We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Gong Fu Cha

Spring                                                                        New (Rushing Waters) Moon

Friend Bill Schmidt knows me well. A while back he noted I’d not yet written anything about tea while here in Colorado. He was right. Two or three years before the move out here I’d somehow gotten to making tea the Chinese way, gong fu cha. This was after years of tea from tea bags and the occasional loose tea steeped in tea infusers.

Song dynastyThe impetus may have been my favorite object in the entire collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a Song dynasty tea bowl. I don’t recall now.

Gong fu cha involves various implements and techniques that differ significantly from British/American tea preparation and drinking, but also from the Japanese chanoyu, which is a direct descendant of gong fu cha.

20170425_070506Gong fu cha inspired visiting Japanese monks to introduce tea to their Buddhist compatriots as a way of staying awake during long sessions of meditation. The Japanese tea ceremony grew out of this cultural exchange beginning in the 12th century.

Over a period of years I acquired several yixing teapots, many different teabowls (including one with a leaf embedded), tea scoops and picks for tightly compressed chunks of pu’er tea, a bamboo tea tray and, of course, several varieties of tea.

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Zojirushi

The Zojirushi is my favorite tea appliance. The Zojirushi, a Japanese model, boils water to a particular temperature and has a large reservoir so water at the right temperature is always available. Water temperature, the teapot and the quality of the tea itself are the critical variables in gong fu cha.

I considered making tea in the loft a final flourish to the work on it, so I waited until everything else was finished: book cases, art table, things put in their places. Why? I don’t know. Gong fu cha became, in my mind, a symbol that this space was ready for serious work.

20170425_070423Right now I’m drinking Master Han’s loose leaf pu’er from 2000. Very smooth and smoky. I guess that means I’m getting serious about the work.

Bill knew me well. Now I’m truly here. Yixing pot in hand.

 

Mountain Docent

Spring                                                                         Passover Moon

Fan Kuan, Travelers Among Mountains and Streams. Early 11th century, Song Dynasty

Fan Kuan, Travelers Among Mountains and Streams. Early 11th century, Song Dynasty

I may have found a way back into the art world, one I can sustain even from here on Shadow Mountain. A couple of weeks ago I decided to add links to several prominent museums to my bookmark bar: the MIA of course, the Chicago Art Institute, the Met, the Vatican Museum, the Uffizi, the Asian Art museum in San Francisco, the Getty Open Content site and the Google Cultural Institute. I’ll probably add more.

This started as an effort to collect places from which I could draw interesting images for Ancientrails. Many of these museums have made their collection’s images or significant portions of them available as open content. As far as I know, the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands was the first to do this thoroughly. Every image on this museum’s website can be downloaded, used in any way. This even includes uses like those of Richard Prince, the well known appropriater of other folks’ work to create his own.

You may recall that I got myself in a bit of a twist over just this issue last year, so I’ve been eager to find image sources that won’t send me threatening letters from their lawyers. This growing movement among museums seemed like a solution. What better images could I find than great art?

Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak. 1863 Fogg Museum, Cambridge

Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak. 1863 Fogg Museum, Cambridge

Then, while poking around on these various websites, I clicked on the Google Cultural Institute. On its home page it has various teasers to get a viewer to go deeper. One of them up at the time I visited was a collection of works on mountains, some 4,000 +. Aha. Mountains. In art. I live in the mountains. There could be something here.

Yes, it occurred to me, I could investigate art focused on mountains. Hokusai’s “Views of Mt. Fuji.” Fan Kuan’s “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams.” Bierstadt’s views of the Rockies. And so many more. This could enrich my experience of my home terrain and provide a vein of exploration, a way to study art again with a purpose. Not to mention that I flirted briefly with the idea of becoming the Mountain Docent. This idea could add a double entendre to mountain docent.

Cotopaxi, Frederic Church, 1862

Cotopaxi, Frederic Church, 1862

We’ll see if the idea sticks, but right now I’m excited about it. It connects well with the notion of becoming native to this place, too, and could serve as a resource for reimagining faith.

As I turned the idea around in my mind, it struck me that I have an intimate knowledge of another form of landscape, too: agriculture and horticulture. So, I may expand this project to include images of farming, of fields, of gardens, of seasonal change, the experiences of which led me to immerse myself in the idea of the Great Wheel.

Not  sure where this will take me, but right now I’m pretty excited about it.

 

 

Wakin’ Up Mornin’

Spring                                                                             Passover Moon

easterEaster morning. Sunrise services somewhere. The celebration of the resurrection and, by implication, the incarnation. As Passover defines Jews, Easter defines Christians. Whether you find the idea of resurrection absurd or inspiring, it heralds, as does Passover, the coming of spring. It’s not difficult, at least for me, to see the power of resurrection in the emergence of spring ephemerals: daffodils, crocus, grape hyacinth, early tulips, snowdrops, pasque flowers, bloodroot.

The same flowers could be seen as passover metaphors, too. Their emergence from the long sleep of winter makes good on promises made the year before as the bulbs, corms, rhizomes all stored up energy from the sun, drank in nourishment from the minerals of the soil and sipped up water from the sky, all gathered below ground after the leaves and flowers of last year withered away. The hiddenness of these promises and the darkness in which they flourish is like the life of the Hebrew slaves in the Egypt of the Exodus.

haggadahMoses reminds the slaves, and God, of the covenant made with Abraham long ago. That covenant is the bulb planted in the hiddenness and darkness of bondage. When God finally forces Pharaoh to let the slaves go free, the bulb begins to push its stalk toward the surface. Though it takes forty years of wandering for the stalk to break the surface in the Promised Land, the beauty of freedom’s flower has dazzled those struggling with their own personal or political bondage ever since.

My sister Mary’s friend, Anitha Devi Pillai, who teaches in Singapore with Mary, posted on facebook about the Kerala new year, Vishu, which is also celebrated right now. This was new to me, but it underscores the number of New Year holidays that honor the same rhythm of mother earth. The spring festivals in Korea and China, which come earlier, also mark the resurrection in fields and gardens.

These human holidays honor the emergent freedom from darkness and cold as each new flower and vegetable breaks the surface. VishuSo on this great wakin’ up morn, I’m greeting the sun, the greening lodgepole pines, the daffodils, the pasque flowers and bloodroot with a religious fervor.

During my cancer season two years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon, the stolid, very long term lifetime of the mountains that create the canyon. Today I’ll make note of the consolation of spring, its power to awaken wonder. We will all die, this we know, but the mountains will continue and so will the daffodils. Blessed be.

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.

 

Ratzon

Spring                                                                     Passover Moon

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall,  1933

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall, 1933

On the art regret. (see post below) Realized that to solve this problem I need an intention, a purpose. I have an intention with writing Superior Wolf. I have one with translating Ovid. I’m developing one at Beth Evergreen, what Rabbi David Jaffe calls a ratzon, a deep motivation. I don’t know what my ratzon for art is, not yet, but I’m searching for it.

I’m reading Rabbi Jaffe’s book, Changing the World from the Inside Out. He’s coming to Beth Evergreen at the end of this month. His book is a mussar focused way of considering social change, utilizing this Jewish method of character strengthening to undergird work for social justice. A worthwhile read even for those who are not Jewish. Mussar, like kabbalah, looks at the world from a human perspective but through a Jewish lens.

625448_164319917056179_937468223_nMy ratzon for political work, which I critiqued in a past post, needs sharpening, focus. Part of my problem with Fighting Trump, my previous title for articles I saved in Evernote, was, I realized, that being against something is a weak ratzon for me. I need to be for something and the Trump resistance tends to focus on opposing him. He demands opposition and resistance, no question about that, but I need to be working toward a just society, an equitable society, a sustainable society, a compassionate society, not only, not even primarily, saying NO.

As I do for art, I need a clear ratzon. Don’t have it right now, for either politics or art.

One Regret

Spring                                                              Passover Moon

Goya, Dr. Arrieta

Goya, Dr. Arrieta

In one way I regret moving from the Twin Cities. Yes, it made me sad to lose regular contact with the Woollies and my docent friends, the folks at the Sierra Club, too. Yes, the memories attached to 40 years of physical objects like the Mississippi, its bridges, the Minneapolis skyline, all the metro lakes, the State Fair Grounds, even the grounds of United Theological Seminary, were no longer triggered by frequent or occasional visits. Yes, I even missed the weather, crazy as that may be. But, I expected these and any move has such losses. That doesn’t mean their loss wasn’t hard, but here there are new friends, new places to make memories-the Rocky Mountains, after all-and the weather here has its own charm.

But. The art does not compare. The MIA (not Mia for me, not ever) and the Walker are two exceptional museums. The MIA’s encyclopedic nature made it a home for me as I learned the broad scope of art among the nations and cultures of the world. The Walker is simply a great spot to see and to learn about contemporary art. The sculpture garden there is a joy, too. Though I attended the Minnesota Orchestra only very occasionally it was there and well-known. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, after seventeen years of annual subscriptions and attendance, grounded me in their particular, intimate music-and gave me my wife. The Guthrie Theater is one of the great regional theaters in the United States.

DoryphorosThese are only the most visible, too. There is Penumbra, of course, the Children’s Theater, the Northeast Art District, various jazz venues (Denver has excellent jazz.), Theater in the Round, the Cowles Center and many, many more.

What I’m writing about here is my difficulty in continuing my immersion in the art world. There are all the online art offerings and they are amazing. The Google Cultural Institute, the online exhibits of many, many of the world’s iconic museums, new art and artists, all are easy to access and require no travel at all. I have my books, my art books and their exceptional illustrations, books on art history and art theory. I have my own, small art collection both hung and still to be hung or stored.

We have frequented the Curious Theater here. It features plays of contemporary playwrights and we’ve gone many times to jazz clubs in Denver and they’re wonderful. There are, too, world class festivals in the summer at Aspen, Vail, in Boulder, at Red Rocks.

Jade MountainEven with all these though I miss the relationship I had with Goya’s Dr. Arrieta, or the Bonnard, the Doryphoros, the Chinese and Japanese collections so important to my own aesthetic. Germanicus, Lucretia, the Rodin, Caillebotte, Beckman’s Blind Man’s Buff and the Kandinsky. I guess it’s the aesthetic equivalent of Toffler’s notion of high tech, high touch. That is, the more we use high technology, the more we need regular interaction with other people. I need regular interaction with actual works of art and they are simply not available here.

This is a problem I want to solve. I thought maybe writing about here would prompt me toward a solution, but it hasn’t happened, at least not today. A continuing challenge.

 

Art by Odegard. Finally hung.

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

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Serious Art

Imbolc                                                                    Anniversary Moon

Anxiety a bit better. Feet on the floor, no ache in my gut. Teeth still clenching and legs still tensing, but easing up. Still not sure what the source of all this is. Might be concerns about Kate’s health, things flaring up with her. Might be the Judaism/Beth Evergreen immersion. Might be the divorce and its aftermath. Might be the knee and getting its strength back. Could be all of the above, probably is all of the above. Whatever it is, I’d like to say, “Message received. Go back to sleep.”

chicken noodleWe had our business meeting yesterday at the New York Deli, which I’ve mentioned before. It has a sign at the door which says, Leaving Denver, entering New York City. Kate had her favorite chicken noodle soup with a huge matzo ball. Mine was eggs and corned beef with a poppy seed bagel. Plus four of the kosher dill slices that are always on the table in a small dish. A Joe DiMaggio jersey hangs on a back wall. The crowd is remarkably diverse, heavily Jewish of course, but including a large contingent of African-Americans, Asians and Italian, wiseguy looking types. I really like this place.

After the Deli, we drove up Havana into Aurora. Jon and Jen both work in the Aurora school district. It’s the third largest city in the state after Denver and Colorado Springs. Our destination was the annual art show for the Aurora School District’s art teachers. Jon has several pieces in this year’s exhibition, all mono prints. His work was the most serious art in the show by quite a margin. He uses found objects, often crushed metal, but also plastic and cardboard, that he retrieves from streets and highways. After making sure they’re flat enough to work under the printing drum (most are right away), he inks them up and makes prints.

His muted colors emphasize the shape and the form of the objects, respecting their presence as discarded and unwanted. Transforming them into often beautiful, but always striking, prints, he’s making, whether intentionally or not, a statement about how we perceive things thrown away, things lost, things flattened, things almost invisible, things destined for the landfill.

Then it was back home, away from the 60+ degrees of “down the hill”, and back up into the Front Range where life is cooler and slower.

Violence and Holy Wells

Imbolc                                                                       Anniversary Moon

It was with sadness that I read of the fight at the MIA last week. No matter the apportionment of blame between the two groups, this kind of violence within the museum shocked me. It also underscores the danger of cynics and demagogues setting the tone for our national conversation. Fists and physical confrontations are a means of dialogue, a blunt means, but one nonetheless. When the Whitehouse itself makes racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, xenophobia, terraism (violence against mother earth) not only acceptable, but for some normative, then this country will descend into further acts of violence, often one on one or many on one.

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When I first started volunteering at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2000, continuing education events for docents and guides (I was a guide at the time.) were held on Mondays in the morning. An excellent speaker on some aspect of art, art history or museology would give us an hour to an hour and a half presentation. I have a three inch thick notebook filled with notes from those events.

After the lecture the museum was open, but closed to the public. That meant we could take as long as we wanted to wander the galleries, taking time with this work, then that one. No interference, no one walking in front of you or talking loudly. It was my favorite meditation, of all the ones I’ve tried.

Study for Improvisation V-Kandinsky

Study for Improvisation V-Kandinsky

I had certain favorites: the Bonnard with its wonderful colors, Dr. Arrieta by Francisco Goya, the Rug Merchant by Gerome, the tryptych Blind Man’s Buff by Beckman, Kandinsky’s wonderful painting in the same room, the Doryphoros. I also loved the ball game yoke, the Olmec jade mask once owned by John Huston, but the Asian art always occupied most of my time. The tea house, the tea bowls and implements, the tatami room with its beautiful screen of the Taoist Immortals, the seated Buddha, the Scholar’s room, the ferragana  stallion in metal, the Song dynasty ceramics, pieces carved from jade, the Wu family reception hall, the sand mandala, I couldn’t spend enough time with them.

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On those quiet Mondays these works all became my great friends, friends that stay with me now, even 17 years later and 900 miles away. Also, on those quiet Mondays I found an alternative spirituality, one not rooted in the earth nor in the world’s great religions, but in the inside out nature of creativity. All of these works, some in overt ways, some in the covert way of working within a certain tradition, reveal the inner worlds of the artist. Reverting to the language of the post below the art allowed me-and you-to dive into another’s holy well, to see their inner life. This is a rare and privileged thing which explains to my satisfaction the enduring power of all art.

It is also the diametric opposite of Trumpism/Bannonism. The museum is a place to see what a world without these men can be.

 

Becoming Coloradan

Imbolc                                                             Valentine Moon

No snow. 10% humidity. A spate of small wildfires. Result: stage 1 fire restrictions put in place by Jeffco. In February. Winter has gone on holiday and the outlook for summer is fiery if we don’t get more moisture in March and April. Like death, oddly, I find the whole wildfire possibility invigorating. It motivates me to work on our lodgepole pine and aspen and it brings those of us who live in the mountains closer together. A common foe.

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Lodgepole pine. From our bedroom window I look out and up to a jagged line of tree tops. On clear nights stars often align with the tops of the pines, giving them a decorated for Christmas look. Sometimes stars also align with branches further down, emphasizing the effect.

Which reminds me. Monday or Tuesday night of this week I looked up at the pines, as I often do before falling asleep. They were lit up with what looked like lightning bugs. What? The phenomena went on for quite a while, small specks of light flashing off and on. Obviously in February and up here on Shadow Mountain, no lightning bugs. A complete mystery.

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While waiting on the Rav4 to finish its spa day at Stevinson Toyota I spent some time considering whether I had become a Coloradan yet. First thing. I left my prostate and significant portions of my left knee in Colorado. No flowers in my hair, but I do feel I’ve contributed in a meaningful, whole body sort of way. Then, living in the mountains. Everyday. Learning the rhythms of mountain seasons, the wildlife, the vast number of hikes and sights and sites to see. And we’re adjusted to life at 8,800 feet. A very Colorado and mountain thing.

Of course, there are Jon and Ruth and Gabe, family links to schools, synagogues, sports, life as a child in the Centennial State. Our dogs, too, as Dr. Palmini said, are mountain dogs now. Due to the spate of mountain lion attacks on dogs in the last month or so, I have a concern for their safety that is very Coloradan. In fact I bought a powerful LED flashlight and have my walking stick ready to do battle with a mountain lion if necessary.

Kings Peak near us 4 pm 12 29

Kings Peak near us 4 pm 12 29

Congregation Beth Evergreen, in addition to a religious community, also facilitates ties with people who live up here like the lawyer, Rich Levine, we saw last week. Many others, too. Kate has integrated quickly thanks to the two sewing groups she belongs to: Bailey Patchworkers and the Needlepointers. Her integration helps mine.

The town of Evergreen has many great restaurants, as does Morrison. We go to jazz and theater in Denver.

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That’s the coming to Colorado part of the story. The other is my relationship to Minnesota. Of course there are the Wooly friends, especially Tom, Mark and Bill and the docent friends, many of whom I connect with through Facebook, but also through visits, e-mails, the occasional phone call. Those connections are still strong, even though attenuated by distance.

Minnesota will always occupy a large, 40-year space in my heart. That’s a long time, enough to become home. So many memories, good ones and bad ones. But, it is just that now, a 40-year space in my heart. I do not want to return. Life is here, now, and that, more than anything else, tells me that, yes, I have become and am a Coloradan.

 

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