We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Divorce: An Update

Spring                                                                                        Anniversary Moon

Not as much snow as we’d hoped, but enough to drive away the red flag warnings for a while. More coming, hopefully we’ll have a wetter April, a setup for a less dangerous summer. This was the wet, heavy sort of snow, lots of moisture so the inches may not have been there but the water content was. That’s what we needed.

The rising sun is just now illuminating the peak of Black Mountain, a beautiful sight, one I get to see often.

Jon at Dazzle

Jon at Dazzle

The divorce and its aftermath, I’ve not written a lot about it recently. Things have settled into something of a routine. The kids come up here for the weekend 3 times a month. Jon commutes into Aurora to Montview Elementary where he works and gets home later in the evening. He sees Ruth and Gabe on Wednesday evenings for a meal, has classes on Thursday night, mandated by his dv conviction. What this means from his perspective is that he spends a lot of time on the road, works 5 days a week, then has intense parenting 3 consecutive weeks out of 4. That’s a lot.

With the sale of the house and the distribution of funds from the sale Jon will reapply for a mortgage. He had a guaranteed mortgage until he had to start paying lawyers. The proceeds from the sale have brought solvency, so he can apply again soon. He wants to find a new home in Aurora, somewhere within biking distance of Montview. Once he has a house and gets his stuff out of storage and out of our garage his life will become calmer. The custody settlement becomes 50/50 then. A more normal rhythm will ensue.

Gabe, Jon and me at Ruth's Destination Imagination performance

Gabe, Jon and me at Ruth’s Destination Imagination performance

Unfortunately the Aurora school district has experienced declining enrollment and anticipates a fall-off in property tax revenue. The school district last month decided on a reduction in the number of teachers overall. Jon’s been with them for 17 years which helps though seniority does not assure him of his job. He also learned recently that they will cut specials, that is folks who teach art, music, physical education, too. To confound the matter Jen works for the  same school district. If either one of them lose their jobs, the financial structure of the divorce will careen into a wall. Hopefully clarity about this will come soon.

Meanwhile we do what we can, try to sort out our medical issues and attend Beth Evergreen. It’s a full life and that’s good at 70.

To Defend the Constitution and The Laws…

Spring                                                                       Anniversary Moon

The oath of citizenship moved me more than I had expected. For a moment, I choked up and found it difficult to get the words out. But then my voice took on a new resolve: proud and determined, I swore to “defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

After the ceremony, I did not go to a park with friends. I did not have any champagne. I did not try to get a cop to give me a ticket in celebration of my newfound freedom. Instead, I did something that millions of others cannot do without fear: I joined a protest in Boston against the revised executive order on immigration.”  NYT, 3/24/2017

2012 05 07_4189When he was 12, Joseph, Raeone and I went out to an anonymous strip of businesses lining Highway 494, the southern part of the ring road around the Twin Cities and close to the airport where Joseph arrived on December 15th, 1981 from Calcutta, India. In a gray, warehouse looking concrete building we found the offices of the U.S. Immigration Service. In a brief meeting in a nondescript office, Joseph became an American citizen. Up to that time he had been a citizen of India though as an adopted child he had no real barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen.

I had held out hope that he might retain dual citizenship, thus allowing him to avoid any draft that might try to conscript him into military service. Lesley Guyton, a friend and an immigration attorney, had helped us prepare for this meeting. The dual citizenship idea did not happen. Right now I don’t recall why, but the gist of it is that Joseph became a U.S. citizen, a male, vulnerable to the Selective Service. I didn’t like it, but it was what was.

 Plume of September 11 attack seen from space by nasa


Plume of September 11 attack seen from space by nasa

Move the clock forward to 2000. Joseph has completed his high school work at St. Paul Central High School. Looking at colleges he tried for three east coast small schools, but for one reason or another did not get into any of them. As a result, he matriculated to the University of Minnesota and went off to live at Bailey Hall on the St. Paul Campus.

He was in Bailey Hall, in the very early days of his freshman year, his first time living away from home, when the planes rammed the Twin Towers on September 11th. I didn’t know it then, but those terrorists had made my hopes for Joseph’s dual citizenship irrelevant even if they could have been realized.

Like the new American citizen, Yascha Mounk, who wrote the article I quoted above, he had found the pledge to “defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic” compelling. Though he eased his way into the idea by telling us he wanted to be an astronaut, and did want to be one at the time, in fact his motivation, as he later told me, was to give back to the U.S. He signed papers to join the United States Air Force.

weapons school graduation

weapons school graduation

Today he’s on his way back to Georgia with his wife of almost one year, SeoAh Yang, after his fourth deployment, this latest in Qatar directing JSTAR‘s flights over the fight against ISIS and in the forever war zone of Afghanistan.

Love of country was a virtue whose connotations got severely scrambled in the 60’s and early 70’s. Like politics now there was a right wing who allowed only flag-waving, gun-toting, enemy killing enthusiasts as lovers of this country. “Love it or leave it” was their catch phrase. Like politics now there was strong and vibrant opposition on the left.  We defined love of country as a willingness to stand up and resist when government contravenes principles of American life like equality and not killing foreigners for specious diplomatic ideas like the domino theory.

I’ve come to realize, since Joseph joined the Air Force, that the two camps often have similar motivations, how to keep this country strong and true to its dreams, with differing ideas about tactics. There are, I know now, none of us who understand the horrors of war better than those who fight them. The passion of those who choose this country or who are brought to it as adoptees is a cue to the rest of us, those born here, to recall where we live, what it means, and why it is in fact worth defending with our lives.

Blessing

Spring                                                                   Anniversary Moon

soul1There are shifts and changes going on, movement in my soul. When we moved here, I left behind relationships precious beyond words. Not entirely, no. I’ve stayed in contact through facebook, e-mails, occasional visits, especially from the Woollies, but the day-to-day, go to lunch chances for nourishing those relationships has disappeared. I was lonely here atop Shadow Mountain.

This in no way denigrates the most special relationship of my life with Kate. I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have made this move without the strong anchor of our marriage. That anchor has only gone deeper into the oceans of my inner world as we’ve been out here.

Neither does it denigrate the wonder and majesty of living in the Rocky Mountains, nor does it denigrate my introverted path, so happy in its loft, this library. That loneliness did not diminish these important parts of my life.

Soul_SpiritBut it was real and significant. It manifested as a sense of yearning, a desire for companionship like what I’ve had with the Woollies and the docent corps at the MIA. I think, had it continued, that it would have become corrosive, perhaps even damaging to those core aspects of my life that remained solid.

Over the last couple of weeks though, perhaps a month or more, our engagement with Beth Evergreen has made that loneliness recede. In both the afternoon and evening mussar groups I’ve found a place to open myself up, to be vulnerable. To be seen. The study of kabbalah that will commence in May will deepen this experience, I’m sure of it.

To be in a religious community and have no professional responsibility for it is unusually freeing for me. Contra to the Dawkins and Hitchens of the world I find religion inspiring, most religions. I guess engagement with religion is a core facet of my self, too. Probably obvious to others, but only becoming so to me now. Beth Evergreen is the most authentic religious community I’ve had the privilege of knowing. In being part of it I’ve found a deep well to nourish the roots of my soul. A blessing.

Fire and Ice

Spring                                                                        Anniversary Moon

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.   Robert Frost

tree yin yangPeople out here call it Colorado weather. I call it mountain weather. The shifts are often extreme, from snow and ice to balmy, springlike. But today. Well, today will be a transition like none I’ve seen since I got here. We have a red flag warning in effect from noon today until 6 pm. That means low humidity, high winds, warm temps and plenty of dried out fuel. At 6 pm though we switch to a winter storm watch. The prediction is for up to a foot of snow tomorrow, more over the next week. If we can avoid fire through this afternoon, we should be fine for a while.

In the Shadow of Finitude

Spring                                                              Anniversary Moon

700 pixels- punta arenasNo certainty yet on Kate’s malaise though the likelihood of something terminal has receded. Dr. Gidday is good at reassurance, no false cheer, just a reasoned confidence. I remember in the midst of my prostate cancer workup she looked at me and said, “We’re going to get you through this.” I believed her. She’s moving methodically through the possibilities for Kate’s shortness of breath and her fatigue, ruling out the most pernicious first. We’ll know more over the next month or so. I’m relieved right now and want to stay that way.

It was one of those medical days yesterday. After seeing Gidday, we went to Swedish hospital and played find the right lab so Kate could have her blood drawn. We found the lab and it was closed for lunch. We took the hint and went for lunch ourselves at the Beirut Grill. Shawarma, tabouleh, mint tea. Then, back to Swedish.

Kate and me1000cropped“You know, if we weren’t in our 70s, I’d say this move to Colorado was jinxed. But when you take 70 year old+ bodies and move them somewhere else. Well. Wherever you go, there you are.” Kate nodded. We’re in that time when the body comments on its journey in unpleasant ways. The way things are.

This does put us in closer touch with our mortality, but I find this invigorating, clarifying. Life has an end. We know it and it is precisely the thing makes each day so precious, so full-if we can remain mindful. I’m grateful for these reminders of our finitude and for our lives lived in their shadow. Weird, I know. But it’s so.

 

 

Delights and Horrors

Spring                                                                  Anniversary Moon

rumiThe third phase, that phase after the career and nuclear family focused portion of our life has come to an end or is winding down, has its own delights and horrors. Auto-didacts, those with pleasurable, but challenging hobbies, those with adequate funds, those with a close network of friends and family have a good chance of enjoying the third phase more than any other part of their life. It’s a time when the pressures of achievement and child-rearing recede. They may not disappear, but their initially critical significance shifts to the margins.

This leaves the possibility of centering on who you truly are, expressing the soul/Self, the unique you created when sperm hit egg all those years ago. A rich time, filled with creativity and exploration, can be the result. It certainly has been that way for Kate and me. We’ve traveled, gotten closer to our kids and grandkids, gardened, raised dogs, moved to the mountains. She’s quilted, sewn, cooked and finally taken up the spiritual journey she started so long ago with her conversion to Judaism. I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions. We’ve both nourished friendships from our Minnesota life and begun to develop friendships here in Jefferson County, Colorado.

It is also in the third phase, however, when the body begins to signal its eventual end. Even if there are no presenting issues of the moment, the third phase, by its very definition occurs as our age passes into the mid-60’s and beyond. The implications of this becomes clear when we make the calculation about doubling our life span so far. At 50 it’s just possible to conceive 100; but at 60, 120 is a stretch. At 70 the notion of reaching 140 is ridiculous.

will-testament_audible-wisdom-org_CCWith prostate cancer two years ago and a total knee replacement last year my body has given notice that its sell-by date is approaching. Yes, both of those have resolved well, at least so far, but they are concrete proof that I will not live forever. Something, sometime. Now it seems to be Kate’s turn to face her mortality. She has a cluster of medical issues that are challenging, making her low energy and too thin.

The horrors I mentioned above are not these, these are normal, though disconcerting. We age. Our bodies break down, then stop. Hundreds of thousands of years worth of hominid deaths makes this all too common.

20170310_174900The horrors are the loss of the one you love, the person whose life has become so entwined with your own, not enmeshed, I don’t mean here a situation where life going on without the other is inconceivable, but the loss of a person whose life has been a comfortable and comforting fit with your own, a bond of mutual affection. Imagining life without Kate leaves me with a hollow feeling.

This loss, too, is common. Just read the obituaries and see the list of “survived by.” It is different from your own death because your life goes on with a big hole. I know this feeling too well. My mother died when I was 17. This is horror. Is it survivable? Of course. But life after the death of a spouse is a change none of us who are happily married seek. Yet, it seeks us. It is the nature of two finite creatures bonded through love. One leaves first.

These matters are on my mind today as we try to hunt down and fix what’s ailing Kate. I’m not ready, will never be ready, for life without her. May it be far in the future if it happens for me at all.

 

The Vernal Equinox, 2017

Spring                                                                        Anniversary Moon

In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the Northern Hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade.”  NYT, The Seasons Aren’t What They Used To Be*, March 19, 2017. See an NYT graphic representation here.

650 2011 04 20_0898

 

We’re celebrating the spring equinox with yet another red flag warning. We need precipitation. Spring in the mountains is not yet, though the temperatures felt like it this whole last week.

A while ago I asked an entomologist at the Cedar Creek Nature Center in Anoka County what was the key phenological sign of spring. Bloodroot blossoming was his answer. Up here on Shadow Mountain it seems to be pasque flowers and they are blooming. Yet in many years, most years, there would be no pasque flower blooms now due to snow cover.

On the Great Wheel, the spring equinox is the point when the promise of Imbolc’s freshening of the ewes begins to appear in the plant kingdom. Leaves push out. Spring ephemerals hurry up and bloom, getting out ahead of tree and shrub leaf shade. Buds for later blossoms appear. Green pushes out brown. The sound of tractors are heard in the fields.

This storied season has a vital presence in poetry, song and many of the world’s religions. Mother earth seems to defy the fallow season, the cold season by creating life abundant from little more than sun and soil. No wonder the tales of resurrection in Christianity, in the Egyptian legend of Osiris and Isis, and the Greek’s Orpheus and Euridice, Demeter and Persephone have their analogs in spring.

bulbsYet it is not a true analog. Mother earth only seems to defy winter and the fallow time. It is not, in fact, death and resurrection, but a continuum of growth, slowed in the cold, yes, but not stopped forever, then magically restarted. Corms, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes all store energy from the previous growing season and wait only for the right temperature changes to release it. Seeds sown by wind and animal, by human hand are not dead either. They only await water and the right amount of light to send out roots and stalks.

20170318_163044I prefer the actual analog in which human and other animals’ bodies, plant parts and the detritus of other kingdoms, all life, return their borrowed materials to the inanimate cache, allowing them to be reincarnated in plant and animal alike, ad infinitum. Does this deny some metaphysical change, some butterfly-like imaginal cell possibility for the human soul? No. It claims what can be claimed, while reserving judgment on those things that cannot.

After Beth Evergreen’s mediation shabbat service last week, a member of the congregation and I got on to the topic of death. “I think it will be like before I was born,” he said. “Yes, I’m a nihilist, too,” I said. “But, I admit the possibility of being surprised.” He agreed.

Brand-Storytelling-In-The-Post-Truth-EraIt is spring, I think, that gives us this hope, no matter how faint, that death might be only a phase change, a transition from this way of becoming to another. It’s possible.

A necessary complement to the objectivity of science, then, is the subjectivity of experience. An enthusiastic openness to the lives of other species — the timing of tree blooms on city streets, the calls of frogs in wetlands or the arrival of migratory birds — is an act of resistance to deceptions and manipulations that work most powerfully when we’re ignorant. “Post-truth” does not exist in the opening of tree buds.” ibid

 

Mud Bugs

Imbolc                                                                           Anniversary Moon

20170318_161305

During the meal

Ruth’s play was in the morning. We drove into Aurora to see it, close to the airport. We came back home, took a nap then went out for the No No’s crawfish boil. Well, I went for the crawfish boil and Kate came along as what the reservation referred to as a non-crawfish eater. We got there early so we saw the waiters put together four tops into single long tables, five of them.

These tables got covered with thin plastic from a roll and the plastic got covered with what I’d expected, newspapers. After we were seated, waiters first brought small plastic containers of fried dill pickles. Wonderful. Next came gloved waiters with metal containers of boiled potatoes and slices of andouille sausage. They simply threw potatoes and sausage slices on the table for each person. Andouille is spicy and a real New Orlean’s treat.

Finally, in the same metal containers came the crawfish, red and spicy from their hot water bath. The waiters tipped the containers over in front of us and small mounds heaped up. The room quieted as we all got to work.

Early in our marriage Kate and I went to New Orleans for a continuing medical education event. It was notable for three reasons. The first and least significant was seeing a grumpy Jerry Lewis pushing a stroller off a plane at the airport. His family looked equally happy.

Having been to New Orleans several times in the years prior to our trip, I wanted to see the area around New Orleans rather than stay in the narrow area of the French Quarter, so I drove out to the bayous. It was April. When I found a bayou that was also a state park, I pulled in, found the boardwalks and walked out into the swampy grassland. Much to my delight and surprise the bayou was full of blooming irises. They were everywhere.

IrisLouisianaHeaderw.title3

The alligators were just waking up, too. I saw several, moving slowly, trying to get their reptilian blood warmed up. They hunt nutria in this area and there were plenty of these large rodents. The alligators, however, were not up to speed and I witnessed many clumsy attempts by sleepy, cold alligators to catch one. The nutria, far faster than their not yet fully present predators, escaped easily.

20170318_154231The last and most memorable moment of the trip came after I decided to drive around in cajun country and find an authentic cajun restaurant. I found one in a small town somewhere not too far from the bayou. I went in, it was in the middle of the afternoon, and I was the only diner in the place. A waitress came over and I told her I wanted to try some authentic cajun food. What would she recommend?

I don’t recall the other things she brought, but she did bring me a plate of boiled crawfish, fresh from the bayou. And proceeded to peel them and feed them to me. It was odd, intimate and unexpected, but seemed perfectly natural.

As I pinched off the tails of No No’s mounded crawfish and leveraged the meat out of them by breaking the small chitinous bands that held it in, I thought of her, that small restaurant, and all those irises.

 

 

Jaw Dropping Brain Crunchers

Imbolc                                                                            Anniversary Moon

Ruth, as the dragon, getting ready to go on

Ruth, as the dragon, getting ready to go on

Got a phone call last night. “Grandpop! Guess what?” “What, Ruth?” “Second place!” “I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.” “I’m proud of myself.” “That’s great. Always remember to be proud of yourself.” “Guess what else?” “What?” “We get to go to State. First, second and third go on to State!”

This was Ruth reporting on her team’s results in the Destination Imagination competition this year. Destination Imagination gives small groups of kids a challenge and has them create something, a play in this case, around the challenge’s theme. This year the challenge was Vanished. The kids had to create a theater piece that focused on a color vanishing from the world.

I love the team name her group came up with: Jaw Dropping Brain Crunchers. I haven’t explored with her yet how they came up with that, but I intend to. She needed a positive moment, it’s been a tough year for everybody in the Denver Olson’s. I’m very glad she got one.

On April 22nd, earth day and her brother Gabe’s birthday, the Jaw Dropping Brain Cruncher’s will take their show on the road to the State competition. Pretty cool.

Receive

Imbolc                                                                              Anniversary Moon

“Look at the candles. Choose one. Focus on receiving the light from the candle. Let your thoughts go. When they intrude, come back to the light of the candle.” Sounds like a meditation seminar. It wasn’t though. The speaker was Rabbi Jamie Arnold at Beth Evergreen last night. This was during last night’s shabbat service.

Had I not attended the kabbalah session on Tuesday I would have missed a key point. Kabbalah originally meant receive. It now has the connotation of tradition, teachings received by students over the centuries from kabbalistic sages.

tree_of_life

Too, another key idea of kabbalah is that of a broken world. Shards of light, of divinity, of the sacred scattered from the vessel chosen by God to be the other in a newly created universe. That vessel could not contain the light and shattered into the matter that forms our world. This means that each part of our cosmos contains that light, a spark we can access in our Self, our soul, which is pure awareness. As pure awareness, we can attend to the light of the world.

As masked souls-our always state, we have to learn how to see the light. The service at Beth Evergreen offered mediation styles for that purpose. The second focused on following our breath and punctuating it while visualizing the Hebrew letters forming the tetragrammaton, one of the names of God. This was difficult for me since the shape of the Hebrew letters are distant memories. My Hebrew class was in 1974. Still, the breathing and its pauses on the inhale and exhale was meditative in itself.

I’m staying open to learning from this ancient faith, a tribal religion sustained by its traditions and the difficult history of its people.

March 2017
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