We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Thunder Snow

Spring                                                                New (Rushing Waters) Moon

 

RMNP spring

RMNP spring (not yet)

Spring, within 6 days of Beltane. Yesterday. Thunder snow. Took Gertie by surprise. Her eyes flicked from side to side, then she moved under my computer while I worked. And stayed there until we went downstairs. The solar panels have a fluffy white cover and some 16″ of new snow is predicted for the weekend. A poster on a local website said spring up here doesn’t come until Mother’s Day is past and the aspens have leafed out. Mid-to-late May. Seasonal definitions get a workout here in the mountains.

 

Great Wheel in the Montane Ecosystem

Spring                                                                   Passover Moon

BeltaneAs the passover moon enters its final phase, the Great Wheel heads toward Beltane. No longer spring then, as the wheel turns toward the growing season, toward summer. Up here (above 8,800 feet, the montane ecosystem) there is no real growing season though things do grow: lodgepole pines, aspen, grasses, willows, dogwood, shrubs whose names I haven’t learned.

There are gardens, of a sort. The short warm season and the cool nights make Midwestern style outdoor gardening very difficult. Then, there’s the lack of water. If I were younger, I might take on the challenge, probably with the aid of a greenhouse, but I want to do other things during that time now. Like hiking. Travel in the area.

The only real crop I’ve seen up here is hay, which grows in mountain meadows. The rest of the growing is done by indigenous plants and the occasional plastic covered hoop garden or greenhouse plus a smattering of container grown plants.

modIMAG06205This is so different from my 68 years in the midwest. When I drove back to Minnesota last September for Joseph and SeoAh’s reception at Raeone’s, I experienced an unexpected nostalgia for farming and its sights. I didn’t realize I’d missed tractors in the fields, long rows of wheat and corn and beans, silos and barns, cattle and pigs and sheep. But I had.

To see agriculture in Colorado requires driving east into the high plains. Even there though hay and some wheat, feedlots dominate. Not like Iowa, Indiana, Illinois because even the high plains are still west of Cozad, Nebraska through which runs the 100th parallel which divides the U.S. into the humid east and the arid west.

Here the mountain altitudes and the aridity modify the humid east’s seasonal cycle, conflating spring and early summer, then creating a longer but less colorful autumn. Winter is the most distinct season though it can swing wildly between feet of snow and sunny, warm weeks. The cooling effect associated with altitude means there are few warm summer nights to help vegetables like tomatoes to develop fully.

Beltane, 2016

Beltane, 2016

Beltane in the mountains does not inspire rites of fertility in the fields or the lighting of bonfires for cattle to be driven through. I suppose you could still find a fire or two for those hoping for children to jump over (to quicken the sperm and the egg), but at least in the Colorado I know so far, that’s unlikely.

Beltane is a fire festival and perhaps that’s the true association with the season. Around Beltane the precipitation patterns in the Front Range change, with fewer and fewer chances of rain or snow. The result of this waning of available moisture, which ends, usually, in the monsoons of late August, means fire hazard rises.

More thoughts on how the mountains modify the Great Wheel on May 1st.

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.

 

 

Remarkable

Spring                                                                               Passover Moon

Synodic-and-Sidereal-3The waning passover moon is behind a faint scrim of clouds giving it a moonlit halo. Each moon cycle repeats the past, yet is unique to itself. The slow orbit (relatively slow) of the moon around the earth produces the same phases each month and in that sense repeats. But the lunar month and the sidereal year do not quite match up*, as all cultures that depend on lunar months for their calendars have long known. Judaism is such a culture.

Each lunar month happens at a slightly different place in earth’s orbit due to this irregularity over the course of sidereal year. In addition, our whole solar system is not static, but moves through the universe at a speed of 12 miles per second toward the constellation Lambda Herculis.** At the same time our solar system is also spinning around the Milky Way and the Milky Way itself is speeding toward a collision with Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years.+

sun-movement-milky-way-101222-02When you consider the irregularities in the lunar position occasioned by the sidereal/synodic difference and the speed of our solar system both moving on its own toward Lambda Herculis and around the Milky Way and then throw in the speed of the Milky Way itself, it becomes clear that no one phase of the moon every occurs in even remotely the same location.

Why belabor this? Becauses it underscores the irreproducibility of much seemingly regular phenomena. Now think about the long span of evolution on this moving planet, within this speeding solar system. This means that no animal or plant species has occupied the same cosmic location for even a short span of its existence. So, in this sense alone, each animal or plant species is unique. But, each animal or plant itself is also unique because it comes into existence and dies, having occupied only one small niche in the larger web of life.

Australopithecus afarensis

Australopithecus afarensis

Within this context regard human evolution. Australopithecus, considered the first instance of the Homo genus, has been dated to 2.8 million years ago. Since that time the genus went through many speciations until, about 200,000 years ago, our own species, Homo sapiens, emerges. So, for over 200,000 years individuals of our own specific branch of evolution have been born, lived and died. Each one of them are unique within just our species.

Each of us, then, from the moment of our birth and for the very brief span of our life (in cosmic terms), travels literally millions and millions of miles, speeding around the sun, the Milky Way, toward Lambda Herculis and as part of our galaxies own rush toward Virgo and Libra. In addition each of us represents a specific instance of an evolutionary branch with its own branch on the tree of life, a branch that split off on its own some 2.8 million years ago.

This means we are each unique in many different ways in addition to the obvious ones of parentage, genetics and personal development.

image of godFinally, the point. We are, each of us, unique and precious instances of over 2 billion years of evolution of life on Earth. We represent a moment in time, yet even our moment is not static. It finds us moving incredible distances.

A key insight of both Judaism and Christianity is the notion that we are all made in the image of God. This insight casts a bright light on both each person’s uniqueness while also revealing our oneness. This truth does not change no matter what content you put into the word God.

treeThink about it. Out of all the billions of years since the Big Bang, moving in all the various ways discussed above and at speeds that make Formula One look slothful in the extreme, you and I exist in this special time together. How remarkable! We are in fact made as the conscious image of this whole universe, with all its reckless momentum and we have been given the chance to know each other and through knowing each other to know the universe that gave birth to us.

Camus talked about the river of life that flows toward death, what I have called in recent posts the Gulf of All Souls. He suggested that it was our common responsibility  to make this journey as pleasant and peaceful for each other as possible. As Ram Dass says, we’re all just walking each other home.

 

 

*watch this short movie to understand the difference between the sidereal month, 27.322 days, and the synodic or lunar month of 29.531 days.

**solar system speed and the other measurements that complicate it

+This webpage shows the difficulties in measuring the speed of objects in the universe and gives a speed for the Milky Way as it moves in the universe–an amazing 1.3 million miles per hour!

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.

Sacred Time

Spring                                                                         Passover Moon

20160330_091630“You need a rest day.” “Not for cardio.” This exchange with Kate has reverberated since we had it a couple of days ago. “You need a rest day.” I’d taken Sundays for many years, but recently began doing a longer cardio workout on that day.

Then again. A rest day. A sabbath. Oh. Since early in my seminary days, I’ve been taken by the idea of sacred time. Christianity adopted the word and a changed practice from Judaism. Christians, except for the 7th Day Adventists, shifted the sabbath to Sunday and started the day in the morning, rather than on the night before. This was to emphasize that the Christian sabbath celebrated the resurrection. With the crucifixion recorded as happening on a Friday, three days later meant Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday.

Even in my youth Sunday had a special tone. Just why it should was not well understood intellectually, but it was strong in practice. We had church in the morning with Sunday School then communal worship, in our case sitting in the second pew from the back, on the west side of the sanctuary, under the stained glass window of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Mangas Cafeteria

Mangas Cafeteria

Afterward, we would often drive 7 miles to Elwood, Indiana and eat lunch at Mangas Cafeteria. This was a major event in our week since going to restaurants was a rare occurrence. I don’t recall if the later afternoon had much of a pattern, but we did often visit relatives on Sunday, too.

What I do know is that my body remembers Sunday as a day when doing nothing was encouraged. Even now, at 70, Sundays still have a languid feel, a pull away from the usual, whatever the usual is.

When I was in the ministry, Sunday was, ironically, a day of work, with Monday taking the place of Sunday, as it does for many Christian clergy. After I retired from the Presbyterian church in 1991, leaving behind Christianity for good, Sunday lost any sacred aura it had, but retained the languid overlay.

06 20 10_Garden_6705As many of you know, I began, not long after this time, to follow the Celtic sacred calendar, The Great Wheel, a practice now long embedded in my life as you can see each day on this blog in the upper left hand corner.

Now, with shabbat shalom a familiar greeting on Friday night and Saturday, I’m still fascinated with sacred time and wanting some version of the Jewish sabbath as part of my week. Why? Well, at its simplest, it’s a rest day. But, it’s a rest day with a purpose. The Jewish sabbath emphasizes relationships and torah study.

SabbathTable-1Work is discouraged (forbidden, in the stricter applications). The discipline includes not even discussing work on the sabbath, no planning for the next week. It also emphasizes personal spiritual development, torah study, attending services, private meditation. This is a day, once a week, strictly for being. Being in the here and now.

As I’ve written here before, this makes a lot of sense to me, even in retirement. So, I’m going to take my rest day starting on Friday night and continuing through Saturday night. I’m not becoming a Jew, nor do I want to play one on TV, but I believe I am becoming Jewish. That is, a lot of the cultural practices of Judaism resonate with my own spiritual development. Beth Evergreen encourages that growth and I find it nourishing. Trying out the sabbath, the old, original one, is part of that ancientrail and one I plan to walk on for now.

So, yes. A rest day. Kate was right. And today is that day.

Shifts and Changes

Spring                                                                      New (Passover) Moon

2010 01 19_3454Writing can lay bare something hidden, perhaps something that needed excavation or something attached to a thread, even a flimsy thread, by which it can be pulled from the inner world. Things get lost in there, pushed behind stacks of unused memories or stored with a faulty label. Sometimes ideas once full and vibrant get partially severed from their context, crucial links of thought go missing and the idea fades away.

“I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions.” March 21, 2017 This sentence is an example, a recent example. It stares back at me, rather baldly. Oh. Well, that’s right, isn’t it?

I love to read, follow an idea through its growth and changes, learn about something in depth, wonder about it, tease out of it new implications or old truths.

I love to write. I don’t know why. Might be an inheritance from my newspaperman father. Might just be long established habit. Whatever the reason writing is my painting, my sculpture, my photography. I have to do it to feel whole.

2010 01 19_3455Which, speaking of ideas, then links to the idea of the third phase. That quote comes from recent thoughts on the third phase. A primary wondering for me, I think for all third phasers, is this: what am I about in this last phase of my life?

The Trump catastrophe, a miserable wound of our country’s own making, pulled on the 60’s radical thread always near the surface for me. I’ve been trying to put that mask back on, to become the political activist I once was. I felt obligated. You know, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it hasn’t been happening. I just haven’t connected with other activists. I haven’t been doing much more than writing about it. (a clue here, by the way) Grousing and complaining, yes, sure. But not acting.

Writing and study. Third phase. Beth Evergreen. With Kate I’ve found a community that cherishes study, scholarship, a community that finds writing an understandable vocation. Right now I’m thinking, wondering. Should I lean into my primary passions? Stay with them. Dig deeper. That feels right.

Here’s a confession, too. I’ve never liked politics. The person I become, the masks I put on then, feel far away from my core Self. Why then have I spent so much of my life in one political arena after another?

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardPart duty. For whatever reason I came out of Alexandria with fully formed political ideas about justice, equality, fairness. They were strong, rooted in the powerful union movement among my friend’s parents who worked for General Motors, reinforced by the liberal politics of my Roosevelt Democrat parents and then pushed toward action in the turmoil of the 60’s.

Part ego. It feels good to lead, to have people hang on my ideas, to see change occur when something I’ve helped shape makes things happen. But this is part of what feels far away from my core, introverted Self. That ego drive also presses forward an angry, demanding, often insensitive persona. A persona I dislike.

Part religious conviction. The almost random way in which I ended up in seminary, then the ministry came from following political conviction away from graduate academics and toward an institution willing to pay me to organize, to act politically. There was a merger of political passion and the prophetic line of a certain strain of liberal Christianity, even radical Christianity.

No conclusions here. Not yet. Just more of the shifts and changes, movements in my soul. Something will come out of all this. Not sure what. Not right now.

 

 

The Vernal Equinox, 2017

Spring                                                                        Anniversary Moon

In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the Northern Hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade.”  NYT, The Seasons Aren’t What They Used To Be*, March 19, 2017. See an NYT graphic representation here.

650 2011 04 20_0898

 

We’re celebrating the spring equinox with yet another red flag warning. We need precipitation. Spring in the mountains is not yet, though the temperatures felt like it this whole last week.

A while ago I asked an entomologist at the Cedar Creek Nature Center in Anoka County what was the key phenological sign of spring. Bloodroot blossoming was his answer. Up here on Shadow Mountain it seems to be pasque flowers and they are blooming. Yet in many years, most years, there would be no pasque flower blooms now due to snow cover.

On the Great Wheel, the spring equinox is the point when the promise of Imbolc’s freshening of the ewes begins to appear in the plant kingdom. Leaves push out. Spring ephemerals hurry up and bloom, getting out ahead of tree and shrub leaf shade. Buds for later blossoms appear. Green pushes out brown. The sound of tractors are heard in the fields.

This storied season has a vital presence in poetry, song and many of the world’s religions. Mother earth seems to defy the fallow season, the cold season by creating life abundant from little more than sun and soil. No wonder the tales of resurrection in Christianity, in the Egyptian legend of Osiris and Isis, and the Greek’s Orpheus and Euridice, Demeter and Persephone have their analogs in spring.

bulbsYet it is not a true analog. Mother earth only seems to defy winter and the fallow time. It is not, in fact, death and resurrection, but a continuum of growth, slowed in the cold, yes, but not stopped forever, then magically restarted. Corms, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes all store energy from the previous growing season and wait only for the right temperature changes to release it. Seeds sown by wind and animal, by human hand are not dead either. They only await water and the right amount of light to send out roots and stalks.

20170318_163044I prefer the actual analog in which human and other animals’ bodies, plant parts and the detritus of other kingdoms, all life, return their borrowed materials to the inanimate cache, allowing them to be reincarnated in plant and animal alike, ad infinitum. Does this deny some metaphysical change, some butterfly-like imaginal cell possibility for the human soul? No. It claims what can be claimed, while reserving judgment on those things that cannot.

After Beth Evergreen’s mediation shabbat service last week, a member of the congregation and I got on to the topic of death. “I think it will be like before I was born,” he said. “Yes, I’m a nihilist, too,” I said. “But, I admit the possibility of being surprised.” He agreed.

Brand-Storytelling-In-The-Post-Truth-EraIt is spring, I think, that gives us this hope, no matter how faint, that death might be only a phase change, a transition from this way of becoming to another. It’s possible.

A necessary complement to the objectivity of science, then, is the subjectivity of experience. An enthusiastic openness to the lives of other species — the timing of tree blooms on city streets, the calls of frogs in wetlands or the arrival of migratory birds — is an act of resistance to deceptions and manipulations that work most powerfully when we’re ignorant. “Post-truth” does not exist in the opening of tree buds.” ibid

 

Come To Our Place

Imbolc                                                                  Anniversary Moon

Learning How To Live

Imbolc                                                          Anniversary Moon

Teeth cleaning a.m. Kate and I now schedule teeth cleaning and annual physicals together. I call it medical entertainment. Just like going to the Tallgrass Spa together. Almost.

mussar

Mussar afternoon. Soul cleaning together, too. I’m learning a lot about Judaism with her. And, I’m impressed with what I’m learning. Here’s the key new insight: Judaism has, from a long time ago, insisted that abstract ideas like mercy, compassion, judgment, faith have embodied reality. That’s what all those laws are about, how to make the faith work in daily life.

This is very different from the Christianity in which I was trained. Christianity unhitched this very earthy, practical religion from the notion of embodied abstractions, letting the abstractions become dominant. This led to a growing gap between dogma and actual practice. Of course, many Christians work at making their faith inform their lives, but the tools are not as good the ones in Judaism. It’s not the laws themselves, but the spirit of actively grappling, every day, every moment with what it means to show mercy, to judge, to practice loving kindness, to exhibit patience that gives Judaism its lived flavor.

Rabbie Jamie and congregant

Rabbie Jamie and congregant

Still don’t want to be a Jew, no interest in converting, but I have a lot of interest in learning how to live from the community of Beth Evergreen. Probably the best religious experience of my life.

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