I’m grateful for warmth and safety as the atmospheric river makes its way over western Colorado. Grateful for the moisture that fell as rain since yesterday evening, for the fog that nourished all the growing things, and for the snow that finally started falling this evening. We’ve gotten around four inches so far and it’s pouring down, a gentler storm here so far than the terrible blizzard that’s been wreaking such havoc and tragedy in the east. I’m grateful to have sufficient food supplies for me and the pets to ride out a long spell, and plenty of wood stacked close to the house, and the mental and emotional wherewithal to not only survive but to thrive in a solo retreat over the new year’s weekend.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m grateful for Drag Queens. Over the past six or seven years they’ve taught me so much about compassion, kindness, authenticity, inclusivity, and shattered so many of the negative biases I was raised to believe. They’ve opened my heart, broadened my mind, and enriched my life immeasurably. My love affair with drag queens started when on a whim I decided to check out RuPaul’s Drag Race on Amazon Prime. For awhile it was an obsession, then merely an addiction, and for the past few years it’s been simply a joy.
The other day I tripped over another drag queen show unexpectedly, ‘We’re Here’ on HBO. I’ve only watched two episodes out of the three seasons currently available. The first was filmed in Grand Junction, Colorado, the closest big city to where I live, and the place I go to see the dermatologist, pick up visitors from the airport, the nearest Natural Grocer, and once upon a time a shopping or restaurant destination when I used to drive up there once a month or so for errands. Just before Covid hit the US, friends had plans to take me to a drag show up there for my birthday present. Oh well. This episode was a consolation prize. The other episode, which I watched tonight, was ‘Florida-Part I’. In the series, three drag queen stars, Shangela, Eureka, and Bob the Drag Queen, travel to small towns in the US mentoring queer people and putting on a drag show starring their mentees.
‘Florida-Part I’ was a fabulous representation of the ramifications of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill popular there now. The episode is culturally and politically relevant, inspiring, moving, and hopeful. The three queens mentor a ten-year-old trans girl whose mother is a schoolteacher now prohibited by law from mentioning ‘gay’ or ‘trans’, a 58-year-old gay man living in conservative bastion The Villages, a 75-year-old recently trans woman and her wife of 50 years, and a Pulse survivor who brought his celebratory party of twenty friends to the club that night where four of them were soon shot to death. Imagine living with that: it was your idea to move the party to the club, and four of your friends died as a result.
The intolerance, hatred, misrepresentation, and fear that perpetuate tragedies like Pulse, Club Q, and any other culture-wars mass shooting have got to stop. Obviously, me saying that won’t accomplish anything if governor after mayor after governor saying so hasn’t stopped it yet. But all of us saying it, time after time, in our homes, our communities, our churches, and our ballot boxes, can finally make it stop, or at least slow it way the hell down. LGBTQ people are people. We are all people. In my world view, deer, mountain lions, juniper trees, even skunks are people.
Why can’t we live and let live? We are all connected. Whoever you are, someone you love is gay or trans or differently gendered or sexually oriented than you think is ‘normal.’ Anyone who votes for ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation is hurting or killing someone they love. This isn’t the time or place to go into it, and also I don’t know enough to proclaim but the research is out there; I do know that throughout human history and across cultures, gender and sexuality have never been purely binary. Let’s learn from the drag queens, and just love each other how we are.
All I knew was potatoes and feta, and all I had to do was show up with the ingredients. Amy talked me through the recipe. How thick to slice the potatoes, how long to boil them, how much of which herbs to toss in with onions and potatoes to roast…
…how much feta and yogurt, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper to blitz in the food processor for the delicious sauce… to line the bowl with the sauce, spoon the roasted vegetables on top, sprinkle with nuts and scallions, and drizzle with honey. We sipped our cocktails and talked of many things as we cooked and ate, as we always do. I can hardly recall a single one of them. I’m grateful for the easy, long friendship (is it 50 years? 51?) that we get to continue across the continent with zoom cooking, and grateful for all the great dishes we’ve made together in person and apart. I’m grateful for locally grown, organic potatoes from Farm Runners, and for custom grocery delivery from P&P. I’m grateful for perennial scallions in my garden from early spring through late fall.
In the midst of cooking I paused to split the bread dough in two and set it on the warm stove to rise in loaf pans. I’m grateful for the sourdough starter that Ruth gave me oh so many years ago still going strong, for the new standard loaf pans I bought from King Arthur to finally replace the oversize pans I inherited from my mother oh so many years ago, for the persistence to try this recipe again and again learning a little more each time how to bake at high altitude.
I’m grateful that this time, I think I finally got it right. I won’t quite know til I slice the loaves tomorrow. They just came out of the oven and need to cool completely before I take the serrated bread knife to them, but they look and sound just right.
I’m grateful for a slow, quiet morning in the garden, and the gorgeous snapdragons I grew from seed which are just now starting to bloom. I’m grateful for connections with friends and cousins here and afar throughout the day, and grateful that as far as I know everyone I love woke up alive this morning. Not everyone did, and that stark reminder highlights the value of each precious day and every act of kindness, compassion, and connection it holds. I’m grateful for mindfulness practice, and the healthier perspective it’s brought to all aspects of life, from the personal to the political and the planetary. I’m grateful.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
This half-hour film is mind-blowing in many ways. Shot by a Cornell Lab of Ornithology photographer in Dardala, India, where half the world’s population of endangered greater adjutant stork supports its growing population by scavenging the dump alongside humans, the film celebrates the conservation efforts of one woman who changed a culture’s relationship with this prehistoric bird. The film came to me courtesy of KarmaTube.org in a weekly newsletter that I recommend for inspiring stories, along with kindspring.org which features accounts of kindness.
Kindness has always mattered to me, as much as honesty, compassion, and gratitude. I was never that great at any of them, but have always appreciated and valued them above all. Traits to aspire to. I’m mulling over what the next blog project will focus on; kindness is an option, or letting go. I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore these ideals and practice them to the best of my limited abilities. I’m grateful for the inspiring efforts of people all over the world who are doing what they love and making the world a better place as they do, and I’m grateful I took the time tonight to learn about the Hargila.
Cousin Bill joked about how different it felt to put his Christmas decorations away at the end of January than at his habitual New Year’s ritual… It wasn’t too soon, or too late, it was just the right time. That’s how I feel. Even later, though, I’m putting away Christmas in the middle of February. It’s the longest I’ve gone. Much as I love the ancestral decorations (and a handful of new acquired over my lifeline) I’ve put away Christmas pretty late for years, grateful for implicit luxuries, but always by the end of January. At least that’s how I remember it.
I may not get very far tonight, I’m reminiscing, communing with my little things. Catherine Ingram counsels us to love who we love, and love our lives, and love our little things. Garden Buddy mentioned that very thing this afternoon in the context of what brings us joy. We sat in her garden of stone-rimmed beds and yard art, sharing a brief cloudy interlude in an otherwise balmy day. We are both growing weary of enforced hermitude, yet are not eager to relinquish it, skeptical of the alternatives.
Garden seeds arrived! A sigh of relief, winter’s end’s in sight. It’s been a strange one, as have most recent seasons. Case in point: The shower drain hasn’t come close to freezing this winter (a good thing), but this is the second scorpion who’s climbed up out of the tub drain. Itsy-bitsy spider only this time it’s scorpions the rain washes out. Spiders have free reign in my house, they do such good eating flies, and most of the widows stay outside. But this scorpion has to go right back where it came from, back to the leaf litter under the birch tree. It’s much milder outside this year, and also drier, than what used to be normal. Even as it’s been a colder winter inside, but longer sun in a rising arc warms the house earlier each day, and I have enough power now to run the floor heat while it’s sunny. So life’s gotten a little easier.
I’m grateful for this littler orange scraper, which has also makes life easier. It’s come in handy for a lot of things, but most of all for finally solving this kitchen dilemma. For years it mystified and aggravated me why the artisan who built the copper counter didn’t finish it with a rollover edge, instead crafting a lovely rim a half inch higher than the surface. This makes it impossible to sweep crumbs off into a hand or compost bucket. A similar glitch was built into the edge of the sunroom pond by a different artist, this an unchinked valley between the wall and the stone floor, leaving a ragged stripe of concrete foundation showing. I asked that fellow many years later why he’d done that, it makes it so hard to sweep or vacuum the dirt up.
“So you wouldn’t have to,” he said sparkling with logic, “because it would collect in the crack.” Had the cabinet maker brought similar reasoning to the raised counter rim? Both ‘solutions’ make it far more complicated to clean: a woman would never have designed these features.
Speaking of crumbs on the counter, these lemon shortbreads were worth the wait for butter for the glaze. So delicate and lightly tart and softly sweet. I’ve been grateful today for sharing them, too; and for kindnesses and compassions that have come my way, softening the rocky inward trail.
I’m grateful that the two old men dogs were both eager and able to walk to the canyon this morning. It was a beautiful cool time, with sun beaming below encroaching rainclouds. And then eventually it rained off and on for a few hours. I am grateful for ongoing hand therapy, and grocery shopping, and new glasses lenses even if they’re not perfect. I made someone feel bad this afternoon, and I feel bad about that, and I’m grateful that the recognition arose in me once again that it feels even better sometimes to be kind than to be right. Now I can work on that tendency.
I’m grateful for the baking accoutrements I’ve acquired over the years, and also for the skills I’ve acquired through learning and practice. Both in baking, and in how I treat myself and other people. But it does take practice. It might only take two or three crusts to master this lattice roller, but it seems to take lesson after lesson, year after year, to learn to bite my tongue and be kind when I feel annoyed or put upon.
I’m grateful for apples in the freezer from last year’s harvest, pre-mixed with sugar and cinnamon, ready to go in the crust; and grateful that I’ve learned to mix pastry in the cuisinart instead of with the old-fangled pastry cutter or my hands. Pie is so much easier!
I’m really grateful that animals are so easy to love and experience compassion for, no cultivation needed; it just comes naturally to me. Grateful for all the time in my life that I’ve been able to spend with animals, wild and tame; grateful for how whole and open my heart feels with them. I’m grateful for the insight that softens my heart daily: We’re all gonna die. I’m grateful for old dogs.
Grateful for another sunset, another fulfilling, exhausting day in fellowship with the kindest, most mindful people I know. Two-thirds through our graduation retreat, twelve hours each day together virtually yet meaningfully, sharing lessons, learnings, creativity, and cultivating heartfelt connection with people across the country and a world away. Grateful for one of the most transformative experiences of my short life, this past Mindful Learning Year. Grateful for another day with dear Stellar still moving pretty well, and another precious day of relative safety here, while fires ravage the land elsewhere and paint the sun orange again.
I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers. In this case, I was the stranger who rescued this ancient tree from constriction by barbed wire. It’s on the land next door, but I couldn’t stand seeing the tree being strangled by old fencing. I pulled off all that I could. Then I hired Wilson and Juan to cut and untangle the rest. You can see where the tree had grown around the wire, and a place just below the top band where it completely absorbed a loop. I don’t need to read the latest tree science to know this tree was suffering. (But I’m reading it anyway.)
I’m grateful to know other people who would also extricate a tree from a fence if they saw it. I’m grateful to know people who rescue dogs and cats. I’m grateful for people I don’t know who rescue dogs, cats, trees, and other people, either because it’s their job or because they see a need and fulfill it. I’m grateful to have received the kindness of strangers many times in my life: that cowboy on a lonesome stretch of Interstate 10 through west Texas back in 1988 who stopped and changed my flat tire; that little old lady in the waiting room with me at the cataract surgeon’s, who taught me how to knit dish cloths; that Haitian immigrant working in the Auto Parts store in West Virginia who was so nice making sure I got back on the road that I cried; and countless other random acts of kindness from strangers along the way.