While I try to be ‘self-sufficient,’ at least as much as a human can be in this interconnected world, I still really appreciate help. This morning Mr. Wilson brought a helper, Juan, and together we all got a whole lot done in the yarden. We started out by trespassing on the land next door, to liberate an old juniper from a former fence. The poor tree had been tangled in barbed wire for so long it had grown around some of it. I’d already pulled some coils free of the bark but it took the young men to untangle the wires completely and cut them off where they’d been absorbed into the tree. We salvaged two vintage fenceposts from the mess to use in the next project.
Another salvage operation: the old old shed in the dog pen that was here when I moved in almost thirty years ago, but was badly leaning with a rotten roof by now. They took off the old roof, straightened the shed, and braced it with numerous old posts, and will finish the job next time. I’ll have a shade structure for more garden work and storage, and Stellar and any future dogs will have a safe shed over the old old dog house, which was already old when Thelma gave it to me in 1994 – but so well constructed it’s still perfectly sound. The cardboard boxes will carpet the ground under wood chips as a ‘natural’ weed barrier.
I couldn’t do any of these things I’ve done today without the help of other people. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, but when I really pause to examine everything good in my life it all comes back to education or assistance from other human beings. I don’t know about you, but I really am interconnected with everyone else. I rely on help from others for everything from the luxury of yard work to the fundamentals of feeding myself. I’m grateful to recognize this truth, and it motivates me to want the first question I ask in any situation to be How can I help?
Grateful for Robert Hubbell, a wise, compassionate attorney in LA whom I’d have never known if not for Sarah Juniper forwarding me a copy of his newsletter last year. He started writing what is already a historical record of the White House’s descent into madness on the day after the 2016 election, as “a way of providing support and hope for my three daughters and close friends who were shocked and anxious…”
This evening R. Hubbell hosted a holiday zoom party for a thousand of his closest readers. What began as a small circle had widened by the time I jumped on to around 5,000 readers, and continues to grow exponentially, as other readers like me share it with friends and family who are suffering under the constant stress and trauma of the current regime’s assault on our planet and democracy.
Each year Hubbell hosts a holiday party for readers, and this year he hosted the party on Zoom. Ellie and I got our RSVPs in early enough to join the party, and were beside ourselves with excitement to meet this man who has brought so much calm and optimism to our lives during this absurdly fraught election. Each evening Hubbell thoroughly parses the day’s news, synthesizing many sources from journalistic mainstays and obscure trade journals, and we wake to a sane, reassuring recap that calms nerves and inspires action. I have no doubt that his dedicated effort to inform Americans over the past four years contributed as much as many other grassroots organizations to the hopeful outcome of this last election. Much remains to be done, as he reminds us often, and he’s committed to continuing the newsletter going forward. He now has a dedicated readership of more than 17,000.
He analyzes and critiques a wide range of government players, and shares quotes from and links to many of his resources, such as this from yesterday’s newsletter: “Why we need a Commission on Democracy, and what it could do.” He writes with a level perspective and a compelling blend of clarity, urgency, tenderness and irony, often making me laugh out loud. He also gives praise where praise is due. Here’s an excerpt from Today’s Edition (No. 1,052) “Out damned spot!”
“A reader sent a link to an article about a former member of the Department of Justice, Erica Newland. See NYTimes, “I’m Haunted by What I Did as a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department.” Ms. Newland’s op-ed is worth reading in its entirety; the excerpt below does not do justice to her thoughtful discussion. But the following paragraph struck a chord with me: No matter our intentions, we were complicit. We collectively perpetuated an anti-democratic leader by conforming to his assault on reality…. No matter how much any one of us pushed back from within, we did so as members of a professional class of government lawyers who enabled an assault on our democracy — an assault that nearly ended it. ….Ms. Newland quit the DOJ early in Trump’s tenure. She acknowledges that some of those who remained behind resisted Trump; indeed, they revolted when Bill Barr ordered them to look for election fraud immediately after November 3, 2020. ….As we reckon the damage of Trump’s presidency, we must consider how we can ensure that the “professional class of government lawyers” have a firmer grasp of—and deeper loyalty to—the rule of law. Law schools, bar associations, and professional organizations must play a role. If lawyers who enabled Trump leave government and are welcomed with open arms by law schools, bar associations, and professional organizations, we will have learned nothing. I applaud Ms. Newland for having the self-awareness to recognize her complicated legacy in the Trump administration. Others should be held to the same standard of accountability to which Ms. Newland holds herself.”
So Robert Hubbell’s Today’s Edition is where I begin gratitude practice today, followed by Neighbor Mary’s holiday tradition of sharing Potica, a nut-roll cake that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
It was a long, slow, cold, dark winter. A few days of sunshine sprinkled amongst weeks, months of clouds, fog, and snow. Driveways in our neighborhood drifted more times this winter than in the full decade past’s winters. These photos are sequential, from Valentine’s Day through last week, showing just some of the excitement of this turning season. Some have days between them, others only hours.
February 16, drifting in progress
The next morning after neighbor’s stealth plow job
February 20, evening
… the next day
Inside, warm and sleepy
February 23, early; the most spectacular drifts of the season
An hour later, neighbor Joe deep cleaning the driveway
February 28, warming fast
24 hours later, one whole snowbank has melted…
March 5, the first crocuses opened at last! More than a month later than last year.
March 9, flurries overnight. This time of year the snow has ceased to be a threat. No matter how much comes, it will melt soon. There is a sigh of relief with mud season, knowing that snow won’t stay long, and even though the firewood is low, it won’t be needed much longer.
Walking the mammals, a nearly daily joy.
Meanwhile, inside the sunroom
… and outside, full-on crocus patch, with the first honeybee!
Day by day, snow melts away
Inside, orchids and geraniums in full bloom…
Iris reticulata in full bloom outside, while tulip leaves get nibbled by deer. Those worthless dogs don’t chase them off anymore, so I’ve had to cover them with scrap wire and sticks.
My living room looks so lovely without those two huge dog beds in it.
I’ve moved them outside for the morning while I vacuum and rearrange furniture to accommodate a new chair, my first ever grown-up recliner. Last year I bought a fairly expensive couch, hoping that I could recline on that and fulfill two needs with one piece of furniture, but it hasn’t worked out. Degeneration in my spine demands that I finally shell out for a real recliner with manual adjustments. Not electric, since I’m off the grid and can’t add another phantom load to the household power draw. Also, I hear the Colonel’s voice in my head: It’s just one more thing to go wrong.
So, I imagine that in a few years, when my precious dogs give up the furry ghost, there will be one and only one silver lining: My living room looks so lovely without those huge dog beds in it. Meanwhile, they’re outside (the dogs and the beds) basking in the one purely sunny day we’re expected to have all week, while I ready the house for what will no doubt become everybody’s favorite chair, despite my best efforts to keep it to myself.
Speaking of dogs on the furniture, Rosie has found her forever home, in a family with two children who especially wanted a rescue dog. Finally, she is home safe, and I got tingly and teary when I saw the pictures just this morning. Rosie flying after something a child threw, Rosie sleeping on her bed with her new little girl stretched out next to her, Rosie kissing her new children, and this one. Here she snuggles between her two children on the couch. I can’t imagine a happier ending! Or beginning, for Rosie the Dog.
I can still feel the love from this very special dog when I remember cuddling with her, her soft snout, her firm smooth body wiggling happily, her expressive eyes.
A six-inch snowfall last week drifted more than two feet in the driveway. So thankful for good neighbors Ken and Joe who both plowed with their tractors.
Houseplants and potted herbs in the sunroom belie the snow blanket outside.
We are forecast to receive 3″-10″ of snow in the next five days, down, thankfully, from the 6″-18″ predicted yesterday. While grateful for the bountiful moisture, I was dreading that much shoveling: the front door to the front gate, the back door to the back gate, compost pile, generator; a network of paths I’ve kept sort of clear all winter, furrows in the surrounding foot of snow, little trails we all use, the dogs, the deer, and I. When feeling extra energetic last month, I shoveled a path from the compost to the pond and back up to the house, and that has stayed worn down by the dogs and deer alone. So funny how even the deer prefer a shoveled path through crusty deep snow.
Despite continuing snowfall and cold temperatures, more and more birds each day are singing and chattering in the trees. Finches, ring-necked doves, piñon jays; last week a juniper titmouse and a nuthatch vied for the hole in the tortoise tree, while another nuthatch and three finches flitted around watching the contest. Redtails, ravens, and bald eagles are circling and perching. Spring is on the way. I can almost feel those crocuses starting to sprout underground.
There is a cluster of juniper trunks outside my kitchen window with a particularly dense canopy. I noticed something dark flicking and twitching high up in the branches several times last week, like a magpie or jay tail. Maybe magpies building a new nest? Finally I remembered while I was outside to go look. I stood in the center of the trunks which open out basket-like from a central base. I leaned back against one stave after another, circling the inside and searching the canopy for any sign of a nest. Nothing.
Suddenly, scrabbling behind me, and up into the top shoots Topaz. Aha. The next day, I did see magpies working on their nest in the juniper out the bathroom window. Such fun to spy on them!
Preparing for the coming storm, I’ve started a 642 piece puzzle which promises to provide pleasure for many days. I love how some of the whimsy pieces overlap with their depictions, like the fallow deer, fox, giraffe, and elephant below. Thanks, Norma, for sending this one to your sister, and Pamela for sharing it! Easily shaping up to be one of my favorites.
As I write, the dogs announce the truck from Lily and Rose backing up to the gate, right on schedule. This family-owned store in Delta sells quality fine furnishings, and will give you extra stuffing any time if you want to plump up any part of your chair. In short order, the new chair is in place, dogs and dog beds back inside, and I am reclining in luxury.
Though chaos and misery born of despots, climate change, ignorance, and greed swirl around the globe, all is right with my little world. My life today is one of the lucky ones: sunshine and firewood, a grilled cheese and sauerkraut sandwich, happy dogs and cats, a new chair, friends on the radio, flowers in the house and waiting patiently under snow. Some days I am more keenly aware that I or someone I love could die without a moment’s notice. So in this moment, I wallow in gratitude for many blessings.
Grateful the Ecofan on top of the woodstove is working again…
Speaking of thanking things, I am so grateful to my little Ecofan that sits on top of the woodstove and pushes hot air through the house, using only the temperature differential between incoming air and the heat underneath it to power itself. It quit working about a week ago, and I fussed with it a little, talked to it some, looked up repair options on Youtube, and suddenly it started working again last night. I have been thanking it out loud when it’s blowing every time I add wood to the stove.
Another thing Marie Kondo did for me was validate my tendency to speak to everything. I’ve been chatting with houseplants all my life. If everything has some sort of spirit, it’s not crazy to speak to everything. I do it all the time, but almost never in front of anyone else. It’s one reason I live alone except for non-verbal animals. I feel really good about thanking the Ecofan.
I’m grateful for everything in my life, including the fact of where I live. Not only is it beautiful, it isn’t 50 degrees below zero tonight. It hasn’t been much below zero for twenty years. This winter, just a couple of nights in negative single digits. When I first moved here, there were multiple nights each winter in minus double digits, several each year of 20 or more below. When I lived in northeastern Utah in an 1880s two-room log cabin, we had five nights in a row around 40 below. I’d get the temperature up into the 90s and pack the woodstove before I went to bed. When I woke, it was 50 inside. I’m grateful I no longer have to work that hard to stay warm. I feel for those who do.
So while others in our great, big country struggle to survive this polar vortex spill caused by ‘global warming,’ or as I prefer to call it, Climate Chaos, I sit here at my desk cozy and content, appreciating where and among whom I live.
Even if I don’t agree with my neighbors about some things, there are a couple of things we all seem to have in common: We care about the landscape in which we dwell. We have some reverence for place, no matter how differently we manifest it. And we care about each others’ animals, feeding one another’s cats or filling birdfeeders when someone’s away, catching cows or horses that stray. The other day I went to water a friend’s plants and spooked a flock of rosy finches.
Audubon has a fascinating map feature that shows how the range of gray-crowned rosy finches, listed as Climate Endangered, has diminished between 2000 and now. I’ve heard about these birds, increasingly uncommon winter residents in western Colorado, but never seen one until this flock last week. It was thrilling! An unintended benefit of being neighborly.
Another Life v. Death dilemma entered my life this week. A guy called, I recognized his name as a long-time local family who are outfitters. He said a mountain lion had gotten into his herd of horses down in the Smith Fork, and might have killed one of them. “Once they’ve done something like that they’ll do it again,” he explained. He wanted permission to track the lion across my property. I said, reluctantly, ok. I suspected he was exaggerating the alleged lion attack. But what else could I have done?
I said, “I would prefer that you don’t kill it on my property.” He had no reply. We hung up. My land is a recognized wildlife sanctuary. I can’t give just anyone permission to kill on it. But if livestock is at stake, and people are courteous enough to ask permission, I can’t very well say no. That is the unwritten code of where I live: We are neighborly. We try to help out each other. I have seen these guys putting chains on their tires and taking them off at the top of the field in the canyon where their horses are right now. They work hard. They are attentive to their animals. Their way is not mine, but I don’t begrudge them.
The next day, I ran into one of them. They were searching for two hunting dogs they’d lost track of whilst tracking. I called James that evening, and said “I’ll sleep better tonight knowing they’re home warm and safe, but if they’re not I’ll keep looking out for them.” They had been found, they were fine. I was relieved. He was grateful that I’d asked. Ultimately, they did not find the lion, but they did get all their hounds back. It was a good outcome, as far as I’m concerned.
Later that day we ran into a traffic jam on our way to Delta.
Another highlight of the week was finding a new home for a sweet old cat. Which reminds me, people have asked for a Rosie the Dog update: It’s a long story, but Rosie is in a foster home in Ridgway where she gets to live in the house, and cross-country ski almost every day. She is available for permanent adoption through the Second Chance Humane Society. You can meet her here if you haven’t already:
Bringing Rosie into my life generated a big awakening.Her joyful, loving energy lifted my spirits immensely, just as my latest round of PT has strengthened and toned my body. The result has been an enlivening perspective on making the best of what already is in my life, and relinquishing all that I must in order to live mindfully within my limitations.
The biggest gift Rosie gave me was the realization that I was taking my own precious animals for granted. Despite having all along a painful awareness of the shortness and mystery of each of their lives, I wasn’t putting into practice that awareness. With four of them, and my limited energy and physical constraints, I wasn’t spending enough time loving each of them, one on one, eye to eye, heart to heart. Since the kittens came, the two old dogs have loyally done whatever I’ve asked of them, patiently savoring any morsel of my undivided attention as gratefully as they do the tiniest last bites they wait for at the end of every meal.
Since Rosie left six weeks ago, I’ve engaged more with each dog and cat, and even had a session last week with an animal communicator. It was amazing and exhilarating. The understanding and bond with all of my animals is stronger, in both directions. The cats are both more affectionate, and coming on more and longer walks with me and the dogs. Raven has stopped licking her groins obsessively, and is much more relaxed. Stellar is even happier than he’s always been, and said he likes the pumpkin on his food.
The cats are especially grateful that sweet Rosie has found a new place to live on her journey to a real home. Now they can walk with us through the woods or up the driveway, and come through the mudroom unchallenged. Ojo has stopped biting me, and started purring again.
We haven’t been to the canyon since we snowshoed out there on New Year’s Day, taking our walks up the driveway instead. And there have been plenty of days this month when we didn’t even do that! We’re all getting lazy in our old age. Or maybe just more particular about what weather we want to go out and play in.
And then there are days like these: The sky remained cloudless all day. Late sun sliding below the ridge, lighting snowbanks, treebark, mountaintops, cats’ eyes, dogs’ fur, deep bright cold gold.
Air warmed to almost freezing from nine overnight. We went outside late morning. Dogs and deer have carved trails intersecting with paths I’ve shoveled, and I could get around the yard a little more for rounds. Under some trees ground has warmed enough to melt snow. It’s time to think about pruning some shrubs while they’re free of leaves. Dormant buds already pulse with life on fruit trees. I hear a chainsaw.
Stellar and I walk into the woods next door as neighbor Ken stops his saw. He’s clearing a dead tree for Paul’s firewood. He offers me a chair, a beautiful round from the dead juniper, and is happy for the break. We chat about this winter, the marvelous snow, our miracle girl next door, recent bobcats and mountain lions in the neighborhood. Paul pulls up in his 4-wheeler to collect the wood, and we catch up for a few minutes, while Ken plows him a track to the tree pieces. Stellar and I leave them to their wood work, and head happily home to our own.
I can’t do it any longer. I can’t not say anything. I don’t want to offend people, or sabotage their world views, or judge them. I just want to enjoy being a living incarnation of the magnanimous force that created this universe and keeps it in eternal unfathomable motion. I just want to be a good person.
My dear friend gave me a shirt last year that says, “I’m silently correcting your grammar.” I am. Even though sometimes the rules are ridiculous, like punctuation inside or outside of quotation marks. I can’t help myself. It’s the one thing I can do. It’s the one thing that I love. I learned grammar like a fish to water, and therefore, I can play with it. As a writer, I can play with grammar.
But you? You news writer for NBC who wrote for Miguel Almaguer to say, “Downloaded more than a hundred million times, prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”
Prosecutors were NOT downloaded more than a hundred million times.
Yet that is is actually, in fact, what Miguel said, with his grammar. There is no dispute about it, if you agree with the laws of English grammar: the prosecutor was not downloaded more than a hundred million times, The Weather Channel app was. That sentence, if you want to be educated about it, should read, “Prosecutors allege the widely popular Weather Channel App, downloaded more than a hundred million times, was doing much more than giving users the forecast….”
Now, how hard is that to understand? You should have learned that in sixth grade, NBC writer.
My contribution to Christmas Dinner was peach pie.
I pulled whole peaches from the deep freeze and microwaved them for two 30 second hits, mixing them up between, rolling the bottom peaches to the top, letting the top peaches slide down the inside of the bowl.
Peels and pits to the side for compost. Their skins really do slip right off, and they practically break in half. Still partially frozen but juicy, they’re so small I can put them in the pie shell in halves, pit-side down, round shining essentially fresh peach halves.
I did bake the bottom crust first. Having finally figured out to add a little more water at this altitude right off the bat, and mix fast but not too much.
My friend’s husband Steve was right: you have to use your hands; a pastry cutter won’t result in the right size butter inclusions. You need tiny, uniform pockets of butter (or butter/lard) to make the pastry flaky. That’s science. I don’t get it exactly but I’m beginning to experience it, and I believe experience is what makes a pastry chef, or anyone, an expert at something, whether they can explain the physics of it or not.
A nearly perfect peach pie: enough peaches to fill and round the pie plate, mixed with some sugar (not too much), and a palm-full of tapioca, stirred, and left to sit. Crusts mixed, chilled, and rolled; the bottom crust baked for around ten minutes with parchment paper weighted with beans; filled, topped, and baked, like, forever.
I think my new oven is not quite calibrated for my altitude. I think ten minutes at 450 degrees would be ideal. Then filled and quickly covered, crimped, and replaced in the oven for another ten minutes. Then, the book says, bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes. 50 minutes came and went, another ten, another ten, it took forever to even start to brown. Once the peach juice bubbled up inside the edge I took it out of the oven. Mmmmmm, the aroma.
Pastry baking science aside, how hard is it to comprehend that United States President Donald Trump flat out lied? He promised during his campaign, and was elected on the promise that, Mexico would pay for the wall.
It infuriates me that people, whatever their alliance, are not outraged, are not bombarding their Senators with phone calls and emails, exclaiming that this Shutdown is not good for America, and that Trump promised Mexico, NOT WE, would pay for any wall. He lied to you!
If every one of the nearly one million Federal workers who are working without pay, or not working without pay, would call their Senators and tell them whether or not they favor this Trump Shutdown, maybe, he says, for years, I bet that Congress would hear a whole lot more NOs than they would YESs. Every one of these people, whether they support or oppose Trump, counts on the income, purpose, and dignity of their job with the Federal Government. Trump does not speak for them. They speak for themselves.
This is a broken promise masquerading as some other closet monster. It’s monsters all the way down. The squirrelly (no offense to squirrels) course that this person’s chicanery and abuse takes is exceptionally skillful. The guy is a magnificent manipulator. And I’ve come to know some damned skillful manipulators through the years, even as recently as last summer.
Thanksgiving’s pie was apple/plum, both from last year’s harvest, in the freezer. I figured out the crust mixing physics that time, but not the cooking science, so it had soggy bottom, ick. Also, the apples were undercooked, too al dente for my taste. Otherwise, a good mix of cinnamon, sugar, tart apple, and more tart, but less of, plum, just a layer on the top.
Sorry friends, I didn’t ask your permission. But you kind of have to assume, knowing me, you might show up here one day. I love this picture. It expresses to me the ultimate in community. When I moved here almost 27 years ago, I could never have imagined how lucky I would become, how grateful for so much in my life. Every day that I wake up, I thank my lucky stars. For waking up at all, for the day ahead in this place, for community at ever-deepening levels.
So, that’s grammar and the president’s lies out of the way. Back to the allegation that TWC, our go-to weather source (and admittedly a drama queen of a station), has been illegally stealing our private information. “The app deceptively collected, shared, and profited from private location data of millions of consumers….” Miguel went on. Then he introduced the LA City Attorney, who said:
‘Think how Orwellian it is to have a third party you never had contact with know where you’ve gone for a therapist, for a date, for what you did last night…’
“Banking on TWC brand, the Weather Company, owned by IBM, operates the app… which manipulated users into turning on location tracking, using valuable personal data, for commercial gain.” Owned by IBM? Why should this be surprising? We’ve all signed those agreements we never read. We’ve all been complicit in so many ways in the prostitution of our privacy.
I’m sick of it, I tell you, sick of it. All of it. It is all I can do to get out of bed in the morning some days. But there is so much to live for, so much to get out of bed for, that I can sometimes set aside the incessant enervation of our species’ chatter, to enjoy the day.
Today, “another bluebird day across the state,” said Colorado Public Radio. It was spectacular. Blinding in its perfection. Every second with eyes open was a calendar photo. And the minutes and hours or portions of hours spent indoors with friends, or alone, were succulent every second. I could not be a more lucky human being.
So much I don’t have, yet so much more that I do. Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day.
It could as well be a wildfire, but it’s just the sunset, that great ball of fire in the sky rolling by.
The breeze is finally cool tonight, and it wants to rain. It’s been a merciless summer so far, except for last Friday night. Relentless heat in the nineties, and no rain for months. The aridification of the West. My field like most on this mesa is at least half brown, with meager green grass. Fires rage, and we’re lucky, with nine reportable fires in the state, and more than twice that many from Oklahoma west, that we are not oppressed with daily smoke, and have not had to evacuate. I feel for those closest to the fires, how the smoke settles down at night and it’s all there is to breathe. Even here sometimes, dawn brings smoky air that sends me downstairs early to close windows and doors. With the heat of the day the smoke lifts, though we get a hint of it from time to time, but otherwise skies are simply hazy. We are desperate for rain.
My skin is turning lizard. Our skin is dry always, and hot by midday, and almost no one has air conditioning, because heretofore we have not needed it. Nights in the high sixties never cool us down enough to make it through a closed-in day. This is climate chaos at play.
But last Friday night, unbridled joy erupted: At last, rain! The band won’t soon forget that night, nor will any of us who happened to be there when it rained. First there was a lightning show in the mountains north and east of town, but the music was good so we stayed, despite the obvious risks: Gobs of electrical equipment, cables across the lawn, the church steeple right across the road, lightning cloud-to-cloud around us in a constant thunder rumble.
Rapidgrass played through the rain at the Old Mad Dog Café downtown, speakers and amps covered in tarps. Many left before the rain, but those who stayed remained until the band was through, well after dark. Some ineffable unity came to the band and the crowd: strangers and friends danced together, streaming onto the dance floor as rain came down; laughing, swinging, cheering, whistling, weeping. Grizzled old-time ranchers whose livelihoods depend on water danced with young hippie transplants, confirmed hermits splashed in puddles with dark-eyed children. We stuck our heads under downspouts, laughing, getting drenched in the welcome shower, dancing, dancing, and the band played on.
A double rainbow heralded a slight break in the rain. At sunset a downpour began in earnest: dancers and drinkers poured inside, and the band followed us through the double doors, continuing acoustically with Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain and a few other tunes, before taking their only break.
People headed to cars and trucks or nearby houses to refresh themselves or change clothes, and most returned for the next set. The band kept trying to quit at the end of their second set and we kept them going for an hour more with piercing whistles and cries of Play all night!!! For the rain of course, I realize now, but in the moment it felt like for the frenzied joy.
It’s been a joyful summer in so many ways, so far. Cousin Melinda came from Kentucky for relaxation therapy, including the best fish tacos ever, chihuahua for a day, a day over the pass at Iron Mountain Hot Springs, and our ritual cocktail party at the Black Canyon right down the road.
Local, organic sweet cherries, just one of many delectable snacks shared at our precious, local National Park, a hidden gem in the historical treasure of our National Parks system now under threat (like the rest of us) from top-down mean-spirited tampering.
Chihuahua Therapy at the home canyon.
Iron Mountain Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, with 16 mineral-water hot pools including this pebble-floored 106 degree pool overlooking the Colorado River.
In(ter)dependence Day brought more beloved company and festivities to our neighborhood pod, and days before that Felix turned 100. His dearest friends concocted the party of the century. More than 200 people enjoyed live music from Swing City Express (featuring vocals from various local talent), great barbecue from Slow Groovin’ in Marble, and visiting with long-ago and seldom-seen friends. People came from across the globe to honor our favorite centenarian, who was not the oldest person at his party! Felix got covered in lipstick kisses.
We were invited to “Dress like it’s 1945,” and guests obliged in diverse ways.
Meanwhile, midst all this partying, the garden struggles along in the hottest driest summer I’ve seen in my 26 years here. The magpies have fledged and gone, the redtails in the canyon are learning to fly, and the baby hummingbirds are almost too big for their nest, with tail feathers out one side and sweet faces peeking out the other. Despite myriad fears and stresses over weather, climate, and the demolition of democracy, there is so much wonderful life to cherish and celebrate, every day, right here in our own back yards. Open your eyes. Let me remember to be grateful, every living moment of every day.
The desert willow, a Zone 7 tree, has always done ok on the south side of the adobe house, but this summer it’s full of more blossoms and bees than ever. Funny how some things like the dry.
Passing by this tiny bumblebee on a dahlia, pretty good for a phone camera…
There’s one stretch of road, on the way up the canyon to town, where wild turkeys often cross. They feed in the field below, and roost in trees uphill. In spring we watch the males’ magnificent displays as we cruise slowly by. Those of us who live here are pretty careful driving that stretch, though some of us have joked for years about hitting one for Thanksgiving dinner.
Yesterday, driving home from errands, feathers still flew as I approached the body; must have been a vehicle one or two in front of me that hit her. The bird, still warm, was missing her head. I put her in the back seat and drove home, thinking Do I really want to do this? But at least this way, I had the choice to butcher her, or throw her off the canyon for lions if I decided not to try.
I tied her feet to a juniper limb in the driveway, and pulled some skin off to assess the damage. One side was pretty thoroughly smashed, but the other side looked good.
After removing the tail, wings, and separating the body from the hanging legs, I texted this picture to David, my go-to hunter, captioned What now? He lives for turkey season. I knew it would get his attention. I had a lot of questions.
I wondered, for example, if it would ruin the meat if I got some of the green guts on it. And what tool would cut off the feet? And how to begin cutting up the body. Also, if I got turkey offal or blood into the splits in my fingertips, would I get sick and die? By the time he called me, I had the body rinsing in the sink. David talked me through the rest of the process.
He explained about bloodshot meat: The breast on the hit side was deep red, shot through with blood that would make its flavor too strong for me, but, he said, I’ll bet you have two dogs that would love to eat that! Indeed I do.
I filleted the breasts and the tenderloin off the ribcage, and put the carcass into the dutch oven full of water to make stock for the dogs. The two pieces on the left were damaged in the collision and deep red throughout.
I chopped up the bloodshot breast and loin and threw them in the skillet with some olive oil, then wrapped the good meat in freezer paper.
Cooked, it looked pretty good! I tried a tiny crisp piece, and it wasn’t bad… but it was strong and different, and by then I’d had enough of dead turkey for the day.
While the dog food sizzled and the stock came to a boil, I went back outside to deal with the legs. First, as David told me where to bend the leg, I cut off the shattered thigh with the knife, then used my Felco garden pruners to cut both legs off the feet.
After rinsing the legs clean in cold water I wrapped them, too, and popped it all in the deep freeze. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the meat, but knew I didn’t feel like eating it right then. Then, outside to sort the carnage.
I suspected that a young naturalist friend might want the feet, good wing and remaining feathers, so once I’d wrapped the guts and bloody feathers up in the newspaper that had caught the drips, I poured about an inch of kosher salt in a brown paper bag, and stood up all the parts, weeping ends down in the salt, to preserve them til I could get the whole deal to her aunt’s deep freeze. Such beautiful feathers! And the little curled feather ruffs that became of the skin that pulled off so easily. Who knew?
My neighbor with the milk cows gave me some kefir grains the other day. I gave up making kefir last spring because it just kept getting ahead of me; I couldn’t use it up fast enough to justify the cost of the milk I ended up wasting. This morning I transferred the grains for the first time. The kefir rollercoaster begins again! She said, I use it for everything I’d use yogurt or sour cream for. And I thought, aha! Turkey tetrazzini! A childhood comfort food with a wild twist. When my houseguests arrive this weekend, guess what we’ll have for dinner?
Maybe. We’ll see what they think of the idea of roadkill tetrazzini. Either way, I’ve practiced my homesteading skills, proven to myself I can be resourceful in a way I’ve resisted in the past (I have a friend who routinely eats roadkill, and I have balked when it’s been offered), and made use of an otherwise wasted life. And the dogs are loving their treats. Mother forgive us for our speed, I pray every time I pass a dead animal in the road. We don’t need to move so fast.
The black cat survived his third Halloween. He is so precious! In for the night, awaiting dinner.
It doesn’t matter what the puzzle is: clicking that last piece into any wooden jigsaw puzzle is supremely gratifying.
Puzzle season is upon us! We are trading them amongst ourselves as we did last winter, and emailing each other images of which one we might buy this year. In our informal club each household seems willing to contribute one puzzle per winter. I borrowed this one from a friend none of us suspected had puzzles. “Netherlandish Proverbs,” a 16th century oil-on-oak painting by Pieter Breughel the Elder, depicts Dutch proverbs of the time.
Artifact Puzzles includes a key to 60 of the sayings, several of which (To cast pearls before swine) are familiar to me, and many brand new to me seem particularly relevant to our times, like To tie a flaxen beard to the face of Christ.
Pieter Breughel’s “Netherlandish Proverbs” as rendered by Artifact Puzzles. The painting is 400 years older than I am. The proverbs… timeless.
Our favored wooden jigsaw puzzle maker is Liberty Puzzles in Boulder, but Artifact will do in a pinch. I’ve only done two, and I don’t like them as well because they have fewer whimsy pieces, and the cut of their pieces isn’t as intricate or interesting.
Whimsy pieces in the two Artifact puzzles I’ve done are both fewer and less intricate than in Liberty puzzles.
Liberty puzzles trick you on the edges; Artifact puzzles differ in the nature of the deceit. While all of the edge pieces look like edge pieces, there were at least seven corner pieces in this puzzle, and numerous flat-edged pieces that are not edges, that abut each other various places in the center of the puzzle.
The painting’s original title was “The Blue Cloak,” from the proverb “She puts the blue cloak on her husband,” meaning she deceives him. Notice the three pieces in the upper right, where one seeming-corner meets two seeming-edge pieces. This particular trickery seems unique to the Artifact brand.
“To carry the day out in baskets” means to waste one’s time, as some might think I am, doing these puzzles.
Last winter I sat at my table on a cold afternoon and a neighbor crept inside the front door without knocking, without calling first, without the dogs noticing his arrival. In the second after we all heard the front door squeak, they crashed open the door to the mudroom nearly smashing it into his face. “What are you up to?” he asked, then peered over my shoulder. “You’ve got too much time on your hands,” he said. I was alarmed by his entry and annoyed by his judgement.
These wooden jigsaw puzzles are a meditation for me. The mental agility required to assemble them gives several aspects of my brain good exercise, pattern recognition, color discernment, and memory top among them. Then the image itself offers another layer of awareness: is it a classic painting, like this one, or a Hiroshige waterfall? Or is it a contemporary image, is it an antique print (and of what? butterflies, or a historic locomotive?), does it conform to a rectangular shape or take the organic shape of a jaguar; and what thoughts does that image stir, what feelings, both when I first see it, and as I move through the pieces over time? There is never nothing to think about when working one of these beautiful puzzles, each a work of art in its own right.
And it affords, above all, the gift of concentration. For while my mind may roam pondering proverbs, or mulling mythology while assembling a mermaid, or considering the effects of climate change on the Netherlands, or the plight of jaguars; while a memory may be sparked by a porpoise-shaped whimsy piece or a prairie dog (or is that a meerkat?), the rest of the world falls away. The mind is given the exercise it loves, and the spirit is free to to untether and rest beyond thought, observing the layers the mind plies while it fits together cleverly cut pieces of wood and color.
“To tie a flaxen beard to the face of Christ” meaning to hide deceit with Christian piety. The proverb feels relevant to our current situation on several levels. Beyond the obvious, it tells us that 16th century Christians clearly did not see Jesus as a blond man, touching off in me thoughts about racism, xenophobia, and hypocrisy.
Five proverbs listed on the puzzle key are represented here, and at least one more discerned only from researching the painting online.
The central proverb in this image is To be unable to see the sun shine on the water, meaning to be jealous of another’s success. The fellow above is throwing money into water, i.e., wasting it. To his left, the bottoms poking out a hole in the planks represent a couple of proverbs, one stated on the puzzle key, It hangs like a privy over a ditch: it is obvious; and one uncovered here, They both crap through the same hole, meaning they are inseparable comrades. Heehee! Under the privy (and the money) is Big fish eat little fish, meaning that whatever people say will be put in perspective according to their level of importance, or “Those in power have the power.” This makes me squirm a little as I consider the looming transfer of power in Our Nation’s Capital. Add to that the crumbling brick wall, A wall with cracks will soon collapse, or Anything poorly managed will soon fail…
“To have the roof tiled with tarts” meaning to be very wealthy. Perhaps soon the White House will be tiled with tarts. Hmmm. At whose expense?
While doing the puzzle, I noticed a few images not identified on the key, like this fellow kneeling at a fire, so I looked up the painting online. The central proverb here is “To not care whose house is on fire as long as one can warm oneself at the blaze,” meaning to take every opportunity regardless of the consequences to others. Hmmm.
Like the above man at fire, the fellow “sitting on hot coals” wasn’t in the key either. He is being impatient. Above him is one “catching fish without a net,” meaning he profits from the work of others.
“To bang one’s head against a brick wall.” We all know what that means!
The details of expression in the painting are particularly well captured with this poor, morose boy. “He who has spilt his porridge cannot scrape it all up again,” or as I learned it, don’t cry over spilled milk: what’s done cannot be undone.
“Netherlandish Proverbs” was a fast, fun and thought-provoking puzzle, however burdened with nincompoops. I’m glad to have passed it on. I look forward to the beauty, surprise, and complexity of the next puzzle, next year, something bright and wild and full of life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gourmet s’mores made with Lindt salted caramel chocolate, pre-melted in a skillet in the fire.