Still stuff to do

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Deer Creek Canyon Fire, 8/14-8/16

My no glow first week is over. I feel better, gut behaving like old times. More energy. I’ve put together a list, checked one off. This list will take me well into the fall. It includes more fire mitigation based on Ben Yellin’s report back to us. He visited last Tuesday.

Example. Going to put down landscape cloth five feet out from the house. Then, river rock on top of that. This is the no ignition zone. Ben also marked many trees, adding his thoughts about strings of trees that lead from tree to tree to house. He explained the thirty foot out and hundred foot out zones clearly.

The idea is to get the fire to drop down from the trees to the ground, then run up to a no ignition zone around the house. This will, he said, give our house a good shot at surviving even a crown fire.

He also said, “Risk rating agencies around the country say the Evegreen/Conifer area is the most at risk for a big, damaging fire.” Oh, that was good to hear. A spur to more action though.

The photos above come from the Deer Creek Canyon Fire, now 100% out. This is along a route I use to get to my docs, so I know it well. Not that far from us as the fire crowns.

Continuing to do my three workouts a week, cardio plus resistance. Working hard to counteract the sarcopenia caused by the Lupron.

Did you turn the heat up in this room has become a favorite question. Kate still has hot flashes, too. The family that flashes together, sweats together. Carrying this togetherness thing to its absurd conclusion.

Doc said I’ll gradually return to pre-radiation mode in about a month, so three weeks from now.

See

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Fox Moon

At 5:20 am this morning the full moon of the First Harvest illuminated Black Mountain from just above its peak. (I was a bit premature on Tuesday, only 92% full.) A few faint stars were visible, but its soft brilliance dominated the bluing sky. The moon and its constancy phasing wax and then wane full in the middle buttresses our lives like the earth on which we stand and its orbit around Sol, our true god.

Do we consider these phenomenal presences in our lives, pay true attention to them? Usually not. They’re too common, too literally mundane. They are like the flaws in our homes, the ones we’ve seen so long that they no longer register. That slight crack in the ceiling. The water dripping slowly in the sink. That step with a slight cant. Or our bodies. How well do you know the back of your hand? Really?

Yes, we see them. Here comes the sun. The moon is up. Mother earth. But do we see them as we want to be seen? In full. With love. With forgiveness. With hope. With careful observation. Often not.

Ptolemy’s Solar System

Anthropocentrism. Not difficult to understand. A specialized form of speciesism. We’ve learned as millennia have passed that our original assumptions were not true. Earth is neither the center of the universe nor even the center of the solar system. Third rock from the sun. We’re not the only intelligent species: dolphins, elephants, whales, corvids, the primates, for example. Some of whom may be more intelligent than we are.

We have confused our rise to apex predator as equivalent to being an apex species. No. There is no apex species. It’s not possible to have one in our interdependent world. We need predators, but we also need one-celled organisms. We need plants. We need insects and lichen and ferrets and bats. We need the whole blooming buzzing confusion (apologies to William James) that is our world.

Think of it. Strip the earth bare save for humanity. Like say a nuclear winter might or a great volcanic eruption like Krakatoa. How long could we last? Weeks. Months. If we resort to cannibalism.

Humans live embedded in a world made no less for them than for the mosquito or the meadowlark. We need a place on which to stand. A source of food. Energy. We need mystery in our lives, but we don’t have to invent it. The moon rises like an occult lantern shuttered, then unveiled by an unseen hand, only to be rehidden at the end of each lunar month.

The moon of the first harvest. Full now, lighting the night for those who want to work the fields a bit longer. This one this moon this full moon, the same as last month’s full moon save only for its position in our mutual orbit around Sol, punctuates our need for her. Sol has shared the energy created in the nuclear fusion reactor of her heart the whole growing season, especially since Beltane.

Earth, Joachim Beuckelaer

The plants have gathered it in, taken the nutrients from the top six inches of the soil, and in perpetuating their own species, provided food for ours. In the same way fish eat algae, or eat other fish who eat algae. Cows eat grass. We eat the fish and the cow. The chicken eats plants, but also insects, worms. We eat the chicken.

Water, Joachim Beuckelaer

All of them need the water that cycles through soil, through the lakes and streams and rivers, through the oceans. That cycles up into the clouds and returns fresh and potable to the earth. But consider this. The earth makes no water. Our water either came from the original formation of the solar system or from asteroids crashing into our planet later, perhaps some of both. In either case the water we take so much for granted is ancient, beyond ancient, primal. All of it. It goes up and comes down. It flows. It rests for a while in lakes and ponds and in our bodies.

Earth. Water. Fire. Air. The middle ages did not err in seeing these four as constitutive elements of our world. And by our I mean those of us who live, who move, who grow, who die.

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

6 days now with no glow. I’m a no glow zone. Gut seems to have settled down. Mornings are good, energy better. As Joseph said on the way home from Merton and Rebecca’s 50th anniversary party, “I can feel my powers returning.”

Hot flashes have begun to occur with more frequency. Disconcerting. Is it me, or is it the room temperature? Mine are not really flashes so much as hot flushes. A prickly heat sensation at the base of the neck, then my head gets warm, sometimes uncomfortably so. A couple of times I’ve had to wipe sweat off the back of my neck.

At MVP the other night I had to get up twice and go outside. The social hall at CBE has banks of 7 or 8 foot windows and it’s always warm to hot in the summer. Being in a warmer environment encourages the flushes. It was weird to leave an intense discussion because I was too hot, but I did it anyway.

Flowers from Mr. T

We’ve gotten more food. And flowers. And chocolate. And cake. And pie. Thanks, if you’re one who contributed. Having the meals over the last month has made the days so much better. I pick the pan back up starting next week.

May not recalibrate our lives for a while. The Lupron.

Lunar Awe

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Ogata Korin After: Crows and the Moon

The full Moon of the First Harvest floated above the mountain tops as Kate and I drove home last night from Beth Evergreen. I love these night drives through the Arapaho National Forest, wild animals sleeping, hunting, drinking from the mountain streams, a full moon casting its light down among the lodgepole pines and aspen.

The Mussar Vaad Practice Group met. We checked in on our awe practices for the last month. Instead of cultivating this middah, as we do with patience or joy or enthusiasm, the consensus was that we open ourselves to awe. As I’ve written here a few posts ago, considering awe this month led to an insight for me, one I’ve been seeking for years.

Katsushika Hokusai Mt. Fuji seen from a mountain path

Opening ourselves to awe is, I believe, the act of opening ourselves to revelation, to seeing the Otherworld, the one that lies close to us, even within us, but which habit, culture, language, fear, denial, inattention blocks from view. When we open ourselves to awe, we find the cracks in those all too human barriers. At first we may glance behind the curtain only briefly, but this openness we can cultivate.

There was the Moon of the First Harvest yellow gold, round, luminous. It slipped behind this peak, this grove of trees, then reappeared as we drove up Brook Forest Drive and on to Black Mountain Drive. You could say, oh, that’s the moon. Nice. Or, you could open yourself a bit and see, maybe first, our rocky satellite come round again. Keeping the aperture open a bit longer you might feel the beauty of its loneliness in the night sky. The wonder of its soft light. Imagine what it means to sleeping deer, elk. To prowling mountain lions or foraging bears.

Chikanobu Plum garden moon

You might find yourself lost in the legends of moon phases or practices like moon watching parties in Japan. Or, you could open yourself to this particular full moon as the skies memory for those first nights of harvesting wheat. Smell the bread. See the corn dollies and the shocks of cut grain. This full moon is not just another full moon but one embedded in a natural context, a cultural context, a personal context. Each of these available if we only pause, push away the occulting screens of routine and the need to hurry home.

The MVP group is precious to me. It’s a chance to be honest, to think clearly, to learn from the inner work of others. I love these people: Susan, Judy, Marilyn, Ron, Rich, Kate, Jamie, and Tara. And that love is part of the experience of awe. We met as strangers not many years ago and now we see each other, really see each other.

Pole Dancing

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Three aha moments. Responses to my Facebook post about ending radiation. A Bollywood epic about 21 Sikhs who held off a Pathan tribe force of 10,000. Kesari. 2015 Alexandria Class of 1965 50th reunion.

In 2015, a month and a half or so after my prostatectomy, I drove to Alexandria, Indiana for the 50th reunion of the class of 1965, my class. In Independence, Missouri I got out of the rental car, went back to get my luggage out of the trunk and promptly peed my pants, soaking a pair of jeans. Embarrassed and chagrined I got in the room holding my luggage in front of me, took those pants off and stuffed them in a wastebasket.

The first event of the reunion, at the Alexandria Historical Society, found me with that experience at front of mind. As a leader in academics and the class, you might not expect me to be nervous, feel vulnerable. I did though. It was partly the Independence (irony) moment, yes; but, it was also the knowledge that I’d traveled a much different road after high school than the vast majority of my classmates.

Many of them went to Vietnam. Dennis Sizelove died there. Richard Lawson, a close friend, died later of wounds from his war time. Mike Thomas and several others at the reunion were Vietnam vets. Only a few of us went onto college, maybe 10% out of our class of 180. I didn’t know anybody in our class with a graduate professional degree and a post-graduate school doctorate.

This was 2015, the year before an electoral Titanic took us all down with it. Somebody asked me to speak during our dinner at Norwood Bowl. It was the only venue in town large enough for our meal.

I’m on the right of the seated row. 2015, Norwood Bowl

We’re here together again. After 50 years. But not just 50 years. Most of us were together for at least 12 years before that. Let’s call it 62 years. Yet we’re here. Why? Because we still care about each other, about our town, about the memories we made.

I know we’re divided in many ways: those that stayed around, those that left. Like me. those that supported the war in Vietnam and those that didn’t. Like me. Those that found George Bush a good President, those that prefer Obama. Like me. Those that like the Colts and those that like the Vikings. Like me. I’m sure there are, too, differences over sexuality, abortion, maybe even race.

But this is what’s important. In this room we share something more important than those divisions. We share a community. We are a community. And communities don’t require everyone to believe the same. In fact, they’d be pretty boring if we did. I care about each of you not because of what you believe, but because of who you are. Even if I don’t know you well, I still care because we share a life built together over time.

I was shaking when I started. I’d chosen to lay bare the vulnerability I felt. Hard. But as I spoke, maybe 3 minutes, the vulnerability went away to be replaced by gratitude that I still knew these people. Was still alive with them.

On facebook I’ve made two posts about cancer. First, letting folks know I had it again and that I would undergo radiation treatment and a second one saying I’d finished. On the list of folks who responded and commented were many who post America love or leave it type messages, pro-Trump, anti-snowflake. They were also folks who can’t wait for the revolution. With some of them I share a love of art. With others college during the late 60’s. With others Congregation Beth Evergreen.

Each one part of a venn diagram of various communities to which I belong or belonged. And, in those communities empathy and concern, love, transcend political and religious differences. Why? Because communities do not expect everyone to share the same beliefs.

Kesari. Amazon Prime Video has many Bollywood movies. I like them. I even like the inevitable contrived dance routines and singing.

Kesari is a retelling of the battle for Saragarhi, a real 1897 encounter between 21 Sikhs who held Ft. Saragarhi and an invading force of Muslim Pathans that numbered around 10,000. It has an Alamo feel; the Sikhs fight only to slow the invaders and all of them die.

The lead character, Havlidar (or, Sgt.) Ishar Singh, rallies the Sikh’s both against the Pathan tribesmen and the occupying British, “…who see us as slaves. We can choose to die as free men.” The story remains in Indian memory because it underscored the bravery of the Sikh soldiers and, by extension, all Sikhs.

Here’s the link for this post. At the very end of the movie all but Ishar Singh and one other are dead. The Pathans have demolished a wall of the fort and will soon invade. Ishar Singh, who has had visions of his wife throughout the movie, has one as he stands alone, sword ready for the coming assault.

“Should I run? Or, should I stay?” he asks her. She smiles, “Make our community proud.”

My folks, each and everyone

Here’s the paradox of community. There are inclusive communities, usually we had no choice in belonging to them, like our families, and communities defined by exclusion, like the Sikh’s, say, or LGBTQ, or Trump supporters, or progressive Democrats. These exclusive communities can inspire us, make us feel safe among our own “kind,” but they also reinforce political divisions and make our larger communities less safe.

Pole dancing. I have no magic formula. No way to be in an exclusive community without its pitfalls. Perhaps though if we took a lesson from exotic dancers and were willing to strip ourselves bare, to see ourselves as individuals and, most important, show ourselves as individuals, to each other. Perhaps. Just perhaps.

First Week No Glow

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Nuclear blast shadow, Hiroshima

First week with no radiation treatments since June 17th. Still seems odd to me that I started radiation for this most male of diseases the day after Father’s Day. And, even odder, that I ended in the week of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s anniversaries. Peaceful or deadly, the use of technology and science matters. A lot.

goal: bell pepper all the time. reality: poblano, jalapeno at times

And in other cancer treatment news. Why did the room get so hot last night? More than once? Not exactly hot flashes, more like hot surges. Still so new to me that I don’t tumble to them immediately. I just wonder why someone turned the heat up in the room. So far they’re in the evening for the most part. None at night and only a couple during the day. I’m taking Black Cohosh and if they get bad I’ll find an acupuncturist.

Yesterday we got a great beef stew, peach and strawberry cobbler, smoothies for breakfast, and salad from Judy Sherman. This is the last week of meals from CBE. Counting on Gilroy’s one week and you’re beginning to feel a lot better.

Parshah

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

definitely not me

Gonna do a bagel table in September. That means I lead a discussion on the Parshah for that week, Ki Teitzei. Parshah are much longer than lectionary selections in Christian churches. Where a Christian lectionary might identify a few verses of one chapter, parshah have multiple chapters in them. Ki Teitzei runs from Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19.

I agreed to this a couple of months ago, planning to focus on it after the radiation was done. Well…

David Jordani, Simchat Torah at CBE

Sorta intimidated. Steve, a CBE member who is also doing some of the bagel tables, reported he’s been studying Torah with Rabbi Zwerin and other Rabbis for over 25 years. I’ve been studying Torah for at most 3 years and not in any dedicated way. (caveat: that statement depends on seeing torah as the first five books of the Tanakh. Rabbi Jamie sees the purpose of torah as learning how to be and how to be in the world. I would say becoming, but that’s for another time. In that sense I’ve been studying torah my whole life.)

What did I imagine I could offer? Any quick study of essays and commentaries will leave me short of knowledge, not least because I don’t know Hebrew. Realized mimicking a Rabbi or an educated lay person was not only not possible, but not a good idea either. Why try to be who I’m not?

Gonna read the essays and the commentaries anyhow, but I’m gonna take a different tact. A couple of different tacts. First, I’m going to own my relative ignorance. Relative in that I have studied the Torah as part of biblical literature in Sem.

What I want to do is draw from those who come how they perceive the torah and how they perceive its use in Jewish congregations and in their personal lives. I’ll talk first about the very different way I would look at it from within a Christian hermeneutic. Then, we’ll discuss their perceptions of torah as a whole, then their perspectives on the particular content of this parshah. I’m going to try to communicate Rabbi Jamie’s idea of torah, too, because it makes a lot of sense to me.

In fact, I may introduce a bit of Emerson to them, that introduction to Nature I’m so fond of.

Yamantaka. Yes.

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

wow. Beano and a Woolly Mammoth!

Still in the weekend. First day with no radiation is tomorrow. And tomorrow, and tomorrow. Not fully sunk in yet. Except for putting away the Miralax, the Beano, the Renew Life. Back to regular bowel life in a week or so. Yeah! Spent Friday night and Saturday eating forbidden foods like cucumbers, carrots, ice cream, fried falafel. Bring on the gas.

Kate got up yesterday, wasn’t feeling well. I can tell quickly. She went back to bed. Sometime around noon she realized she’d not taken her morning meds. Oh, she said. Turns out they’re really important. A better afternoon.

It’s been cooler here the last three days. Nice sleeping. Overcast this morning. What my Aunt Roberta would have called a dull, gray day. She often opened letters with that line. A variation, I think, on: it was a dark and stormy night. In this usually sunny state overcast is an oddity.

Sent out notes about the end of radiation. Receiving messages back. The support of such a wide group of folks has given me a safety net for those times when the weight bore down. Thanks to you all. You know who you are. Especially to Kate who has role modeled a phlegmatic response to medical issues. Thanks, sweetheart.

More convinced than ever that resilience is key to the third phase. By definition we’re going to hit tough, scary bumps in the road at our age. How we respond will determine how miserable they make us.

In my case I’m pretty sure it’s acceptance of death that has undergirded me. Got into accepting my own death thanks to the Yamantaka Mandala that hangs in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts Himalayan gallery. He is not, as often identified, the Tibetan Buddhist God of Death. He’s the god of conquering your own death. Contemplate yourself as a corpse. Feel what it will be like for your loved ones when you die. Practice being calm in dire physical situations. Whatever makes you really feel your absence from this world.

If death is not scary, then a potentially terminal disease isn’t either. What Yamantaka taught me has allowed me to go through this whole process with little anxiety. It allowed me to be present for conversations about what to do, for the treatments, and for the possibility of failure. It also helped me accept support and not push it away.

Worth considering for all of us in the third phase, I believe. Second phase, too, but definitely now as we live into the last phase of life.

And, done

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Conductors by street car number 35 – Pensacola, Florida.

35 of 35. 350 minutes of photons. All in. Fini.

Patty gave me a high five. Nicky gave me a medium blue Anova pull-over shirt. The Dixieland Jazz for the final ten was inspired. Felt like I was in the Quarter, beignet and chicory coffee in hand, water condensing on the glass at the Cafe du Monde.

In my discharge session I asked Dr. Gilroy again what he thought my chances were for a cure. “Seventy-five to eighty percent. I’d say ninety but you were in a high risk group. Really good odds.”

Also asked him how long he thought I needed to be on the Lupron, “Three to six months.” He repeated that in a note of our meeting. That’s great news for me because it means as soon as 7 months from now I could get a PSA that would prove definitive. Also would mean just one more Lupron injection. Oddly, if I read my Anova bill yesterday, which said we owed $139, the Lupron injections, at $189, are more expensive than the whole series of radiation treatment.

Before insurance coverage, the raw price from Anova for 35 sessions plus setup was $93,300. Yes, sir. The gasp was similar to the one I gave the nice lady at the Jefferson County license plate window. “$585 for your new plates.” What! “Yes,” she said, “this is the worst part of my job. Telling folks the cost.”

Kate asked me how I felt as we drove away. At that moment, not much. I still had to drive home. “Relieved that it’s over. Happy I won’t have to make the drive anymore. Not giddy, definitely not.” We agreed we felt cautiously optimistic.

Over the course of Kate’s long ordeal I got a real peak behind the curtain of medicine. Not that I hadn’t had one before with Kate, but this time I saw in action the high-wire act that medicine is. Doctors go with the best data possible. Sometimes that data’s not very good. Kate’s upper bowel resection had to be done to stop the bleeding, but the imaging studies done before surgery were inconclusive about the actual site of the bleed. Worked. Data and experience.

In my case the radiation treatment involved two scans that showed nothing, no mets. This meant that my rising PSA was most likely the result of a local recurrence, one confined to the prostate fossa, the area where my prostate used to be. Note the most likely. The radiation itself proceeds with care and precision, but in a black box. The radiation goes in, but did it do anything? Can’t know till the Lupron’s not on board anymore.

And then, there was one

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Awake at 3 this morning. Now that’s roughly 7 hours of sleep from my 8 pm bedtime, but still earlier than I’m used to. Same feelings as the last day of finals. Or, the day of a big event like a wedding or graduation. A bit wired, something momentous is about to happen in my world.

Was not expecting to have this much of a feeling response to the end of radiation, or, at least not this kind. Relief, yes. A sense of completion, yes. But, graduation? Which is the closest analogy. No. Why would I have an anticipatory feeling like that? I’ve not accomplished something personally. I got cancer. Took my treatment options and have followed one of them out to the end.

Patty asked me what I was going to do to celebrate? Go to the Black Hat Cattle Company, I said. When I said it, it felt inadequate, but it’s what I’ve got right now. I’ve not had much red meat over the last seven weeks, much less than usual, so I’ve got a hankering for steak. Maybe something else will occur to me.

Yesterday afternoon during my nap I had a hotflash that woke me up out of a sound sleep. It was the most intense so far. I’ve had milder ones, prickly heat on the scalp, face, back of the neck. This one left me tired afterward. Kate said, oh yes, that’s part of it.

As the radiation winds down, it seems that the Lupron is choosing to wind up. Oh, joy.