It’s a little embarrassing for me to admit how dependent I’ve become on the internet. It’s been off and on here for two days, and Rise Broadband reports that they know there’s a problem and expect it will be resolved by Monday at six pm. Another two days! Oh well. First world problems. I’m grateful for the internet and for how it allows me to connect with you, with the drag queens of the world, weather forecasts, and so much more, including the platforms I’m using these days for work. If I have to spend some hours without it now and then I suppose I have enough to keep me occupied!
I admit it would be easier to go without internet if it weren’t deep winter. In summer, I could at least bundle up and sit outside under the stars if I can’t watch Drag Race or Modern Family. It’s just too cold now. Lows overnight in the single to minus digits, and highs during the day often not breaking freezing. So even during the day, if I can’t work online, I can’t spend much time outside. The tiny dog loves the snow but too much time in it gives her a reverse-sneeze seizure and she runs to me to pick her up, then shivers mightily until I bring her inside. A sweater isn’t much help in the teens, or in snow deeper than herself, and booties are out of the question. I’m grateful I have a little treadmill inside where I can walk up my heart rate and exercise my lungs.
I’m grateful for the moisture the snow is bringing to our ground and to the mountains where we keep our water until we need it in summer. I’m grateful for the mild does who hang out during the day. Grateful for my solid little house, and for the garden in winter.
Sometimes I’m even grateful for the ‘memories’ that pop up in Photos unbidden. When I opened the program this evening this image from 2018 showed up, with Stellar and Raven on a trail up above Lost Lake that autumn. I love how the yellow aspen leaves ornament the deep evergreen boughs and the path, the bright white of the aspen trunks, and the cherished images of my dear departed catahoulas. I imagine that trail is under six or eight feet of snow at the moment. I’m grateful for perspective.
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.
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…
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.
I’ve had a series of dog dreams since Stellar died. Symbolic or otherwise, they have featured greyhounds, a Great Dane, others I’ve forgotten, and dear old Stellar, younger. People ask me now and then if I’m thinking about getting another dog. Of course, I reply. But not until after winter. What kind, they ask. I don’t know. Whatever kind shows up at the right time. Maybe a puppy, maybe an old dog, or maybe two whose people died and they need to be adopted together. Maybe a dog that just shows up in the yard, or on the side of the road, or maybe I’ll go to a shelter–when I’m ready. But for now, I’m enjoying not having to get up at the crack of dawn and go outside in the freezing winter morning; enjoying lots of quiet time while no one is depending on me.
And frankly, I’m still recovering from the intensity of the mutual devotion during Stellar’s last months, even years; in fact, of his whole life. He was like no other dog, no other relationship. We were continuously connected at the heart and the soul from the moment I first held him. I still look up from the kitchen counter sometimes expecting him to be lying there across the living room; I still jolt a bit when I drive home from somewhere and he isn’t here to greet me. So I’m not in a hurry to get another dog. So don’t send me anymore dogs on Facebook that need a new home, or even mention a catahoula pup.
However, there’s been some comfort in the dreams. I had another one this morning. Stellar and Raven and the new dog were romping in a field as I watched. Suddenly Stellar took off like a streak across the field and I called after him but he didn’t stop. Raven looked at me, then took off running after him, and the new dog followed them both. “Hey!” I yelled, “Stellar! Raven! Come back here! Hey–!” I realized I didn’t know what to call the new dog. I didn’t know his name yet! He looked a lot like Stellar, almost a clone, just a lot younger and a tiny bit smaller. “Hey! Come back!” But they all disappeared over the hill.
Fred and Mary pulled up in their blue VW bug, and I got in, and we started tracking the dogs. We drove for endless miles up the east coast, catching sight of them once in a while and then losing them. Hours… We drove by a big-box store parking lot, and saw a few people around a couple of pickup trucks who were trying to round up three dogs and collar them. “We’ve gotta check,” I cried, “those could be my dogs!” But they weren’t. We drove on through the parking lot, and there on the far side, frolicking along a stream, were Raven, Stellar, and the new dog.
“Stellar, come!” I called, and he did, and I called Raven, and she came, and I tried to call the new dog but remembered that I didn’t know his name yet, but that was okay because he just followed the other dogs right into the back seat of the VW bug, and they all piled on top of each other with me in the middle, and I was so relieved. We were all laughing. I said, “I don’t even know this guy’s name yet.” Fred mentioned a friend who had looked after him a couple of times, and said, “She told me his name.”
I was going to write about gratitude for propane, a natural gas/petroleum derivative that I hate having to use to live on solar power but have relied on for thirty years to fuel my backup generator during cloudy stretches in winter. I’ve also been using it for my cooking stove, and for about fifteen years for my refrigerator, until I bought a high-efficiency Sunfrost. This winter I have to use the generator almost every night to keep the batteries charged until morning; they are on their last legs, but the new batteries on order have been delayed for months because of ubiquitous supply chain issues. Now they won’t arrive til “after the first of the year.” That could mean May, as far as I know. So I am grateful for propane, which is currently giving the sun a big assist in electrifying my house, enabling the refrigerator, freezer, water pump, lights, TV, radio, etc., to function in the manner to which I have become accustomed. And I’m grateful to have been getting my power mostly from the sun for the past thirty years.
So, I was going to research propane and write about it. But when I opened Photos to search for a relevant image, for some random cosmic reason this one showed up, mama Raven and her baby brother Stellar shortly after he arrived here almost fourteen years ago. And that melted my heart and rendered me useless for the rest of the night. I am so grateful to have had these two remarkable, beautiful, brilliant dogs as my companions for the most recent quarter of my life; I’m grateful that I recognized and celebrated that gratitude almost every day of their presence in it.
Yesterday, I woke up to a dream of Stellar, young and bouncy, standing outside the south windows, wagging his tail, and as he did at that stage of his life, his whole body. He was ready for a walk. I recognized that moment as a possible dream, and a possible visitation. I chose to close my eyes and roll over, rather than get up and take him for a walk at 25ºF. I’m grateful for the dream, the sense of his presence, regardless of the ‘truth’ of whatever it ‘was.’
Tonight’s dinner was Gochugaru salmon with crispy rice. It was delicious, but would have been better, I think, with B&B pickles rather than dill. But I finished those at lunchtime on my favorite-ever new sandwich, open-faced Swiss-pickle on a sourdough bun. I have one leftover filet to enjoy with a different pickle. But, I have no one to give the salmon skin to: no one with whom to share Last Bite.
Last Bite is a ritual at Mirador, one that’s been going on since before Mirador existed. When I first found the Knobbyheaded Dog, I taught him not to beg by promising him Last Bite of anything, everything, I ever ate. Since that time more than thirty years ago, every one of my now dead dogs learned to lie down and wait patiently during human meals, with confidence that they would get Last Bite. Everyone who ever ate here, and paid attention, recognized Last Bite as an important component of being a good guest. You save your last bite for whatever dog or dogs are present at the meal, whether or not they live at Mirador. Sometimes there have been as many as seven or eight dogs here at the end of a meal, and each of them has gotten at least one Last Bite, which have always (almost) been distributed equally among all dogs present.
Last Bite is over, for now. Topaz has no interest in human food of any kind, even salmon. Who will eat the salmon skin? I know, I could, and it’s probably delicious, but I have cultural conditioning that compels me to set it aside for last bi–… oh. No one to give it to.
Oh well. It will feed the compost. The dish was a success despite that I misperceived the key spice. I have Gochujara paste, and when I saved the recipe I read the title wrong. I was caught off guard when I got ready to cook tonight; so I looked up a substitute for Gochugaru pepper flakes, and found that Aleppo pepper is roughly equivalent in flavor and heat, and I was grateful to have that on hand.
I’m grateful for another gem from “On Being,” Stephen Batchelor on the Art of Solitude. He said of having plenty of solitude, “I find that having that groundedness, that sort of a basic sense of being OK, of being at home with myself, is the foundation from which I can then, as it were, really communicate more authentically and more directly with others. I’m not concerned about what they think about me or what they are going to say or what they want, but I have a resource within myself that is my own deeply earned truth, if you like, or integrity.”
This interview really speaks to my current investigation of solitude, and why I love it. With no one else to consider, no one to save last bite for or get up early for, I’ve entered a deeper solitude than ever before. Lying on my back on the floor (as medically directed for cervical nerve impingement) looking at the ceiling, I pondered this novel feeling of being so physically alone, suddenly sensing that it is this very spaciousness that liberates me from the tangle of thoughts and emotions so often cloud my perceptions and interactions with others. I’m grateful to have made several deep, authentic connections over the course of this day, all via the miracle of technology, and all, I think, made possible by the inner peace I find in physical solitude.
I’m grateful for these spectacular flowers whose delivery midday from the Paonia florist startled me. My cousins in Charleston sent them in hopes they “might make you smile and know you are loved,” which they certainly do. I’m grateful for the love that keeps pouring in from friends and relations these past few days, soothing my sorrow, making me smile, reminding me that I am loved. I’m grateful to remember that everything changes, that this loss will soften over time. I’m grateful for ongoing support, and grateful for the opportunity to help a neighbor. I’m grateful for a long, close talk with my dear friend whose dear mother also died last week.
I’m grateful that little Topaz seems much improved this evening. Her pupils have unfrozen, and she’s moving at a more natural pace, though still seems to be investigating everything as if seeing it for the first time. I’m grateful for rain, and homemade vichyssoise, and roasted root vegetables. I’m grateful for another day of living, feeling a rich range of sensations and emotions, joy and sadness, empathy and wonder. I’m grateful for memories, and for not clinging to them; grateful for letting things arise, and letting things go.
Here, between the inferno to the west and the deluge to the southeast, weather extremes swirling in ever more intense waves through the atmosphere, here in this little yarden on this high, dry mesa, it’s a calm, balmy day. I dwell in a near-constant state of overwhelm when awareness extends from coast to coast, monitoring weather. So much is happening all the time; so many lives changing, souls suffering, not only humans but other beings: insects, trees, bears and fawns, predators, prey; birds of all feathers fleeing fire. Snakes, rodents, roaches, great floating orbs of fire ants, all uprooted by rain, and mammals drowned; alligators climbing to higher ground, and houses washed away, some with people in them. Hurricanes today stay twice as strong for twice as long after landfall as they did fifty years ago.
I am grateful for this one peaceful day that I got to experience here in this one little yard in this vast plateau between extremes. I’m grateful for contentment and equanimity.
I’m grateful for this recipe, Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil. I spiralized the first garden zucchini and tossed it in the pan instead of pasta. The sauce involves blended corn, scallions, parmesan, and oodles of fresh basil. So simple, so delicious! Grateful for homegrown food, and the conditions of this life at this moment that allow for all the luxuries of this peaceful day, this spot of stillness here, amidst the uncontrollable atmosphere.
I’m grateful today for unexpected gifts. A formerly Zoom-only friend arrived in person this morning as she kicks off an indefinite walkabout with her two dogs in an RV. I’m grateful for the string of recent conditions that led to our acquaintance, and for heartfelt connection over a walk, meditation, and morning in the garden. As John Bruna says, “You never know who you’re going to meet today.”
Another unexpected gift, another precious connection, came this afternoon in a delightful phone conversation with one of Auntie’s dearest friends, whom I’ve been thinking of a lot over the past year, knowing she would be missing Rita as much as I do. Another ‘virtual’ friendship turned more real: we’ve corresponded briefly before, mostly over reading recommendations, but never had the chance to just chat. From the moment she answered the phone we were laughing, sharing stories, memories, and opinions, and the spirit of Rita was alive between us. I’m grateful for the unexpected gifts of two bright new friendships.
Literally (I don’t see enough of them, as a night owl) and metaphorically: sunrise on the next phase of this unpredictable journey through life. I’m grateful for another amazing day of retreat, and for the accomplishment of certification as a mindfulness teacher. So much gratitude!
So much to be grateful for today! Almost everything. Among the experiences I’m grateful for today is a new trick from an old tortoise. Well, not that old. Biko is actually just coming of age, hitting maturity at around the same time a human would (one would hope), twenty-two years old. I’ve been a constant in his life since he was one, though he’s never paid me much attention. But we’ve been working on our communication skills these past few years, and though he doesn’t like me to pet him, he will come when I call if he’s within sight of me, usually.
This year has been an especially good training year because of the drought: there’s not as much wild forage for him, so I’ve been able finally to train him with food. At least once a day I make sure to call to him when I see him approaching, grab a handful of lettuce, and stamp my feet. He will turn and come to me for the greens. This morning, I had just picked some lettuce I wanted to give him, but hadn’t seen him yet. I was finishing up some organizing on the west side of the house. Intermittently over about ten minutes, I called and stamped, three or four times. Then as I had my back turned, I heard his footsteps crunch on the gravel. He had come!
It could have been coincidence, but it felt like a real communication coup. Biko has been the shy, independent one from the beginning. I almost named him Bashful. But to get any tortoise to come from afar when summoned feels like an accomplishment. It gives me hope that he might come home if he ever escaped. It was a miracle his brother Desmond Turtu was found: I live in anxiety of another infrastructure failure or some oversight letting Biko get away. I’m grateful for even the illusion of his coming when called.