’t yet. So the Corotoman River ferry provided our initial destination. The river flows softly flat past the ferry dock at the end of the road. Beside the dock lies a small triangle of river sand, below a bluff with opulent private homes on top. We let the dogs out to run on the sandy beach before continuing our ramble.

We wended our way back east and a little south, in the general direction of home, along small roads getting smaller, crossing the peninsula on Goodluck Road. It was almost my last day there, and I hadn’t yet taken a detour to see the hamlet of Ditchley, on a point flanked by two creeks.

At Hughlett Point, Raven looks across Dividing Creek toward the hamlet of Ditchley.

I saw Ditchley from across the creek on my walks out to Hughlett Point sanctuary along the Chesapeake Bay. The historic Ditchley mansion, up Dividing Creek from the bay, was once the home of Jessie Ball duPont, a teacher and philanthropist who helped create the Hughlett Point Audubon preserve, where I walked as often as possible during my autumn in Virginia.

Boardwalk from the parking lot to Hughlett Point beach

From the sanctuary parking lot in the woods, you walk east through a short strip of lovely swampy forest, cross a grassy strip and a low dune, and arrive at the Chesapeake Bay, a couple of miles north of Hughlett Point. There’s nowhere to go if you turn left, but if you turn right, it is a different walk every day, every tide, every weather. The dogs run, Stellar flies, Raven runs away, and I walk and walk barefoot in wet sand or dry, wade in turnunder waves or tidal pools.

Ditchley lies across the water in the trees.
Stellar mastered flight at Hughlett Point.

Most days I walk all the way to the point, savoring sea and sky and solitude. From the very tip of Hughlett Point I can see Ditchley, so I’d always wanted to drive down Ditchley Road and check out Hughlett Point from there.

It was cocktail hour when we drove past the mansion’s driveway toward the village dock, so we didn’t turn in, though Auntie insisted we should do so on our return. I thought it looked more like a private drive and I said so a couple of times, but she said, “No, this is Ditchley, it is a private home, but they use it for all kinds of public functions. I just want you to see it. We can drive through, there’s a turnaround.”

Then she pulled another friend out of her magic hat and said, “Let’s go have cocktails with Jan.” Jan lives on Dividing Creek, almost to the bay. She wasn’t home, but we walked out on the dock behind her house and watched for a few minutes as the water pinked up, then greyed over, and the sky to the west lit up. The dock had a great view of Hughlett Point, our main objective anyway, so after enjoying that we headed for home. It was dusk, and I was hoping she’d forget about Ditchley House.

A different happy hour, with the same view of Hughlett Point from Jan’s dock. The solitary tree on the far shore marks the turnaround at the southern tip of the beach, where Stellar likes to fly.

As we approached the Ditchley mansion driveway, a sporty red car turned out of it and zipped past us toward the bay. I didn’t like the idea of turning in while they could see us. I was hoping nobody was home. I resisted.

“Turn in, turn in!” Rita insisted, so I made an acute right turn and drove slowly down the colonial-style brick drive through a huge lawn, toward the brick mansion on the right. The driveway narrowed suddenly as it approached the mansion, and passed directly below the foot of the front stairs. I saw with dismay that there was in fact nowhere to turn around but the perfectly smooth green lawn, that the driveway went right up to and around behind the caretaker’s cottage, across a concrete carport, with a grill, bikes, a basketball hoop, and worst of all, a pack of barking dogs. The moment I saw the dogs, I said, “Cover your ears!”

The driveway funneled us through this very private domain: we were bayed up by a large black lab, a midsize gold dog, and a little cocker spaniel. Our dogs were snarling and snapping and barking their heads off trying to get through the car windows. It was a tense cacophony. Our car was so big, and the carport so small and so crowded! I was afraid I would hit one of the dogs snapping at our tires, or knock over a garbage can, or that someone would run yelling out the door. After we slowly, carefully, rounded the back of the house I sped up as fast as I dared and we lost the gold dog, but the big and little dogs pursued us another few hundred feet, Raven and Stellar still snarling and barking.

When they fell off, my dogs settled down. We drove a long silent stretch under arched trees, both of us looking straight ahead, until we turned onto the road. Then Rita turned to me and broke the silence by saying, with a satisfied smile, “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley!”

I laughed so hard I almost lost control of the car. We laughed all the way home. We laughed through our cocktails. Six months later, we are still laughing about Ditchley, when one of us mentions it over the phone.

Auntie turned 85 yesterday. I cherish every laugh with her and every memory of our wonderful autumn together. What I treasure most about that moment, that smile, that “Well, now you’ve seen Ditchley,” is that it was utterly unexpected. I should know by now to expect the unexpected from my Aunt Rita, it has always been the way she rolls. But in that moment, after the violence of the barking dogs, the awkwardness of our intrusion through a private home, the tension of our escape from Ditchley, and my anxious sense of guilt, her sweet satisfaction was the last thing I expected.

Eight years have elapsed since I wrote that. I visited Kilmarnock again, but not for the past few years. Occasionally through those years Auntie and I will be chatting, and she will say, “Well… at least we’ll always have Ditchley!”

Auntie died Thursday, after months of suffering. She had a stroke three days after Raven died, the Sunday before her 93rd birthday. After struggling to recover, she courageously chose to relinquish her attachment to living.

There’s been a lot of loss in my world since May. Of them all, I will miss the most my dearest Auntie Rita, my last mother in this world, my friend and role model, my drinking buddy, my favorite person on the planet, whose flair and humor and kindness showed me the way so brilliantly.

Going through photos from our visits through the years, a lot more memories are coming up, bringing laughter, tears, gratitude, joy. She loved to play cribbage, and delighted in a great winning hand…

After cousin Leslie told me that her mother had died, I hung up and walked a few steps farther into the woods, then laughed out loud: in my head I heard so clearly, in that sweet satisfied voice, “We’ll always have Ditchley!”

I’m not claiming that it was she speaking to me; just that I heard her, from within my heart at the very least, though I didn’t realize for two days how much that moment has helped me cope with the loss of her. Having this trove of memories is a gift beyond measure, an enduring connection with her beautiful, mischievous, loving soul.

Rest in Peace, Rita Stephens, May 24, 1927 – August 6, 2010

Lifegiving Lilacs

Western tiger swallowtails frequented the lilac while it bloomed in May.

It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Weobegone — wait, no! It’s been a challenging month here at Mirador. Lots of life happening hard and fast, life including death, of course. Without the garden, exquisite pollinators, and five years of serious mindfulness practice under my belt, the weeks since Raven’s death would have been even more tumultuous.

A different individual shows resilience. I noticed right away that its right rear wing is tattered, but it took awhile to see that its hind end looks wounded, as if in a narrow escape from a bird…
… perhaps from a phoebe, like this one stalking beneath Buddleia alternifolia, domesticated butterfly bush’s wild ancestor, and an annual feast for pollinators that blooms after the lilacs are spent.
Red admiral butterflies were also prevalent, in varying stages of weatherbeaten.
Elegant flower fly, is what I’m calling this. Pretty confident that it’s some species of syrphid fly, a beneficial family that eats aphid larvae.

What with Raven dying, auntie’s stroke, Michael’s imminent demise, another friend in major-medical limbo, Stellar on his last legs… the cherry tree dying, the phoebe nest knocked down and chicks devoured… the little and the big, all against the national backdrop of socio-political upheaval (and hopefully, awakening), and the slow-moving catastrophe of climate chaos; it’s been like log-rolling in a swift river, but I’m no longer a beginner: I’ve stayed afloat, dancing on the rolling crashing logs, keeping my balance. That takes practice.

Spring’s generous reminder that change is constant, the mourning cloak.
For years I’ve heard ‘hummingbird moth’ and ‘sphinx moth’ used interchangeably to name the creature below. I just saw this translucent winged, brush-haired type identified online as a ‘hummingbird moth.’ Correction on IDs always welcome.
Many sphinx moths enjoyed the lilacs. So their larvae might eat tomatoes, there’s enough love for everyone in this garden.
Elusive broad-tailed hummingbird made my day. Elusive to the camera, plenty zipping around but hard to catch at the lilac.
After a few days the lilac grove got crowded…
A digger bee feeds congenially beside a swallowtail.
A well-traveled common buckeye butterfly sups by a bumblebee.
Bombus huntii, I presume? At times the lilac was thick with them.
I was surprised by the apparent aggression of many bees, as they seemed to attack each other and also butterflies… as though there was not enough to go around. I witnessed far more collisions than I was able to document.
The requisite honeybee holds fast.
A raucous crowd each day long kept me close to the lilac for weeks, absorbed in the thrills of nectar competition, absorbing the purifying aroma.
Another Papilio rutulus, because for the fleeting time they’re here, why not wallow in them?

Each spring, time with lilacs becomes more precious. Each year, time on earth becomes more precious. Various plants in the garden command their share of my attention during their unique brief windows, and my devotions keep pace as well as I can. A hidden blessing during this Time of the Virus for me has been more time, more time, what most people ask for on their deathbeds. More time than ever before with the lifegiving lilacs.

Suffering keeps going deeper, taking a turn you hadn’t anticipated. How does anyone ever think It can’t happen to me? The more I learn of what can happen, the limitless, infinite array of possibilities that might occur in any moment of any day, that expanding cone of possibility that flows outward, infinitely, from every individual sentient being based on the sum total of conditions present within and without that individual in that precise and only moment, the more gratitude I cherish for each and every moment of my life that holds beauty and serenity.

After lilacs, the pink penstemons: orchard bee on Penstemon pseudospectabilis.
Anthophora enjoying P. palmeri
Swallowtails seem to be courting in the tangled limbs of ancestral butterfly bush while it blooms in early June. May they breed well and prosper. Because why not? Who can get enough of them?

Three Days Under the Crabapple Tree

Way back in April, honeybee in Tulipa tarda.
Drama in the dandelions
Grape hyacinths keep on blooming despite a deep freeze, and bees keep coming.
Excitement in the tulips
What exactly is going on here in the apricot tree?
Big bees and little bees. Bombus griseocollis?
Anthophora, a digger bee. For awhile, the apricot tree was ‘the bee tree.’ Thankfully, its bloom survived an 11 degree night, perfect timing, and looks like another bountiful apricot crop this year.
Bombus huntii are prolific this spring, thank goodness.

Bee sightings ramped up over the past month, from crocuses and grape hyacinths to dandelions and tulips, to blooming fruit trees. First the apricot, then the wild plum, then the crabapple. A butterfly I haven’t seen much in the past is also prevalent in the past week, the Anise swallowtail. Hummingbirds have also come to the fruit trees, but so fast I haven’t been able to catch one with the camera.

Unperturbed by the presence of two catahoulas in the yard, and a wild woman with a camera, this doe continues to browse where she pleases in the yard.

Despite the lockdown, or perhaps because of it, I am busier than ever outside in the garden. I can’t tell you where my days go, except to say that they are filled with as much color, light, love and joy as I can manage between sunup and bedtime, most of it outside in the garden. Work is of course diminished, as is almost everyone’s in this dire time, but I am doing my best to make the most of extra hours in the day. Fortunately my body is in better shape than it’s been for years, thanks to physical therapy and a healthier attitude, and I’m able to work more in the yard than now than ever before. I’m so tired by the end of the day that I just don’t sit down and post the pictures I’ve taken. Off to bed now, with more thoughts and images to come. Wishing for everyone to lay low, look close to home for joy and beauty, and stay well during this continuing pandemic. Please don’t be impatient and too quick to seek the old normal, which I hope never comes back. The planet and all its non-human inhabitants has appreciated the break from our reckless pace.

IT'S A MIRACLE!

“Get me down, please.” Cyn’s caption of this photo she took this evening

I don’t often drive off the mesa after a drink, but tonight was an exception. I was enjoying a quarantini on a Zoom happy hour with Dawn when my phone, across the room, went off with text dings and call rings. I ignored it until Dawn got a text from Pamela, asking if she knew where I was, saying they had found a tortoiseshell cat at the end of their road…

It’s a miracle. I knew she had gotten in Philip’s or John’s vehicle that day a month ago when she disappeared, but… they both checked, and… somehow… who knows how… she ended up at the end of the road a quarter mile from the Bad Dog Ranch. A month ago yesterday. Both Marla and Pamela saw her in the past few days and thought she was Idaho, her sister who lives at the ranch, but Idaho was accounted for. Pamela said, “I knew it wasn’t Idaho because she’s so furry I can’t see underneath her, and I could see underneath this cat. I thought she was a feral cat from one of the ranches down there.”

This evening, they caught her, carried her home, put her in a crate, and tried to reach me. Dawn and I were chatting away, about the pandemic, of course, and other things, and Dawn checked her texts. “Do you know where Rita might be?” That moment when someone’s face changes so dramatically you know it’s important? I saw that. I leapt across the room to my phone, and saw this picture:

“It’s a long shot, but…” Pamela had checked the pictures on here and matched markings…

“It’s her I’m on my way.”

Twenty minutes later…

Had there been any doubt, which there wasn’t, because I have memorized her face during all my adorations of her, it would have been immediately dispelled when I got the crate out of the car. She began thrashing and butting her head against the grate. She knew she was home. The dogs were waiting in the yard, and she went nose to nose with them. Inside, I took her out in the mudroom, and flipped her upside down just to make triple sure, checking for that sweet flan spot on her tummy. She wiggled out of my arms and butted against the door to get in the house.

She ran right in, pranced around the house, ate half a can of food, ran upstairs, checked out all her sleeping spots. Ojo chased her around hissing and growling. I guess he didn’t miss her as much as I thought he did. I know she smells different. And maybe he was actually happy to be an only cat. She hissed back. She’s thin and tense, and very happy to be home.

One thing’s for sure: this cat is on lockdown for at least two days, if not two weeks. She’s not going outside until I get my fill of cuddles, and feel some sense of certainty that she won’t run off after her taste of the wild. No pun intended. I’ll have to buy another bag of that kibble. And clean the copper sink more often. And fret a little more about keeping cat food supplied during this uncertain time. Although we know now that she can hunt her own food. And, sorry Benny, but I’m glad I didn’t give you her scratching post yet because she used it immediately.

We’re all doing quarantine for various reasons around here, some because of recent flights from both coasts, some from reasonable caution, but we are all extra happy tonight. Topaz is lying on the rug in front of the fire now. Thanks to Cyn and Pamela for catching her and for the pictures, and to my dear friends who are as happy as I am that my ‘forever kitty’ has returned home. It’s made our day: a moment of pure joy and gratitude in this deeply disturbing and uncertain time.

Grumpy, scared and tense kitty on the first leg of her journey home

And it is. I experience waves of terror when I think about the future. But I’ve got a few resources that keep me grounded in the present moment. One is Catherine Ingram’s podcast ‘In the Deep.’ Another is the remarkably sane newsletter from Robert Hubbell. And there’s Telesangha, a weekday morning meditation group: since September 2016 a dear international community has developed in this half-hour telephone sangha that I look forward to each morning, and that years ago caused me to commit to a daily meditation practice without which I suspect I’d be losing my mind to utter anxiety at this point.

My heart grieves for all of Italy, for the horror of the unnatural aberration of death and mourning there during this pandemic. My heart grieves for all the suffering and death worldwide that is happening now and is yet to come as a result of this natural disaster, this once-in-a-hundred years pandemic, this world-changing plague, this inevitable result of too many humans exploiting a finite planet. Amidst all this grievous suffering there are also tiny sparks of joy. The practice, the balance, lies in holding the experience of the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows at the same time.

It is an inconceivable situation. And, for this one iota of life called me, as I learned to breathe with decades ago in a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation, In this moment, all is well. Inhale In this moment, exhale all is well. Over and over. And over. In the next moment, or the next month, or six months from now, it might not be. “We’ll know more later,” as my auntie always says.

Although there are some things, very few things, that we will not know more later about, like the past month in the life of the flan-tummied cat Topaz.

Shitstorms

Raven and Stellar at Ice Canyon, before the dog plague struck.

It was a rough holiday season here at Mirador. The worst of it, on one level, was the dogs, who each suffered for three straight days, first one then the other, with diarrhea. It was a real shitstorm. I was up every hour or two for that whole week letting one then the other out, and entered the new year as sleep deprived as a new mother. But from a big picture perspective, this latest escalation of US dominance and prerogative in the Middle East is just about my worst nightmare, for so many interconnected reasons.

Consider the Iranian spider-tailed viper found only in the limestone mountains of western Iran. Imagine that you are that creature. You hatched from an egg, and you have grown up just the way your millions of years of evolution have conditioned you to do. The tip of your tail looks just like a spider, with a pale bulbous abdomen and a bunch of legs. When you’re hungry you emerge from your cave and coil, perfectly camouflaged on the limestone rocks, and ever so slowly wave that tail tip about, until a bird comes to eat it. Then you strike and eat the bird. It’s a marvel of adaptation, one of the most amazing examples of caudal luring in the animal kingdom. There you are, in your remote desert-cave, living your amazing, singular life, and some corrupt, lying, power-hungry bozo an ocean away decides to start World War III. KABOOM!!! You are no more.

The Iranian spider-tailed viper. Yes, that’s her tail. Photo by Patrick müller.

Spectacularly unique endemic species like the Iranian spider-tailed viper live on all continents. Endemic means that they exist only in one particular place or habitat on the planet. We have a few here in western Colorado: the Colorado hookless cactus, for one, and the Gunnison sage grouse, as well as four ancient and endangered fish species. Most of our endemics are threatened by habitat loss and destruction, much of it from extractive industries.

The astonishing variety of reptiles and other animals native to the wartorn Middle East, as we call it, or center of the universe as they might refer to it, diminishes with every bomb that some regime explodes. We humans are destroying the planet in many ways by the needs and greeds of our sheer numbers, but the worst culprit by far is our addiction to petroleum, and the lengths we will go to to get more of it.

For 150 years the Petroleum Industry has fed this addiction and knowingly deceived us about its consequences, with evil disregard for Life on Earth in pursuit of their obscene profits. The climate crisis that now rages unchecked is the end result of the stupid greed of a small number of heartless magnates over the past century, though we are all complicit for having bought into or been born into this ‘consumer culture.’

Imagine that you are a tiny marsupial, a joey still confined to your mother’s pouch, and she is running or hopping for her life ahead of a monstrous fire that sweeps at the speed of wind across the only home you’ve ever known. And that fire is faster than you. More than half a billion animals have perished in the Australian wildfires this season, and countless more are suffering. Entire endemic species may go extinct on that continent. Don’t let industry propaganda fool you: there is no question that this disaster is a direct result of the climate crisis perpetrated by the petroleum industry.

Perhaps you are a refugee from Sudan or Central America fleeing unlivable conditions that have arisen from the climate crisis, and you traverse seas and countries to find safe haven, just to continue to live your fragile, single human life. You get somewhere and you’re not welcome, and you try to move on hoping you’ll find refuge somewhere farther along. Or you die on the journey. Or you are imprisoned at the border.

I cannot bear the pain of living in this world for another minute. My heart breaks constantly, and I am filled with rage.

And yet, here I am, with my delusions and my hopes (many of which are the same things), with my best intentions, with my random prayers, with my gratitude and appreciation, witnessing the magnificent, minute, grand and ever-changing exquisite beauty of existence on this fragile planet. I continue on with a crushing burden of guilt for my part in this human shitstorm that is rendering the planet uninhabitable for many species including our own.

How is this not visible in every living moment to every living human on this spinning globe? We are but a tiny, miraculous speck in an increasingly incomprehensible universe. As the inter-relationships among all things become more clear, the very nature of Life grows more divinely mysterious. Not only is the largest living organism on the planet an underground fungus, but Gaia’s crust is actually alive. We the human species are a tiny part of an immensely complex organism.

We are all one. None of us is a single unaffected, unaffecting life. But how does this awareness help us? How do we do something in the service of Life, to protect and preserve the LIFE that we revere above all in this world?

Looking forward to happier times…

It’s hard to be a Buddhist and practice acceptance during this time. It’s hard to cultivate loving-kindness for the people in the regimes of this country and others who perpetuate war, hate, misogyny, and genocide. I personally can’t do it. I believe there are enlightened people who can. I try not to hate, but I hate. The most cogent expression I’ve encountered of the crisis facing us is Roshi Joan Halifax’s Friday Fire Drill Speech.

Who wins if the US goes to war with Iran? Not the Iranian spider-tailed viper. Not the people of the US or Iran. Not the young men and women who will lose lives and limbs. Not the parents and children of those soldiers. Whose stocks have soared since the US president’s reckless assassination of a revered Iranian general? The manufacturers of weapons, the manufacturers of the devices from drones to jets that deliver those weapons, and the Petroleum Industry. Those will be the winners in another war. Their wins are short-sighted and will be short-lived. Another war will only speed up the already accelerating climate catastrophe.

We are all one. All pieces in a great cosmic puzzle.

This isn’t what I want to write about. But I must. We must talk about it with open, breaking hearts, to our friends and families, with people who share our beliefs and with people who don’t. We must meet on the common ground of our shared planet. I implore you to vote for compassion in the next election, whatever country you live in.

Vote in your own self-interest, which is not the interest of the Petroleum Industry, the Weapons Industry, or the corporate billionaires who have won tax cuts that only hurt you. Stop voting for their interests and vote for your own. In the US, vote to save the place where you live from reckless energy extraction, vote for comprehensive healthcare and a decent living minimum wage, vote for extensive upgrades to our failing public education system, and the crumbling roads and bridges we travel every day in our petroleum driven vehicles. Vote for science-based solutions to this climate catastrophe, for renewable energy to power our homes and vehicles, for common-sense kindness, for the protection of Life on Earth.

In the midst of the shitstorms, in the winter sunroom, a tiny personal victory …
… and gustatory delight
Clinging to another winter pleasure that eases my despair. Balance is found by cultivating the capacity to be with both the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows

He’s My Little Black Cat…

Ojo in the apricot tree, August

Ojo cracked me up the other morning. I could tell the day before that he wasn’t feeling well. When he’s constipated, (and also preceding the loss of his first four lives), he contracts in on himself, curls into a tight ball, his cheek fur flares out because he pulls his head in like a tortoise, and he moves sluggishly if at all. He sat on the patio chair for an hour, refusing to come in even when I shook the treat can. Although it’s possible he was just pouting, because he’s an emotional little fellow. Either way, dusk was coming so I picked him up, tight little black ball, and carried him in, whence he disappeared and I didn’t see him for hours.

I mixed powdered psyllium husks into his dinner with extra water, and in the morning gave both cats a squirt of catnip-flavored laxatone instead of their first breakfast before letting them out. An hour later, I fed him his usual quarter can. Shortly, I took the dogs out, and called the cats for a walk. Ojo and Topaz both wanted to come in for second breakfast, but I said, No, you have to walk first, I want to see you poop.

So they came running along behind me and the dogs, sprinting past me in their usual tag-relay game, one or the other shooting up into a juniper occasionally. Ojo plopped down in the dusty trail and rolled, meowing, not unusual for him, but I missed that in this case it was the first sign that he didn’t want to walk. I rubbed his tummy fuzz and walked on.

Around the next curve he attacked my ankle, ran up meowing and grabbed my pants leg and gave a quick bite. I laughed and walked on, as he continued to meow, stomping along angrily behind me. A couple more times he lunged but I kept going; then he grabbed my ankle again, and this time he was very persuasive. He did not want to walk! Still laughing, I turned around and up the hill. He shut right up and walked a yard in front of me the whole way home, where he got another quarter can and so did Topaz, and then they sprawled on the living room rug at total ease.

I draw some firm lines with them. I won’t feed them before first light, or let them out before sunrise; both must be in before sunset. Both those lines ensure my peace of mind in different ways. Experience with numerous cats has taught me that if you give a cat an inch in the morning, you’ll be getting up earlier and earlier to feed it until you’ve lost two hours of your usual sleep. On the sunset line, if these cats aren’t in by dark I won’t sleep until they are. They seem to take turns, one every few months, trying to get away with it.

But in a moment like that morning, when one of them had such strong feelings, I was happy to change my plan to accommodate his need. They ask for so little, and give so much. I still see in them the kittens they were, and also imagine the old cats I hope they will survive to become. But I know cats only have nine lives, and around here those can go pretty fast. So I treasure every day with them, and accept their their little quirks and demands, and do my best to keep them happy.

I had a psycho calico for 16 years, and the motto during her first year became, Dia gets what Dia wants. If she didn’t, she was intolerable. Her needs weren’t unreasonable, just, like Ojo’s this day, different from my desires. She deepened my understanding of how my cats’ health and happiness contribute to mine. Dia the Psycho Calico on the canyon rim with my mother, c. 1998
Ojo and Popis share a lap this summer
I love a cat who lies on his back and lets you rub his tummy
Ojo helping me knit
Ojo helps dust the hard to reach places
Ojo brings in dust so I have something to do
Ojo helps with a puzzle
Ojo inspects the goldfish
Ojo tests the woodpile for stability

Ojo and his siblings are four and a half years old next month. They all remain happily alive in four neighborhood homes, although Ojo has been whisked from death’s door four times (that I know of). Topaz has not. She is self-sufficient, often aloof, and sweet as pie. He is a perpetual surprise, a spoiled mama’s boy who wants what he wants when he wants it, and won’t take no for an answer. They still make me laugh every day.

Naturally, I shot a lot of video of these kittens in their first ten weeks of life…

Catching Up

Thankful for the physical well-being and energy I’ve had this summer that has enabled me to keep up with the garden (though not with sharing its joy online!). Above, a selection of late-summer delights, starting with a plumtini, just a martini shaken with a very ripe plum, yum!

Thankful for half a dozen perfect strawberries gleaned from as many plants. Maybe next summer they’ll do better, but each fruit was certainly a burst of flavor as bright as its color.

Thankful for last month’s Harvest micro-moon rising directly behind Castle Rock
Thankful for snapdragons, bumblebees, and … colors everywhere!
Thankful for mother’s little helper Biko, eating aphid infested kale or broken tomatoes as needed to supplement his primary diet of bindweed, prickly lettuce, bad grasses and other weeds. Now semi-retired for the year, he spends a few hours outside some warm days and otherwise slumbers in his laundry room nook.

The past months have been a whirlwind of harvesting, pickling, canning, freezing, cutting back, drying, fermenting and other fun fall festivities. I’ve been spinning through each day drenched in gratitude, swimming in astonishing colors, savoring and storing for winter the flavors of summer.

It’s almost impossible to believe I am the same person as that awkward little girl in the DC suburbs who spent every free minute curled up in an armchair reading books. How did I come to be here? Living close to the land in this fertile valley for almost half my life now has allowed me to approach some understanding of my true nature, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

That Mangy Old Doe: Adventures with Peaches

Just a couple of recent dahlia pics to remind the world that yes, dahlias are worth the trouble, especially for native pollinators and honeybees. Deadheading with snippers once or twice a week and feeding occasionally keeps them blooming for a long season from mid-summer into fall.

How the young fawn knows to lay low when the doe steps away in alarm from a human strolling through the woods with dogs, old dogs that no longer give chase; and how now later, the older fawn, still spotted but fading, still more slightly built, less than half her mother’s size, how the older fawn knows to step lightly and exactly with her mother under similar conditions. They rise like a breeze from their bed west of the fence, already stepping diagonally away, the doe looking calmly, alertly over her shoulder at me, the fawn like a feather on that breeze a full stride behind, attentive only to the mother she knows at all costs to follow.

Another doe, the mangy old doe who kept the ground clean beneath the apricot tree now grooms the peach. We fenced it off again after she began pulling unripe peaches from lower limbs, shaking others to the ground with her tenacity, breaking branches. We waited that morning, watching, until she left of her own accord. 

Is she spitting out the pits? Kathy asked. 

It sure looks like it. But maybe she’s just dropping pieces.

Wouldn’t it be funny if she’s spitting out the pits?

After she left we rolled out the fence and secured a big ring close enough to the trunk, far enough out under the crown, that she’d be unwilling to jump inside it. She could almost reach the outer leaves. She looked sadly when she returned a few times, but then adapted. 

Recent weeks have focused on monitoring the peach tree, gauging ripeness not only by both color and feel, but also by observing birds. A scrub jay keeps returning, pecking at one or another of some top fruits, a finch or two checks them out. I’m waiting, morning and evening, and sometimes lunchtimes, to see when a whole finch family descends on the peaches; then I’ll know it’s time to start picking.

It feels like the right time but it takes a few days to get the feel of which peaches to pick, which to leave on the tree to ripen a day or few longer. Hummingbirds have been using the cover of peach leaves to guard their feeder, and buzz close as I lean over the wire, reach into the canopy, and quick pull or twist a fruit off. Filling my shirt with a dozen bright peachy pink fuzzballs… gently settling them into a bowl inside the house, and suddenly they look so much yellower, so much less ripe, so much smaller, than they did when I picked them!

Within a week I’ve salvaged all the peaches I can. What’s left on the tree, besides a few untouched just too high or deep inside for me to reach, have all been pecked a little or a lot by various birds. This morning, the old mangy doe is back, looking longingly at the peach tree just out of reach.

Oh! I think, I’ll open that up for you. She steps a few feet away and nibbles on Rhus trilobata, watches out the corner of her eye as I switch the water to another sprinkler, she waits. I approach the peach fence from farthest side and she glides twenty feet toward the yard fence, not unduly alarmed. Walking under the tree I slowly roll up the field fence into a tube a yard across, hook its loose ends over the next layer in a couple of spots at the seam, and drag it to the side, all while murmuring to the doe, glancing at her then down and away, while she waits, relaxed and poised for flight if necessary.

I turn and walk the thirty feet to the patio; before I reach my chair she’s under the peach tree watching me. I smile, watch her watch me, until she too smiles in a way, her body releases a level of guard, she drops her head, and begins to feast on fallen fruit remnants.

Hmmm. I wonder if she’ll spit the pits?

You’re welcome!

After she’s had her fill for the time being, she strides cautiously across the yard to get her greens, a few mouthfuls of feral heirloom arugula, before leaping the south fence, leaving the yard.

Meanwhile, I got busy on the peaches…
I’d never made cobbler before and found an easy recipe. After glopping the batter into the hot buttered pan I lightly smoothed it without disturbing the butter layer.
mmmmm, then I spooned the hot peach mixture on top of that, sprinkled with cinnamon, and baked.

With two big bowls of peaches on the counter and tomatoes rolling in, it’s time to get back into the kitchen and save some more summer for winter, coming all too soon. But first:

Puppy pile under the wild rose at Karen’s house. The litter of seven was born to a sweet bitch abandoned by her owners when they moved. They told a neighbor, “If she bothers you just shoot her.” Rescued by Karen’s daughter, sweet Nellie has been a good mama, and now it’s time for the pups to find good homes…. But mine won’t be one of them: I’ve got just the right mix of garden companions at the moment, a household in harmony, with two old dogs whose last days I’m counting with bittersweet attention.
Topaz and Stellar greet each other beside rapidly ripening paprika.
Elusive Admiral Weidemeyer flitted through the yard again a week after Kathy first spotted him, alighting on an aspen sapling. Not the only butterfly surprise this summer!

Are Dahlias Worth the Trouble?

You decide.

It seems like a lot of trouble to dig them up in the fall and store them through winter, a necessity in this climate, but to me the rewards are great once they start to bloom.

The best way I’ve found to overwinter dahlias is to leave them in a pot of dirt and cut them back, (or dig them out of a bed and plant shallowly, even in layers, in dirt in a pot), and bring them into the cool mudroom, then cover it lightly with something so no light gets in. I lift the cardboard, or other pot, or whatever I have on top, periodically to make sure it’s not getting moist or moldy. In spring, I pull the pot or pots out and either just begin watering them, or dig up the dahlias and replant them in the garden.

All manner of bees and other insects find ample delight in them when they bloom, which makes it all worthwhile to me. With regular deadheading, they provide a long season of fabulous color and rich pollinator provisions.

Coreopsis, above, is an abundant self-sowing perennial and a great source for all kinds of pollinators. Though I have not the luck of some whose snapdragons self-sow, it’s worth buying a few four-packs each spring to feed the bumblebees!

This year, cilantro has gone wild in my raised vegetable beds, and flowering now hosts tiny wasps and flies as well as some bees. Its lacy flowers interspersed with the vegetables and other blossoms looks lovely, and its precious white buds resemble the green coriander seeds they morph into. This year, I snipped most leaves off the plants just as their stalks began, chopped them in the blender with a smidge of water, and packed them into an ice tray. Now I have a tablespoon of ‘fresh’ cilantro whenever I need it for the kitchen.

Out in the woods, deep in the canyon, we discovered a turkey vulture nest last week. At first sight, these two chicks still had luxurious white ruffs around their necks descending well down their breasts. Since last Thursday, most of this down has transformed into mature feathers. Rumor has it that they are not common nesters in Colorado, though I can’t imagine why not, so I feel lucky to have found a nest in my canyon. It’s not a nest in the sense we generally think of: their mother laid her eggs behind a big rock in this pile.

Western tiger swallowtails are not as common this summer as they were ~ was it just last summer? ~ but still I see one or two a day. This tired butterfly straggled into a hanging basket, and then sought respite on the painting that hangs on my east wall. Recently unearthed from storage, this fanciful creation was painted by my brother when he was an early teen, and even then captured my love for the wild world. I’ve finally found the perfect location for it.

Dogs on the Furniture

 

57168444387__1F98477E-7666-4419-B5FB-16E46818F7D5My living room looks so lovely without those two huge dog beds in it.

I’ve moved them outside for the morning while I vacuum and rearrange furniture to accommodate a new chair, my first ever grown-up recliner. Last year I bought a fairly expensive couch, hoping that I could recline on that and fulfill two needs with one piece of furniture, but it hasn’t worked out. Degeneration in my spine demands that I finally shell out for a real recliner with manual adjustments. Not electric, since I’m off the grid and can’t add another phantom load to the household power draw. Also, I hear the Colonel’s voice in my head: It’s just one more thing to go wrong.

So, I imagine that in a few years, when my precious dogs give up the furry ghost, there will be one and only one silver lining: My living room looks so lovely without those huge dog beds in it. Meanwhile, they’re outside (the dogs and the beds) basking in the one purely sunny day we’re expected to have all week, while I ready the house for what will no doubt become everybody’s favorite chair, despite my best efforts to keep it to myself.

Speaking of dogs on the furniture, Rosie has found her forever home, in a family with two children who especially wanted a rescue dog. Finally, she is home safe, and I got tingly and teary when I saw the pictures just this morning. Rosie flying after something a child threw, Rosie sleeping on her bed with her new little girl stretched out next to her, Rosie kissing her new children, and this one. Here she snuggles between her two children on the couch. I can’t imagine a happier ending! Or beginning, for Rosie the Dog.

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I can still feel the love from this very special dog when I remember cuddling with her, her soft snout, her firm smooth body wiggling happily, her expressive eyes.

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A six-inch snowfall last week drifted more than two feet in the driveway. So thankful for good neighbors Ken and Joe who both plowed with their tractors.

 

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Houseplants and potted herbs in the sunroom belie the snow blanket outside.

We are forecast to receive 3″-10″ of snow in the next five days, down, thankfully, from the 6″-18″ predicted yesterday. While grateful for the bountiful moisture, I was dreading that much shoveling: the front door to the front gate, the back door to the back gate, compost pile, generator; a network of paths I’ve kept sort of clear all winter, furrows in the surrounding foot of snow, little trails we all use, the dogs, the deer, and I. When feeling extra energetic last month, I shoveled a path from the compost to the pond and back up to the house, and that has stayed worn down by the dogs and deer alone. So funny how even the deer prefer a shoveled path through crusty deep snow.

Despite continuing snowfall and cold temperatures, more and more birds each day are singing and chattering in the trees. Finches, ring-necked doves, piñon jays; last week a juniper titmouse and a nuthatch vied for the hole in the tortoise tree, while another nuthatch and three finches flitted around watching the contest. Redtails, ravens, and bald eagles are circling and perching. Spring is on the way. I can almost feel those crocuses starting to sprout underground.

There is a cluster of juniper trunks outside my kitchen window with a particularly dense canopy. I noticed something dark flicking and twitching high up in the branches several times last week, like a magpie or jay tail. Maybe magpies building a new nest? Finally I remembered while I was outside to go look. I stood in the center of the trunks which open out basket-like from a central base. I leaned back against one stave after another, circling the inside and searching the canopy for any sign of a nest. Nothing.

Suddenly, scrabbling behind me, and up into the top shoots Topaz. Aha. The next day, I did see magpies working on their nest in the juniper out the bathroom window. Such fun to spy on them!

IMG_5778Preparing for the coming storm, I’ve started a 642 piece puzzle which promises to provide pleasure for many days. I love how some of the whimsy pieces overlap with their depictions, like the fallow deer, fox, giraffe, and elephant below. Thanks, Norma, for sending this one to your sister, and Pamela for sharing it! Easily shaping up to be one of my favorites. IMG_5776IMG_5774IMG_5773IMG_5775

As I write, the dogs announce the truck from Lily and Rose backing up to the gate, right on schedule. This family-owned store in Delta sells quality fine furnishings, and will give you extra stuffing any time if you want to plump up any part of your chair. In short order, the new chair is in place, dogs and dog beds back inside, and I am reclining in luxury.

Though chaos and misery born of despots, climate change, ignorance, and greed swirl around the globe, all is right with my little world. My life today is one of the lucky ones: sunshine and firewood, a grilled cheese and sauerkraut sandwich, happy dogs and cats, a new chair, friends on the radio, flowers in the house and waiting patiently under snow. Some days I am more keenly aware that I or someone I love could die without a moment’s notice. So in this moment, I wallow in gratitude for many blessings.

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