We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Just Say No to Despair

Fall                                                                            Healing Moon

DyingA guy could be forgiven for feeling despair. Climate change has turned the dial up on danger. In so many ways already and bound to worsen. Fascism is not just for Europe anymore. The Proud Boys, as one article I read the other day pointed out, are brown shirts. Thugs for a narrow and dangerous political perspective.

And, of course. Well, you know who he is. He’s trying to shut down protest around the White House among other despicable things. The backlash against identity politics grows more vicious and more widespread, surfacing especially as a wedge issue for right-wingers. Women, in particular, have had a constant barrage of insults since 2016, misogynists emboldened by the same evil that courses through Congress, down Pennsylvania Avenue and spills into the air over the whole country.

fascism proud boysWe’re fighting so many conflicts in so many places. There’s a trade war underway. Immigration policy and environmental policy and policy for public lands, to mention only a few, are being made by people against immigrants, pro-coal and oil, and advocates for mining and pumping on Federal land.

I’m not feeling despair. I’ve not gone over to the dark ecology side even though I agree with their projections for our future. I’m not jettisoning political life in spite of the steady rhythm of awful policies and values spewing forth from Washington. I know years of progress have been shredded and actively reversed. Yes, I know all of that.

20181004_082605However. Life is not lived in some grim future contaminated by and doomed by the present. No, it is lived now. Today. Here. Loving Kate and the dogs, relating to friends from Minnesota, from Congregation Beth Evergreen. Being with family like Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Joe, SeoAh. I pay our bills, cook lunch, feed the dogs, visit Kate, teach religious school, write this blog. All now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now.

None of the rays of darkness trying to blot out decency and hope prevent me from living my life now. This life, this one right now, right here on Shadow Mountain is good. You might think that Kate’s medical issues make it otherwise. You would be wrong. The current medical matters and all the others that have kept us occupied over the four years since we moved here are life itself. As is Jon’s divorce and the sequelae from that, still rolling over us. Also life itself is the care and love between Kate and me and the dogs, between us all and our friends, family. Life goes on until it doesn’t. That’s not news; that’s the oldest ancientrail there is.

expectThrownness has deposited us all in these times. Could have been pharaonic Egypt, Song Dynasty China, the Jalisco era in Mexico, but it wasn’t. It’s now. YOLO. Or reincarnate Or shift off to heaven or bardo. No matter. It won’t change that fact.

A guy could be forgiven for feeling despair; yet, I don’t feel it. Instead I feel love, joy, delight. I relish the cold, the snow, the mountains. I live for living for friends and family. Doesn’t matter the context of awful. Doesn’t change that. I’m not putting on blinders, not ignoring the world. I’m saying that no matter what happens it will not sway me from the only life I’ve been given, one with the humans and animals and plants and rocks and streams, the stars and weather and climate with which I interact directly.

 

 

Day 19

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

Kate on the morning of her retirement, 2011

Kate on the morning of her retirement, 2011

Day 19 and the first day I’ll not go in to see Kate. I’m back to my religious school class this afternoon at 3 p.m., then there’s a teacher’s staff meeting afterward. I told her yesterday I’d feel guilty if I didn’t go in and see her. “I give you my permission to skip tomorrow.” This is a landmark moment. She’s feeling good and I don’t feel a necessity for going in save for continuing presence. That last is enough motivation any day, but it feels great to know she’s not in crisis anymore. (I’ll probably feel a little guilty anyhow.) Yes, in two days this incident will reach its three week mark. Wow.

 

 

The Heat

Fall                                                                               Healing Moon

climate change vollmanThough I haven’t begun to read them yet, William Vollman’s two volume work: No Immediate Danger and No Good Alternative, the Carbon Ideologies paints a bleak picture. So does the IPCC‘s latest report. I also reported here, quite a while back, about a new movement called dark ecology that, like these three works, takes a dim view of our (that is, the world’s) willingness to execute the necessary carbon emissions restrictions.

Much as I hate to admit it, I believe these darker, more hopeless perspectives about the struggle against climate change might be right. If they are, we may be walking down a path that leads to an HG Wellian Time Machine world with the poor morlocks wandering the face of the earth (think the 99%) and the eloi burrowed into her mantle, using their great wealth and power to survive the heat and climatic chaos.

climate change eloi and morlocksIf we cannot slow down the rate of climate change (which is the most we can do, since so much climate change is already baked in), then we move to mitigation and adaptation. Geoengineering will become a buzz word as various strategies are tried. Climate refugees will become more and more disruptive across the world, especially those moving from coastal areas into interiors and onto higher ground. The already underway shifts in plant and animal eco-systems, climate refugees all, will bring them with different disease vectors, disruption to agriculture and sea life.

dark ecologyWe will not be known for Vietnam, civil rights, feminism, ruining health care, electing fascists to high office, but as the generation that allowed an earth compatible with human populations to slip away. Hard as it is to imagine the results of this inaction will be far, far more damaging than all the wars, holocausts and pogroms. How will we explain this to our grandchildren, to Ruth and Gabe in our instance? I understand the political and economic forces that have gotten us here, but explaining them will not alter the misery.

 

 

 

Day 18

Fall                                                                           Healing Moon

most of Gertie

most of Gertie

Kate’s taking full advantage of the power of the waxing healing moon. She’s gained weight, had several p.t./o.t. sessions, has a brighter outlook and has begun to have visitors. I took Gertie in to see her on Sunday so she could report back to the pack that mama was still alive. It was a sweet meeting and as we pulled away toward home Gertie looked back at Brookdale, obviously expecting that Kate was coming home with us.

Refugia

Fall                                                                         Healing Moon

love this idea

love this idea

As Kate’s rehab improves her strength, the middle of the recovery process is underway and underway well. She’ll have gains to make at home, weight gain chief among them, and I won’t consider this incident over until she’s gained at least ten pounds.

In an interesting NYT article on refugia* I began to think about those searing moments of our lives when their landscape changes forever, denuded of the familiar, apparently ruined. Most of us have at least a few, some have many. College often sets loose a wildfire of realizations as the mind encounters strange ideas, ones that can wreck the delicate eco-system of childhood beliefs. Death of someone close, my mom, for example. A failed marriage, or two. Substance abuse and recovery. Children of our own. Moving away from familiar places. (and these are just from my life.) Getting fired. Getting hired. Selling your business. Finding a new, strong purpose.

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

In the heat of the fire itself, Kate’s visit to the emergency room and the various procedures, recovery from them, for example, it can seem as if all will be gone, nothing left of the old life, maybe not even anything worth living for. This sense of total destruction is often inchoate, a visceral curling up under one of those fire shelters the hotshots use. But there comes a time when the fire has used up all the available fuel, when it goes out, becomes the past, rather than the present.

In that transition from crisis to life in the burned over section, that’s where the refugia are critical. “These havens shelter species that are vulnerable to fires. Afterward, they can be starting points for the ecosystem’s regeneration.” Our love remains, protected by its watercourse way, cool and flowing even during the heat. The dogs and their rhythms remain, a furry oasis shielded from the fire by distance. This loft remains, a literal haven, not untouched, but intact. The house. Our friends who’ve followed Kate on the Caringbridge, near and far. Our family.

Today

Today

But the old forest, the one that stood when the flames rushed up the hill toward us, is gone. Kate will not return to the same house, not even to the same dogs, for they and she have transformed. The homeness of our house remains, but its configuration will change, how we use it will change, how we see it and understand its role in our future will change. The companionship of the dogs remains, but their lives will have to adapt to the new, and while adapting, will change the new in their way.

I cannot yet see how the refugia will repopulate the forest of our life. The fire is not yet out, the crews of hotshot nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists are working to find hotspots and put them out, to build fire breaks and clear out old fuel. When their work is done, Kate and I will rebuild the wild forest that is our time together, our small contribution to the ongoingness. There is opportunity here, a chance to reexamine old habits, old dreams, old hopes, to reconsider them in light of the altered landscape. What will it give us? I don’t know. But, when Kate returns home and begins to heal here, on our old forest’s ground, we’ll find out.

 

*”The fires left scenes of ashen destruction, but they did not wipe out everything. Scattered about the ravaged landscapes were islands of trees, shrubs and grass that survived unharmed.

It’s easy to overlook these remnants, which ecologists call fire refugia. But they can be vital to the long-term well-being of forests. These havens shelter species that are vulnerable to fires. Afterward, they can be starting points for the ecosystem’s regeneration.”  NYT

When it rains…

Fall                                                                                     Healing Moon

Two days ago

Two days ago

9 degrees here on Shadow Mountain with snow blowing in the air. A bit unusual since snow most often comes straight down up here, like rain. The storm has underperformed for us, but it’s here and I like it. Black Mountain is gone, disappeared by the gray blue clouds.

Without going into details that shouldn’t be in writing yet, Jon is in trouble again. To say that this is bad timing colossally understates the case. Kate’s in a delicate moment of her recovery. The stakes this time, as they were last, are very high: custody of his kids, his job, his ability to pay his mortgage and therefore to keep his house. He and the kids were up here yesterday when he got a call from the Denver Police and had to return home.

Not sure what to do, not sure there’s anything I can or should do other than support him emotionally. I’m not making any assumptions about the situation, about his “guilt” or innocence. I don’t understand it very well and it’s intricately complicated. I do know that the implications are dire.

punta arenas

punta arenas

Spoke with Kate yesterday afternoon and her heartburn/nausea from a breakfast without ativan prior to eating has passed. She and her body are trying to figure out a new way to live together, to become healthy again. Not easy after the insults of the last couple of weeks. She’s determined, stubborn and this last trait will mostly serve her well right now.

A mutual friend from CBE, Rick Levine, will bring a meal to Brookdale today at 4:30 p.m. I’m sure that’s well beyond whatever traffic difficulties the current storm will bring.

New snow tires, Blizzaks, purchased last month, sit in the garage still bound together from shipping. I mean, it’s mid-October! I’m not unhappy about that. It’s unlikely this presages the full on beginning of snow season. November, even late November, makes more sense as a time to have them installed. The reason I buy snow tires, even though good all-seasons would probably suffice in this milder winter climate, is that Kate and I are older drivers and need all the extra advantages we can get. I leave the lights on during the day for the same reason, that additional clue to others that we’re coming.

 

 

A Life Temporarily Resectioned

Fall                                                                      Healing Moon

1605–15; < Latin resectiōn- (stem of resectiō) a cutting off, trimming, equivalent to resect(us) (see resect) + -iōn- -ion

pruning gooseberries

pruning gooseberries

Always had trouble with the word resection. Why can’t doctors just say, cut out, excise, remove? After Kate’s bowel resection for her bleeding, I decided to finally figure out this word.

As with most technical language, it’s more precise than removing a piece. Instead of cutting out a piece of the colon, a surgeon resections it. Resecting can mean any degree of alteration in an organ from outright removal, to partial removal, to altering it in some way short even of partial removal. The best synonym I found, the one that helped me finally get it was this. Pruning.

As a former horticulturist, I did a lot of pruning. Cutting this diseased part of a plant away. Removing an errant branch or stem. Thinning blooms to create larger flowers. Resecting all along and didn’t know it. Sometimes there was total resection of a plant no longer healthy, or of plants out of place (otherwise known as weeds).

down the hill and through the woods to Grandma's room we go

down the hill and through the woods to Grandma’s room we go

I’m belaboring this etymology because I realized how useful this word was for describing what I’ve done for the last two weeks or so. I temporarily resectioned my life. I pruned away all that was not essential. That left being with Kate, understanding her medical condition, showing up for procedures and recovery, sitting with her. It left giving the dogs as normal a life as possible. After all, they don’t understand the situation. It left feeding myself and getting plenty of sleep. It left writing Ancientrails and posting on the Caringbridge website about Kate’s progress. Everything else got pruned away.

No CBE work. No writing. No exercise. Minimal grocery shopping, some work outside. Filling the car with gas, getting the oil changed. Necessary maintenance.

2014, Andover

2014, Andover

I chose to prune away parts of my life so I could attend to an unusual occurrence, an anomaly that required most of me. With Kate now in rehab, her bleeding behind her, that severe pruning, like I would do to the raspberry canes at the end of the season, cutting them off to the ground, will fade away. Though. When she comes home, there will still be home care for her, of course. But, the driving and leaving the dogs behind for hours at a time will be over.

Our lives can require these rescections. Sometimes they’re temporary, as this one will have been, sometimes they’re permanent, like Kate’s surgery. If Kate had needed more home-based care, this resectioning might have become more permanent. This can happen in the third phase, when one partner requires a good deal more care.

Feeling level. Lighter.

A Fortnight Ago

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

moon waxingAs I drove home yesterday from Brookdale Green Mountain Rehab, the healing moon was a sickle in the evening sky with gaseous Jupiter a planetary pendant sparkling beneath. This morning as I walked up to the loft Orion stood tall in the southern sky, guarding the entrance to winter, to the fallow time.

All this week we’ve had fog, sometimes up here on Shadow Mountain, more often after Aspen Park on the way down the hill on 285. Fog presents the mountains like a fan dancer, revealing this patch of rock and ponderosa pine, only to conceal it and reveal a gulch filled with a lower down cloud. The interplay of climate, weather and mountains. Beautiful.

at Brookdale

at Brookdale

A new phase of Kate’s ordeal has begun, a more upbeat one, but one that will demand a lot, too. In the first phase she had to endure, now she will have to act. Eat. Exercise. Eat. Exercise. Sleep. Repeat. She’s ready, but also tired, drained. Down to 80 pounds.

I’m putting my toe back in the water at CBE. Alan Rubin and I will visit Kate this morning at 9:30, then have some time together to plan next week’s religious school session. I feel a need to get myself out of the drive in, drive back, take care of the dogs, sleep cycle I’ve felt necessary for the past two weeks. Not all the way out, just far enough to reengage, to connect with both my commitments and folks I care about who care about Kate and me.

Don’t know how long Kate will be at Green Mountain, but I imagine it will be longer than I assumed. She looked frail, but determined when I saw her in her new spot. She’ll need that. A new cycle will probably emerge from this new living situation for her.

 

A Fool on the Hill

Fall                                                                                        Healing Moon

Ode and me

I will not be attending the Woolly Mammoth’s centennial retreat (just kidding, 31 0r 32, something like that). But Charlie Haislet has proposed the Parsifal legend, the Grail quest, as a theme in the paragraph below. I’m going to write my answer here.

Rosseti Percival

Rosseti Percival

Parsifal and the Grail quest – it still works for me but now I am at a different place in the story. I am not now just stepping into the woods in a dark place where no one has gone before. I am at the end not the beginning of that quest, I either found the Grail or I didn’t. How does that feel, what does that mean? And as Judy, our visiting memoirist says, we have lived that story, now is the time to tell it.

dante canto oneCharlie has conflated two important stories here. The first is the Arthurian story of the grail quest, seen by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson as the quintessential story of masculine development. Note, by the way, that both men and women have a masculine development story.

The second is Dante’s Inferno. Canto 1 begins, famously:

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

In our forties or so, in midlife, we tend to find both Percival and Dante as exemplars for the path forward. We go out into life, now grown and in touch with our powers, but find ourselves lost. What was I supposed to be doing here, anyhow? Is medicine right? Is architecture? Engineering? Banking? The ministry?

At forty-two I answered this question, no. The ministry is no longer where I need or want to be. Perhaps I never belonged there in the first place. Kate, like a medieval patronness, came into my life and said, in essence, “If no is your answer, try something else.”

pape_de_abraham-a_hermit_writing_in_his_book

pape de abraham-a hermit writing in his book

Ironically, right at that moment I was writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. As I worked on it, what I wrote kept coming out as fiction. Also ironically, the title of the story, the novel on which I’d written several thousand words, maybe 40 or so, was “Even the Gods Must Die.” Hmm. See a connection there?

In my Percival naivete I set out on my writing quest. I planned a certain amount of money I wanted to earn each year. About $40,000 if I recall correctly. Hah. In terms of writing itself, I have succeeded. I have written nine novels, thirty or forty short stories, and literally, by this time, millions of words here on Ancientrails.

In terms of publishing my work I’ve failed. Big time. Consistently. A big lump of zero. At first I submitted my work, but I allowed rejections to stoke my fear, rather than my persistence. (which is, I should add, odd, since persistence has otherwise been a strong suit) I stopped submitting. I even stopped writing at one point and spent a year reading the classics, starting with Dante’s Divine Comedy. All of it.

FisherKingPt1Perhaps, in fact I think almost certainly, publishing was my Fisher King wound. Note, not the Grail, but the wound that could be healed by Percival’s question, the question of a fool, “Whom does the Grail serve?” Of course, that begs the question of the nature of the Grail itself. Johnson says that the question heals the Fisher King’s wound because its answer, “You My Lord, the Grail King.” reveals masculine development’s purpose: to serve a cause larger than your Self.

Dante’s quest leads him down into the darkest parts of himself, the layers of hell we each carry in our souls, up through the realm of Purgatory where those hells fall away, purged by coming closer to God, until the Self’s full glory is realized, like Percival, in submission to the Godhead.

Would I prefer to have sold novels and short stories, made money from my writing? Of course. And, at last, I’m in the process of a year long goal to achieve 100 rejections. I’m up to 10 right now. The strange part is that when I achieve publication, and I believe (hope) I will, it will mean little. I’ve already done the writing, I’ve lived the writing life for almost 30 years now and have done so with no encouragement from the business side.

1514204356436So who or what was the thing larger than myself that I have served in the meantime? I have several answers. The first one, love. Kate. Our marriage. The second one, family. Our family and its extensions, principally through Jon and Joseph, but including our nuclear families. The third, religion, small r religion. A life pushed forward by deep questions, ones of meaning and purpose. The fourth, justice. Seeking in the political realm an answer to the dilemmas of poverty, racism, and capitalism. The fifth, mother earth. Seeking in the political and personal realms a close tie to life as it is, life in its plural forms and the inanimate that carries us through space, provides for our needs, the sun and mother earth in particular.

There is another, too, different from the rest. Art. Painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, music, dance, theater. Always there. From the Wagner operas I bought on 331/3 l.p.s and listened to in my room at 419 N. Canal in Alexandria to the time as a docent at the MIA and through many plays and concerts. Literature. Around the time I bought the Wagner operas with my paper route money, I read War and Peace. So many books, poems. Over so many years. And my own writing, my attempt to add to our cultural deposit.

Did I drink from the cup drained at the Last Supper, the last celebration of Passover by that band of Jews in first century Palestine? Yes, I believe I did. Did it change me? Not in the usual theological sense. But, in the psychological sense, it affirmed my journey, my pilgrimage. Not as someone else, not as someone others hoped I’d be, not as a someone even I hoped I might be, but as mySelf, this one unique, irreplaceable guy, both unimportant and ultimately important. Like each Woolly, like each family member, like each tree and snake, like each planet and moon and star.

 

 

Day 13

Fall                                                                                   Healing Moon

brookdale-green-mountain-heroFeeling much lighter today. Kate’s headed off to Brookdale Green Mountain Rehab, probably after lunch. Bleeding stopped. Other markers like hemoglobin stabilized. Moving better, but not quite well enough to come home.

She’s also eating, having found that ativan prior to eating avoids nausea. This is big because it means she may finally be able to gain back some of her weight. More weight can mean more muscle mass, more muscle mass, less fatigue. Sjogrens has played a definite negative role all along, perhaps being the primary culprit behind her weight loss and fatigue. We might be able to fight back against at least some of it with ativan and marinol.

marinolWe both hoped that a positive from all this would be a way to attack her persistent nausea. May have found it. If we have, it will make for something upbeat other than survival. Which was, of course, the first and most necessary result.

Even my exhaustion seems less this morning. All along I’ve gotten reasonable, most times good, sleep. I’ve eaten. Trying to stay in shape for whatever Kate might need. Got back to my workout yesterday. That felt great.

There is, too, modest snow cover and the stage 1 fire ban has been lifted. Less to think about for now.

Of course, Trump’s still in office, but, hey, everything can’t be looking up.

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