We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Monthly archives for April, 2018

Elevation Elation

Spring                                                                          Mountain Moon

The full mountain moon lit up the backyard last night. The mountain landscape changes throughout the day and throughout the moon’s cycle as light creates shade here, then there, casting into relief rock structure or limning tree stumps. The moon puts down a quiet, gentle light in which all seems peaceful even though predators still stalk through the forests.

I’m halfway into the mountain emphasis, still reading the mountains and rivers poets of China, still looking carefully, learning how to see what I’m looking at. Tried some sumi-e paintings but realism, even of the mountain essence variety, is beyond me right now.

I did print out both Rocky Mountain Vampire and Jennie’s Dead. Read through the Vampire’s few words, 2,500 or so. Some of it I liked, some I didn’t. Setting it aside right now. Jennie’s Dead is at 45,000 words, about halfway. Still reading it, liking it. It’s different from my others in the amount of mythology retelling and reimagining I’m doing in it. Once I finish reading it, I’m going to get back at it.

pape_de_abraham-a_hermit_writing_in_his_bookWhile I read yesterday, I realized (again) that this is what I love, the mechanics of writing, words and sentences, paragraphs and chapters, the letting something new come into the world like Athena born from the forehead of Zeus. It always surprises me, just as I imagine Zeus was surprised when a goddess burst forth. Well, maybe not quite that grand of a surprise, but you get the point.

Even though Kate is still struggling with nausea, persistent and dispiriting, her recovery still moves forward. She’s using her right hand and forearm more and more. Her weight, which dipped after the pain of the deep massage, has rebounded. Her right shoulder pain is gone and her p.t. will help her get her strength back.

As her recovery continues, I can feel myself ready to get back to full-time writing. I’m excited about that. I’d gotten away from it well before her surgery, so her surgery didn’t effect my writing, but the energy I feel from her progress has affected my return.

My Colorado life has begun to come into focus. Keep writing. Learn more sumi-e, practice, then practice some more. Continue to read the shan shui (rivers and mountains) poetry of ancient China, read geology, sketch and paint the shan shui here. Cook. Go deeper into the community of Beth Evergreen and the tradition of Judaism. Workout and hike. Spend time with Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe. Consult with Beth Evergreen’s beekeepers. Dogs. Do the things that only I can do. Speak with the voice only I have. Travel the state. Looking forward to the June trip with Tom, Paul, and Mark. Maintain long distance connections to SeoAh, Joe and Murdoch and to friends from college and high school. Continue learning more about the West.

ancoraI keep seeing articles about how to find meaning in old age. I don’t think there are any secrets. It’s the same process as finding meaning in young age. You have to actively seek it and create it for yourself. Sure, your possibilities and capacities change with different ages, but that’s all. There’s a presumption that old age is a paradigm shift in how to live. No. It’s not.

The third phase, while certainly significantly different than the other two, is still life, still your life. Your old sources of meaning don’t disappear though they may, probably will, transform. You may find new ones. I have since we moved to Colorado. But you found new sources of meaning before, didn’t you? Same now. Your job then, your job now. I find this very liberating, freeing me from the social constructs about what an old person is or does. As an older person, I’m still learning, still changing, still growing. May it continue.




Spring                                                                                   Mountain Moon

boredYesterday found me getting this done, that done, the next thing done. Even found an electrician to come install a ceiling fan in the bedroom. This last one is a feat close to finding a rainbow unicorn. By 11 am I’d accomplished more than I usually do in a day. Not sure why, just sorta got into it and kept going. This included a brief nap.

Then in the afternoon I was bored. Doesn’t often happen to me, but I’d done all I felt like I needed to do, more even, so that part of my day was complete; yet, I had no idea what to do next. I tried sumi-e, but I did some representational painting and it frustrated me. I went over to Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire, but I found I’d gotten out of touch with the storyline. I have to print them both out and re-read them, pick up the thread again. I did finish a monthly Current Work entry, something I’d missed for two months.

productiveOK. What now? Not much. The three hours or so before Jon, Ruth and Gabe came up were a bust in terms of getting things done. That’s ok, I don’t need to be productive all the time. Yet. I do like to engage things during the day, either write or workout or cook or do the laundry or fix the bell in the backyard. In the evening, I like to disengage. Watch TV, mostly. I know. I know. Still what I like to do. The blue collar me.

header song2So Sunday, Sunday. Gonna print out those novels. Try some more sumi-e, probably watch Youtube videos for instruction. One of these days, maybe today though I tend to want to do this stuff during the week when the Denver folks are working, I’ll head out with my sketching stuff and go do sketches of rocks and trees and mountain streams. Stuff to work with when I get out the brushes and ink.

Might read some qabbalah. Look at the week ahead. Part of this is a formerly usual transition from winter to spring, a time in Andover when the workload would ramp up. Garden beds to clean. Bees to check. Weeding to get done. Cool weather vegetables to plant. Pruning. Bagging apple blossoms. None of that here, so all those years, 20 to be exact, of getting ready for the growing season just pushes against my day with no outlet.



A Dark Mystery

Spring                                                                       Mountain Moon

death book of the deadSuicide. A dark mystery. It closes off communication, denies explanations. Though it seems cruel to me, the Roman Catholic prohibition against suicide puts a moral weight on the individual’s scales. Says, wait. Pause. They see it, clearly I think, as self-murder, but there is no nuance in the stance. No admission that life sometimes becomes a heavy burden, heavier than can be borne.

Among people I know, I know of two suicides, one a software programmer, an adult, and another, recent, a young man with apparently psychotic tendencies. I also know, closer to home, of an instance of suicidal ideation. That’s the difficulty, it’s so easy to proceed from considering suicide to a brash act, a momentary lapse in judgment that becomes tragically permanent.

Death Pendant_with_a_Monk_and_Death_-_Walters

Pendant_with_a_Monk_and_Death Walters

I applaud the hot lines, the counseling centers, the encouragement to see a person slipping away and to do something concrete about it, now, before nothing can be done. I’m also sure that no number of such services and attitudinal shifts will stamp out suicide.

The French existentialists posited suicide as the ultimate moment of human freedom, choosing how to die expressing a final raised fist against the crowd, against ennui, against the absurd. And, as an instance of individual choice, I agree. It is this stance toward suicide that carries forward into the debate about choosing death when a terminal illness allows for no hope.

Death remains the barrier about which we all wonder and about which we have no reliable information. Is it an extinction level event for the individual? Or, is it merely a passage way to a different mode of existence? How about reincarnation? I have no idea. I do know that our body returns its star dust to the great pool where it will resurrect in some other form.  I do know that though the dead no longer have agency, they can continue to influence life through wills, through creative work, through those they affected.

isle of the dead, arnold brocklin

isle of the dead, arnold brocklin

It is this profound and blanket uncertainty that gives death and, by extension, suicide, their fearsome reputation. Yet it does not need to be so. As I read recently, every generation finds entirely new clerks at the grocery store, politicians in office, farmers and factory workers, scholars and dancers. Death itself is not an uncertainty and in that intransigence gives away its secret. Death is not abnormal, in fact it is a perfect example of normal since it affects 100% of humans, of all living things save for a handful. That which is normal is just that, normal.

No one, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, is above average when it comes to dying.


Spring                                                                           Mountain Moon

“The property boundaries are artificial,” says Osborn. “If your neighbor’s land starts eroding, so will yours.”  Earther, Tabasco Sauce Is in a Battle For Its Very Survival, April 2018


Tribalism is a sophisticated curse word these days, especially when it comes to politics.* It’s the secret sauce that keeps us all from having nice things. Trump rode tribalism to victory. You’ve at least seen the notion somewhere.

Oddly, I’m having a distinctly tribal experience these days and it illustrates both sides of the contemporary argument. Kate and I are in our second full year as members of Congregation Beth Evergreen. At a recent event for new members I introduced Kate as a member of the tribe and myself as a fellow traveler.

Initially, there were twelve tribes that constituted Israel. The twelve sons of Jacob, later Israel, went into Egypt following Joseph, their brother whom they thought they’d killed, but who actually had prospered in this land to the south. Later, much later, after the Exodus, these tribes wandered in the desert, then settled in the land promised long ago to Abraham. Now, thousands of years later, Jews across the globe are one tribe, though the old tribal names persist: Dan, Cohen, Levi, Judah et al.

I’d heard references to being “a member of the tribe” occasionally at Beth Evergreen, but it didn’t penetrate my understanding until Kate had her shoulder surgery. The Mitzvah committee offered to bring food, go for walks, help in any way that was needed. Marilyn and Tara brought food. Leah, the executive director of the synagogue, called several times to check in. It was clear that we were not alone, not just two folks living on Shadow Mountain, but two members of the Beth Evergreen community, in Kate’s case, a member of the tribe.

A lot of Christian churches aspire to be a beloved community. Beth Evergreen is one. I’d felt that by the congregation’s acceptance of me as one of them, but not one of the tribe. But over the last month the depth of our acceptance has become clear.

Why, I wondered? What was it about this place that made it so caring? It is part of the fabric of Jewish thought to bear the burden of the other, so there’s a cultural/religious imperative, but there is in Christianity, too, and I never felt this level of caring in any of the congregations to which I belonged.

A dynamic that may explain it in another way is, I think, tribalism. Jews have lived, over their history, as outsiders. Think Egypt, Babylon, Germany, Russia, Poland, Spain and many, many more. A tribal, a collective, sense was necessary for them to survive, especially in places that were openly hostile to them. And, that is most of the places. Not all, but most.

Who would care for the sick child, the injured parent, the widowed? Not Russian villagers, German nationals, no. Other Jews. Other members of the tribe. We are in this together, we members of the tribe, and we have to look out for each other. This is, oddly, a benefit of discrimination, of anti-semitism, this feeling of if not us, then probably nobody.

So the tribe supports its own. Good if you’re in the tribe, or married into the tribe, not as useful if you’re not. I’m not saying here that tikkun olam, repair of the world is not very much a part of Jewish individual and institutional practice. It is. But that’s not the same as folks you see every week stepping up to help out.

And here’s my point, aimed at the articles below about the dangers of tribalism. Tribalism in its original form, the Jews are an example, was a way of being in the world as a collective rather than as individuals. It involved defense against enemies and full-throated aid to members.

We in the U.S. tend to forget this, but it’s obvious in Europe where the Frankish tribes became France, the Germanic tribes collected in Germany and Austria, the Dacians transformed into Romanians, the Greeks into Greece, the Turks into Turkey. The true North American examples are the natives: the Apache, the Lakota, the Inuit, the Mixtec, the Mexica, the Dine.

To the extent that a civil institution bonds people together in such way that they look out for each other on a community level, then they can function as quasi-tribes, e.g. a union, or  a shared history of ancestor’s enslavement, or even, survivalists, or those who share a fear of being displaced, like the white supremacists, or Somali’s and Latinos in the U.S. But these tribes have loose boundaries, are more permeable than Jewishness, Greekness, Lakotaness.

True tribalism is a good thing when it acts on behalf of its member’s welfare and a bad thing when it serves to delimit the range of folks who deserve our care and concern. How to navigate this Scylla and Charybdis may require a wise Odysseus. It certainly does not need those who use natural tribal boundaries as weapons against other tribes. It does not need Trump or most Republicans.

Why not recognize and celebrate the good that tribes, even quasi-tribes do for their members? Perhaps we can help them all see that their self-interest as collectives is bound up not only in the welfare of those in the tribe, but also in those of other tribes and those who belong to no tribe. Might help.

*The Destructive Dynamics of Political Tribalism, NYT, April 20, 2018

How Tribalism Overrules Reason, and Makes Risky Times More Dangerous,
Big Think

America Wasn’t Built for Humans:  Tribalism was an urge our Founding Fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become our greatest vulnerability.  New York, Sept. 19, 2017

We are being destroyed by tribalism. Let’s get rid of it
Spectator, March 10, 2018

Semiotics of the American Back Windshield. The Continuing Saga

Spring                                                                               Mountain Moon


On the left reads: We don’t need gun control, we need idiot control. As I read it, the driver of the pickup vanished.


Spring                                                                             Mountain Moon

dishesYesterday was d-2 of the new dishwasher era. I have now seen the wonderful word, CLEAN, on its external panel twice. And, after checking, it’s true! I believe, barring trouble, that this brings the dishwasher saga to an end. Blessed be.

We’ve had maybe 8 inches of snow over the last week. All gone. As if it it never happened. 62 yesterday. Blue skies, small cotton balls of cumulus drifting over Black Mountain. Another day in the Rockies.

Kate sewed yesterday! This is a big deal and I’m happy for her. She can get her right arm up to 90 degrees though she still can’t use the shoulder for the most part. Coming along though. Her weight is up and so are her spirits. “I’m so happy I did the surgery.” Me, too.

whelmAfter the initial overwhelm (what’s a whelm*, I wonder?), I’ve been surprised by the good feelings that have come from my part in Kate’s recovery. Doing more, enjoying it more. Though. I will be happy when Kate’s back to full functioning.

Qabbalah last night. A lot of talk about sacred time, about creating sacred time, especially referenting Shabbat. What kind of practices move us toward eternal time? Observing Shabbat is one.

Allan talked about creating characters as an actor. He’s just been cast in two plays. The formation of a character and then the expression of the character on stage is a lot of work, a technical and often demanding process, but it’s ephemeral. After the rehearsals are done and the play has closed, the work disappears. I imagine each character leaves some residue, but I take his overall point that immersion in another identity allows for a glimpse of sacred time.

time, creation and expulsion

The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise   Giovanni di Paolo (Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia) (Italian, Siena 1398–1482 Siena)  1445

*who knew?


archaic literary
verb: whelm; 3rd person present: whelms; past tense: whelmed; past participle: whelmed; gerund or present participle: whelming
  1. 1.
    engulf, submerge, or bury (someone or something).
    “a swimmer whelmed in a raging storm”
    • flow or heap up abundantly.
      “the brook whelmed up from its source”


archaic literary
noun: whelm; plural noun: whelms
  1. 1.
    an act or instance of flowing or heaping up abundantly; a surge.
    “the whelm of the tide”

Absence makes the heart grow wiser

Spring                                                                            Mountain Moon

Black Mountain white

Black Mountain white

Yes, it arrived. The bad Samsung got hauled away ignominiously with nary a tear of loss or grief. The new Kitchenaid now glares from its Cylon lens, hunting for dirty dishes, pots and pans that need a wash. This morning I walked past it and a single word glowed on the small screen visible from the front: CLEAN. Oh, joy. Oh, bring on the robotic revolution.

interstellar mediumBuddy Bill Schmidt shared a paper sent to him by a friend from JPL, Jet Propulsion Laboratories. It’s title is: Science and Enabling Technologies for Exploration of the Interstellar Medium. Exploring among the stars. I mean, wow. Still an avid reader of science fiction, I thanked Bill and noted in my reply that we live in a time when science fiction and science fact often intersect. One of the delightful realities of living through this particular era.

Since we have a deep freezer drawer filled with ground beef from our quarter we bought last fall, I picked up an important cookbook, The Essentials of Cooking Ground Beef. In it, to both Kate and mine’s delight, is a recipe for the famous Matt’s jucy lucy’s. This recipe is for sliders and last night I divided a pound of hamburger into eight parts, balled them up, dented the ball with my thumb and stuck white cheddar inside. Hmmm. Tasty. Served with frozen Arby’s curly fries, dill pickle slices and haricourt vert. OK, that last dish didn’t really fit, but I always like to have a vegetable and it was available.


As the photo at the top shows, we did get another round of snow yesterday. Maybe four inches. All of it welcome. Precipitation, especially now, aids to some extent in fire protection and recharges the ground water. When your daily water comes from the ground water, having moisture to replace what’s been used is important. Water is safety as well as life here. Without it we become vulnerable to lightning strikes, visiting campers and the odd animal trying to navigate high voltage power lines.


Kabbalah tonight. More about time. Qabbalah is another way to explore the interstellar medium, a matrix of space/time with its deep roots in what I’ve learned the mountain and rivers poets of ancient China called absence. Absence is at the heart of Ch’an Buddhism, that peculiar blend of Taoism and Buddhism that emigrated to Japan to become Zen. Absence is the place of the Tao, the generative force that gives rise to the ten thousand things in all their uniqueness and detail. Learning to penetrate the gauze of sensation and feel your way into the absence behind it leads to enlightenment. In fact, both Ch’an and its child, Zen, believe in instant enlightenment; once you learn this truth in your core, you know what needs knowing. Absence makes the heart grow wiser.

Oh. I did get my cleaning, reorganizing finished. Spiffed up and ready for a return to both writing and sumi-e.

Spring                                                                          Mountain Moon

Kepler guards our new dishwasher against breakdowns. Good boy!

Kepler guards our new dishwasher against breakdowns. Good boy!


Spring                                                                    Mountain Moon

kitchen aidToday is D-Day on Shadow Mountain. Dishwasher Day, that is. Sometime between 8 and 12, the cliched “window”, Best Buy, yes, that old home town favorite, will deliver and install our new Kitchen Aid dishwasher. After five weeks plus of hand washing dishes (the horror!) we’ll go back to the way dishes were meant to be washed, with lots of chugging and rushing and whirring. This has been a sufficiently long and frustrating process that I’ll not believe it’s over until the new appliance is snug in its home and has run its first few cycles.

Rich Levine wrote yesterday to say that our bee equipment is out in the wild now, helping other, new beekeepers. Tara Saltzman, CBE’s director of religious education, felt more comfortable using our half body bee suit. A hive tool, twenty of our built out frames, two hive boxes, bee brush, smoker and pellets went to the bee project. It feels good that they’re in use rather than sitting in our garage and it particularly feels good that they’re encouraging others to learn about bees.

IMAG0784We have more hive boxes, more honey supers, plus all the equipment needed to harvest and bottle honey. We brought the bee stuff with us on the chance that we would want to pick up bee keeping here, but now it’s unlikely. With both gardening and beekeeping the challenges altitude presented might have been overcome, they can be, but that first year enthusiasm after the move, 2015, got absorbed by prostate cancer. In 2016 Jon told me he and Jen were getting divorced. That took our attention for a full year and a half to which I added knee replacement surgery and Kate added Sjogren’s. Unless we decide to purchase a greenhouse, our horticultural life will remain muted.

Kate had her third session of p.t. and I took the time to go to King Soopers and get some groceries. She’s a had a small set back with her appetite, but her progress has given her confidence. This will be only a to be expected dip. Nothing’s linear.

Today's work

Today’s work

Meanwhile I have decluttered the loft. As I work, I pile up books and paper, file folders and magazines, creating temporary archival mounds. When I get to a place where I can poke my head up over the transom and see some light, the mounds lose their archival charm and become just clutter. The act of reshelving books, creating file folders for loose papers, organizing magazines has an energizing effect, both in the satisfaction of a more organized space and in the psychic sense of a new time beginning.

Today is filing, organizing magazines and a task new to me, creating storage for my sumi-e work. Most of it is practice, but there are a few keepers. I don’t understand the value of practice work yet, so I’m going to keep almost all of it even though my instinct is to throw it away. This means finding a way to archive large flat pieces of paper in a way that doesn’t fold or mutilate them. I have some ideas, folded cardboard, removing a few maps from my flat file storage. When I get to working on it, I’ll invent something.

That, plus the dishwasher, is what Tuesday will be about.


Out and Back Again

Spring                                                                       Mountain Moon

20180422_182925Earth Day. Thanks, Gaylord Nelson. Gabe’s birthday, too. 10 this year. He got a fidget spinner, an infinity box and a red envelope with money, $10 for each year. This year Earth Day is also Kate’s one month mark after surgery. She’s on an upswing in many ways, weight, pain, nausea.20180422_173735

We were at Domo again, the rural Japanese restaurant that was one of Zagat’s five best Japanese restaurants in the U.S. in 2007.

Quite awhile ago I told Ruth that I liked restaurants that transported me to another culture or offered a very different experience than my day to day life. She remembered and asked me last night if Domo was one of those. “Yes. Definitely.”

20180422_174528In addition to having an Akido studio that is one of the oldest in the country, Domo has a museum of rural Japanese objects, many related to farming or carpentry. They also have art hung in many spots, but in an unobtrusive, organic way. It’s located in an older, warehouse looking building in what is now a rapidly growing part of Denver. A brand new apartment building is under construction right next to it.

It’s not surprising, then, that there is a disclaimer on the door that reads, “No. We are not closing. Domo has no intention or plans for closing. We look forward to serving you in the future.” Both Domo and the equally unique Buckhorn, which is about three blocks further south on the same street, have been enveloped by Denver’s hot housing market and its drive for non-vehicular transportation. The Buckhorn, liquor license #1 in the City of Denver, sits in the curve of a rapid transit station and shares with Domo new housing starts, mostly apartments, all around it. The old city, Buffalo Bill Cody ate at the Buckhorn, and the new smooshing together.

20180422_174540It’s been an unusual weekend visually with the suspended bee hives and the elk Saturday, the 4/20 celebration at Happy Camper on Friday and Domo yesterday. There is, too, of course, always the mountains. When we drive down the hill into Denver, we leave them behind for a bit, decanting ourselves onto the terminus of the great plains, still high at 5,280 feet, but flat all the same. Last night when we came home, a mountain in the distance toward Evergreen was a flat, pastel teal with pink ribbons of clouds behind it. Only Cezanne could have done it justice.

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

We go into Denver less and less, remaining in the mountains unless family or medical matters call us. On occasion we do visit jazz clubs, go to a movie, head into a museum, but not often. As a result, each time we drive into the city, I feel a little more strange, a little more estranged from the (relatively) crowded streets, the hurry, the built environment. When we turn west, which from Denver means headed toward the Front Range, I get the same feeling of peace now that I used to get when I turned north on a trip and headed back toward Minnesota.

We can return home three different ways, each offering a different sort of return to the mountains. The most dramatic is to take I-70 to Evergreen. After passing through the first foothills and getting up the rise, the snow-covered (now) continental divide appears in the distance, the sort of mountain scenery that is post-card worthy. We can also turn off 470 and head through the small touristy mountain town of Morrison, up past the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater and onto a windy road with rocky cliffs and Bear Creek tumbling alongside. The most common way home is up Hwy. 285 which enters the foothills through a dynamited opening in the hogback. 285 winds in largely gentle curves up to Conifer. All three take us home by gradually reintroducing us to elevation and the rocky, fir covered slopes where the great plains come to end.

April 2018
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