We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Monthly archives for August, 2018

One Toke Over the Line Sweet Moses

Lughnasa                                                          Waning Summer Moon

The loft is clean. Sandy does such a great job. And, she does it while living with the after effects of two brain surgeries and the yet remaining tumor which necessitated a round of radiation to shrink. A tough way to earn your daily bread.

marijuana2We tried a Colorado cure for Kate’s nausea symptoms. She toked up yesterday morning, lighting one of the pre-rolled Jilly Belly spliffs. She took four hits. Result: nausea subsided, heartburn began. And, she said, I feel spacy. Which she didn’t like. So she went back to bed anyhow. A work in progress. Next time she’ll try two tokes. If it does reduce the nausea, we will get her a bong and use ice in the water to cool down the smoke. I told her she was one toke over the line sweet Jesus; then added, well, maybe better, one toke over the line sweet Moses.

At mussar Ariel, the defense lawyer turned consultant to lawyers on how to navigate court procedures, gave a powerful and well-researched hour and a half on the concept of tzedakah. Tzedakah boxes are an art form in Judaica and usually have a slot for change or bills. The money collected typically goes to charities, in the American diaspora often charities that support the state of Israel, though the money can go to any good cause. In this way tzedakah has come to be associated with charity, but its real translation is justice, equity.

Tzedakah-1080x675In the packet that he offered, Ariel quoted Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a great friend to Martin Luther King: “There is immense silent agony in the world, and the task of man is to be a voice for the plundered poor, to prevent the desecration of the soul and the violation of our dream of honesty.” And, “Morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the sufferings of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty while all are responsible.”

empty-bowlsAfter mussar Kate and I went with many members of the group to a place called Go, Paint in downtown Evergreen. It was the start of an interesting local expression of an international movement called Empty Bowls. (the link is to an Empty Bowls event in Hopkins, Minnesota) Go, Paint has many objects in bisque (the stage for pottery after throwing and before firing when glazes and paints can be applied.). In this case we all had bisque bowls, dull white and maybe 8 inches across. There were various paints and glazes we could apply, even small clay creatures. Kate, for example, put a turtle in the bottom of her bowl.

We paid for the event. The bowls get fired, then distributed to two sites nearby which run Empty Bowl events. One is Mt. Vernon Country Club and the other is a church in Evergreen. At the empty bowl event a meal is served, $65 at Mt. Vernon, $20 at the church. When the meal is over, each participant gets a bowl. The money goes, in this instance, to the Mountain Resource Center. A friend of Kate and mine’s, Marilyn Saltzman, will be the incoming president of the MRC in January. Interesting idea.

A long day for Kate.

Alan, demyelination, days with no nausea

Lughnasa                                                            Waning Summer Moon

Alan

Alan

Alan came over for work on the religious school lesson plans. Kate made her oven pancakes (always delicious) and Alan told us stories about early Jewish Denver. West Colfax (think Lake Street) between Federal and Sheridan was an orthodox Jewish community when he grew up. He said on Friday afternoons with folks scurrying from the deli to the bakery to the kosher butcher it looked like, well I can’t recall exactly, but any typical European Jewish community.

His dad was going to be a University professor before the Holocaust. Instead he came here and ended up in the dry cleaning business. In those day Alan’s friends and neighbors were either children of Holocaust survivors or survivors themselves. That old neighborhood, like north Minneapolis, has completely changed. The first synagogue in Denver is now an art museum on the Auraria campus of the University of Colorado. The Jewish community concentrated itself in south Denver, more to the east.

We worked for a couple of hours, putting specific lesson plans on the calendar, deciding which days to do the Moving Traditions curriculum, which days for middah, which days for Jewish holidays, which days for our own lesson plans. I’m experiencing some anxiety about this since we start next Wednesday with the first family session of the Moving Traditions curriculum. This approach to the student preparing for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah will, apparently, be controversial because it doesn’t focus on the ritual of the morning service, but on the students’ social, emotional, and developmental needs. Alan, Jamie, and Tara will deal with that. Not me.

20180408_182236Kate’s had several days in a row with no nausea. Yeah! That means she feels better and can get some things done. In doing so, however, the extent of her loss of stamina, weight loss and Sjogren’s Syndrome, has become apparent. She still needs to rest frequently. If she can modulate the nausea, either through careful eating or an eventual diagnosis or using medical marijuana, the next step is to get some weight gain, some stamina improvement. If possible. Or, we may have to adjust to a new normal.

I’ve been absorbed in lesson planning, training for the school year, climbing my steep learning curve about matters Jewish and matters middle school. That’s my way. Dive into something new, leave most other things behind until I’ve gotten where I feel like I need to be. Not there yet, though I imagine after a few class sessions, I will be. Sort of a head down, blinkers on time. My writing has dwindled and so have submissions.

Over the last couple of weeks, while I work out, I’ve been watching a Teaching Company course on the aging brain. I recommend it. Highly. It’s helped me understand why this approach, head down blinkers on, is developmentally appropriate for me. For example, the aging brain, on average, loses some processing speed, executive functions, and crispness of episodic memory (memory tied to a person or place and seen from a first person perspective.) over each decade, beginning in the twenties.

Myelin Sheath – a layer of fatty cells covering the axon, helps speed neural impulses.

Myelin Sheath – a layer of fatty cells covering the axon, helps speed neural impulses.

The underlying issue seems to be gradual demyelination of the axons which constitute the white matter in our brain. With myelin sheathing over their length axons can carry information very fast, without it somewhere around 2 meters per second, or human walking speed. As our processing speed declines, so do brain functions like the executive management of brain activity by the prefrontal cortex. It’s this one, the decline in executive function, that requires the head down, blinkers on approach to new activity or to tasks we need to complete. As we age, we no longer handle distractions as well, getting pulled away from this to focus on the shiny that.

I like knowing this because it helps me understand my daily third phase life better. The thinking process itself is not impaired, just the speed and our ability to stay with a task. It helped explain a very uncomfortable moment for me at the Genesee Ropes Course on Sunday. Jamie and I were with the 6th and 7th graders. Adrienne, a ropes course employee had just explained the rules of a warmup game. One of the rules was that we had we could not throw a soft toy to someone who’d already gotten one on that round.

geneseeI got the stuffed unicorn on the third or fourth toss. When I tossed it to Alex, Adrienne asked, “Did he break a rule?” All the kids and Jamie nodded. Yes, he had. Why? Alex had already gotten the unicorn. Oh, shit. This was the first interaction between me and these kids as a group and I looked like a doofus. I didn’t remember the rule at all. There were plenty of things to distract me. The continental divide in the distance. A wind blowing through the trees. Trying to concentrate on learning kid’s names. General anxiety about not knowing the kids at all. Whatever it was, my executive function let me go, Oh, fish on bicycle, instead of hearing, no throwing to someone who’s already received it.

It still looks the same to the outsider. I missed the rule, and as a result, screwed up in its execution. But now I understand that this is not a sign of dementia or other deep seating problem, but rather a normal, though irritating, side effect of demyelination.

 

 

The Queen of Shadow Mountain, Spliffs, Spring Rolls

Lughnasa                                                                     Waning Summer Moon

20180828_185716Kate’s birthday present came yesterday. It has excellent lumbar and neck support, plus it inclines with the press of a small lever. She’s the queen of Shadow Mountain.

Went down the hill yesterday to the Native Roots dispensary. I wanted something Kate could use to quickly attack nausea, perhaps eliminate it. Research suggested Durban Poison, Northern Lights, Lemon Haze, or a strain like those.

Native Roots is a franchise operation, very slick and a little cold in their approach. Like all the dispensaries they check i.d. Here they made me take off my hat and glasses so the camera could get a shot of me. Inside I made a mistake when the budtender (silly, silly name) called me forward. I told her my wife had nausea and I wanted something that might help. “Never tell a budtender you’re buying for someone else. That’s illegal.” Oh, ok. “Well, I have nausea, then.” “OK. We’re good there.”

They didn’t have any of the particular strains I wanted, but she recommended a strain called Jilly Bean, one they grow themselves. I wanted a bong, but they “…don’t sell glass.” She offered me pre-rolled joints. Oh, the distance from the late sixties and its furtive culture, wrapping papers, sorting seeds and stems out on the kitchen table. These joints, spliffs, blunts have a spiral filter on the end to cool the smoke and neatly wrapped wrapped paper twisted off at the end. Very producty looking. And, not cheap. $7 each.

I bought two. She’ll try them when the nausea hits next time. If it works, we’ll get her a bong and some flower rather than pre-rolled joints. Can you believe I just wrote that sentence? This is truly the new millennium.

native roots

Kate wanted spring rolls for supper using some of the mushrooms she grew. (I know. This sounds like a back to the sixties day for us.) I sauteed the mushroom at noon. Kate got some shrimp out to defrost. After her throne arrived, I got busy. Cut up cucumber into matchstick sized pieces. Mix chopped nuts and carrots, shredded. Add fish sauce, juice of two limes and sugar. Mix. Heat water to boiling, pour over rice noodles. Mint leaves. Cilantro leaves. Lettuce leaves. Run the rice paper under the tap. Put on plate, assemble.

These were our first spring rolls, so they weren’t as elegant as, say, the Jilly Bean prerolls, but they tasted great. A successful beginning from the new Asian cookbook.

Alan is coming today and we’ll work on a calendar for our lesson plans. Classes start a week from today. Oh, my. Lots more to say about that, but not now.

 

Ancora imparo

Lughnasa                                                                      Waning Summer Moon

January moon at Beth Evergreen

January moon at Beth Evergreen

The full Waning Summer Moon hung just above Black Mountain yesterday, so I watched as it disappeared behind the peak. It surprised me how fast it sank. I watched only for 2, maybe 3 minutes, then it was gone. At its last it was a bright line among the Lodgepole pines marking the rocky contours where it had been. This morning it’s well above the peak, looking much like the earth in the earthrise photographs from the Apollo missions.

The moon and the sun remind us, as do the stars, that we are not only alone on this rock, but alone for millions and millions of miles. At least. That simple fact could bring us together as a species, but it doesn’t. And, frankly, I don’t understand why, since it means that this little spinning piece of debris from the formation of the solar system is our home and any other possible home is way too far away to move to in any numbers. If at all.

curiosity9When we were at the Beth Evergreen teachers’ workshop last week, Tara asked us what we thought we brought to the classroom. “I bring a spirit of inquiry, of curiosity,” I said, then surprised myself by voicing an insight I didn’t realize I’d had, “I’ve always lived the questions, not the answers.” True that.

Sometimes, not often, I wish I could lean into answers, just accept a few, take them as settled law, stare decisis for the soul. But, no. Conclusions in my world are tentative, preliminary, awaiting new information. I think this is what the long ago psychiatrist meant when he said I had a philosophical neurosis. If so, so be it. As a result, I’ve been unendingly curious, never lacking something new to consider, never taking yes for an answer. Or, no.

I’ve modulated my approach so it’s not as acidic, not as relentless since I now realize that most people don’t share my intense, but actually (in my mind) playful attitude toward truth. Playful, I should note, in this age of “fake presidents,” but not stupid.

Ancora imparo.

 

The Weekend

Lughnasa                                                                              Waning Summer Moon

religious school kids with Rabbi Jamie

religious school kids with Rabbi Jamie

Up and out the door too early yesterday to write, too tired when I got home around 5:30. A long day. An education training session at Temple Emmanuel in Denver. A huge building, lots of cash there. Flowing cut stone for an outer wall, inside modern metal sculpture, lots of wood, a huge reception area, a Sisterhood Lounge, a more than gymnasium sized hall, divided by foldout doors, and lots of folks milling about.

(just noticed that the full waning summer moon stands about 4 degrees over Black Mountain in the dark early morning sky. Southwest. My cataracts give it four rays, two straight out from sides, two up and down at a slight angle.)

The sessions were ok. The food was great, lots of veggies and fruit and hard boiled eggs. All of us from Beth Evergreen had to leave early because we had an outdoor experience afternoon in Genesee Park, the oldest of the Denver Mountain Parks. Denver owns several parks in the Front Range, especially in and around Evergreen and Morrison. Genesee might mean shining valley.

religious school at Jeffco Action Center, packing Thanksgiving meals

religious school at Jeffco Action Center, packing Thanksgiving meals

This was a ropes course for the purpose of team building. The students who will be in the religious school this fall and their parents came, as did Debra and me. We were the only teachers there. I knew a few of the adults, none of the kids.

No ropes for me. I did put on a harness (reminded me of the harnesses for sled dogs) and a blue helmet. Most of the rope  features were reached by spikes driven into the trees and were high enough to require both a rope attached to the harness and managed by a Genesee Outdoor Adventure employee and the helmet.

Wasn’t the heights or the difficulty of the features that made me not go up. I realized only this morning that it had to do my with introversion and in particular my dislike of having others watch me exercise. That’s why I go to On the Move Fitness for two sessions, then follow the workouts on my own. If somebody watches me, I get self-conscious and screw up. I suppose this is something I could overcome with time and opportunity, but yesterday wasn’t enough of either.

Artemis Hives

Artemis Hives

The day before, Saturday, I went over to Rich’s, also early in the morning to help him harvest honey. We cranked his hives down from the high wire on which they hang, much like a ropes course feature, and checked first his flow hive and then a honey super on another of the four hives he has on his primary line. He has a pulley system with which he lowers and raises the hives. They’re heavy even with the mechanical advantage of a four rope pulley. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t understand, Rich has no honey in his flow hive or in the honey super. The colonies themselves looked healthy.

Afterward, Rich and I went over to the Muddy Buck and had some coffee. His daughter was still asleep at his house.

Kate had a good day yesterday. Unfortunately, I missed it out gallivanting for Jewish education. We’re investigating medical marijuana, specifically strains used by cancer patients for nausea induced by chemo. Kate may have a bong in her future.

 

Bees, Nausea, Beth Evergreen

Lughnasa                                                                     Waning Summer Moon

At 7 I’m off to Evergreen to Rich Levine’s. We’re going to harvest honey from one honey super and try to use the flow hive. The flow hive is an invention by an Australian beekeeper that has the bees put honey in plastic frames instead of a honey super. An ingenious torquing mechanism uncaps the honey and it flows through a tube into jars or a bucket. Mine came just after Kate and I decided to move to Colorado, so I’d hung up my beesuit. I have it Rich. Hope it works. That was five years ago now, and they’ve come up with improvements. Rich has one of the new ones, too.

Kate’s growing more frustrated with her nausea and I don’t blame her. Imagine if, on any day, you could be debilitated, often without warning. Imagine, further, if that debilitation resulted in weight loss and as a direct result, loss in strength and stamina. Her gall bladder ultrasound came back normal. We’re in an odd situation now of hoping that at least some test will show something. Normal is usually a good result in any medical test, but when you have something unexplained. Well. What we want now is something diagnostic, and that something treatable.

I put up 7 lesson plans, or at least what qualify in my very rookie way, as lesson plans. Each lesson plan has to relate to the overall theme for the year, reconstruction and the b’nai mitzvah experience, yet stand alone. Here’s an example. Might be used before Simchat Torah, when the reading of the Torah finishes and then starts over again.

Understanding the centrality of Torah in Jewish life

Intro. What is Torah? Why is the Torah read through, then repeated? Discussion

Lesson content:

a. Write, in Hebrew, the names of the books of the Torah

b. A conversation about the broader and deeper meaning of Torah.

c. What stories shape your life? Family stories? Childhood stories? Books, movies, anime

Finish: Dance with the Torah scrolls. (a common practice on Simchat Torah)

I’m moving further and further into the life of Beth Evergreen. Kabbalah, mussar, Jewish Studies Sampler Sundays (or, as Rabbi Jamie said at the annual meeting on Thursday: Jesuss) teaching bar and bat mitzvah students about this central ritual in Jewish life. Participating in a mussar group focused on spreading mussar in congregational life. Getting to know well at least a few members: Marilyn, Jamie, Tara, Rich, Alan, Anshel, Sally, Ron, Susan, Sheri. Seems both odd and normal. Odd in that I’m a pagan; normal in that I love this community and want to help sustain it.

 

 

 

Gifts. All day long.

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

Rigel and Kepler

Rigel and Kepler

What gifts did I get yesterday? The first question before I go to sleep. Woke up, emerged from unconsciousness to consciousness. Breathed the whole night long. Kate was next to me, sleeping, my partner. Kepler was, as always, happy to see me wake up. He rolls over so I can scratch his stomach, his tail goes up into happy mode. As the morning service says, the orifices that needed to open, opened, and closed when appropriate. There was water at the tap, always a gift in this arid climate. The meds that my doc has prescribed to help me extend my health span got washed down with some.

Gertie and Rigel were happy to see me, coming up for a nuzzle and a lean. The air was cool and the stars still out. Shadow Mountain stayed stable underneath me. The carrier brought the Denver Post and we read the collective work of its reporters, recorded by the printers on newsprint made most likely in Canada.

the loft

the loft

When I went up to the loft, I got on this computer, using electricity supplied by the Inter Mountain Rural Electric Association. As the sun came up, our own solar panels began translating its energy that traveled 93 million miles, generated by the powerful nuclear fusion of our star. My mind is still sharp enough to put words together, thoughts. My hands still nimble enough to pound the keyboard.

All these gifts and we’re only at about 6 am. The list goes on throughout the day. Kate at the table when I go down for breakfast. The workout created by my personal trainer. Time to nap. A mussar class focused on tzedakah and zaka, how can we purify our soul by gifting resources to others. A car that runs on gas brought here by oil tanker, trucks, a gift from the plant and animal life of long ago, crushed into liquid form by the power of geological processes. Back to Beth Evergreen for the second time for the annual meeting.

There the gifts of people, relationships built and nurtured over the last few years, granting both of us the opportunity to be seen, known, and the chance to offer who we are and what we have. Finally, the cycle ends with a return to sleep, to unconsciousness. Hard to avoid gratitude after doing this sort of exercise each night.

Comfy chairs, Elk, Feeling Dull

Lughnasa                                                              Waning Summer Moon

20180408_182236Selling out wall to wall for remodeling! How could we resist? Kate needed a comfortable chair, the old and worn Swedish model no longer matches up with the curve of her back and her head lowered by shrinkage in her spine. We found one at the Stickley sale, not another Stickley piece but a fat comfy leather chair with plenty of back and head support, a nice ottoman, and a sale price far below list. Happy birthday! Every 74 old woman deserves a decent chair, am I right?

On the way over to the Audi Stickley store we drove along Co. 470 East. Which goes south. Confuses me every time. This divided highway, an incomplete ring road around the Denver metro, has been under construction since we got here in 2014. Like many civil engineering projects there is a lot of soil piled up in various places, barriers, zigzagging lanes, changing speed limits and concrete barriers on both shoulders. Trucks move on and off the narrow lanes. Instead of the neverending story, this is neverending road construction.

Kate made peach honey from Western Slope peaches we bought a week or so ago. A big lug. Ha. Looks beautiful. I’ll have to take a picture and post it here.

April

April

Over to Beth Evergreen. Down the mountain, around the curves, into Evergreen. Past the Catholic Church on 74 where a huge elk bull and a harem of maybe 40 cows and calves hung around on the church lawn like bikini clad women on a beach. We’re not to the rut yet, that comes in late September and October.

At the synagogue Rabbi Jamie and Alan were a bit late so I helped Leah, the executive director, unpack the new, padded folding chairs for the social hall. We’re getting new chairs for the sanctuary and will no longer store the additional chairs in the social hall. That will be a big improvement.

Rabbi Jamie, CC, and Alan

Rabbi Jamie, CC, and Alan

When Jamie and Alan arrived, we had a brief meeting with Tara, director of education. Alan and I have a September 5th family session with parents of b’nai mitzvah age kids and the kids. The new curriculum that we’re using focuses on the emotional and developmental needs of the kids rather than emphasizing learning of prayers and Hebrew. This will be, I understand, controversial.

In the teacher workshop that followed that meeting Jamie said something I found very interesting. It went something like this: Public schools focus on subjects, learning math, art, literature. Finding out what content appeals to you. Religious schools should focus on the self. Discovering yourself and how you fit in to the larger world. The new curriculum conforms well to this pedagogy, but as you can see it puts student personal development over particular content, apparently a big change for religious school.

Found myself feeling dull during the workshop. There were five teachers: Karen, Debra, Alan, Cheri, and myself plus Tara and Jamie. I know all these people well except Cheri. She’s new, a former resident of Israel. That carries a certain cache in Jewish life. On reflection my dullness may have been a low grade anxiety. A lot of Hebrew. These are all Jews. A lot of understood subject matter. I’m better there, but still my learning curve is steep. Having to imagine how I’m going to teach and do it well in an environment where education is very important.

I don’t think this anxiety will pass until I’ve actually taught a few classes and have a better feel for how that works, specifically how I will work in that setting. Don’t like feeling dull.

 

A True North

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

Still thinking about the north. In 1969 Judy and I left Connersville, Indiana, headed toward Appleton, Wisconsin. In my mind the landscape would be pine trees, glistening lakes, deer, lots of people in plaid shirts. Maybe still a lumberjack or two. Jack London’s White Fang, Call of the Wild, Sea-Wolf, Burning Daylight had made me a distant fan of a place closer to the Arctic, one where the wildness of our planet had not been consumed by factories and roads.

Burning DaylightTurns out the Fox River Valley was not that place. The Fox River which runs from the Green Bay through Appleton and finally into Lake Winnebago had no available oxygen for aquatic life thanks to years of dairies and paper mills, two of the worst polluters, dumping effluent. But you could see this north from there. In the Fox River Valley it manifested itself in a tortured way through snowmobile culture and the annual ritual of the deer hunt. Both were violent and dangerous. On winter nights the lights of snowmobiles rake the roadways and countrysides as riders drive their vehicles alongside the roads from bar to bar for a shot and a beer. It was often said that grudges got settled during deer season.

White Fang’s north also announced itself in the weather. That winter we had two feet of snow in one storm, an amazement to this long time Hoosier, resident of an agricultural and industrial belt that had confused seasons often with slush and ice storms in place of winter, northern winter. I learned about engine block heaters. Temperatures dropped to way, way below zero. And stayed there.

LondonWisconsin was a bad experience for me. Judy and I had married at 21 and 17. I had graduated from college that spring and had no idea what to do next. So. Get married. By Appleton neither one of us were sure why we’d said yes to the other. The long winter nights found us drinking beer by the case and playing sheepshead with Judy’s family. Her father, a convinced alcoholic, and I, just getting started in my addiction, didn’t really get along. He was a snowmobile racer, a deer hunter, an ink salesman and a Packer fan. I had little interest in any of those things. Our only common ground was his daughter.

By 1970 I’d found myself withering in Appleton. Too much alcohol. Judy and I had agreed on an open marriage, it was the sixties after all, but when she acted on it, I discovered I hadn’t meant it. I had three jobs in Appleton: life insurance salesman (never sold a policy, lasted three months), a baker making bread and pound cakes, but getting to work at 4 a.m for $1.50 an hour lost its charm quickly, and, finally, as a rag cutter at the Fox River Valley Paper Company. This was a distinct change from studying anthropology and philosophy, fighting the establishment. And not a good one.

Seminary took me to Minnesota, where I did find my true north, not in New Brighton, of course, but up north in the boreal forest, among the 10,000 glaciated lakes and on the shores of Lake Superior. This was Burning Daylight territory. I stayed for forty-five years.

Burntside Lake, Ely

Burntside Lake, Ely

While up north, from 1969 to 2014, I discovered the insular nature of this land. The long blue ellipse of Lake Michigan made Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Upper Midwest, lack a through route to the West. We were not on the way to anywhere. You had to want to go up there for some reason and most folks in the U.S. chose not to. Nothing there unless you fished or hunted or had business or family. Cold, too. Brutal winters. As far north as most folks got was Detroit or Chicago.

Especially distant, especially unknown were the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota with the Iron Range, the Arrowhead region, Lake Superior, Voyageurs National Park, the BWCA, Warroad. It is a culture that has some common ground, snowmobiles, snowshoes, ice fishing, hiking, mineral extraction, cross-country skiing, but little integration even with the states in which they lie. What integration there is tends to be that of tourist destination and tourist though of course the Iron Range and the copper mines of the Keweenaw, the laker supported transport of the Great Lakes, and such cities as Duluth, Superior, Sault St. Marie, and Marquette attract citizens as well as visitors.

Now living in a region dominated by the story of the vanishing frontier, the Indian wars, the cowboy, mountains, and the false allure of unbridled freedom, the north country has receded from view again. It is far away, not on the way to anywhere most choose to go, and largely unknown. Yet it still feeds my imagination and my memories there are warm and many. No, I never mushed a dogsled to take medicine to a plague ridden village isolated by a blizzard (Sergeant Renfrew of the Canadian Mounted Police), but I did mush a dogsled. I never caught a muskie or a lake trout, but I did spend many happy hours picking blueberries in the late August sun. It was the north of my Jack London induced fantasy and I loved it. As I now do the Rockies.

 

 

North

Lughnasa                                                                      Waning Summer Moon

strangerReading two books right now, The Stranger in the Woods and Northland. They are oddly complementary. Northland recounts a three-year long journey by the author following the northern border across the U.S. It starts in Maine. This early part of his journey is through land very familiar to friends Paul and Sarah Strickland who live near the St. Croix River separating the U.S. and Canada. Stranger in the Woods tells the story of Christopher Knight, who grew up in central/northern Maine, graduated from high school, became a burglar alarm installer, then, at age 20 decided to disappear into the woods. He was found 27 years later after having spent the intervening time in silence, living alone in a rocky clearing and subsisting off of raiding cabins near his well-concealed home.

Porter Knox, author of Northland, says that land in the U.S. along the northern border is a land apart, distant from the rest of the country both for its inhabitants and visitors. Having lived in Minnesota for forty years, I know the Northland border there and in Michigan, too. It’s severe country in Minnesota with temperatures the rest of the country read about during the winter, lakes carved by the retreating glaciers of the last ice age and boreal forests. It’s also poor country with soil too rocky and thin for agriculture and too distant from cities for most commercial purposes. Tourism is the main economic driver there and that’s seasonal.

Knight’s family had developed a way of living in the Northland. They had a large garden, hunted, were clever with their hands and spent time with books, not media. It was a subsistence existence that reminded me of the movie Captain Fantastic. Christopher took the northland life style to a logical extreme, becoming isolated not only from the rest of the country, but from human community itself. In Minnesota and Wisconsin his family would probably have been called Jackpine Savages, which refers to folks who live off the land there, often taking multiple jobs while living mostly off game, fish and gardens.

As I write this from the top of Shadow Mountain, I can see how different and faraway this border and these lifestyles must seem to the rest of the U.S. In fact, it strikes me as odd how little known these northern lifeways are. Redneck culture, not the same, but also rural in origin, has a lot of visibility. So does the older Appalachian Scotch-Irish culture from which Redneck culture emerged. Cowboys were similarly isolated from mainstream U.S. culture, but their presence is large in U.S. history, too. Not so for the folks who live in the colder regions along the border with Canada.

 

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