I was grateful this morning for walking through the woods to the canyon rim. All the May flowers are in bloom, like this little astragalus, above, and Indian paintbrush below. If I can look past the veritable carpet of weeds and focus on the native wildflowers, it’s a lovely walk. Accepting things just as they are, it’s a lovely walk.
I’m grateful to still be able to walk after the canvas stool I was sitting on split beneath me and dropped me hard onto the gravel walk. Wren came running to make sure I was ok, and thankfully I was. I paused a few minutes to stretch my legs and return to equilibrium before I stood and finished planting some annuals in that one patio pot, and then I took it as a sign and went inside for lunch.
I’m grateful for asparagus, abundant now in the markets and the ditches. I cooked some fettuccini, and made a quick lemony sauce in the pan with sautéed asparagus, onions and garlic. A toss of paprika, some parmesan, and a dash of black salt rounded out a fulfilling comfort meal.
A rude awakening from a leisurely Saturday morning latté, when Wren looked at the door funny and I decided to bring in some firewood. The mudroom wall was melting all the way down. I tried to absorb the leak with some brown paper which lasted a short minute before it got pushed away. Scrambling around I dressed to climb the ladder again.
After whacking away some more glacial ice, this time wearing insulated leather gloves so I could scoop it out of the gutter without frostbite, I revealed a piece of flashing extending from the main roof to the mudroom roof, designed to prevent this kind of problem, I assume. But with more than a foot of exposed seam between that flashing and the first gutter the design failed in this long, cold, grey winter when deep snow finally came. I’m grateful for junk lying around! The kind of thing rural people keep because you just never know when it might come in handy. This piece of broken drain was quite handy because I left it lying where it broke off, so in case I needed I’d know right where it was. I jammed it up to the flashing and wedged it under the gutter, and have stopped the leak for now.
This would have still been melting the wall if it weren’t dripping off the edge of the roof. Fingers crossed this fix holds until it warms up enough for Wilson to flip the whole pile off. He came by today to shovel the paths, and scolded me. “You shouldn’t be climbing up here and doing this,” he said. And then he scolded another friend for climbing out on her roof to mess with ice dams without her phone. “I always have my phone on me,” I reassured him, and he said “I feel better about that.” I was grateful that he cared enough to scold me.
At last the arduous outdoor work was done, and I settled into the recliner for a short rest, where I took the time to enjoy this lovely little vignette in front of me. Now I see the cobwebs on the chili lights. Oh well! A task for another day. Not everybody wakes up alive every day. I’m grateful I did, and that I made it safely through another one.
I led a meditation this morning that began with inviting everyone to share a ‘first world problem,’ and ended with some time to ponder gratitude, impermanence, and perspective. The theme occurred to me as I was telling a friend before the meditation started that I had to drink tea instead of coffee because I was out of decaf. Three days in a row I’ve enjoyed full-strength coffee, but this body can’t handle it, so I brewed a weak pot of Earl Grey. Even that gave me indigestion, but that’s beside the point. I laughed as I ‘complained’ about this, and said “First world problems,” then told her about the first time I heard that phrase.
It was in Moonrise Espresso a hundred years ago, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. I walked in and was complaining to someone about something inconsequential, and a guy I’d never seen before looked up from his laptop and said, “First world problem, huh?” I was speechless, then laughed out loud. I understood instantly what he meant, and it was a moment of awakening. Perspective! But it took awhile for that insight to really sink in, and inform my entire way of being. Practicing mindfulness, one of the first things we learn is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. I wake each day in a bed with a roof over my head, turn on a tap to get water, and have a choice between coffee and tea, both of which come from faraway lands. I’m in reasonably good health, and am content with my life. In the context of starvation, climate displacement, war, and countless other desperate human conditions, I really have nothing to complain about.
This doesn’t mean that everything is always peachy and I have no right to complain, or be unhappy or scared if real trouble arises, or wish things to be other than they are. It simply means that I can keep things in perspective, and not waste energy fretting the small stuff. It means that a momentary frustration is just that, momentary, and losing the internet for a couple hours, or a clogged drain, or any other inconvenience, isn’t going to ruin my day or even my mood. It also means that I’m aware of great suffering in the world, holding compassion for those suffering and wanting to help where I can. And it means that I can bring compassion to myself also, recognizing when things are really hard and not just annoying, and be more supportive and caring for myself and others, and more resilient in challenging situations. I’m grateful for the perspective of ‘first world problems.’
Getting snowed in at the end of a quarter mile driveway could also be seen as a first world problem. That I even have a driveway that long is an enormous privilege, for which I’m immensely grateful. That I even have a driveway. I’m grateful for friends with big trucks! I didn’t get back out to take a picture after the Bad Dogs dropped off groceries, but am sure grateful they were able to punch through the drifts to get down here.
Little Tiny loves the snow, but not when it’s up to her shoulders. It’s the first time we’ve been out that she has jumped on me to pick her up and carry her home. I’m also grateful to be making progress on the puzzle, enjoying the warm sunny view while the fire warms and lights the house inside, even as clouds and wind blow outside.
I pay a lot of lip service to solitude. But it hasn’t really been solitude all these years, it’s been the absence of live-in human companionship. There has always been a strong dog presence in my home, for 38 of the past 40 years, and those two dogless years were back in my 20s. Now I am without a dog again, and living alone, truly alone, because you can’t really count an aloof cat and a hibernating tortoise. It is cold comfort that I have no regrets about euthanizing Stellar when I finally chose to: I’m still alone. But, the truth is, I am always alone, no matter what connections I recognize; we are all always, ultimately, alone. So I’m grateful for the capacity for solitude, and for the opportunity to explore it in more depth than I have for the past forty years, with gentle curiosity and self-compassion.
Here I am doing a beautiful Liberty Puzzle, and thinking of Auntie, who introduced me to the joy of these remarkable functional artworks; very aware of her absence. Listening to Eva Cassidy crooning Songbird, keenly aware of her premature death. Hearing the absence of Stellar’s every breath. So much loss! It’s only human. And it’s human also to continue to find joy, delight, and contentment in the unutterable beauty of this fragile life, and to feel gratitude for each and every day.
I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed before the first snow today at this elevation, which continues after dark lightly frosting every leaf and limb white prior to the first real freeze. I started a week ago, and have been whittling at it for a few hours each day. I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed after a thrilling season. The counter is loaded with the last ripe tomatoes, tomatillos are all put up in the pantry, heaps of parsley are distilled into pesto and frozen cubes; rattlesnake and runner bean pods dry in large paper bags; eggplants and carrots fill the fridge. I’m living the dream.
I’m grateful for putting the garden to bed with tips and tricks from gardeners online. I’ve hung tomato vines to ripen in the upstairs room, beside pepper plants with wrapped rootballs. Some gardeners advised misting the roots, while others just left them dry. I compromised with a quick twist of plastic bag to prevent them from instantly desiccating in this climate, maybe giving the peppers a bit more nourishment as they redden.
I’m grateful for another day with my little helper, covered in snow. Like in the movie Awakenings, he is transformed with drugs, and like those patients he will eventually relapse into inevitable decline. His resilience astounds me. He wants to be alive.
I’m grateful today simply for being here. Here, as opposed to anywhere else I might have been on this date, this anniversary.
NPR reported today that a sizable number of people who witnessed the Twin Towers attack continue to suffer PTSD, depression, and other mental health issues. The report mentioned human resilience, also, but what struck me was the limited scope of the research, which surveyed only people in the vicinity of New York City. There must be millions more people across the country, and the world, who still suffer mental health impacts from witnessing that horror. Not to mention those millions suffering the global fallout of the forever wars that started that morning.
I reflected this morning, from the serenity of my garden, that so many of the choices I’ve made over the last twenty years are a direct result of being near the Pentagon on 9/11/01, and watching live both on TV and from the back porch, the explosive birth pangs of this new world disorder. I thought about how far I’ve come, how much I’ve changed, and how long it took afterwards to even begin to claw my way out of the despair that seized me on that day. There were a few hours that morning that I feared I could die there, and never see home again; an interlude of terror when no one knew what might happen next.
My parents lived next to an Army Air Base, and sometime that morning, even as I stood on their back patio watching smoke from the Pentagon darken the sky, the roar of jets and helicopters began just beyond beyond the woods, and continued nonstop 24-7 for the next week as I remained grounded there. I felt I had just experienced the beginning of World War III, or as it’s now more aptly referred to, ‘the Forever Wars.’ The ramifications also took a surprising turn into domestic discord as well. 9/11 is the trauma that keeps on triggering.
Eventually I made it home. I was numb for many years. Eventually, my life took a turn toward toward the mindfulness and gratitude I find myself practicing today, but it wasn’t easy and there were many detours along the way. In this place, on this day, I am keenly aware of how loss and suffering lay the groundwork for kindness and compassion. I am grateful for being here, now, and not anywhere else.
I’m grateful for whole roasted cauliflower, and the Dutch oven to roast it in, and the ingredients in house to make a delicious, healthful, meaty meal from this one cruciferous vegetable; and for the oven, and the gas, and the roof over my head…. I vowed to eat better, and I’m gonna start by committing to more vegetables and fewer carbs. No cold turkey this time, just modulation, moderation, and genuine concern for the well-being of this body with all its intricate processes and interconnections. This aging human body which will fail and die some day, any day, no way to know which day…
Not to be macabre, but just by way of motivation to make the most of this one precious day that will never come again. Part of that is making food good: A heart and gut healthy vegetable. I’ll be paying a bit more attention to eating more fiber for awhile. I combined two recipes to make this gorgeous crown, which Stellar and I both loved.
I whisked together olive oil, a couple tablespoons each of Dijon mustard and grated parmesan, dried basil and thyme, salt and pepper, and some minced garlic cloves, while the oven preheated at 400ºF. Trimmed the bottom of the cauliflower, set it core side up in the Dutch oven and rubbed sauce into the center, then flipped it over and coated the top and sides. Baked for 45 minutes with the lid on, added a few more tablespoons parmesan over the top, and baked uncovered for ten more minutes. Just tender enough to cut with the spatula. So simple, so delicious. I am grateful for cauliflower.
I went to a lovely brunch at the home of some new friends this morning, with some old friends who were in town for the weekend: I’m grateful for that, for old friends, for new friends, for vaccinated friends, for fellowship and good food. On the drive home a small badger crossed the road in front of the car and darted into a culvert. Jojo slowed the car and I leaned out the window, surprised that the badger was still visible. It ducked in and out a couple of times as we watched. Strange it keeps coming back out, I thought. Only when I got home and uploaded the pictures did I realize the badger had lost an eye.
A one-eyed badger crossed the road, and watched us with its one eye as we peered and jockeyed for a better view. Now I feel kind of bad that we…badgered it like paparazzi. My heart hurts for a little wild animal who’s lost an eye, but my spirit rejoices in its resilience. What could have caused it? What predator could have cost this badger an eye, what unfortunate occurrence or condition? Was it hit by a car? Did it get an infection? Run into barbed wire? I’m grateful for the rare sighting of this tough little mesopredator, and inspired by its resilience, though something about it leaves my mind restless as I head to bed tonight. May it be well. May it be happy.
My gratitude today began of course first thing in the morning when Stellar and I both woke up alive and able to take a nice long walk through the forest. But it really kicked in late morning when I met my new primary care provider at the clinic, a nurse practitioner who made me feel heard and seen in a way no doctor has since the great Adam Zerr left the valley. Christi Anderson heard everything, and then asked if there was more. There was. And then she asked if there was more. There was. And then she said, “I look forward to taking care of you.” All with lots of eye contact and genuine compassion and interest. I felt a lot healthier walking out of there, simply from feeling heard and seen completely. It’s so important, whether it’s with a healthcare provider, a partner, or a friend, to feel heard and seen for who you are.
And that might have been that for today’s post, except that tonight I attended the third and final webinar on a resilient ‘circular’ local economy, hosted by one of our environmental watchdog groups, Citizens for a Healthy Community. Another of the clinic’s doctors attended this workshop to speak about integrating healthcare proactively within the main focus of the series, the ‘nutrient dense’ agriculture of this amazing valley. I’ll not go into any recap of the series, which consisted of a total of almost 8 hours over three Mondays, but I’ll share the link to the recorded workshops, in which so many entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, and others explained their amazing passion projects.
I moved here almost thirty years ago because I found what I had been looking for without knowing it: a palpable sense of community. Though in the past decade I have retreated into my hermitage on the fringe, this community continues to sustain me in a very fundamental way, and there really are no words to express my gratitude for the gift of living here, among these generous people so deeply connected to the earth our mother. I have been uplifted and inspired by everyone who spoke in these three workshops, and was honored to attend simply to witness and learn the depth and breadth of interconnection among all these non-profits and individuals, from community elders like food activists Monica and Chrys, to relative newcomers, all dedicated to supporting the ecosystem of this beautiful agricultural valley which is also a progressive creative center in food and many other arts. One of the most exciting things I learned is that there is now a countywide Farm to School food garden/curriculum in the nine elementary schools.
I’ve often thought that I found in this valley a safe place to plant myself and flourish; a place where I could be heard and seen so that I could find my voice and my vision. I am grateful every single day that I chose to settle here in the North Fork Valley.