Tag Archive | Topaz

Letting Go, Kitten Edition

Most dogs sleep on top of the cushion…
When she’s not sleeping, she’s getting bolder and more at ease exploring the woods with Topaz and me, enjoying the May flowers like this scarlet gilia.
Yesterday we were walking near the giant Fremont holly, and just as I wondered if it was blooming yet and turned to go find it, its distinctive fragrance led me right to it.

Topaz is much happier this evening than she’s been in a month. At five a.m. I startled awake to her hissing and growling at the kittens in their crate downstairs. I tossed and turned for awhile, and tried to call her upstairs. Eventually she came, and let me rub her belly (and finger comb an awful amount of weeds from her fur). It soothed both of us back to sleep. Later in the morning, I delivered the kittens and all their belongings to a shelter staff member who met me in Hotchkiss. I hope Topaz doesn’t think she accomplished this by hissing at them this morning. It was in the works for days.

I’m grateful that mindfulness kept me from locking into a judgmental, agitated assessment of the shelter. Last week I was finally able to speak with the director, who was appalled and apologetic to hear of my unfortunate experience with the foster coordinator, and let me know I wasn’t the only one with complaints. We were able to have a clear, open conversation about all that went awry, and appreciate each other’s honesty and grace. Once the director reassured me that my experience with FC wasn’t characteristic of the shelter as a whole, I was able to examine my motivations and assess more accurately the reality of keeping either or both kittens.

I reflected that when FC had said I should bring them back when they’re two months, because “people are always coming in wanting a kitten,” I had a knee-jerk reaction to the way he had just manhandled them, and thought No way am I bringing them back here. So part of my motivation to keep them was to protect them from him, or from any abuse. Part of my initial motivation for fostering them had been to maybe end up with a kitten, but that was purely a selfish longing. I was able to admit that the one I fell in love with, and would have kept, was the one who died, and I realized as I continued to care for the others, and cuddle them, that–cute as they were–I wasn’t feeling the same connection to them. Also, to think that I was the only person who could give them a good home was just ego.

At the same time, I considered carefully my attention budget and my energy level, and realized I didn’t have enough of either to take on longterm responsibility for another little life. There were numerous pragmatic reasons–including Topaz–to let them go now that they were weaned and active enough to need, and deserve, a lot more space and interaction. Finally, I thought about attachment. It came clear to me that spiritual growth is my highest priority; simplifying my life and letting go, my path.

Buddha advises us to relinquish attachments, knowing that all things are impermanent and that clinging brings suffering; and knowing that at the end, whenever that comes, we all have to release our attachment to our own life. So by practicing letting go of attachments as we age, especially to things we care about, we can practice for the ultimate letting go, and die with grace and ease rather than fear and suffering. With this in mind, I’ve already begun giving away some valued heirlooms to younger family members, and being more generous with other things as well. So I looked hard at my attachment to having a kitten (or two), and it vaporized. I looked at my attachment to outcome, also, and understood that even if I kept I could not prevent them from coming to a sad end (like Ojo). Understanding the shelter conditions and policies–they would be housed together and given daily affection and enrichment activities (like training to high-five), and there is a comprehensive vetting process for adopters–I was able to release my fears for their future.

And so it came to pass that this morning, on my way to get my second Covid booster, I handed off the precious little beings with sincere gratitude for all that I learned from the experience, from how to bottle-feed kittens (which might come in handy some other time) to the importance of understanding, patience, and letting go, and lots of insights in between. I am at peace having made a wise choice, Wren misses them, and Topaz is delighted. I hope she doesn’t think she can get rid of Wren the same way!

This Week in Tiny Lives

Her name is Wren. It came to me last week as I pondered “Ready,” which she responded to, and “Fen,” which I kind of liked better. Then those two merged into Wren, a sweet, delicate, little brown bird. Wrennie. She doesn’t know it starts with a different letter than Ready, and she came to it immediately; maybe thinking I’d developed a sudden speech impediment with that middle consonant.

Then, several people said, “Oh, like Ren and Stimpy?” What’s that? I had no idea there was a cartoon about some revolting creatures called “Ren, an emotionally unstable and sociopathic Chihuahua; and Stimpy, a good-natured yet dimwitted cat.” So no, NOT like that Ren; like a canyon wren, or a house wren, or a Carolina wren…

In the woods, May is the blooming month. Lots of little lives burgeoning.

Topaz is adapting to walks with Wren, and continues to examine the kittens from a few feet away now and then, but mostly just continues to live her prima donna life, going about her routine with her pretty little nose in the air.
Wren is fascinated with the kittens, as they are with her. When I open the crate to bring them out to eat, she is right there, and helps corral them as they scatter.
After his setback, Smokey went back on the bottle for a few days, but is now eating a slurry of canned kitten food mixed with formula.

Little Tigger fluctuated between eating well and gaining a bit, then losing weight. Last Wednesday he seemed listless. We had an appointment with a vet for the next day, and I had to go to the audiologist that afternoon, so I called a local foster expert, and she suggested giving him straight honey with a syringe. I did that for a couple of doses and he vomited after each dose. I cut back the dose and lengthened the interval and he seemed to keep it down and perk up. That night I offered him the food/formula slurry and he ate it well. Thursday morning he ate well again. I took them all to the vet with some stool samples, and the diagnosis was that he was “loaded with parasites.” He was also tested for FIV, and fortunately was negative. They gave him subcutaneous fluids to hydrate him. All three kittens were dosed for parasites, and we were sent home with medicine to administer daily for a week.

Tigger ate well Thursday and Friday, cleaning his own bowl and finishing off Smokey’s when he left some in it. I was so relieved to have him sorted out and on the mend. This morning, when I came down at seven, he lay limp in the corner as his brothers climbed and called for breakfast. I set them in their boxes with food, and picked up the tiny boy. It was clear to me that he was dying. I cradled him in my shirt and sang to him. He lay there, softly ticking… I thought it was a death rattle. After awhile, it dawned on me that it was a slow-motion purr.

I remembered Foster Friend telling about holding a dying puppy on her chest overnight, dosing it with honey, and how it came back to life. I thought about dehydration. I mixed a little water with maple syrup, and began to drip little bits into his mouth. He swallowed, his eyes brightened; I thought either I was prolonging his agony or I was reviving him. When I saw him lick his paw, I committed to the revival story. For the next few hours I gave him intermittent drips of fluid. He meowed a few times, yowled a few times, rested quietly, swallowed more, looked up at me… As I meditated and then talked with friends on zoom, he got very quiet and still. By the end of our conversation he was dead. I wrapped him in a cotton square, and buried him in the garden with Stellar.

I felt sad. I’m grateful for the skill of equanimity. Through the morning I kept things in perspective. Even as he lay warm and loved against my heart, there were thousands of kittens around the world dying of parasites in awful surroundings; there were human babies suffering malnutrition, neglect, and worse; there were species going extinct, and wars ravaging lives and cultures; there were politicians lying and corporations conniving; there were good people dropping dead in the prime of their life, and a pandemic surging again with a new, even more contagious variant. In a world of suffering, I loved a tiny kitten through his short little life and his inevitable death. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Meanwhile, more little lives continue sprouting in the garden. The first potato leaves emerge from mulch as tiny peach buds open. I turn my attention to the ample beauty and life that remains to be nurtured as the garden rollercoaster ramps up…

Orange tulips gladden the end of a raised bed…
…and the crabapple tree glows gloriously.

Meet Ready!

I am too tired to write much, except to say that when I was finally ready, so was she!

I found her on Petfinder when I was shelter surfing online a couple of weeks ago, and the stars finally aligned for us to meet. I’m so grateful to GB, who drove me up there so that I could cuddle her all the way home from Grand Junction, and was more optimistic than I that it would work out. She’s very timid, having been first a stray on the Navajo reservation, then in a shelter down there, then shipped up to GJ with a bunch of other puppies and dogs since there aren’t as many dogs available in Colorado.

I thought about naming her Fennec, since her profile picture on the website reminded me, and others, of the adorable North African desert fennec fox. But she doesn’t seem like a Fennec, and it’s too hard to say over and over.
So her ‘working name’ for now is Ready, just like in the dream, and it works really well: “Ready, come! Ready, go! Ready, ride? Ready, up; Ready down, Ready dinner…” Her computer-generated name online was, get this, Stella! But I just couldn’t keep it. Also, she is not really a Stella.

She was billed as a Chihuahua-Pomeranian mix, but I think they got it very wrong. Chihuahua I can see, but not Pom. Pamela thinks maybe she has some red heeler in her because of her freckled paws; I think she may have Basenji because I haven’t heard her make a sound in more than 24 hours! David says she has coyote ears. Coyotihuahua! We’ll know more later, because I’m interested enough to spring for a DNA test somewhere down the line.

You might think a new little dog for a day wouldn’t exhaust me (even with the slight and dissipating tension of monitoring her interactions with Topaz), and you’d be right. I was already tired when she joined the family because I’ve been ‘fostering’ three little kittens for a different shelter in GJ for a week, up at least once in the night to make sure they get adequate feeding. Two have graduated to canned food but the littlest, Tigger, is still on a bottle, and not thriving.

Smokey, on the right, was spoken for when the kittens were delivered, whew! That left only two for me to think about rehoming when they turn two months. This alleged fostering lasted about three hours for Tigger before I knew I’d be keeping him. The largest kitten, on the left, I’ve named Pitbull, for a couple of reasons, which I may go into another time.
This is NOT the ideal nipple for a three-week old kitten! If you’re ever going to foster bottle-baby kittens, look for the ‘miracle nipple’ instead of the standard package.

He’s what they refer to as ‘a fussy eater.’ I don’t think it’s really his fault, or even mine. The shelter didn’t give us ideal nipples at first, but yesterday we took the kittens with us to the city, to get a lesson from the foster coordinator. That didn’t go so well, but we did get a better bottle, and today he’s latched on a few times if only for a few seconds; an improvement, however slight, and I think he may have gained a few grams by morning.

Certainly, he’s gained a friend. I was beyond delighted this morning when I had fed Tigger, and Ready jumped into my lap and curled up, letting him snuggle. As tired as I am, I’m realizing the nourishing potential in physical connection with these warm little lives. If I had four new mechanical things or four new work projects that required this much time and energy, I’d be thoroughly depleted. But I get a lot back from caring for these animals, and am soothed by a steady two-way flow of oxytocin. And bless little Topaz, who has tolerated these intrusions with surprising equanimity. I’m making sure she still gets all she ever wanted from me, which is a couple of walks a day, full food bowls, a treat game in the evenings, and to sleep in bed with me at night. It’s a little challenging right now, but I’m confident it will smooth out over time into a new, sweet, balanced family.

Resurrection

Male and female evening grosbeaks and house finches flocking together rested in the top of the birch tree the other morning.

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, did I mention that before? I had a lot of recovering to do from the drawn-out demise of Stellar, which was physically and emotionally grueling; and actually quite a bit of settling into a new normal without some of my closest friends who also died over the past two summers, from Ojo to Auntie to Michael and more. This spring does feel a bit like a resurrection for me, and what better day to acknowledge that than Easter Sunday?

Looming larger these days in the back of my mind is how will Topaz receive a new addition to the household? I am pretty much ready for a dog!

I pulled out the new husband-camera which has also lain dormant all winter, and realized I had no idea how to use it, so I also pulled out the manual and spent some hours today figuring out all the knobs and buttons — most of the bells and whistles will have to wait for another day. I haven’t even attached the ‘good’ lens yet but still got some pretty pictures. The two nights of deep freeze last week did not destroy all chance of apricots this year, at least up on this mesa. The tree was loaded with buds, and while most of them had just opened before the freeze and are now toast, it seems that many unopened buds survived and are blooming in this next round of balmy weather. I hope that the valley orchards fared as well.

It was this Mourning Cloak who arrived yesterday that inspired me to bring out the big camera and get ready to wallow in my favorite pastime again. Last year, the ‘good’ lens lost its auto-focus and would have cost a lot to repair. So I dove in headfirst and sprung for a camera upgrade and two new lenses. It helped a lot that I could trade in the old husband and all his lenses at B&H Photo, my go-to AV store in NYC. They offer great help over the phone, and reliable goods and shipping.
While I waited for the butterfly to come in range of my seat on the bench, I missed a bumblebee but got a mediocre snap of a honeybee. There were just a few other small native bees buzzing around; maybe because it was windy, and is still kind of cold at night… or maybe because there are fewer bees even than last year. The loss of the almond tree last year has cut their spring smorgasbord sadly in half.
Not many native pollinators seem to care for forsythia, but this western yellow-jacket was enjoying having it all to itself.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

The Mindful Life Community daily guidance this morning brought suddenly and vividly to mind the journalism teacher in high school, Dottie Olin, who became a lifelong friend. She inspired me then, and I became editor of the paper. For three decades we stayed in touch, visited when I was in town, and her joie de vivre and boundless joy in life grounded me in unstable times. I was grateful to visit her often during the months I lived in Virginia while my mother was dying, and we became even closer. She continued to inspire and support me well into her 80s. Shortly after my mom died and I moved back home to Colorado, I got a note that she was dying of lung cancer. She said, “It’s nobody’s fault but my own,” as she had smoked all her life. She was at peace because she had lived fully and with so much love. I was devastated to lose her as well as my mom in the same year, 2004. I hadn’t thought about her recently, and love that she came to mind so vibrantly as someone who lighted a fire in me and rekindled it through the years. Just the thought of her this morning lifted my energy and got me outside and moving around in the garden, motivated to make the most of this beautiful spring day, this precious day that will never come again.

This Week in the Garden

Birds return. This is the first evening grosbeak I’ve seen here in decades. Neighbors with feeders have flocks of them. My feeder tree used to regularly host black-headed grosbeaks, but even then the evenings were rare. He squawked his plaintive question a few times before flying off. I was grateful I happened to be outside as he was passing through. Also this past week, the first robin lit in the budding apricot tree, and last Saturday, joy of joys, a phoebe sang his descending syllable seductively from treetops. He’s flown afield seeking his mate, but I’m sure he’ll return.

After watching a video I can’t find again on economically filling a new raised bed, I started with a layer of punky aspen someone delivered a few years ago. Light as balsa wood, these ‘logs’ weren’t fit to burn, but laying them into the bottom of the raised bed provides bulk that will decompose over years. On top of the wood, a layer of fine wood chips, and on top of that some old pots’ worth of soil. Good organic growing soil will fill the top 8-10 inches for planting. As years go by, I’ll amend the top as the bottom materials break down.

This ‘potato bin’ seemed like a great idea years ago when I bought it, but I didn’t understand potato cultivation back then and ‘it’ failed. After increasing success with potatoes the past couple of years, I think I know what I’m doing with it this year. We’ll know more later!

Garden Buddy shared a video and some sweet potatoes, and we’re both experimenting with rooting organic sweet potatoes to grow slips to plant, in hopes of a harvest. This distinctly southern tuber may not grow well here, but we just like to experiment with all kinds of things.

Above, raised beds amended and fluffed are ready for planting. Below, perennial onions are already providing scallions.

Organic straw is hard to come by these days. Any straw that hasn’t been sprayed and labeled ‘weed-free’ is hard to find. I love to mulch with straw, but mulching with straw that’s been treated with herbicides doesn’t make any sense to me. I think it’s one reason my earliest gardens failed to thrive: I failed to question what certified weed-free signified. Duh, of course it’s been sprayed! So this year I’m trying sawmill waste that GB located. I hope these fine, lightweight wood shavings will have essentially the same effect. Peas are already planted along both sides of the trellis here, and a few of last year’s kales that came up and had to be lifted were transplanted to the center where when peas climb the trellis the kale will have shade. It’s all trial and error, live and learn, curiosity and equanimity.

Tulips and giant crocus coming up from last year.

Onions, fennel, leeks and snapdragons coming along under lights; a new pot of eggplants just sown, as well as a ginger experiment. Below, the tray of pepper seedlings almost all sprouted.

Here at Mirador, we are all grateful for the big thaw, for the little rains, and so far for abundant sunshine. Does come less frequently to pillage the yard as fields green with variety far and wide. Birds sing outside, Biko has emerged from torpor and spends most days in his round pen basking and grazing, Topaz demands a walk every day; the promise of spring wakens this dormant body as well. Emerging from my own shell, spending more time outside, I find myself missing a dog more than before. It is almost time. Speaking of dogs…

Little Topaz sitting with me, and dear Stellar’s mortal remains, in the garden. His favorite spot in life turns out to be an ideal shady place for a chair and table, protected from the strong spring winds, with a comprehensive view of the whole fenced garden. A peaceful place to rest between joyful efforts.

While I don’t feel the need to defend owning a gun, I do feel inclined here to respond to a little pushback about the shooting blog. First, numerous people in the neighborhood, including me, have asked the owners of those bad dogs to contain them, to no avail. The sheriff has been called on those dogs, to no avail. So attempting to scare them back home with a couple of shots was in no way rash or unreasonable. Second, in this county as in much of the west, it is legal to shoot to kill a dog who is harassing wildlife or livestock. It’s not uncommon, and while I may not agree with that law, I understand it. Anyone who knows me knows how dear dogs are to me, and knows I wouldn’t have hurt those bad dogs. And now you know it, too! May all beings be free from suffering, including the bad dogs and their careless, overwhelmed owners.

Gunshot: A Cautionary Tale

I blame gun culture: in the news, in TV shows and movies, in games. I’m just another stupid American with a gun. To be clear, there was nothing wrong with what I did; just with how I did it. It’s three days this morning, and my hearing still isn’t right. It’s much better—but not all that much. MFC was right, I never should have fired that second shot. It turns out one gunshot can do permanent damage.

Now that I understand what I actually did to my ears, I am even more chagrined. With one violent act I brought instant karma down on my poor ears, and I blame the normalization of guns in our culture. Because they never show, in news of mass shootings, of cop killings or cop killers or ‘stand your ground’ murders, in movies with wild west gunfights, gangsters, or the mob—they never show a shooter stop to put in earplugs or pull down their earmuffs, no, they just whip out a gun and start shooting. Like an elk hunter suddenly attacked by a bear—even bow hunters carry a gun for that, just in case.

So that’s what I did. Whipped out my gun and took a quick shot to the ground behind the last of the two big dogs patrolling my east fence like they owned it. I’m tired of these brutes, who have troubled me and Stellar at the end of our own driveway, charged across the road into our space menacing me and my decrepit old dog. I yelled at them and shooed them away a couple of times before we just quit walking to the mailbox.

I know they’ve been around all winter, I’ve seen their tracks in the snow. But I couldn’t be sure it was them until the other morning, when I saw them both trotting along just outside the yard fence, in the heart of my safe zone, the very woods I walk for peace and solace with my tender cat. I decided to give them a piece of my mind.

And mind only. It was never my intention to hurt one. Like I’ve seen Chris and Dave fire their guns into the dirt to break up a dog fight (and even they didn’t stop to put in earplugs) I pulled out my .357 revolver, braced it on the deck railing, waited until the second dog was just past the south fence, and shot downward well behind it. I never heard or saw the dogs after that—well, I didn’t hear anything for awhile, but I didn’t see them run off so don’t know if they got the message, but I assume so.

I certainly got the message: guns are incredibly loud. It’s not like on TV. You really do have to stop and don ear protection, even for just one shot, if you don’t want to wreck your hearing. In my foolish, spontaneous urge to teach those rogues a lesson, I forgot everything I ever learned in the few shooting tutorials I was given years ago (all of which included ear protection). The kick alone could have knocked me over: I hadn’t braced nearly enough, and I’d done it all wrong. I know what a powder burn is now, too. I got one on my left thumb along with a cut from bracing too close to the barrel. 

I only took the second shot to do it right—well, also to drive the point home with the marauders. I held the gun straight out, sighted well away from my face, braced the base with my left hand just the way I was taught, took my time to aim at the plastic dogloo in the pen, a big fat target, just to see if I could hit it. I didn’t. It wasn’t as loud as the first shot when I’d had my elbow bent, my ear twice as close to the gun. It somehow escaped me that I also had half the hearing I had before. And I didn’t think to put in earplugs the second time, because it didn’t occur to me that I could be doing permanent damage.

A simple explanation of the complex, miraculous process of hearing is described here. 80 decibels is considered loud. Hearing loss can occur with sounds above 85 dB. Last night, falling asleep, I remembered a party at the home of a former boss in the Park Service. At his frequent parties, he routinely played Pink Floyd at top volume on huge speakers, likely well over 100 dB, and that night his little girl came in her pajamas into the living room, crying because her ears hurt. He told her to go back to bed. I learned years later that she had eventually gone deaf. The 165 dB shockwave my pistol produced for 2 milliseconds was the equivalent of working a jackhammer for a forty-hour week without ear protection.

A bomb can register more than 200 dB, well beyond the threshold of “deadly shock waves.” Weeks of exposure to bombs and gunfire… I cannot imagine the trauma of sound shock alone on the people of Ukraine, those who survive the bombs and artillery assaults. Contemplating with painful compassion how any war causes such unutterable suffering. 

I am in the throes of Temporary Threshold Shift. Immediately after shooting, every sound was deeply muffled, as though I had a down comforter stuffed in my ears from both outside and in. For the next two days, my own voice sounded like I had a mouth full of custard. External sounds are gradually improving but I still can’t hear myself clearly. At rest, my ears burble with the faint sound of water boiling in the next room. 

My poor stereocilia are still recovering from their traumatic flattening, and here I’ve been talking on the phone, listening to music, watching TV, zooming for work, further assaulting my inner ears for most of my waking hours the past two days just trying to force things back to normal. It’s time for a break. At least one full day of silence, no talking, no music, TV only with closed captioning if I watch it at all. A great opportunity for a silent retreat, reading the book club selection, appreciating nature. This could take weeks to heal, if I’m lucky.

I’m optimistic. I just blew my nose and my left ear whistled. That could be a good sign. Let’s pretend it is. And outside, I can hear bluebirds faintly chirping as they fly over, and the whoosh of raven wings. I’m grateful for these sweet subtle sounds, and the silence that surrounds them.

Every Living Moment

Such a sight to wake up to…

Let me remember to be grateful every living moment of every day. Once again, we stare into the dark hole of a madman’s mind, shudder at images of unfathomable suffering, face a nuclear threat I thought we left behind for a wiser century. On top of climate catastrophe and ongoing global pandemic we now confront looming world war. Life is fleeting and uncertain. Love your people, your little things, the moments that bring you joy and meaning.

A sure sign of spring, the garden rake standing with the snow shovel.

I did a selfish thing this year. I ordered a birthday puzzle, and I put it together all by myself, and then I framed it and hung it on the wall, without letting anyone else assemble it. I may have breached a Puzzle Rule… but then again, I write the rules and I don’t recall one that says every single puzzle must be available to everyone. Sorry, guys! This one was just for me. One of these days I’m going to paint the green wall blue, and I wanted this on there when that happens. Couldn’t risk a chipped or stained piece–even though Puzzle Rule #1 is No food or drink on the puzzle table, I often catch a little grease spot on a puzzle someone else has done.

Leftovers are great! The Mac n’ Cheese that keeps on giving. After Boyz Lunch last week I got a few more meals from the pasta pan. First I Mexicali’d it up with homemade salsa verde and fermented hot sauce from last summer’s harvest. The next day, I simply topped it with a fried egg and bacon.

Gratuitous egg-yolk picture, because the deep orange yolk of Bad Dog Ranch free-range organic eggs just looks so delicious.

Another leftover treat used up the second half of the sourdough pizza crust which I had frozen, topped with leftover herbed oyster mushroom roast. The recipe calls for a complicated skewer construction to mimic a roasted meat, but I simply topped the red onions and rosemary sprigs with the marinated mushrooms. It smelled amazing as it roasted, and delivered a complex spicy umami flavor and remarkable texture.

Seasonings for the mushroom marinade, including homemade paprika and home-frozen garlic cubes since I was out of fresh.
Tossing mushrooms in the mix after adding soy sauce and olive oil to the seasonings.
Ready for the oven…
…and ready to eat. So simple, so delicious!
Dessert that day was coffee ice cream topped with dark chocolate M&Ms.

I know how fortunate I am. I really am grateful, almost every moment of every day. And when the suffering of others begins to feel remote, and I forget to be grateful for the food, the skills, the luxuries, the beloveds, the beauties of the life I’ve been graced with, all it takes is one phone call to remind me of my blessings.

The proprietor of the neighborhood pub died over the weekend, shocking the community. Another reminder to seize the day. His passing leaves a big hole in the fabric of the valley. I don’t know the details and I didn’t know him well, but I can see him clearly, smiling as he inquired about our entrée, shopping at the local grocery, bringing a special cocktail or dessert to the table…. awarding Deb the prize for best Halloween costume, back when we went to big parties. Another untimely death, she said, though we both know we’ve reached the age when no death of anyone older than us is untimely. Even though it almost always feels too soon.

Radio

Playing with ancestral charms and baubles this afternoon, letting go of anything that seems to matter… focusing on what I choose to attend to.

Thanks for suggestions of ways I can get music! Several people mentioned Pandora. I did have Pandora for years, but found Spotify’s music management features more helpful and convenient. Pandora also repeated songs annoyingly frequently at that time years ago, maybe they’ve expanded their capacity since then. I paid for each of those services because I can’t stand ads for so many reasons, from the aggressive sound of their voices to the manipulation of desires and emotions, to the presumption that I am a “consumer.” I bristle at that word: Consuming is not my primary motivation nor my identity.

As I write this evening, I’m listening to Turn It Up on KVNF with my dear friend DJ Honey Badger playing a lot of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Like me, she appreciates the stand they’ve taken against Covid misinformation (and probably so much more). As I mentioned, though, KVNF doesn’t always play music I like, and also offers a lot of news, which I don’t want.

I don’t want it! I understand what’s happening, and take it in, in little bites, when I feel resilient enough each day to check the headlines. I understand that human nature is violent, greedy, power-hungry, rabid, narrow-minded and stupid, as well as kind, generous, loving, compassionate, expansive, creative and beautiful. I do not need to dwell in the negative aspects of our species, I spent most of my life fretting about those. Life is too short!

Mindfulness allows me to hold both the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows, juggling them from hand to heart to hand to mind to hand. Mindfulness allows me to choose where I place my attention, so aside from supporting my local Indivisible chapter, making calls, signing petitions, and writing to my ‘representatives’ (I use the term loosely, living in CO District 3); and ascertaining whether nuclear war has broken out; I choose to focus my attention on things I can actually control, such as what I eat for lunch, whether or not I walk Topaz in mud season, and if I should get her a kitten; how much time I spend on ‘entertainment’ and how much on learning, working, exercising, home maintenance, correspondence; living in alignment with my core values, and trying to be skillful and virtuous in thought, word, and deed; et cetera… there is so much that I can control, that life is too short to dwell on and make myself suffer from things I cannot control.

One of the things I can control is where I get my music, the background soundtrack for my days, the energy and joy that moves me. I tried I ♥️ Radio back in my traveling days but couldn’t quite figure it out and didn’t get much from it; also, I think there were too many ads on there. Kim recommended Radio Garden, which has captivated me. I could spend hours playing in Radio Garden! It concerns me that the website shows up as ‘Not Secure’ — I don’t really know what that means — but I’ve solved that worry by using it only on my old laptop where I no longer have any confidential or important information stored. I spent the afternoon listening to KOKO, old-school Hawaiian, as I worked upstairs. Commercial-free radio from Hana, Hawaii. I spun around the globe from Ukraine to Cape Verde and many points between, fascinated, but settled on KOKO for a peaceful, easy feeling this afternoon.

Kim also recommended Bandcamp, to hear music from unsigned artists around the world. She offers her edgy ethereal sound free on this wonderful platform. Coincidentally, or synchronistically, a new friend sent the link to her bandcamp profile, where her unique songwriting shines. What a world! Technology fosters a whole new level of interconnection among humans. I’m grateful I have lived to see the day. I’ve got all the music of the world at my fingertips without Spotify, Pandora, Apple, or Amazon Music.

Anyway, in this moment, I’ve turned up my “very own community radio station” on my actual radio, and I am hearting this community. Honey Badger has played my most favorite song ever (“I think I can make it now the pain is gone“), and a few other top ten, and my inner drag queen has gotten up to lipsync and dance around the living room. It’s easier without the giant dog bed taking up half the ballroom floor. I let loose as I haven’t in a long while, moving this body, feeling alive in this moment, and interconnected on many levels, despite this excruciating solitude. Most of the time it feels pretty good (solitude) but recently, Stellar’s absence, a somatic lack, has swelled into heartache again.

This diffident cat stimulates very little oxytocin. Even though I’ve known her since the day she was born, and have loved her within days of her existence, she remains mysterious: she is a consummate CAT. She’s been through traumas, suffered losses and unknown physical distresses in her madcap life, and so as Honey Badger points out, “Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like her.”

My deepest soundtrack, in my story of this archival entity I call me. Listening to Honey Badger’s playlist brings alive my past, what first connected me with this community, dancing in a mob in Memorial Hall as Laura Love rocks “What if God Smoked Cannabis?” in this historical pot capital of Colorado. And decades earlier, that rock climber who introduced me to Neil Young, his perfect body, climbing with him at Seneca Rocks… Now, I dance alone at home, decades later, essentially content. Grateful for every living moment of every day, when I remember to attend to it.

Now, iconic DJ Fettucine takes over, HB is driving home through falling snow, and Neil Young sings on, on these community airwaves. This sonic nostalgia: another state, another love, another life altogether. I’m reminded of two questions I asked frequently when I first arrived in this place half a lifetime ago: Who Am I? and How Did I Come to Be Here?

How is a fun question to ask, but not essential. What now, what next, are the crucial questions moment to moment. I’m grateful for every step that led me here. Music tonight, and a felt sense of belonging, have restored my joy. For the moment. Everything changes, all the time. Let me remember to be grateful, every living moment of every day. I think I may have mentioned this mission before. I understand that self-cherishing is the root of all suffering, yet I am never happier than when I wallow without reservation in gratitude. Perspective is everything.

Healthy Choices

Another thing that lifts my spirits is SEED TIME! Maybe, just maybe, I went a little overboard on peppers, but I’m really looking forward to growing enough to make plenty of wicked fermented hot sauce this fall, oh yeah.

Life is hard enough (even without the threat of a new World War) that we don’t need to be challenging each other on every opinion. I mentioned inflammatory comments on Facebook in yesterday’s post. They came after I posted this innocuous sentence: “I joined Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and other concerned global citizens in dropping Spotify in protest over Joe Rogan’s misinformation podcast.” My thought was, if the same number of people as have died from Covid in the US were to cancel their Spotify paid subscriptions, maybe Spotify would grow a pair and take a stand for truth. That was three weeks and roughly 100,000 needless deaths ago.

I unfriended the people who jumped all over me for ignorance and cancel culture. Life is too short. It really is, it’s just too short. I don’t bear them ill will, I just don’t have time for that shit. I do have time to enjoy the creative endeavors of other people of big heart and open mind, like the adorable Australian series “Please Like Me,” created, written by, and starring Josh Thomas (on Hulu). But I missed the easy access to a variety of music on Spotify, especially instrumental jazz, and while I love mountain grown public radio KVNF in Paonia, not all of their music shows are to my taste, and I can’t handle the interruption of unsought headlines these days.

So I have embarked upon an exploration of public radio stations around the world, in search of my kinds of jazz. I have checked out a number of stations I used to enjoy when I lived in their broadcast areas, like WTJU in Charlottesville, VA and WMNF in Tampa; and other stations I’ve enjoyed as I drove through their airwaves like KMUD in Garberville, CA. In my search for jazz I came upon WWOZ in New Orleans, which I’ve been listening to for a few weeks, and today I found Radio Swiss Jazz, which I think I’ll be listening to a lot for a very long time. I figure if I find twelve public radio stations I love around the world, and donate $10 each month to one of them, I’ll have done a lot more good in the world with my $120 than if I had kept on supporting commercial, profit-driven streaming services like Spotify. So that’s my plan!

Unnecessary moment of tender beauty

Thanks for the messages of comfort and encouragement after my gloomy post yesterday. I’m grateful for them. I woke this morning to news of Russia’s malevolent invasion of Ukraine, and set my intention for the day to let–or make–peace begin with me. There is literally nothing I can do about this new war. Other people get paid to take care of these global issues. I call and write my representatives to let them know my preferences. I voted a compassionate president into office. He’s done the best he can with what he has to work with. Not much else I can do there. But I can renew my commitment to practicing kindness, wisdom, and compassion as much as possible every precious remaining day of my short life.

Thanks to mindfulness practice, though I sometimes slide into the shadows, I no longer dwell there consistently as I did for much of my life. And when I do go dark inside, I let it be, resting in that sorrow: my friend Impermanence always comes through. Things always change, inside of me and out, and I’m grateful for the wisdom to know that, allowing myself to feel what I feel without judgement, and resting calmly with what is, until it changes. It does sometimes take an effort to make a healthy choice, like seeking out music and art that uplift me, and opening my heart with gratitude to connection offered by friends old and new. While I know that no one and nothing else can lift my spirits for me, healthy choices can certainly help shift the balance.

Life is Hard

Obligatory joyful pet picture, Topaz in a tree.

Even for someone with almost everything (except true love) life can be hard from time to time. There is so much suffering in the world that I can do nothing about, and then there’s my own personal, ego-centric suffering. This or that didn’t go my way, this or that person doesn’t care about me the way I wish, this or that beloved has just died. Just this evening, I learned that one of my best high school friends died the first summer of Covid, a month after Michael died.

My old friend Wayne, who died of Covid in July 2020.

I hadn’t known him well for the past ten years or so. His beloved wife was radically opposed, I think, to our friendship, as she was to virtually every belief I held about reality, except the love of dogs–and Wayne. He was a great guy. We grew apart as our political differences fueled that awful cultural divide that plagues the country now as pestilentially as Covid 19. The last time we connected, jovially, on Facebook, was about a year before Covid arrived. I’d been thinking about him quite a lot this weekend when I cooked a batch of cheese grits, and served myself some leftovers with a lot of bacon. The last time we were really close was not long before the Colonel died, when Wayne and his wife visited at The Home, and we all wallowed in the endless bacon buffet at Sunday brunch. Grits and bacon, a Sunday brunch tradition for us for all the years my parents lived in The Home.

Cheese grits on the bottom, kale and garlic, a fried egg, and lotso bacon.

Why they feed old people all this fatty awful food I have never comprehended, but us younger folks sure enjoyed it. I remember that last time we were all together, before they moved to Phoenix and then the Colonel died, they were in the buffet line in front of me, and I heard her make some unkind remarks about the old folks in front of us, and he laughed. He fell a little bit in my estimation then. He never used to be unkind. Anyway, they moved, and we corresponded a few times, but then Trump happened, and they were pretty rabid supporters of his, and so that was essentially that. I went on Facebook this evening to try to promote my upcoming Mindfulness course, but was so distressed by the divisive comments on a post I’d made a couple weeks ago from ‘friends’ I don’t even really know, and from some crassly commercial spam on our high school page, that I decided not to share my course information on that platform.

But I did look up Wayne, having him on my mind from the grits and bacon, and was stunned to see some posts from his wife referring to his death. I followed his timeline back to his obituary in July 2020, to learn that he died after a two-week struggle with Covid. That news has exacerbated my already prevalent sadness as I begin to face the grief of the many other losses sustained in ‘my little life’ during the first two years of the virus. None of them, til now, have been directly related to Covid, but they have all contributed to an uncomfortable sense of aloneness–some might call it loneliness, but I eschew that word and concept–that has only kept growing since Stellar’s departure last November. It is becoming harder and harder to care. I keep checking in to see if I’m experiencing equanimity, or indifference. Peace with impermanence, or simple despair.

Wayne introduced me to my first real high school boyfriend, his best friend Mike, who I think turned out to be gay, but oh well. I spoke some French, and one night Mike played me a song he couldn’t understand in which a phrase sounded to him like Shut the door. It was actually Je t’adore. We had a good long laugh about that. Mike gave me perfume and roses, and played the total romantic, but he couldn’t get into sex with a woman. Or at least with me. Wayne and I stayed friends for decades after Mike had disappeared from both our lives. Every time I flew back east he’d pick me up at the airport, and he was a rock during the time my mother was dying of PSP and I lived in Lorton, VA, for almost a year to help her through that.

There have been a lot of people around here that have died of Covid, but those few I was peripherally acquainted with were much older. Wayne is the first peer I’ve learned of to die from it. I’m not surprised, given their politics, but I was shocked in a different way to lose an old friend, and hold the regret that I hadn’t reached across the divide to him sooner, in time to share some love before he died. I messaged his wife my condolences, of course. And now I sit with this regretful loss, on top of all the other grief I’ve been holding with equanimity until recently.

Too much current sugar, in the bad morning habit again of sweets with coffee, in this case a homemade buttermilk doughnut.
Negative Covid test a few days after potential exposure at the grocery store. For what it’s worth, given the unreliability of these tests to accurately identify Omicron infection in a timely fashion.

For the past week, I’ve been exceptionally tired, and my blood oxygen has hovered around 88, going up or down a few points depending on when I measure it. Relevantly or not, a week ago I was standing in line for the pharmacy, when an unmasked man passed a couple of feet in front of me and sneezed a giant, congested, snotty sneeze just two feet in front of me. He did sneeze into his coat sleeve, but still, I could practically feel the blast on my masked face. By Friday I felt hot and had some feverishly delirious all-night dreams. I didn’t have a fever, and I tested negative with one of my free government home tests, but I’ve been sleeping til almost noon the past few days, and going through daylight hours in a bit of a stupor. Who knows, I probably don’t have Covid or I’d have worse symptoms, but I do have some mental anguish.

Grief, for all the beloveds I’ve lost over the past two years, and missing the physical comfort of my precious black cat and my dear old big dog; anger at the stupidity of the human race who is so fucking impatient to be done with Covid that they’ve set it up so we’ll never really be done with it (see BA.2 variant doubling weekly in the US); bristling at the nasty, self-righteous pontification of near-strangers on ‘my’ social media; pure physical weariness and pain from the longterm effects of ancient tick bites and too much current sugar; sorrow at the metamorphoses of some significant relationships into less than my preferences; and overall resignation to the entropy of life on this fragile planet.

A glowing moment of delight, lemon-ricotta pancakes, thanks to MFC sending me the recipe. Way more trouble than they’re worth, but delicious.

However, I’m grateful for the skills and perspective of the ancient wisdom of mindfulness, which enable me to get up out of bed every day no matter how late; to meditate myself into a place of calm abiding; and to be aware of, attentive to, and grateful for the ephemeral beauty, joy, connection, and love that flows along within this precious life. We are all grasping at straws–they can be straws of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, gratitude, and equanimity, or they can be straws of rage, hatred, envy, greed, and aggression: the choice is ours to make.

I’ll choose the path of love and kindness any day, no matter how challenging. “On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.” ― W. S. Merwin