We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Front Range Life

Summer                                                                            Woolly Mammoth Moon

Downward Dog

Downward Dog

Gertie is apparently blind in one eye. Her left eye has been clouded by a cataract for some time, but an exam Monday revealed she may also have acute glaucoma and her pupil did not constrict when confronted with light. As in dogs in general, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s still her wriggly, rascally self.

Rigel seems to have recovered completely from her earlier this year bout with a food allergy. At some moment in the recent past she saw something that interested her out by our far back fence. Now, she lies on the deck, forelegs dangling over, eyes locked on the fence. In the morning she often goes back there to check things out, sometimes she’ll lie in the grass just beyond the shed, again eyes focused on the utility easement that begins just beyond the fence. The easement itself is a wildlife highway since it’s kept clear by IREA (Intermountain Rural Electrical Association) and extends up and down the mountains.

20180414_130149Kate bustled around yesterday in short bursts and defeated the nausea demon by not taking her diclofenac in the morning. Or at least we think that was it. She’s engaged in an experiment right now to test whether the diclofenac might be a major contributor. Problem is that the diclofenac covers her arthritis pain and without it she’s in pain. Difficult and complicated.

We went to the Mussar Vaad Practice group last night. Interesting conversation about faith and trust, the difference between the two. The difference is slippery and of course hinges on what they mean to you. If faith is the equivalent of belief, as in many creedal theologies it often is, then faith is fragile. If, however, faith is about our everyday willingness to live as if life will continue, as if our loved ones will not die at least today, as if abundance is ours to claim and experience, then it is not fragile, but a necessary component of the awakened, vital life. Trust is more transactional, more circumstantial, not global, but specific. It is a willingness to know the other, for instance, and, accept them as they are. Trust is, as a writer quoted last night said, the mother of love and the daughter of truth.

Another day in the Front Range.

Sweet. So, so sweet.

Summer                                                                  Woolly Mammoth Moon

20150509_135508Oh. Sometimes the sweetness of life becomes palpable. More and more of late. Not drowned out by the drumbeat of illness, family struggle, heat it underscores that life, our lives, are moveable feasts. The meaning of life itself lies in this realization, not in achievement or wealth or knowledge or belongings. Why? Because no thing in life carries permanence, not joy, not hate, not anger, not even love. All is transitory, the matter of a moment, then it will change.

We are not prisoners of the failed marriage, the drunken mistake, the doomed career, nor are we prisoners of the awards, the fancy house, not even of the loving family. Life moves on regardless of all these. It’s not a game; it’s not true that the one with the most toys wins. No winning, no losing. Just living.

Vega

Vega

This last is the surprise key. Just living. I’ve been thinking about breathing recently, part of my sharpening doubt practice. Breathing and the heart beating. Breath. Beat. Rhythms of life. Sine qua non of life. Breathing takes the outside inside and the inside outside. It’s binary, one, two, one, two, one, two. In, out. Both necessary. Breathing in is not enough. Breathing out is not enough. Both necessary. Breath in and stop and the body will gradually die, poisoned by co2 and starved by lack of oxygen. Breath out and stop. The same. Only the two together, opposites, continuous, unconscious sustain life.

(the watercourse way, Upper Maxwell Falls)

Sometimes, up here at 8,800 feet, breathing becomes difficult, shallow, a struggle. I’m learning to take those moments as doubt sharpeners. How? Well, we’re always only one breath away from death. Always. As you breath in, it could be the last breath you take. Will be at some point. Each breath punctuates the act of faith required to live, just live. We act as if the next breath will always come, but in fact we don’t know that. The same with the beat of your heart. It only needs to stop once. And we’re dead. Yet we live as if the next beat is coming.

We need no more than breathing and the beating of the heart to remind us of the fragility and awe that is life. We are the animation of elements created in the hot furnaces of mighty stars, elements formed since the big bang, now helping us transfer oxygen from the atmosphere to our hemoglobin, then out to the organs and muscles and nerves. No wonder life cannot last. We’re a magic act, the transubstantiation of matter into vitality, elements moving with intent, with purpose. Entropy must rule. The juggler can only keep so many objects in the air at one time.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I know, it was thick, but if you have, here we are at the sweetness. It’s always there since it lies in this, every breath a leap of faith, our willingness to act as if the next heart beat will come. The sweetness is just life, the extraordinary and unexpected animation of items off the periodic table. Let no one, no thing, no thought obscure this wonder, this true miracle. A wonder and miracle we can know with each breath, each pulse.

Venn Merging

Beltane                                                                                  Woolly Mammoth Moon

Yesterday two worlds came into contact, even if only briefly. The first was Kate and mine’s current world, the world of the Rocky Mountains and Reconstructionist Judaism, Evergreen and Shadow Mountain. The other was our old world, the world of the Land of Lakes and the Woolly Mammoths, Andover and the Twin Cities.

First, Ode showed up at mussar. Then, Tom and Paul. The middot of the week is grace and reading Rami Shapiro’s book, The Art of Loving Kindness, carried us into a discussion about shabbat as a “counter-cultural rebellion” which encourages living one day a week as if work and worry are not the point of life. Has always made sense to me, BTW, long before Beth Evergreen, but I’ve never acted on it, never observed a sabbath day.

Anyhow the context of the conversation made me realize what a grace-full moment it was for me when Tom, Paul and Mark showed up here in Colorado. It was, in one sense, perhaps even the best sense, ordinary. I knew they would find the conversation fascinating, because it was a conversation we’d been having for over thirty years. How do you live? What about life is important? How can we move ourselves into a more meaningful, graceful, gratitude filled existence?

So that moment at the synagogue smooshed together two venn diagrams, Minnesota and Colorado. And it felt really good. They met Rabbi Jamie. Debra referred to the four of us as the quadruplets, older white haired white guys of similar size and habitus and life.

Then the party moved over to Shadow Mountain. My slow cooker Irish stew was, well, partly there. The lamb was tender, but the potatoes were not. Neither Kate nor I, though she is much more able at it than me, are big on hosting events at our house. Too busy at one point, now a bit less able. But these were friends who would forgive an underdone potato for the  conversation around the table. And the occasional poking of Rigel’s head under their arms.

Kate went to bed, then got up, came out and said, “You have the best friends.” Indeed, I do.

This morning at 8:30 we’ll take off in the giant SUV that Tom has rented. First stop, the Crow Hill Cafe, then The Happy Camper. Maybe the Sasquatch Outpost? Certainly Kenosha Pass, South Park, Fairplay. On down through South Park. Maybe we’ll look at the Rocky Mountain Land Library, maybe we’ll stop in Pagosa Springs for a soak in the hot springs. Not sure. Doesn’t matter.

We’re headed to Durango in the southwest corner of the state. The 416 fire, north of Durango, as of yesterday:

“While residents in two areas were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, the 416 Fire grew to 32,076 acres with no update on containment.

The fire, burning just 13 miles north of Durango, is still being worked by over 1,000 firefighters who are battling this thing from the air and the ground. Burn out efforts, that is, efforts to burn up the fire’s potential fuel, continued throughout the day.” 9News, Denver.

Here’s a link to a Durango Herald article on fire analysts, very interesting.

How I Got Here

Beltane                                                                           Sumi-e Moon

(for Tara)

Rev. John Ackerman, my spiritual advisor in the mid-1980s, now dead, said to me during a session with him, “Charlie, I think you’re a druid.” This was while I was still an Associate Executive for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, responsible for urban mission and congregational development. That made me pause.

I had just started a Doctor of Ministry Program that I had organized and brought to the Twin Cities, one taught by professors from McCormick Seminary of Hyde Park, Chicago. The full program was largely unremarkable; but when it came time, three years later, to write my doctoral thesis, one documenting the decline of Presbyterian membership over the century, I sat down one day and came up a week or so later with 40,000 words of my first novel, Even the Gods Must Die. That surprised me.

Raising Joseph, born in Calcutta, was also challenging my theology. I was always suspicious of monotheism, if there are more than one one God, doesn’t that negate the whole idea, but with Joseph my suspicion had an existential bite. If Joseph had been raised in the rural village of Bengal from which he came, he would likely have been Hindu. And outside the pale of salvation. I loved him and would have loved him as a Hindu, too. If Christianity would not have allowed someone I loved into eternal peace, then Christianity was wrong.

All this was problematic for continuing to work as a clergyman. In Christianity, unlike Judaism, belief in God is a job requirement. Otherwise we’re in Grand Inquisitor territory. Kate (not fate) intervened. I was already on my way out of the Christian ministry, but I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I was 41, mid-career, and leaving the only long term job I’d ever had, while being responsible for raising Joseph, seemed impossible.

Kate allowed me, in a move that was typically generous of her, to resign from the Presbytery and take up writing. Those novels had me pretty excited. I left the Presbytery on good terms. I’d moved away from Christianity, but I didn’t bear the church any animus. I had, I guess you could say, fallen out of love, but I remained friends with my ex-faith.

Later, when I had trouble selling my writing, I regressed and transferred my credentials to the Unitarian-Universalist Association, thinking I could pick up work familiar to me in a context friendly to my changing, evolving theology. In 1996, in Phoenix, I became a fellowshipped clergy in the UUA. I say regressed because I was done with church leadership, but wasn’t ready to admit it. I preached on occasion for a small UU congregation, Groveland, sometimes frequently, and I enjoyed that opportunity to write about my religious thinking.

When we moved to Colorado in 2014, I delivered a final sermon at Groveland, in my mind ending my ministerial career at last. That was 44 years after I entered seminary.

Influenced by the feminist reimagining movement in Christianity from the 1980’s, I decided to reimagine the idea of faith itself, a project I’ve worked on in spurts for 15 years. At first I thought I would create a new theology, something I called for a while, Ge-ology. My idea was to find a way to express in a coherent system the kind of sentiment underlying Thomas Berry’s Great Work.

Berry was a Passionist monk, a deep ecologist and author of a little book called, The Great Work. In it he proposes that the great work of our time and, in specific, the great work of our Western civilization, as creating a sustainable human presence on this planet. It’s important to note that this is not about saving the planet. The planet will be fine. The question was, and is, can we humans devise a way of living here that does not destroy our species.

What, I wondered, would faith look like if we could focus it on that which sustains us. What sustains us? The sun. The sun and plants. The sun, plants, and the soil. The sun, plants and the atmosphere they supply with oxygen. All these and the animals which nourish us, but are themselves also nourished by the plants. Yes, we humans have a rich inner life, one that allows us to imagine gods and heavens, but as animals, we can only have that rich inner life if we live. And living requires these complex interrelationships we call the web of life.

Over the years I’ve generated bits and pieces of a reimagined faith and added to reimaging, reconstructing and reenchanting. Reenchanting means becoming aware and responsive to the forces and powers that sustain us, but as beings in and of themselves. When the residents of the Big Island refer to the new Kilauea eruptions as the work of Pele, the Hawai’ian goddess of volcanoes, they have been enchanted; and for many, haoles (non-native Hawai’ans, often white people) and native Hawai’ians, reenchanted.

Another example of reenchantment was the visit I had from three mule deer bucks in October of 2014. I had come here for the closing on our purchase of the house on Black Mountain Drive. I went out in the yet unfenced back yard and encountered the three bucks about a hundred feet from the house. They stood there. I stood there. We looked at each other and I felt a distinct connection with them. The connection felt reciprocated. After a while, they left and I went back to the mechanics of taking possession of the house and property.

On reflection I felt I had been visited by the spirit of the mountain, that I had been given permission to live here among the forests and wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. The mule deer were the messengers, the angels, of this new world into which we were moving.

Or, bee-keeping. I kept bees for six years in Minnesota. It was early in the process that I felt a partnership with the bees. The colonies themselves and the surplus honey they produced that Kate and I could harvest was a collaboration. We were working together toward a common end. The closer I got to the bees, the more I understood the mystical nature of the hive, a super-organism created from apparently individual bees engaged in the world as one entity.

The final R of my new 3 R’s, reimagining, reenchanting and reconstructing, I have borrowed from Congregation Beth Evergreen. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, said, “The past gets a vote, but not a veto.” In the Jewish ambit within which he remained though a convinced non-supernaturalist that meant taking the tradition and reconstructing it for contemporary life.

Reconstructing faith is, in my current understanding, a similar work. The traditional religious faiths get a vote, but not a veto. We can pick up strands from various traditions and rebuild them into a new faith, what I call an ur-faith, one we can all embrace, not as a replacement for our tradition if we don’t want that, but one expressing a new/old faith, one that trusts in the sun, in plants, in photosynthesis, in the sustaining powers of the soil.

Or, without visiting the old religions, we can create this new faith inductively from our lived experience. The miracle of new plants each spring. The wonder of soil complexity and its role in sustaining that miracle. The snow and the rain that bring fresh water to us, to replenish our rivers and aquifer. Consider the tomato on your table or the steak on the grill. They both store the energy of the sun and pass it on to us through the true transubstantiation as food becomes our body. The close, intimate bond between humans and animals that live with us like dogs and cats.

Stand outside at night. Look up. Stars and galaxies and planets. All there. So far away. Yet we are a part of them and they are a part of us. We need no other mystery, no other miracles, no other metaphysics.

from Delancey Place

Beltane                                                                                    Sumi-e Moon

Today’s selection — from What It’s Like to Be a Dog by Gregory Berns. Experimentation with dogs suggests that they understand human words as verbs (action items), but not as nouns (abstract symbols):

 

“How do animals treat names? If an animal doesn’t have the faculty to understand that words are symbols, it is unlikely that they can translate their names into a sense of self. More likely, animals learn that a particular utterance means something interesting is about to happen and that they’d better pay attention. Whenever someone said (to the dog Callie) ‘Callie,’ Callie directed her attention to whoever made that noise. I never got the sense that she equated her name with ‘me.’

 

“The experience of animal trainers would support the attention grabbing function of names. ‘Callie, sit,’ is thought to be more effective than ‘Sit, Callie.’ … Callie responds better to the first because her name gets her attention for the subsequent action. The reverse order requires her to remember the action that precedes her name. …

 

“We humans take it for granted that a name refers to the whole object. But there is no reason to expect other an­imals to think like us when it comes to language. Dogs could be feature-bound where we humans take a gestalt view. The evidence was scant, but a few studies did support my idea that dogs mapped words to objects in a fundamentally different way from humans.

 

 

“In 2012, Daniel Mills, a psychologist at the University of Lincoln in England who had published extensively on canine cognition, described how a single dog generalized from learned words. Again, the dog he used was a border collie. The dog was taught to associate a nonsense word (dax) with a furry object in the shape of a blocky U. Then, the researchers presented the dog with slightly different objects to see which ones he would choose as most similar. These objects varied in size, shape, and texture, but otherwise had similar characteristics. When hu­mans do this task, they typically generalize to shape, a behavior that appears around age two. But Mills found that the dog he studied tended to generalize initially on size, and then later on texture, but never by shape. Size and shape are global proper­ties of objects because they are defined by the whole thing. But texture is a local property, only discernible up close.

 

“Beyond the question of global versus local properties, when I began my work with Callie and the [toy] hedgehog it was not clear whether dogs understood that words referred to ob­jects. In most language tests, the words are nouns, which hu­mans have no problem understanding as referring to things. Even two-year-old children get this. But it could be that when Callie heard ‘hedgehog,’ she interpreted it not as a noun but as a verb-object action meaning ‘get hedgehog.’ It may seem like a subtle difference, but if we are to communicate with animals, we need to know whether they interpret words as actions or things.

 

“It is easy to teach dogs tricks. But tricks are actions. Teach­ing dogs that words could refer to things turned out to be much harder than teaching them to perform certain actions when they heard certain words. It may be that most dogs cannot un­derstand that words can refer to objects. After all, the only way a dog can demonstrate knowledge of a word is to interact with an object in some way. In a dog’s mind, a word may be a com­mand to do something. …

 

“If the semantic space of dogs is organized around actions rather than objects, then this would explain why they failed the usual tests of self-awareness, namely, the mirror test. Humans know that a reflection is a visual representation of something or someone. We take it for granted that the reflection is not the thing itself. But this cognitive operation requires the mental hardware for symbolic processing of things. If dogs’ brains are not wired to symbolically represent things, then they do not have the ability to link their reflections with a sense of self.

 

“This would not mean that a dog doesn’t have a sense of self. It would just mean that a dog doesn’t have the ability to represent that self abstractly, either by name or visual image.”

Mountain Sounds

Beltane                                                                            Sumi-e Moon

20151022_101834You might expect the cough of a mountain lion, the cries of magpies, mule deer and elk rustling through undergrowth, bugling in the fall, the sounds of the pines soughing as winds sweep down from Mt. Evans, perhaps even the violent poundings of the thunder storm the other night. And those sounds do exist up here.

But the one I here most often, aside from light traffic noise on Black Mountain Drive and dogs barking, is a chainsaw. Lots of fire mitigation work. Lots of tree felling for wood heat. Lots of people, I think, who just like their chainsaws. Me, included.

Neighbor Holly displaying t-shirt sold on the Han Motogear website

Neighbor Holly displaying t-shirt sold on the Han Motogear website

Then there are the motorcycles. Our neighbors, Eduardo and Holly, run a business selling steampunk gear to women riders. They have two Harleys. Motorcyclists come up here more often than bicyclists, riding in packs or alone, enjoying the mountain scenery and the fresh air. There are other motorheads up here including Jude our welder neighbor and the family two doors down that never got over the whole Volkswagen thing from the 60’s.

These folks, I think, and many of our other neighbors live up here as a base camp for canoeing, riding, climbing, 4×4 adventures off road, skiing. If you’re already in the mountains, it’s easier to explore them.

20180115_153644In the winter there is the scrape and drag of Jefferson County snowplows and the intermittent pushing and engine revving of private snowplowers, the whine of snowblowers.

Oddly, much of the time our home in Andover was quieter than it is here. And I value quiet. This noise does not, however, upset me. As an older adult, I’m happy to have neighbors close by and having neighbors means living with their habits and passions. Even the noises I’ve described are intermittent and when a heavy snow falls, or mid-day, like right now, or late at night, the silence here is profound.

 

Kate and the dogs

Beltane                                                                             Mountain Moon

20180418_154539 (3)Kate made dog treats for the first time since her surgery. She’s gradually gaining back use of her right arm. PT today for her at 8 am.

Dog news. Lots of barking, running around, sniffing, eating. Kep sometimes picks up a toy and carries it almost to the back door before dropping it, his gorilla yesterday. He knows we don’t like him to take toys outside, but he hopes. Rigel’s as strong and able as I can remember her being except for her arthritis. She runs out like a drag racer, kicking her back feet together like a funny car coming off the line. Gertie is so happy and wiggly in the mornings. She can’t wait to get outside.

 

 

4/20, Dogs

Spring                                                                           Mountain Moon

Just as I imagined I would after I turned seventy, Kate and I drove over to our local marijuana dispensary, The Happy Camper, to celebrate pot’s unofficial holiday, 4/20.

The Happy Camper on the flank of Mount Rosalie. Decorated. Sort of.

20180420_104823

A local food truck offered fried chicken, pulled pork, baby back ribs as part of the 4/20 celebration.

20180420_104817

Rigel and Gertie came along.

20180420_104829

Often when I go up to the loft, these treat loving dogs await me. They push past me to get there first.

20180418_154539 (3)

 

Yesterday in Pictures

Spring                                                               New Shoulder Moon

20180327_145202

Looking north from Happy Camper, Mt. Evans

20180327_144601 (2)

dogs who lunch

dogs who lunch

dogs who lunch

dogs who lunch

dogs who lunch

dogs who lunch

apres snow, Monday

apres snow, Monday

view from loft balcony

view from loft balcony

Recovery under the New Shoulder Moon

Spring                                                                           New Shoulder Moon

recovering-please-waitKate has slept well, mostly, her first two nights home. She’s controlling her pain with tylenol and the occasional tramadol or vicodin. She had a bout of nausea yesterday; but, unfortunately, that’s not really unusual. Her weight is up, thanks, she thinks, to good intravenous hydration in the hospital. Prior to surgery she’d had trouble keeping water down. She’s on the mend.

Can’t say the same for our *%$!!** dishwasher. Not the drain pump. Maybe the sump pump? Nope. So. Computer boards. 1 of 2. We have to order them, can’t get them by Wednesday. Oh. That means, due to 1 Stop (ha) Appliances mountain schedule, Mondays and Wednesdays only, that we’ll not see a working dishwasher until April 2nd which is the date of Kate’s post-op appointment with her surgeon. Grrrr.

10002012 05 01_4261Snow. While the rest of the nation east of the Rockies has been pounded with storm after storm this land of ski resorts and mountain passes has been dry, one of the 14 driest winters in the state’s meteorological history. Last night though, maybe 9 inches of heavy, wet fire dampening snow! Welcome.

Our little hippie dog Gertie has recovered from her long, strange trip over Sunday with her usual resilience. Tail wagging and happy. Gertie is a good role model for how to handle adversity.

The view out the window here in the loft shows snow covered solar panels, flocked lodgepole pines, a white Black Mountain, and a pastel blue/white sky. Peaceful.

 

 

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