I & We

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Monday gratefuls: Joe’s visit. Annie’s visit. Seoah’s staying on. Murdoch’s staying on. The engineers who designed our Rav4’s. The laborers who assembled them. Deb and Dave at On the Move Fitness who prepare my workouts every six to eight weeks. The oxygen concentrators that make it possible for Kate and me to live up here.

I’ve mentioned the Turkish TV series Resurrection (see the post for Oct. 21). It’s a long one, well over 400 episodes. A huge work of historical fiction, a novel on the small screen. It holds my attention, though I imagine many would stop watching over its persistent Muslim bias against non-Muslims, its more than occasional violence, and its often laughable translations. Immersion in it and our several years at Congregation Beth Evergreen have combined to make me reconsider individualism.

As an American, as a confirmed existentialist, as an ex-Christian, as a phenomonologist, as a thinker, as an introvert, the individual has always loomed bigger to me than the collective. The notion of a hermetic life. Yes. The life of a scholar hidden in the library. Yes. The life of a novelist obscured by working alone. Yes. Even a move to a mountain home far away from 40 years of friendship and memories. Yes.

The tribal life of frequent, intimate contact with many others has not been mine. Growing up among the 5,000 or so souls in Alexandria, Indiana had its similarities, but we were not bonded by shared purposes, traditions, and genetics. We were a loose collection of families and individuals who shared a common marketplace and a school system. Beyond that we divided into different Christian denominations, extended families, and had no intrinsic loyalty to a lifetime with the folks in town.

The Christian ministry experience is more complicated and I don’t want to go into much depth about it here, but the rise of Protestantism enhanced individualist tendencies as it clambered out of Catholicism in tune with the Enlightenment. Being, say, a Presbyterian is not the same (tribally) as being even a Catholic, and it’s very far from being a Jew or a Muslim.

Beyond those two, a small town childhood and the odd life of an ordained clergy, I’ve followed the path of developing my potential, getting analysis for my psyche’s troubles, and eschewing joining. Love of family and of my Woolly friends, though both dear to me, is not a tribal experience. And, they’ve been enough. More than enough, satisfying.

But. My first taste of tribalism’s benefits came in the year after 9/11, when my ignorance of Islam came into sharp relief. I read the Koran, the whole thing, over Ramadan, fasting during the day and reading it in the segments suggested. I read a lot of other things, too. Volumes of history. Poetry. Works by famous Muslim scholars. Lots of reading. What was the caliphate? What were the five pillars? How did Islam grow and spread so rapidly?

After attending a three day conference on Islam at the University of Minnesota, I went to a break the Ramadan fast event at Dar Al-Farooq mosque near the U. The congregants welcomed me warmly. I sat against the back wall as the men prayed. The women were downstairs. A small boy came over to me, smiled, sat in my lap, and asked, “Are you a kafir?” An unbeliever? Yes, I said. I was. His eyes got big.

The meal was good, eaten on the same floor where the prayers had been offered, covered in clear plastic sheeting. Afterward a group of men talked to me, took me to a library, offered me books to take home, answered questions. It was a warm and inviting experience.

Resurrection shows the same warmth in the Kayi and Dodurga tribes. Their lives are for each other, with each other. They also fight, intrigue, and betray. But the benefits of a tribal identity and life are obvious.

At Beth Evergreen the sense of tribal identity probably doesn’t occur to most congregants. It’s just there. They know the holidays, some of the rituals, know what a b’nei mitzvah is, maybe have some knowledge of Hebrew. Islam permeates the tribal life in Resurrection, but observance is a good deal more casual in this Reconstructionist synagogue.

Think of this. When they read the Torah, it’s a book by and about their ancestors. Yes, maybe its more myth than fiat, but it’s still about the development of the Jewish world and the Jewish worldview. While eating in the Sukkah, they recapitulate a harvest festival celebrated centuries before the common era, by their ancestors, in the promised land. See that? I slipped in promised land. Well, it was promised to them, their ancestors.

On a more immediate basis the caring among members of the congregation, as expressed by the Mitzvah committee, the e-mails and phone calls we’ve gotten over Kate’s illness and mine, the connections outside of the synagogue among members, like my breakfasts with Alan for example and Kate’s time with her friend Jamie, evidence a degree of intimacy and community I never found in a Christian church. I’m sure there are some that have it, I’ve not experienced it.

In rereading this I noticed the theys and theirs in the paragraphs above. I’m not a Jew, nor do I want to become one. But, I love these people and they are my people. I’m not of them in the formal sense, however.

Instead of leaning toward individualism, I may be standing up straight, inclined toward Self and community in somewhat equal parts. That’s still not the tribal modality. In that case the collective overwhelms the individual and their needs. Not gonna be me.

And yet.

The Day After

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Sunday gratefuls: the water in our broken granite aquifer and its replenishment by rain and snow, the rocky mountain on which we live and its brother and sister mountains around us, the Arapaho National Forest that covers them, the regular coming of day and night, the winds of yesterday.

The day after. The paper plates and plastic cups, the napkins with the turkeys on them. All in the trash. Jon and Ruth left on Friday night, but Gabe asked if he could stay over. Sure, but you’ll have to sleep on the couch. That’s ok. Annie and Joe are here till Monday. Seoah will stay until mid-December when she will leave from DIA for Singapore.

The mood changes when the holiday is in the past. Less ritualized, more homey time. Sitting around with casual conversations. Joe talking about his comic book collection. “This one’s worth $4,000,” he says, showing me an old Avengers I gave him a couple of years ago. The old comics in the attic routine. Turns out mine were were worth some money. Several thousand as it happens.

It’s compensation for that Michael Jordan rookie card I wouldn’t help you buy. He’d wanted me to help him buy a $200 Michael Jordan rookie card now worth thousands. I said no. It’s a running joke (sort of) with us.

Joe and Seoah went to H Mart, the big box Asian grocery store in Aurora, near Jon’s house. Annie and Gabe went with them. Gabe went back home and Annie got her first taste of Asia.

H Mart, with its bins of durian, dragon fruit, lemongrass, its coolers with various meats and cuts not available at King Sooper, its aquariums with fish and shrimp, boxes of instant white rice and seaweed, stacks of fifty pound bags of basmati, has a pan-Asian clientele. East Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Malay, Filipinos wander the aisles looking for food they cooked back home or food their parents cooked back home.

H Mart has Korean owners. The first time Seoah came here we stopped at H Mart on the way home from the airport. I remember her delight when a stockboy talked to another employee in Korean. Her face lit up. My language! In America.

The original plan for Thanksgiving was to have Seoah cook a Korean holiday meal instead of the whole capon, side dish thing. When I realized they would arrive on Wednesday, the day before, I wrote back and suggested we wait on that. She agreed. Instead she made the dish last night

Chopche is my phonetic spelling of what she called it. Which, I just looked up, is not too far off: chop chae. Mixed vegetables and beef. It’s one of those Asian dishes that has most of its time in the prep work. She thinly sliced carrots, thicker chunks of bell peppers (red and yellow), mushroom, green onion. Transparent sweet potato noodles. Long, narrow slices of beef. All stir fried, one at a time, except for the noodles. A zucchini cut into slices, breaded, and fried.

When do you make this? Any big holiday. New year. Death. Birthday. Happy occasion. Tasty. Worth learning. Her cooking seems simple, but it’s not. She has a lot of knowledge picked up from her mother and now many years of cooking herself. Her moves have an economy to them that only comes with much practice. I watch her, trying to pick up at least some of her skill.

“I like to organize,” she says. When I try to wipe off the kitchen counter, she says, “Not needed.” Spreads her hands indicating the kitchen, her domain. “It is my pleasure.”

Shadow Mountain Gratefuls

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Everybody got here. 8 of us. Ruth, Jon, Gabe, Joe, Seoah, Annie, Kate and me. Plus a very interested Gertie, Rigel, Kepler, and Murdoch. Our oven thermometer allowed me to calibrate the lower oven since its heat is different from what gets set. Ruth’s pies, pumpkin and pecan, were wonderful. The heated side dishes made the meal easy to prepare. Love around the table. None of my burns were too bad.

The heated capon was ok, as were the side dishes. Hardly gourmet though tasty. We ate downstairs around the Stickley table that largely gets used for folding laundry. The red table cloth was festive as were the Happy Thanksgiving paper plates.

We used a few questions from a set by a company called Vertillis. The intent was to have a conversation that did not feature Trump tirades, one that was, instead, about us. It worked. After the plates of sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, capon, cranberries, and green beans were empty we broke into groups.

The women, with Kate at the head of the table, stayed downstairs talking while us guys put away food, cleared the table. A moment of gender parity. I mentioned it and Jon said, “Yes. And, two male dogs and two female dogs.” True.

Later Annie, Kate, and Ruth went upstairs, Jon sat in the chair and dozed while Joe, SeoAh, and I talked. The spirit of those questions seemed to linger even after the meal. Seoah said Joseph was her first true love. Who was mine?

The question set me back. After three visits to the altar and many women friends/lovers over the years, I wasn’t sure at first. “Kate,” I said. Raeone and Judy were both relationships formed while I was drinking and their dissolution reflected their flawed premises. Kate though was, pardon the not really a pun, my first sober choice. It’s true love because we both want what’s best for each other, will sacrifice for each other, and share convictions, core convictions, about politics, mother earth, dogs, family.

The essence of holidays, these sorts of conversations reinforce family ties, deepen them. We come together out of individual and nuclear family lives to bathe for a moment in the larger, extended field of our relationships. SeoAh said Koreans celebrate a harvest festival with similar themes.

Even though Kate’s going through some kind of disturbance in her force, nausea and fever, it nonetheless felt to me that this holiday put away the old, bad year and began a new one. Next year Joe and Seoah will be in Singapore, so it will be different.

Murdoch will stay with us for a year since Singapore wouldn’t let him in. Means considerable jockeying since both Murdoch and Kepler are male Akitas with the dog on dog aggression that comes with the breed. We’ll work it out, get a routine down.

Dogs, I read recently, like certainty. If we can get a system that works, when to feed, when to let this one out, then that one, keep Murdoch outside while Kep is inside and vice versa, we’ll avoid squabbles. Squabbles being a euphemism for teeth tearing flesh, blood, wounds, squeals of pain, and my forced interventions.

At two years old Murdoch still has a lot of puppy in him. That’s delightful and will warm up our house. He’s also a sweet boy, nice to have around.

Today is Thanksgiving on Shadow Mountain

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Friday gratefuls: Joe and SeoAh arrived with Murdoch after a long drive. Our plowed driveway. Thanksgiving when everyone can be here. Learning how to make chili from scratch. Discovered that smoked paprika adds to chili. Murdoch’s happy, puppy presence. This computer on which I do so much work. This loft in which I paint, write, read, exercise.

Joe and SeoAh’s arrival delayed Thanksgiving. They encountered several accidents on their way to Missouri for a night’s rest. Didn’t get there until 3 am. I decided we’d wait Thanksgiving rather than have them rush while sleep deprived. Cooked the capon last night, sliced it, covered it in tin foil. Will go in the oven to warm up today.

The big box of side dishes from Tony’s rests in the back of Ruby, cooled by what Kate and I call the great outdoor refrigerator. They, too, will go into the oven to warm up. Then those fancy plates and napkins I picked up at the Paper store will adorn our downstairs table. Around it will be Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Annie, Joe, SeoAh, Kate, and I. Eight souls. The animal souls will be in various places to avoid hassles.

We have 18 inches of snow on the ground and on our roof. A Colorado Thanksgiving. The solar snow shovel will gradually remove it.

Thankful Kate’s health is so much better.

Always Something to Celebrate

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Thursday (Thanksgiving) gratefuls: Annie, who came yesterday. The snow on Tuesday. The capon that gave its life for our meal. The winds that howl through the forests this morning. Orion, faithful friend and his good dog, Canis Major. The folks who designed and built our Rav4’s, especially Ruby, whose AWD makes her surefooted. Those who care for them at Stevinson Toyota. And, on this day in particular, for all those who sustain traditions and holidays, moments out of ordinary time.

I asked brother Mark and sister Mary what Thanksgiving, a very American holiday, looks like in lands Asian and Arab. Mark said Thanksgiving probably got celebrated in Aramco compounds. Here’s Mary’s reply from Singapore:

The big hotels serve Thanksgiving dinner & it needs to be reserved way in advance; Brits have Christmas dinner which is also involves Turkey so food is authentic- with all the trimmings- here Halloween and St Patrick’s Day☘️are also widely celebrated- in addition to Asian festivals- so pretty much there is always something to celebrate

Mary has made this comment, always something to celebrate, before. When I visited Singapore for the first time in 2004, I was there the first week of November. Christmas decorations lined Orchard Road, the big commercial street. It was also U.S. election week, so the American Club had a big breakfast spread so we could watch the returns live. You know how that turned out. We weren’t celebrating. (though right now GW Bush looks like a political genius)

These paled in comparison to the Arab quarters celebration of post-fast Ramadan. We found shisha smokers lounging on the sidewalks and had a good Arab meal, probably lamb and rice, but I don’t recall.

Little India had a huge arc of lights over its main road marking the holiday of Diwali, the festival of lights, also underway. There were stalls selling sweets, Diwali lights, and Hindu related religious artifacts. I bought a Kali medallion, a Vishnu and Shiva medallion. We had a vegetarian meal in a Tamil restaurant where we ate with our hands. Our right ones.

Not sure whether it was Diwali related or not, but much later that night, in the early a.m., Mary and I went to the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, Sri Mariamman Temple, built in 1827. According to the Temple’s website the firewalking was on October 20th this year.

Due to changes in population over time it happens to sit now in the midst of Chinatown. There were lines blocks long of men in various sorts of clothing, all holding branches of some kind and, if I recall correctly, lemons or limes. At the very end of these line were a few women.

I stopped to talk with some of the women. “Oh, yes. Now we can go to the firewalking, too. But they didn’t want us. We insisted.” This was about 3 am or so. Mary and I walked along the lines of devotees waiting for their turn.

We got to the temple and watched folks walk across the bed of coals, then into a milk bath, and finally into the arms of priests and fellow firewalkers. The moist night air, the early morning quiet, and this strange (to my eyes) sight is a special memory for me. Afterward, Mary and I had Chinese food at a big hotel.

Ramadan, Diwali, Christmas, firewalking, and the American election. It was my introduction to Asia and underlines Mary’s there’s always something to celebrate.

Gathering

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: lodgepole pine and their snow shedding branches, aspens and their massive cloned groves, Maxwell, Blue, Shadow, and Bear creeks, the mule deer, the elk, the rabbits, the voles, the mice, the cougars, the bears, the foxes, the pine martens, the porcupines, the Canadian jays, the magpies, the ravens, the crows, the trout, the minnows, the willows and dogwood. And all the critters I don’t know about and all the soil organisms and grasses and flowers

Annie comes in today. Her flight arrives at 8 am. Joe and Seoah will get here tomorrow. We’re going to eat later as a result, probably around 5. Plus Murdoch, who, it turns out, will be staying with us for the next year. Gonna be interesting.

Jon, Ruth, and Gabe will come up for the day. Since Ruth has agreed to make the pumpkin pie, they have to get here early enough for her to work.

Getting the side dishes made by Tony’s means I can concentrate on the capon. I want to do it well. I hope our oven does not recapitulate its last Thanksgiving performance where it didn’t reach an adequate temperature. It’s been fine since then. Of course.

Lupron has been swinging my moods, giving me hot flashes, making me weaker than usual. Lotta fun. Better than the alternative.

Got plowed yesterday. But. New guy since Ted, our usual plow guy, fell off a ladder at a job and broke several bones. Chris is a substitute. He did an ok job, but he doesn’t know our driveway like Ted does. On Thanksgiving day we’ll have three extra cars here: Annie’s rental, Jon’s, and Joe’s. Ought to be interesting.

1′

Samain and the Gratitude (new) Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Friends. All the Woollies with a special inflection for the Zoom guys: Mark, Bill, Tom, Paul. My zoompals. At CBE: mussar folk, Alan, Jamie, Rich, Marilyn, Fran in particular. Neighbors: Jude, Holly, Eduardo, Derrek. All the Facebook friends from long ago in Alexandria, Ball State.

Put the yardstick down on the deck this morning at 6 am. 1′ of snow. So far. Overnight. More still coming. The biggest snow event here since a blizzard last March. Ending today, probably AM. Roads will be clear for Thanksgiving travelers on Wednesday. Thankful for that. Seoah, Murdoch, Joe on the road from Warner-Robbins, Georgia.

Put on my Sorel’s, my down vest, my watchcap, my alpaca coat. Warm enough. Shoveled the deck and the small, pallet covered with rubber stall mats deck extension. The plastic push shovel that works so well on the composition decking and the stall mats is not good for throwing or lifting snow. Just bought a poly shovel. These heavy snows are easier to push if I can clear a few inches off the top first. The curved plastic of the push shovel dribbles the snow off as soon as I lift it.

Beautiful outside. The sun is up but Black Mountain is gone behind a pale bluegray curtain. The solar panels look like Korean tombs resting on our roof. The lodgepoles look like flocked Christmas trees.

Kate went to the grocery store to pick up an order and go to the bank which is in the King Sooper. When she got back, her lips were white and her face ashen. Walking to the bank and to the pharmacy (both inside the store) was too much. She’s having a Sjogren’s flare which may account for some of it. Her appearance shocked me, and I feel bad for not having done the trip. She thought she could do it. So did I.

A Holiday Week

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Monday gratefuls: the folks at Weather5280, Ted the snowplower, our mail guy, Greg, our Denver Post most of the time delivery person, the UPS and Fedex drivers who deliver our packages. A small web of people who help us in this isolated, yet hyper connected age.

Yesterday I got up around 6 am, late for me, and Orion already had his boots behind Black Mountain. This morning he stood fully above it, the soles of his boots resting on the peak. He’s hunting Lepus the rabbit who always scoots away, just out of reach. Lucky Lepus.

Saturday included picking up a grocery order and a trip to the Happy Camper in Bailey after the bagel table. Tired.

On Sunday we began a ritual going on in many households around the whole nation. Decluttering. Not a lot to do, but still some. Books piled up on the downstairs table where we’ll eat the meal. Papers of various sorts stacked by my place at the table. There are photographs in boxes in the room Kate’s using for exercise. Some jigsaw puzzles going up to the guest room.

Sandy, our housecleaner, will come on Wednesday. Her usual day was last Friday, but we had a snowstorm that prevented her California raised self from coming up the hill.

The capon and the side dishes I’ll pick up Wednesday morning at Tony’s. I’ll also get pizzas for supper Wednesday night when Joe, Seoah, Murdoch, and Annie will be here.

Last year Kate was recently home from Brookdale Green Mountain rehab. Cooking was not part of the plan. “At 2 pm I drive over to Littleton to Tony’s Market to pick up our Thanksgiving meal, a turkey breast and several sides. We decided putting out a big meal this year was beyond us.” Nov. 21, 2018

Inching our way back to a full meal. I love capon and wanted to cook one, but didn’t want responsibility for the whole meal. Kate suggested we go with the side dish bundle from Tony’s again. No pushback from me. Maybe next year we’ll get back to the full meal. Ruth’s agreed to make the pumpkin pie. She’s a good cook and loves to make pies.

The big storm, thankfully, gratefully, comes tonight and tomorrow, leaving Wednesday and Thursday clear. Joe and Seoah should have clear roads.

A Bagel Table

Samain and the beautiful waning crescent Fallow Moon

Thanksgiving will have an almost equivalent waxing crescent moon. The Gratitude Moon. A month of saying my gratefuls out loud right here. At least one a day.

Grateful for Jon, Ruth, Gabe. Grateful for Kate. Grateful for Joe, Seoah. Grateful for Mary, Mark, Diane. Grateful for Rigel, Gertie, Kep, and Murdoch. Grateful for photons and lupron.

Did the bagel table with Alan. A somewhat strange experience. Folks came up and shook my hand afterward so I believe it went well overall. Rabbi Jamie and I had some dissonance, not sure why. I was on his turf, no doubt. And, I used his favorite commentator as a resource.

He is a master teacher, wonderful at drawing out insights and curiosity. I’m not. His knowledge of Hebrew, of the Midrashim (rabbinic commentary on the Torah), and of the details of each parsha are far superior to mine. He can start out with nothing in hand and get a discussion started.

His approach, especially to Torah study, has an open ended nature that he can sustain. I have a more data driven approach. In this case I wanted to focus the class on the question of Sarah’s death, and how the parsha resolves the problems of her life. To do that I dubbed every one a rabbi and asked them to sit around the table and develop a midrash aggadah (see below) on this matter.

Folks kept turning to him for answers to questions, usual since he’s the rabbi. But. It was hard to keep the conversation going on the question of why Sarah died as a result. I guess it was like trying to teach a class on quantum physics with Niels Bohr in the room. I was happy to have him there. And yet…

Made me a little less enthusiastic to do another one although I enjoyed the prep work. A lot.

Monet

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Kate and I went to see the Monet exhibit at the Denver Museum of Art. First outing for Kate in quite a while. Lesley, a fellow mussarite, architect and art historian, led the tour as a DMA docent.

Christoph Heinrich, director of the DMA, wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Monet and used his scholarly contacts as well as his museum world contacts to organize this show with a fellow Monet scholar from Potsdam, Germany. It has 120 paintings by Monet that show the development of his unique, impressionist style over a period of years.

Leslie had a knowledgeable presentation, for which she had many notecards. The exhibit draws big crowds and the museum supplied ear pieces and a receiver. Leslie stood back and spoke to us through her headset while we looked at the paintings. Could have used this technology in several exhibits at the MIA.

The DMA has a different docent style than the MIA. The docent explains, gives facts and interpretations. The way it used to be everywhere, I believe. The MIA requires the docent to engage tour participants with questions about each work, questions that help them draw their own conclusions, that force them to look and learn for themselves. There’s a place for both styles, imo.

There were some beautiful pieces, some ordinary works that showed Monet working out what he wanted to paint, many showing early experimentation with putting colors next to each other and letting the eye merge them into the color Monet saw as he painted. There were no real show stoppers in the exhibit however. I imagine the cost of getting several haystacks, several Rouen cathedrals (there were none), and the large water-lilly works like hang at the Chicago Art Institute was too much.

While a docent at the MIA, I became friends with the registrar, a position little know outside the museum world. The registrar crew handles the art works, moving them, hanging them, indexing them with the museums cataloging protocols. From him I learned about the intricacies of putting an exhibit together.

Most museums require that works over a certain value, I believe it was two-hundred and fifty thousand at the MIA, are never out of sight of one of their employees. An employee travels on the plane with them, observing them be loaded and removed.

I remember he told me (can’t recall his name) a story about a painting being flown to Australia for an exhibition there. He agreed to go with the painting, but due to his workload, he flew there with it, watched it get unloaded and shipped to the museum, then turned around and got back on a plane to Minneapolis. A long, long time in the air.

Given Monet’s prices at auction I would guess most, if not all, of his many paintings exceed the value limit of the MIA. That would be a lot of insurance, shipping, and travel costs.

Found myself fascinated with his brushwork, color choices. I’ve not spent much in museums or galleries since I started painting. Made me want to start going again to inform my own work.