We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Monthly archives for March, 2017

The Pack

Spring                                                            Passover Moon

Gertie lay yesterday on the dog bed underneath the south facing loft window. It gets sun 20170123_085353and she likes the warmth. She was sleeping, a normal daytime activity for a dog. Her left front leg twitched delicately as she moved through some doggy dreamscape. My affection for her, my love for her came to the surface. She was vulnerable, but felt safe enough to sleep with ease.

Dogs are love in furry form. That made Joseph’s decision to leave Kepler with us, which he communicated with me yesterday, so difficult. “A tough choice,” he said. Kepler was Joseph’s first dog as an adult, the first he chose and cared for. He came to stay with us during Joseph’s deployment to Korea. Initially a year, it stretched into a year and a half when he got selected for weapons school and had to spend six months stateside at Nellis Air Force Base. After he and SeoAh married, they returned to the U.S. but Joseph deployed three months later. That meant Kepler stayed with us for almost another year.

Kepler, in from the snow

Kepler, in from the snow

The final part of the decision came from Joseph’s discovery that he would deploy again in August, this time through December. At that point Kepler will have been with us over three and a half years. He’s part of our pack, part of our lives. He sleeps on the end of the bed with us each night. But, he’ll still be Joseph’s dog, just seconded permanently to our home.

Gertie, too, is a refugee. She came from Jon and Jen’s after several unhappy incidents with the postman, tormenting by the neighbors and being crated with Solly, the smooth haired pointer. Solly was too ornery for our pack during a brief stay while Jon renovated the Pontiac Street house. The two of them together was not positive for either one of them.

Rigel, sister to Vega, and now over 8 years old, is the big dog, though not dominant. She and Vega came to us as a dynamic pair, littermates. We’ve always felt dogs need companion animals, littermates being the best. We don’t really have a dominant dog now. Vega held that role in some ways, but she was never a very effective pack leader. Rigel is sweet and loving, an independent sighthound who has chosen us as her family.

Rigel, passing through Kate's legs

Rigel, passing through Kate’s legs

When I look at her now, I remember the very first day she and Vega came to Andover. I had to disassemble the gate to the perennial flower garden because she managed to get her head stuck between two slats. This was the opening moment of her wanderlust, wanting to see what was on the other side of the fence.

Later, she would lead Vega out of the yard by athletically jumping onto a fallen tree and vaulting from there over the fence. It took cutting up the fallen tree and, eventually, an electric fence to contain her. She was a hunter, too. One of her more memorable predator moments was coughing up the head of a rabbit inside our house. She had bolted the head so recently that the rabbit’s eyes were still clear.

Gertie, Rigel, Kepler. Our pack now. Great dogs.

 

 

Spring                                                                      Passover Moon

In spite of an 8-16 inch winter storm warning Jefferson County only lowered its stage 2 fire ban to a stage 1 ban. The particulars of this decision are not obvious to me though I’m encouraged by more conservative approaches to fire safety. The potential consequences make us all a little, maybe a lot, nervous.

 

Two Masks

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Due to the mechanics of posting the post below precedes this one conceptually. Just sayin.

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first row, second from the right

I’ve discovered two more masks: the unhappy 10 year old bucket schlepper and the 17 year old grieving his dead mother and trying to manage his fear of the future.

Here’s how I discovered the first mask. As I’m trying to go to sleep, my mind serves up memories and feelings designed (I think.) to prevent sleep’s arrival, a habit of some years. No notion as to why. Anyhow the other night a stream of memories crossed my going to sleep threshold and tightened my gut, gave me a small ping in the lower left abdomen and tensed up my legs. I’m familiar, very familiar, with this particular sequence of muscle contractions, but this time I decided to suss out the mask I wear when they appear.

It didn’t take me long to find it. This was the 17 year old boy who lost his mother suddenly over a period of 7 days. A stroke. After her death, with no real help in grasping what it meant and how it could be coped with in a healthy way, he began to scan the future, to look for other catastrophes. Perhaps if he was very, very careful he could spot them in advance and prevent them. After developing fully, this defensive strategy would become a generalized anxiety disorder. Not hard to see why.

second row, second from the right. 17

second row, second from the right. 17 note the hair

Now I know that the onset of anxiety symptoms, even the jaw muscles that grip harder than they need to on occasion, carry that 17 year old’s deep uncertainties and fears right into the present. If I looked in a mirror, I’d probably see a kid with deep brown eyes, a full head of hair and a queasy look on his face. Perhaps now I can take off this mask, give the 17 year old back to his own time and put on the mask of the experienced adult who knows this, whatever it is, will not last, the experienced adult who knows death is not the enemy, but our friend, a part of every life.

What’s behind mask number two? Yesterday afternoon I sat down in my leather chair and realized I was tired, real tired. Exhausted. Yet the exhaustion seemed far out of proportion to the demands of the day. Was I wearing a mask that might explain the exhaustion? I felt my way inside and there it was.

Grandpa mask

Grandpa mask

Mask number two is the face of a twelve year old boy carrying buckets of water up from a basement, tossing them out the backdoor, and going back down for another one. When we moved to Canal Street in Alexandria, a bigger house, one we owned, Dad didn’t know that the basement flooded. Indiana is in the humid east, not the arid west. Big storms and heavy rains were common. When they came, our basement would fill up with water and I had to help Dad bail it out. This was often late at night. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but no. I had to carry buckets.

Dad was not happy about it either and took it out on me, grousing about my unwillingness, my reluctance. I know this sounds like whining, but I’ve long ago moved past this in almost all aspects of my life though it did occur to me later that Dad could have invested in a sump pump.

Copper piping here had sprung another leak. My exhaustion was not from finding a plumber, or from diagnosing the leak, not even from the hassle all this entails up here in the mountains. No, the exhaustion was my body revisiting those nights of carrying water up from the basement and throwing it out the backdoor while I was sleepy.

This was a leak. It involved water and our basement. The result? A twelve year old’s frustration and powerlessness returned for a visit. Once I realized this, named it, saw the mask for what it was, my exhaustion lifted.

Put it on, Take it off

Spring                                                                 Passover Moon

“It is easy to see the mountain in the distance. It is not so easy to see the mountain on which you stand.”

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Masks. I’ve been using the kabbalistic notion of masks-personas, complexes, yes, but somehow mask makes thems easier to discover. For me. It’s simple, at least in concept. We wear a mask all the time, often perhaps usually unconsciously. The kabbalistic idea taught by Rabbi Jamie Arnold encourages us to recognize our masks and get to know them with the ultimate goal of being able to take off and put on masks at will.

Masks may have a pejorative connotation for you as concealers of the “true” person, but this understanding suggests that our pure soul, that part of us perfectly attentive to the universe, needs no mask. A Christian might call this pure soul the imago dei. Whatever it “really” is, it is the Self that nests within the necessary apparatus for connecting with the world. It cannot touch the world by itself. When it comes into contact with the world, a mask forms. This enables the Self to see partially rather than comprehensively. (I made up this last idea, but it makes sense to me as far as I understand the concept.)

As I said in a previous post, many masks are obvious: devoted husband, father, brother, scholar, timid business person, brash businessperson, prophet, lover, athlete, lawyer, plumber, mother, sister. Part of the discipline is to stop, to take a moment, and ask what mask am I wearing right now?

For instance, at the moment I’m wearing my Ancientrails mask, a writer, blogger, self-revealer, journaler. I’m also wearing my naturalist, photographer mask which gets called up as Black Mountain goes through its morning changes. My Ancientrail’s mask is introspective, yet also expressive. It does conceal much of my Self because it links to specific and partial aspects of who I am. But. It also reveals. It reveals in the quite literal sense of putting these words on the page, but it also reveals that certain part of who I am when I have it on.

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My naturalist, photographer mask came on me several times as I wrote this because Black Mountain’s changes this morning were strikingly beautiful. This mask took me out of Ancientrails, out of the inner world, and into the Front Range, into the world of mountains and light. I found myself gasping several times as the light changed this 10,000 foot peak’s face to the world, its mask.20170330_065707

 

 

Art by Odegard. Finally hung.

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

20170329_162936

Scraping Sharp Blades Across My Soul

Spring                                                          Passover Moon

12003381_10153606920344267_720449957253601669_nModulating the call and response occasioned by Trump era politics in my own head has proved daunting. I’m not going on a “news cleanse” or planning to ostrich myself in the several inches of snow we just got. (though that last one sounds sort of good)

I did uncouple from the Idiocy of Donald Trump facebook group. It became too much though the posts were really funny. I also changed the name of my Evernote file where I save material relating to the Trump presidency from Fighting Trump to just Trump. Felt like I was scraping a sharp blade across my soul each time I saved an article.

All that feels right for me, so far. Yet. There is reading the Denver Post and the New York Times, both morning rituals. Today I noticed Trump doomed the planet by weakening compliance with the Paris Accord’s goal to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 30% by 2030. That’s a key number because a global reduction to 50% by 2050, then zero by 2100 is the main hope the world has to stave off dire temperature rises.

There’s also the recent attempt by the GOP, with Trump’s assist, to kill 43,000 Americans a year by denying them even mediocre healthcare. Of course, as a cartoon I saw pointed out, bad healthcare is no problem if the planet gets fried to a crisp.

The lesson for me is this. Shut down the barbed rhetoric, Fighting Trump and the Idiocy of Donald Trump. No need to scrape those sharp blades across my soul. But don’t ignore, don’t forget. Stay aware and be ready. The danger is ever present as the climate change policy reversal makes clear.

 

Drones on Mars!

Spring                                                                 New (Passover) Moon

State Sponsored Violence

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

This disturbing documentary from the New York Times made me remember a long ago lecture on violence by Bob Bryant, my professor of Constructive Theology and my friend.

The gist of the lecture was this, violence exists on a continuum. At one end is extreme trauma meted out by instruments of destruction like bombs and bullets. At the other end of the continuum is violence perpetrated by neglect, by public policy, by omission.

President Duterte of the Philippines bends the continuum into an Ouroboros-like circle where his policy results in extreme trauma. As “I’ll kill you.” gets carried out by police, military and vigilantes, the rule of law, the notion of a system that can make mistakes and must be checked by the courts, gradually dies, too.

It would seem that Duterte is an outlier in both his rhetoric and the results of his policy. Yet consider this. Estimates by policy wonks about the number of people who would die in the USA without Obamacare suggest that approximately 43,000 a year-a year-would die from lack of medical care if ACA had been repealed and replaced by the Republican “plan.”

What Bob Bryant taught me was that the violence continuum was only about means, about tactics. The results are the same. If you die from a vigilante’s bullet in the Philippines, you are no more dead than a young child in the US who dies because they can’t afford an inhaler for asthma.

This is important to understand. It means the healthcare debate, for example, is not only about medicine but also about state sponsored violence. Even the debate about Meals on Wheels and the school lunch program are also about state sponsored violence. Framed in this way the matter is not one for think tanks and ideological purity but one for those who believe compassion and care are marks of a decent society, who believe government exists to serve, not deprive.

Makes Sense

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

We had snow. Will have more snow. So good to see moisture. We don’t get much here, this is the arid West after all, so what we get we need.

Right now dewpoint and temps are the same so we’re in a foggy state. Black Mountain is invisible. That something so massive can disappear, either in the dark or in fog, seems odd to me. Still. If I didn’t know it was there, it would not be, from my perspective.

senses

Yesterday afternoon Kate said the hard snow falling was making a sound on the skylights. She imitated it. I couldn’t hear it. As the hearing in my right ear declines, and with total deafness in the left, there are aural Black Mountains in the fog for me. I don’t hear a lot of things within the range of normal hearing, but I don’t know I don’t hear them. Those sounds don’t exist for me.

Of course, all of our senses have a limited range to begin with. Ultraviolet and infrared are light waves outside the visual ability of human eyes, yet, they, too, exist. We exist in a perceptual bubble, our evolved ways of knowing the world shutting out far more than they let in. Science, of course, is a direct attempt to extend human experience beyond the range of our senses, to discover what we don’t know, in fact, can’t know without sophisticated instrumentation.

dry chrysalis

I find this humbling and inspiring. Our inability to see, to hear, to taste, to touch, to smell the comprehensive array of stimuli around us means we exist in a constant perceptual fog. There is not only more than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, there is more all around you. Considering these, our real and dramatic limitations, it’s inspiring to me that we humans have been able to develop our lives and our cultures in the incredibly complex and nuanced way that we have.

I suppose, too, that there may be an important metaphysical point buried here. If we can’t see ultraviolet, smell the 10,000 things that any dog can, hear the very low sounds of whale communication, it’s possible that there are more worlds out there, perhaps places where life goes on. How can we know such things if we can’t even hear the snow on the skylights?

Shifts and Changes

Spring                                                                      New (Passover) Moon

2010 01 19_3454Writing can lay bare something hidden, perhaps something that needed excavation or something attached to a thread, even a flimsy thread, by which it can be pulled from the inner world. Things get lost in there, pushed behind stacks of unused memories or stored with a faulty label. Sometimes ideas once full and vibrant get partially severed from their context, crucial links of thought go missing and the idea fades away.

“I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions.” March 21, 2017 This sentence is an example, a recent example. It stares back at me, rather baldly. Oh. Well, that’s right, isn’t it?

I love to read, follow an idea through its growth and changes, learn about something in depth, wonder about it, tease out of it new implications or old truths.

I love to write. I don’t know why. Might be an inheritance from my newspaperman father. Might just be long established habit. Whatever the reason writing is my painting, my sculpture, my photography. I have to do it to feel whole.

2010 01 19_3455Which, speaking of ideas, then links to the idea of the third phase. That quote comes from recent thoughts on the third phase. A primary wondering for me, I think for all third phasers, is this: what am I about in this last phase of my life?

The Trump catastrophe, a miserable wound of our country’s own making, pulled on the 60’s radical thread always near the surface for me. I’ve been trying to put that mask back on, to become the political activist I once was. I felt obligated. You know, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it hasn’t been happening. I just haven’t connected with other activists. I haven’t been doing much more than writing about it. (a clue here, by the way) Grousing and complaining, yes, sure. But not acting.

Writing and study. Third phase. Beth Evergreen. With Kate I’ve found a community that cherishes study, scholarship, a community that finds writing an understandable vocation. Right now I’m thinking, wondering. Should I lean into my primary passions? Stay with them. Dig deeper. That feels right.

Here’s a confession, too. I’ve never liked politics. The person I become, the masks I put on then, feel far away from my core Self. Why then have I spent so much of my life in one political arena after another?

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardPart duty. For whatever reason I came out of Alexandria with fully formed political ideas about justice, equality, fairness. They were strong, rooted in the powerful union movement among my friend’s parents who worked for General Motors, reinforced by the liberal politics of my Roosevelt Democrat parents and then pushed toward action in the turmoil of the 60’s.

Part ego. It feels good to lead, to have people hang on my ideas, to see change occur when something I’ve helped shape makes things happen. But this is part of what feels far away from my core, introverted Self. That ego drive also presses forward an angry, demanding, often insensitive persona. A persona I dislike.

Part religious conviction. The almost random way in which I ended up in seminary, then the ministry came from following political conviction away from graduate academics and toward an institution willing to pay me to organize, to act politically. There was a merger of political passion and the prophetic line of a certain strain of liberal Christianity, even radical Christianity.

No conclusions here. Not yet. Just more of the shifts and changes, movements in my soul. Something will come out of all this. Not sure what. Not right now.

 

 

Breadcrumbs

Trails