We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

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.

The Mortal Yet

Spring                                                                Passover Moon

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

Snow yesterday and last night. Not a lot, maybe 2 inches. At most. But, all moisture is welcome. More rain and snow in the forecast for next week, too. Go, sky.

This week saw lab results and imaging results coming in over the threshold. Like getting final grades at the end of term though these matter, especially at this age, much more. All good for both of us, mostly. My kidney disease has actually improved some. No real trouble. Of course, there’s always the mortal yet that needs to be added here. But for now, still above ground and likely to stay that way for a while.

The weekend is grandkids. Ruth and her Destination Imagination team, the Jaw Dropping Crunchy Brains, compete in the statewide event tomorrow. We’ll be in attendance.

SamsMenuCOVER-621x1024Tomorrow, Earth Day, April 22nd, is Gabe’s 9th birthday. He wants to eat at Sam’s #3 and so we will. A good day to celebrate the grandkids.

Today I’m off to the Lego store to get a gift certificate for Gabe, then I’ll head all the way south on Hwy. 470 to Ikea. I’m picking up a chair frame and two stools. The chair frame is for a reading chair like mine. With it Ruth and I can read together in the loft.

Finally, I’ll swing by Dairy Queen for an ice cream cake for Gabe’s birthday celebration up here on Shadow Mountain. That should be enough for today.

Of course, all this driving will be in full view of the Front Range, making it seem like I’m really out here on vacation. Which is what it still feels like most of the time.

 

 

Hunger

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

artistsYesterday in mussar Jamie gave us a writing prompt: write about a want that occupies a lot of inner time and attention, then to try to find the root of that want. This was a lead in to talking about avarice.

I wrote about wanting to finish Superior Wolf, about getting back to translating Latin and wonder why, at 70, I still wanted to do these things. It’s not as if we need the money or I need the recognition.

This desire, this want, is about a desire to remain an agent in the world, puissant, to not disappear. So, in a sense, it’s about death, about not dying early, I think.

Later in the discussion a woman who travels to India once a year to stay in a Buddhist nunnery said that an early Buddhist teacher of hers had talked with her about the hungry ghost within each of us. The example he gave her was about a person who walks into a bookstore to buy one book and then walks out with five. Hmmm. I recognize that person, c’est moi.

EliotI’ve looked up the idea of the hungry ghost and I don’t think it really applies to me, but the caution evident in the bookstore example certainly does. Buying books represents a deep seated want, too. But what is it?

Knowledge can also be a hedge against death. If I only understand, then I can prevent, stave off, head off, my canoe’s eventual transition into the Gulf of All Souls. Which of course, I can’t do. As I wrote in the exercise above, nothing counters death, not puissance, not agency, not even, ironically, health. Nor, knowledge.

HesseSo, the books represent my own struggle with the nature of mortality, my way of structuring my inner world. And, yes, it can be a problem if I refuse to recognize it for what it is. But, and here’s the liberating possibility for me in both books and writing, if I acknowledge what they are for me, if I embrace the underlying motivation, yet not its anticipated result, then I can continue writing and reading, using them not as shields against disappearing, but as ways of being in the world, not as ways of protecting myself.

Let me try to say this a bit more clearly. Wanting to be an agent in the world is, in itself, a good thing, so long as the reason for doing it is a desire to be of service, to offer something from my uniqueness. If that desire becomes corrupted, becomes a way to hide, then no matter the books on the shelves, no matter the understanding that comes from reading, no matter the stories and books in manuscript form, it is all for nothing. In fact, it’s worse than being for nothing, for hiding from our known fate leaves us in a constant state of hunger for that which we will never reach and, even worse, for that which will not secure its goal even if I sold all all my books and stories and learned all the information my books I have to offer.

Conclusion. I will continue to read and write because it is what I do, because it is an important part of what makes my presence in the world unique and valuable for others. But neither writing nor reading will save me. Only acceptance will do that.

 

Two Masks

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Due to the mechanics of posting the post below precedes this one conceptually. Just sayin.

1012718_3234944448291_1047543642_n

first row, second from the right

I’ve discovered two more masks: the unhappy 10 year old bucket schlepper and the 17 year old grieving his dead mother and trying to manage his fear of the future.

Here’s how I discovered the first mask. As I’m trying to go to sleep, my mind serves up memories and feelings designed (I think.) to prevent sleep’s arrival, a habit of some years. No notion as to why. Anyhow the other night a stream of memories crossed my going to sleep threshold and tightened my gut, gave me a small ping in the lower left abdomen and tensed up my legs. I’m familiar, very familiar, with this particular sequence of muscle contractions, but this time I decided to suss out the mask I wear when they appear.

It didn’t take me long to find it. This was the 17 year old boy who lost his mother suddenly over a period of 7 days. A stroke. After her death, with no real help in grasping what it meant and how it could be coped with in a healthy way, he began to scan the future, to look for other catastrophes. Perhaps if he was very, very careful he could spot them in advance and prevent them. After developing fully, this defensive strategy would become a generalized anxiety disorder. Not hard to see why.

second row, second from the right. 17

second row, second from the right. 17 note the hair

Now I know that the onset of anxiety symptoms, even the jaw muscles that grip harder than they need to on occasion, carry that 17 year old’s deep uncertainties and fears right into the present. If I looked in a mirror, I’d probably see a kid with deep brown eyes, a full head of hair and a queasy look on his face. Perhaps now I can take off this mask, give the 17 year old back to his own time and put on the mask of the experienced adult who knows this, whatever it is, will not last, the experienced adult who knows death is not the enemy, but our friend, a part of every life.

What’s behind mask number two? Yesterday afternoon I sat down in my leather chair and realized I was tired, real tired. Exhausted. Yet the exhaustion seemed far out of proportion to the demands of the day. Was I wearing a mask that might explain the exhaustion? I felt my way inside and there it was.

Grandpa mask

Grandpa mask

Mask number two is the face of a twelve year old boy carrying buckets of water up from a basement, tossing them out the backdoor, and going back down for another one. When we moved to Canal Street in Alexandria, a bigger house, one we owned, Dad didn’t know that the basement flooded. Indiana is in the humid east, not the arid west. Big storms and heavy rains were common. When they came, our basement would fill up with water and I had to help Dad bail it out. This was often late at night. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but no. I had to carry buckets.

Dad was not happy about it either and took it out on me, grousing about my unwillingness, my reluctance. I know this sounds like whining, but I’ve long ago moved past this in almost all aspects of my life though it did occur to me later that Dad could have invested in a sump pump.

Copper piping here had sprung another leak. My exhaustion was not from finding a plumber, or from diagnosing the leak, not even from the hassle all this entails up here in the mountains. No, the exhaustion was my body revisiting those nights of carrying water up from the basement and throwing it out the backdoor while I was sleepy.

This was a leak. It involved water and our basement. The result? A twelve year old’s frustration and powerlessness returned for a visit. Once I realized this, named it, saw the mask for what it was, my exhaustion lifted.

Shifts and Changes

Spring                                                                      New (Passover) Moon

2010 01 19_3454Writing can lay bare something hidden, perhaps something that needed excavation or something attached to a thread, even a flimsy thread, by which it can be pulled from the inner world. Things get lost in there, pushed behind stacks of unused memories or stored with a faulty label. Sometimes ideas once full and vibrant get partially severed from their context, crucial links of thought go missing and the idea fades away.

“I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions.” March 21, 2017 This sentence is an example, a recent example. It stares back at me, rather baldly. Oh. Well, that’s right, isn’t it?

I love to read, follow an idea through its growth and changes, learn about something in depth, wonder about it, tease out of it new implications or old truths.

I love to write. I don’t know why. Might be an inheritance from my newspaperman father. Might just be long established habit. Whatever the reason writing is my painting, my sculpture, my photography. I have to do it to feel whole.

2010 01 19_3455Which, speaking of ideas, then links to the idea of the third phase. That quote comes from recent thoughts on the third phase. A primary wondering for me, I think for all third phasers, is this: what am I about in this last phase of my life?

The Trump catastrophe, a miserable wound of our country’s own making, pulled on the 60’s radical thread always near the surface for me. I’ve been trying to put that mask back on, to become the political activist I once was. I felt obligated. You know, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it hasn’t been happening. I just haven’t connected with other activists. I haven’t been doing much more than writing about it. (a clue here, by the way) Grousing and complaining, yes, sure. But not acting.

Writing and study. Third phase. Beth Evergreen. With Kate I’ve found a community that cherishes study, scholarship, a community that finds writing an understandable vocation. Right now I’m thinking, wondering. Should I lean into my primary passions? Stay with them. Dig deeper. That feels right.

Here’s a confession, too. I’ve never liked politics. The person I become, the masks I put on then, feel far away from my core Self. Why then have I spent so much of my life in one political arena after another?

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardPart duty. For whatever reason I came out of Alexandria with fully formed political ideas about justice, equality, fairness. They were strong, rooted in the powerful union movement among my friend’s parents who worked for General Motors, reinforced by the liberal politics of my Roosevelt Democrat parents and then pushed toward action in the turmoil of the 60’s.

Part ego. It feels good to lead, to have people hang on my ideas, to see change occur when something I’ve helped shape makes things happen. But this is part of what feels far away from my core, introverted Self. That ego drive also presses forward an angry, demanding, often insensitive persona. A persona I dislike.

Part religious conviction. The almost random way in which I ended up in seminary, then the ministry came from following political conviction away from graduate academics and toward an institution willing to pay me to organize, to act politically. There was a merger of political passion and the prophetic line of a certain strain of liberal Christianity, even radical Christianity.

No conclusions here. Not yet. Just more of the shifts and changes, movements in my soul. Something will come out of all this. Not sure what. Not right now.

 

 

In the Shadow of Finitude

Spring                                                              Anniversary Moon

700 pixels- punta arenasNo certainty yet on Kate’s malaise though the likelihood of something terminal has receded. Dr. Gidday is good at reassurance, no false cheer, just a reasoned confidence. I remember in the midst of my prostate cancer workup she looked at me and said, “We’re going to get you through this.” I believed her. She’s moving methodically through the possibilities for Kate’s shortness of breath and her fatigue, ruling out the most pernicious first. We’ll know more over the next month or so. I’m relieved right now and want to stay that way.

It was one of those medical days yesterday. After seeing Gidday, we went to Swedish hospital and played find the right lab so Kate could have her blood drawn. We found the lab and it was closed for lunch. We took the hint and went for lunch ourselves at the Beirut Grill. Shawarma, tabouleh, mint tea. Then, back to Swedish.

Kate and me1000cropped“You know, if we weren’t in our 70s, I’d say this move to Colorado was jinxed. But when you take 70 year old+ bodies and move them somewhere else. Well. Wherever you go, there you are.” Kate nodded. We’re in that time when the body comments on its journey in unpleasant ways. The way things are.

This does put us in closer touch with our mortality, but I find this invigorating, clarifying. Life has an end. We know it and it is precisely the thing makes each day so precious, so full-if we can remain mindful. I’m grateful for these reminders of our finitude and for our lives lived in their shadow. Weird, I know. But it’s so.

 

 

Here’s to 27 more

Imbolc                                                                             Anniversary Moon

Well. 27 years ago today Kate and I walked up the steps at the Landmark Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, went into an old Federal Judge’s chambers, stood before Harry Lichy and said our vows, stomped on a glass and started something that has changed both of us for the better.

20170129_112922

We spent the night at the Nicollet Island Inn on the Mississippi River, then took a taxi to the airport where we boarded a Pan-Am flight (yes, it was that long ago.) for Rome. Our honeymoon, three weeks of following spring north in Europe, went from Rome to Inverness, Scotland before we turned around and took the night train from Edinburgh back to London.

Though an overused term, I’ll say that for our lives this was an epic journey. We spent time with each other in many different circumstances. There was that 10 hour train ride from Venice to Vienna through the Dolomites where, to our dismay, we discovered they sold no food. Our trip to Pompeii found Kate carrying water in a backpack. The result? Bad back pain. There was the laundromat owner in Paris, on the left bank, who gave us a beautiful poster which now hangs in our home. The Reject China Shop where we bought our Portmerion china. A wonderful walk along the River Ness on a foggy night in Inverness. And so much more.

Bee-guy

We’ve had quite a life together so far. 17 dogs. Bees. A big vegetable garden, a big flower garden, an orchard. A firepit. Raising Jon and Joseph. Marriages and a divorce. Grandkids. Another epic journey from our 40 year home in Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Both encouraged, by each other, to create. Kate’s quilts and other handwork. My novels.

Mostly though, a quiet love that has persisted. Just like Elizabeth Warren. Persistence and resilience are too often overlooked as key ingredients of a successful life. We’ve had them both. And will into our future.

Swinging

Imbolc                                                                 Anniversary Moon

I confess the pendulum powering my inner life has begun to move in eccentric ways since the emergence of the Trump. It swings in its plane, as it always has, tick tocking its energy into the engine of my inner world. Yet the rotating sphere of my inner life, which processes around the poles of birth and death, as the earth rotates around its north and south poles, normally keeping me from stasis in a place where time and space have no purchase, seems to have altered.

This is, for me, a dramatic change and one I have not yet learned to accommodate.  The whole circle which the pendulum scribes moves through these points: love, family, nature, writing, reading, travel, dogs, house, mountains, politics, art, science, friends, sleep, body, mind. In its completeness, as its plane touches the ancientrails of my soul/self, I experience those aspects of my inner me that are my unique identity.

Wrinkleberry Lane, North Devon, England

Wrinkleberry Lane, North Devon, England

But now, there is some magnetic pull when the plane of the pendulum finds underneath it the ancientrail of politics. The silver ball wobbles slightly, pulled out of its determined arc across the rotation beneath it. It has, so far, always righted itself, the dynamics of its swing returning it to its usual course, but it feels as if the ancientrail of politics has been altered in some dramatic way, as if its path no longer relates to the world in the ways to which I’m accustomed.

In that place, the place of the political, something new has emerged. It is part fear, a new feeling for me relative to the political; it is part anguish, not new, but intensified; it is part disorientation, definitely new; it is part earthquake, the terra firma of the political moving under my feet, all new feeling. The combination of these changes is trying to alter me, to change the rotation which is, really, my life.

 bdesham's mother

bdesham’s mother

In this extended metaphor my life is the rotation of my Self as it processes around the poles. It does not, in other words, move forward or backward, but in a repeating circle which might from the outside look like a spiral moving from Duncan, Oklahoma, where I was born, to that unknown point where, as far as I know, the sphere implodes and the pendulum stills.

How this will affect me, I don’t know.

 

 

Love Is Still Its Heart

Winter                                                                   New (Valentine) Moon

I turn 70 next month. Not a particularly notable achievement since the silver tsunami includes millions doing the same thing this year, but, hey; it’s my only chance to hit three score and ten. Kate’s been there ahead of me and knows the territory, so have many friends. Thus, the Valentine moon.

kileaua

The old man on Shadow Mountain, that’ll be me after Valentine’s Day. One piece of gathered wisdom from the time so far: life is still precious, love is still its heart.

 

 

 

 

The Year of the Absent December

Winter                                                         Cold Moon

lionTwo good friends, Allison and Tom, have recommended I see Lion, on my list for this week, especially now that I’m mobile, both on foot and behind the wheel. Yes, the knee is becoming much less painful though strength and stamina will take a while to regain. Not sure whether it’s the drug cocktails I’ve been taking or what, but sleep has become a precious commodity again, not easily found in batches long enough to feel rested. Ick.

2016 will be year of the absent December for me. My 20161203_083526surgery was December 1st and much of the first two weeks + I spent in a narcotic haze. Or so Kate tells me. The remainder of the month has been physical therapy and figuring out how to manipulate the meds so they help me rather than hurt me. Not an easy task.

The good part was having the grandkids here for most of Hanukkah. When Kate and I returned them to Jen yesterday, Ruth came back to the car to say goodbye to me. We touched hands and she smiled, a furtive lightning of her face. I said, “Remember what I told you about your audition.” (that I have faith in you) She said she remembered. This is her audition for the Denver School of the Arts. She presents her portfolio and sits for an interview.

Kate after election day

Kate after election day

Next big medical event is Kate’s endoscopy tomorrow. This is a follow-up on an occult blood finding, so it could have serious implications, though I’m not expecting them. I have physical therapy at 7:15 a.m., then we head down the hill on 285 to Swedish Hospital for a 9 a.m. procedure.

A sequelae of the absent December is waking up from it to a New Year. What will I do in 2017? Will it be continuous with the first two years here? Or, will I rethink it all, maybe reshuffle the deck one more time? I’m leaning toward the latter. There will be Superior Wolf, yes. There will be workouts, yes. There will Beth Evergreen. There will, I decided yesterday, be Latin. I’m picking that project up again beginning this week. But, beyond those and how those fit with other potentials? I don’t know. I do know that taking a big insult to my physicality, even for a good cause, has got me in a contemplative mood, wondering, once again, about how life fits together.

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