We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

A True North

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burntside Lake, Ely

Burntside Lake, Ely

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

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

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



A Horticulturist

Imbolc                                                                           New Life Moon

As my melancholy continues to lift, new and old values push themselves forward, wanting to be included or excluded. I didn’t, for example, attend the Democratic caucus last night. Though I did want to be home for Kate, who uncharacteristically has anxiety about her upcoming surgery, Sjogren’s adds an unknown, I also didn’t want to go. Kate pushed back on this, saying the activist has been an important part of me, well, almost forever. True. And maybe, probably, I’ll alter course on this one, but right now I want to focus on other things.

third-plate-dan-barberIn addition to cooking, the sumi-e (ink brush painting), and working out, I mentioned the possibility of a greenhouse. Expensive, so we’ll see about that. But. I began reading a book I’ve had for a while, The Third Plate. It puts me back in the mental and very physical world of Andover. In fact, the feeling, while I was reading it, was so comfortable, a sort of ah, here I am at home feeling, that I recognized it as an old value pushing itself forward.

It’s more than just getting my hands in the soil, nurturing seeds. It’s about being part of the farm-to-table movement, about acting on eating better food, about staying connected, directly, with mother earth. While reading this, I realized horticulture was a deep part of me, one Kate and I spent a lot of time, energy and money on, not because we had to, but because it was significant and nourishing.

carey_reamsBuddy Bill Schmidt will recognize the quote that begins the chapter on Soil: “See what you’re looking at.” Carey Reams, an unlikely looking radical, used to say this. He was the founder of the outfit from which I purchase soil additives, the High Brix Gardening folks in Farmington, Minnesota. He contended, as do many now in the farm-to-table world, that agriculture went astray long ago, moving toward products that fit mechanized food production rather than human nutrition.

There are too many examples that prove this, unfortunately. One is that the bulk of corn grown in the U.S. either goes for corn syrup or feeding cattle. Another is the development of tomatoes with skins hard enough to stand a mechanical picker.

wheatThe vast wheat fields of the Great Plains grow an annual wheat, two varieties that work well in steel rolling mills. Not only have these annual crops destroyed the ten feet or more of top soil that buffalo and deeply rooted grasses developed there, but the steel mills which make this crop profitable separate the germ and bran from the kernel, leaving only fluffy white flour. What’s bad about that? Well, turns out the nutrition in wheat lies in the germ and the bran.

IMAG0619I guess this is the native Midwesterner in me. I grew up driving past corn fields, pastures filled with Holsteins and Guernseys, pigs and beef cattle. The Andover gardens, the orchard and the bees, along with our small woods satisfied this part of my soul. I’m going to investigate local CSA’s, see if that’s a route back into this world. We have to buy groceries anyway, so why not from folks who share a philosophical position close to my own.

This is different, you see, than being attentive to the lodgepole pines and the aspen, the mule deer and the elk, the fox and the mountain lion. These are part of wild nature and beautiful, also important to my soul. But the world of horticulture, of growing and consuming food and flowers, fruits and honey is, too. A reemerging part of me. And I’m happy to see it, to feel it come.


Before the Storm

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

Wow. Barely into October and I pushed about 5 inches of fluffy, but still wet snow off the back deck just now. The snow began before midnight last night. Thanks to winds blowing from the east, an upslope storm, we’ll get the bulk of its moisture. We’ll probably be on the upper end of the 7-10 inch forecast. This is a relatively rare event where the eastern Front Range gets more snow than the ski areas further west. Still snowing. Will continue, according to the forecast, through late afternoon today.

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kates sister

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kate’s sister

The weekend had that urgency before the storm feel to it, the first big storm of the season. On Saturday the fines got mowed and I worked on uncrating our Jeremiah Miller paintings. He’s my brother-in-law and an excellent artist. If you remember our Andover house, these are the two very large paintings that hung in the living room and our bedroom. A1 Movers crated them in December of 2014 and they’ve been in their specialized shipping containers since then.

The crates, very sturdy, are taller than I am and heavy. They were clumsy to move. I could maneuver the smaller one onto a small table made of saw horses and a slab of plywood, but the bigger one was too heavy. Jon helped me with that yesterday. Until I opened them, we had no idea how the paintings had fared. The smaller one is in good shape. I plan to open the bigger one today. The dry air here helps, at least in the short run. Over time it might advance the drying out of the paint and cause craquelure, something I’ll have to look into.

The energy surge I get when the air cools down kicked in a couple of weeks ago. It’s reinforced by 20 years of early fall gardening work in Andover. This was the time when the garlic got planted, the last of the leeks, onions, kale, collard greens, beans, beets, lettuce harvested and flower bulbs dug in. The raspberries were ripening constantly and the apples, too. It was also the time of wood cutting and splitting for our fire pit.

I got out the chainsaw and decided to cut stumps left standing from the fire mitigation work a couple of years ago. An Iraq vet, Julie, who heats with wood, stopped by on Friday and asked if she could have the bucked wood. Kate said yes and Julie carted off all of it, front and back. We still have a few dead trees that need to come down so we’ll have firewood. That left just the stumps and they stood out even more.

 a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

The Jonsered I’ve had for twenty plus years, the one I used to cut down the large stand of black locust to clear the way for our gardens and to keep the woods cleared of snags, is past its usefulness. I should have had it rebuilt several years ago apparently. Chainsaw Bob said it’s not fixable. It’s hard to start and dies suddenly. Frustrating. Got four or five stumps cut close to the ground, difficult to do since it involves bending over and holding the saw level with the soil, as close as possible to the surface. Then I noticed I’d been too close to the soil and the saw blade had gone into it. Instant dullness. Gonna go see Chainsaw Bob and see if he has a rebuilt Jonsered I can buy. I’ve got many stumps to cut and those few dead trees.

Also hung the Arcosanti bell Kate got in Arizona years ago. It tolls when the wind blows and we decided long ago that its peeling memorializes our dead dogs. Noticed that the small diamond shaped windcatcher that makes it toll had fallen off, but couldn’t find it. We’ll have to create something in place of it.

typhonIt was a week of this sort of activity, getting ready for the storm, catching up on errands. My exercise, Jennie’s Dead work suffered, but my choice. This week I’m back at all of that, going to On the Move Fitness on Thursday for a new workout.

Jennie’s Dead is going well. Not sure what I’m doing with it, at least not completely. I’m retelling versions of certain myths and those retellings have become extended. I find them great fun to write, but I’m wondering now if they’re overwhelming the main story line. The Typhon/Zeus fight for control of Olympus has a lot of nuance.

Ancora Imparo. I’m still learning.


Fall                                                                              Harvest Moon

A friend is moving and he had me going back to the entries in Ancientrails made during the seven month process of our first deciding to move, then executing the move. Here are two that struck me:

From October, 2014

Going to lay down the broadcast in the vegetable garden and the orchard this morning, then mulch. Kate and Anne planted next year’s garlic crop while I was in Colorado. With no additional effort then, the new owners will have apples, pears, plums, cherries, currants, raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus and garlic from their orchard and vegetable garden. In addition they will have daffodils, liguria, monkshood, many varieties of Asiatic lilies, iris and hemerocallis. Clematis, daffodils, tulips and fall crocus will IMAG0683bloom, too. Wisteria, lilac, bushy clematis and snakeroot put fragrance, delicate and sweet, in the air. They will have three different sheds in which to organize their outdoor life and a firepit for family evenings. There are, too, the separated plantings of prairie grass and wildflowers that bracket the front lawn, providing habitat for butterflies and other wildlife.

In addition the property has about 1.5 acres of woods, including a morel patch that shows up in the late spring. With the inground irrigation system this is a place for a person with an interest in living closer to the earth and harvesting the literal fruits of such a lifestyle.


From June or so, 2014

Today and until I’m done I will be packing the study in which I work every day. That means the sorting will get harder, green tape boxes outnumbering red tape ones. Probably by a lot. It also means the confrontation between time remaining (in my life) and the projects (intellectual and creative) that keep me excited will come center stage. I’ll try to sort out the ones I feel I can fruitfully engage over the next 20 years from the ones I can’t.

That means I’m considering active intellectual and creative work at least into my late 80’s. That feels like a stretch, maybe, but one I believe my health and potential longevity justifies.

Let me give you an idea of what I have in mind. Complete the translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Write at least four more novels. Write essays or a book on Reimagining My Faith. Write and read much more poetry. Write essays or a book on matters related to the Enlightenment, liberal thought, modernism. Write essays or a book on matters related to the Great Work. Include in this work considered attention to Asian literature, art and thought, especially Chinese and Indian. Continue regular art historical research and write essays about aesthetics and particular art/artists.

Why? Because I can. I’ve no evidence so far that my thinking is strikingly original or unusually deep, but my intellectual maturation has taken a longer time than I imagined it would. So the best may yet be ahead. Or so it feels to me. Under any circumstances such work will keep me alert and focused.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Write It Out

Beltane                                                                             Running Creek Moon

freshman year

Freshman Year, Alexandria H.S.

Ever since the great iconoclasm, my voice has been muted. Not sure why.  Topics don’t seem to occur to me. I’ve never had a theme, a particular ax, though felling and limbing the occasional political issue shows up once in awhile. Philosophical, quasi-theological pondering. That, too. Lots of did this, did that. The online continuation of a journal keeping way I’ve had for decades. Art. Yes, but not as much as I want.

Maybe there was a more intimate link between the images and the vitality of this blog than I realized. Apres le mitigation the whole copyright issue, the fate of images in an age of digital reproduction, will occupy some of my time.

Work on both Superior Wolf and Jennie’s Dead have been ongoing, though not yet much writing. Reimagining Faith occupies a lot of my free thinking time, wondering about mountains, about urbanization, about clouds that curve and mound above Mt. Evan’s, our weather maker. No Latin yet. Not until I can have regular time up here in the loft. Not yet.

Could be that underneath all this lies a reshuffling of priorities or a confirmation of old ones. It’s not yet a year since my prostate surgery and a friend of mine said it took her a year to feel right again. This year has felt in some ways like my first year here, a year when I can take in the mountain spring, the running creeks, the willows and their blaze of yellow green that lights up the creek beds, the mule deer and elk following the greening of the mountain meadows.

My 40 year fondness for Minnesota has also begun to reemerge, not in a nostalgic, wish I was still there way, but as a place I know well, a place to which I did become native, a place which shaped me with its lakes, the Mississippi, Lake Superior, wolves and moose and ravens and loons. Where Kate and I became as close as we could with the land we held temporarily as our own. Friends. Art. Theatre. Music. Family. Perhaps a bit like the old country, an emigre’s memories which help shape life in the new land. An anchor, a source of known stability amidst a whirl of difference. The West. Mountains. Family life.

So. There was something in there anyhow. Now, back to fire mitigation.

Becoming Native

Beltane                                                                               Running Creeks Moon

“…I am at home in the West. The hills of the coastal ranges look “right” to me, the particular flat expanse of the Central Valley comforts my eye. The place names have the ring of real places to me. I can pronounce the names of the rivers, and recognize the common trees and snakes. I am easy here in a way that I am not easy in other places.”  Joan Didion, California Notes, NYRB, 5/26/2016

Front, May 6th

Front, May 6th

Becoming native to a place implies the opposite of what Joan Didion recalls in this fine article taken from notes she made in 1976 while attending the Patty Hearst trial for Rolling Stone. The becoming process implies not being easy where you are, not knowing the place names as real, not knowing the common trees and snakes.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is not a real place to me. Neither is Four Corners nor Durango nor the summit of Mt. Evans, only 14 miles away. The owls that hoot at night, the small mammals that live here on Shadow Mountain. No. The oak savannah and the Great Anoka Sand Plain. Familiar. Easy. The Big Woods. Yes. Lake Superior. Yes. The sycamores of the Wabash. Yes. Fields defined by mile square gravel roads. Pork tenderloin sandwiches. Long, flat stretches of land. Lots of small towns and the memories of speed traps. Yes.

A local photographed yesterday near here

A local photographed yesterday near here. from pinecam.com by serendipity888

With the fire mitigation this property here on Shadow Mountain is becoming known. It has three, maybe four very fine lodgepole pines, tall and thick. A slight downward slope toward the north. Snow, lots of snow.*  Rocky ground, ground cover and scrubby grass.

Denver. Slowly coming into focus. The front range, at least its portion pierced by Highway 285, too. The west is still blurry, its aridity, mountains, deep scars in the earth, sparse population. The midwest clear, will always be clear.

Becoming native to a place is the ur spiritual work of a reimagined faith. First, we must be here. Where we are.

*”Snowfall for the season on Conifer Mountain now stands at 224 inches (132% of average).” weathergeek, pinecam.com

Closing Moon

Beltane                                                                      Closing Moon

The closing moon has presided over the sale of 3122 153rd Ave. Northwest, Andover, Minnesota, 55304. We only needed one buyer and, in fact, had only one offer. But, it was a good one, from a couple that will continue our work with the land and with bees. That they want the raised beds, the orchards, the hydroponics, the bee woodenware and will use them all feels like a legacy. And a profound one.

Feels so good to have this behind us. A settled feeling, residing somewhere below the heart, has begun to permeate me. There is no longer that agitated sense that we do not quite belong on Shadow Mountain, that a tie from yesterday makes us not fully present in our new home.

Over the weekend I entertained, briefly, what would happen if the deal with the Vorhee’s fell through. The house would have to go back on the market. We’d continue with two mortgages and utilities. The uncertainty would continue, perhaps through the summer. And, we would have to drop the price again. That felt dismal, like sinking in the great swamp of that name.

Now I can concentrate on dealing with prostate cancer with a single focus, not one divided by financial concerns. I’m confident that the prostate cancer journey will have a good outcome, too, but the path forward still has some unknowns, mostly what sort of treatment we’ll choose. That unknown should disappear on June 11th, after then only the execution and recovery.



Chunks of our life

Beltane                                                     Closing Moon

Word on Real Estate Street is that our closing may, if the gods of the under(writer)world are appeased, happen today at 2 pm. May it be so.

Holter monitor gets strapped on at 11:45 this morning and then it’s out to DIA (Denver International) to pick up Mary. She’s flying here from Minneapolis where she goes to see her financial advisor. Mary gets around. She’s been in Greece, Indonesia and I don’t know where else already this year. Her home is still in Singapore.

Which brings up Mark. Brother Mark. Who reports that Riyadh is hot. He also sends me news of bombings and shootings in Saudi Arabia, many of them claimed by the Islamic State. He says he feels safe, especially since he lives near the King’s palace.

Steadier internal seas, less distraction. Even cancer can recede when it becomes ordinary, a part of the inner furniture. That’s not to say it’s out of mind, just relegated to the we’re doing something about this and have to wait pile. This will, I’m sure, go through changes, but right now, a good place.

(How I will feel after the closing actually happens.)

they cannot and will not define my life

Beltane                                                             Closing Moon

The closing process with dribs here and there. At the UPS store in Aspen Park, Lauren, in a turquoise UPS shirt, opened her book of notarial acts (not kidding) and recorded her work on our closing documents. I signed them in her presence. Creedence Clearwater played on the muzak. When I said, I like your music. She nodded, I’m 67. 68 here.

The closer wants a document we sent by USPS two weeks ago, a document we couldn’t fill out online. Why’s that? Anyhow I took a photo of it with my phone and e-mailed that to her this morning. Another hard copy goes in the mail today.

A lien waiver for work we had done to follow up the inspection report. None of this amounts to much, but after three months on the market and six with double mortgages everything related has an edge. Though. Glad to do it. Want this done.

Got an appointment for an echocardiogram next Tuesday. They’ll fit me with a Holter monitor, too. I’ll wear it for a month. This is the follow up to those episodes of shortness of breath and palpitations. Could be stress related, I suppose. Trouble is, I don’t feel stressed. Slept fine last night for example.

Then, in other news, I get my biopsy results tomorrow. You might image a scene from Mel Brook’s High Anxiety, but instead I’m calm. Yesterday, as I said, I was weary of all the threats to my life and with this weariness I felt a bit down, but that has lifted.

Exercise helps. So does having framed all this in the week after my physical. That frame puts all of it, the house closing, the prostate biopsy, the heart follow-up in life as it is, not as I wish it would be. The closing takes time and exacts small cuts, none fatal. The prostate and the heart, though each could be fatal, do not change my life. I can still read, laugh, love, plan, hope. They may define my death, though I hope not, but they cannot and will not define my life. However much of it is left.


September 2018
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