We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Midsommar                                                                     Most Heat Moon

Ancientrails will be briefly dark as Kate and I travel to Glenwood Springs to meet up with Stefan and Lonnie Helgeson. We’ll be gone tonight, back tomorrow. Jon will be here taking care of the dogs. A mini-vacation. See you either later tomorrow or early Sunday.

Leaning in

Midsommar                                                                  Most Heat Moon

Strange times in the inner world of Mr. Ellis. Feeling peaceful. Leaning into life rather than pushing against it, struggling. Feels. Weird.

The move from Minnesota, which we did for love of Jon, the grandkids, adventure and the mountains has had a more drastic effect than I could have imagined. I thought the chief task here on Shadow Mountain would be becoming native to this place, instead it was becoming native to myself.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We move, then I have prostate cancer in a place where I know almost no one, with a doctor known from one or two visits. Not the best setup for entering a new place. But I got good care, came to know Lisa much better and have prostate cancer in the rearview so far.

Sometime after that Kate read an article about a study of King David at a local synagogue, Beth Evergreen. We went on a cold winter night and had a challenge finding our way, but we got there. Bonnie, who would become a friend, led the session and we met many others that night, including Marilyn and Tara Saltzman, who would also become friends.

Kate’s long ago conversion to Judaism, when she was in her early 30’s, had been dormant for the most part though firm. Here we were in a new place and Beth Evergreen had people who seemed friendly, the synagogue greeted us warmly. Both of us. I decided to attend further events to support Kate and, besides, I’d always enjoyed my relationship with Jewish folks over the years.

Since then Kate has deepened and lived her Jewish life, taking Hebrew classes, getting to know more members of the congregation through mussar (Jewish ethics). Joan Nathan has become her culinary heroine and she’s made many recipes from King Solomon’s Table including a seven-species salad for a holiday whose name I don’t recall.

Meanwhile I’ve been taking it all in, an experience I’ve taken to calling Jewish immersion. Each faith tradition has its own culture, its own way of being for those who participate. The whole, the gestalt of this, can be seen as a language, a language unfamiliar, even foreign, to outsiders. Without intending to I’ve been learning the language.

I think about conversion, about becoming a member of the tribe in the way Kate did, but somehow it doesn’t feel right for me. I keep myself open, however, not closing either heart or mind. The study of kabbalah has cracked open a door, a door I thought I had closed, the door of a faith reaching beyond the sensible world.

We’ll see where that goes.

 

 

The Fourth Time Around

Midsommar                                                                   Most Heat Moon

ricoeur2This evening is the last of the introductory kabbalah classes. We’ll be discussing miracles again and hearing student presentations. Making it personal still seems like the right path for mine, how kabbalah has affected a decades long journey, a pilgrimage toward the world into which I’ve been thrown.

Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher with a focus on hermeneutics, wrote about second naiveté*. It is a powerful idea. Ricoeur encourages any whose faith has been ravaged by the wildfires of Enlightenment reason to return to it again, a second time, and this time see “scripture and religious concepts as symbols, (i.e. metaphorical constructs) that we now interpret “in the full responsibility of autonomous thought.” (SE, p. 350)” (see below)

Kabbalah may be my third or fourth naiveté, a journey occasioned by a long ago commitment to religions inflected with Western cues, reasoning that the deepest knowing comes from within the way our inner world has been shaped by culture. I made this commitment over against the Hare Krishna, faux Zen, travel somewhere far away for a guru fervor of the 60’s. I faltered a bit in this commitment with my plunge into Taoism, which remains important to me, but in the main I’ve tried to search within the religious sensibilities of the West, especially the Judaeo-Christian flavors.

ricoeurHere’s a nice paragraph: “While the hermeneutic strategies to “open up the text” that Ricoeur presents are not simple or childlike, they’re only the first step in engaging with the ideas. If you understand “the meek shall inherit the earth” as a radical idea, what do you do with that? How do you apply it? How do you let it change you? Following Gadamer, we’re supposed to put ourselves at risk, allowing the possibility that the text could be life-changing.” The Partially Examined Life

I’m letting kabbalah change my empiricist worldview, again (third or fourth time) opening up to the world beyond mortal ken. How will this change me going forward? I imagine meditation and prayer will follow. Perhaps more regular worship, though with a much altered understanding of what that experience is about and what it is for. It will certainly lead me to further exploration of the kabbalah and, as a direct result, a deeper immersion in torah study, perhaps the Talmud, too. So, further into the Jewish worldview of the Reconstructionists.

gnosticismThe biggest change will be in how I sense the world around me. I will no longer be so reductive, imagining that even if there is an unseen world, that’s all it is, unseen. Perhaps this is how the reenchantment process works, seeing the living, intricately woven cosmos as manifest everywhere, visibly and invisibly. My pagan sensibility remains. I’m not sure that adding God language to the mix adds anything important.

Seeing all religious language, all religious ritual, all religious writing as metaphor is a radical shift in perception; and, it’s one I’ve been ready to make for a long time though I didn’t realize it. I’ll let you know how the presentation goes.

*Paul Ricoeur’s (from this summary)

Paul Ricoeur was more of a philosopher, but his work also crossed over into religion. His ideas on religion do relate to spiritual development, although Ricoeur did not use that exact term. Most of Ricoeur’s writings about religion dealt with the way a person would interpret scripture. But what they also definitely have bearing on religious belief as well.

Paul Ricoeur and the First Naïveté Though he mentioned the first naïveté only in passing, and as it relates to what happens after it, we can deduce that the first naïveté refers to the interpretation of scripture (or religious belief) where everything is taken at face value. This is the same as saying that the person in the first naïveté believes everything about his religion literally. This “first naïveté” is also the equivalent of the Faithful level of spiritual development, as described on this site.

Paul Ricoeur and the Critical Distance According to Ricoeur, the rational forces brought to our civilization through modernity have made it difficult to accept religion or scripture in the “first naïveté” sense. Once subjected to rational inspection, the literal meanings of religion really do not hold up. Once a person allows himself to take a step back from religious belief, and examine it critically, he really cannot believe the simple, naïve, concepts his religion teaches at face value. This “critical distance” is the equivalent of the Rational level of spiritual development, as described on this site.

Paul Ricoeur and the Second Naïveté After the critical distance phase, Ricoeur suggested, there is a way to engage faith in what he called a “second naïveté” way. “Beyond the desert(Rational stage) of criticism, we wish to be called again.” (SE, p. 349) In this second naïveté, scripture and religious concepts are seen as symbols, (i.e. metaphorical constructs) that we now interpret “in the full responsibility of autonomous thought.” (SE, p. 350) This means we accept that the myths we held as truth in the first naïveté (or Faithful stage) are in fact myths, but having passed through the critical distance (or Rational stage,) we begin to reengage these concepts at a different level. We no longer accept them at face value, as presented by religious authorities, but rather interpret them for ourselves, in the light of having assumed personal responsibility for our beliefs. We choose move toward our own interpretation that recognizes these concepts as symbols of something greater than that which the words or teachings imply in their literal sense. This “second naïveté is roughly equivalent to the Mystic stage of spiritual development as referred to on this site.

Organ Recital

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

dodge-a-bullet-illusOrgan recital: Kate does not have throat cancer. Didn’t know that was what Dr. James Chain, an ENT, was thinking until he eliminated the idea yesterday. Nothing quite like dodging the metaphorical bullet you didn’t even hear fired. Her sense of smell, adumbrated, and her sense of taste, flattened, however, may not return. Tough for weight loss. If food doesn’t taste-bad or good, it’s not appealing. We’re working right now to figure out what she can taste so we can emphasize them in our menu choices and cooking.

My knee. Well, in short, nothing wrong. Dr. Peace, he of the elfin ears and round face, said, “Ligaments feel good, strength is good. You have more flexibility than 90% do at this point. You’re good.” Kate asked, “Can he kneel to weed?” “Oh, yes.” Me, “Oh, no.” This because I have significant pain when I kneel on my left knee. “For some reason,” Dr. Peace said, “50% of knee replacement patients report pain on kneeling. 50% don’t. We don’t know why.” Oh.

Dr. Peace says that short of blunt force trauma: ski accident, automobile crash, a bad fall I can’t hurt the prosthetic. “It’s designed for you to be active.” That’s good news because it means I can challenge it as much as I can stand.

Knee X-ray image after a total knee replacement operation. The diseased knee joint is replaced with artificial material (White parts). Frontal view and side-view.

Knee X-ray image after a total knee replacement operation. The diseased knee joint is replaced with artificial material (White parts). Frontal view and side-view.

It was my knee prosthetic’s moment on the big screen. The x-ray screen. In scales of gray and white I could see the anchoring bolt dug deep into my tibia and the large lunette window shaped chunk attached somehow to my femur. Glue was mentioned. Say what? Most weird of all though, my knee cap floated free, a sort of slightly flattened disc which looked as if it wanted distance from the rest of this oh so necessary joint.

In short, good news all round. We celebrated with a meal at RICE Sushi and Bistro not far from Dr. Chain’s office. The temperature was a Minnesotan frying 95 degrees, but as we climbed the mountains of the Front Range we got down to a more bearable 77 at home.

In This Corner: The Middle Kingdom

Midsommar                                                                 Most Heat Moon

mao-trach-dongChina has fascinated me for a long time. Kate, Joseph and I went on an absurdly cheap week long trip to Beijing in 1999. $900, airfare + hotel + several meals, for each of us. It was a promo deal by Dayton’s travel (remember Dayton’s?) and Northwest Airlines (remember Northwest airlines?) for the new Northwest direct flight from Detroit to Beijing.

The tourism was strictly regulated, almost completely planned, but a source of wonder in spite of that. We saw Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Winter Palace, the Ming Tombs, the Great Wall, a Beijing Opera, a cloisonne factory, a drum tower and hundreds, no thousands of bicycles on the streets.

Over the last year I’ve been paying closer attention to the geopolitical situation among China, Japan, Korea, the South China Sea and Southeast Asia stimulated in part by Joseph’s year long deployment to Osan AFB in South Korea and his marriage to SeoAh.

With Mary and Mark (brother and sister) having lived in Southeast Asia for decades and with the adoption of Joseph from India and his marrying SeoAh from Korea my family has distinct and chosen Asian roots.

chinaWhile volunteering for twelve years at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, I had the privilege of diving deep into the Asian Art collection, especially China and Japan. That study led me more deeply into Chinese history and into Asian literature, in particular Chinese classics like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Monkey’s Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber. I also read the Tale of Genji and have more recently begun reading classics of Indian religious literature like the Mahabharata.

Two recent books, one I’ve almost finished, Destined for War: Can China and the U.S. escape Thucydides’ trap? , and a second I’ve just started, Everything Under Heaven: How the past shapes China’s push for power, have given me a much clearer picture into the geopolitical dynamics of this historically unusual moment in world history. The United States of the last century and this one is the most powerful nation-state to have ever existed and, in spite of DJT, is still a great nation and remains the dominant global superpower.

thucydides

thucydides

But that’s all changing. China’s rise is not the same as other, similar situations in which a dominant power faced a rising rival though there are many similarities. Destined for War gives several examples of this phenomenon and compares them to the rise of Athens while Sparta was the dominant city-state in what is now Greece. Thucydides wrote his classic, the Peloponnesian Wars, as an attempt to explain how Athens and Sparta tried, but failed, to prevent war in spite of leaders in both city-states who saw the dangers and worked actively to maintain the peace.

China has rightly been called a civilization rather than a nation-state. It’s 3,000 year old history has seen its Han majority wax and wane in power, but never disappear, not even during the Mongol Yuan dynasty and the Manchu dynasty of the Qing’s. Nation-states only came into existence after the Treaty of Westphalia in the mid-seventeenth century.

US flagThis means that we have a unique situation, maybe unprecedented, of a rising ancient civilization that during most of its history saw itself as the Middle Kingdom, the rulers of Everything Under Heaven, in direct competition with the apotheosis of the modern nation-state, the United States of America. One is the heir to 3,000 years (longer, if we move back into prehistory) of self-definition and imperial power, the other heir to the most advanced expressions of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

This conflict will probably play out over the next generation and its conclusion is far from certain. I find the process exhilarating: Western individualism and democracy challenged by the more autocratically inclined and much more group oriented Asian way. It could be a key moment for global evolution of the species. Much, much more to come.

 

Home, Sweet Home

Midsommar                                                            Most Heat Moon

Say it ain’t so. The 10 most white trash cities in Indiana.

Population: 5,145
Estimated White trash: 1,342.5
Welfare population: 25%
Single parents: 25%
Drug use: 3rd for cities above 5,000 residents in IN

Alexandria is a little place right outside of Muncie, Indiana.

It is definitely one of the “whitest cities” on our list. The number of drug-related crimes and aggravated assaults, combined with the high number of poor dropouts, makes this white trash central for Madison County.

Is that Ricky Bobby’s kid? Fair question, Alexandria. You’re located just northeast of the black and white checkered flag in Indy-land. Hey, don’t get your boxers in a bunch, we know the three things you don’t mess with in white trash country: racin’, drinkin’, and makin’ meth.

And if you live in Madison County, there’s a good chance you’re makin’ meth. Huffin’ ain’t easy people. You’re a true gem, Alexandria.

Alexandria, Indiana

Cool air. How to.

Midsommar                                                                        Most Heat Moon

lgWe’re going to need a sign: A Scandinavian and former Minnesotans live here. It will hang below the window air conditioner we purchased yesterday in Evergreen. Nobody has air conditioning up here. At least not visible from the road. We moved here for the cooler average temperatures and Shadow Mountain has obliged, so that’s not surprising. But. In the summer, for a few weeks, it does get hot up here and the house heats up. So does the loft.

Kate and I kept our home in Andover at 63 degrees summer and winter. And were happy about it. The heat makes both of us sluggish, cranky. Beating it back, even for the few weeks when it’s a problem, has become important for us. We purchased one unit, will put it in today (which means Jon will put it in), and see how it works. If it works well, we’ll buy a slightly larger unit, 15,000 BTU’s, for the loft.

airconditionerinstructosWhen we went into Home Depot (our choices for purchasing a unit were two: Walmart or Home Depot. Community busters or a CEO who loves and supports the Donald. Sigh.), I had to go up to Customer Service and say, “I want to buy an air conditioner, but I can’t lift it.” The woman behind the desk said, “All right. Where is it?” Then she came with me. I looked at her. If she can lift the damned thing, I should be able to. But, no. She had a trick. She tilted the box back while I moved the flat-bed cart underneath it, then she worked it onto the low orange bed.

Life is too short. Yes, it is and with both of us in our eighth decades it’s getting even shorter. Too short to spend weeks bothered by heat. Now, who can I get to make that sign?

 

Altitude: A Blessing and a Curse

Midsommar                                                                       Most Heat Moon

visionaire-5-oxygen-concentrator-airsep

Living at altitude in the arid West has its challenges. So far we’ve decided that the blessings outweigh the curses. Kate did come back from her 55th reunion trip to Iowa healthier. Part of that was a treatment for thrush she began before she left, but a part of it, too, was being much closer to sea level (better O2 stats) and much more humidity. We joked about taking the oximeter and the blood pressure monitor on a drive around Denver to find a place we could live that would be healthier for us. The oxygen concentrator is a better solution for us right now.

Tibial-Keel-Punch-Protocol-Render.In other health news an x-ray of my left knee (total knee prosthetic imaging) raised a question. On Monday I see Dr. Peace, my orthopedic surgeon, for a follow up. Kate thinks and I hope he will say nothing’s wrong. I will use the time to ask again about how much I can challenge the knee. Can I, for example, kneel? It’s painful now, yes, but does it actually harm the prosthetic? Is hiking up a mountain trail too stressful for it? Why do I still have pain seven and a half months after surgery? Are my high intensity workouts too much? I don’t want to be too cautious, neither do I want to be cavalier.

Jon’s waiting on news about whether the seller of the house he’s purchasing will replace galvanized piping. Could be a deal breaker. Possible bummer alert.

 

 

Trenchant

Midsommar                                                               Most Heat Moon

Kate hit the intercom yesterday. “Look outside.” I went to the deck on the loft, looked down and sure enough, there was Rigel, digging away in our rocky backyard. It may be hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but the ones they learned while young and living on the Great Anoka Sand Plain? They’re in there.

At first she couldn’t locate her prey. Yet, she persisted. A real Elizabeth Warren, our Rigel. After digging a four foot long shallow trench, and after trying (unsuccessfully) to dislodge several tree roots, she found her critter. Kate thinks it was a vole. Whatever it was, it is no more, except as part of Rigel’s food supply yesterday.

Vega and Rigel used to dig deep holes in our Andover yard, deep, doggy height deep. They tag teamed, one digging, the other resting. Turns out this is pack behavior, not just sisterly. Yesterday, Rigel dug, then Kep dug. Kep gave up, but Rigel kept going and got the goody at the end of the trench.

Afterward, Rigel had this, “I still got it.” attitude. Head up, tail high, body tight. She has resumed her shed patrols, another trick she learned in Andover. In Minnesota rabbits bred under our honey house and on occasion she and Vega would catch one. There must be critters under the one here on Shadow Mountain, too, but I don’t know what they are.

Dogged, Sirius

Midsommar                                                                     Most Heat Moon

 Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."

Santa Maria Assunta, Torcello. Revelation 20:15: “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”

The dog days. Maybe not yet as hot as this mosaic portrays, certainly not here on Shadow Mountain, though Tucson and Phoenix… Friend Tom Crane sent me a link to this Updraft post about the dog days. I miss having an erudite blog like Updraft keeping me alert about weather. Weather5280 is the closest I’ve found. It’s good on weather, but it doesn’t go off into sidebars like explaining the days after the heliacal rising of Sirius. Heliacal? What’s that you might ask? Turns out heliacal is the first appearance of a star after a long absence. The dog days begin with the return of the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius. Or, at least they used to.

The Romans believed that the dog days were so hot that they made dog’s rabid. Sirius is the major star in the constellation, Canis Major, the Great Dog, but the Romans didn’t originate linking the rising of Sirius with heat. That belongs to the Greeks. They named the star “Seirios, Greek for “sparking” (referring to its near-constant twinkling), “fiery,” or “scorching,”” According to this page on Sky and Telescope, the Greeks believed its -1.46 magnitude intensified the already hot days of a Mediterranean summer.

Neither the Greeks nor the Romans, however, were the first ancient civilization to highlight the dog star. The Egyptians began the New Year when Sirius returned to the night sky because it corresponded with the flooding of the Nile, a seasonal nourishing of the fields that made Egyptian civilization flourish. Their calendar though, because it lacked the leap year, gradually moved the month of the new year further and further from Sirius’s heliacal rise.

This lead to a discovery of the Sothic year, 1461 years of ancient Egypt’s 365 day year or 1460 of the Julian sidereal year which adds leap years. A Sothic year follows the gradual movement of the New Year until it once again occurs when the Nile floods, synching up with Sirius’s heliacal moment.

sirius

In spite of my long established affection for Orion, or perhaps because of it, I’ve never focused on Sirius. That’s a bit surprising since Canis Major is Orion’s hunting dog and Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. I’ll be looking for it as rises this year here on Shadow Mountain, probably August 10th.

sirius22

When I see it, I’ll think of this from the Sky and Telescope article because it reflects my own wistfulness for a reenchanted world:

“While the first sighting of Sirius may not signify anything as momentous as the annual flooding of the Nile, seeing it tenderly twinkling at dawn can take us back in time to when it was commonplace for people to use stars to mark important events in their lives. How far we’ve strayed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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