I pay a lot of lip service to solitude. But it hasn’t really been solitude all these years, it’s been the absence of live-in human companionship. There has always been a strong dog presence in my home, for 38 of the past 40 years, and those two dogless years were back in my 20s. Now I am without a dog again, and living alone, truly alone, because you can’t really count an aloof cat and a hibernating tortoise. It is cold comfort that I have no regrets about euthanizing Stellar when I finally chose to: I’m still alone. But, the truth is, I am always alone, no matter what connections I recognize; we are all always, ultimately, alone. So I’m grateful for the capacity for solitude, and for the opportunity to explore it in more depth than I have for the past forty years, with gentle curiosity and self-compassion.
Here I am doing a beautiful Liberty Puzzle, and thinking of Auntie, who introduced me to the joy of these remarkable functional artworks; very aware of her absence. Listening to Eva Cassidy crooning Songbird, keenly aware of her premature death. Hearing the absence of Stellar’s every breath. So much loss! It’s only human. And it’s human also to continue to find joy, delight, and contentment in the unutterable beauty of this fragile life, and to feel gratitude for each and every day.
I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed before the first snow today at this elevation, which continues after dark lightly frosting every leaf and limb white prior to the first real freeze. I started a week ago, and have been whittling at it for a few hours each day. I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed after a thrilling season. The counter is loaded with the last ripe tomatoes, tomatillos are all put up in the pantry, heaps of parsley are distilled into pesto and frozen cubes; rattlesnake and runner bean pods dry in large paper bags; eggplants and carrots fill the fridge. I’m living the dream.
I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed with tips and tricks from gardeners online. I’ve hung tomato vines to ripen in the upstairs room, beside pepper plants with wrapped rootballs. Some gardeners advised misting the roots, while others just left them dry. I compromised with a quick twist of plastic bag to prevent them from instantly desiccating in this climate, maybe giving the peppers a bit more nourishment as they redden.
I’m grateful for another day with my little helper, covered in snow. Like in the movie Awakenings, he is transformed with drugs, and like those patients he will eventually relapse into inevitable decline. His resilience astounds me. He wants to be alive.
I’m grateful today simply for being here. Here, as opposed to anywhere else I might have been on this date, this anniversary.
NPR reported today that a sizable number of people who witnessed the Twin Towers attack continue to suffer PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues. The report mentioned human resilience, also, but what struck me was the limited scope of the research, which surveyed only people in the vicinity of New York City. There must be millions more people across the country, and the world, who still suffer mental health impacts from witnessing that horror. Not to mention those millions suffering the global fallout of the forever wars that started that morning.
I reflected this morning, from the serenity of my garden, that so many of the choices I’ve made over the last twenty years are a direct result of being near the Pentagon on 9/11/01, and watching live both on TV and from the back porch, the explosive birth pangs of this new world disorder. I thought about how far I’ve come, how much I’ve changed, and how long it took afterwards to even begin to claw my way out of the despair that seized me on that day. There were a few hours that morning that I feared I could die there, and never see home again; an interlude of terror when no one knew what might happen next.
My parents lived next to an Army Air Base, and sometime that morning, even as I stood on their back patio watching smoke from the Pentagon darken the sky, the roar of jets and helicopters began just beyond beyond the woods, and continued nonstop 24-7 for the next week as I remained grounded there. I felt I had just experienced the beginning of World War III, or as it’s now more aptly referred to, ‘the Forever Wars.’ The ramifications also took a surprising turn into domestic discord as well. 9/11 is the trauma that keeps on triggering.
Eventually I made it home. I was numb for many years. Eventually, my life took a turn toward toward the mindfulness and gratitude I find myself practicing today, but it wasn’t easy and there were many detours along the way. In this place, on this day, I am keenly aware of how loss and suffering lay the groundwork for kindness and compassion. I am grateful for being here, now, and not anywhere else.
I’m grateful for whole roasted cauliflower, and the Dutch oven to roast it in, and the ingredients in house to make a delicious, healthful, meaty meal from this one cruciferous vegetable; and for the oven, and the gas, and the roof over my head…. I vowed to eat better, and I’m gonna start by committing to more vegetables and fewer carbs. No cold turkey this time, just modulation, moderation, and genuine concern for the well-being of this body with all its intricate processes and interconnections. This aging human body which will fail and die some day, any day, no way to know which day…
Not to be macabre, but just by way of motivation to make the most of this one precious day that will never come again. Part of that is making food good: A heart and gut healthy vegetable. I’ll be paying a bit more attention to eating more fiber for awhile. I combined two recipes to make this gorgeous crown, which Stellar and I both loved.
I whisked together olive oil, a couple tablespoons each of Dijon mustard and grated parmesan, dried basil and thyme, salt and pepper, and some minced garlic cloves, while the oven preheated at 400ºF. Trimmed the bottom of the cauliflower, set it core side up in the Dutch oven and rubbed sauce into the center, then flipped it over and coated the top and sides. Baked for 45 minutes with the lid on, added a few more tablespoons parmesan over the top, and baked uncovered for ten more minutes. Just tender enough to cut with the spatula. So simple, so delicious. I am grateful for cauliflower.
I went to a lovely brunch at the home of some new friends this morning, with some old friends who were in town for the weekend: I’m grateful for that, for old friends, for new friends, for vaccinated friends, for fellowship and good food. On the drive home a small badger crossed the road in front of the car and darted into a culvert. Jojo slowed the car and I leaned out the window, surprised that the badger was still visible. It ducked in and out a couple of times as we watched. Strange it keeps coming back out, I thought. Only when I got home and uploaded the pictures did I realize the badger had lost an eye.
A one-eyed badger crossed the road, and watched us with its one eye as we peered and jockeyed for a better view. Now I feel kind of bad that we…badgered it like paparazzi. My heart hurts for a little wild animal who’s lost an eye, but my spirit rejoices in its resilience. What could have caused it? What predator could have cost this badger an eye, what unfortunate occurrence or condition? Was it hit by a car? Did it get an infection? Run into barbed wire? I’m grateful for the rare sighting of this tough little mesopredator, and inspired by its resilience, though something about it leaves my mind restless as I head to bed tonight. May it be well. May it be happy.
My gratitude today began of course first thing in the morning when Stellar and I both woke up alive and able to take a nice long walk through the forest. But it really kicked in late morning when I met my new primary care provider at the clinic, a nurse practitioner who made me feel heard and seen in a way no doctor has since the great Adam Zerr left the valley. Christi Anderson heard everything, and then asked if there was more. There was. And then she asked if there was more. There was. And then she said, “I look forward to taking care of you.” All with lots of eye contact and genuine compassion and interest. I felt a lot healthier walking out of there, simply from feeling heard and seen completely. It’s so important, whether it’s with a healthcare provider, a partner, or a friend, to feel heard and seen for who you are.
And that might have been that for today’s post, except that tonight I attended the third and final webinar on a resilient ‘circular’ local economy, hosted by one of our environmental watchdog groups, Citizens for a Healthy Community. Another of the clinic’s doctors attended this workshop to speak about integrating healthcare proactively within the main focus of the series, the ‘nutrient dense’ agriculture of this amazing valley. I’ll not go into any recap of the series, which consisted of a total of almost 8 hours over three Mondays, but I’ll share the link to the recorded workshops, in which so many entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, and others explained their amazing passion projects.
I moved here almost thirty years ago because I found what I had been looking for without knowing it: a palpable sense of community. Though in the past decade I have retreated into my hermitage on the fringe, this community continues to sustain me in a very fundamental way, and there really are no words to express my gratitude for the gift of living here, among these generous people so deeply connected to the earth our mother. I have been uplifted and inspired by everyone who spoke in these three workshops, and was honored to attend simply to witness and learn the depth and breadth of interconnection among all these non-profits and individuals, from community elders like food activists Monica and Chrys, to relative newcomers, all dedicated to supporting the ecosystem of this beautiful agricultural valley which is also a progressive creative center in food and many other arts. One of the most exciting things I learned is that there is now a countywide Farm to School food garden/curriculum in the nine elementary schools.
I’ve often thought that I found in this valley a safe place to plant myself and flourish; a place where I could be heard and seen so that I could find my voice and my vision. I am grateful every single day that I chose to settle here in the North Fork Valley.
Tomorrow we go see a new vet. I got the assignment finished. Everything changes all the time. When things get tough, I look to homemade ginger cookies. And when they get tougher, I smash some ice cream between two of them. I’m grateful for small, tangible comforts in an uncertain world, and also for inner comforts like equanimity and resilience.
I’m grateful for the Apricot Tree, and for neighbor Fred who has been pruning it every spring for as long as I can remember. I’m grateful for the tender attention he gives this tree, bringing his ladders, loppers, and pruners, and shaping the tree beautifully with his expertise. It took several years after I planted it for the tree to fruit, and for the next few years while I was in charge the most it ever grew was half a dozen apricots. Once Fred took over, fruits increased year after year, finally yielding more than forty pounds each of the past couple of years. After last fall’s sudden killing freeze, I’m grateful that the tree is even alive. We don’t know yet whether any fruit buds survived, and expect only a light crop if any. He checked out and lightly pruned the peach and crabapple trees, too, and they’re both okay. This will surely be a low fruit year in the valley, but the trees are resilient, and we can hope for more good years in the future, if the extremes of climate chaos don’t kill them first. We’ll know more later.
I’m grateful for resilience, his and mine. Stellar slid into another bout of inexplicable diarrhea that started yesterday morning but wasn’t conclusively an issue until after dark, as usual. Why does it always strike them at night?
I’m grateful that I remembered the potty pads I keep for Biko, and remembered my brilliant idea of a sheet path to the door in time to protect the rugs, and had a brand new case of paper towels on hand to line the path for the next run(s). I stayed up late monitoring the situation, then had to get up a few times in the night to let him out and clean up. I’m grateful I had Imodium in the medicine cabinet from the Shitstorm a year ago, grateful I remembered it was there, grateful it seems to have settled things by midday.
I’m grateful for mindfulness practice every day, but especially today. Under the tender tutelage of Mindful Life Program founders Mark and Laura since last summer, I’ve been learning more about meditation, motivation, and meaning than I have in all my years of casual study and dedicated interest. I’ve begun to fully embody qualities like patience and compassion, which may come easily to some people but have taken me years of practice. I keep my attention trained, for the most part, on what matters, and don’t let my mind drag me off into what ifs or if onlys.
In this way, I was able to remain calm as the gravity of this episode sunk in, recognizing that it’s happened before, we got through it before, and he was just fine (as fine as possible with his bad back end) before; that it was likely it would resolve in a couple of days and we’d go back to our normal, peaceful routine. I was able to accept that this is how it is right now. Further, I had confidence that if all wasn’t well later, and his health took a dark turn, I could handle it. Resilience. So I didn’t fret, I got up when I had to, slept lightly, did what I could do to mitigate mess and cleaned up when necessary, all with unruffled patience and a heart full of unconditional love for my dear companion. I tended and rested through the day, and by evening, all does seem well, neither of us much worse for wear. I’m so grateful that I could hold this unfortunate event in perspective, respond appropriately, and still enjoy many aspects of a quiet, calm snowy Sunday.