The view from this bluff above the creek bed looks down on a most unusual sight. The sheer creek bank contains a large patch of red clay. Normally our soil is a sandy consistency and chocolate brown color. The dirt in the fields and flower beds is brown, and the dirt all along the edge of the creek bank is brown, except right here.
The old well log from our water well not a quarter mile from this spot details the composition of each layer of the subsurface down to 538 feet. Not one layer shows red clay. It is peculiar how this deposit shows up right at the bend in the creek and nowhere else on the property that we know of.
I don’t have a good enough grasp of the geologic processes to explain how depositional layers can contain patches of substances not found nearby, but I looked at a soil map for our state.
What I noticed is that different soil types occur in swaths, like a patchwork quilt over the earth’s surface. Our geologic formation, the Edwards Plateau, is close to some areas with red clay soils.
Somehow the soil migrated, possibly carried by the water in the creek bed, since it is deposited at a bend in the bank. I now have this startling red clay area, a spot of yang in the yin of the cool brown of the remainder of the creek bed.
The surprise of this little bit of one thing in the middle of the other thing reminds me how organic things are not uniform. They do not consist all of one thing and nothing else.
We may be mostly nice, but sometimes spiteful. We may usually like to relax, but sometimes work really hard. Our life may be mostly joyful, with some deep sorrow right there where the path turns. The lack of uniformity in our character, in our environment, and in our experiences adds interest and variety. It makes hard times more bearable.
Today may be a hard day. You might have a scary confrontation with your mortality or may mourn the diminishment of your youth and beauty. Amid those hard things, may you find a surprising splotch of joy, like the hand of someone who loves you holding yours through the hard parts.
The land around the Bossy Spa consists mostly of limestone bluffs, sandy fields, and creek and river basins. This part of central Texas was ocean bottom some 265 million years ago. The gulf of Mexico used to reach this far inland, and you can see evidence of our geologic past in the limestone, which is chock full of long extinct marine mollusks. If you look closely you can see a fossilized barnacle in the picture.
Limestone itself is formed in warm shallow ocean water, primarily from shells and coral. Finding little sea snail fossils in our local rock is so commonplace that residents pay no attention, yet every day nature serves us this reminder that big changes are capable of happening.
When I drive over the ridge into our valley, I am often struck by how the hills covered with scrub oak and mesquite and white-tailed deer once were coral reefs teeming with marine life. It doesn’t seem all that far fetched. The ridges are spaced like standing waves and it doesn’t take too much imagination to add water and a scuba suit.
Zooming out your perspective to think about the geologic timescale can free you from feeling stuck to having a sense of possibility. If you are focused on the particulars of daily living, and most of us are, take a moment to look up at the horizon. Stretch your body. Stretch your mind. What was happening here millions of years ago? Thousands of years ago? A hundred years ago? What will be happening here at intervals long into the future?
Thinking this way encourages us see our smallness, and when we are suffering, as so often is the case when we are dedicated to caring for another, smallness can be comforting. We are so small that there is only so much we can do. In another 265 million years central Texas may once again be under water, which helps me look at my list of tasks for today in a new way.
Are there clues in your environment that point you to think on a bigger time scale? Maybe you have old growth redwood forest with trees a thousand years old. Maybe you have a granite outcropping formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. Find something from in environment that causes you to think on a grander scale. Notice how that changes your perspective, and share if your insights might be helpful to others.
As the caregiver of my flower beds, I have a dubious track record, but things are looking up. This image may look like a chaotic green bit of nothing, but I assure you it is an exciting development. This is a tuft of larkspur that will invade the yard with blue and pink and purple flowers in April. I seeded for larkspur several years ago, and we get more every year, but last year I did something that proved to be a bad idea, so I worried it wouldn’t come back.
The thing I did was work too hard. I decided to mulch the beds. When Mark came in on the tractor I scooped up the cut grass from the top of the blade cover and mulched the beds with the grass cuttings. I hoped to add nutrients to the soil and suppress the bermuda grass that was creeping into the beds. The seeds from the mulch got into the beds and made more grass, and the thick pads of grass threatened to smother my larkspur and other seeds.
I have moved the mulch somewhere else, and all the work has gotten me about where I started, except I still wondered whether I had smothered the seeds. Imagine my delight in finding this green tuft declaring unequivocally that my larkspur are not about to be defeated by my failed experiment.
Sometimes despite our best intentions we do things that work against what we are ultimately trying to achieve. We labor and sweat and strive, and end up where we started or worse. We can’t predict which work will turn out this way because none of us can accurately predict the future. We make a judgment call the best we can and deal with the imperfections in our choices as they unfold.
You want to be the best caregiver, so maybe you make some changes to your mother’s bills to simplify things, having the payments drafted automatically, since she is finding it confusing to deal with payments. You were looking to make her life better, but she gets mad. She accuses you of trying to take her money and to make things confusing so she won’t be able to tell you have stolen from her.
You know she is not to blame. It’s just that terrible disease talking, but still her words pierce your heart. After all your effort, things are worse. If only you had not … but you did with the best of intentions.
Efforts that backfire are an unavoidable part of giving care, so go easier on yourself. Remember that even when things go awry, sometimes tiny tufts of goodness survive whatever indignities are heaped upon them. We may make things worse, but not decisively enough to keep sprouts from coming up and promising flowers in the spring.
Most of the cactus pears have dropped to the ground or been eaten by this time of year, but in a few sheltered places they remain. You may know that several parts of this cactus are edible. The deep burgundy pears must be rubbed against something to clean off the spines. Then they can be sliced and eaten raw in salads. The cactus pads also have spines to be removed, after which they are sliced and boiled for a few minutes till tender. They are served in Mexican dishes, sometimes with eggs, as nopalitos.
This prickly combination of tasty food surrounded by sharp spines calls to mind something my older sister once said. I was having a difficult time and wracked with indecision and self blame. “If only I had done everything perfectly, then I would not be in this situation,” I told her.
She said a few simple words that shined a bright light on my situation, “There is no path with all of the good stuff and none of the yucky stuff.”
Those few words still shine a light on my path. There is no way to redo the past so that you avoid the difficult circumstances you are in without gumming up something you find really valuable and sweet about your life. There is no perfect you who never makes a mistake.
This process of fumbling along doing the best you can, which is sometimes not all that good, is just how it is. My sister’s words helped me forgive myself for my errors in judgment, for the ways in which I had harmed others, for the countless imperfections bulging out at every turn.
I am sharing her wisdom in case you too are weighted down with self blame. Forgiveness is a process, including self forgiveness. Today is a day to come to peace with the things you didn’t do and the things you did do that you wish you could fix. Write them down in private. Read them aloud. Say out loud, “I forgive myself for putting my little sister in a refrigerator box and tipping it over until she cried” or whatever things make your list. Forgive yourself out loud for every item on your list.
This little guy is the same calf you met in the Ears post. As I approached it became clear there were two cows and two calves lying in the grass. When I got right up to the fence they stood up.
The calves are small, I’m guessing a couple months old. When they stood up they were even cuter than their ears had suggested. As they moved tentatively toward me, their moms got between us, doing their best to protect the little ones, but not before I definitively answered the question I had about cow snouts. They’re wet.
I don’t know why baby animals are so appealing, but they are. They have no idea what is going to happen next and no perspective of their place in the world, but they bring a sense of wonder to the ordinary moment. “Wow, a breeze!” I imagine them thinking to themselves. “Look! A person walking up!”
Maybe that is what we like about them. They remind us what it was like to experience the simple magic of being in the world.
As we get older we get more jaded. We think thoughts like, “Someone is walking up. I wonder what they are trying to sell.” No only have we felt lots of breezes, we also have a sense of how we fit into a larger context, and we know we are not the center of the universe. That is a little disheartening, but calves have no such discouragement. They don’t even know there is a universe that they may or may not be the center of.
Baby creatures can maintain this sense of wonder because someone else is taking care of all the practical details: what to eat, when to moo, and whether to move into another pasture.
Becoming more jaded is about having to take care of those things ourselves. Caregivers take care of more than their fair share of practical matters, which can trample our innocent hopes for unknown marvels.
You have done a great job of ensuring you get regular breaks, which opens doors of possibility. Consider how you might bolster your sense of wonder.
We can host another episode in the contest where you figure out what is in the photos, but this morning I will just tell you. This is a donkey belly. I wanted you to see the gorgeous fur and comforting round shape. It is cold and wet in my part of the world, so a little warm furry comfort is in order.
This morning at the Bossy Spa we are serving jasmine tea with the scent of the delicate blossoms adding a hint of sweetness. If you were here you would be with me on the back porch because however cold it is, being outside is the best. We’d have warm blankets over our laps. We would drink quickly so the tea wouldn’t get cold.
After breakfast we would go on a ridiculously cold walk because the dogs will not have it any other way. As I imagine the way the rest of this day unfolds, it involves a fire in the wood stove and a stack of books and little projects like fixing a necklace clasp and hemming the skirt that is a touch too long.
Today may not be the most exciting day in the world, but it is a day for comforting rituals and staying warm. If you have a few small annoying projects floating around, getting them done can be really satisfying. If you have any things on your to-do list that can be outsourced to your sister who lives far away, send them.