We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Mabon, 2018

Mabon                                                                      Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

As I type the heading here, I can look up and see the aspen groves near the peak of Black Mountain. Like golden islands in a dark green ocean. Part of the ever changing beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Mabon is the second harvest holiday and comes on the autumnal equinox. (The rising sun has just hit the aspen grove, now it looks like molten gold.) If you lived in a subsistence farming economy, as most humans did in Europe only a few centuries ago, then what happened on and around this holiday would have meant the difference between life and death in the fallow months ahead. No wonder the market days were so important, so filled with ritual and fun.

mabon-greeting-cardWhat did you plant in the first and second phases of your life that’s coming to fruition right now? Tom. Bill. Mark. Paul. Will you dance around a bonfire? Alan. What will sustain you in the fallow months when work in the fields is done? The loves and passions of your earlier life might do it. Might not. Is there a new field, one that can be worked with the experience and skills available to you? What will you harvest in the third phase of your life?

This harvest holiday I’ve been nostalgic about combines and corn pickers, hay balers and grain trucks, the tall elevators waiting for grain, the train cars waiting to move it. That was my flatlander past. What is the new harvest, the one lived among mountains, streams, mule deer and elk?

mabon8

“The Harvest Moon” by Samuel Palmer

Turns out it has some resonance with crops I’ve planted before. Kate. Family. Friends. Writing. Reading. Religion. Art. Music. Dogs. Closeness to the non-human natural world. But, there are also new crops, most new varieties of old ones, new strains. Judaism. The montane ecosystem. Beth Evergreen friends. Noticeable aging. Submitting work, a true harvest. Making art, sumi-e, playing with colors. This pack of dogs: Gertie, Rigel, Kepler. A married Joseph and SeoAh. A divorced Jon. The grandkids.

Someday, soon or late, the reaper will come for me, harvesting another of this strange fruit, humankind. Each day, think of it, that reaper gathers in a new harvest of souls. And how little we know of that harvest. Do our deaths nourish the universe as our harvests in life have nurtured others? Perhaps.

May you have a pleasant and bountiful Mabon season. Harvest home is near. Enjoy it.

 

 

Before the Fall

Lughnasa                                                         Harvest Moon

taken around Beth Evergreen before Yom Kippur services, 2018

20180919_090427 20180919_090827 20180919_090613 20180919_090653 20180919_090935 20180919_091257 20180919_091357 20180919_091017

 

Oh

Lughnasa                                                             Harvest Moon

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Tomorrow we peek over the transom toward the fallow season. Six more weeks of harvest,  the heart of the harvest season is now, then Samain, summer’s end. Up here the temperature cooled off overnight and we’re at 35 degrees right now, getting close to a first frost. There’s even a small hint of snow for next Wednesday. As I wrote earlier, Pike’s Peak and the much closer Mt. Rosalie had snow last week. Happy with the change.

Deb Brown, my personal trainer at On the Move Fitness, really made me feel good yesterday. “You move better than most of the 30 & 40 year olds I see. And, you’re strong.” She was sincere and I was touched. I told her about the odd finding I got from the 23&me folks; I have the same genetic muscle profile as elite power athletes. “Well, you’re capitalizing on it.” “My wife said, ‘What happened?” “Tell to her to ask you that again when you’re 108!” We laughed. Left me smiling.

book of lifeThe book of life closed on Wednesday. It was a fast day, unusual in Judaism which finds asceticism puzzling, but on this day, once a year, there is a fast for the whole of Yom Kippur*. That’s from evening to evening. The point is to make us tune into our bodies, to remember that the body carries our soul, and to make the final push for teshuvah, return to the holy soul our body carries.

OK. I’ll admit I surprised myself, right here, with this keyboard. It happens, but not often like this. I wrote “make us tune in to our bodies.” Oh. It may be, as Bill Schmidt suggested obliquely earlier this month, that this Jewish experience runs deeper than I’m admitting.

*“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough,” Jewish educator Aliza Bulow explains on Aish.com.

Although there are medical exceptions to fasting, the Yom Kippur tradition dates back to biblical times, according to Chabad.org. When the Jewish people were wandering in the desert for 40 years after enslavement in Egypt, they worshiped a golden calf — which is contradictory to the religion’s monotheistic tenets — and Moses went to Mt. Sinai to ask for God’s forgiveness. Moses came down from the mountain after God forgave (them) him, and that day became known as Yom Kippur. The tradition of Yom Kippur continued when the Jews reached the land of Israel — Jews gathered in the first two temples until they were destroyed — and persisted again when they were ultimately exiled and dispersed across the globe.Time

 

The Blues

Lughnasa                                                                      Harvest Moon

Melancholy 1532 Lucas Cranach the Elder

Melancholy 1532 Lucas Cranach the Elder

The blues follow me right now, the season of the coming darkness reflecting itself in a slight spiral downward, not too far, but enough to shadow my feelings, make me want to duck and cover. I’d forgotten, as we will about pain, that though the gradual darkening of the days excites me, motivates me, it can also pull me toward the drain.

Feelings float close to the surface, sometimes, like yesterday evening at the entrance ramp lights, boiling over. A BMW driver, top down, ran the red light ahead of me and merged. It was hot and so was I. I acted inappropriately, out of proportion. Full testosterone, no filter. No excuses. Out of line, over the line.

Salvador Dalí Uranium and Atomica Melancholica Idyll (1945)

Salvador Dalí Uranium and Atomica Melancholica Idyll (1945)

Reflecting. April of 2015, three months after our move to Colorado, prostate cancer. Surgery. Recovery. May of 2016. Jon invites me to a Mexican restaurant and tells me he and Jen are getting a divorce. A few weeks later he’s in trouble. From that summer until the next October, 2017, Jon lived with us while processing an ugly and contentious divorce. During that time I had a knee replacement, December 1, 2016, and Kate’s Sjogren’s began to manifest. Kate’s health has gradually worsened over the last year and a half. In some ways a continuous series of stressors since that exam in April, 2015.

On the upside we have had the beauty of the mountains, deepening relationships with Jon and our grandkids, Congregation Beth Evergreen and especially mussar, Joe and SeoAh’s wedding and the integration of her into our family. With the exception of Vega’s death our dogs have been mostly healthy and the house has sheltered us, given us a place to call home.

AheadIf you asked me today about our move, I’d say it was one of the best things we ever did. Funny, huh? That’s because, in spite of the stress, we were able to be here for Jon and the grandkids. That’s because, in spite of the health challenges (horrible, but accurate cliche), our lives have gone on and at our ages health issues are no surprise.

Good friends, new and old, silver and gold, have buoyed me up, made me know that I’m not alone, not struggling in a barren patch of cold ocean, but on land and part of a community. Without you this time might just have been unbearable. You know who you are. And thank you. You are all in my heart.

As always, writing helps put a little distance, a shim underneath the door of my soul that lets in the light. Even though the strength of darkness is profound, without the fallow times there is no later growth, I don’t want the door to close, to leave me in that melancholy which makes life a molasses too turbid to negotiate.

On that cheery note, I’ll close for today. Things to do. Places to go.

 

 

Eternal Return

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

mabonLughnasa and the Harvest Moon. We are in the season of reaping what has been sown. From the first of August or so until Samain on October 31st gathering in is the main theme on the Great Wheel. The fall equinox, Mabon, is near. September 22nd. It comes with the Harvest Moon, that fluke of planetary dynamics that has lit up farm fields at just the right moment for as long humans have been farming.

No longer a Midwesterner, I don’t see the combines in the long rectangles of wheat, the corn pickers going through the tall stands of sturdy green, the hay balers saving alfalfa and timothy for feed. There are no ads here for hay rides through the apple orchards, no pick your own gardens for late season fruits. That sort of agriculture depends on rain and once past the 100th parallel, oops now the 105th as the arid West creeps eastward across the Great Plains, average rainfall becomes less, often much less than 20 inches a year.

Here fall and Mabon announce themselves in the gold of the aspen, jewel like groves set among larger stands of forever green lodgepole pine. Along the mountain streams Maxwell, Cub, Bear some dogwood flashes bright red. Low lying marshy areas turn a green gold and the cattail spikes stand proudly. Too, the mule deer and elk begin to come down from their summer fields, following food. There will be, in a week or two, the elk rut, with that strangled sound the bull elks make, a bugle. There will also be many more tourists here this week and next. The come for the jewels on the mountain sides, scenes I can see from my study window.

great wheel3The Great Wheel turns, but its turning is the original local expressing a universal. Here the golden aspen in the Midwest the great harvest machines lumbering through fields. In the Midwest stunning colors here a dichromatic palette. How the harvest season manifests depends on weather and here in the Rockies altitude. Pikes Peak and Mt. Rosalie near Bailey, for instance, have already had their first snow, passing out of the harvest season.

The expression of the season also depends on the plant species that have adapted themselves to a particular locale. One dominant deciduous tree, the aspen, makes our montane ecosystem much different from the remnants of the great woods that dominates the Midwest. Then there are the animals. Pheasants in the Dakotas and Nebraska. Elk and mule deer on the Front Range. Coordinates matter, too. Fall is different here at latitude 39 degrees than in, say, Warroad, Minnesota at 49 degrees. The other marker, the longitude, we’ve already referred to.

green knight

green knight

I celebrate the turning of the wheel, await its changes with anticipation. There is comfort, at least to me, in the regularity and predictability of the seasons. They tell me that time is not linear, that it is instead a spiral, cork-screwing its way through spacetime. They tell me that eternal return is written into the way of the universe, that even our life and its mayfly like time compared to the mountains on which I live, is, too, part of a great coming and going, a leaving and coming home. Somehow, through some mechanism now hidden to me, this life I’ve lived will matter and its significance, like your own, will revisit humanity, tempered and changed by the seasons of the universe. I suppose, in this way, we are all immortal, at least until the cold death of this cosmos. But, perhaps, even in that case, we will live on in one of the infinite multiverses, offering our harvest of human consciousness to feed other souls.

 

Sweet

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

1514204356436Tomorrow, in our second religious school class, this one unscripted by Moving Traditions, we’re going to do a get to know each other exercise. Your life in 5 objects. Taking my cue from the American History in 101 Objects display at the Smithsonian, I’ll start with my own five objects: a newspaper, a globe, artemis honey and apples, great wheel, family picture.

I’ll ask the kids to bring their objects, 7th graders next class and 6th graders the next. My hope is that as they look back over their life they will begin to reflect on childhood, their childhood and childhood in general. The dominant theme of this year is the huge transition underway for them from childhood to adolescence.

This will also help me get to the know the kids better since they’re all unfamiliar to me beyond names right now. Looking forward to it since the barrier between never having done this and being a rank amateur has been breached. I’m now a novice learning how to help others learn. I can work with that.

20180910_101739Kate and I went in early yesterday morning to help prepare the board’s luncheon for those attending the Rosh Hashanah service. I peeled laser cut lox off salmon fillets while Kate put schmeer on tiny bagels. The lox went on the bagels. Lois and Fran were making egg salad bagels. We set up water, lemonade, coffee stations, put out trays of cookies, dressed round tables with flowers, cutup fruit and vegetables. A platter with sliced apples and honey is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, dipping an apple in honey is symbolic of a wish for a sweet new year.

The service is long, over two and a half hours, so folks are hungry when it’s over. Kate and I got there about 8:50 to help with the prep. That lasted well past the service’s 9:30 start. The prayers and chants, Jamie’s sermon, were all in the background as we worked in the social hall. When we finished, most of us went into the sanctuary. Folks get up and move around, go to the bathrooms, even chat during the service itself. It is, in that sense, more casual than most Sunday morning Christian services.

all dressed up with some place to go

all dressed up with some place to go

Bill Schmidt said something on our zoom session a couple of Sunday’s ago that keeps coming up. You may be more Jewish than you’re willing to admit, something like that. He could be right. I’m in this sort of hokey-pokey relationship to the tribe, one foot in and one foot out, then I shake it all about. I believe he made this comment when I said something like I’m becoming a Jew by osmosis.

We’ll see. I tell myself that I don’t want to join another religion, I’m happy with the earth/solar-centered focus of my own spirituality. And, I am. Further, I got sucked into Christianity by its unexpected (to me) intellectual depth, the beauty of its history. I can feel the same lure every time I encounter new things about Judaism, which is constant. My mind is so open that I can confuse excitement about learning new things with a personal commitment. The difference here, I suppose, is that I’m staying around, getting more deeply involved, not only because of the odd amalgam of tradition and anti-supernaturalism that is reconstructionist thought, but mostly because of the people.

Not sure where all this ends, but for now, I’m excited about my involvement at Beth Evergreen, happy to have new friends, and committed to this congregation. Beyond that? Not clear. Maybe there is no beyond that.

 

 

Cheshbon Nefesh

Lughnasa                                                                  Harvest Moon

tishrei-month-5768As the moon’s change, so does the Jewish calendar. We’re now in the month of Tishrei, its first day, Rosh Hashanah, the new year of the world. All over the world, throughout the diaspora and in Israel, Jews will be celebrating the new year, shana tovah. This is short for l’shana tova tikateyvu, “May you be written [in the Book of Life*] for a good year.”

This is not, as may be inferred from the paragraph below, primarily a message of judgment. Rather, it is a call for cheshbon nefesh, an accounting of the soul. That is, instead of judgment, the focus is on introspection about the last year, honestly acknowledging areas of life where we’ve missed the mark and then, developing a plan for a new year that includes both atonement and teshuvah, return to a path of holiness. This is an iterative process, it happens every year because there is no achievement of perfection; but there is, as one writer said, the opportunity in this life to become very good.

The soul curriculum of mussar, Jewish ethics which focus on incremental gains in character virtues, acknowledges both the strengths we have and the areas where we can improve our character. “My practice, for example, for this month, for the middot (character virtue) of curiosity, is to greet judgement with curiosity. That is, each time I feel a judgement about another come up, I’ll add to that feeling a willingness to become curious about what motivated the behavior I’m judging, what might be the broader context? Am I being reactive or am I seeing something that does concern me? Or, both? Does my judgement say more about me than what I’m judging?”

Happy-Rosh-Hashanah-ShofarI thought about two boys of a man I know. I pictured them both, slovenly and overweight, and thought, what went wrong with them? I had added to those two judgments an assumption that they were lazy, had not fulfilled whatever potential their father, a successful and kind man, hoped for. Since I don’t know either of them, it’s obvious this reaction said more about me than about them.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CT

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951). The Holiday Series, Rosh Hashanah (1948), New Canaan, CT

However, I woke up to the judgment and used it as a prod for curiosity. What are they really like? Why did I make those assumptions? What about my own fears did this judgment express? That I’m not in good shape, that I don’t always present my best self? That I had not fulfilled my own potential? Ah. Well, there we are. My judgment was not about them at all, but about me. Yes, I’m curious to know more about them, to learn about their lives because they’re the sons of a man I respect; but, that particular curiosity is not the one most useful here. In this case the curiosity needs to be turned back on my own soul.

So, curiosity is on my soul curriculum. When I’m incurious, I tend to be judgmental. When I’m curious, I learn new things, I can adjust my behavior. Also, when we’re incurious, we simply don’t learn. Because there is no need. That reinforces our judgments and makes us slaves to our biases and prejudices. Curiosity can be a sort of soul broom, sweeping away our assumptions to make room for new insights, new relationships.

It is this hopeful, supportive type of cheshbon nefesh that the metaphor of the book of life and the book of death encourages. We can have a sweet new year, one dipped in honey, if we are honest, acknowledge our strengths, and work to add to them.

 

*The language of our prayers imagines God as judge and king, sitting in the divine court on the divine throne of justice, reviewing our deeds. On a table before God lies a large book with many pages, as many pages as there are people in the world. Each of us has a page dedicated just to us. Written on that page, by our own hand, in our own writing, are all the things we have done during the past year. God considers those things, weighs the good against the bad, and then, as the prayers declare, decides “who shall live and who shall die.”

 

Waning Summer Moon and Orion

September 14, 2017

September 14, 2017

Lughnasa                                        Waning Summer Moon

Quite a combination greeted me in the southeastern sky this morning as I made my way to the loft. The Waning Summer Moon’s waning quarter stood just above a faint, but still clear Orion. My first sighting of him since April. I don’t look for him once I stop seeing him since I imagine he’s in the daytime sky, but apparently he’s visible at some time in all months except May through July, just not when I’m awake and outside.

The two of them together, the Waning Summer Moon and the constellation that is my winter companion appearing the day after Labor Day sends a strong autumnal signal in my world. Flecks of gold will start to appear in the aspen groves on Black Mountain.

The meadow at the base of Shadow Mountain Drive had hay bales in it a couple of days ago, all gone now. The sight brought back memories of alfalfa and timothy fields in Minnesota and Indiana, the smell of haylofts, hay rides. Apple picking.

September 17, 2013

In Andover this was the month of garlic planting, of soil amending in the perennial flower beds and the planting of bulbs, corms, rhizomes. Tulips, daffodils, iris, hyacinth, crocus, anemone. I would turn on Folk Alley radio, get out the kneeler and the Japanese garden knife. Sometimes the Andover High School marching band would be rehearsing a couple of miles away but still audible. Blue skies, the sun’s angle noticeably lower. The golden raspberries were ripe, too, and the dogs, especially Vega, would pick them off the canes that poked through the fence around our vegetable garden.

Later in the month will come Mabon, the second of the harvest festivals and the fall equinox. After that is Michaelmas, September 29th, the feast day of the Archangel Michael which Rudolf Steiner refers to as the springtime of the soul. I can feel the change, the buildup that begins with the victory of light on the Summer Solstice, the gradual lengthening of the night which will culminate in the Winter Solstice, my high holyday.

Time to get back to work.

Blood and Soil

Lughnasa                                                       Waning Summer Moon

great wheel3Labor Day. The bookend to Memorial Day. In my youth the end of summer because school started the next day. Labor Day falls between Lughnasa, the first fruits harvest festival and Mabon, the second harvest festival. Mabon falls under the harvest moon, about which I learned this fascinating bit of lunar lore only this week.*

The Great Wheel rolls through the year with an emphasis on agriculture, marking the growing season from Beltane to Samain and the fallow season from Samain to Beltane. That was half of the eastern Indiana in which I grew up. Cornfields planted along dusty gravel roads. Fields full of Holsteins and their milking barns. Herefords and Angus for beef. Soybeans. County fairs. 4-H. In fact, agriculture was the origin of the long summer break for school children, with the farms need for the whole family during the intensity of the growing season.

Labor-DayThe other half though was the antithesis of the Great Wheel. It was time marked off by time-clocks, shift work, assembly lines. Circadian rhythms, so important to plants and animals on the farm, got shoved aside as inefficient. Factories belched and whirred 24 hours a day, seven days a week, winter and summer. The 1950’s and the 1960’s were the post war industrial boom when manufacturing turned to domestic goods, especially cars which needed tires, steel, glass.

The long supply lines for then magisterial Detroit extended out to smoky Pittsburgh for steel, central Ohio for Firestone and BF Goodrich tires, and in our case, Anderson, Indiana for headlights, taillights, and alternators for General Motor’s cars at Guide Lamp and Delco Remy. These factories concentrated blue-collar workers, 25,000 between the two at their peak employment which coincided with my elementary and high school days, the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s.

labor uawAt its own peak during this same time period the United Auto Workers (UAW) union was among the most powerful labor organizations in the world. Most of my friends and classmate’s parents, usually fathers, worked at either Guide or Delco. The successful contract negotiations were made possible by a willingness of UAW workers for Ford, GM, and Chrysler to strike. The UAW had a strategy which involved focusing on one of the big three at every contract negotiation cycle, threatening and when necessary, executing a strike against each in turn. If there was a strike, the striking workers for, say GM, in the case of the Guide and Delco workers, would negotiate for the whole industry.

Over time this careful exercise of the power of workers resulted in salary and benefits which allowed folks with less than a high school education to own homes, cars, have good health care, and send their kids to college. Alexandria, my hometown of 5,000, was prosperous. Downtown had a men’s store, Baumgartner’s and a women’s store, Fermen’s, two pharmacies, two movie theaters, the Alex and the Town, the Bakery, Broyle’s furniture store, Guilkey’s shoe repair shop, banks, dime stores, a department store, P.N. Hirsch, Mahony’s shoe store, and two grocery stores. It bustled on Friday nights with shoppers and kids going to the Kid Kanteen located on the second floor of a downtown business.

labor2This is what we celebrate on Labor Day. We lift a cultural glass to the work of Joe Hill, Samuel Gompers, to the unsung organizers who worked in coal mines and gold mines, car factories and farm fields. Labor Day honors the now often forgotten need to balance the power of capital with the power of the worker. No individual worker can stand up to Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, or to McDonalds, Burger King or the hospital and clinic, the hotel and motel, the auto manufacturers of our day. But, there is no UAW equivalent for employees of these industries.

As a result, as a direct result, blue-collar work and even much white collar work, does in fact pit individual employees against their employers when it comes to salary and health care, other benefits. Of course there are a few enlightened employers out there, but they are by far the exception. The rest squeeze the worker as a cost center no different from raw materials or supply chain products.

labor fast foodIn a perverted and socially evil transformation, the former engine of social progress that was labor has morphed into workers without representation, workers who feel their world shifting out from underneath them, or already shifted. These workers and those who depend on them are now the fungible underbelly of American politics, their anger and fear driving a populist revolt.

This Labor Day is no holyday, no holiday. No, it’s a hollowed out thank you for the bravery and strength of a movement now stuttering in its attempt to cope with the disaggregation of workers, with the continual narrowing of those who have plenty, with the bloated salaries of CEO’s and top management, with the unimaginable concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

*September’s Full Moon was called the Full Corn Moon or Harvest Moon by the early North American Farmers. The term “Harvest Moon” refers to the Full Moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal Equinox. The Full Moon closest to this Equinox rises about 20 minutes later each night as opposed to the rest of the year when the moon rises around 50 minutes later each night. This was important to early farmers because they had more nights of bright moon light to gather crops.  Moongiant

 

Gifts. All day long.

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

Rigel and Kepler

Rigel and Kepler

What gifts did I get yesterday? The first question before I go to sleep. Woke up, emerged from unconsciousness to consciousness. Breathed the whole night long. Kate was next to me, sleeping, my partner. Kepler was, as always, happy to see me wake up. He rolls over so I can scratch his stomach, his tail goes up into happy mode. As the morning service says, the orifices that needed to open, opened, and closed when appropriate. There was water at the tap, always a gift in this arid climate. The meds that my doc has prescribed to help me extend my health span got washed down with some.

Gertie and Rigel were happy to see me, coming up for a nuzzle and a lean. The air was cool and the stars still out. Shadow Mountain stayed stable underneath me. The carrier brought the Denver Post and we read the collective work of its reporters, recorded by the printers on newsprint made most likely in Canada.

the loft

the loft

When I went up to the loft, I got on this computer, using electricity supplied by the Inter Mountain Rural Electric Association. As the sun came up, our own solar panels began translating its energy that traveled 93 million miles, generated by the powerful nuclear fusion of our star. My mind is still sharp enough to put words together, thoughts. My hands still nimble enough to pound the keyboard.

All these gifts and we’re only at about 6 am. The list goes on throughout the day. Kate at the table when I go down for breakfast. The workout created by my personal trainer. Time to nap. A mussar class focused on tzedakah and zaka, how can we purify our soul by gifting resources to others. A car that runs on gas brought here by oil tanker, trucks, a gift from the plant and animal life of long ago, crushed into liquid form by the power of geological processes. Back to Beth Evergreen for the second time for the annual meeting.

There the gifts of people, relationships built and nurtured over the last few years, granting both of us the opportunity to be seen, known, and the chance to offer who we are and what we have. Finally, the cycle ends with a return to sleep, to unconsciousness. Hard to avoid gratitude after doing this sort of exercise each night.

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