Oh, yes. My answers came.

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

A friend asked me: “(As a result of facing death) have you been informed by any wider sense of the simple joy of being?  Or any other description of the immediate worth of being?”

Mortality signals. They’ve been in my life since toddlerhood. Polio in 1949. Mom died in 1964. Lost all hearing in my left ear suddenly at 38. MRI for brain tumor as a result. High blood pressure. Took me years to come out from under mom’s death. An alcoholic haze lasting until my late 20’s.

Even after I emerged from my grieving sober, there was still rage, still self-loathing, still so much overburden. Took another decade of Jungian therapy. Then, finally, I met Kate.

She was my chance to live a different life, one unhooked from the patterns and history, or, at least, unhooked from their power over me. We made a pact to support each others creativity, each others deepest hopes. And, we have done that.

We’ve raised two boys into men. We went as close to Mother Earth as we could. Years of soil amendments, planting seeds. Corms. Tubers. Bulbs. Slips. Trees. Shrubs. Harvesting tomatoes, leeks, onions, beans, beets, carrots, raspberries, apples, pears, plums, cherries. Bee keeping. Artemis Honey for friends and for ourselves.

Kate’s quilting and sewing became her place to express love and imagination. I wrote. Many novels. Literally millions of words on this blog. We both supported, in our own ways, political values of compassion, love, justice. Or, leadership as my friends Paul and Sarah Strickland, Lonnie Helgeson, and Gary Stern defined it for Leadership Minneapolis back in the 1980’s. (funny story there. for another time.)

We moved. For family. And, because, as John Muir said, “The mountains were calling.” Mortality signals began coming with more urgency. Prostate cancer once. New knee. Prostate cancer twice. Kate’s Sjogren’s, her bleed, weight loss, lung disease. Her new shoulder and, earlier, hips.

All this time, even from my youth, besotted with religion, small r. The deep, the awesome, the wonderful. Sure, in my childhood it had Methodist as a label. Threw that away in my junior year of high school. “Your god is too small.”

Went looking for other clues. First in Roman Catholicism. Then, existentialism. Later, a more examined, more intellectual, more spiritual Christianity. The ministry. Disillusionment.

Here’s the synchronicity. Before I met Kate, a year or two, I’d been in spiritual direction with John Ackerman at Westminster Presbyterian. As I explained to him where I found spiritual sustenance, in the earth, a tactile spirituality, I said, he had an ah-ha, “Charlie, you’re a Druid!”

By the time I met Kate I was well on my way out of Christianity. In fact, I was all the way out, yet still, Grand Inquisitor fashion, working in the ministry. When she agreed to my quitting the ministry to write, the timing saved my soul.

She recommended I find a niche, a place to call my own when writing. Hmmm. Looked to my ancestors. Knew I had some Irish and Welsh blood, Ellis and Correl, so I went searching into Celtic thought.

The Great Wheel. Seems innocent enough, ordinary. An agricultural focused calendar. The Celts started out with only two seasons: Summer and the fallow time, Winter. They added the solstices and the equinoxes, then named the cross-quarter holidays: Beltane, May 1, Lughnasa, August 1, Samain, October 31st, and Imbolc, February 1, each halfway between either a solstice or an equinox.

The sequence was “…a Druid!”, Kate, Celtic thought, Andover and the perennial flowers, the orchard, the raised beds, the fire pit, the bees.

After, in Colorado, living in the Rockies, I found the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon. Drove back home to Shadow Mountain after my biopsy results confirmed my cancer diagnosis. Through Deer Creek Canyon.

The mountains on either side of the road that followed Deer Creek Canyon. Exposed rock, cliffs, peaks. Deer Creek moving rapidly down toward the South Platte. Their age. The Laramide Orogeny. Rock thrust up from its place in the earth’s crust. Started 80 million years ago, ended 33 million or so years ago.

Those rocks reached out to me as I drove, called to me. I thought about the Appalachians, once mighty and tall, now worn down by millennia of rain and streams and trees and grass. They formed 480 millions years ago. These mountains, these rocky mountains through which I drove were young. Still jagged, still exposed in parts. Might take 400 millions years, maybe more, to wear them down to Appalachian size.

The may fly. Flies up and mates in one day. Then, dies. Oh. I see. My life. A may fly life. Shorter, even, compared to the Rockies. More like a fraction of a second. When I’m gone, my may fly life ended by prostate cancer or something else, these mountains (I’m still driving and thinking and feeling shocked) will look as they do now. Yet, even their life above the earth’s crust has limits.

So, too, the earth. When the sun comes to the end of its life and becomes a red giant, it will engulf the earth and our planet, our only home, will be gone.

That day the strongest mortality signal I’ve ever received cracked me open, laid my soul bare to the complex interleaving of human life, of life itself, and the souls of the mountains. We are one, all part of the cycling of elements that began with the Big Mystery. We have our time, long or short, then we return to the primal forces that wander among solar systems and galaxies.

That was the Great Wheel realized at its most expansive, a repeating series of beginnings, growth, harvest, and decay. The movement from Beltane to Samain. It became enough for me, spiritually and religiously.

When the cancer reemerged, I was in a different place. The consolation of Deer Creek Canyon, the fundamental and universal rhythms of the Great Wheel had reshaped my inner landscape. I do not need a text based religion to tell me who I am or what life means. I do not need a guru or a silent retreat to go into my own deep well.

This is me. 72. Prostate cancer. Still alive. Still living my life. I sleep well at night. When I wake, I do not ruminate. I have a pleasant, floaty feeling, then return to sleep. This is new for me. Not something you’d expect after a recurrence of cancer, but true anyhow.

Here’s my direct answer to my friend. “Have I been informed by any wider sense of the simple joy of being?  Or any other description of the immediate worth of being?” Shifting one word is enough. “Have I been informed by any wider sense of the joy of becoming? Or any other description of the immediate worth of becoming?

Deer Creek Canyon finished my long journey from monotheism to a process theology. I was not. I am. I am not. I don’t care. A Roman epitaph. I would change it to: I was becoming. I am becoming. I will become. I love this butterfly turning of the Great Wheel.

With Chuang Tzu, I don’t know if I’m a butterfly dreaming of Charlie or Charlie dreaming of a butterfly.

Being Seen

Summer and the Radiation Moon

25th fraction today. Ten more to go. No longer sure when I finish since we lost two days more this week. Probably the 9th of August, barring other infestations.

Kate’s promoting a new superhero: Bedbugman/woman. It starts in a cancer treatment center where a mild-mannered physician, who looks like Dr. Gilroy, gets bitten by a bedbug irradiated by the CyberKnife. There’s more to figure out, like powers and villains and such, but this could be a rival to Marvel, doncha think?

Wednesday and Thursday were what we prostate cancer patients like to call Bedbug days. Hopefully the heat treatment got the little bastards. But. Will bedbug guy return with a new creepy crawly and start this cycle over again? Not counting on August 9th.

Kate and I went to mussar yesterday. Since my treatments are midday, except for Bedbug days, I’ve been unable to go since I started the radiation. We got there once or twice prior to my treatment, but doctor appointments and general fatigue kept at home most of the time.

The conversation was again about awe, Marilyn presiding. I’m going to do some more research here, but from a slightly different angle. As we talked, I became convinced that awe and mysticism have a distinct correlation. That’s one part of the research. I’m also intrigued with the connection between Rudolf Otto’s work, The Idea of the Holy, and awe. It may be that awe is an element I’ve been looking for in reimagining/reconstructing the idea of faith. Perhaps a crucial one. More later.

CBE and the Thursday mussar group in particular have been part of our lives since we discovered them in 2016. It was nurturing to be seen, to be able to recount some of my journey to friends. To be, again, part of a group I care about and that cares about me. And, Leslie brought us a meal in a blue plastic cooler. Mindy said she’d be bringing food by on Tuesday. Feeling loved. Gratitude.

A little hep

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Relaxed. A no pressure weekend away from the cyber knife.

SeoAh and Joe, December, 2018

Decided to have the mitzvah committee bring us meals. Over the months of Kate’s ordeal we had a brief time with them, early. Very helpful. SeoAh came twice. The rest of the time I made meals or we ate leftovers.

Cooking requires more motivation and energy than I have at the end of a radiation day. Kate’s stamina is better, but she’s not up to standing for as long as it takes to cook meals. The mitzvah committee will organize a rotation.

a middot (character trait) that Kate and I will present in August

Even though I know this is the right thing for us, and even though I know this is something many in the congregation have wanted to do, there’s still a I should be able to handle this feeling that niggles at the back of mind. Like we’re imposing on the good will of others.

When I said it felt like we needed help, Susan said, “We’ve asked multiple times.” And they have. Alan, Rich, Marilyn, Sherry, Michele, Rabbi Jamie, Ron, Tara have each asked multiple times, too. It’s part of what it means to be CBE, to be Jewish.

It reminds me of the way farmers help each other, or members of small, rural communities. It’s a sense, no, a knowing, that we’re all in this together, that life throws challenges at us that sometimes exceed our resources.

Of course in Judaism there is also belonging to the tribe. This is real by blood, by history, by persecution, and for many, by religious conviction. The tribe takes care of its own. In this sense I’m as much a part of the tribe as Kate is. This community has my commitment to it and I have its to me. A covenant by love rather than blood and history.

This has moved me so much that when Rich told me he was helping Jamie with the new cemetery, I said, really without thinking, “Good. I hope it works. I’d like to spend eternity with the members of CBE.” Whoa. This current is running deeper than I had imagined.

Adversity unveils gratitude. To have the mitzvah committee available to us when we need it. To have friends who will think of us, who want to help, who are eager to help. Like Paul, Tom, Bill, and Ode who said if I needed driving to radiation and couldn’t find anybody to help, one of them would be out here. To have family and friends in faraway places like Bangkok, Singapore, California, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee reach out.

Awe begets gratitude. Awe = Grand Canyon, Ring Nebula, lava flowing into the sea, birth, death, yes, all these. Awe also = active caring, love, loyalty, family bonds, friendship. Without these last we would remain isolated, stuck in our fleshly prisons, bound to a lonely journey. With them we are humans in community, as Ram Dass said, “Just walking each other home.” Thanks for being my partner on this walk home.

22

Summer and the Radiation Moon

22 fractions absorbed. 13 to go. Bed bug means I won’t be ending on August 6th. August 7th. Two weeks plus three days and I’ll have the full 7000 cGy of photons.

This week’s been difficult. I’ve tried various strategies for managing my ouchy gut. Anti-nausea meds. Zofran. Miralax. Immodium. Results mixed. A general sense of gut not feeling right has pervaded my days and nights. Add to that fatigue from the radiation itself and the couple of hours in traffic. Result: low energy, unsettled, spotty eating. Glad I’m over halfway done.

Could have been worse. Could get worse. Seems like a fair price to pay for the possibility of a cure.

The fans up here are cooling the loft. A breeze is coming down from Black Mountain. The sun is up. The sky is blue. Another beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountain day.

2014

Kate went to mussar on Thursday while I was in Lone Tree. Yesterday she went to a memorial service for Vanessa, a long time member of the Thursday afternoon mussar group. I mentioned her a while ago. She had a degenerative disease that slowly shut down her organs.

Vanessa’s mind remained strong, supple but eating, chewing, swallowing was very difficult. Over the last week or so she had had trouble breathing. Her spirit remained good.

We had a neighbor in Minnesota, Greg, who developed MLS. He also deteriorated over time, but his spirit turned sour. Why him? Why this disease? Why didn’t people treat him better? He died last year.

We’re not promised a smooth ride. And, most of us don’t get one. Gratitude is one antidote. Vanessa remained grateful for life, for friends, for family, for her faith. She lived fully even as her body betrayed her. Greg was not grateful. He lived miserably, then died.

Kate and I have plenty of opportunity to express our gratitude. From distant friends who stay in touch to family, grandkids, CBE folk. Lots of help, encouragement and love. Thank you all, again. Still.

Awe

Summer and the Radiation Moon

An orange disc slipped up between two cumulus clouds, darkening one and throwing rusty beams on the other, the Radiation Moon. We drove home from MVP. Up Brook Forest Drive.

At the curve before Upper Maxwell Creek the moon rise showed itself in the cleft of Shadow Mountain. These vignettes, available and free for those who choose to see, give us a glimpse into the wonder, the beauty, the power, the mystery of our universe. Those who knew it as caterpillar may not recognize the butterfly.

The middot of that night’s meeting was awe. Yirah. Often translated, especially in Christian translations of the “old testament” (doesn’t feel old when it’s ever present in the life of CBE) as fear. Fear of the Lord is a common phrase, usually meaning faith.

Marc Chagall

“We are to love God. Can we love that which we fear? Stockholm Syndrome. Can we love that which is distant? What is love? Are we in some way held in relationship by fear? What does that say about our relationship with God?” Susan offered several provocative ideas for discussion. We left-my stomach made me do it-before the conversation got to this set of questions.

Sent this note to Susan about them: “Awe is the main driver of my (small r) religious life. I experience awe looking up at Black Mountain, down at the Columbine, when I eat, the true transubstantiation, when I see others, knowing their inner life is as rich as mine, but hidden. Awe begets gratitude. Gratitude begets simplicity. Enough for me.”

And so it is.

That Damned Tunnel

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Thought more about the tunnel I mentioned in the post below. For a long while, especially from February through mid-May or so, I thought the light at the end of the tunnel was the ironic oncoming train. Seemed like the tunnel had shrunken and passing through it was a unit train headed in our direction.

Once Kate began to gain weight, smile, the tunnel expanded a bit. A small path opened up that we could jump onto and wait out the train. When the cancer diagnosis went from psa to imaging studies, and the imaging studies showed no mets, the small path widened up enough for both of us to stand next to each other.

The exit from the tunnel is still far off. I’m estimating September, late September, as the time when we see if the track outside the tunnel runs through a pleasant valley or back into another mountainside.

When I did the Progoff workshop in May I thought mostly about the time since Kate’s bleed. On the way to radiation today I turned this over again and decided that the move to Colorado was the key moment. Since then four aspects of our new life came to dominate.

supervised trip, A-Basin, 2016

Family. Since we moved here on the Winter Solstice of 2014, Jon has gone through a bitter divorce, lived with us for a year and purchased his own home. The grandkids have gone from traumatized to tween and teenager. In 2016 we went to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding. Since then, SeoAh has become an important part of our family, too.

Colorado. We live in this remarkable state, close to many things people spend thousands of dollars to visit. We’ve seen few of them. The tunnel has contained us. Perhaps as we emerge from the tunnel, we’ll be able to plan trips. 5280, a magazine, has an insert this month, 10 classic Colorado road trips. A good place to start.

We live in the mountains among the lodgepole pines, aspens, craggy cliffs and fast flowing streams. Mule deer, elk, fox, bears, and mountain lions are our neighbors. Making our life here on Shadow Mountain has given us great joy, the beauty and the changing seasons

Kate at the CBE board’s oneg, Rosh Hashanah, 2018

Judaism. Congregation Beth Evergreen has been a refuge, a joy. The folks there have shown us what community means, what mitzvah means, that life together is better than life apart. Friends, intellectual sustenance, spiritual growth.

October 8, 2018

Healthspan. It was the diagnosis in 2015 that started it. Oh. Cancer? Really? Let’s get it out and move on. Tried to do that. Next up. Arthritic knee. Get a new, titanium one. Yes. Good choice. Kate needed a new right shoulder. Also a good choice. Sjogren’s began to eat into Kate’s well-being, dragging her weight down, causing fatigue, nausea. The bleed made it all more problematic for her. Second bleed. Pneumothorax. Each meant time in the hospital, starting in the E.R. at Swedish. Flu. Pneumonia. Me. Rising psa. Oh? Really? Later here we are in week 3 of the radiation. Hopeful for the near term future. How our lifespan has been affected? Probably shortened.

First day of radiation

It is my feeling that emergence from the tunnel will call on us to interact more fully with all of these four. I’m excited and ready.

Back to the Inner Glow

Summer and the Recovery Moon

And, summer. A warm week ahead. Of course. Mountain weather. Great sleeping.

My first weekend respite from the radiation is over. It’s off to Lone Tree and Anova around 11:10 or so. Have to get gas. Burn through a lot of the fossil fuel with an hour commute. But, it is in a nice car. Back on the Beano, only drinking tap water. No seltzer. Bubbles.

The Gleaners, Jean-Francois Millet

Sunday is my rest day from working out. I read. An essay on charity and justice in the Torah parshah for Kate and mine’s bagel table on September 14th. These suckers are long. In this instance Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. It contains the most laws of any parshah in the Torah. The charity and justice essay is a reflection on the laws concerning gleaning.

Then, some art criticism in a book Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light. Peter Schjeldahl. This guy is a genius. Wonderful, short essays on contemporary artists and their work.

Finally, a couple of articles on what conservatives are up to intellectually right now. It seems Trump has unveiled cracks in a conservative consensus begun around the time of William Buckley: a corporate oriented focus on the economy, a robust military with a kickass foreign policy, and conservative social values. Simpler times, man. Simpler times.

A CBE friend brought over a blueberry lemon pound cake and a large plastic container of serious vanilla ice cream. She’s in cancer treatment right now, too. We talked for an hour or so until Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up to take another run at the serious clog in our bathroom sink.

He knows a lot about houses and their inner workings. I don’t. With Ruth and Gabe’s help the three of them spent a lot of time in our crawl space first with a snake, then with Drano, then with the snake again. It was a stubborn clog, mostly hair, I think. They persevered and got it. Yeah!

I made mashed potatoes with cut up steak from yesterday’s left overs. Broccoli florets. Ice cream, as you might imagine, for dessert.

Getting a plumber up here to come by for such a small task is difficult. Only a few good ones up here and they spend most of their time on remodels and new construction. They work in small jobs when they can. Good thing Jon could help.

Ruth decided to stay all night so she can help us today. I hope she and Kate can get back to sewing.

The Mountains Are Calling

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Yamabushi monk

Not sure exactly what’s going on here. They mention Shugendo. It’s a fourteen hundred year old tradition that has esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto roots. They refer to themselves as Yamabushi, those who prostrate themselves on the mountain.

Master Hashino

It seems like they’re dedicated to reducing the distance between humans and mother earth. Or, perhaps better, creating awareness of that already existing intimacy, now obfuscated by so much.

Fellow travelers with me, I think.

The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion.

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice. The day of the sun’s maximum presence for the year. On the solstices the day/night balance shifts. On the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (though if you check the time tables the difference between June 21st and July 21st is only 13 minutes), the night begins to encroach, slowly.

Whatever guides my soul prefers the dark days, the fallow time. I celebrate on this holiday not the victory of the light, but the coming dominance of the night. I do like the bright blue days here in Colorado, not saying I don’t. Just that my soul gains more richness, more depth as darkness grows. Probably one of the reasons I felt so much at home in Minnesota, at the 45th latitude, half-way to the Northpole.

As a gardener, of course, I relished the light for the vegetables and fruits, for the flowers that fed our bees. The summer solstice signals the growing warmth and long days that nourish all plant life. It was also the time, though, that bugs grew more troublesome, when the humid weather encouraged fungus and mold, viral infections in the plants.

In Sweden, Scotland, and other Gaelic and Scandinavian countries the auld religion still calls to its people. Bonfires. Nudity. Parties through the night. Feasts. I like the idea of them. If there were one close by, I might go.

My relationship with neo-paganism is as fraught as my relationship with Christianity. Judaism, too, at the doctrinal level. There’s so much intellectualizing, writing of ideas, logic. I’ve come to believe that elaborating our feelings toward the natural world in a Wiccan or Asatru way, a neo-pagan syncretic way, is as damaging to the soul as the dogmas and laws of other religions.

In the language of Taoism, the one lens which seems to consciously push away dogma, I would say it this way: The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion. Barriers between our soul and its path.

Emerson has influenced me here and he was, in turn, influenced by Taoism. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll have read these words more than once:

“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also.” Emerson’s Introduction to his essay, Nature.

It is this sensibility that I celebrate as each of the Great Wheel holidays roll round. The sensibility that helps us become native to the various places where we live. The sensibility that finds the soul’s interaction with the seasons enough. The sensibility that drags down, pulls away the words to look directly at this universe into which we are born. The sensibility that does not fight the turning of the wheel, but sees the seasons of our lives as one with the changing seasons. This is my understand of wu wei, conforming our life to what is, not what might be.

What I encourage is the sun on your face. Your hands in the soil. Your feet on a hiking path. Your ears alive to the buzzing of bees, the bugle of the elk, the bark of the dog, the words of your friends. What I encourage is living your life as it comes, knowing that it leads to death, yes, but that until death you are alive.

Hug. Smile. Laugh. Cry. Plant. Harvest. Compost. Be grateful. That’s enough.

The Mountains Called Me

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

After I wrote about the one-antlered elk, another buck jumped our fence. He had two antlers, both velveted, as you can see. These two large animals are the Rocky Mountain subspecies of Cervus elaphus, one of six in the U.S., and the subspecies with the largest racks. In the 700 pound range. They’re big.

These guys stayed all night, lying down from time to time, then getting up to continue snacking on grass, dandelions, our backyard aspen, a Colorado Blue Spruce. When I woke up yesterday morning, they were dining right outside our bedroom window.

The dogs have to go out in the morning and when they did, they chased the elk to the corner of our property. One-antlered guy jumped the fence while I watched. He walked over to it and jumped. Right over. Our fence is five feet high. Dr. Gilroy, who’s from Wyoming, said to keep elk out there, they have to put ten foot fences. I believe it after seeing this one clear ours with grace and ease.

The two-antlered buck stayed a while, but he eventually left, too.

Another instance of synchronicity. I mentioned the three mule deer bucks I saw on Samhain when I came for the closing on our property in 2014. In the intervening four and a half years we’ve had neither mule deer nor elk in the back, fenced in portion of our property. In the front, yes, but not in the back.

We say this to prostate cancer

These two spirits of the mountain came the day I started my radiation treatment. And they stayed the night. No wonder our ancient ancestors painted these creatures in soot and ochre on cave walls. No wonder cultures around the world find spirit animals to guide them. When big animals show up in your life voluntarily, your life shifts. You have to consider their presence.

Some have said that Colorado has not been kind to us. I get it, too. Prostate cancer diagnosed four months after we got here. A new knee. Jon’s divorce. Kate’s shoulder, Sjogren’s, bleed, lung disease. All since we got here.

It’s not Colorado though. AA has a saying, wherever you go, there you are. This comes from the notion of the geographic escape. If I just leave this town where all my trouble started, I’ll start over fresh. Nope. Wherever you go, there you, the alcoholic, are.

We brought aging with us. My PSA was 4.0 the last physical I had in Minnesota. I’m 72, Kate’s 75 this August. Stuff begins to catch up with us at these ages. Genetics plays a large role as do dietary choices, exercise. Even with those all good, it’s still: eat right, exercise, die anyway. Not blaming Colorado. The contrary.

I have what I consider solid evidence that we not only belong here, but that we are welcome. Congregation Beth Evergreen. The frequent visits with Jon and the grandkids. The everchanging, but always wonderful beauty of the mountains.

And, for me, the grace note of these animals. Yes, Charlie, we know this is a difficult time. We know too that you are, like us, an animal. You can worry and fret or you can stop, eat the dandelions, the grass. Lie down among the lodgepole pines and the aspen. Jump the fence into another world. You did just that when you and Kate moved to Shadow Mountain and we’re glad you came. Amen. Blessed be.