I’ve been feeling a little melancholy the past few days, despite so much to be grateful for. Been practicing turning my attention to what I want it to be on rather than the grumpy thoughts that are trying to claim it, and it’s working. Sometimes it’s an uphill slog, though. Mindfulness isn’t easy, but at least it helps make the mental afflictions less frequent, less intense, and less duration. Each challenge is an opportunity to practice, and practice eventually makes perfect, or close enough.
One thing I’m really thankful for is to have become reacquainted with an old college friend. For some years, I had been under the mistaken impression that he’d died, and was thrilled to stumble on his name when I was searching for another old friend. We’ve been emailing questions, answers, reminiscences… and he sent me this picture of us in his dorm room. I do remember this, but I do not remember how he or we exploded his beanbag chair. It was a great lesson for me in making the best of a bad situation, which I think became his mantra for life. I’m grateful for having this joyful image, and I’m more grateful for finding him alive and well.
Despite a concerted effort through most of my life to make sure this never happens, I believe that today there might be a few people who love me who have forgotten that it’s my birthday.
If there are, though, there aren’t many. I have been overwhelmed with birthday greetings and salutations from before I awoke til just now, via text, zoom, email, phone, and facebook. I am so incredibly grateful to be thought of kindly by so many people. It has truly been a day to receive love and celebrate my still being alive after sixty-four years. And yes, as only one friend asked, I’ve had that Beatles’ song going through my head all day.
A gentle snow fell off and on all day, and I started a fire first thing because when it’s cold and grey outside, it’s pretty chilly inside. The cake I was so proud of not un-panning last night was impossible to get out this morning. All that butter had congealed and glued it to the bundt pan. So I set it on top of the woodstove for a few minutes, and it popped right out. It is delicious. Here’s the recipe for any NYT Cooking subscribers. I can see all kinds of variations on this in the future, like using lemon extract instead of vanilla, and making a lemon syrup to saturate it… or maple syrup syrup… I’m grateful I have a few neighbors to share it with.
I’m grateful that I received a few gifts–and doubly grateful that there were only a few. I have been trying desperately for years to once and for all finally declutter my house, which got out of hand long ago when I brought home so much of the ancestral stuff after mom, and later dad, died. Please friends, when your parents go, relinquish attachment to their stuff! I’ve prolonged a sorry task that’s become a real burden. Attachment creates suffering. See something you want in my house? Please take it! Except for my birthday presents. And for some reason, every single one of them was kitchen related.
I’m grateful that the universe granted me this precious day that will never come again, to relax, and receive love, and enjoy the gifts of this particular life in this precise moment. Everything changes all the time. I may not live to see another birthday. Death is certain, time of death uncertain. We each have our unique way of seizing the day, and mine, this day, was to relax into and allow the simple quiet joy of contentment and gratitude.
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.
The total lunar eclipse of the full flower supermoon tonight has been captured with super fancy cameras the world over and there’s no image I can add to those that will appear in the news tomorrow. But the joy I derived this evening from sharing life with my friend, then sitting on my deck for hours with a cold martini slowly warming as it waned, and a warm little dog zipped into my sweatshirt and my dear departed mother’s little Audubon Nikon binoculars, acquainting myself with my new husband-camera and his super special lens, at one with crickets and the universe, well… that’s priceless.
Before I returned Sarah’s puzzle, “Matisse’s Studio” (from artwork by Damian Elwes), I wanted to do it again. My strategy on this round was to pull all the pieces easily identified as the paintings on the studio walls and quickly assemble as much as I could of those little gems.
Having only looked at the box lid once, using Seymour’s Rule, I couldn’t recall which paintings went where in the scheme of things. The flat edges of most of them are designed to trick the puzzler into sorting out more edge pieces than are really puzzle edges.
Having wrapped up the paintings and determined that they did include actual puzzle edges and two corners, I then assembled the sea, with its near beach and far city shore, followed by the balcony. These steps were pretty easy, with the distinctive color of the sea and two key whimsy pieces including a mermaid, and the balcony’s definitive railing.
Assembling the remaining components took more time. Colors and shapes are key, but in true Matisse fashion, Elwes splashed mixed up colors all over the place. Then the brilliant puzzle designer created intricate cuts with flimsy connections.
I persevered, soaking up the bright colors on a couple of grey days, delighting in the details that emerged as each little section revealed itself. So many separate little scenes!
And the precious edges, the flat-edged pieces providing only a skeletal framework, sitting in place awaiting the filler pieces which don’t look like edges at all. Then finally, the delight of completion. I like to save a special piece for last; in this case, a special multi-piece.
Naturally, after finishing the puzzle again, I had to explore more Matisse. He was one of my mom’s favorites, along with Cézanne, and I’m just beginning to understand why. It was fun to see where Elwes got his inspiration. And then to ponder how art evolves over time, from one artist finding inspiration in others, and whole trends, movements, schools, developing through time and space. I loved Art History in college. I’m grateful to have grown up with Art as a value and activity in our home; grateful to have lived near and frequently visited the world-class art museums of downtown Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian galleries; grateful to have seen, felt, absorbed in real life the magnificent works of Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Rubens, Rembrandt, Munch–I’m kind of hating in this moment that the names which come readily to mind are all males, and am grateful to be learning recently of equally talented female artists who were shamefully underrepresented in the art lessons of my youth.
But setting aside that can of worms, here are some random paintings chosen from the many Matisse images available online, which may have been among those which influenced Elwes’ delightful rendering of “Matisse’s Studio.”
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.
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.
I’m coming up from the morass that is the inside of my mind ~ not that it isn’t sometimes a sea of serenity ~ but the past months have flown from winter to summer with my hardly noticing. I’ve been immersed in bees, pleasantly, putting together this show. The past week or two I’ve been repeatedly bowled over by unforeseen eventualities: printer challenges, supply insufficiency, poor prior planning despite my best efforts to think everything through well in advance, and not least simple operator error. But I’ve learned so much! About the big printer I keep upstairs and use so infrequently we have to become acquainted all over again every time I do turn it on. About Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop, programs I’ve been slowly learning for years, but have immersed myself in since January. About my capacity for patience with myself, the incalculable value of dogs and cats, the benefits of meditation, and trust in the flow of life. Also learning that life’s a lot easier if I just don’t get mad in the first place.
Also, I keep learning more about native bees. With the help of this amazing app, Wild Bee Gardens, and an unexpected friendship found through it, I begin to grasp the parts of bees more deeply. As with my digital education, I’ve known the basics for a long time: head, thorax, abdomen. And wings, of course. Now I’m learning more details of their body parts, variations among which can help identify different species: the specialized pollen packing hairs called scopa, the three tiny “simple eyes” on top of their heads called ocelli, and the middle part of a bee’s face called a clypeus.
The clypeus on this male digger bee is the bright smooth patch between his eyes and above his labrum, or upper lip. Males of many native species have this brighter or lighter colored clypeus, which helps us know their gender.
As well as greeting cards, mugs, tote bags, posters, and dozens of framed prints, large and small, for sale at the show, I also couldn’t stop myself from ordering a fleece blanket with this adorable honeybee. If no one buys it, I’ll certainly enjoy its warmth myself.
Last week I finished the three-part banner of honeybees in comb that I’ve been dreaming for months, and installed it in the Hive. Below, postcard-size magnets of a segment of it are on order; I hope they arrive in time for the opening Friday night.
The breakfast table holds all the small frames as I fill them from the workshop in the sunroom.
Downstairs has become an impromptu frame shop, the small printer humming, prints drying, tools on tables, frames in various stages on the way to filling up with bees. I’m recycling frames, partly to make these bees affordable, and partly because why not? I’ve got so many already; I’m emptying them of junipers and landscapes from past shows, pulling ancestors from old family frames, filling the assorted empty frames any family full of artists ends up with over years. Stacks of stagnant frames are morphing into stacks of vibrant colors; I can hardly wait to see them all on display at once later this week.
Upstairs prints hang to dry as the big printer keeps chugging away.
Some of the bees are framed in mats of willow rings woven by Ryan Strand, who will also have his willow sculptures on display at the Hive.
Turkeys held up traffic the other day as I drove to town, a big male displaying in the right lane for half a dozen hens milling around him. This morning as I drove along the Smith Fork, another big male down in the valley, tail feathers fanned, most hens up near the road but one watching him devotedly; all the apricot trees along the road in full bloom. My apricot not so much, though thoroughly pruned last week and ready to bear fruit. The almond tree, though: spectacular. Up against the house in a warmer micro-climate, it’s full of fragrant white blossoms. Bees and flies are drawn like me to the scent of them opening in the sun against the dun adobe wall.
At the end of the balcony I stand, looking down at this sapling’s grand florabundance; black flies, shiny tiger-striped native bees, fuzzy golden honeybees buzzing among the tree’s budding, blooming twigs; down on the ground along the path, pointed yellow tulips in dense clusters bloom, amid soft green groundcovers churning snowmelt and sunshine into foliage. All day, running up and down stairs between printing and choosing which images to print, I step outside frequently, enjoying the sweet sight, sound and scent. Last night when I let the dogs out, temperature dropping to freezing, the fragrance of the almond tree overwhelmed, so strong I didn’t immediately realize whence it came: in sun the scent wafts intermittently, you have to sniff to catch it. This wintry night it enveloped me, almost brought me to my knees with wonder, in the cold dark below the waxing Pink Moon.
Meanwhile, it’s been during this frenzied time that the kittens turned one year old, and learned how much fun it is to get me to let them in and out. And in and out. And in and out. My eyes cramped up last week: I drove out to buy ink, and overnight my Rx sunglasses were worse than nothing! It turns out that yes, your eyeballs can cramp; the doctor told me the 20-20-20 Rule: For every twenty minutes that I’m looking closely at the screen, turn and focus on something 20 feet away for twenty seconds. Most days during this project, I’ve been up that often to let a dog in or a cat out, or a cat in and a dog out, or to fill their bowls, or to fill mine. So until I became addicted to building the banner in Photoshop, I gave my eyes a natural break often enough for the focusing muscles not to cramp. Days like today I need to set a timer to remind myself. It’s cold and gray again, and none of us want to be outside. We’re warm and well-fed, and while the other mammals nap I keep printing and framing, the big push in the last week before the opening five nights hence.
Mud season. Is it early this year, or is this just a precursor phase? Stellar’s track.
Last week’s sprouts that I thought were daffodils are miniature irises, which started to open just yesterday. A bee!
Yes, winter will stick around overlapping with spring as it always does, but March has come like the lamb to us despite its leonine attacks on other parts of the country. Our walk through the woods this morning is chilly, but through the course of it the grey clouds part and blue sky returns with dappled sunshine. The lichens and mosses of Buck Canyon glow in their incandescent glory, lush from snowmelt, rain, and slightly warmer temperatures, from the littlest patches to the biggest.
A small patch of moss at the base of a little galleta grass.
A large swath of moss on the north side of several trees.
“Massed moss protonemata” grow like green felt on an old juniper, intersperse with yellow lichens. This young thin layer of moss might grow up to be a clump if it develops stems and leaves.
Last week, before the big melting, when walks even midday were crisp and cold, I walked routes through the woods I would never otherwise traverse, wandering on and off trails, crossing on top of crusted pillows of snow, over prickly pear cactus slumbering in vast patches underneath, over fragile cryptobiotic soils where a footprint at the wrong time of year could last a hundred more. Bright green mosses also pillowed the north sides of many trees, lime, chartreuse, in dappled sun, vigorous with snowmelt nourishing their minute single-celled leaves.
Not only prickly pears but claret cup cactus spend their winters under snow, this one just emerging from its pillow.
With more snow melted this week, more mosses and lichens revealed, the forest is a riot of color I wish I could wear. Walking last summer through the woods with a friend, he said when he sees those pillows of moss he just wants to go curl up on them and sleep. I can see that. But now, when they’re so vivid, I just want to make them my wardrobe.
Dogs at the rim watching for signs of life below; Ice Canyon starts to melt.
Enticed by lichens I crept to the canyon’s edge despite this vestigial imbalance, so improved that I walked today with a single walking stick instead of ski poles. Bending to catch a particular shot, the stick slipped from my hand and dropped through the crevice to the ground below the rim. Navigating my way down unstable stone steps to the scree slope, I groped along the layered cliff thirty or forty feet back to retrieve the stick, and looked up at the outcrop where the dogs often stand and I have stood only once or twice before.
It’s a different world down there, but I’ll delve into those mysteries when I have more time to spend there. Unsteady as I was I chose to pick up the stick and return to my proper level atop the rim. But I climbed back up slowly, smitten with all the gleaming lichens along the way, all revealed by the melting and thriving with this nourishing rain, all so muted when they’re dry.
Shot one of three while the walking stick slipped away.
Shot two of three…
Shot three, just as the stick slipped away.
From underneath the ledge, picking up the stick. Bearlike!
Climbing back up the staggered stones.
Changing my imaginary lens gives a different cast to the lichens. This one represents the orange more accurately, while the previous imaginary lens represents the greens better.
A broken twig from mountain mahogany, itself covered in lichens with one last autumn leaf.
(Wednesday: It’s been a week of slow and busy healing. It’s been a busy week for the garden itself which is throwing up iris leaves and bulb sprouts and tiny green rosettes of all kinds of flowers and weeds. And for me, despite continued dizziness, my ability to function is improving and the temptation of warm sunny days, the beckoning cleanup from last fall left undone before the snowfall, and the hint of more snow to come tomorrow has kept me pushing my limits, of mobility, balance and focus.
The redwing blackbirds sing in the trees around the pond. Ornamental clump grasses, green from inside, it’s time to cut back all of last years stalks and seed heads and scatter them where I hope to see more grow. New green grass stems are already so tall in the dry stalks I’ll have to cut them too; it would be best to cut these grasses back before new shoots have started, maybe in January. But in January they were buried!
I burned a slash pile started last fall and tarped, though wet and smoky, has burned nearly down. I’ve scavenged the yard for more loose brush, stems, and still not satisfied I started to prune small, dead, thick and tangled twigs and branches from the last untamed juniper in the yard. It’s taken a long time for me to get motivated to burn this pile, but today is the perfect day; a mild intermittent breeze, snow or rain expected tomorrow, ground wet or frozen all around, peach tree and squawbush nearby not yet wakened into bud.
Smoke floating across the yard and through the woods, filtering between the trees below the tops of junipers might look alarming to the neighbors, but they know, most of them, this time of year, such smoke is most likely exactly what this is, and not a house afire.
Once I start burning I can’t stop. It’s like the next unknown curve in the trail, just one more! I’ll turn around after the next curve… no, after the next curve. Just one more handful of dried sagebrush, just one more cutback herb, just one or two more limbs of this juniper. Those burn down, I throw on another handful, another. Finally, I’ve had enough of staggering around the yard, bending, standing, dodging smoke. Finally, I let the pile burn down to a smolder and walk away, confident that the moisture in the landscape will quickly absorb any tiny spark that might blow away. Between snows in winter is definitely the time to burn.)
And finally, the biggest reward of all for the patience of winter, the first crocus in bloom!
I came in this morning after our mossy, lichenous walk, renewed and content, breakfasted, meditated, and stepped outside again for a breath of fresh sunshiny air to check on the garden. At last! The bees have been out scouting on warm days for weeks, and so far no flowers for them to feed on. But this morning, their intrepid explorations have been rewarded at last! The tiny crocus patch, half overgrown with lambs’ ear, is buzzing, and so is the cluster of miniature purple iris, one, three, five bees at once exploring the corollas, flinging pollen everywhere, delirious in their satisfaction, and so am I. I broke out the big camera: my season has begun.