Tag Archive | mindfulness

Portentous Winds of Autumn

Russet tones of autumn emerge first in the Amur maple seedlings, already dried and set with seed. This maple never does as well as the other, on the south side of the house. They’re in different soils, one in native clay and the sad one in more sandy soil. I need to deep water with some extra nutrients.

Russet tones of autumn emerged first last month in the Amur maple samaras, now already dried and set with seed. This maple never does as well as the other, on the south side of the house. They’re in different soils, one in native clay and the sad one in more sandy soil. I need to deep water with some extra nutrients before fall gets away.

I’ve seen first hand how leaving a cluster of peaches on a limb will result in crowded misshapen small fruit, how even two opposite on a stem can smash together and provide haven for earwigs, how too many along a slender limb can bend it to the ground; all the things Fred warned me about as he urged me to thin thin, thin.

I’ve seen first hand how leaving a cluster of peaches on a limb will result in crowded misshapen small fruit, how even two opposite on a stem can smash together and provide haven for earwigs, how too many along a slender limb can bend it to the ground; all the things Fred warned me about as he urged me to thin thin, thin.

Nevertheless, my sweet tree delivered bowl after bowl of delicious peaches, that I gave away, froze, cooked into peach jam, infused into vodka, gin, and brandy, and canned in a special syrup...

Nevertheless, my sweet tree delivered bowl after bowl of delicious peaches, that I gave away, froze, cooked into peach jam, infused into vodka, gin, and brandy, and canned in a special syrup…

Canada Peaches! In a twist on the bourbon peach recipes found online, I packed each half-pint jar with peaches, adding about a tablespoon of maple syrup, then filling with half simple syrup and half Canadian whiskey, before processing in a boiling water bath. I hope these last long enough to eat some mid-winter by a toasty fire.

Canada Peaches! In a twist on the bourbon peach recipes found online, I packed each half-pint jar with peaches, adding about a tablespoon of maple syrup, then filling with half simple syrup and half Canadian whiskey, before processing in a boiling water bath. I hope these last long enough to eat some mid-winter by a toasty fire.

And of course a couple of peach pies.

And of course a couple of peach pies.

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I ate the last fresh peach this morning, and harvested the two remaining apples on the heirloom tree, I’m so sad I can’t recall its name. Are the finches feasting on wild sunflower seeds also marauding the Fuji apple? It doesn’t appear so; the leaves are grasshopper eaten but the fruit is sound, and so much of it, more than ever before, dozens of apples, I’m so happy I thinned them! At least 59 Fuji apples. I’ve got my eagle eye on these, watching for predation by those pesky birds.

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September is like the last hill on the roller coaster. You’re near the top, the wild rush of August harvest has unwound behind you, there is that last push of fall fruits and vegetables to get in before the varmints git ‘em. Rosie has a big squirrel in her garden. I’ve got a stray deer here and there reminding me it’s time to put up fences around trees and shrubs whose protective rings I’ve repurposed on smaller plants throughout the summer. Someone ate two fat cheeks off the biggest tomato of the season; just yesterday I thought that’s about ripe, maybe I should pick it, but it wasn’t ready to let go, and I didn’t come back. This morning’s rising sun highlighted the glistening dips in its flesh when I chanced to glance over from the patio, where I sipped coffee and listened to the raucous sound of morning.

Cynthia led a meditation on sounds last week that’s reminded me to cherish more the wild sounds and deeper silence where I’m blessed to live, like the cacophony of finches in the wild sunflower patch that sprang up on the south side. It’s been years since I’ve lived with a constant musical soundtrack, and for the past several I’ve lived with only intermittent music through the course of my waking day. More and more I find myself eschewing external music, to simply hear, and listen to, the music of nature: birds, crickets, wind, bees, coyotes at night, more coyotes this summer than I have heard in many years.

A great-horned owl has come a courting me. It must be me he woos, because I’ve listened long and faraway and do not hear another. And so I croon back to him a few times, though Stellar doesn’t like it and tries to make me stop, and soon I do stop, because it isn’t fair; I can’t give the owl what it’s looking for. But I sure do enjoy exchanging hoots with it for a few minutes on a clear full-moon night, or any other.

Rain moved through again last night, this time early enough to leave a double rainbow in its wake. I alerted the Bad Dog Ranch that they were centered underneath it. The next day I received a rainbow alert from them. I love this about where we live, that we care about rainbows.

Rain moved through again last night, this time early enough to leave a double rainbow in its wake. I alerted the Bad Dog Ranch that they were centered beneath it. The next day I received a rainbow alert from them. I love this about where we live, that we care about rainbows.

This morning, rain-washed and crisp, the golds of autumn jingle forth. Last Saturday we noticed the first hint of aspen turning up on Mendicant Ridge. By Tuesday the yellows were distinct, and after that storm moved over Wednesday night,  the golds are glowing bright, clearly delineated patches among shades of greens, siennas and ochres, treed and rocky slopes. Air is brisk and the dogs are frisky.

Great cumulus clouds march in close formation lockstep briskly through blue sky, white tops glowing, their grey treads gliding low. It's too spectacular not to walk the frisky dogs up the driveway, where I meet my sweet neighbor and we stroll our rural, precious neighborhood.

Great cumulus clouds march in close formation lockstep briskly through blue sky, white tops glowing, their grey treads gliding low. It’s too spectacular not to walk the frisky dogs up the driveway, where I meet my sweet neighbor and we stroll our rural, precious neighborhood.

Fall blows in on these winds that feel portentous. March winds last longer than they used to, and winter winds start early, in late summer. The breeze sometimes is just a bit too strong; I feel the atmosphere whipping up, winding up all this energy, that later, maybe elsewhere, will unwind with a fury. Ever since I watched the film Melancholia earlier this summer, I’ve viewed this world differently, trusting and allowing myself to sense and feel the changes, the subtle shifts in seasonal events, in their timing, likelihood, or nature. Something is coming, and all I want to do is make jam.

Apricot jam, peach jam, plum jam, chokecherry jelly, salsa hot and mild, and the new house specialty, Canada Peaches. Also plum brandy, peach vodka, plum syrup, plum sauce, pickled beets and cukes, and all the blanched greens, peeled and unpeeled fruits, tomato sauce and peppers in the freezer, let me feel I’ve made the most of the garden this summer.

At the end of the day, though, it’s not about my garden and what I’ve grown and what I’ve put up and what I’ve enjoyed this summer. It’s about what we’ve all tended and grown and loved and eaten and shared and put up for winter, it’s about what we all do in our lives here on this fragile planet. It’s about not just this apple, but all them apples, too! The change that’s in the wind is about me and you, and the choices we make in the next few weeks. To be continued…

Summer Trees

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Mindfulness teaches us to be with all things as they arise, and let them pass through us in the moment, and move on. May I remember to be with both despair and joy as they come, and let them play on through.

The fruit trees are generous this summer, and none more so than the apricot. Throughout the valley, peaches, pears, apples, all ripen extravagantly. A banner cherry harvest for the commercial orchards, and I’ve enough in the freezer for three pies thanks to Ellie and her prolific sour cherries, tiny shiny scarlet globes best pitted with a simple squeeze between fingers and gentle tug on the stem, too small for the pitter. No one has seen a fruit year like this for a very long time. Everyone is grateful.

Everyone is rolling in apricots. Neighbors are having a cookout to lure people to take away theirs. Suzi is generously drying the first round from my tree, and I’ve just picked the third. As many remain on the tree as I’ve already harvested. I’m staying just ahead of the birds; they peck the very ripest and every few days I pick what’s almost perfect and finish ripening on the counter. I get lucky and find some at their peak unpecked.

The more I pick the more I see I never saw before. Fred tried to warn me: Don’t be greedy, he said, and encouraged me weeks ago to thin them to a fist width apart. I couldn’t do it. I did thin them some, a couple of times, as I did with the peaches both before and after he gave me a hands-on lesson. Eight or ten peaches on a limb this size, he said. Maybe I should go thin them again, if the apricots are any indication. Which, of course, they are. I’m so grateful for his pruning, his advice, his instruction.

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I have three times more apricots in one wooden bowl than I’ve ever had on this tree in all its fifteen years. (When did I plant it? Fifteen? Twenty years ago? Somewhere in between? I’m grateful I can no longer remember everything. It makes interacting with people easier, but it doesn’t really help in the garden.) Fresh apricot recipes are stacking up in my recipe folder. The tortoise and the mule deer eat those that drop, or that I throw over the fence if they’re scarred or nibbled or too green, or if there’s a wasp feasting inside.

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After the third harvest... still plenty for people and other animals.

The apricot tree after the third picking… still plenty ripening for people and other animals. Never in any of my gardens through the years have I seen such bounty.

I’ve harvested three big bowls and one small one in the past week, with more to come. A generosity of apricots. And still they glow in abundance on the bright green tree, strolling grey storm clouds behind them. An uncontrollable satisfaction rises in my soul, the joy of a gardener. Because of me, the time, the water, the help tending through the years, this fruit tree thrives and gives back lavishly this summer.

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Another summer tree didn’t fare so well last week, a big juniper. We had a knock-down drag out lightning storm. People were talking about it for days. It was right on top of us, some said. I felt the electricity, said others. It was SO loud! more exclaimed. At Tai Chi, Deborah said The whole sky lit up, you could see every leaf, and there was a bolt through it, and in the bolt a fireball. Twice I saw that. I saw it and thought, Did I really just see that? And then it happened again.

In twenty-four years in this valley I haven’t experienced a lightning storm quite like that. An occasional strike too close for comfort in a wide-spread or fast moving cell. Once while I was standing in my open French door lightning struck a juniper not far in front of me and knocked me back a step. But never an intense cluster for fifteen minutes right on top of the neighborhood, one hard bolt after another, sky lighting up and crashing in the same instant, over and over. The dogs pressed close on the couch where I lay watching a movie. Then it passed, and we all started to relax.

After awhile I smelled smoke. Oh no! From the tower I scanned all directions and could not see flame or flickering, but the strong smell blew on a steady wind from the south. I called dispatch and learned that a truck was on the way to a burning tree somewhere in the next block.

I couldn’t sleep for hours. I climbed the tower again and checked the air before turning in, and found it sweet and pure.

It turned out Cynthia had also smelled smoke, ventured out with a lantern toward the canyon, and found the burning tree, initiating the chain of calls that led the brave fire laddies to it. Grass was burning all around it, she said. It was scary! It could have lit the woods on fire and burned down all our houses if she hadn’t located it right away. It was scary. The volunteer fire department put it out and chopped up the tree with chainsaws to make sure the fire didn’t lie down overnight, to spring up again the next hot dry day with a breeze.

It happens sometimes that a fire lies down in a snag or a hollow and smolders for hours or days before just the right wind ignites it and literally blows it up into a sudden monster fire, like the Wake Fire outside Paonia in ’94. A guy dutifully went out that night and put out the tree, but it blew up the next morning while the whole community was downtown celebrating July 4th at the Cherry Days Festival. The fire burned 6000 acres and three homes in just two days, at that time the fastest fire on record in the state.

Or just across the mesa in ’05 when a ditch burn crept into a stump and lay down for days after the rancher thought he’d extinguished it. Ladies started arriving for a Clothes Exchange, and when I greeted them at the gate after setting up the patio, they said What’s that behind you? A thick plume of black smoke rose beyond the trees. A dozen women ate and drank and tried on each others’ cast-off clothing as a helicopter hauled water from the reservoir and the slurry plane flew overhead. We were half naked anyway and flashed our tops. The pilot dipped his wing. Ellie called to report that a half dozen more guests were turned away at the fork in the road, the mesa was closed at all roads leading in, and we might be evacuated in ten minutes. There was a scramble to load up the Mothership with pets and valuables just in case.

The day after Cynthia’s Tree burned up, a gullywasher, a real Florida frog choker my visitor called it, dumped half an inch in half an hour, with only a few thunderclaps and lightning bolts in the distance. The monsoons are upon us. That evening we went down the road for dessert. It was a relief to know the smoke that greeted us came from the fire in the metal pit that would toast our marshmallows, on a perfect cool summer night in the warm company of our million dollar neighbors.

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Gourmet s’mores made with Lindt salted caramel chocolate, pre-melted in a skillet in the fire.

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Snowed In and Loving It

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Sunrise this lengthening-day morning brought a beautiful view full of new snow. Last night as it still fell, Tom our UPS man called to say he’d left a package at the top of the driveway. I tried to push the Honda through but only made it about fifteen feet before backing up to my dry parking spot and waiting til morning. Once the sun was up and the air had warmed a bit, I bundled my snot-nosed coughing self up warmly and strapped on snowshoes to go get the package. I knew what it was, and it was essential.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

Topaz, whose new nickname is Toto, ate so much cat food at one time yesterday that she threw up and had to take a nap.

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Why doesn’t the grocery store sell kitten chow in the big bags? I can get it so much cheaper in a 14-pound bag from Amazon, and usually it’s delivered right to the door. If Tom had only come a few hours sooner he could have made it down the driveway! As it happened, I didn’t want him to even try. Christmas week and he was already hours late. Driving must have been harrowing for him all day. The cat food Deborah had donated to tide us over must be far more tasty than the kitten chow; the kittens ate two cups in one day between them, twice as much as usual, and were mewling for more. I had to get them back on track, and I didn’t want any more puking.

So I headed up the driveway. The snow was just deep enough to make it slow with boots alone and tedious with snowshoes, so I kicked those off just beyond the first gate. Just past the skunk culvert where the fence begins I considered turning back, just waiting awhile, in case Cynthia decided to make tracks with her Subaru or Fred came to plow. But I continued: it was so beautiful out, the kittens needed their proper food, and I knew this would be the dogs’ only chance today for a walk; also, I don’t like to presume when or if my kindest of neighbors will come with his tractor and plow.

Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

                                                    Ojo protecting his first ever snowball.

Fred and Mary's cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

Fred and Mary’s cat, Benito, the runt of the litter now bigger than any of them, and still with the bluest eyes, perched atop their fridge the other day.

I love being snowed in. There’s a peace that doesn’t come any other time. Silent snow, secret snow. True solitude. I am cocooned in the warmth of my house with all the potential of the day ahead. My creative juices can flow, wander from one project to another, without external distraction. No one will come. Keeping essential paths shoveled takes time and energy, but gets me outside occasionally to appreciate the beauty of the place I have chosen to live. Shovel slowly, stop often, breathe deeply and look around. I become more grounded in this place when I can’t get out.

Away from here for a month I was a mess. I didn’t recognize myself, in constant fight, flight, or freeze. I realized sometime before I headed home that this journey was a crucial bardo: I had either to recommit whole-heartedly to the challenging rural life I have chosen, or I had to come up with a big change of plan. I haven’t decided which yet, but in the two weeks I’ve been home, the fear and anxiety have receded, leaving a calm gratitude in their place.

In that moment this morning when I considered turning back, I realized there was no hurry. Enjoy. This is the life I chose, these the burdens and the pleasures. The physical exertions that make living here hard seem nothing now compared to the mental anguish I suffer in or near a city. The hike up the driveway and back took almost an hour, pausing now and then to enjoy the view, sunlight slanting through white clouds southeast, a dark shelf of weather in the western sky, Grand Mesa sparkling to the north, unbroken white fields; juniper boughs heavy with puffs of snow, slipping off in shimmering showers, sometimes saddling Stellar with white as he runs beneath the trees. Nine-year-old Raven bouncing through the snow like a puppy, racing, scooting, kicking up powder. I carried the 14-pound bag of kitten chow in a tote over my shoulder, switching shoulders and pole hand often. Just as I reached the door and dropped the snowshoes, the tote bag, the pole, I heard the tell-tale putt-putt of Fred’s tractor in the distance.

I’ll pretend I’m still snowed in. I’ll sit by the woodstove and tend the small fire and read, write, sip hot tea. I’ll wallow in the gratitude I feel for the comfort and security of a community that supports me, through neighborly aide (of so many sorts) and convivial ritual, with friendship and love, in this spectacular place we have all chosen.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn't catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I'd have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Solstice bonfire Sunday night at the Bad Dog Ranch. A beautifully constructed pyre that didn’t catch right away. Some called for gasoline; I’d have had to get in their way if they tried. All it needed was patience, a little TLC, and it took off magnificently.

Many of our winter rituals could happen anywhere, I suppose. Only here under wide-open skies could the season’s turning be marked with a fire like this one. We all stood looking up and marveled during those magical moments when sparks were shooting up through down-coming snowflakes. Up, down, hot, cold, light, dark. Altogether, life.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

Tenderly tended, the fire slowly died in the bottom of the snow-filled stock pond. Our boots were covered in slick grey mud by the end of the evening, our bellies full of nog and ham biscuits, our hearts bathed in light.

 

Puzzling

 

The daily ritual rumcokes in classic insulated plastic cups.

The ritual lunchtime rumcokes in classic insulated plastic glasses.

The Tuesday after the West Virginia Incident, I arrive at Auntie’s apartment just in time for a rumcoke. The only midday drink I allow myself is the ritual lunchtime rumcoke with Auntie (with a teaspoon of lime juice; yes, it’s a cuba libre but we call it rumcoke). It sets the pace for the remainder of the day, demarcates the functional morning from the restful afternoon. There will be no going out, no exertion, no stress for the rest of the day. And after that comes the welcome relief of the evening cocktail. We are even more relaxed. Still, it takes me a few days to let go of the jitters I carried with me the whole trip.

The third night she says, You’ve visibly relaxed since you started puzzling.

Visibly?

I realize she’s right. Since I turned my frantic mind to the first wooden jigsaw puzzle the afternoon before, its writhing thrashing threads have calmed noticeably with my deepening absorption in the second puzzle.

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I found an aged cardboard box when I finally went through the last of the Colonel’s papers a few weeks before I left: small, sturdy, dirty ivory color, Pastime Puzzle in green on top, Parker Brothers address and logo. Inside the lid a label:

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1931. Auntie and I puzzle over whose it might have been. The Colonel would have been twelve. Maybe it belonged to his mother, or one of the aunts. Or maybe it was a puzzle my father did when he was still a sweet smart little boy. The puzzle takes us all afternoon, just 80 pieces. It’s more complicated than it first appears.

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I’m still jumpy when we finish it, and after letting it rest a few hours while we appreciate it some more, she puts it apart and back in the box, and I pull out a new Liberty puzzle from the cupboard where she’s had it waiting for my arrival. The first night I beat her twice at cribbage. We don’t get another chance to play once we start puzzling together. It’s a different kind of fun. Just being together, our minds on the same game, we are easy, happy.

Working the same puzzle again today, warmth of the woodstove at my back, insulating fog blurring snow-dusted junipers, fences, gates outside, sun-powered light overhead, again I feel the demons releasing my brain as I turn my mind to more details in the image: how the thin triangle of sidewalk adjoins the woman’s feet, there is a small piece of chimney down by her skirt, how the roof line meets trees on both sides of the chimney, how the roses grow, which way the light glows in the windows, how the pieces are delineated.

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Many visual elements of this puzzle were outlined with a jig saw wielded by the man called 37. Each of these puzzles was individually cut by a person (with a number) with a jigsaw, probably an early electric one. This adds another perspective on this little random leftover creation. #37 looked closely at the shapes and colors, the structure of the image, and cut accordingly. This makes fitting many of the pieces even more challenging, the chimney and the woman in blue most obviously, but the second time around, when I’m halfway through and stymied, I see that much of the puzzle is cut this way, with distinct boundaries in the image (sidewalk to grass, roof to wall) cleanly sliced. Well, jiggily sliced. You can almost retrace #37’s steps with the saw: first he cut it in half… With this deeper understanding the second time around, I finish the puzzle in just over an hour.

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So I’m home again, like the woman in blue at her cottage. Though my garden sleeps today under snow, the day I arrived home it looked as though I’d never left. The same few patches of snow on the ground, the same soft green things still green, partridge feather, lamb’s ears, powis castle sage, sagebrush, iris leaves. Wait, iris leaves still up and green in December? The deer in the yard. In the house, the kittens have been so well cared for that they hold no grudge at my return after my long absence. They look just a little askance at us for a few minutes before crawling up with me on the futon, prancing about, flopping down on the kitchen floor, waiting for their afternoon food. They are bigger, to be sure, a month older in a fast growing year, but still sleek and happy and full of wit. The houseplants, the orchids, all thrive.

Inside and out, the house seems the same. Elsewhere in the world, terrible changes continue in unsuspecting lives. I also am changed by the challenging journey I’ve just completed, but I’m not sure yet how. I left November seventh, not ready; perhaps it was an inauspicious day. With the Mothership now unloaded and most of my physical baggage stowed where it belongs, I continue to unpack my travels and travails, mulling over blessings and tribulations, fear, love, confidence, and mental stability, natural beauty and human nature. When these reflections overwhelm me, I’ll pull out one of my Liberty puzzles to untangle my mind.

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Il pleure dans mon coeur

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

Red rock cliffs along the Colorado River from our campsite.

This weekend I camped with a couple of friends, three dogs, and a cat. In some alternate universe it might have been ordinary. Deb and I set off on a long and rich two day adventure three hours away, with my two dogs and diabetic cat and her little dog in the Mothership. We took the turnoff for Cisco, a ghost town in far eastern Utah where river runners take out from Westwater Canyon, the first whitewater stretch on the Colorado River in Utah.

We drove down my favorite highway in the country, Utah 128 along the Colorado River, red rocks, peach rocks, desert varnish, glowing in the rich afternoon light below gathering storm clouds. The muddy river flowed beside us as we drove, and collared lizards basked on boulders beside screaming orange globemallow and yellow prince’s plume, their turquoise scales gleaming in the desert sun.

We met and set up camp with another friend who chanced to be there too, on her way for a rendezvous with her oldest dearest friends. We laughed and talked and caught up, drank wine, laughed some more. Our first morning I drove ahead to secure a campsite in town, and they decided to hike Fisher Towers, a stunning landmark across the road from where we spent the night at Hittle Bottom, a BLM campground on the river.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Fisher Towers from our campsite.

Several worries had nagged at me. The few days before I set off on any trip unsettle me. I get keyed up. The diabetic cat, the little dog, would that work out in the same small van? The temperature, the weather, would they cooperate with our plan? Would some random tragedy (and here I thought of several specific potential disasters that could) unravel our vacation? No nameless faceless fears for me, mine are all too graphic. Though some underlying anxiety pervades me these days, and I wonder, is it actually increasing or is it simply that my awareness of it grows? Who knows, but I have my suspicions.

And so I found myself driving alone down Utah 128; the red rocks, the river, the winding road itself never fail to soothe me. If it weren’t so bloody hot in summer I would live here. I hummed along the river’s edge through redrock canyons, desert varnish streaking cliffs with iron and manganese oxide, clouds building into tiny thunderstorms on far horizons, walking rains stalking cliffs and canyons, shifting light casting shadows in layers, highlighting first one stunning rock formation then another, quenching rains drenching, cleansing my worries away.

By the time I reached Moab and cellphone reception resumed, I found no loathsome emergency messages, I found the perfect campsite (given the parameters of a commercial RV park), I could breathe. I exhaled, I breathed in, exhaled again. It always takes me a day or two of camping to relax (to let go of the quotidian stressors of my complicated life, to accept the uncertainties of the unpredictable world at large, to forget my seemingly endless responsibilities of managing a household, a livelihood, securing a future) to settle into the immediate impermanence that is the adventure of a road trip.

RV parks are dicey at best when what you prefer is wilderness, solitude, above all space. Or maybe above all shade. I saw one with lots of trees and turned in. The cashier was friendly, spending time with each patron, smiling talking laughing, a beautiful girl of twenty or so and so full of light. I happily waited my turn as she helped Gerhard from Germany check in before me. She said she loved my hat, I said I stole it from a friend, we laughed. She sent me to the perfect spot, large enough for our van and two tents, plenty of shade.

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade...

Set up our second night in an RV park north of Moab, with plenty of shade…

...and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

…and just enough space. We made sure potential campers could see all three dogs, and this is surely one reason we had vacant sites around us.

The Mothership parked with awning extended, the friends arrived and pitched their tents. We ended up with two free spots before us and one behind, lots of space under the circumstances, and a view of the cliffs north of Moab, two shade trees, a fire circle, a picnic table. A fuse was blown in the camper. A minor wrench, I maintained my equilibrium. I walked back to the office for pliers, woefully absent from my toolbox.

Young Katie was walking towards me, clearly shaken. “Are you OK?” I asked. She looked at me, speechless, broken. “What’s the matter?” I reached for her. “I just learned,” she said, “that one of my older brothers hung himself.”

Well. What do you say? What do you do? I held her, she wept, she laid her head against my shoulder. She just found out, a sudden unexpected random life-changing tragedy had befallen her family. None of them will ever be the same. I gave her what comfort I could. She found me some pliers. Once my friend Tom said, “All you can do is practice compassion in the moment, wherever you are, whoever you’re with.”

I felt so keenly for her. How could she know how completely her life had changed? I hope I helped her in that moment. Back at the campsite I told my friends the story. Something dreadful had indeed happened, just not to me and mine. The girls and dogs were safe and well, the cat was fine. I pulled the fuse and found it fried.

In town we found a replacement, and then we drove up into Arches for the afternoon. Two of us had been there before and love it, for one of us it was a complete unknown. I couldn’t shake my sense of Katie’s loss and grief. She had been just minutes before a carefree girl happily doing her job on a beautiful day, and now her life was changed irrevocably. “I didn’t even know there was anything wrong,” she said, wiping her tears. So often we never do.

I have a real issue with suicide. On the one hand, I get it, on the other I can find no excuse. I gave her something to do, finding the pliers, and that maybe helped to ground her. She was self-contained and stoic, and returned to work in the office. Touched by her grief, not my own, I struggled to come back to our day.

As I drove, I had to breathe in that young woman’s suffering and breathe it out, let it go. I had done what I could for her. She needed to get home, be with friends and family. I breathed it in and breathed it out as we drove through the park. My friends’ enthusiasm for the scenery, the drive, the good time we were sharing, and the timeless spectacular landscape all drew me slowly back into our moment, so different now from hers.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Driving through Arches National Park.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

Walking rains and shifting shadows added drama to the desert landscape, with the snowcapped LaSal mountains in the distance.

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That night at the picnic table our talk turned to some of the sadder stories in our own lives, suicides of friends and family, abusers we had known and loved and left. We all turned in early to our respective beds, to read and ponder. In the morning overcast and rainy, we drank coffee around the small table in the Mothership, three dogs curled around us and the cat below the bed. Our friend, now dearer, went on her way, and Deb and I packed up the Mothership and came home. It was another good day. Il pleure dans mon coeur, Comme il pleut sur la ville. I know of no one who doesn’t suffer. Sharing our sorrows we sow the seeds of love.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.

Three tired dogs curled up on the Mothership bed in the rain.

 

Last Day to Order Bee Calendars, among other things

Just a friendly reminder, if anyone wants bee calendars I’ll be placing the final order tomorrow night. Email subscribers have pointed out that there is no order form in the email version of the blog; to fill out the form you’ll need to click the link to go directly to dukkaqueen.com, and follow the post to the bottom of the page. I’ll get the final tally tomorrow night and your calendars will begin buzzing their ways to you!

Everlasting snapdragons kept budding and blooming through the first snow, the second snow... Finally, after some six degree nights, they have wilted.

Everlasting snapdragons kept budding and blooming through the first snow, the second snow… Finally, after some six degree nights, they have wilted.

Ice Canyon putting on ice. We've only had a couple of one-inch snows so far, but the snow has stayed on the ground with nights dipping into the teens and days barely up to freezing, for the most part. The roller coaster has slid to a stop, and now there's time to breathe into winter hibernation.

Ice Canyon putting on ice. We’ve only had a couple of one-inch snows so far, but the snow has stayed on the ground with nights dipping into the teens and days barely up to freezing, for the most part. The roller coaster has slid to a stop, and now there’s time to breathe into winter hibernation.

The dogs continue their vigilance on daily walks to the canyon, monitoring wildlife, scenting the bucks in rut, the lions laying low.

The dogs continue their vigilance on daily walks to the canyon, monitoring wildlife, scenting the bucks in rut, the lions laying low.

Just enough snow last week to build a Rocky-sized snowman. He had so much fun and was so proud when we finished!

Just enough snow last week to build a Rocky-sized snowman. He had so much fun and was so proud when we finished!

Cynthia's sensational sesame-semolina bread.

Cynthia’s sensational sesame-semolina bread.

Earlier this month, I had a few last yellow Brandywine tomatoes that Chris and Rosie had let me pick from their drooping vines. The plants were so thick with foliage that some of the fruits in the center of the cluster had survived a hard frost. All I wanted was one last tomato sandwich. I texted up the hill to see if Cynthia wanted to trade a couple of tomatoes for two slices of her delicious bread that we’d had at Halloween.

That bread was all gone, she said, but she was baking right then, and would bring me some shortly. Around two that afternoon she arrived with a precious bread round, warm and fragrant right from the oven, in a tin she was returning. I worked the rest of the afternoon, savoring the aroma, thinking from time to time about the delicious sandwich I’d have when I quit for the day. After four or five hours, I turned off the computer, and went into the kitchen to prepare my delectable repast. The last tomato sandwich of the season! I’d been salivating all afternoon.

I took the bread out of the tin and set it on the cutting board. Then decided I’d better go pee before getting the sandwich all ready to eat. So I did that, and washed my hands, and returned to the kitchen in about two minutes. The perfect loaf of bread was gone. Disappeared. Two minutes. Vanished. Not a crumb anywhere. I looked in the microwave, thinking well maybe I had stuck it in there automatically to keep the bad dog from snagging it. Alas! I had not. It was nowhere. And there was a skulking girl catahoula in the living room, and also a slightly anxious boy dog. GRRRR! I knew who had scarfed it down in one gulp. Just the one bad dog, Raven.

I tossed her out into the cold and made her stay there a full twenty minutes, while I railed and raged about my lost dinner. It surprised me how angry I got, and mostly at her. Though I knew deep down it was my fault for leaving the bread out. Usually I take precautions with food, conscientiously putting it in a box or in the microwave or out of reach on the windowsill. But the one time all year I drop my guard, and she steals the gift bread, made special for me, special for that last tomato sandwich… Such a blow! A real first-world problem, though. I could laugh at myself and at her after a short while. And when Cynthia heard of the mishap, (as in, got my text saying I am going to fucking kill Raven!), she offered immediately to bake me another. The next evening, all was well: fresh bread, last tomato, plenty of mayonnaise, and the forgiven dog on my lap afterwards. These little disappointments, tempered by the gifts and grace of good friends and the overriding sweetness of sneaky animals. Life is always in flux.

Bad Dog forgiven, sitting on my lap.

Bad Dog forgiven, sitting on my lap.

I have it on good authority that Jigsaw Puzzle Season officially started on Thanksgiving Day, but I got the jump on game season when I found this mystery card game while cleaning the mudroom.

I have it on good authority that Jigsaw Puzzle Season officially started on Thanksgiving Day, but I got the jump on game season when I found this mystery card game while cleaning the mudroom.

Speaking of flux, I found this card game out of the blue while rearranging some furniture, and that led to a whole ‘nother string of lessons about life, or maybe just a series of delightful reminders about how the rules are always changing, and the means, and the goals. I’ve felt especially up in the air these last few days as I await a doctor visit tomorrow morning. This past year has been fraught with several physical challenges, from a dislocated clavicle to plantar fasciitis, to the lingering effects of a dizzy virus. All these pale in comparison to the news that may come tomorrow. I try not to think about it; everything can change in an instant all the time, a lion attack in the woods, a rockfall on the highway, a maniac at the movies, stroke, aneurism, pneumonia; why worry about a biopsy before you get the result?

Maybe the only thing that will be different will be a new lease on life, and renewed commitment to be grateful every living moment of every day.

…through all kinds of windy weather

The crabapple tree in bud. I planted this sweet tree beside the grave of Little Doctor Vincent, one of the most amazing cats I've ever known.

The crabapple tree in bud. I planted this sweet tree beside the grave of Little Doctor Vincent, one of the most amazing cats I’ve ever known.

A lot has happened in the garden in the past few weeks. Many days were cold and windy, overcast or outright snowing. Little popcorn snowballs blustering in with a dark cloud, pounding down and coating everything quickly, and melting in an hour. The bees kept largely to themselves on days like that. The past few days have really felt like spring, though; waves of purple mustard splash across the ‘dobies between Delta and Hotchkiss, along the roadside from Hotchkiss up to Crawford. Sandhill cranes have all but completed their migration through here, just a stray spiral or vee of them now and then. Snow covers the mountain tops; all the summer brown fields and ‘dobie hills are green, lush or barely brushed. Soon the surprise of some of those rare wildflowers that bloom only once a decade or two may pop up in swaths of white or blue.

Forsythia in bloom a week ago one morning in a brief spring snow. I planted this forsythia in remembrance of my mother long before she died, knowing this day would come: she'd be gone and it's blossoms would remind me of her and eastern Easters.

Forsythia in bloom a week ago in a brief spring snow. I planted this forsythia in remembrance of my mother long before she died, knowing this day would come: she’d be gone and its blossoms would remind me of her.

Everything is full of promise, lifting my spirits with inordinate optimism. The river is muddy with snowmelt and the redtail hawk is sitting in her nest above the Smith Fork. Yesterday I watched her soar out of sight, circling slowly up and up, smaller with each revolution, a glint, a speck, a recollection. The bees, the bees are out around the grape hyacinths, blue and white; after snow two days ago the first little yellow tulips opened, their buds like almonds finally pushed up from underground and flowers spreading like the sun.

Tall coral tulips have been cross-pollinated with the splashy red short ones to produce a unique hybrid.

Tall coral tulips have been cross-pollinated with the splashy red short ones to produce a unique hybrid.

Blooming Veronica creeps across a sandstone slab.

Blooming Veronica creeps across a sandstone slab.

The years unroll, one season following another. Truer words were never sung. The golden currant is full of small bright green new leaves. All the columbines are up with their rounds of feathery foliage, daylily spikes are four to six inches tall. More Veronica blooms have opened, and Nepeta is taking over everywhere. Chicory keeps spreading its rosettes farther into the path. This garden gives me great delight. I broke back the Basin Wild Rye last evening and pulled a patch of bur buttercup, that precious nasty weed I took such care to spare the first year I saw it, decades ago. Some almond blossoms are already open up against the stucco house, the apricot’s about to burst; the first dandelion has bloomed and Nepeta is taking over everywhere.

Apricot buds ripening...

Apricot buds ripening…

...unfolding...

…unfolding…

...opening!

…opening!

The bee tree today is as thick with bees and flies and tiny undecipherable lives in the later stage of these clusters. I must come back with the camera when it’s less breezy.

The bee tree today is as thick with bees and flies and tiny undecipherable lives in the later stage of these clusters. I must come back with the camera when it’s less breezy.

I baked a halibut filet on top of some tender tarragon shoots the other night. Winter arugula is already sending up flower stalks in the covered garden, still feeding me several salads a week, and baby spinach will soon be ready to eat. Down at the pond a leopard frog emerged a few weeks ago. I’ve spooked it three or four times, and it spooked me when it splashed from the curly rush through the water, in one smooth arc, to bury itself in silt.

The resident leopard frog hides at the edge of the pond. I first spooked her weeks ago finger-combing the rushes, and still she sits there every day.

The resident leopard frog hides at the edge of the pond. I first spooked her weeks ago finger-combing the rushes, and still she sits there every day.

Sneaking up on her to catch a shot ~ such camouflage!

Sneaking up on her to catch a shot ~ such camouflage!

Another frog watches over European pasqueflower and iris shoots by the bottle wall.

Another frog watches over European pasqueflower and iris shoots by the bottle wall.

A greenbottle fly on grape hyacinth.

A greenbottle fly on grape hyacinth.

And a honeybee drinking deep in another.

And a honeybee drinking deep in another.

Though they've been blooming about a week today's the first time I've seen a bee at the white ones.

Though they’ve been blooming about a week today’s the first time I’ve seen a bee at the white ones.

From the songs in each of our individual heads, our unique threads, our song lines, springs the meaning in our lives.

The last cat, Brat Farrar, struggles through a health crisis, striving, like me, for balance.

The last cat, Brat Farrar, struggles through a health crisis, striving, like me, for balance.