We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.


Spring                                                                    Mountain Moon

kitchen aidToday is D-Day on Shadow Mountain. Dishwasher Day, that is. Sometime between 8 and 12, the cliched “window”, Best Buy, yes, that old home town favorite, will deliver and install our new Kitchen Aid dishwasher. After five weeks plus of hand washing dishes (the horror!) we’ll go back to the way dishes were meant to be washed, with lots of chugging and rushing and whirring. This has been a sufficiently long and frustrating process that I’ll not believe it’s over until the new appliance is snug in its home and has run its first few cycles.

Rich Levine wrote yesterday to say that our bee equipment is out in the wild now, helping other, new beekeepers. Tara Saltzman, CBE’s director of religious education, felt more comfortable using our half body bee suit. A hive tool, twenty of our built out frames, two hive boxes, bee brush, smoker and pellets went to the bee project. It feels good that they’re in use rather than sitting in our garage and it particularly feels good that they’re encouraging others to learn about bees.

IMAG0784We have more hive boxes, more honey supers, plus all the equipment needed to harvest and bottle honey. We brought the bee stuff with us on the chance that we would want to pick up bee keeping here, but now it’s unlikely. With both gardening and beekeeping the challenges altitude presented might have been overcome, they can be, but that first year enthusiasm after the move, 2015, got absorbed by prostate cancer. In 2016 Jon told me he and Jen were getting divorced. That took our attention for a full year and a half to which I added knee replacement surgery and Kate added Sjogren’s. Unless we decide to purchase a greenhouse, our horticultural life will remain muted.

Kate had her third session of p.t. and I took the time to go to King Soopers and get some groceries. She’s a had a small set back with her appetite, but her progress has given her confidence. This will be only a to be expected dip. Nothing’s linear.

Today's work

Today’s work

Meanwhile I have decluttered the loft. As I work, I pile up books and paper, file folders and magazines, creating temporary archival mounds. When I get to a place where I can poke my head up over the transom and see some light, the mounds lose their archival charm and become just clutter. The act of reshelving books, creating file folders for loose papers, organizing magazines has an energizing effect, both in the satisfaction of a more organized space and in the psychic sense of a new time beginning.

Today is filing, organizing magazines and a task new to me, creating storage for my sumi-e work. Most of it is practice, but there are a few keepers. I don’t understand the value of practice work yet, so I’m going to keep almost all of it even though my instinct is to throw it away. This means finding a way to archive large flat pieces of paper in a way that doesn’t fold or mutilate them. I have some ideas, folded cardboard, removing a few maps from my flat file storage. When I get to working on it, I’ll invent something.

That, plus the dishwasher, is what Tuesday will be about.



Spring                                                                            Mountain Moon

Slate sky behind snow loaded lodgepole pines,

Scraping blades scritch, push, push, push

While more white falls, softening the edges.

Our house has a white roof, like me.

20180327_094904Find myself leaning into a favorite phrase of Bill Schmidt’s, “See what you’re looking at.” It’s a mantra now as I drive in the mountains, trying to see their essence. What about their shape, their altitude, their rock, their trees tell me, this is a mountain? Close looking is a skill, a hard to develop one since distractions of all kinds, a key this-moment-in-time issue, lead us away from direct experience to mediated experience. Close looking, like the close reading of poetry, opens up the unseen, the unexpected.

As I continue to develop my sumi-e skills, I’ve decided I want to focus on only a few things: mountains, Hebrew letters, Tarot major arcana, and objects I’ve used and love like chain-saws and axes, garden tools, bee equipment, maybe dogs, too. I plan to seek what I understand is the central objective of sumi-e painting, expressing the essence, the soul of an object rather than aiming for a Western representational rendering. Good thing, since I don’t have the patience to attend an atelier like my friends Lonnie and Stefan Helgeson.



Yom ha-Sho’ah

Spring                                                                        Mountain Moon

Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds. NYT

Anti-Semitic Incidents Surged 57 Percent in 2017, Report Finds. NYT

20180415_155755Sho’ah is Hebrew for catastrophe and has come to refer explicitly to the catastrophe for Jews after slavery in Egypt, the Holocaust. On the 27th of Nisan, April 12th this year, Jews celebrate Yom ha-Sho’ah, or Holocaust Remembrance, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. This is a crucial twist to Holocaust remembrance because it frames the day with a symbol of Jewish resistance to the Nazi’s.

One thing I’ve been privileged to observe over our time so far at Beth Evergreen is the complicated relationship Jews have with the Holocaust. It is horror beyond imagining, yet there are photographs and family memories and its dispiriting constancy in everyday Jewish life. Rabbi Jamie tries, each time he refers to the Holocaust, to inoculate the congregation against an attitude of victimization. Victims have little agency and the worst sequelae of the Holocaust would be a self-enforced powerlessness.

20180415_155411It’s a tragedy so outsized, so without precedent as an act of calculated evil, that how to approach its remembrance, its historicity, is fraught. Words and analysis, though important in certain venues, cannot touch the emotional complex around its reality. Congregation Beth Evergreen, this Sunday, tried another approach. Dance and music.

Beth Evergreen commissioned The Thomas Dance Troupe, five members of the Colorado Ballet who work together outside of the Ballet, to come up with works that could serve as, well, I’d say, a cri de coeur. They performed with a select few members of the Evergreen Chorale, a pianist, and a violinist.

It was a powerful program, aimed straight at the heart and it arrived. Many of the most important truths which we humans can access are not communicable in words, in the language of reasoned discourse. Those we must find in art.

Mall, Art and one emoji balloon

Spring                                                                              Mountain (New) Moon

Went to the Aurora Town Center mall on Saturday to see son Jon’s student’s art. He teaches art at Montview Elementary in Aurora. Over 17 years now.

This first shot is Dillard’s. I realized malls and especially the anchor department stores had design features like old world palaces. It’s just us nobles shopping here, selecting luxury goods for our many roomed homes. Even so, the mall felt dead as an institution, a thing of the last century. Don’t know about you but I haven’t been in a mall in a years.


This fish, by one of Jon’s fifth grade students, took first place out of all the Aurora elementary schools. I can see why. It’s original, muted colors, sharp definition, suggests dinosaurs and armored fish.


However, I preferred this one, also from one of Jon’s students. I love the color field artists and this one moves pretty far in that direction. Not bad for an elementary kid. Jon wants his kid’s art to be expressive, not perfect. “I feel bad for those people who want to be artists, but can’t get the emotional expression they want in what they do,” he said. He’s actually teaching art making.


Aurora has a large Latino population. This store sold kid’s clothes, cowboy boots, hats, leather vests and belts, but all in a Mexican idiom, rather than Western.


Just loved these overdone baseball caps.


Finally, this from Gabe’s room. A helium filled poop emoji. Gotta admit I don’t get this one.


Old Man of the Mountain

Spring                                                                              Mountain (New) Moon

Filling the Rav4 with gas, Legault Mountain behind me

Filling the Rav4 with gas, Legault Mountain behind me

Today the new shoulder moon sets. Since I name the moons each month, either using a traditional name or one I’ve created, I sometimes use them to remind me of something over the course of the month. Without melancholy this time I’ve come to an additional revelation, a sudden insight into who I am here in Colorado. Sorta obvious, but I’m a mountain man, a man of the mountains.

Song dynasty

Song dynasty

However. I’ve been reading a lot of the mountain poetry of China, a very old tradition extending from the Eastern Jin Dynasty into the present. The Eastern Jin Dynasty began in 317 A.C.E. T’ao Ch’ien (365-427) began writing poetry about his mountain life.

I’d long felt these mountains and lakes

Calling, and wouldn’t have thought twice,

But my family and friends couldn’t bear

Living apart…

After Mulberry-Bramble Liu’s Poem, T’ao Ch’ien

I just ordered more books of Chinese mountain poetry and I’m going to start looking for more poetry about mountains. If you know any, I’ll appreciate the reference. Not just poetry though. I’m also looking through my books of Chinese art, especially the (many) paintings that feature mountains, often scholars and poets by streams or in mountain huts. I want to learn from these how to use sumi-e to paint mountains. Lots of them here to serve as subjects and they politely remain in their pose. There are also many paintings in the Hudson School tradition: Bierstadt, Cole, Church, e.g.

Cotopaxi, Frederic Edwin Church

Cotopaxi, Frederic Edwin Church

Too, I’m fascinated by the geology and orogeny of the Rockies. How did they get here? Where are they going? How do they compare to other mountain ranges?

And, even more obvious. Get out there, dude. No use repairing the knee if you don’t use it to wander in the mountains. To be my kinda pagan you need to immerse yourself in the local, the around you. It’s not only the soil, the animals, the plants, the trails, the streams and lakes though they are essential. It is too the human deposit of art about the place to which you’ve become native. Science, too. Also, if you can, adding to the expressive vocabulary that art shares with the world.

So, this is the Mountain Moon and I’m under it, nourishing another new turn in my attention.



Photo Journal

Spring                                                                         New Shoulder Moon

A few pictures from the last week

In, appropriately enough, Elk Meadow Park:




The next day, at Robbins Air Force Base, deep in the heart of Georgia, Joseph becomes a major:



And, finally, a couple of my favorites from my continuing sumi-e adventures:




Great Wheel go bragh!

Imbolc                                                                 New Shoulder Moon

Erin go braghMade corned beef and cabbage for dinner last night. Erin go bragh! When I decided to write novels, now long ago, Kate suggested I find an area that I could relate to. I chose my Celtic heritage, both Welsh and Irish. It is a fertile realm, filled with gods and goddesses, fairies and banshees, this world and the other world. Not so deep into it right now with one exception, the Great Wheel.

The Great Wheel, though, continues to inform my spiritual journey, a steady point on an often changing ancientrail. The Great Wheel is us, homo sapiens, using consciousness to ground ourselves on this planet and to its fate. Still seems a good place to start thinking about our relationship to the whole, better than any text. Great Wheel go bragh!

Took a sack full of food into the Aurora Olson’s yesterday afternoon. Jon, Ruth and Gabe have all been home sick since Tuesday. Gabe has pneumonia, Jon and Ruth the respiratory illness that preceded it for Gabe. Another positive of being close enough. Ruth sent a text Friday night, “Yo. Can you bring us some food?” I didn’t stay because neither Kate nor I want to get sick before her surgery on Thursday.


As long as I was in Denver, I drove to Meiningers. This is the big art supply store in the Denver area. It’s filled with paints and papers and brushes and pens and tape and pencils and cutting tools. A wonderful place, its existence alone stimulated me, and I’m sure every customer who goes inside.

yasumotoIts sumi-e material material, though, was feeble compared to the hole in wall (by comparison), Red Herring. Meiningers’ selection of brushes were all cheap, beginner’s brushes. They did have a couple of Yasumoto inks that I bought, an Ultra Black and a Black Gold. I also picked up an Olfa knife to cut paper, from the kraft roll that came last week and from the rolls of rice paper I bought from Red Herring and Blue Heron, an online sumi-e store.

Not sure why this has become so important to me in so short a period of time, but as I said below melancholy allows the heart to catch up with decisions already known to the subconscious.

Life flows on, in endless song, I can’t help singing.



Moving Forward, Cloud Dissipating

Imbolc                                                                             New Life Moon

20180315_080213Under the New Life moon a new life has emerged, related to the old one, but different nonetheless. The trajectory and the distance of the change got a marker last night on the final evening of the kabbalah class on the mysticism of the Hebrew letters.

I had my first art exhibit! (well, since elementary school.) I have done over half of the Hebrew letters in my sumi-e calligraphy, adding a quote I felt highlighted some aspect of the letter’s significance. And finishing them off with the chop. Oddly, the thought of displaying my work didn’t daunt me, as it would have in the old life. In the new life my work is my play. Self consciousness doesn’t enter the field.

Some even called my work beautiful. Wow. Don’t get me wrong though. I was proud of these pieces and as a result was able to appreciate how the others responded to them, not deflect it.

20180315_080239Too, under the new life moon I’ve become the regular dinner cook at our house, experimenting at times, at other times (mostly) using recipes, but enjoying myself immensely. Added to my long practice of working out, even that has a new flavor with the workouts every six weeks or so from On the Move Fitness, I’ve got tactile time each day. I’m using my hands and a non-verbal creative impulse.

The day after my birthday was the new moon. That means these changes have all happened in my 71st year, facilitated by the earlier fall into a melancholic state. So today I speak in favor of sadness, of gloom. Without the stasis and the deep reexamination that melancholy brings this new life would likely not have emerged.

20180315_080258It is no accident, though in real time it was, that this period was also the time of the middot of joy. Joy and sadness are not enemies, rather they are a vital source of learning if we don’t suppress them. Steering away from grief, tamping down joy in favor of a false stability, a false calm defuses the opportunity our soul offers to us through these emotions. They signal the soul’s gladness, the soul’s mourning, both key to a depth appreciation of our journey.

How the rest of my life will adjust, shift in light of these changes is not yet clear to me. And that’s ok.




Life is a Red Herring

Imbolc                                                                      New Life Moon


Red Herring Art Supply: Life is a Red Herring for Art.    Life distracts from creating your next master piece.  Be strong. Take control.  Make your Art.


Casa Bonita

This odd little gallery cum art supply store sits at a right angle to the biggest Mexican restaurant in Denver, Casa Bonita. Not to get too distracted but Casa Bonita has cliff diving! inside. It defines whatever Spanish is for kitsch. And pink at that.

Kristi, the owner of Red Herring Art, is a pleasant, voluble person. The Colorado Sumi-e Society meets at Red Herring, so when I gravitated to the brushes and rice paper and ink sticks, we started to talk. She showed me a brush with faux jade beads as handles. “Would you like to try the rooster tail brush?” Say what? “Yes,” she said, “since we raised chickens when I was a kid, I was surprised to see rooster tail feathers uses in a sumi brush.”

I picked up the brush, a bigger one, with, sure enough rooster feathers hanging down where the usual goat or sable hairs would be. Dipping in the pot of water she offered me, I brushed a zen circle on a board she has that is reactive to water. It surprised me. In that it worked. “I don’t think I’m ready for this one yet.”

sumi brush2After buying a pad of larger rice paper and a larger roll, I picked out a new goat hair brush and a set of Japanese water colors for sumi-e. All the while we were talking and Kristi invited me to come to the Colorado Sumi-e meetings on the last Tuesday of the month. “You know, I use Kraft paper and plain old newsprint for practice.” Huh. Kraft and newsprint is cheaper than rice paper, for sure.

Kristi liked me, apparently, because after she rang me up, she said, “I’m going to give you the 40West discount. Because  you should really be in it.” Took 10% off my bill. Nice. 40West is a Denver creative arts district that includes the area around Red Herring and Casa Bonita. Just up a slight rise behind Casa Bonita is the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design.

“Oh, I’m just playing I said. I don’t have any real ambitions.” “We’re all just playing, especially when we take up a new medium.”

Pushed me back a bit to Thursday and those instances of joy. Play and joy go together, too. Maybe, come to think of it, that was the real message behind my last melancholy. Stop being so serious. Let go, lighten up. Have more fun.



Imbolc                                                                           New Life Moon



“The noun simcha is mentioned in the Bible 94 times and is derived from the verb samach, which appears 154 times in the text. It is rooted in the Akkadian word shamahu meaning sprout or flourish.” Simcha, The Dayton Jewish Observer

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. So says Keats in his Endymion. Kate and I are leading the mussar class on Thursday, focused on joy and sadness. What else is a joy forever?

Most of the material I’ve read about joy distinguishes it from pleasure with a time distinction. A bite of food, a kiss, a winning hand, a new toy brings pleasure in the moment, but the pleasure dissipates quickly. Joy, to paraphrase Keats, is a thing of beauty forever. Joy, in other words, is lasting.

Rabbi Jamie says true joy can be recalled and experienced again whenever we want. Not fully sure about that, but a finger on the scale in favor of a lasting experience seems right to me.

Chagall, Fiddler

Chagall, Fiddler

Kate has come up with an exercise that will get us started on considering joy in our own lives. She designed a sheet with three columns: single-digit, adolescence, adult. We will write as many instances of joy as we can recall from each of these life phases. My hope is that in telling our stories of joy that we can experience them again and help others experience them with us.

How can we increase joy in our lives? Can we? (A)…rabbinic teaching concerning simcha points to the inner self as the source of contentment and joy. “Aizehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko, Who is rich? He that rejoices in his own portion (Avot 4:1).” ibid

So at least part of joy is perspective. What makes our life rich? Joyful? Knowing what is enough. What is enough? No less than we need, no more than we require. This seems to link joy to gratitude. If we have enough, we are grateful for what we have. Our life gains in simplicity since we don’t end up on the constantly promoted hedonic treadmill.

With simplicity, then, we know deep satisfaction. Not only do we have enough, but we do not waste our energy and our worry on getting more. Ah.

Joy yoshitoshiLast week at mussar we had a fascinating conversation on the essential dourness of both Jewish and northern European cultures stimulated by the Norwegian concern that they had won too many medals in the winter Olympics. In both cases happiness, and by correlation, joy, are suspect. Why are you so happy? What makes you think that will last?

In the Jewish instance this trait seems to correlate with the multiple times in Jewish history, starting with slavery in Egypt, that a golden age or at least a comfortable existence had been destroyed by pogroms, the expulsion from Spain, the holocaust. Are you happy now? Just wait.

In the northern European instance it seems to have more to do with seriousness. “For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem. Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; “Dust thou art, to dust returnest,” Was not spoken of the soul.” Psalm of Life, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

early cave painting

early cave painting

Both cultures, in other words, find joy and delight and glee and exultation, ecstasy and exhilaration suspicious at best and distracting at worst. Distracting from what? From the possibility of life’s stability being snatched away in an instance. From the need to keep the shoulder to the grindstone, quite literally. From the guardedness that protects us from disappointment, suffering, pain. Joy may make us vulnerable.

So it’s no wonder that joy is a middot, a character trait that needs cultivation. The soil for it is rocky, like that in our backyard here on Shadow Mountain, at least in these two cultures.

Joy Brown, creative joy

Joy Brown, creative joy

How to do that? I chose to scan my life looking for joyful moments. My hope is that I can begin to identify in the now, embrace them, live in them. Looking at my list (it’s posted here.) I can see some common threads. Intimacy: seeing Orion at night, dogs nuzzling, the mountain night sky full of stars, hugging Kate, hearing from Tom, Bill, Mark, seeing them. Challenging myself: learning Latin, using my sumi-e brushes, grinding ink, having a new idea, reading a new book, writing ancientrails. Letting the world in: driving over Kenosha pass and seeing South Park laid out ahead, the golden aspen among the lodgepoles on Black Mountain, paying close attention to the natural world. Being in community: working with Marilyn and Tara and Anshel, setting up for adult education events at Beth Evergreen, having an idea, sharing it, seeing something happen. Travel: hearing the howler monkeys on the road to Angkor, leaving for a trip, rolling retreats (roadtrips), the earthen smells when getting off the plane on Maui, Kauai, Hawai’i. Inner moments: the moment of mystical connection with the universe in 1967, meditation, remembering the two year old me who learned to walk after polio, mindful cooking.

One track for increasing the joy in my life then would be to seek intimate moments, identify new ways to challenge myself, stay alert and let the world in, continue at Beth Evergreen, travel, allow time to cultivate the inner life.


“On the bright side, simcha is a word laden with exhilaration and festive activities. Simcha expresses not only the joy of an event, but it is also the noun which means a happy event.

A holiday is a simcha, a family gathering is a simcha, a wedding is a simcha, the birth of a child is a simcha and a Bar or Bat Mitvah is a simcha.

The host of an event is a baal simcha and the sound of joy resonating from the event is kol simcha.

Simchat yetzirah, a joy of creativity, is a way to describe the exhilaration one feels while being engaged in a creative process…

(A)…rabbinic teaching concerning simcha points to the inner self as the source of contentment and joy. “Aizehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko, Who is rich? He that rejoices in his own portion (Avot 4:1).” ibid


April 2018
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