Just another day. Another day like no day before, and no day after it. I’m grateful for another day of curiosity, compassion, contentment. I’m grateful that almost three days after the earthquake across the world survivors are still being rescued. I’m grateful for a solid home and water, more food than I need, and space.
I’m grateful I have all that an animal needs, food, water, shelter, space, and that I’m able to provide the same to a small wild community. I’m grateful to witness another sunrise and another sunset on another day.
My neighbors and I frequently remark on how lucky we are to live with animals. Sometimes we are referring to mountain lions, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, or bears. Sometimes we are referring to elk or the deer that wander through our yards. Sometimes we are talking about our little dogs! I’m grateful for living with animals.
Oh Topaz. I know right where she is, or where she was just after dark: east of the fence, lying in wait beside a scrap wood pile for some unsuspecting or terrified rodent. If she’s not in by bedtime, it’s another layer of surrender for me. It’s been one layer of surrender after another for the past few weeks, and less dramatically for months.
The last cat who was allowed to go where and when she pleased day or night was Dia, the Psycho Calico. Her name is short for Aradia, Daughter of the Queen of the Witches, but not many people ever knew that. It was my Wiccan phase. She made life so unbearable if she didn’t get what she wanted, including outside at night, that the house motto became Dia gets what Dia wants. I’m afraid it will end up thus for Topaz, especially if she survives lions, coyotes, owls, etc., tonight and lives to be an only pet.
Meanwhile, Stellar had a very exciting day, and I learned how to surrender another layer: of thinking there’s some fateful timeline, of clinging to some shred of a sense of control. I’m grateful today for resilience, Stellar’s too but especially mine. He keeps on surprising. It would be easier if his downward trajectory were more direct, however slow. This repeated rebounding, this resilience, aggravates my second-guessing habit, which is not a habit I wish to cultivate; I’d prefer it to atrophy.
Today was an online meditation retreat with my teachers’ teacher, B. Alan Wallace, “Shamatha in the Dzogchen Tradition.” Shamatha is the meditation style also referred to as Calm Abiding. The first session looked promising. Stellar slept through the night, I was reasonably well-rested, and I’d given him water, pills, and food. He went back to sleep. I listened raptly to the first talk, and settled in for the first 20-minute meditation. Stellar had woken and was alert, panting a little. I realized a few minutes into the meditation that he probably wanted more water. I figured he could wait another 18 minutes. Nope.
My eyes were closed. He stood up and stepped over me, walked a few feet before collapsing on the floor. Ok, I surrender. I slipped the sling under him and hefted his back end as he made his way out the front door, and around the south end of the house to his water bucket, where he drank copiously. What I got for not interrupting the meditation three minutes in for a minute was no meditation at all. Oh well. Nonattachment to outcome. He settled down for the next hour.
At the midday break, Rosie came by with more pain meds from the pharmacy for him–Dr. TLC didn’t anticipate him lasting this long, I think, and had to call in a special request refill. At her arrival he went bonkers barking from his bed, and she came in to visit him. He struggled to get up again, so we took him outside for an assisted wobble. Then again, right after the next session began, he got up on his own and wobbled to the door. By that time already drained for the day, I let him out unattended. He managed about ten minutes in the yarden before collapsing comfortably (appropriately) under the Contemplation Tree, where he rested another ten until I saw him trying to get up. I slung him in, and he’s been in bed since, though wide awake until just recently.
Topaz finally came in, and Stellar is asleep, so I am relaxing at last, after a long, full day. With Alan’s guidance, I sustained a meditative state throughout, and deepened my capacity for letting go, for surrender to the changing conditions of each moment. I’m grateful for calm abiding.
My big success for the day was capturing a phoebe fledgling at twilight with the new camera. Again, not such a crystal clear lens, but clearly a juvenile phoebe. Several of them and at least one parent were flying around the house this evening. If I should die tomorrow, I’m grateful tonight for my private success of raising at least one little bird, or helping to, anyway. We are a brutal species, in a brutal cycle, on this fragile planet. There were other quotidian delights today as well. These moments are not how society generally measures success.
I’m grateful today that Stellar had strength and stamina to walk all the way to the canyon this morning; that he has survived to see the cottonwoods leaf out again; that even though he’s lame and deaf and got cataracts, his sniffer still works great; and that he had such a good day we could take another walk this evening.
I’m grateful for a couple of quick cool showers, the first after I worked all morning in the yarden in brutal heat, and the second at the end of the day; I’m grateful I set up my shower so that the water flows directly out to the base of the birch tree and from there along a row of chokecherry and mountain ash, so I can shower without guilt even during drought; indeed, if I were to curtail showers I’d threaten the health of the ecosystem. I’m grateful for the water itself that flows from the high mountains, for the infrastructure to channel and hold and transport it and for the people through the years who made this possible.
I’m grateful the clouds moved in late afternoon and cooled off the yard and house, even though there was no rain; grateful that tomorrow’s high is forecast to be a temperate 90º instead of today’s 98º in the shade. Grateful also, of course, for nutritious food, including morning glory muffins that Garden Buddy brought the other day, and for cardamom cake that Deb couldn’t eat, for lettuce and peas from the garden, avocados and mushrooms from the store, and for a cheese sandwich at lunch, among other gustatory delights. And I’m grateful for other simple delights as well, such as Doe’s reactions to Biko, who stalked her a bit like he stalks the dog, and made her jump and leap a couple of times, which made me laugh when I recovered from being startled. I just love watching the expressions of the deer as they watch me and my pets move through our mutual yard.
I’m also grateful tonight that I noticed the dog food still cooking on the stove an hour after I meant to turn it off, that I didn’t go to bed with it still cooking, and that remarkably it wasn’t burnt. Through a particular lens, there is always something to be grateful for in any situation: it could always be worse.
I’m grateful that Stellar’s so agreeable. “Which way do we go? Which way do we go?!” He’s eager for anything we do together, but especially a walk.
“Do you want breakfast?” I ask him. “Oh, okay.“
“Do you want to come inside?” “Do you want dinner?” “Oh, okay.”
“Do you want to lie down?” “Do you want to get up?” “Do you want to go outside?” “Oh, okay.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?” “Where?! When? Now? Yesyesyesyes! Arooooo!”
Peaceable kingdom. “You pretend I don’t exist, and I’ll pretend you don’t exist.” We walk right through them, with barely a ripple, sometimes. Other times they scatter and flee. Who knows why?
Topaz walks with us every afternoon these days, up the driveway and back through the woods. This evening she walked all the way up beyond the top gate, the farthest she’s ever come. Usually she lags far behind and waits for our return. Show showers swept like walking rain along the south flank of Grand Mesa, driven by bracing west wind, some grazing the ground, some just snow virga not touching down. Do I need to take a picture of every cloud? Kinda.
I’m grateful for quotidian, tiny surprises in any day, like this. I set the breadcrumb box there while I was cooking, to remind me to add Panko to the grocery list. Later, I saw it from the other side under the orchid blooms which matched its palette perfectly. A candid color cluster, a fleeting delight.
I’m grateful for all these tiny surprises in a single day, and that all my hopes were met today: I woke up, Stellar woke up, we ate and walked and pooped; nothing horrible happened in our little world, there were no ugly big surprises; Sun shone, hot water filled the tub, fire warmed the house, internet stayed on, we both continued to breathe and love until bedtime. May tomorrow be as great a success as today!
I’m grateful today for mindfulness practice. The simplest definition of mindfulness that I can share after six months of in-depth study on the subject is: mind training. So that ‘mindfulness practice’ becomes ‘mind training practice.’ It’s still and always practice. You never get there, because of impermanence: ‘there’ is no fixed point, ever. It’s always changing, along with everything else including your means of locomotion to get there, the companions you meet along the way, your own fitness for the journey.
Most of us invest five minutes to an hour or more each day in our physical fitness, whether simply brushing our teeth and running hot water over our faces, or more: a weight training workout or a run, or a swim, or a yoga class three times a week, or or or… and a hot shower afterward. How many of us devote ten minutes a day to mental hygiene? I’ve always spent more time each day on introspection than I ever have on dental hygiene. The difference is, now I’m actually training my mind, instead of simply riding it. (Like a horse, right, cowgirls?) I also floss more often.
A key component of mindfulness practice is breath. Of course, breath is a key component of everything. We’re spending a lot of time practicing awareness of breath this weekend in our class retreat, but more about breath another time. Immersed in a weekend intensive, each exploring our own way of being across the four domains of body, mind, emotions, and spirit, the domain of spirit especially resonates with me today. This domain is comprised of one’s sense of purpose, one’s sense of worth, and one’s sense of connection, or belonging. Today, I’ve been examining these three aspects of my way of being whilst teetering on the brink of a yawning pit of existential angst. It’s fascinating. I’m so grateful for mindfulness practice!
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?
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.
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:
On a recent window patrol, Topaz goes nose to nose with an even larger animal. What is wrong with those antlers?
In a way, I’m glad the kittens have noticed the birds. They’ve spent their days the past week lurking in various windows, tensed, tails twitching in time with whatever music is on, watching juncos peck around the ground near the house for crumbs leftover from fall: dried rosehips, tiny purple-black foresteria berries, catkins scattered by the nuthatches and finches feeding in the birch tree, lavender; who knows what they’re finding in this deep and steady snow. I took down the bird feeders last summer, when I realized that I would eventually let these cats outside.
I vowed years ago not to have an outdoor cat again. Then Little Doctor Vincent showed up bleeding under a juniper three days after I buried Dia the psycho calico, and a couple of years later Little White Mikey arrived the night after we gave Little Bear his aerial burial. Both were happy to come inside but they knew their birthright, so I compromised by putting bells on them. Mikey vanished after only nine months, and was more like a ghost than a real cat anyway. Vincent lost a five-dollar collar about once a month, so after a year I gave up on that. He didn’t really hunt birds much so I was lucky. After Vinnie died I renewed my vow, tending only to my sweet old orange cat Brat Farrar, who had always been content to live inside, and refusing several offers of lovely indoor-outdoor cats.
Then the little hoes showed up. They both really want to get outside, and though I intended to let them loose after they were neutered in October, for various reasons that hasn’t happened yet. We experimented last summer and fall with a few short forays. Ojo would stick around and even come when I called, but Topaz made steady oblivious progress each time toward the perimeter fence, and the prospect of losing her into the woods unnerved me. So then we tried some leash walks, which went better than you might expect. Though Ojo objected strenuously at first, Topaz got the hang of it pretty quickly and could be led.
Keeping them in whenever anyone else went in or out the door became challenging. The mud room served as an airlock chamber for the front door, but the back door required agility and speed to prevent escape. Then I went away for a month, and when I returned they were out of the habit of trying (imagine here a whole paragraph of speculation as to why). A week later the snow came, and since then they’ve shown no inclination to leave the house. I try to brush each of them at least once a day, and vacuum a few times a week; still, the hair spills out from under furniture, piles into drifts on the stairs, tickles my lips when there’s no kitten near. They’re very skillful at rampaging through the house, from one end to the other and back, around the couch over the piano up the stairs off the wall and back, without knocking much down; occasionally the brass bowl crashes off the piano or an orchid tips over on the stone wall, but for the frequency and velocity of their chases incidents are acceptably rare. Still, they need more space to run.
They’ve begun climbing to places they shouldn’t be, like the top of the refrigerator which has no top; all its guts are up there, open to the air ~ and cat hair, and mischief.
So as the snow melts this spring, and before the garden foliage gets so thick I can’t see them, I will let them out. Therefore, I’m not feeding the birds this winter, and though I miss the sound and sight of their flocks at the feeder tree, I’m glad I have one fewer path to shovel in this big snow winter. With no bird feeders-cum-bait station, they seem to be finding plenty of natural food that perhaps they’ve ignored during previous years when they were provided with a bottomless supply of sunflower and thistle seeds.
A foot of fresh snow and counting on top of the foot that barely melted. My dimly visible path to the back gate and compost that I shoveled twice yesterday is ready for another effort. We’d all rather just stay inside.
The snow continues to fall, the cats run from one window to another focused on birds and occasional bunnies. I don’t wish them to catch the birds when they finally taste their freedom, but noticing them is the first step in learning to hunt, and I do want them to hunt mice and chipmunks, and frighten squirrels and bunnies out of the yard come summer. I’m hoping now they know there’s prey around the house they’ll stick close when I release them, and not go running off into the forest. We’ll all compromise: I’ll try bells again and the kittens will take only what their hampered abilities allow them, hopefully not birds; I will break my resolution and have outdoor cats again, but not lure the birds to an easy death with feeders.
Meanwhile, we’ve discovered the true purpose of the copper sink.
As for Raven, the first sign of true improvement came four days after the poisoning when she lay at my feet waiting for Last Bite.
The next morning I began to have confidence that she’d be fine when she rolled on her back for the first time since almost dying. Within a week she was back to her old tricks, eating anything her mouth came across. She remains under strict supervision.
And what IS wrong with this buck’s antlers? We’ve observed him in the neighborhood this winter and wondered. He finally came close enough for me to get a good look. A piece of twine tangled into the base of his one remaining antler, which never shed its velvet, hangs over his right eye. His other antler has been sliced off clean. Masses of fur and flesh looking rotten and raw cluster around his pedicels. As he looked through our window at the cat, then at me, I felt his story: he got caught in someone’s garden netting or hammock or something, and in extricating himself sliced off one growing antler and tangled the bases of both so hopelessly it stunted the growth of the other and resulted in these fungus-like wounds. Or maybe there is fungus growing around the traumatized tissue. I hope that when it’s time to shed he drops the whole mess and can start fresh next season.