Tag Archive | Stellar's last days

Contentment

This morning brought the promise of rain, which ultimately manifested as only a few misty sprinkles between hours of cool sunshine. Stellar and Topaz walked with me through the woods, I baked some cinnamon buns and enjoyed the sugary treat outside with coffee on the patio as phoebes flitted and titmice tittered, and I finished reading a pretty good novel. Then I attended to my lesson plan and taught the first of eight classes to a second pair of students, embarking on the last practice session before I get certified to teach mindfulness. After that, we walked again, to the canyon in evening sun, and then I made dinner and watched some shows. It was a mundane, simple Saturday, the kind I love, and I’m grateful for every living moment of this day spent in contentment.

I only checked the news headlines a couple of times, and each time I felt discontent, frustrated, angry, and sad. People can be disappointing. Human nature has an evil streak, try as we might to deny it. Greed, hatred, and delusion are the three poisons of mind that cause the most suffering in the world. The Buddha recognized them 2500 years ago: They were with us then, and they remain today; they may have evolved along with our other, better qualities as we became the human species, and there may have been an adaptive advantage then, but there isn’t now. I truly don’t see any hope for eradicating them in general, but I can sure do my best to diminish them in my own mind. By choosing to turn my attention away from the so-called ‘news’ that is full of them, and toward the living, breathing planet under my feet, I’m able to water the seeds of gratitude, compassion, kindness and joy. This brings a pure, deep contentment to each day.

I found the motherlode of globe cactuses, some as tiny as a fingertip, while we wandered aimlessly home this morning.
And in the evening, we made it to the canyon where we discovered that the ice has melted in Ice Canyon, and the cottonwoods are leafing out.
I was overjoyed to see the number of buds on the large claret cup cactus on the trail home.

I’m grateful that I have lived long enough to find contentment, after a lifetime of chasing illusory ideals of happiness. I’m grateful for every step that led me here (though I think I could have done without several-many of the more painful lessons along the way), for each right step, and for each wrong step that taught me something, offered an insight, invited a course correction. I’m grateful that I survived my poor decisions, and finally understand the power of choosing where I place my attention.

Losing Myself

Stellar, Topaz and I went for a long, slow walk this morning, stepping off the beaten path onto a trail we’ve – well, I’ve – never walked on before. They may have, and certainly plenty of wild creatures who blazed it. I turned to look back, and if I hadn’t known where I was I’d have been lost: same trees, different angle, it was a new place. I love losing myself in these woods, am grateful that for all the years I’ve lived here I can still wander aimlessly, stop, and not know where I am – for at least a few seconds, and sometimes several minutes. It’s comforting to belong to something larger and more mysterious than me.

Another view of trees I’ve never seen from exactly this angle.

We wandered for half an hour, slower and slower. We slowed until we stopped in silence, and simply stood still. After awhile I heard a soft tap-tap high above. I looked up to see a brilliant white-breasted nuthatch looking down at us from the top of a juniper snag, his head cocked. Then he went back to tapping the dead wood for food. Eventually he flew to another tree.

Topaz indulged me, and her own interests, by hopping up on this beautiful down tree.

Then I caught the faint but unmistakable whiff of smoke. It was too warm for anyone to have an inside fire going, and I couldn’t see the horizon for the trees surrounding us. It was time for coffee anyway, so we turned for home. I’m grateful I could text a neighbor with a view to find out that there was no obvious plume nearby. She said the sky was hazy to the west, and we assumed it was the usual clearing fields with fire or burning ditches that happens every spring. It was the first day in many that it wasn’t too windy to burn, though still exceptionally – dangerously – dry.

We continued slowly toward home on narrow deer trails rarely traversed by our ten feet (or at least my two), and suddenly found ourselves in front of the Triangle Tree. I knew when I discovered it last fall that one day I’d find it in just the right light, and here it was! From this angle, it looks like a majestic old juniper in full sun.

And from another side it looks like a completely different tree.
From between those two sides, one light and one dark, you get a sense of its full shape.

After spending some time savoring the Triangle Tree, we ambled on home and went straight to the pond for Stellar to drink. By then it was already 70º and he was panting heavily after his relaxing exertions. Well, I was relaxed, after waking with a head full of unruly thoughts which got swept away by the wonder of losing myself in the woods. At the pond, I was grateful to see the first northern leopard frog of this season, a big fat female in the curly rushes.

And while the coffee brewed, I took the seedlings outside for their first ever ten minutes of real sun. I think they were grateful. I was grateful to see them looking robust and happy, before I gave them a good drink and put them back under the lights of the grow table. I’m grateful for another splendid day that started off with an hour of joyful adventures even before the first cup of coffee.

Feeling Heard and Seen

Grateful to see the first wild phlox in bloom on our walk this morning.

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.

Grateful for healthy garlic growing on the left, tulips budding on the right, and a new planting of romaine amidst the greens I may have planted too early this spring; grateful for the garden’s lessons in impermanence, patience, acceptance, and resilience.

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.

Grateful to come home from the clinic today to risen pizza dough in the skillets, and plenty of yummy ingredients to top it with, from faraway smoked salmon and capers to extremely local tomato sauce.

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.

Seedlings

I’m grateful today that these seedlings are doing so well! I think I’ve finally got a handle on how to start them. In the past, I’ve tried many different mediums for starting them, in many different types of containers; I’ve watered from below, and they’ve damped off from being too wet. They’ve gotten leggy. This year, they all look pretty solid, and I’ve just planted another flat full of various tomatoes and peppers that should sprout in a few days. Since I don’t know when I’ll get around to adding on a greenhouse to the south end of the house, I’ve ordered a larger, 3-tier LED grow light stand in hopes of growing more starts with a lot less moving of trays and pots in and out for weeks before I can plant in the ground. So I’m grateful not only for the first healthy seedlings of the season, but for the ability to grow even more going forward, and filling the garden with organic, extremely local food plants and flowers, to nurture everyone in this little ecosystem.

I’m also grateful that Stellar had another good day, and we took a longish walk this morning. He did a lot of snoofing about and came out from under a thicket covered in bark and twigs. The woods is full of seedlings also, grasses, wildflowers and weeds.

Feeling Fine So Far

I was grateful this morning that Stellar and I walked to the canyon in beautiful early light, grateful for the conditions of my life, and his, that allow us to do this most mornings.
I was grateful this evening that my spooky cat let me hold her on my lap for awhile, down at the pond.
I was grateful in between for a healthy salad with chicken and ‘poison fish’ croutons.

And I was grateful in between morning walk and salad that the second vaccination went smoothly and efficiently, there and back again, and grateful, by the way, for the science and the scientists that prevailed in record time concocting a vaccine for this dreadful virus that continues unchecked in a global pandemic. Not so grateful for the county official and a few other volunteers at the vaccination event who wore their masks below their noses, as casually oblivious to the science as the maskless customers at the hardware store the other day. I’m grateful that I’m feeling fine so far, just a little arm twinge and a little brain fog; fine enough to make pizza for dinner and grateful for that too! I’m grateful for every little thing in this good day.

And I’m grateful that new spring bulbs keep blooming every few days.

Old Age

I’m grateful for another morning walk to the canyon rim, and for the last vestiges of ice in Ice Canyon, its melting portending full on spring.

I’m grateful today for the love and empathy that’s come my way from people reading recent posts about Stellar. We saw the new vet today, and her report is that he’s in tip top shape – his blood work is perfect, “not even a liver enzyme out of place” – except that he is losing control of his back end. Which we knew. It’s just getting precipitously worse recently. We made it to the canyon again this morning, and I got him in and out of the car twice, and he loved the ride to the vet in Delta, and he loved visiting with the vet, and now he’s sleeping the sleep of the – well, of the 103-year old dog who’s had a big day. Yes, that’s his main issue, he’s about 103 years old. I’ll be grateful to make it to any number of Old Age.

I told the vet, “He’s directionally deaf,” and she said, “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.” I said, “He’s losing some vision,” and she said, “Of course he is at his age.” I’m grateful for this good news about my old dog: it relieves some anxiety, thinking now that I don’t have to be thinking of how soon I might have to put him down, but instead can just think about whether we’ll have to invest in a little cart to help him get along. As long as nothing else is wrong with his huge ancient body, and his heart, mind, and soul are healthy and happy, I can relax and enjoy his good company for as long as the most of him holds out. I told the vet today, as I’ve told many people, “This dog is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my whole life.” In so many ways, that’s the god’s honest truth.

Full circle: I walked here 29 years ago with a big male dog, and met this tree who encouraged me to stay. That dog is buried under the cairn in front of the Ancient One, as Stellar stands to her left, encouraging me to come on home and make his breakfast.
By popular demand, here’s the recipe I used for the Big Soft Ginger Cookies in yesterday’s post. I’m eternally grateful to neighbor Mary for sharing with me this indispensable comfort food. I LOVE how she annotated the recipe! I’m so grateful for good neighbors ♥️

But Still…

Today I’m tired, and I’m sad about Stellar, and I’m disappointed in myself for not finishing an assignment. But still, I’m grateful. Grateful for another day with my dear old wobbly dog, grateful for the red tulips and the white grape hyacinths, and the rare conditions of my life that allow me to have time to meditate; grateful for the teachers who inspire me in every sense of the word, literally reminding me to be grateful for each breath.

I’m grateful that yesterday was not the last time we got to walk to the canyon together. We both hobbled down there this afternoon, and he did pretty well considering how weak he was last evening. He seems pretty strong in the morning, but as the day wears on his back legs seem to wear out. Each day is another opportunity to practice equanimity, to release attachment to the inevitable outcome.

This Tree

Today I’m grateful for this tree, on our usual path through the woods. These ancient junipers frequently remind me how short my own lifespan is compared to theirs, and how much shorter the lifespans of the dear companion animals we love. I’m grateful that I woke up alive this morning, and Stellar woke up ambulatory, and we got to walk to the canyon rim again today, right past this tree that’s been my friend for almost thirty years. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to do that again together.

By sunset, poor Stellar walked like a reeling drunk, and sat down twice on a short loop. Not on purpose. His back legs just collapsed under him, the way they did that one time last winter in deep snow. This evening he was able to get up on his own and hobble forward. But in these last days of his (how many more?) how will we go on if he can’t walk? I’m grateful that I can contemplate this possibility with some degree of equanimity. Every day of the past three months since he made it to 13 has been gravy; every day of the past couple of years since his decline began has been a bonus. I’m grateful that I’ve had the wherewithal to tend him with such devotion, that he’s had the devotion to keep going with me, that we’ve had almost a year together since we lost Raven. My heart breaks at the prospect of waking tomorrow – or the next day, or the next week, or month – and finding him unable to move from his bed. I don’t know what I’ll do. But for now, I’ll go back and snuggle him a bit longer before I head upstairs to sleep. We’ll know more later.

Stellar a few days ago at the edge of the pond.

Stellar’s Last Days: Friday Walks

First walk, eight a.m.

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!”

Second walk, ten-thirty a.m.

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?

Fourth walk: five p.m.

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.

Late March late day light on middle-aged junipers. Stepping among them slowly with my dear old dog and companionable cat smooths the ruffled feathers of a hectic week. It’s Friday night and the weekend beckons full of promise. Two full days of perfect spring weather to putter in the garden. I’m grateful to look forward to tomorrow.

Stellar’s Last Days: Junipers