We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Destined for War

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

masthead800

“The City of Nevada offers the best in small town living to all who treasure its “hometown” charm.” says its own website

Kate’s driving down to Iowa today with her sister, Anne. Back to Nevada, that’s with a long first a. High school reunions are odd affairs. If you attended one, you know. Funny how the social cues of 50 years ago resurface. I didn’t think she’d be able to travel last weekend, but her recovery from the thrush infection has made a huge difference. Her affect is back to normal, her diet improving. I imagine many who attend their 55th reunions face some health challenge or another before they go. Have a great trip back in time, Kate. And Anne, too.

Severe-hotweather3-MEM-170619_4x3_992The dew point and the temperature are close this morning on Shadow Mountain. We’re in a cloud with moisture leaking out of it. Black Mountain is invisible, covered by a gray, wet mass. 47 degrees. The same cannot be said of Arizona or California.

It’s strange being in the house without Kate, Jon, or the kids. An unusual confluence has left me the sole Homo sap on the premises. Three canids do a good job of keeping me company however.

I began reading Destined for War on Monday. It’s one of two recent books I purchased that look at the China/U.S. superpower relationship. While Destined for War tries to place this fraught dynamic in a western diplomatic history frame, Everything Under Heaven by former NYT Asia correspondent, Howard French, goes deep into Chinese history for its frame.

Songtan, near Osan AFB where Joseph deployed

Songtan, near Osan AFB where Joseph deployed

Not sure how it happened for me, but as I’ve said before my life took an Asian pivot at some point. One starting point was adopting Joseph, of course, but there’s been more than that: Asian design and aesthetics, especially Japanese, Asian art, Japanese and Chinese in particular, Mary in Singapore and Mark so long in Bangkok, tea, Asian cinema, Asia literary classics like the Tale of Genji, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Monkey’s Journey to the West, Dream of the Red Chamber, contemporary Asian authors. Then SeoAh and the wedding trip to Korea. A lot of my thinking and reading tilted that way and I spent several years at the MIA immersing myself in the Asian art collection there.

Now, in a peculiar manner, adopting Joseph has ultimately reinforced this pivot. My grandchild(ren) from Joseph and SeoAh will be 100% Asian, as will be then, my branch of the Ellis family name. Too, South Korea, where Joseph spent a year deployment and where he would like to return someday, is in a continuing dangerous pickle with its evil twin, North Korea.

So I like to stay informed about what’s going on over there. I can recommend Destined for War, but I haven’t started Everything Under Heaven.

 

 

Fatherhood

Beltane                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

09 11 10_Joseph_0256Fatherhood. Sharp knives. Explosions. Football. Muscle cars. PBR. Fishing. Fixit. Harsh discipline. Stuffed feelings. Dutiful, not loving. Nope. None of us all the time, some of us some of the time. Men and boys.

It’s complicated. Motherhood has obvious physical triggers: pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding. Can’t beat those for intimacy. Too, the stereotypical domesticity of wives/mothers, challenged but not diminished much, means early childhood intimacy as well. Where does a dad fit in?

The push of the culture of Alexandria pressed and presses fathers into work, outside to the lawn and the garage, into the military, away from the kids. Men earn, protect, fix. Except when they don’t, as is now the case for many of the white working class men in my hometown in eastern Indiana. The whole county, region.

Dad

As many of you know, my father and I were estranged from my age 21 until his death in 2003. We made efforts to reconnect, especially during regular visits after Joseph came into my life, but the damage was too deep, too long lasting. Whether my mother’s early death forced us into a level of intimacy we couldn’t sustain, or our mutual pride during the difficult years of the Vietnam War wounded us both more than we could mend, or the distant father role he shared with most of his peers were most to blame, I don’t know. It was, no doubt, a toxic mix of all three.

At this vantage point, now an older man myself, the anger is long dissipated and what remains is sadness, a certain wistfulness for what might have been. But wasn’t. We were, as all of us are, flawed. At perhaps the crucial juncture, during a time period when I got ejected from campus for public drunkenness and had to live back home during my junior year for a bit, I was ashamed. He reached out, bought me a car, let me come home. But a war was raging.

fuck-the-draft-anti-war-poster-1960s

Vietnam. We were on different sides. He was a WWII veteran of the Army-Air Force, a Roosevelt liberal, and deeply anti-communist newspaper man. I was young, radical, counter cultural and deeply anti-war. One afternoon he came up to me and asked, “Charlie, are you a homosexual?” I laughed. “No, why do you think that?” He indicated my long hair. Long hair then was for classical musicians and gays in his thinking. “Cut it.” “No.” “Cut it or get out.” It was ten years before we spoke again. Pride. On both our sides.

It may be that adopting Joseph was an attempt for a do over on father and son. If that wasn’t a primary motivation, it certainly became a primary preoccupation. My father was not a bad father, just a father of his generation. I was probably a worse son than he was a father. The obedience and dutifulness that he expected, partly a result of his German upbringing, partly a result of lack of parenting by Elmo, my grandfather whom I never knew, was not possible for me. And I didn’t even try. At this point, he’s been dead 14 years, I’ve forgiven both of us.

20170615_075104

Joseph is the redemption. He’s a fine man, a loving son and husband, dedicated to a life of service. He will, I’m sure, make a great father. Healing the disruption that my experience with Dad created in both me and him was a constant drum beat in me during Joseph’s childhood. And, yes, I made many mistakes raising him. Not possible to raise a kid and not make mistakes. The key though, at least I think it’s the key, is to sustain the relationship, to realize that love bonds us even through deep disagreement.

20170531_075049

When I had lunch with Joseph a couple of weeks ago during his unexpected visit to Colorado Springs, I knew we’d made it past the storms of mid-life. There was my boy, the one I carried home from the airport in a wicker basket, the one I held on my shoulders so often, the one I went to baseball games with, the one who calls me when life gets hard or scary, the one who asked me to perform his marriage to SeoAh, the woman he loves. He was there at the Black Bear Cafe. He was there with Pikes Peak craggy and snowy looking on. He was there and we were father and son and it was good.

 

Life in the Rockies

Beltane                                                                        Moon of the Summer Solstice

zoharpageHeavy rain yesterday afternoon, felt like being back in the humid East. Black Mountain is no longer white; it’s green with its lodgepole and aspen looking healthy. It’s gone from white haired old man to green man. Good to see. Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek and Blue Creek are all full. The snowpack is well above average. A much better scenario for this summer. Thankful.

I’m relieved at Kate’s news, again. She’s had a rough time since the second week of my surgery and I hope the ENT doc has her on a path to eating with no pain. This is seven months of up and down health. Tough for her.

Second kabbalah class tonight at Beth Evergreen. I’m beyond fascinated. This Jewish mystical tradition seems to synch up with the way my mind and spirit work. I haven’t been this excited since I began to move toward paganism many years ago. The three main threads in my spiritual life have been, for a long time now, existentialism, paganism and Taoism. Looks like I may be adding a fourth.

 

Follow up

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

Follow up from yesterday. Jon’s got an offer in on the house, a couple of others are in, too. This is the Denver metro’s hot, hot market. Hope he gets it.

Kate’s visit to the ENT was good. He recommended a medication change and the addition of a saline solution to her morning routine, didn’t seem worried about anything that was happening.

So these matters are still in flux, but moving in positive directions. Yeah! as granddaughter Ruth would say.

Mother’s Day

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Mother’s Mothers dayday. It’s hard to write about Mother’s day. My mother’s death in 1964, when I was 17, drained the day of meaning. I suppose it didn’t have to be that way. I might have taken the opportunity to celebrate her on this day, but somehow it’s never felt right.

Even though I know it’s a Hallmark holiday, a clever way to sell cards and flowers and candy, it has a sneaky power that comes from the Judaeo-Christian admonition to honor thy mother and thy father. This is a simple phrase, easy to remember and oft repeated, but often difficult to fulfill. This sentiment is not unique to the West, of course. Asian cultures often have an exalted view of parents, extending even past death to care and grooming of graves.

Mom was a 50’s mom. She never learned to drive. She stayed at home, raising Mary, Mark and me though at the time of her death she was updating her teacher’s license so she could work again full-time. It was her plan to use her income to pay for our college costs.

cards-mothers-day-ad-1952She was not, however, fond of the typical duties of a housewife. That’s not to say she neither cleaned, nor cooked, nor did laundry. She did all these things, but only as necessities.

Mom’s been dead 53 years and my memory of her has faded, but the presence of her has not. That is, I can still feel the love she had for me, the countless hours she spent bringing me back from literal paralysis during my long bout of polio. In fact, in what is surely an apocryphal memory, I can recall being in her arms at the Madison County Fair surrounded by bare light bulbs strung through the trees, a cotton candy machine whirring pink spun sugar, and suddenly feeling sick with what would become that disease. But I felt safe with her. The memory may be a later construct, but the feelings behind it are genuine.

Since my relationship with my father soured during the Vietnam War, in 1968 to be exact, I have felt parentless, sort of adrift in the world without close family support. That’s a long time. And, yes, much of that experience was reinforced and maintained by my own actions. Nonetheless it has never changed. My analyst once described my family as atomized rather than nuclear. It was apt.

So, mom, today I want to say thanks for your love and your caring. Thanks for all the energy and attention you put into all of us. Thanks for the gift of recovery. Thanks for the vision of me as a capable person. Thanks for all the meals, the clean laundry, the clean house, especially since I know these things were not what you really wanted to be doing. Thanks for giving me life. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I can celebrate mother’s day now. For you.

 

 

Life. And Danger.

Beltane                                                                  Rushing Waters Moon

When the temperatures were in the teens below zero and winds whipped the trees, driving along a barren stretch of road meant a breakdown could kill you. That sensation is a major component of Minnesota macho, enduring the worst the north pole can throw at you. At times it was invigorating, at other times we were just glad to have survived it. It did make opening the door at home and going into a warm house a real joy.

mtn lion richmond hill march 9 2017This morning I fed the dogs as I usually do, but I left them inside, no longer willing to risk a mountain lion attack. Mountain lions add frisson to life in the Front Range Rockies. It’s similar to driving in well below zero weather.

It’s also different. In the instance of weather the danger is without intention, the cold does not care whether you live or die. The mountain lion cares. To the mountain lion our dogs are food, perhaps a day’s ration of calories. So are we. Though mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, they do happen and as development presses further and further into their territory the chance of an encounter, fatal or not, increases.

There are bears here, too. Unlike the mountain lion the bear will not hunt us, but if we interfere with a bear, say a sow and her cubs, she will hold her ground and defend her babies. Though the bear is not a predator of humans, they are a danger because an encounter can end in severe injury, even death.

BearMountain lions and bears, oh my, are not the only fauna here that can hurt you. At lower elevations there are timber rattlers. There are also black widow and brown recluse spiders, all venomous enough to cause great harm. In these hills we find not the sound of music, but the shake of a snake’s tail. Julie Andrews might not skip so blithely here.

Wild nature is neither our friend nor our enemy, whether it’s Minnesota cold or Rocky Mountain predators, Singapore heat, or California surf. We live out our short moment as reflective, aware extensions of the universe, as natural and as deadly as the mountain lion, as dangerous when surprised as the bear, as willing to defend ourselves with deadly force as the timber rattler, the black widow and the brown recluse.

It is fragile, doomed to fail, this mystery we call life. Yet while we have it, be we bear or mountain lion, rattle snake or poisonous spider, we fight to keep it, do whatever we need to do to survive. This is the harsh reality at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy*, a necessary part of existence we share with all living things. It is better, it seems to me, to be aware of our shared struggle, to see ourselves as fellow creatures. Yes, we can reflect on our struggle, but that fact does not make us better than our living companions, it only makes us different from them.

 

*maslow

A Clashing of Spiritual Longings

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

St. LaurenceIrv Saltzman invited us to a performance by his singing group, the Renaissance Singers. It was held in a wooden Episcopal Church, St. Laurence’s, which is near our home. Directed by a Chinese national, Hannah Woo, who is finishing her Ph.D. in musicology, they were 8, four men and four women. As a group, they matched each other well. April, a soprano, had a lovely clear voice and a large range. Irv, formerly a tenor, has now transitioned into a bass/baritone role. Their performance was wonderful. At a meal afterwards we discovered April is our neighbor.

musicRenaissance choral music and instrumental renaissance music has always captivated me. It’s easy to see courtiers in colorful costumes listening to this music in a palace, brown robed and cowled monks hearing it in a morning prayer service, or small groups performing at home for their own amusement. It’s also the music most often heard at Renaissance festivals. Sorta makes sense, eh?

The sanctuary had a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams and two large, clear windows that looked out to the east, toward Shadow, Evergreen and Bear mountains. It rained while we were there and the mountains were in mist, the windows covered with raindrops slowly moving from top to bottom. There were individual chairs, padded with kneelers, arranged in a three sided configuration, making the sanctuary a sort of thrust proscenium stage, an ideal arrangement for a small group of singers.

A church artist had painted the stations of the cross and they were around the sanctuary, set off by bent sheet metal frames. A copper baptistry, large, sat over a cinerarium where the congregation deposits cremation remains and memorializes the dead with small plaques.

Edited+Holy+Week+2017-21Between the two windows hung a large crucifix, a cross made of bare, light wood and a bronze Jesus hung by two nails. I had an odd sensation while listening to this music I’ve often heard in monastic settings on retreat. It carried me back into the spiritual space of an ascetic Christianity that often comforted me. This time though I came into the space as a peri-Jew, identifying more with Marilyn and Irv and Kate, with the still new to me spiritual space of Beth Evergreen, than the theological world represented by this spare, but beautiful sanctuary.

The crucifix stimulated the strongest, strangest and most unexpected feeling. I saw, instead of the Jesus of Christianity, a hung Jew, a member of the tribe. More than that, I felt the vast apparatus and historical punch created by his followers, followers of  a man who shared much of the new faith world in which I now find myself. It was an odd feeling, as if this whole religion was an offshoot, a historical by-blow that somehow got way out of hand.

These feelings signaled to me how far I’d moved into the cultural world of reconstructionist Judaism. I see now with eyes and a heart shaped by the Torah and mussar and interaction with a rabbi and the congregants of Beth Evergreen.

pagan humanismThis was an afternoon filled with the metaphysical whiplash I’ve experienced often over the last year, a clashing of deep thought currents, spiritual longings. This process is a challenge to my more recent flat-earth humanism, a pagan faith grounded not in the next world, but in this one. Literally grounded.

What’s pushing me now is not a desire to change religious traditions, but to again look toward the unseen, the powerful forces just outside of the electromagnetic spectrum and incorporate them again into my ancientrail of faith. This makes me feel odd, as if I’m abandoning convictions hard won, but I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on. There is now an opening to press further into my paganism, to probe further into the mystery of life, of our place in the unfoldingness of the universe, to feel and know what lies beyond reason and the senses.

Ancor Impari I’m Still Learning

Beltane                                                                             Rushing Waters Moon

senior drivingTwo things. Turning left yesterday after visiting the Colorado Potters Guild spring show, I looked up and noticed I had executed a left turn in front of an oncoming SUV. We missed each other, though it could have been otherwise. Later, turning a corner onto 8th Avenue heading out of Denver, I banged the right rear of the Rav4 against a curb. It’s important to be honest about such a critical skill as driving and right now, I’m lacking something. Maybe it’s attention, maybe it’s an inability to drive and chew gum at the same time. I don’t know. But I need to do something about it.

Goya_'I_am_Still_Learning'

Goya ‘I am Still Learning’

Second thing. When I was a little boy, my dad had two nicknames for me: tech and crit. Neither were positive. The first, tech, was short for technical. He said I was very precise, very techincal in an argument. I would pick at things that others wouldn’t notice or didn’t care about. True. Still do it. It is, for better and worse, the way my mind works.

The second, crit, summarized my tendency, linked to tech, to be more critical than most. True. If I see something, I say something. An irritating habit, I know, for those around me, but, again, it’s the way my mind sees the world. Over time I’ve become aware of the way these tendencies affect others, but being able to modulate them is very difficult for me.

Why? Well, later in life I found the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory and discovered my INTP personality type. It fits. Here is a recognized weakness of this personality type:

  • Insensitive – Oftentimes INTP personalities get so caught up in their logic that they forget any kind of emotional consideration – they dismiss subjectivity as irrational and tradition as an attempt to bar much-needed progress. Purely emotional situations are often utterly puzzling to INTPs, and their lack of timely sympathy can easily offend.

intp-personality-typeOh? Well. Tech and crit-me-manifested very, very early. Dad focused on an interactive aspect of my personality that is designed to irritate others. It’s not the only aspect, hardly, but having it emphasized was difficult for me. Actually, it still is.

(INTP at learning mind)

But here’s another way to look at it, this time as a strength:

  • Honest and Straightforward – To know one thing and say another would be terribly disingenuous – INTPs don’t often go around intentionally hurting feelings, but they believe that the truth is the most important factor, and they expect that to be appreciated and reciprocated.

This is a strength that has an obvious downside, or weakness. I want to modulate the hurtful aspect of this character trait through the middah of chesed, or loving kindness. This does not mean I will change the way my mind works. Don’t think I can after a good deal of experience. It does mean that I can introduce a pause between my observation, which will still exist, and its articulation. In that way I can assess whether the truth in a particular situation is helpful or hurtful.

My focus phrase for this will be: see the good, too. Always.

April

Beltane                                                                         Rushing Waters Moon

quote-april-is-the-cruelest-month-breeding-lilacs-out-of-the-dead-land-mixing-memory-and-desire-t-s-eliot-35-3-0387

April was fraught. Physicals and other medical matters created, if not anxiety, then very close attention. Kate’s shortness of breath and fatigue triggered imaging, a chest x-ray and an echocardiogram. There’s a physician’s nostrum that goes: if you look, you’ll find something. And so it was. Some scarring on her lungs, a short list of heart issues that “do not require surgery at this time.” For us anyhow, knowing is better than not knowing and the increased clarity eased concerns about her overall health. At least right now.

20170423_091304 (2)Ruth and Gabe turned 11 and 9. With the divorce birthdays have become contentious. Jen planned a birthday party for Ruth that didn’t include Jon. Ouch. Still in its first months after final orders the divorce means Jon and Jen have to establish new norms about how to deal with such things. Not easy when the breakup itself created more conflict.

Jon also needs to buy a home, get back into the city so his commute won’t be so long. Once he has a new place the custody arrangement will become more equal and parenting should be easier for him. The spring housing market is the right time, lots of houses on the market, though the still heated Denver housing market, one of the hottest in the country, affects affordability.

He’s been here almost a year and our garage plus outside it has overflow from his storage unit, enough to make our capacious garage (space for four cars) feel cramped. We’re ready to get back to our quieter, septuagenarian lifestyle, too.

April included several events at Beth Evergreen. A passover cooking class, a community seder, and the three day presence of Rabbi David Jaffe. Kate and I took the cooking class and helped set it up. We also did several different things for the Rabbi Jaffe events.

We spent a night and a day at a hotel in Lone Tree learning about hemophilia.

April, Eliot said, is the cruelest month. Maybe not exactly cruel this year, but stressful? Yep.

Little Forces, Big Results

Spring                                                                           Rushing Waters Moon

Upper Maxwell Falls, 2015

Upper Maxwell Falls, 2015

The mountain streams we see regularly: Shadow Brook, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek, Cub Creek have begun, a bit early, I think, their post-ice plummet toward sea level. In May these streams are often boiling, filled with snow melt and pushing the limits of their banks. On any given day driving past them as they speed downhill, down the mountain, they look interesting, worth watching for the tumult; but, in fact, these racing streams are much more than merely interesting.

They are the levelers of mother earth. They take the mighty and strip them down to size, pebble by pebble, rock by rock, chunks of soil by chunks of soil. A defining characteristic of a mountain is its imposing size, its thereness. Mountains dominate their landscape, putting up barriers to human passage that often forced the pioneers of nineteenth century America to go around them rather than over them. They seem, in the moment, eternal.

When living in or visiting a relatively young mountain range like the Rockies, no reasonable person would ever expect them to look any different than they do right now. Colorado is proud of its fourteeners, those summits exceeding 14,000 feet. Mt. Evans, for example has a summit of 14,265 feet. That’s precise. And, would you add it to a website or book or road sign if you expected it to change? No.

Near Bailey, 2015

Near Bailey, 2015

But it will. One only has to drive east toward the Atlantic to see what’s in store for even Mt. Evans. Look at the Appalachians. Their mountain building episode (orogeny) happened around 480 million years ago. When it was done, the Appalachians stood as tall as the contemporary Rockies. The Rocky Mountain orogeny was a quite recent, geologically speaking, 80 million years ago. They too will wear down.

In the spring we see this process at its most obvious as mountain streams from every summit in every range of the Rocky Mountains, including here in the Front Range, obey gravity and try to find the lowest points available to them. Of course, the streams are not the only process at work. Drive on Highway 285 out of Conifer, as we do often going down or returning from Denver, and you will see large steel mesh hanging over some cliffs. In other places there are bolts driven into the side of rock faces, giving them a slightly Frankensteinian look. In other spots massive retaining walls of concrete encase an especially troublesome chunk of mountain.

These CDOT efforts are not always successful, witness the many Watch for Falling Rocks signs sprinkled throughout Colorado. Freezing and thawing splits the rock faces and they come tumbling down, creating talus or road obstructions. Just this last year, near Glenwood Springs, a large boulder broke loose from its millions of years long position and crashed down on an SUV on I-70, killing the driver. Winds, too, often reaching high double digit speeds, also wear away the rock.

These forces are slow, miniscule in appearance, but massive in their results over long periods of time. When driving by a mountain stream in full force, remember the Appalachians. They’re coming, but not soon, to a Rocky Mountain range near me.

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« May    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Breadcrumbs

Trails