We all wonder what it is. Is it intuition, memory, awareness? No one can really say, even scientists. So we’re each free to interpret this word, consciousness, as we like… as long as we tacitly agree to some parameters. For me, the word consciousness sprang to mind the other night when I was in the kitchen doing dishes, watching ‘ER’ out the corner of my eye, and I heard a voice that took me only a fraction of a second to recognize.
That’s Alan Alda, I thought, as I turned to the TV to see who was speaking. I chose awhile ago to spend some of the remaining hours of my precious life watching ‘ER’ because I wanted, after reading some random article, to see the role in which George Clooney got his big break. He’s an admirable actor for his talents, and an admirable human for his values and actions, in my humble opinion. Anyway, it’s my choice how I spend these precious hours, and he’s pleasing to watch. As is the entire show, it’s good TV. It was indeed Alan Alda, brought on cast no doubt to keep people hanging in after Clooney left the show. (Season Six brought lots of new people on board, and it’s working for me. I’m grateful to know when and how I’m being manipulated, so I can choose whether I want to go along with it.)
With a predictable story arc, it’s clear he won’t be here long. But the point is, in that instant in which I heard and recognized his voice, I thought about consciousness. It’s been years since I heard his voice, a lifetime since it was as commonplace as any voice I knew, when he starred in M.A.S.H. and I heard him every week for years, and still decades later, it was unmistakable, instantly recognizable. It surprised me. Back then, Alda was ubiquitous; today he’s like a madeleine, a few recorded words bringing back with startling clarity a past reality, a lost time. I’m grateful for the consciousness that can string these disparate times together with the instanteous thread of a single voice.
I’m grateful too for the consciousness of ancient trees. Here is the Triangle Tree, with three distinct sides instead of a circular trunk. How do you measure the radius of an isosceles triangle?
What happens when I get a burst of inspiration to tidy up or reorganize is that I always lose something. Awhile ago I did a kitchen project in which I bought a few new shelf and drawer accessories, and really got the pantry and cabinets in order. Not long after that I was searching for the J&M granulated garlic refill that my neighbors produce for their marvelous garlic grinder. I was sure that I had a packet somewhere, but scoured my spice racks and drawers and couldn’t find it. Some weeks after that, I was searching for the Chaat Masala that my cousin had sent me last winter, and I knew that I had done something sensible with it when I reorganized, but it had vanished. It was reminiscent of Breadgate, but I didn’t get quite so attached to finding it. And a week after that–this morning–I opened a little flat drawer in a lower cabinet looking for something else, and voila! There were the missing spices. I had quite logically put the flat spice bags in there instead of trying to cram them into the racks with the bottles and boxes. I’m grateful for finding lost things, and for being able to laugh about it.
In other food news, all the string beans are tapering off production, while the paprika peppers continue to ripen. Lunch was a simple BLT wrap. Wren and Biko each got a green bean, but Biko turned up his beak and Wren ate them both.
How am I different from that girl who first walked these woods thirty years ago when I discovered the leading edge of peace? I don’t feel so different. I feel the same, but more subdued, less eager. I feel well within the bounds of peace now, though not yet at the center. How is the land different? How are these woods different? More limbs down, more trees down, more down trees decomposing. Far fewer birds, and bugs. The mosses still green, cactus still spiny. Three paths diverged in the woods and I, I chose to stay in shade. Sun climbing as morning rain dissipates. The scant scent of damp sage, juniper oils rising, soft wet dirt underfoot. I’m grateful for taking time to wander aimlessly until I find myself among unfamiliar trees; and the for finding my way home. This seems as fruitful a way as any to spend an hour this late August day.
I’m grateful for the copious eggplant harvest I’m getting from three little bushes. I sliced yesterday’s four, each about six inches long, into three-eighth inch thick slices, salted them for about an hour, patted dry, breaded, and baked them.
The recipe uses only melted butter instead of egg to dip them in before dredging in a breadcrumb/spice/parmesan mix, then calls for baking rather than frying. It was so simple! As they baked, I made a quick sauce with canned tomatoes from last year, red onion from yesterday, a tiny purple pepper, and fresh basil and oregano. I mix and matched a couple of eggplant parmesan recipes, and essentially made up my own.
Once the sauce was reduced and the eggplant disks baked, I layered them with fresh mozzarella and sauce, topped with parmesan and leftover breadcrumbs, and baked. It was perfect! And I cut it up into portions and froze every bit of it, only tasting the pan scrapings. There are so many eggplants ripening that I’ll make another panful in a couple of weeks and eat at least some of it right away. My strategy is to load up the freezer with plenty of ready to heat meals for when the garden is spent, so I can enjoy and be grateful for summer’s flavors all winter long.
I’m grateful for all the conditions, choices, and help along the way that have led me to a path of Right Livelihood. I’m grateful for the teachers, mentors, and students that have helped me to be able to make my living teaching meditation and mindfulness. I’m grateful for the practices that bring peace and contentment to my life in these troubled times. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share these skills with others as we navigate the accelerating personal, local, and global challenges of the Anthropocene; and grateful to be offering a four-part online course in Meditation Basics starting this Thursday. Email me if you’d like to participate, at firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘meditation’ in the subject line.
It’s been awhile since I’ve simply wandered the woods as I used to with two dogs and two cats. Those were the halcyon days, and I’m grateful that I recognized that at the time. How everything has changed in two years. Sometimes it truly feels like living in the end times, and I won’t be surprised if that turns out to be the case. Whatever happens next, I’m keeping focused on doing the right thing in the moment. Often that is simply bearing witness to what’s left of this astonishing, spectacular, living planet.
I am perpetually grateful that I made choices going back three and four decades (or six, or lifetimes) that caused me to end up here, living among these ancient junipers, at this precarious time.
And I’m grateful for the tiny, ephemeral delights that each day brings, like the swooping sound of nighthawks, a cool evening breeze, the first fingerling zucchini, and a tiny predatory beetle on the coriander.
I’m grateful today for the capacity to participate fully in this life. From our early morning amble through our own trees to a late snack of sweet potato fries while exploring the rainforest of Gunung Leuser National Park with Barack Obama, I thoroughly enjoyed this one precious day that will never come again.
A late morning phone call gave me an opportunity to sit in the car again until Wren came and joined me. I’m grateful for the conversation, and for how well car training went though you’d never know it from her expression. After about twenty minutes I urged her off my lap into her seat, snapped her in, rolled up the windows halfway, and drove all the way to the mailbox and back. She was a little tense and showed it with a few big yawns, but she stayed calm. Back at the house, she leapt from the car and danced for joy. That was enough for one day.
Still feeling trepidation about food and cooking, I made another cheese sandwich for lunch. I tried out the cilantro salt but won’t do that again, even a tiny bit was way too salty for a little sandwich. I got a few projects done outside and in before crashing at three o’clock and napping til five. I’m grateful I have that option. I’m grateful for the Mindful Life Community I meet with on Monday night zooms, and for watching “Love on the Spectrum” while FaceTiming with my Kiki on the west coast. I’m grateful for having technology in my little mud hut that brings the world to me. And I’m grateful for the world of living beings that I have the opportunity to nurture inside and outside my hut every day.
I’m grateful to live so close to one of the most spectacular canyons in this country, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, protected as a National Park. I’m grateful to live near the North Rim, by far the less visited part of the park. Usually on a summer Wednesday morning there might have been one or two cars parked at the ranger station, a couple of tents in the campground, and no one else on the rim drive overlooks. I guess with Yellowstone closed for flooding everyone decided to come here. I’ve never seen so many cars at the ranger station, a dozen at least, and four or five at the nature trail parking pullout. There were people everywhere!
I’m grateful for the sweet melancholy of caring enough to miss someone I barely know when he’s gone… enough to grieve the wild world, the ancient trees and fragile lives in this park, for the state that the human species has brought this planet to… enough to wish the best for all beings, even humans, even so… I think I prefer this to not caring.
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.
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…
I’m grateful today for another day of sunshine warming the house, charging the batteries, inviting me to take a couple of cat walks morning and afternoon. I’m grateful that Topaz trotted around beside me, and when I went farther than she wanted she simply voiced her objections loudly until I turned around. Her brother used to attack the back of my leg when I went too far for his taste. I’m grateful I can remember that with laughter now, instead of the dull ache of his absence. His was such a strong personality. Hers has always been more reserved, inscrutable… but we’re beginning to understand each other better now that we’re the only two mammals left in the house.
I’m grateful for the warmth of the sunroom these sunny days, so I can bask in there while enjoying morning coffee, writing, reading, or zoom meeting: The rest of the house is so cold without functioning floor heat, and I’m trying to conserve firewood, which is costlier and harder to come by than one might think, so I try not to build a fire until late afternoon. I’m especially grateful that Topaz has leapt the last hurdle in recovery from her catcussion. Six weeks to the day from her tumble, she has finally gotten back on the sunroom table. After she got up today I returned her favorite flat bed to its usual spot there, where she napped until sunset. The round felt bed she fell in will stay on the floor from now on. A couple of weeks ago I started tossing treats in there and she’ll dive halfway in to retrieve them, but she has yet to go completely inside, much less curl up in it.
What a long strange trip it’s been, for her after that bizarre injury, and for me, for all of us perhaps, in another revolution around the sun. Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. I’ll be grateful Wednesday, when we’ll have six seconds more of sunshine than we did today. Thursday, we’re expecting snow for a few days, a white Christmas, and I’ll be grateful for that too.
As we wend our way toward winter solstice and the end of this daily gratitude blog, I begin to consider the many things I haven’t yet mentioned. So many! I’m grateful for a room with a view. When I wake each morning, grateful to be alive, this is the view that greets me. Today, I’m grateful it contains snow, and sunshine, juniper trees and mountains, distant neighbors and lots of space. I’m grateful for the familiarity and beauty of the view, and for the simplicity and comfort of the home from which I see the view. I’m grateful for the sense of stability and security these things impart to my little life, and for intermittent awareness that these seemingly solid elements are fleeting; in the grand scheme of things, as transient as this body I inhabit. I’m grateful for all the causes and conditions in my own life, and the lives of my ancestors, that led to my waking up day after day in this room, with this view.
Speaking of ancestors, I’m grateful for my dear sweet mother, gone these seventeen years; for how she loved and supported me, and how she remains in my life. Instead of guesstimating to slice the cinnamon rolls tonight, I dug into the desk drawer for a ruler, and pulled out this one, which I’m guessing is roughly eighty years old from her name inscribed on it. I haven’t seen this ruler for years, and its sudden appearance as a baking tool startled me into considering her as a schoolgirl, and then marveling that she kept this simple implement all her life, and that I kept it after she died. I’m grateful for the simple things in life and the grand.