Brain cancer: bird by bird

Sorry for the radio silence. We’ve had an influx of visiting family–Molly and a bunch of Tweits. So the last few days have been taken up with family business (a three-hour stint with a lawyer updating my dad’s affairs), plus cooking and eating, taking walks, birdwatching, seeing art, playing cards and laughing…


(That’s the clan on our front porch. Left to right: Richard; Molly; our niece Alice; her mom, my sister-in-law Lucy kneeling; her dad, my brother Bill; and my dad, Bob)

Saturday morning after a scrumptious breakfast of my breakfast-in-a-muffin muffins (recipe below) and Richard’s elegantly flipped-in-the-pan scrambled eggs, we headed downriver to Badger Creek, just west of the tiny town of Howard, for a ramble. (Richard stayed home for a nap, after performing flawlessly on the difficult brain-task of remembering the sequencing of making his eggs and then correctly flipping each pan-ful, three in all. Alice had More Important Things to Do: play with my new iPad.)


Badger Creek is the only perennial stream running into the Arkansas River from the northeast, the high-desert side of the valley. It cuts a long, nearly straight canyon draining the southern edge of South Park from about 9,500 feet elevation into the Arkansas River far below. It’s a corridor for wildlife, connecting high country to the plains-bound river, and also a great hiking route. In spring, it’s usually lousy with wildflowers and migrating birds.


Saturday morning it wasn’t lousy with wildflowers (it’s been a pore-puckeringly dry year), but we found the early claret cup cactus blossom above and one diminuitive ant money lupine, a tiny and gorgeously ultramarine blue annual wildflower (those flowers in the photo below are about the size of my little fingernail). The birding was great though, and that’s what led me to the day’s epiphany.


I stood in the warm sunshine, inhaling the faint resiny scent of piñon pine and juniper needles, listening idly to bursts of birdsong that my birdwatching brother identified as a plumbeous vireo (a songbird bigger than a warbler and camoflaged in a dull gray color). Bill wanted the vireo to come close enough that my legally-blind dad could see it, so he pulled up Sibley’s Guide to North American Birds on his smartphone. Pretty soon the real vireo flew into the tree next to us to out-sing the digital version…


While I watched the birders in my family get a thorough look and then turn their attention to another bird, the phrase “bird by bird” popped into my mind, from Annie Lamott’s terrific book about writing and creativity.

That phrase describes not only how we were seeing Badger Creek (rambling from birdsong to birdsong), but also in the metaphoric sense, how Richard and I are approaching this journey with his brain cancer: Take this moment, this day, and live it as well as you can, and then go on to the next, without becoming paralyzed by worrying about the whole journey. Bird by bird, day by day.

And on that note, here’s today’s good news. Richard spent the better part of an hour in his studio this afternoon, explaining to a friend how to cut and polish a chunk of petrified tree trunk. It’s the first time he’s been in his studio in… months, I think. He’s exhausted now, but still. Whatever tomorrow brings–and some days are just freaking grueling–we’ll always have today’s quiet joy at his time in the studio, plus Saturday’s plumbeous vireo and the gift of the family visit. (But not Casablanca, because we’ve never been there… Sorry. Sick sense of humor.)

Tomorrow afternoon we head over the mountains to Denver, which will be easier since Molly will be along to help. We’ll sort out some computer issues for my Dad on Wednesday; Thursday is Richard’s next Avastin infusion. Fingers crossed. I’ll report in after we get home Thursday night.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for those yummy and good-for-you muffins (I use organic ingredients.):

“Breakfast in a Muffin”
1 cup dried blueberries
2 cups chopped apple
½ cup maple syrup
1 cup plain yogurt
¼ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup water
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat bran
½ cup flax meal
½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter the muffin tins. Chop the apples. Combine dry ingredients (plus walnuts) in a large bowl, stir in apples and blueberries. Whisk melted butter, maple syrup, yogurt, egg, and water in a medium bowl. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and fold in carefully until just mixed. Spoon muffin batter into tins, filling each to the rim. Bake 20 minutes, or until surface springs back with a touch. Makes 16 muffins. Enjoy!