We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Imbolc                                                                         Imbolc Moon

Valentine's Day Cupid-Postman-GraphicsFairy1“Valentine’s Day began in commemoration of St. Valentine. It seems that in the third century A.D., Emperor Claudius II of Rome issued a ban on marriages and engagements, to encourage young men to join the army instead. But Valentine went ahead and continued marrying couples in secret. When the emperor discovered this, Valentine was condemned to death and beheaded. The year was 278.” Chronicle

All Are Welcome

Imbolc                                                                        Imbolc Moon

I love my insightful friends who’ve weathered a gremlin or two. You know who you are.

One of them, Tom, sent me this poem from Rumi:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Splitters and lumpers

Imbolc                                                                           Imbolc Moon

splitters2Last night at Beth Evergreen three presenters, a University of Colorado Regent, a newly hired diversity specialist for Jeffco schools and an Evergreen woman, formerly a philanthropist and LGBT activist, now working in corporate social responsibility spoke about labeling and identity. It was, in some ways, disappointing.

Though the focus was on labeling, someone or something else (like census forms, school boards, the dominant culture) describes you, and identity, you describe yourself, the topic veered rapidly into a mode of doublespeak. It’s difficult to describe, but identity politics has become a minefield of careful positioning, trying not to cause offense, and further and further journeys into talking but not changing. Each person in the room last night, presenters and audience included, brought authentic concern and a willingness to be part of a solution. But, to what?

I kept thinking of the hoary argument in plant classification between lumpers and splitters. The same analytical dynamic plays out in many fields. Lumpers look for commonalities, seek to reduce the number of categories in any particular area of study while splitters look for differences, for nuanced distinctions that allow uniqueness to flourish. Neither approach is right or wrong, it’s almost a psychological tendency, I think, rather than a reasoned stance.

splitters3In identity description the nod now goes to splitters. As one presenter last night said, “I see gender like the stars in the sky, some may be brighter, more prominent, but there are many stars in the sky.” That’s breathtakingly broad.

A key word that emerged last night was fluidity. It basically means that the ground shifts frequently in this conversation, not least because people claiming their own identity often make different distinctions as they learn more about themselves and their community. There are, too, regional differences and age cohort differences. It’s a splitters’ paradise.

Here’s why it was disappointing to me. It felt like conversations from the mid to late sixties, though those were blunter in their focus. They were, at least at first, focused on civil rights for African-Americans, or Blacks, or Black-Americans. The power moves involved in labeling versus identifying were in bold relief. We’re not niggers or coloreds or darkies. We’re Americans with a particular historical background.

Remember Black is beautiful? Afros. Kente cloth. Angela Davis. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Last night was the contemporary version: male, female, bisexual, pansexual, transsexual, intersexual, asexual. Gay. Lesbian. It all felt depressingly familiar, as if we’d moved in time away from the sixties, but not in content.

beltane2017gorbachevThat’s not to say that “racial” distinctions were absent from the conversation. Not at all. Unfortunately. The strange, weird thing about this is that race is a nonsense category, not supported by genetics at all. So creating a splitters nomenclature for various “races” reinforces a non-existent and damaging conceptual paradigm. Of course, the culture, in diverse ways, uses race as a placeholder for attaching secondary characteristics to others. Of course it does. But how do we move away from that convenient slotting, or lumping of people based on skin color? Does it happen by emphasizing color? It cannot. Does it happen by ignoring the racist who does? No.

And that was the problem I had with evening. There seems to have no movement forward in the land of identity politics, only movement crabwise.

I did not ask my question, because it occurred to me on the way home, naturally. “Has identity politics by the left contributed to, even caused, the rise of populism now roiling our nation?” That is, have we, in slicing and dicing the particulars of personal difference blinded ourselves to the plight of working class Americans? It seems so to me.

A movement against oligarchy, plutocracy and autarchy must be first made of lumpers. These lumpers must find, express and celebrate the commonalities among those who suffer as a result of concentrated wealth, purchased power, dynastic ambition. Right now we have given away our power with a navel-gazing splitter mentality. Of course, we must be able to define and describe ourselves. Yes. But we must not only reach for the unique and particular, but for the broader and more universal. No political change can come without joining hands, so the more difficult, the more necessary task in the Trump era belongs not to the splitters but to the lumpers.




Mostly Good News

Imbolc                                                               Imbolc Moon

Kate’s sewing again, looking more rested. Her energy through the day is a bit more even. Good to see.

20180202_113032Rigel’s gained 8 pounds on her rabbit protein and potato diet. When we went to the VRCC on Friday, the tech said she’ll probably have to continue this diet indefinitely. She also has to get a B-12 injection once a week, also probably indefinitely. The key word, for us, is indefinitely. This is a better word than terminal, which we had expected.

Ruth, Gabe and Jon are up here because the grandkids like it on the mountain. They asked to come and spend the night. We had Cincinnati chili, chili on spaghetti with oyster crackers and sour cream. There were, too, chili dogs. Not a health food meal, but enjoyed by all. Ruth said she could eat 5,000 popsicles. When I went to bed, she said she had only 4,996 to go.

15177522925301509361960968The snow drought continues here with snow pack levels about 40% lower than normal. That’s bad news for those of us who live in the Rockies, but also bad news for the Colorado River Basin states that depend on our annual snow fall for a significant percentage of their daily water. This reality will have a definite effect on our summer.

In other dog news, Murdoch is getting bigger.



In the Beginning

Winter                                                              Moon of the Long Nights

AlKabbalah last night. The first session of Mystical Hebrew Letters. Rabbi Jamie began teaching kabbalah at the Kabbalah Experience with this class several years ago. It moves from the broader conceptual fields of Soul and Space, the first two classes this year, to the particular examination of the Hebrew alphabet.

As with all the kabbalistic material, the subject matter gets complicated fast. We began with an overview of this ancient language. According to recent scholarship Rabbi Jamie says, it is the oldest alphabet in the world. Like most early languages, Chinese for example, it began as pictographs.

alephAleph, the first letter, was an ox-head. The word aleph means ox-head, or head of ox, also learning and chieftain. Prior to the use of Arabic numerals each Hebrew letter stood in for numbers with the letter aleph as number one. The word aleph means 1,000. Thus, aleph symbolizes the philosophical notion of the one and the many.

It is silent. Not sure why, but aleph and ayin, though used in the written language, are always silent. As silent and first in the alphabet, it also symbolizes the silence out of which came everything.

(next day) Stopped writing this yesterday when my need for sleep overcame my ability to write a coherent sentence.

The big idea I took away from this class involved aleph and my reimagining/reconstructing emphasis on incarnation rather than transcendence. Jamie introduced the notion of the alphabet, the Hebrew alphabet, as a funnel flowing from aleph in the ein sof (unlimitedness), its silence standing for the space created when the ein sof contracted, the tzimtzum, and filled with ohr, the first light of creation which fractures and travels down through the tree of life with its 22 channels (connecting lines) to the tenth sephirot, or malchut/shekinah, which is this world. Its letter is tav, the 22nd and last letter.

At first I thought, oh this emphasizes transcendence, the physical world developing in a top down fashion from a realm unconnected to it save by the thinnest of conceptual threads. Then Jamie began to introduce the location of the letters on the tree of life and aleph did not appear above the keter (the crown at the top of the tree of life), but on the parallel line of connection between chesed and gevurah, essentially the middle of the tree of life. Huh? How could this be?

These two images represent the two different ways of understanding this idea:


This one shows the first representation of the funnel idea that came to me. It does in fact emphasize transcendence. But, when we remember (difficult to do when material is presented on paper) that the tree of life is three-dimensional and can be seen as a sphere, another possible image presents itself.


As the rabbi likes to say, Aha! The nub of creation, the contraction of the unlimited ein sof, the movement from the quantum world to the Einstenian/Newtonian this world, the shattering of the ur-ohr, the first light of creation, happens in the center of the sphere and radiates outward. Yes. The divine moves from within all to create, in an outward push, the shekinah, the divine manifested in created matter. This is big-bangy. The tzimtzum just proceeds the big bang which radiated outward from an unfathomably concentrated spot in the beforeness of whatever it was, the ein sof, to create literally everything we know.

This puts the sacred neither above nor below but within. In order to access sacred nature we do not need to cast a prayer upward toward the heavens or outward to a religious institution, but inward to the aleph in our own soul, to that silent spot in ourselves where resides our shard of the ohr, the first light.

Here is an image of the tree of life that shows the location of aleph between chesed and gevurah. Remember that the tree is three dimensional like the DNA helix.





Hey, Tom Byfield. Hi!

Samain                                                                     Bare Aspen Moon

Another shoutout to Tom Byfield. If you’re still reading Ancientrails, Tom, I want to say I’m glad for the report from Morry and Ginny. Sorry to hear about the pneumonia, glad to hear you’re on the mend from that. I was also heartened to hear that your trademark humor didn’t get submerged by the stroke. Laughing helps us all stay alive and by that metric you should live much longer.

I’ve not yet figured out how to have art in my life up here on Shadow Mountain. Maybe you’re having the same problem. Without regular visits to high quality museums like the MIA, Walker and the Russian Museum, with no regular responsibilities for tours, and no venue for continuing education art has shrunk to a much smaller spot in my life. And, I don’t like that. Three years in and counting. If you come up with any good ideas, let me know.

With the exception of art though living in the mountains has been revelatory for this Midwest born and raised boy. There is an altitude attitude and those of us who “go down the hill” to Denver or the burbs believe our life is much better up here than those flatlanders in the Mile High city. I’ve said it elsewhere, but it does feel like the Denver metro, right up to the first elevation of the foothills of the Front Range, is the end of the Midwest. The flat agriculture base of the U.S. washes up against the Rockies, right where the Laramide orogeny accordioned the earth’s mantle into mountains.

The wildlife, the seasonal changes, the bare rock and evergreen forested mountain sides, the variety of clouds and the clear, punishing skies create a place to live so different from the mile square quadrants of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana. Yes, I miss the tractors in the fields, the forests of deciduous trees, the humidity and the rich soil, the lakes and rivers, but here we have Mt. Evans, a fourteener nearby that controls our weather. We have Deer Creek and Turkey Creek canyons, Troublesome Gulch and Lair o’the Bear State Park. Rocky Mountain high. And glad.

Slowing Down

Samain                                                                   Bare Aspen Moon

thanksgiving-farm-harvest-postcardHoliseason busyness? End of term let down? Waiting for winter blues? Not sure, but my intellectual energy has been down over the last week plus. It’s a celebratory time for us with Jon’s 49th followed quickly by Hanukkah. Thanksgiving is not very far in the past with visions of barded capons still dancing in our heads. Joseph and SeoAh will be here on Christmas Eve. Gifts to buy, lights to string, wreathes and that white light deer with the moving head to put out. All good stuff, important and joyful. Still requires energy and attention.

sephirothshiningonesWith my kabbalah presentation finished last week and Adult Hebrew about to take a turn toward the more rudimentary (where I am), with Mussar coming close to the end of the Messilat Yesharim and the MVP group meeting on anavah, humility, over, I do have that end of the quarter, end of the semester feeling. A big sigh, relief, then something of a let down. When in college or seminary or studying for my D.Min., the end of term let down always involved a time of sinking away from the intellectual and into relaxation, distraction. That’s what this time feels most like.

We’re also near mid-December and have had no snow to speak of. The snow pack is below average, in the southern part of the state dangerously so (25% of normal), and the little remaining snow is on the north side of houses or in the forest’s shade. Though some Coloradans think the cold of winter has set in, these two Minnesota hardened souls can’t help feeling like fall’s hanging on. Too long. So, seasonal dislocation disorder?

There is, too, an I don’t know what to call it feeling. A sense, a feeling niggling, popping up once in a while. Maybe I’m pushing too hard, trying to get too much done.

jews do jewsJust looked back over a few posts and I can see the issue more clearly now. It’s been a lot. We went into Denver for Jews Do Jews only two days after we went in for Gabe’s concert. There were medical appointments and Rigel’s assault on my hearing. Jon’s birthday, grandkid watching, the bagel table Saturday on sexual harassment. And Beth Evergreen alone had adult Hebrew, kabbalah presentation, mussar, then the MVP group. In addition due to some unexpected morning disruptions my exercise suffered last week. When I miss too much exercise, I get a I’m not taking care of myself feeling that I really don’t like. Time for some down time. And what better time than high Holiseason?

Busyness. Good. Rest. Good.

Samain                                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

Ottlite. Or, dental robot?

Ottlite. Or, dental robot?

Yesterday was, by this retired guy’s standards, a busy, busy day. Over to Evergreen for my quarterly glaucoma check at 9 a.m. Dr. Gustave says my pressures at 12 and 13 are just right. Who wants to go blind, right?

Back home for a bit. Helped Kate set up her new Ottlite, an early Hanukkah present for this Jewish quilter and needleworker. It looks really weird.

At 10:15 I went down the mountain into Aspen Park where David at On the Move Fitness gave me a new workout. The reverse crunches and planks were. Hard. After a comment about my knee implant David, 51, and I got to comparing surgical histories. He mentioned he’d had brain cancer and brain surgery in 2015, then 17 months of chemotherapy. He’s still scanned every 12 weeks, having graduated from every 8 weeks recently.

When I mentioned prostate cancer surgery as the least troublesome compared to the knee replacement and the Achilles rupture repair, he lit up. “I like to hear positive stories.” Turns out his brain cancer is of a type that tends to recur.

Dave and Deb, owners of On the Move Fitness

Dave and Deb, owners of On the Move Fitness

We agreed that nature was a great healer for both of us. I told him my story about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon and he told me about his hikes, feeling the sun on his face. David ran a 15 mile race in the Canadian Rockies, near Whistler just this summer. He’s not letting fear hold him back.

I don’t really feel like a cancer survivor. It was such a strange experience, no symptoms, no sequelae other than those related to the surgical procedure. Yet, I am one. So far.

Back home for some vermicelli soup and a brief nap, then over to Beth Evergreen for the Thursday mussar class (Jewish ethics and character development). Marilyn and Carol led the session on gratitude. All through the class I thought about David and how grateful he was to be alive, feeling the sunshine on his face. Cancer does put things in perspective, if you pay attention. It releases us into a world where mortality has a more vigorous grip on our consciousness. If we survive.

expectDuring the conversation on gratitude we talked about the wonder and awe available to us always, in any given moment. I asked, “I believe the world is always wonderful and awesome if only we pay attention. So then a question is, what blocks us from seeing it. What’s the barrier?” Rabbi Jamie, in his way, came up with seven reasons, three major and four minor. I don’t recall them all, but he included over-sharing and numbing. How can we lean into gratitude, rather than self-absorption?

Vanessa, a member of the mussar group who has m.s.a., multi-system atrophy, a form of Parkinson’s, sent the link to this website. I’m usually not a fan of this sort of stuff, too treacly and soft for my taste, but this, this is something else. It’s the Network for Grateful Living.* Their vision, which surprisingly to me summed up my own, is below, along with their core values.



Back home for a brief nap, then a true grandparent evening. We drove in, through rush hour traffic, to Swigert elementary school. It took us an hour and a half of often excruciatingly slow traffic to get there. We were just in time for Gabe’s fourth grade concert of songs relevant to Colorado’s history. It lasted twenty minutes. Gabe ran over, gave me a hug, then grandma, then Jon. Jon was proud of him because he did not have his shirt tucked in. In fact, he looked a mini-Jon. Gabe went to his mom, then, because he and Ruth are with Jen this week. We got in the truck and came home.


*A peaceful, thriving, and sustainable world – held as sacred by all.


Our Core Organizational Values guide every aspect of our work, and are expressed and advanced through the practice of Grateful Living, which:

  • Reveals that everyone belongs and everyone is valued
  • Generates an experience of oneness and interconnectedness
  • Deepens love, compassion, and respect for all life
  • Cultivates a sense of sufficiency and abundance
  • Awakens kindness and generosity
  • Inspires the impulse to serve with humility
  • Contributes to the healing of body, mind, and spirit
  • Unleashes joy
  • Anchors hope and trust in life, especially in challenging times
  • Opens us to growth and opportunity
  • Offers pathways from conflict to peace
  • Is an engaged YES to a wholehearted life.


Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Rollo May, JoyFriends. Tom and Bill are here in Colorado. They came to Beth Evergreen yesterday and attended my adult Hebrew class, then we went over to Sushi Win for supper. 30 years of life together, weddings and funerals, laughter and tears. The easy understanding that comes from time, lots of time together. Irreplaceble. Fundamental to life. I’m grateful they took the time and expense of coming here.

It wasn’t long before we were at questions like when life and its ravages becomes too much. Bill’s wife Regina and her stroke at the end of a painful time struggling with cancer. Pat, a friend’s wife, who has lupus and suffers, perhaps at this point, too much. How do those of us in these relationships honor the dignity of the other, realizing we can’t ever inhabit their body, see the world from within theirs?  These are the difficult questions that the third phase visits on us and those around us.

Another long time friend

Another long time friend

Being able to talk about these things easily, but soulfully, is what long friendships can offer. And we need the spaces in our lives where these conversations can occur. I’m lucky to have Bill and Tom.

I’m also lucky that Beth Evergreen has begun to offer a similar depth, though not, of course, the long developed trust and confidence I have with them. That may come over the next few years. I imagine it will and that sense is a major factor in my love of that place.

So this is a hymn to friendship, an often unattended to aspect of our lives. The Woolly Mammoths graced me with a space that encouraged it. And I’m forever thankful for them for that space. I hope you have one.



Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Mountain spirit in velvet

Mountain spirit in velvet

Pagan. I call myself a pagan mostly to say I draw my religious content from the world around me, including other humans, rather than the texts held close to the heart by so many different world religions. Recently though I’ve come to think that the word might obscure more than it reveals, so I’m hunting for another one. Pagan, which simply means, in the same manner as heathen, someone living in the countryside, took on the coloration that it has now gradually.

Sophisticated theological thinkers tended to cluster in cities or in monastic settings while the peasants, those who had to live off the land, close to the land because their lives allowed no other way, held on to the traditions and rituals of their ancestors. The gap between the advancing dogma of the Roman Catholic church and the folkways of the countryside grew larger and larger over time. This was long before the majority of people lived in cities, so there was a numerical imbalance between the pagan rural and the educated elite in London or Paris or Rome. This meant that an institution that prided itself on knowing the truth had a problem.

predates the ancient Celts

predates the ancient Celts

Far more people, especially those in the woods and fields outside the urban centers, practiced a syncretic religion, a merging of folk beliefs and a limited understanding of Catholic dogma. The day of the dead, being celebrated now in Latin America, illustrates that this dilemma for the Roman Catholic’s extends into our time. Most of the Great Wheel holidays got Christianized at one point or another, with All Souls Day taking the place of Samain, Lammas taking the place of Lughnasa, Easter the place of Ostara, Christmas the place of the Saturnalia, at least in the hearts and especially the mind of the church.

In other words pagans are not at all uniform in their beliefs. Hardly. The Celts had their Great Wheel holidays, their pantheon of gods and goddesses like Lugh, Arawn, Bridgit, the Morrigan. The Norse had their bards who sang the songs of Odin and Thor and Sleipner and Fenrir. Go around the world and you will find a similar struggle between those who clung to the local deities and local traditions and the prevailing institutional power of, say, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity. Even Taoism and Confucianism in China faced similar, usually passive, resistance when they institutionalized.

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardSo when I say pagan it may conjure in your mind Wicca or witches or maybe the Norse Asatru. But that’s not what I’m trying to convey. I say pagan and mean over against ossified and ossifying dogma. I say pagan and mean over against institutional power trying to determine the inner life. I say pagan and mean pay attention to the natural world, close attention. Learn how you are in it. I say pagan and I mean think for yourself, don’t spend all your time interpreting the words of others, speak your own words, name your own experience.

This is not what pagan meant in its original context. In the days of medieval Europe the pagan was an unlettered serf, a person so consumed with bare survival that the subtlety of Aquinas or Augustine cluttered up their lives. They resisted not out of intention, but with a passive insistence on the value of their passed down ways of seeing, of knowing.

I say pagan, too, to mean that I’m not agnostic or atheist in identification. The result of my thought might seem to place me in those categories, but they are categories defined in relation to monotheism. So you might be a Christian agnostic or atheist, that is, you doubt or don’t believe in the Christian god. Or, a Jewish agnostic or atheist. Or, a Muslim. Or, a Hindu agnostic or atheist. Agnostic or atheist is really a place holder for something you define yourself against, the a meaning not, not known or knowable, not theist.

Black Mountain, September, 2017

Black Mountain, September, 2017

I don’t care what you don’t believe in. I want to know what you do believe. What moves you? What shapes your heart? Unlike the original pagans, I want to intentionally resist the clouding of our perception by powerful institutions, be they political, economic, educational, or religious. I have no new dogma to offer. I like the Great Wheel because it allows a useful frame for seeing ourselves in the cyclical turn of the seasons, not because it is a new dogma. I like Judaism, at least that of the Reconstructionist sort, because it acknowledges the metaphorical nature of religious texts and rituals, does not give them ontological power.

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Most of all though I like the coming of night and day, fall and winter, dry and wet. I like the lick of a dog’s tongue, the kiss of my wife, the hugs of my grandchildren. I like the mountains and their streams, their wildlife, their majesty. Seen from within these precious realities the political is incidental, the religious suggestive not prescriptive, the economic a tool and education an unveiling.

Maybe I’m not a pagan, maybe I’m a human, living this life on my own terms. So, maybe humanist?

March 2018
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