We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Monthly archives for January, 2018

A Blue Blood Moon

Winter                                                                   Imbolc Moon

The Imbolc Moon put on a show this morning. I got up just as the first finger of black touched it. Kate and I sat on the loft’s balcony and watched as the finger pushed its way across the moon’s surface. Hints of red began to show up at the moon’s edge as the penumbra of the earth covered more and more. The moon was to the north of Black Mountain, putting it directly in the sight line from the balcony. As it moved north, however, the nearest lodgepole pine got in the way. After the full eclipse, it sank below the treed horizon and out of our sight, so we did not the see the super part of the blue blood moon.

This is the second eclipse, the other being the solar eclipse last August, that Kate and I have been able to observe from a balcony, sitting in comfortable chairs. Astronomy does not often provide such creature comforts and I was grateful in both instances.

The clouds have been amazing this past week. Last night I took the darker photograph of a Ponderosa pine at Beth Evergreen and the soon to super and bloody blue moon.



Cemeteries or the State of the Union?

Winter                                                                        Imbolc Moon

green burialInstead of watching the state of the union Kate and I participated in a presentation on green burial and the possibility of creating a green cemetery. Beth Evergreen has been moving, slowly, toward a Jewish cemetery over the last six years, but Bonnie Houghton, a rabbi in training and former long time Forest Service employee has accelerated the process through her own efforts. In her current work with the Mountain Land Trust she sees properties presented for conservation easements. Some don’t qualify for that purpose, but would work well for green cemeteries, where burials eschew vaults, fancy caskets and backhoes for hand-dug graves, wicker/pine/cardboard/shroud coverings for the corpse, and small, usually flush with the ground grave markers.

Bonnie’s smart and skilled, also dogged. My sense is that her recent work might push this project over the threshold from possibility to actuality. What’s needed is some money, in the range of $250,000 to $350,000, a corporation of some sort, I suggested a co-op, and a plot of land. Bonnie and Rebecca, a CBE member and realtor, showed pictures of three properties ranging in size from 15 acres to 40+ acres.

green burial thanksI found this conversation oddly energizing. Something about the cliched final resting place has more resonance as I move toward my 71st birthday. Having a cemetery which celebrates the natural order of life and death with decay rather than chemicals, concrete, and metal makes so much sense to me. Having a tree planted over my cremains, or in them, feels right. Too, we could bury the remains of our many dogs with us. That would make for a unique family plot.

Now, we could have spent yesterday evening listening to the Donald try to make up for a year of unending bullshit, but we chose something productive, something focused on life and death rather than forehead slapping, groans and despair. Odd, isn’t it, that a discussion of burials and cemeteries would have more life in it than a used-to-be important political moment? The times in which we live now. I wish they’d start to decay. Soonest.



Medicine. Good.

Winter                                                                Imbolc Moon

Met a charming Dr. David Schneider yesterday. Kate’s shoulder guy. He said thin women like her were ideal candidates for a new shoulder, either the reverse or the normal. He recommends the reverse implant because it not only provides pain relief; it also will allow her to reach above her head. Her bones and muscles that support the shoulder are all strong so he anticipates a good result. Sometime in the next couple of months. Not scheduled yet.

“Boring,” he said. And boring is good. One of the first things I learned after marrying Kate was that you do not want to be an interesting patient.

pacemaker history

He told several stories, starting by commenting on the three lead pacemaker that Kate has. It showed up in the shoulder x-rays. “Made possible by the transistors invented in the 40’s and battery improvements in the 1950’s.” Seemed like an odd place to start Kate’s consultation, but he went on, “Did you know the wearable external pacemaker was invented by a TV repair guy in Minneapolis?” I didn’t.

Earl Bakken had a shop near University hospital and collaborated with a well known heart surgeon, Dr. Lillehei. Apparently, Lillehei had successfully planted leads into the hearts of several patients but they were literally plugged in, “…using a hundred foot extension cord.” Schneider went on, “Then there was a storm, power failed and the patients all died.”

Bakken came up with a wearable device (external) based on an electronic metronome (rhythm for the heart). Crude, but it worked. Lillehei took it right away and tried it on a dog. It worked. The very next day it was in use in patients. Medtronics was born. Schneider is going to the Big Island in three weeks to interview Bakken, who is 94. Turns out Dr. Schneider is writing a book on the history of medical devices.

As he went through the consultation, he explained who came up with measuring certain angles in the shoulder and referred to one guy, whose name I don’t recall, as “a shoulder God.”

He’s also a fan of Mama’s Fish House. Good taste.

gratitude shiloh sophiaSandy, our house cleaner, who is about to have brain surgery for a second time on the 20th of this month, got her quilt Kate made her yesterday. She’s a strong woman and she’s had a very, very tough year. Unfortunately, the tumor did not debulk as they had hoped after the first surgery. It’s benign, but large. The aftermath of the surgery is awful. Disorientation. Nausea. Headaches. And these last a while. A quilt is such a great gift in this situation, since a lot of time in bed is part of the recovery. Covered in love.

I know. A lot of medical stuff over the last few weeks. Kate. Kate and me. Rigel. Our friend with breast cancer and her husband. But. Kate’s shoulder replacement should ease her everyday load. Rigel’s getting better. Jon’s gradually making the transition to single life and doing wonders on his new house. Ruth is growing up very fast. Kate’s friend anticipates excellent results. It feels lighter around here right now. I’m grateful.


Shoulder, Trees, Writing

Winter                                                                         Imbolc Moon

shoulder-arthroplasty-Mayo-ClinicHippity hop to the ortho shop. Kate’s got an appointment at Panorama Orthopedics today. Her right shoulder. She can no longer hold things up with her right arm and has to use two hands to put dishes away, sometimes to lift a cup. Annoying and painful. Screws up her sleep, too. She needs some kind of solution, more than likely a shoulder replacement. This is the first step, a consult to see what her options are.

A friend of Kate and mine is having surgery for breast cancer today, too. It’s a cancer that has the improbable, but very desirable, cure rate of 100%. In the sort of piling on that getting older can deliver, her husband, only a week later, got a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. It’s a killer, but slow, maybe 5-10 years. He’s mid-70’s. Mortality is always stalking us, but seems to knock on the door more often past three score and ten.

Sister Mary tells me she’s been invited as a visiting professor to a university in Kobe, Japan this summer. Very close to Kyoto. And, great beef. Congrats to Mary. Brother Mark is in Bangkok right now, chillin’ in the tropical heat.

Tu B'ShevatAn interesting week ahead. A session on green burial tomorrow night at CBE. It’s part of a conversation about creating a Jewish cemetery up here in the Evergreen/Conifer area. Oddly, I think I’d like to work on that. The next night, Wednesday, is Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees. Judaism has a lot of pagan inflections, Tu B’Shevat and Sukkot, a harvest festival at the end of the High Holidays, for example. Looking forward to this one because there’s a seder, too, with seven species of fruit and nuts. I’ll explain more on Wednesday. After the this celebration is another Kabbalah session, more double letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

NovelIdeaRigel has her second appointment at the Vet Referral Clinic with Dr. Bayliss this Friday, too. I’m excited about it because we’ll get a clearer picture of what’s going on with her. And, it’s not the dire prognosis we anticipated when we took her in a week ago last Friday.

Meanwhile, I’ve finally levered myself back into writing, now on both Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire (only a working title). Not sure exactly how I did it, just did it, I think.

Getting closer to using the sumi-e brushes, maybe today. Yesterday I tied string at the base of each new brush after applying a bit of glue all round, too. That had to set for a day. I gathered some towels, watched a couple more videos. Youtube is a fantastic resource for all kinds of things. Jon watches Japanese woodcrafting videos to calm down, for example.

Next week is Kate’s quilting retreat in Buena Vista.



Winter                                                                            Imbolc Moon

Kate and meKate sewed most of the day yesterday. May not seem like a big deal, but it is. Her energy and her energy management skills are both improving and she’s enjoying life more. I’m so glad to see it.

Rigel’s feeling better, too. Acts better. Less needy. Appetite more normal. The rabbit protein diet, which includes small chunks of frozen canned dog food as treats, seems to agree with her though I can’t tell whether she’s gained weight or not. Dr. Bayliss said Rigel will get a b-12 injection on her next visit to the VRCC. After that, not sure. I’m glad to see Rigel feeling better, too.

Today I’m going to spend some time on sumi-e, ink wash painting. Youtube videos. Preparing my new brushes. Learning to grind ink. Going to use some of my less expensive tea cups with it because they’re beautiful and fit the aesthetic. My goal right now is to learn the strokes, what the brushes can do. How to make ink. How to set up the area for a productive session. How the paper reacts to the brush. Beginner’s mind.

20180124_110641Work on online education for Beth Evergreen will continue today, too. Marilyn Saltzman found some mussar sites and I’m going to add Coursera and EDx courses. I also plan to look at other, more general online education sites. So far I’ve focused on online education focused on Jewish studies, but I imagine there are more courses. A fun project.

Might pop over to Tony’s Market. Not a place to do regular grocery shopping, but for special meals, white table cloth, jazz, and candle sticks meals, it’s the best I’ve discovered here so far. They have a wide selection of sea-food, meats and prepared side dishes.

Art Therapy

Winter                                                                      Imbolc Moon

B-12 deficiency.  That’s the latest on Rigel. Fixable with either injections or oral tablets. What causes it? Don’t know yet. Might not be important. She’s looking better, her coat is more lustrous and she no longer has a starved appearance. Sounding like a manageable diagnosis at this point. Good prognosis.

Beach, Jon Olson

Beach, Jon Olson

Went down the hill yesterday to Aurora. Each year around this time the art teachers in the Aurora School District have a show of their own at DAVA, Downtown Aurora Visual Arts. Because the show happens right around the time of the National Western Stock Show, Kate and I have been to several of them. This was the best of the shows I’ve seen over a period of 10 years or so. Less cluttered and with higher quality objects, it was a good showcase of the talents that lead these folks into teaching art.

Jon’s work, six prints in his found metal series, were the most daring. He’s doing something new and having fun with it. This one, Beach, moves away from his more somber color schemes in the earlier works, but retains the underlying concept: prints made by inking flattened pieces of metal found along the roadside. I don’t recall what the metal piece was for Beach, but it has striations that allowed Jon to use color in a fun way.

20180126_163339Here’s another one, which he titled, Can’t. This is forward art, playing with the notion of found objects and the limits of traditional print making. As often happens with art, this work came out of the struggles he had during the long divorcing.

He began to use the time after his school day to work on prints of his own. He’s experimented with several methods, but hit on this one and has pursued it actively for a couple of years now.

He’s also working hard on his new house. He’s built a loft bed for Ruth with a long desk, art space underneath it, complete with pegboard for her tools. The steps up to the bed itself are kitchen cabinets, artfully reused. The kitchen needed extensive remodeling, so he removed the cabinets a while back.

Jon is a closet architect, regularly filling multiple sheets of graph paper with ideas for houses, for projects inside houses, for stadiums, which he loves to design. He’s a clever, craftsman level skilled guy.

Last night over ramen at Katsu Ramen, an authentic Japanese ramen shop, he laughed and smiled. Not so common in the past few years, especially the last two. It was good to see.


Winter                                                                     Imbolc Moon

Kep and Rigel

Kep and Rigel

No word yet on Rigel’s further tests, the ones focused on her GI tract. We do have her now on a diet exclusive of all proteins other than rabbit and those from milk products. She seems less needy, appears happier and to have gained a bit of weight, or, at least doesn’t look as emaciated as she did. These are all good signs and we’re hopeful, but still tentative. We go back to see Dr. Bayliss next Friday.

Cooking and sumi ink painting are my gardening equivalents here on Shadow Mountain. I realized not that long ago that I need some active, physical work in my life. This surprised me because I think of myself as an intellectual, a reader, a writer, sort of an in my head guy a lot of time. Which is of course true. Partially. I’m also an emotional guy with Kate and the dogs, family and friends. And, I also spent 20+ years as a serious horticulturist and beekeeper. Oh, right. Yeah.

kitchenI don’t miss the heavy lifting (the literal heavy lifting) for the most part, though part of my time at Beth Evergreen involves setting up for Adult Ed events and I do like moving chairs and tables, that sort of thing. Go figure. But I also need purposeful, intellect engaged physical activity. Different from exercise, which I also need. Cooking is physical and intellectual, also creative.

I’m challenging myself, trying to do things I’ve not been comfortable with. Don’t laugh, but I made pan gravy last night after pan frying some nice pork chops. I’d not done that before. Seemed, I don’t know, too delicate or fussy for my skills. Easy peasy. I also did the pork chops. It’s pretty easy to heat pork out of its flavor and tenderness zone, not as easy to cook it so it’s moist and tender. Got it last night!

zenThe sumi painting I’ve not yet fully engaged, still collecting materials, setting up my work space, learning techniques, but I intend to stay at it as long as it takes to get some proficiency. Precise or artistic hand work has never been my thing, but I’m going to change that, at least to some degree.

I have two areas I want to investigate. The first is the Zen calligraphy typified by circles and crescents, done mindfully with brush and paint as a meditation. The second is Hebrew calligraphy, drawing the letters as art. This last one interests me because I’m learning (well, sort of) the language itself and, more interesting for this work, I’m also learning the history of the individual letters, their symbology and their story. Their shapes are intriguing and I think focusing on making individual letters in the same style as Zen calligraphy may open them up to me in a new way. We’ll see.

This guy needs his hands in, something or other. Right now, the stove and the ink brush will do.

Uncertainty and Ambiguity Are My Friends

Winter                                                                Imbolc Moon

winter solstice4Kabbalah last night. It’s an odd experience for me in some ways. I’m learning a lot, seeing how to see in a very new way, looking at the bones of the universe. The thought world of the kabbalists is strange and wonderful, allowing for a peak behind the curtain of creation. Yet. There is too a limiting factor.

When the great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel did his exhaustive philosophy of history, he finished it by discovering that all of history up to then pointed at, wait for it, 19th century Germany. In the same way kabbalah peels back the layers obfuscating the journey from singularity to this world and discover that it culminates in, wait for it, the Torah. If you’re familiar at all with the history of ideas, you’ll know that this is not an isolated phenomenon.

The odd experience factor, which I’ve encountered many times, is that to learn it well there has to be a suspension of disbelief. That means following the logic and the imaginative leaps as a believer, yet knowing that that stance is a heuristic, not a life choice. This is, of course, much easier in a college classroom where the whole idea is to embrace new ideas, learn them, then move on to the next one. Schopenhauer. Kierkegaard. Logical positivism. Wittgenstein.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryIt’s more difficult to follow this approach in a faith community, even one as open and accepting of diverse thought as Beth Evergreen. The kabbalists influenced the prayer book and worship practices of all Jews, orthodox to reconstructionist. The Jewish civilization which Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan wanted to further through his project of reconstruction, though it has universalist instincts, remains firmly rooted in the tribal history.

And, it cannot be otherwise. Studying kabbalah is always going to point toward the Torah, toward a specifically Jewish world, even though its implications push well beyond it. The task for me is to learn it as authentically as possible while maintaining my pagan/pilgrim worldview, seeking within the knowledge of the kabbalists the threads leading outside the civilizational fences which it necessarily erects.

Triple Lunacy

Winter                                                                               Imbolc Moon

Time lapse of October 8, 2014 lunar eclipse as reflected in a pond in central Illinois, by Greg Lepper.

Time lapse of October 8, 2014 lunar eclipse as reflected in a pond in central Illinois, by Greg Lepper.

Friend Tom Crane noticed this on EarthskySuper Blue Moon Eclipse. A super moon, a blue moon and an eclipsed moon on January 31st, coming to the night sky near you. In the America’s this is the first blue moon eclipse in 150 years, so a once in a lifetime experience for us.

It will happen before sunrise here so if you want to see it you’ll have to rise before dawn. Here are the times:

Eastern Standard Time (January 31, 2018)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 6:48 a.m. EST
Moon sets before start of total eclipse

Central Standard Time (January 31, 2018)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 5:48 a.m. CST
Total eclipse begins: 6:52 a.m. CDT
Moon may set before totality ends

Mountain Standard Time (January 31, 2018)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 4:48 a.m. MST
Total eclipse begins: 5:52 a.m. MST
Greatest eclipse: 6:30 a.m. MST
Total eclipse ends: 7:08 a.m. MST
Moon sets before end of partial umbral eclipse

Pacific Standard Time (January 31, 2018)
Partial umbral eclipse begins: 3:48 a.m. PST
Total eclipse begins: 4:52 a.m. PST
Greatest eclipse: 5:30 a.m. PST
Total eclipse ends: 6:08 a.m. PST
Partial umbral eclipse ends: 7:11 a.m. PST
Moon may set before end of partial umbral eclipse



Just Sayin’

Winter                                                                           Imbolc Moon

mcCormickBrother Mark asked me about my Doctor of Divinity. Well, it’s actually a Doctor of Ministry, the old D.D. was usually an honorary title, this one is earned. I graduated in 1991, walking down the aisle of Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago, though the degree granting institution was McCormick Seminary. Yes, that McCormick, of reaper fame. (ironic for a religious institution, I think)

20180124_093748But. I do have one of the most audaciously named degrees any institution can grant and I earned that one back in 1976: The Master of Divinity degree. Just think about that. Yahweh, you do this. Baal, you do that. Mithra, take down that Trump border wall. Osiris, raise that person from the dead. A very powerful degree, neh?


January 2018
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