We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Posts by Charles

Kick the Bums Out

Samain                                                                  Bare Aspen Moon

MetooOn the #metoo phenomenon kicked off by the now thoroughly besmirched Harvey Weinstein. What has happened, I hope, is that the tacit cover for sexual harassers has become at least translucent, maybe on its way to transparency. It’s that cover, consisting of male privilege and the fear of retribution in ways large and small that go with it, which has given especially men in power, but also men in all walks of life, the sense that they can treat women as objects rather than persons.

This objectification of women has always been wrong, always leads to mistreatment. How else can we explain the gendered wage gap, the glass ceiling still leaving accomplished women trapped in their cubicles, the continued male on female domestic violence? Only when the 3/5th’s compromise, America’s true original sin, no longer applies to anyone in our society will we have justice.

THIS IS NOT A PARTISAN ISSUE. It is a male issue and in particular a males in power issue. As a result it is my personal position that anyone right now, even Minnesota Senator Al Franken, who has credible accusers should step aside. Resign. Quit. Admit that they were wrong and leave the position which made them feel so powerful that they could ignore the real lives of others.

#metoo2Apologies are important. As an academic who teaches a course on apologies noted, they affirm, confirm and reinforce social norms. We need to establish as the real norm that unwanted sexual advances of any kind are not funny, playful, teasing, victimless. One way to do that is for each of those harassers to acknowledge what they did, who they did it to, and why their behavior is abhorrent and inexcusable. Then, they should be allowed to move on with their lives, but not in whatever position they currently hold.

My hope is that as a result we will be able to nuance these incidents in the future. Perhaps, as some say, Al Franken’s clear admission and apology and the nature of his acts are less heinous than, say, Roy Moore’s or Donald Trump’s, but as we shake off the social consensus that allowed these events to go unremarked and their victims shamed, we cannot allow any special pleading. The chance to change the nature of our public and private life in favor of women is too important to occlude with partisan rhetoric.

I regret this position leads me to support removing politicians with whom I generally agree, but, to me, the moment and its potential is just too important.

Ruth

Samain                                                                        Bare Aspen Moon

Conversations with Ruth. Yesterday Kate wasn’t feeling so well in the a.m., nausea that plagues her mornings on occasion. So I was the breakfast guy for Ruth and Gabe, who stayed here starting on Sunday evening through last night. Ruth came down first, unusual because Gabe is usually the early riser. She fixed herself some ramen, she’s a good cook all on her own, learned from Grandma.

mcauliffe_masthead1_M_r32

We started talking. She loves her new school, Mcauliffe. It’s not in a modernist soul stealing box like Sweigart, her elementary school. It has ornamentation, having been built in 1914, which she described in some detail. Gothic arches over drinking fountains, molding with inlays, stair rails with decor under the polyurethane, big windows and the exceptional cupolas visible in this photograph. She’s an arts oriented girl, very aware of the design of her surroundings. We both like this older, more whimsical era of architecture.

Ruth, Wilson, Kate at a cross country meet

Ruth, Wilson, Kate at a cross country meet

Mcauliffe also has periods, unlike the daily grind in an elementary classroom where you only leave for recess and lunch. The freedom that grants her between classes means a lot to her. She’s taking Mandarin, robotics, math, language arts, gym, earth science and art. It’s a more challenging environment for EGT’s, extremely gifted and talented, which she’s finally beginning to embrace as describing herself.

Polaris is the GT middle school, but she chose Mcauliffe because all save one of her friends from Sweigart chose it, too. Her bffs Wilson and Annika in particular are at Mcauliffe. Annika is a competitive climber, traveling the U.S. to participate in timed ascents of climbing walls. Wilson ran cross-country as she did. They spend a lot of time together outside of school.

This transition to middle school, along with declining stress from the divorce, seems to have allowed her to open up, blossom in ways that are beautiful to see.

We also talked about books. She’s a voracious reader, currently focusing a lot of her reading on Jodi Picoult, though she just started Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Of course, she also has books to read for school, the humorous part there being that the first book assigned to her she had already read. In the third grade.

20171027_152110She wanted to know who my favorite authors were. Always a stumper for me since I’ve been reading much like Ruth for over 60 years. Lots of typeface over the eyeball transom, not all of it stuck in the memory banks. Yesterday I went with Herman Hesse, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and William Gibson. Asked today I would add Philip Kerr, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kafka. Tomorrow another group. Not to mention poets and classical authors, playwrights and non-fiction writers.

I put together an Ikea reading chair for her and an almost identical one for myself. She sat in hers, me in mine. She also loves art and wanted to know what my favorite piece of art was here in the loft. I have an Andy Warhol print of soup cans that I like a lot. She likes my Mike Elko print satirizing the Bush terror propaganda.

She’s a young lady with many interests, including alpine skiing. She’s been skiing since she was three and at this point is very accomplished. She and Jon are going to ski on Friday at Arapahoe Basin, or, as it is more usually known here, A-basin. She also loves to cook. Yesterday she made banana bread, rosemary bread, a pecan pie and cut up the yams for caramelized sweet potatoes. Today she’s making deviled eggs to bring to Thanksgiving tomorrow.

2011 01 09_1223She’s still very tender on matters related to the divorce, not yet ready to sort out how she feels about it. The more I see her on this side of it, the more I believe the negative effects of Jon and Jen’s explosive fighting were awful for her. She has an inquisitive spirit, is very observant, and, unfortunately, is not inclined to talk about her feelings. All of these facets of her personality have made processing the turmoil of the last few years difficult for her. In the extreme.

It’s exciting to see her beginning to know herself, to gain agency in her life in a positive, not angry way. I’m grateful to have her as a grandchild, one I see frequently.

 

The Holiseason Zone

Samain                                                                          Bare Aspen Moon

Getting ready to cook

Getting ready to cook

You have entered the holiseason zone. Of course, it’s well underway since it begins now with Rosh Hashanah, but Thanksgiving, with its grocery shopping, tablescaping, bedroom preparing and gathering of family is a key moment, the holiday that marks the start of a remarkable run: Advent, Posada, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s. Wow. The metaphysical crackling in the air gets intense with lights and ideas and gods and astronomical night. It’s my favorite time of the year.

The Thanksgiving project for me is a golden capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. A lot of oranges are involved, too. The challenge of finding a capon found its match in finding fresh figs. A nice man at Whole Foods explained that northern hemisphere figs are available in the summer and southern hemisphere figs just before Christmas. Oops, not in time for Thanksgiving. Then, a Thanksgiving miracle! Kate found them at King Sooper after I’d called specialty stores like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocers and gotten nada. Yeah.

thanksgiving-farm-harvest-postcardThe whole gathering in of items for pecan pies, Ruth made ours last night, and yams and green beans and potatoes is a simulacrum of growing it all, or hunting and gathering for the feast. And, yes, our finding a retailer with figs and capons is no match, but it did add uncertainty and joy in discovery.

A mountain Thanksgiving is like others, but with a lot more altitude.

 

Fraternity Man Against Fraternities

Samain                                                                      Bare Aspen Moon

Phi Psi House, Wabash

Phi Psi House, Wabash

A word about fraternities. I was in one. Not of my choosing. Wabash College, where I spent my freshman year, required all freshmen to live on campus. There were dorms, but preference for dorm rooms went to upper classmen. (Wabash is all male.) The result: you had to pledge a fraternity. For reasons I neither recall nor care about, I ended up in Phi Kappa Psi. I mention this in particular because of an odd coincidence. A Phi Psi chapter in Texas just killed a pledge named Ellis.

It’s unclear right now whether alcohol was the culprit, but if it wasn’t, I’m sure it was a contributor. Binge drinking not only occurs in fraternities, it’s actively encouraged. While I don’t blame the Indiana gamma chapter for my subsequent alcoholism and 10 years of cigarette smoking, I certainly got my start in the chapter house in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

wabash2Being a pledge gives pledge masters an outsized influence over young men and women in their first year away from home. I suppose this could be good, helping initiate a student into campus life, gaining a new collection of brothers and sisters who understand college, it’s relentless complexity. It wasn’t good for me. My situation is a little unusual in that I had no desire to be a fraternity man, but ended being one anyhow. I was not enamored of nor looking for a fraternity. So I began jaundiced. And left the same way.

I’m not sure how college in the 1960’s compares to college now. It was a lot, lot different, I think, but Wabash, a more traditional place, was sort of a time capsule of old school ways. It sounds like fraternities have not changed much even now, over 50 years later.

Count me as a fraternity man against fraternities. Reinforced by the Texas incident.

The Spinning of the Wheel

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

Tony's

Tony’s

The capon is in the house, 7.8 pounds of frozen, atesticular rooster glory. Kate and I went to Tony’s Market yesterday, Gertie and Rigel in the back. Tony’s is the sort of grocery store where the pounds fly off the shelves and around your waist even before you check out. It’s a gourmet shop, full of Devon custard in a can, various pickled vegetables, cases filled with ahi quality tuna, plump white scallops, seasoning rubbed filet mignon, frozen bearnaise, hollandaise, au poivre sauces made in house, expensive salami, and puff pastries created with only filo dough and powdered sugar. One of those ten minute super market sweeps from the 1960’s would yield a cart full of scrumptious and clock in well north of a thousand dollars. A good place for holiday shopping.

sephirothshiningonesI spent time before the trip to Tony’s working on my kabbalah presentation for December 6th.  This will take some doing since kabbalah is a quintessentially Jewish discipline and I want to focus, somehow, on the Great Wheel. According to the Tree of Life, the sephiroth (spheres) arranged as in this illustration reveal a path by which the sacred becomes actual and the actual becomes sacred. The bottom sephirot malkuth is the world which we experience daily, the place where all the power in this universe (there are many others), funnels out of the spiritual and into the ontological. It is also the realm of the shekinah, the feminine aspect of god. In kabbalistic terms malkuth is the place where the limits of things allow the pulsing, living energy of the other spheres to wink into existence.

great wheel3In one sense then the Great Wheel, focused as it is on this earth, can only be of malkuth, that is, of the sphere of the actual, the bottom circle below the hand of the kabbalist in the illustration. In another sense, since all sephiroth contain all others, what is of malkuth must also be of the others, the spiritual dna of the whole universe. So, if we take the Great Wheel as a metaphor for the creating, harvesting and ending of life, a cycle without end, then the Great Wheel is, too, a Tree of Life. That is, the inanimate becomes animate, the animate lives, then dies, returning its inanimate particulars to the universe which, through the power of ongoing creation, rearranges them in living form so the cycle can go on.

The Great Wheel has a half circle for the growing season and a half circle for the fallow season. It can be seen as half day and half night. It can also be seen as the cycle of the virgin goddess who, impregnated by the god, gives birth to the growing season as the Great Mother and then, during and after the harvest becomes the crone. The life cycle of each of us.

Not sure yet how I’m going to articulate this for the class. Still in the gestation period.

 

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

Over the River and Through the Woods. To the meat locker.

Samain                                                                              Bare Aspen Moon

13 degrees here this morning. About an inch of snow overnight. Thanksgiving, requiring the horse to find the way to Grandma’s house, is almost upon us.

Over the river and through the woods,
To grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,
Through (the) white and drifted snow!

Yep. They’ll cross the Platte and Cherry Creek and the Mississippi (in the air), drive through valleys and up mountains to get here.

Over the river and through the woods,
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Grandmother sans cap

Grandmother sans cap

And, yes, we’re going to have a capon. Capons are mystery meat to the clan of Colorado butchers. Even at Elizabeth Meat Locker yesterday a worker there looked blank when I asked about capons. “What are they?” “Chickens with their balls cut off. They get fat.” Oh.

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

After having breakfast and goodbye with Tom and Bill at the Lakeshore Cafe in Evergreen, I picked up Kate and we took the grand circle route to complete two errands. They both required our presence in the physical world, something I note with greater frequency these days. There are things that absolutely require showing up in person and they often involve physical objects that have to be picked up and moved from one place to another.

In this instance, Diana had finished her work on the cushions for the Jon built benches in our dining area and the Elizabeth Meat Locker had finished carving up our quarter of beef. Diana is in Lakewood, off Sheridan Avenue, a left hand turn from Hwy 285. She’s a friendly woman, proud of her work. And, the cushions look good. Not installed quite yet, due to cleaning required first, but they will support Thanksgiving guests.

ColoradoAfter carrying the two cushions and the remaining fabric, about 3 yards, out to the car, Kate and I drove off in a southeasterly direction toward the high plains town of Elizabeth. We turned east at Castle Rock on Colorado 86. 86 heads resolutely away from the mountains, which are in the rearview the whole way. Elizabeth is a small agricultural town, known to any Midwesterner in its general outline and types of stores and shops. That’s why I said not long after we moved that the Midwest washes up here against the solid reef of the Rocky Mountains and finally disappears. In Elizabeth Kate and I were on familiar turf.

The Meat Locker has several letters missing in its sign and the building could use tuck pointing over its entire surface, but the folks are friendly. They butcher locally raised (Jefferson and Park County being local in this instance.) grass fed animals. The guy who didn’t know what a capon was helped us load our quarter of a beef into the truck using three cardboard trays with handles. We’ve almost finished last year’s beef so this amount seems about right for us.

On the way home Grandma rested, her feet placed over the vent which blew cool air. “The bee’s knees,” she said.

Brick Mortar vs Online - BannerCushions, a frozen beef quarter, groceries these are a few of the physical objects that we still use our truck to retrieve. I imagine at some point we’ll have an economy that divides itself between physical objects that have to be moved, including your own body to doctor’s appointments, for instance, and physical objects that can be purchased online and delivered. I know we’re already there with online sales, but I mean a situation where the economy consciously organizes itself by these categories. Right now we have a transitional situation between brick and mortar businesses built under the old, we have to go there to get it paradigm, and an online retail economy powered to our homes by the USPS, Fedex or UPS. It’s clumsy and not always transparent which is better, online or physical shopping. I think that will sort itself out over the next decade or so, maybe a bit more.

 

The Time Has Come. Again. And will come once more.

Samain                                                                    Joe and Seoah Moon

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

 

And so it is, every time Tom and Bill and I find ourselves on the shore of the ocean surrounded by oysters, or on Guanella Pass or in the strange Buckhorn Exchange, holder of Denver’s liquor license number one.

It is, I suppose, possible to think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as excellent examples of life’s true way, one governed by chance and the exigencies visited on us. Or, another way of explaining it, other than chance, might be, the universe speaking to us. Could be synchronicity, could be a kabbalah experience, could be the photographer/novelist at the artist’s co-op in Georgetown.

20160813_161919Skiing is an example. Jon’s love of skiing, learned in the flatlands of Minnesota, with bumps just big enough to gain some momentum, occasioned, much later in his life, a move to Colorado. Joseph came here, too, to live in Breckenridge. Jon met Jen. Ruth and Gabe. Years of traveling from Minnesota to Colorado. Then, our own move to Colorado. Now here we are, near the Guanella Pass, near Georgetown with a friend who lives there. So Tom and Bill could come visit and we could meet the photographer and former petroleum engineer, Ellen Nelson. We could, too, as Tom said, reenter the conversation that defines our lives.

There is, too, for me, the chance experience of Kate, all those many years ago, when she went to Temple Israel in Minneapolis and felt immediately at home, tears streaming down her face. Without that moment we wouldn’t have sought out, just on a whim, two classes on King David being held on a cold night in nearby Evergreen. That was two years ago to the day tomorrow. We found Congregation Beth Evergreen. Now we’re there among friends, contributing and growing more deeply involved. And my pilgrimage across the landscape of life, which began in Oklahoma in the Red River Valley, now continues with a strong Jewish inflection in the mountains of Colorado.

 “Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

None of this was part of a plan. Yes, plans can help us in certain parts of our lives, but if we fool ourselves into believing that the planful side of us guides the most important parts of our lives then we miss the larger, more significant streams on which we drift. Kate sews. So she has met the women of Bailey Patchworkers and the Needleworkers. I love Kate, so I’ve met the folks at Beth Evergreen and taken another right hand turn on my pilgrimage. Bill and Tom and I met through chance in a group of men called Woolly Mammoths. How weird is that? Yet here we are, together now in the Rockies, thirty years later.

Somehow we have to stay open, to not ratchet down the hatches of our mind. This is counter-intuitive as the heavy storms of life wash over our bows, threatening to sink us. In fact we often need to sink, to go under the surface of our life, to allow the stormy waters of a new life to rush over us, fill us, even drown our old life; so that we can pop back to the surface, water streaming, eager for the changed world that now exists up there.

JackLondonwhitefang1It is no wonder that many folks can’t do this. It’s just too scary. But I can tell you, from the vantage point of 70 years, that the intentional has very rarely taken me where I thought it would. Studying hard in high school? Yes, I followed that thread off to college, but college waters quickly swamped my little vessel, pushing me under. I drowned many times in the ensuing years. Philosophy overcame my fragile barque. Then, opposition to the Vietnam War. Alcohol, met in my freshman year, held me under from 1966 to 1976. A long time love of Jack London’s novels, especially Call of the Wild and White Fang, awakened in me a desire to see lands where pine trees and lakes, wolves and moose were. After a move to Wisconsin pursuing those lands, the ocean of Christianity once again swallowed me. Which led me to Minnesota. And, eventually, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, where, after a divorce, I would meet Kate, who cried in the Temple and whose son, Jon, now mine, too, loved to ski. Which led, in its own, very unplanned way, to this home on Shadow Mountain. So many other instances.

 

 

 

The Rockies, Not Far From Home

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Old Men and the Mountains

Old Men and the Mountains

 

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Downtown Georgetown and Silvery Plume Mtn.

Downtown Georgetown and Silver Plume Mtn.

Friends

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Rollo May, JoyFriends. Tom and Bill are here in Colorado. They came to Beth Evergreen yesterday and attended my adult Hebrew class, then we went over to Sushi Win for supper. 30 years of life together, weddings and funerals, laughter and tears. The easy understanding that comes from time, lots of time together. Irreplaceble. Fundamental to life. I’m grateful they took the time and expense of coming here.

It wasn’t long before we were at questions like when life and its ravages becomes too much. Bill’s wife Regina and her stroke at the end of a painful time struggling with cancer. Pat, a friend’s wife, who has lupus and suffers, perhaps at this point, too much. How do those of us in these relationships honor the dignity of the other, realizing we can’t ever inhabit their body, see the world from within theirs?  These are the difficult questions that the third phase visits on us and those around us.

Another long time friend

Another long time friend

Being able to talk about these things easily, but soulfully, is what long friendships can offer. And we need the spaces in our lives where these conversations can occur. I’m lucky to have Bill and Tom.

I’m also lucky that Beth Evergreen has begun to offer a similar depth, though not, of course, the long developed trust and confidence I have with them. That may come over the next few years. I imagine it will and that sense is a major factor in my love of that place.

So this is a hymn to friendship, an often unattended to aspect of our lives. The Woolly Mammoths graced me with a space that encouraged it. And I’m forever thankful for them for that space. I hope you have one.

 

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