We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

This and that

Beltane                                                                            Woolly Mammoth Moon

Ode, Tom, Paul overlooking the Animas River in Durango

Ode, Tom, Paul overlooking the Animas River in Durango

All the Woollies are back in their places with bright shiny faces. Mark and Tom in the Twin Cities, Paul in Robbintson, Maine.

Kate had her first board meeting last night. She dressed up in her serious adult clothes, put on a coat of many colors and went to Evergreen. I stayed home. Felt good after the long drive.

It’s 50 again this morning, cool, but clear. Yesterday the rain continued in the evening. A bit of nostalgia on the weather website, a tornado watch! Felt like the Midwest. Don’t recall having had one while we’ve lived here. Lots of red flag days, flash flood warnings, winter storm warnings, but no tornado watches. A few severe thunderstorm warnings, usually announcing the possibility of killer hail. Colorado has significant hail damage, among the highest in the nation. Climate in the montane region of the Rockies.

With the Durango trip over I’m finished with traveling until early August when I’ll head back to the Twin Cities for Groveland U.U.’s 25th anniversary celebration. Look forward to reconnecting with both Woolly friends and fellow docents from the MIA, seeing the MIA and the Walker, a jucy lucy at Matt’s.

Tan clumps are stump detritus

Tan clumps are stump detritus

We go into Denver less and less, our out of the house time spent either in the mountains themselves or in Evergreen, mostly at Beth Evergreen. Not an intentional thing, though the heat during the summers is a barrier for us, just that our life is now in the mountains and the city seems more and more foreign each time we go. Of course, we lived in Andover for twenty years, well outside Minneapolis, but we got into the Cities with greater frequency there. I had the MIA and the Sierra Club, the Woollies that drew me in; Kate had friends.

The stump grinder did a great job. Feels like we’re beginning to move in, a process attenuated by the medical and familial upsets that came bang, bang, bang after we moved. Jon’s bench is a good step in that direction, placing the fans, adding the light in the living room. Plenty more to do. We spent a lot of money early on installing the generator, a new boiler, solar panels, the new bathroom downstairs, sealing and staining the garage, new kitchen. Decor has waited. I’m close to having the garage organized again, may do some more work on that today.

 

Barely Legal

1968 or so, found by Mary Munchel

1968 or so, found by Mary Munchel

Woolly’s In the Rockies

Beltane                                                                               Woolly Mammoth Moon

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Paul and Tom

Ode and All Hat and No Motel

Ode and All Hat and No Motel

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Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House

Pensive Tom

Pensive Tom

The Trailhead, Buena Vista

The Trailhead, Buena Vista

Cleaning the Pine Pollen Off Our Solar Panels

Beltane                                                           Woolly Mammoth Moon

20180619_093741According to my weather system we’ve had 1.5 inches of rain this month. That’s 6.8% of  our annual precipitation total of 22 inches. (Conifer does better than the state, precip wise, 22 inches on average with 105 inches on average falling as snow.) And most of it came over the last three days. Pinecam.com is abuzz with hosannas. Things were not looking so good when the four of us left for Durango. Now? Much better.

This morning the dewpoint is 49 and the outside temp is 50. We’re in a cloud, rain falling, air cool. Wonderful for two days prior to the Summer Solstice.

Kate has her first meeting of the Beth Evergreen board tonight. She has management experience, great number sense, and a clear, unflinching view of reality. She will be an asset to both the board and through it, the synagogue. I’m happy she has this opportunity.

Got back into the exercise routine yesterday, planning to go back this week to 5 days with Tuesdays and Thursdays being high intensity interval training. I breath better when I do HIIT, got off it for a while during the intense period of Kate’s recovery.

‘Wild Rabbit in the Headlights 5#’, pencil & acrylic on rejection letter’, 21x29cm (2013) by Louise McNaught

‘Wild Rabbit in the Headlights 5#’, pencil & acrylic on rejection letter’, by Louise McNaught

Also made a commitment to myself, which I have written down on a yellow note stuck to my computer: NO 104 x’s  2018.  This means I want to receive 100 rejections this year from publishers. Sounds a little nuts, I know, but I’ve read the idea several places over the last year or so and I like it.

It recognizes that in any creative work: acting, writing, painting, music auditions you hear no more often than you do yes. And, this can be crippling. It has been for me. But, if you turn the idea around and acknowledge that reality, you can set a rejection goal. Why? Because the more times you’re rejected, the more opportunities you’ve given yourself to hear a yes. It can get somebody like me, who’s grown discouraged, a way of overcoming the negative. So, I have a goal of 2 rejections a week. Which means of course that I have to submit material to publishers. The point of it all.

forest and soulWriting, at least for me, is sufficiently compelling that I’ve continued to write over the years without success in publishing. That’s working without regard to the results. And, I found quite a while ago that that was enough for me. The writing is, itself, sufficient reward.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t like to sell some work, get some recognition. I would. But I’ve let the fear of rejection and the other negative emotions that come with it hamper me. A big psychic hurdle, one I stopped trying to overcome.

I now have enough work I can easily reach my goal of 104 rejections in 2018. Looking forward to the first two. Then two more. Then two more.

Writing has been my ground project since 1992. I’ll talk more about this idea in a later post.

 

 

Home Again

Beltane                                                                               Woolly Mammoth Moon

HelmsmanBack from the lands of the ancients. Back from the still growing 416 fire, now 30% contained. Back from an immersion in my old life so complete that I would occasionally say here, referring to the Twin Cities or Minnesota. The web of context and thick memories with Tom, Mark and Paul is old and deep.

We ate breakfast (thanks, Mark) in Durango at the Doubletree where we stayed. Packed up and left in the rain. It rained or sprinkled the whole time we were in Durango and that same pattern continued all the way back to Conifer. This meant my three amigos got to see the mountains with clouds hanging over them, the forests with mists boiling up in and through them, the grasses green, and small, temporary creeks flowing as the rain sought lower ground through rocky elevated terrain. It was a picturesque drive made mythic.

Paul's t-shirtNew memories. Climbing the ladders out of Cliff Palace. Talking with Doug Crispin about Mesa Verde. Tom as the Great Helmsman. Mark with his notebook open, sketching as we drove. “Riding loosens me up, makes it better.” Paul’s Common Ground County Fair t-shirt. (see poster) Wandering through the Durango RR museum with its odd, large and varied collection: the blonde black bear, the bi-plane, the solar car, a private train car, memorabilia from the capture of Saddam Hussein and  a thousand miniature soldiers, among other things. Visiting the Telluride Bud Company with Mark, his first visit to a legal pot shop.

The rain, a constant for the last couple of days, has to have helped our fire situation, too. A good thing.

 

Cliff Palace

Beltane                                                           Woolly Mammoth Moon

The Quadruplets

The Quadruplets

We drove yesterday where others walked long ago. The drive from the visitor center at Mesa Verde to the Cliff Palace where we went on an hour long tour took a long while, maybe 30 minutes up an incline. The land at Mesa Verde slopes up at an angle with fingers of land separated by eroded valleys. At the end of these wide fingers the land slopes down again, gently. As a result, according to an exhibit at the Spruce Tree dwelling museum, Mesa Verde is not a mesa at all, but a cuesta. Mesa’s have sharp cliffs while cuesta’s slope, as they do here, toward the lower ground.

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Paul and Mark descending

The route down to Cliff Palace (I’ll post pictures when I get back home) was the same one the cliff dwellers used, narrow steps cut into sandstone, augmented a bit by the occasional iron railing. There was, too, a ten foot ladder on the way down and two ten foot ladders on the way out which also followed a cliff dweller path. It would have been a fun place to grow up as a kid, scrambling up and down over rock and ladders, a more or less level surface above the home site where games could be played.

As at many sites where rock was a primary building material, the skill level was high with walls that were plumb, right angles, and a mortar that both bound the rock together and allowed water to seep through without loosening.

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Cliff Palace

Mark asked an interesting question about wall coverings. These rocky appearing structures would have had several coats of plaster on them and would have been painted. That means they would have looked much different than they do now.

A ranger at the visitor center compared Mesa Verde to Giza and other World Heritage sites. When Tom asked him what was good about working there, “We get visitors from all over the world.” Another Ranger I talked to, Doug Crispin, had an obvious reverence for this Park. He was a first generation immigrant and said, “This is an American story. I’m honored to be here to share it.” He and I mused over a thousand years from now, “Will anyone be coming to look at the ruins of Durango? Probably not. But Mesa Verde will still be here.”

Right outside my hotel room is a small balcony with two chairs, a small table and a view of the Animas River. Had I been in this room on April 7th of 2015 the Animas would have been a sickly, mustard yellow thanks to the toxic spill from the Gold King Mine upstream from here. It’s clear now, with people kayaking, long  boarding, even fishing, but it took a long time. Here’s a hardly reassuring couple of paragraphs from the Durango Herald, April of this year:

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House

San Juan Basin Public Health said water samples taken throughout the Animas River indicate there’s no risk to human or environmental health from normal use of the waterway.

However, the health department suggests people who come in contact with the river to wash with soap, keep a close watch on children who are more susceptible to unintentionally swallowing river water and treat water before consumption.

Meanwhile, the 416 fire, from the same newspaper, an hour ago: “The 416 Fire hasn’t exhaled its last column of smoke yet, but steady rainfall Saturday did help tame the 16-day-old wildfire and allow firefighters to increase containment lines around the 34,161-acre blaze.

20180616_122340I slept last night with the patio door open, screen closed. I could hear the Animas, the river of souls, running. When I woke up this morning, it was raining. My ear was eager for the sound, found it soothing, familiar in a humid East, Midwestern way.

Being with Tom, Paul, and Mark has reminded us all of the depth our long time relationships has nurtured. We move together through the day easily, listening to each other, making decisions, continuing lines of thought, sparking new ones. One of Paul’s hopes is that this trip might encourage us to use a meeting app like Zoom to get together even while far apart physically. I’d like that and hope we can make it work, too.

Kate says the stump grinder got a lot done in 2 hours. I’m excited to see it. An outdoor room. Later we’ll have him back to do the front, leaving widely spaced trees with no stumps.

 

Fire on the horizon

Beltane                                                                                 Woolly Mammoth Moon

We’re out here in the land dominated, for the moment, by the 416 fire. I smell no smoke, see no smoke, but the fire’s presence a few miles north of here is evident in conversation, google searches, and the need to plan around it. It’s grown now to over 32,000 acres with 18% containment.

Yesterday was a red flag day, today is 90% chance of rain. Sounds good, right? Water puts out fire. Well. Water also courses down fire hardened soil, soil made, as inciweb calls it, hydrophobic. Result? Flash flood warnings, especially for Hermosa Creek and Tripp Gulch. Flash floods are one of the sequelae of these big fires that last long after the fire is out.

Our plan today is to head over to Mesa Verde, see what we can see, then, this afternoon or so, find the Durango RR museum. Google says Mesa Verde is about 40 minutes to the west. Not much further north is the Canyon of the Ancients where the mysterious Anasazi culture had its home base. We’re in land settled long ago by descendants of those adventurous souls who crossed the Bering Land Bridge. A sense of humility is in order out here.

The drive from Conifer to Durango is a lesson in geology, following Hwy 285 through the long Platte River Canyon up to Kenosha Pass, then the sudden appearance of the broad, flat plain, South Park. South Park and its fellows, Middle Park and North Park are Colorado’s high plains, South Park at an average altitude of 9,000 feet. Turning south at the road to Buena Vista (where Kate had her quilt retreat in February) we drove along more high plains, and, as the mountains impinged more and more on the road, found a long stretch of beetle-killed pines.

This is poor country with makeshift shelters made from hay bales and shipping containers, old pickups parked forever, and a general feeling of hard lives. Until Pagosa (or, in the Ute, as Paul found, Stinky) Springs. Pagosa Springs (stinky from the sulfur) is a fairly large town as is Durango. Surprisingly so given the land that precedes them from the north.

The creeks here are full, running fast. The mountains steep and tree covered. Yet I’m sitting in a Doubletree Hotel room with all the appointments you would expect. Colorado is a land of heights and valleys, rocky rivers and streams, elk and mule deer, black bears and mountain lions, sprinkled with pockets of population, often upscale.

There is a conversation, now over thirty years old, that continued on the way here. We know each other, have memories and friends in common. What are you reading? What is the nature of time? How do whirlpools form? Wives and kids. Dogs. Hopes. Fears. Creation of tidal tables. What have you been up to?

Well, gotta get a shower, then breakfast. Traveling to do.

Venn Merging

Beltane                                                                                  Woolly Mammoth Moon

Yesterday two worlds came into contact, even if only briefly. The first was Kate and mine’s current world, the world of the Rocky Mountains and Reconstructionist Judaism, Evergreen and Shadow Mountain. The other was our old world, the world of the Land of Lakes and the Woolly Mammoths, Andover and the Twin Cities.

First, Ode showed up at mussar. Then, Tom and Paul. The middot of the week is grace and reading Rami Shapiro’s book, The Art of Loving Kindness, carried us into a discussion about shabbat as a “counter-cultural rebellion” which encourages living one day a week as if work and worry are not the point of life. Has always made sense to me, BTW, long before Beth Evergreen, but I’ve never acted on it, never observed a sabbath day.

Anyhow the context of the conversation made me realize what a grace-full moment it was for me when Tom, Paul and Mark showed up here in Colorado. It was, in one sense, perhaps even the best sense, ordinary. I knew they would find the conversation fascinating, because it was a conversation we’d been having for over thirty years. How do you live? What about life is important? How can we move ourselves into a more meaningful, graceful, gratitude filled existence?

So that moment at the synagogue smooshed together two venn diagrams, Minnesota and Colorado. And it felt really good. They met Rabbi Jamie. Debra referred to the four of us as the quadruplets, older white haired white guys of similar size and habitus and life.

Then the party moved over to Shadow Mountain. My slow cooker Irish stew was, well, partly there. The lamb was tender, but the potatoes were not. Neither Kate nor I, though she is much more able at it than me, are big on hosting events at our house. Too busy at one point, now a bit less able. But these were friends who would forgive an underdone potato for the  conversation around the table. And the occasional poking of Rigel’s head under their arms.

Kate went to bed, then got up, came out and said, “You have the best friends.” Indeed, I do.

This morning at 8:30 we’ll take off in the giant SUV that Tom has rented. First stop, the Crow Hill Cafe, then The Happy Camper. Maybe the Sasquatch Outpost? Certainly Kenosha Pass, South Park, Fairplay. On down through South Park. Maybe we’ll look at the Rocky Mountain Land Library, maybe we’ll stop in Pagosa Springs for a soak in the hot springs. Not sure. Doesn’t matter.

We’re headed to Durango in the southwest corner of the state. The 416 fire, north of Durango, as of yesterday:

“While residents in two areas were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, the 416 Fire grew to 32,076 acres with no update on containment.

The fire, burning just 13 miles north of Durango, is still being worked by over 1,000 firefighters who are battling this thing from the air and the ground. Burn out efforts, that is, efforts to burn up the fire’s potential fuel, continued throughout the day.” 9News, Denver.

Here’s a link to a Durango Herald article on fire analysts, very interesting.

Traveling Mercies

Beltane                                                                                Woolly Mammoth Moon

about+friendship+best+fMario is already in town, taking wildfire pictures with his usual acumen, traveling over mountain passes. Tom and Paul fly in today and we’ll have a slow cooker Irish stew up here on Shadow Mountain, all of us. These are friends of well over thirty years, men with whom I shared twice monthly meetings over that time, plus annual retreats. That bond was the toughest thing to leave behind when Kate and I moved out here.

This was a men’s group in the old style, one supported by, though not directly part of, the Men’s Movement. Robert Bly, the well known poet who lives in Minneapolis, was a key figure in that movement and a friend of several Woollies. He and the early Men’s Movement folks rooted the movement in Jungian psychology, considering archetypes in particular. Our group, the Woolly Mammoths-“We’re not extinct yet.”-, went in that direction, too, discussing fathers and mothers, dreams, career, love, pilgrimage and many other topics with vulnerability prized rather than shamed.

left to right, back row first: Jim, Bill, Paul, Tom, Me, Mark, Warren

left to right, back row first: Jim, Bill, Paul, Tom, Me, Mark, Warren

I’ve been gone three years now and I felt the loss keenly in the first couple of years. These were my confidants, my friends, an external ballast that helped steady the little barque that is my life. Due to illness and divorce (Jon’s) our first years  here have focused on recovery and left little money or time or stamina for travel. There were visits here, which I appreciated very much.

Now Paul, Tom, and Mark will be here for a trip to Durango, current site of the 416 fire, and jumping off spot for seeing such sights as Mesa Verde and the Four Corners in addition to the Durango/Silverton RR, closed due to the fire.

I feel so happy that these guys are coming out here, that we’ll have time together, to talk, to go deeper in the way only long time friends can do. Seeing more of Colorado, all of which will be new to me after Fairplay or so, is also exciting. Looking forward to a memorable few days.

 

A leather jacket, leaning on the nose of the plane

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

09 11 10_Joseph_0256-1He wore a leather jacket, leaned on the nose of his liaison plane, a dashing aviator surely in his own mind. It was a pose redolent of the early days of World War II when young American men, he must have been 23 or 24 at the time, answered the call. This was the so-called Greatest Generation, looking for adventure after the downbeat thirties, soaked in the dustbowl and post-depression blues.

He told me stories of flying these little planes, sort of air taxis, close cousins to the Beechcraft single prop planes. One time, he said, he was in a huge thunderhead, his tiny plane ravaged by the winds, bucking, twisting, lightning strikes and rain all round. “Never,” he said,”did I want to parachute out of my plane, but this once. And I couldn’t do it.” The air pressure in the thunder head conspired to keep his cockpit door closed.

He told me too of flying under utility wires just for fun and dropping sacks of flour on troops training below to simulate bombs. Then there were the trips flying personnel of the Manhattan Project from place to place. A close brush with the greatest and deadliest secret of the war.

Stillwater, Oklahoma, home of Oklahoma State University, had, has a topflight journalism program and he had graduated from it before joining the then Army/Air Force. He dreamed, he told me once, of buying a boat and traveling the Gulf of Mexico, writing as he went. I wish he had.

counter intelligenceThere was, though, the story of counterintelligence work that soured me on him from a single digit age. As a recruit in this branch of military security, he spied on possible Reds who’d infiltrated the Army. “I made friends with them, then went through their lockers, that sort of thing. I reported back.” A man, I thought as a very young boy, who would make friends with someone in order to betray them is at least morally flawed, certainly not someone I’d look up to. And he was my father. Sure, it was war time. Sure, there were spies. And, sure, someone needed to find them. I just didn’t want one of those people to have been my father. But he was.

He was a distant man, plagued by migraines and allergies. Often we had to tiptoe around the house while he lay in living room in the dark, a cold cloth laid over his forehead. He sneezed. A lot. Used the cache of my brother’s no longer needed baby diapers as soft handkerchiefs.

BiloxiOne year we drove all the way to Biloxi, Mississippi from Alexandria, quite a journey. We rented a room in a motel by the beach while Dad went to an allergy clinic. When he came home from one visit to the clinic, his back looked like hamburger, having been pricked, in orderly rows and columns, with possible allergens. Oddly, I don’t remember, perhaps I wasn’t told, the results of any of these tests.

Meanwhile, we had the beach and that same Gulf of Mexico. I made a point of getting out there.  Even then strange places, different from home, drew me like magnets. I met a boy at the beach. We both had trucks and cars that we drove on roadways we made in the sand.

It was not long after a fireworks celebration had been held beach side and unexploded or partially exploded fireworks lay everywhere. We were boys. An opportunity offered itself. Soon we were opening small firecrackers, bottle rockets, fountains and scraping out the black powder.

fireworksWe made a little pit and filled it with black powder, then placed a plastic dump truck over it. We’d both seen movies where the fuse was a line of gunpowder so we made a small crevice in the pits side and dribbled black powder in a thin line away to what we calculated was a safe distance. Lit it.

Nothing happened. I imagine the sand was damp, dampening the powder, but that didn’t occur to us at the time. He, I don’t remember his name, offered to put a match to the powder under the truck. We really wanted to see that truck go up. He did. It worked, blowing up the small truck in spectacular, wonderful fashion. His thumb, too.

We went home and Biloxi was a bizarre memory, my Dad’s hamburger back and my friend’s thumb gone. When Katrina took out the Biloxi waterfront, I thought about that week.

Dad made me shine his high topped shoes every Sunday morning, a task I hated. He gave me a quarter for it, later thirty-five cents. I mowed the lawn, too, with a cranky push mower. He never did it himself. Paint the fence. Salt the weeds in the interstices of the bricks in our sidewalk. Carry buckets of water up from the basement that flooded predictably. He made me do these things, never explained them, never did them himself, save for the carrying of the buckets and then only with me. I know, hardly child abuse. I’m pointing here to the underlying, assumed authority of father that rested in his heart.

father2I have no warm memories of him. No moment of, God, I’m glad this guy is my Dad. Mostly my memories are blank, him lying on the floor, watching television, eating. Memories devoid of emotional valence.

When I began to do well in school, well enough that I would become my class’s valedictorian, he told me, “Grades aren’t everything. It’s how you get along with people that counts.” Not that it wasn’t true. It is. The lack of validation was what left a hole.

Even then I pushed back against authority, his, scout leaders, the school system. He wasn’t able to distinguish critical thinking and willingness to challenge authority from a defective personality. He didn’t see that I was tight with my peers, that they constantly chose me for leadership roles precisely because I was willing to say and do the things they only thought about.

Later, he bailed me out of a drinking related expulsion from campus when I was a junior. He bought me a car, a Volkswagen Beetle, so I could commute to school which was 20 miles away in Muncie. I moved back into my old room, ashamed. Even in this incident, my fault, I don’t recall warmth, only fulfillment of duty on his part.

father estrangementIt led to the rupture that mattered the most. I was at home, my hair was long, early Beatle’s long, which was not very, even for the day. He asked me one day, “Charlie, are you a homosexual?” Long haired musicians were often considered gay in those days. I laughed.

“No.”

“Well, then, cut your hair or get of my house.” That was the last time I was in Alexandria, or talked to him for over ten years. Sure, I was misguided, abrupt, overreacting. Yes. But, and this was the lesson I took from this incident, I was the child. He was the parent. It was his responsibility to find a way over the gap, a gap he had created out of his Roosevelt Democrat, communist hating paranoia. He never did.

He was not an absent father in the sense of not coming home at night, of always being unavailable due to hobbies or travel. He was an absent father in his heart, walled in, tucked away behind the moat of his early childhood, his own father’s abandonment. From the vantage point now, years long past look different of course. I can see the roots of his difficulty, even be moved by them. But their work was done a long time ago, long before I knew I could rewrite my narratives.

father driftMaybe it could have gone differently. Maybe. But it didn’t. With Mom dead young and Dad unable to cope I felt, though only in retrospect, like a rudderless boat. Navigating that craft through the astonishing turmoil and wonder of the sixties was difficult. In a real sense I failed.

It took into my thirties, with treatment for alcoholism and long term Jungian analysis, to regain the helm. This was not Dad’s fault. I’ve come to believe that no matter what the circumstances of our childhood, when we’re least able to shape our own lives, we alone are responsible for our adult lives. It’s our task to find, in whatever way we can, the tools necessary to give us a life of our own making.

This is the essence of reconstruction. We cannot wish away or abandon our past; it will be and is what it was. Yet the interpretation, the hermeneutics of that past is ours. Would that Dad had had the chance to reconstruct his own story, to dig out the bravery it took to live a life in spite of Elmo’s sudden disappearance, to join the military, to raise a child with polio. These are not trivial accomplishments, but somehow they did not shape him. I don’t know why.

 

 

 

 

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