We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Holiseason Zone

Samain                                                                          Bare Aspen Moon

Getting ready to cook

Getting ready to cook

You have entered the holiseason zone. Of course, it’s well underway since it begins now with Rosh Hashanah, but Thanksgiving, with its grocery shopping, tablescaping, bedroom preparing and gathering of family is a key moment, the holiday that marks the start of a remarkable run: Advent, Posada, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s. Wow. The metaphysical crackling in the air gets intense with lights and ideas and gods and astronomical night. It’s my favorite time of the year.

The Thanksgiving project for me is a golden capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. A lot of oranges are involved, too. The challenge of finding a capon found its match in finding fresh figs. A nice man at Whole Foods explained that northern hemisphere figs are available in the summer and southern hemisphere figs just before Christmas. Oops, not in time for Thanksgiving. Then, a Thanksgiving miracle! Kate found them at King Sooper after I’d called specialty stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers and gotten nada. Yeah.

thanksgiving-farm-harvest-postcardThe whole gathering in of items for pecan pies, Ruth made ours last night, and yams and green beans and potatoes is a simulacrum of growing it all, or hunting and gathering for the feast. And, yes, our finding a retailer with figs and capons is no match, but it did add uncertainty and joy in discovery.

A mountain Thanksgiving is like others, but with a lot more altitude.

 

Fraternity Man Against Fraternities

Samain                                                                      Bare Aspen Moon

Phi Psi House, Wabash

Phi Psi House, Wabash

A word about fraternities. I was in one. Not of my choosing. Wabash College, where I spent my freshman year, required all freshmen to live on campus. There were dorms, but preference for dorm rooms went to upper classmen. (Wabash is all male.) The result: you had to pledge a fraternity. For reasons I neither recall nor care about, I ended up in Phi Kappa Psi. I mention this in particular because of an odd coincidence. A Phi Psi chapter in Texas just killed a pledge named Ellis.

It’s unclear right now whether alcohol was the culprit, but if it wasn’t, I’m sure it was a contributor. Binge drinking not only occurs in fraternities, it’s actively encouraged. While I don’t blame the Indiana gamma chapter for my subsequent alcoholism and 10 years of cigarette smoking, I certainly got my start in the chapter house in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

wabash2Being a pledge gives pledge masters an outsized influence over young men and women in their first year away from home. I suppose this could be good, helping initiate a student into campus life, gaining a new collection of brothers and sisters who understand college, it’s relentless complexity. It wasn’t good for me. My situation is a little unusual in that I had no desire to be a fraternity man, but ended being one anyhow. I was not enamored of nor looking for a fraternity. So I began jaundiced. And left the same way.

I’m not sure how college in the 1960’s compares to college now. It was a lot, lot different, I think, but Wabash, a more traditional place, was sort of a time capsule of old school ways. It sounds like fraternities have not changed much even now, over 50 years later.

Count me as a fraternity man against fraternities. Reinforced by the Texas incident.

The Spinning of the Wheel

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

Tony's

Tony’s

The capon is in the house, 7.8 pounds of frozen, atesticular rooster glory. Kate and I went to Tony’s Market yesterday, Gertie and Rigel in the back. Tony’s is the sort of grocery store where the pounds fly off the shelves and around your waist even before you check out. It’s a gourmet shop, full of Devon custard in a can, various pickled vegetables, cases filled with ahi quality tuna, plump white scallops, seasoning rubbed filet mignon, frozen bearnaise, hollandaise, au poivre sauces made in house, expensive salami, and puff pastries created with only filo dough and powdered sugar. One of those ten minute super market sweeps from the 1960’s would yield a cart full of scrumptious and clock in well north of a thousand dollars. A good place for holiday shopping.

sephirothshiningonesI spent time before the trip to Tony’s working on my kabbalah presentation for December 6th.  This will take some doing since kabbalah is a quintessentially Jewish discipline and I want to focus, somehow, on the Great Wheel. According to the Tree of Life, the sephiroth (spheres) arranged as in this illustration reveal a path by which the sacred becomes actual and the actual becomes sacred. The bottom sephirot malkuth is the world which we experience daily, the place where all the power in this universe (there are many others), funnels out of the spiritual and into the ontological. It is also the realm of the shekinah, the feminine aspect of god. In kabbalistic terms malkuth is the place where the limits of things allow the pulsing, living energy of the other spheres to wink into existence.

great wheel3In one sense then the Great Wheel, focused as it is on this earth, can only be of malkuth, that is, of the sphere of the actual, the bottom circle below the hand of the kabbalist in the illustration. In another sense, since all sephiroth contain all others, what is of malkuth must also be of the others, the spiritual dna of the whole universe. So, if we take the Great Wheel as a metaphor for the creating, harvesting and ending of life, a cycle without end, then the Great Wheel is, too, a Tree of Life. That is, the inanimate becomes animate, the animate lives, then dies, returning its inanimate particulars to the universe which, through the power of ongoing creation, rearranges them in living form so the cycle can go on.

The Great Wheel has a half circle for the growing season and a half circle for the fallow season. It can be seen as half day and half night. It can also be seen as the cycle of the virgin goddess who, impregnated by the god, gives birth to the growing season as the Great Mother and then, during and after the harvest becomes the crone. The life cycle of each of us.

Not sure yet how I’m going to articulate this for the class. Still in the gestation period.

 

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

Over the River and Through the Woods. To the meat locker.

Samain                                                                              Bare Aspen Moon

13 degrees here this morning. About an inch of snow overnight. Thanksgiving, requiring the horse to find the way to Grandma’s house, is almost upon us.

Over the river and through the woods,
To grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,
Through (the) white and drifted snow!

Yep. They’ll cross the Platte and Cherry Creek and the Mississippi (in the air), drive through valleys and up mountains to get here.

Over the river and through the woods,
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Grandmother sans cap

Grandmother sans cap

And, yes, we’re going to have a capon. Capons are mystery meat to the clan of Colorado butchers. Even at Elizabeth Meat Locker yesterday a worker there looked blank when I asked about capons. “What are they?” “Chickens with their balls cut off. They get fat.” Oh.

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

After having breakfast and goodbye with Tom and Bill at the Lakeshore Cafe in Evergreen, I picked up Kate and we took the grand circle route to complete two errands. They both required our presence in the physical world, something I note with greater frequency these days. There are things that absolutely require showing up in person and they often involve physical objects that have to be picked up and moved from one place to another.

In this instance, Diana had finished her work on the cushions for the Jon built benches in our dining area and the Elizabeth Meat Locker had finished carving up our quarter of beef. Diana is in Lakewood, off Sheridan Avenue, a left hand turn from Hwy 285. She’s a friendly woman, proud of her work. And, the cushions look good. Not installed quite yet, due to cleaning required first, but they will support Thanksgiving guests.

ColoradoAfter carrying the two cushions and the remaining fabric, about 3 yards, out to the car, Kate and I drove off in a southeasterly direction toward the high plains town of Elizabeth. We turned east at Castle Rock on Colorado 86. 86 heads resolutely away from the mountains, which are in the rearview the whole way. Elizabeth is a small agricultural town, known to any Midwesterner in its general outline and types of stores and shops. That’s why I said not long after we moved that the Midwest washes up here against the solid reef of the Rocky Mountains and finally disappears. In Elizabeth Kate and I were on familiar turf.

The Meat Locker has several letters missing in its sign and the building could use tuck pointing over its entire surface, but the folks are friendly. They butcher locally raised (Jefferson and Park County being local in this instance.) grass fed animals. The guy who didn’t know what a capon was helped us load our quarter of a beef into the truck using three cardboard trays with handles. We’ve almost finished last year’s beef so this amount seems about right for us.

On the way home Grandma rested, her feet placed over the vent which blew cool air. “The bee’s knees,” she said.

Brick Mortar vs Online - BannerCushions, a frozen beef quarter, groceries these are a few of the physical objects that we still use our truck to retrieve. I imagine at some point we’ll have an economy that divides itself between physical objects that have to be moved, including your own body to doctor’s appointments, for instance, and physical objects that can be purchased online and delivered. I know we’re already there with online sales, but I mean a situation where the economy consciously organizes itself by these categories. Right now we have a transitional situation between brick and mortar businesses built under the old, we have to go there to get it paradigm, and an online retail economy powered to our homes by the USPS, Fedex or UPS. It’s clumsy and not always transparent which is better, online or physical shopping. I think that will sort itself out over the next decade or so, maybe a bit more.

 

The Time Has Come. Again. And will come once more.

Samain                                                                    Joe and Seoah Moon

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

 

And so it is, every time Tom and Bill and I find ourselves on the shore of the ocean surrounded by oysters, or on Guanella Pass or in the strange Buckhorn Exchange, holder of Denver’s liquor license number one.

It is, I suppose, possible to think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as excellent examples of life’s true way, one governed by chance and the exigencies visited on us. Or, another way of explaining it, other than chance, might be, the universe speaking to us. Could be synchronicity, could be a kabbalah experience, could be the photographer/novelist at the artist’s co-op in Georgetown.

20160813_161919Skiing is an example. Jon’s love of skiing, learned in the flatlands of Minnesota, with bumps just big enough to gain some momentum, occasioned, much later in his life, a move to Colorado. Joseph came here, too, to live in Breckenridge. Jon met Jen. Ruth and Gabe. Years of traveling from Minnesota to Colorado. Then, our own move to Colorado. Now here we are, near the Guanella Pass, near Georgetown with a friend who lives there. So Tom and Bill could come visit and we could meet the photographer and former petroleum engineer, Ellen Nelson. We could, too, as Tom said, reenter the conversation that defines our lives.

There is, too, for me, the chance experience of Kate, all those many years ago, when she went to Temple Israel in Minneapolis and felt immediately at home, tears streaming down her face. Without that moment we wouldn’t have sought out, just on a whim, two classes on King David being held on a cold night in nearby Evergreen. That was two years ago to the day tomorrow. We found Congregation Beth Evergreen. Now we’re there among friends, contributing and growing more deeply involved. And my pilgrimage across the landscape of life, which began in Oklahoma in the Red River Valley, now continues with a strong Jewish inflection in the mountains of Colorado.

 “Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

None of this was part of a plan. Yes, plans can help us in certain parts of our lives, but if we fool ourselves into believing that the planful side of us guides the most important parts of our lives then we miss the larger, more significant streams on which we drift. Kate sews. So she has met the women of Bailey Patchworkers and the Needleworkers. I love Kate, so I’ve met the folks at Beth Evergreen and taken another right hand turn on my pilgrimage. Bill and Tom and I met through chance in a group of men called Woolly Mammoths. How weird is that? Yet here we are, together now in the Rockies, thirty years later.

Somehow we have to stay open, to not ratchet down the hatches of our mind. This is counter-intuitive as the heavy storms of life wash over our bows, threatening to sink us. In fact we often need to sink, to go under the surface of our life, to allow the stormy waters of a new life to rush over us, fill us, even drown our old life; so that we can pop back to the surface, water streaming, eager for the changed world that now exists up there.

JackLondonwhitefang1It is no wonder that many folks can’t do this. It’s just too scary. But I can tell you, from the vantage point of 70 years, that the intentional has very rarely taken me where I thought it would. Studying hard in high school? Yes, I followed that thread off to college, but college waters quickly swamped my little vessel, pushing me under. I drowned many times in the ensuing years. Philosophy overcame my fragile barque. Then, opposition to the Vietnam War. Alcohol, met in my freshman year, held me under from 1966 to 1976. A long time love of Jack London’s novels, especially Call of the Wild and White Fang, awakened in me a desire to see lands where pine trees and lakes, wolves and moose were. After a move to Wisconsin pursuing those lands, the ocean of Christianity once again swallowed me. Which led me to Minnesota. And, eventually, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, where, after a divorce, I would meet Kate, who cried in the Temple and whose son, Jon, now mine, too, loved to ski. Which led, in its own, very unplanned way, to this home on Shadow Mountain. So many other instances.

 

 

 

The Rockies, Not Far From Home

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Old Men and the Mountains

Old Men and the Mountains

 

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Downtown Georgetown and Silvery Plume Mtn.

Downtown Georgetown and Silver Plume Mtn.

Friends

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Rollo May, JoyFriends. Tom and Bill are here in Colorado. They came to Beth Evergreen yesterday and attended my adult Hebrew class, then we went over to Sushi Win for supper. 30 years of life together, weddings and funerals, laughter and tears. The easy understanding that comes from time, lots of time together. Irreplaceble. Fundamental to life. I’m grateful they took the time and expense of coming here.

It wasn’t long before we were at questions like when life and its ravages becomes too much. Bill’s wife Regina and her stroke at the end of a painful time struggling with cancer. Pat, a friend’s wife, who has lupus and suffers, perhaps at this point, too much. How do those of us in these relationships honor the dignity of the other, realizing we can’t ever inhabit their body, see the world from within theirs?  These are the difficult questions that the third phase visits on us and those around us.

Another long time friend

Another long time friend

Being able to talk about these things easily, but soulfully, is what long friendships can offer. And we need the spaces in our lives where these conversations can occur. I’m lucky to have Bill and Tom.

I’m also lucky that Beth Evergreen has begun to offer a similar depth, though not, of course, the long developed trust and confidence I have with them. That may come over the next few years. I imagine it will and that sense is a major factor in my love of that place.

So this is a hymn to friendship, an often unattended to aspect of our lives. The Woolly Mammoths graced me with a space that encouraged it. And I’m forever thankful for them for that space. I hope you have one.

 

Assimilation. In Reverse.

Samain                                                                          Joe and SeoAh Moon

jacobI’m assimilating, in reverse. Yes, I’m gradually become jewish, small j. Last night Rabbi Jamie came in and he had shaved. “I thought you only shaved after Purim,” I said. Just like I always say things like that.

The Jewish approach to death and mourning has completely won me over. From the washing and preparation of the body, to sitting with the body until burial, then providing food and sitting shiva with the grieving family, to a year’s mourning, to the yahrzeit, annual remembrance, this is a humane and human way to grieve.

I thought last night how different our family might have been if my mother’s sudden death at 47 had had this kind of cultural context.  I recalled running out of the house one night, I hadn’t thought about this in a long time, screaming. This was not long after her death in October of 1964. In my mind the night was a black tunnel, a featureless empty hole into which I could run and never reappear. True horror.

Both kabbalah and mussar offer a way of viewing life and ultimate reality that I find very useful. To be honest, I’m not sure they’re more useful or cogent than similar disciplines within other faith or philosophical traditions; but they are useful, they are profound and humane. They’re more tools to add to the leather wallet I carry over my shoulder, the same one that contains my bread and cheese for the pilgrimage.

Jewish holidays have been added to my personal liturgical year, spotted, as they must be, on the Great Wheel and the Gregorian calendar. My friends here are predominantly Jewish, not unusual for me since I’ve always had Jewish friends; but this is the first time I’ve known them through a Jewish community.

Of course, my sweetheart is Jewish and Judaism has been a part of our marriage since we crushed the wine glass in the Federal Courtroom in the Landmark Center on March 10, 1990. My small j Jewishness adds to the richness of our relationship, gives it another venue for growth. Always a good thing.

Mazel tov!

 

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

November 2017
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
27282930  

Breadcrumbs

Trails