America the Beautiful

Summer and the Radiation Moon

So easy to get lost in the polluted haze of Trump’s venal presidency.
To have our heads down, shaking in disbelief. Wondering when this horror show will end.

So easy. Today though, on this day of tanks and flags, this day when we become like all the nations who try to show bellicosity as a symbol of national strength, I’m very aware it’s all happening far to the east.

Happy to sit high in the Rocky Mountains, far away from the beltway. I lift my head up and look out the window. Black Mountain is bathed in sunlight. So are the tops of the lodgepole pines in our front yard. The sky, a robin’s egg blue, makes all the green pop.

If I were to drive across the plains again, from here to the Twin Cities as I have done so often, I would cross green fields of wheat, of corn. The horizon would be once again flat instead of jagged. Reaching into Minnesota the plains slowly disappear, bumping up against the remnants of the big woods. It’s said that once a squirrel could go tree to tree from the Atlantic coast to Minnesota without ever touching the earth.

The Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota

Near where the prairie begins to morph into another land form is Pipestone, Minnesota. A sacred place for many peoples native to this land. There the blood of mother earth has congealed into a soft, red stone, perfect for making the pipes used in so many rituals. If you go to the quarries, you can sometimes see folks working there, seeking blocks of pipestone. A very low tech procedure.

Driving on toward the Twin Cities, angling north and east, bean and corn fields begin to dominate. Cattle, pigs. Close to sea level and well east of John Wesley Powell’s demarcation line for the arid West, the 100th parallel (really now the 98th), Minnesota is in the humid east. Summer air is sticky, wet, and filled with bugs of various kinds.

In Minnesota the glaciers that bulldozed the plains left behind small depressions in the earth, over 16,000 of them. A journey north and east, turning due north some where beyond the middle of the state, will find a traveler in the North Woods, filled with lakes, and still more wild than civilized.

Burntside Lake, near Ely, Minnesota

It is up there, in the Arrowhead Region, where wolves retained their paw-hold on a U.S. presence. The Arrowhead’s eastern boundary is all shoreline, washed by the cold, deep waters of Lake Superior.

These are the parts of America the Beautiful that I know best. Minnesota and its northerness. The plains and their great level expanses, once filled with grass and buffalo. The Rocky Mountains which rise up from those same plains, suddenly, abruptly, far to the west of any silliness on the National Mall.

I will hold in my heart this day neither tanks, nor flags, nor bluster, but the rocky beaches of the Great Lakes, the farmland of southern Minnesota, the vast wheat fields of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, the upthrust mantle of Mother Earth’s crust where I now sit.

Camp Du Nord, Northern Minnesota

I’ve lived my life in these interior places of the North American continent, held for now under the politic rubric United States of America. They will still exist when this nation has faded into obscurity. And that makes me glad.

Round 3

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Yesterday

Under the warmth of nuclear fusion’s endless possibilities my body takes in fractions of photon radiation, breaking the DNA of cancer cells and friendlies alike. Outside it was 83 degrees, the sun hitting us with more direct beams. Inside it was all Cyber Knife and its accelerator hitting me. Different nuclear generative processes, but both powerful in their own way.

This is a three day radiation week. The long July 4th weekend is time off, then back at it five days a week until done on August 6th. Yesterday I listened to Bach’s well-tempered clavier. Today, Berlioz. Night on Bald Mountain.

After I said I still had no side effects, Dr. Gilroy, in our weekly management meeting yesterday, said, “Well, you might slide through the whole time. In the last week there’s often an increase in urinary frequency.” Of course that’s just the radiation. The Lupron’s an agent all of its own. Still no side effects from it either.

Kate on the porch on Pontiac Street, 2015

Trying to feel my way toward the life after radiation. Kate’s feeling better, not all the way back, but much, much better. At first I was thinking about 7 weeks in the Cyber Knife tunnel. What it will be like when all the fractions have been given?

I realized though that we entered the true tunnel when Kate’s Sjogren’s began to effect her eating. A couple of years ago. The tunnel narrowed on September 28th, 2018, now nine months past. The bleed and its subsequent hospitalizations, imaging studies, doctor’s visits, and surgeries took more and more of both our energies.

Fortunately, Kate’s long ordeal began to have positive notes as cancer returned for me. If we’re lucky, and I think we will be, we’ll reach a point in September, after the second Lupron shot and a surveillance psa, when we can catch our breath, assess where we’ve been and where we’re going.

One of the tricks of living is to stay in the moment as much as possible without losing sight of life’s context. Not easy. The context includes the past and the future, yet we never inhabit either one. Only the present. Right now I’m living life fraction by fraction. One trip to Lone Tree at a time. One meal at a time. One workout at a time.

In September are the High Holidays, Sukkoth, Simchat Torah. The month of Elul precedes Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, and as such is considered a time of repentance and preparation. Perfect for us this year. Too, on September 29th is Michaelmas, the springtime of the soul. In this instance Michaelmas falls on erev Rosh Hashanah.

And, in my own inner calendar, daylight’s change from 14 hours and 54 minutes on June 21, the summer solstice, to 11 hours and 53 minutes on Michaelmas, means that I’ll be moving further into the deep parts of my soul.

Looking gently forward to Elul, to Michaelmas, to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year Rosh Hashanah could be a true new year for us, the start of a healthier time. May it be so.

Little we see in nature that is ours…

Summer and the Recovery Moon

This morning

Yellow stains even on my keyboard. The stuff is everywhere, though the rain yesterday knocked yet more of it down, out of the air. I imagine that’s why my Lodgepole pollen allergy has been calmer this year.

A lot of intellectual heavy breathing going on right now. Examples: “The 2020 issue that matters is democracy itself” E.J.Dionne, Washington Post, July 1, 2019. “Do the Republicans Even Believe in Democracy Anymore?” Michael Tomasky, NYT, July 1, 2019. “Climate Change Is a Public Health Emergency, Medical Groups Warn“, Dana Najjar, Medscape, July 1, 2019. And so on.

There has been, over the last year, a rise in climate nihilists, ones that look at the data, especially the still rapidly rising carbon load in the atmosphere, and conclude that we have neither the tools, nor, most importantly, the will, to modulate carbon emissions.

Articles question the future of democracy. They point to Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Kim, and Viktor Orban of Hungary. They also point to the rise of the alt-right, Brexit and Boorish Johnson, the success of China’s centralized rule. The Washington Post had an article titled, “We’re in an anti-liberal moment. Liberals need better answers.” WP, June 21, 2019.*

Instead of Fukuyama’s The End of History, we have the end of democracy and the possible end of human civilization. A heady turn around from his credulous opinion that liberalism and capitalism had finished off the conflicts of the past.

While I have sympathy with the naysayers, even agree with some of their main conclusions, I’m reminded of those folks who’ve predicted the end of the world over the centuries. Always wrong. Why? Because the apocalypse is not monocausal. If this is the relative death of democracy, we can look back at history and know that even that reality will change. If the climate nihilists are right, adaptive technologies and now unknown human responses to an overheated environment ensure some will survive and thrive.

The black outlook surfacing in so many news sources, from so many intelligent people, reflects instead a general feeling that, as Wordsworth said,

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away…

“The World is Too Much With Us” William Wordsworth

I’ve quoted some from the Washington Post article below because I believe it offers a solid anti-dote to despair. It underlines liberalism’s promise of a life lived with creative freedom, a sort of life that should be available to all. It also admits that liberalism has gotten too cozy with capitalism, evidenced by the so-true political cliche that both Republicans and Democratics are parties of and for corporate America.

As we near the fourth of July, I’m going with Emma Lazarus, with Scott Nearing, with Ram Dass, with Mary Oliver. Thomas Berry. Emma Goldman and Joe Hill. With Ruth and Gabe as they project our family into the maw of both strongman politics and radical climate change. None of this changes how much I love my family, how much I believe in human inventiveness, how much I care about politics and the Great Work.

*” …liberals in recent decades have spent most of their time focusing on the coexistence of different outlooks — promoting interdenominational peace, a public square in which religious and secular voices can both speak, and above all an emphasis on groups asserting their special identities — and forgetting to foster a sense of life well lived. Liberals have promoted group tolerance at the expense of self-cultivation. In the face of increasing criticism, however, liberals need to answer that they already champion a highest good: creative freedom…”

Liberalism’s main problem is that its vision of a life well lived has been corrupted — not by too much license and self-expression, but by an overemphasis on economic freedom that has undercut its own promise.We’re in an anti-liberal moment. Liberals need better answers. Washington Post, June 21, 2019

Wild. Wildness. Wilderness.

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Wild Man on a coat of arms, Albrecht Durer, 1499

Jimmy Johnson. Woolly, artist, designer, wayfinder, South Dakotan. He emphasizes an old men’s movement idea, the wild man. Find your inner wildness. Keep it alive. Present. That way our vitality remains.

OK. But. Cancer. Is wild. Exhibits a form of wildness that has no care for its environment. Only about replication at the expense of whatever can feed it. Sorta like capitalism. Especially fossil fuel companies.

A certain form of inner wildness has found me and I don’t like it. It’s the opposite of the wild man’s inner wildness. Instead of bringing vitality it feeds on life until it is no more. Again, like capitalism, especially fossil fuel companies.

In another sense though cancer’s wildness is no different from any wildness. It’s red in tooth and claw, survival of the fittest it’s prime directive. This vast forest, the Arapaho National Forest, in which we live is like that. Wherever there are deer and elk, there are mountain lions. A Rocky Mountain truism.

The mountain lion feeds from its environment, is ruthless and opportunistic. As an apex predator, the mountain lion may have no enemies here, but after the mountain lion dies, the forest will absorb their essence, put it back into the plant world. Which feeds the deer and the elk. The circle of life.

Cancer is part of this. It’s an element of the natural world just like decomposition, photosynthesis, a mountain lion attacking a mule deer. This wildness within me lives by the laws of natural selection. It doesn’t care who I am anymore than the mountain lion cares which mule deer they can catch. Cancer is predator and I’m its prey.

Luckily I have a means of fighting back. Even so, cancer is wily, persistent. It’s an open question whether this prey can take out so formidable an adversary. TBD

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.

Look Who Came to our House

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

When I first came to Shadow Mountain, on Samhain of 2014, I went out back to look around. In the backyard were 3 mule deer bucks. We looked at each other for a long time, seeing each other. We didn’t get too close, but we didn’t move away either.

It felt at the time, and feels now, that the mountains had sent spirit animals to greet me, to say it was ok if I chose to live among them. 3, that mystical number.

On this, the first day of my radiation therapy, the mountains sent another messenger, a large elk buck with one large antler covered in velvet and the other side empty. He is damaged, like me. Yet he’s eating dandelions, proceeding with his life. Not handicapped, just different.

The mountain has assured me that, like this buck, I will be different, too. No prostate. Radiated and testosterone suppressed. Just different. I belong here, the mountain says, and I agree.

Cycles of life, and death

Beltane                                                                       Cancer Moon

green knight

The Green Knight

Cancer has come up in several of my exercises so far, as you might expect with depth work. This work has helped me put it in the perspective of my life as a whole. Here’s one odd way. Progoff saw that many aspects of our lives went through conception, growth, decline, then death or significant waning. Children. Jobs. Creative projects. Hobbies. Places we live. Even illnesses. Cancer can be a metaphor for a project or relationship or job that has taken over our life, growing and demanding more of us than we have to give.

Cancer begins as cells in the body get out of whack, seek immortality at the expense of those cells that go through the life cycle. It grows unchecked unless a medical intervention occurs. If things go well, the cancer weakens, slows down, then dies. If not, the body weakens, slows down, and dies. Either way the cancer ends. So, cancer is not an exception to this experience of conception and growth, though it tries to hard to avoid decline. In this case I’ll actively seek its death, as we sometimes actively seek the finish of a career, a marriage, a creative project.

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

Samuel Palmer, The Harvest Moon (c 1833)

This perspective helps me see cancer not as a violent exception, but as an organic process like others. Which does not mean I’m embracing it. I know some people prefer not to see cancer as an enemy, but that’s not me. I’d like the archangel Michael to come in with his sword and whack every last cell of it.

This is also a Great Wheel insight. The ancient Beltane began with literal conception, saw the greening of the fields as crops began to flourish, then transformed into the heat and frenzy of summer at the summer solstice. As the crops matured, the harvest began at Lughnasa and continued through Mabon, the fall equinox, coming to a close at Samain, Summer’s End. Then the long fallow season commenced.  It’s a cycle that repeats year after year with the coming of spring, the greening of the fields, harvest, then the fallow time.

Cancer is, then, normal. Usual. Part of a cycle, with its own cycle, too.

Beltane, 2019

Beltane                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

great wheel beltane_2017As the growing season begins, as the Green Man and the Goddess in her Maiden form come together to pass fertility into the soil, we have snow on our solar panels. The streams though have been rushing, carrying water down the mountain. The lodgepoles are greener. Catkins are on the dogwood and willows. Leaflets on the aspen.

Beltane marks a turning point from the fallow time. Finally the crops could go into the fields, food for another year. Beltane was a time of celebration in the ancient Celtic world. It began with a week long market where goods could be exchanged, hand-fasting marriages (a year in length) begun, and night time love making in the fields to assist the Greenman and the Maid in their joy. Work contracts for the growing season were made as well.

As the fallow time fades, you might consider what you want to plant, to grow. Was there a dream that took shape over the time of darkness and cold? For us mid-latitude folks, anyhow. Was there a project that got started, that needs the energy of sun, the nourishment of rain, and the nutrients in the soil of your life? Perhaps a transition that only got underway, but now has better definition. How can the growing season push it along, make it a better part of your life?

Or, are there things in your life better left behind to compost, to decay? Finished parts of your life. Things that can be set aside, that no longer need your energy? The cycle of life is not only about growth. It’s also about literal recycling, of energy, of resources, of flesh and food and fuel waste. There may be things that promised a good crop, but came up stunted. Or things that simply didn’t flourish in your life. Better to let them go, allow them to become memories, learnings, and not give them what other parts of your life now need.

(Maxwell Creek, dogwood catkins last week)

Here on Shadow Mountain we have the stirrings of a new awakening for Kate. She’s gaining weight, eating more. She’s also started, again, bringing up things that need to get done. Just before I go to sleep. Hmmm. We have a way to defeat her anemia and a plan for continued weight gain. When the lung diagnosis is complete, surely before the growing season ends at Samain, we’ll have a treatment. I want the sun, the rain, and the nutrients of our mutual soil to boost her, give her that push to get not only better, but well. May it be so.

In my situation I want to stop growth. Of those damned cancer cells. Looking forward to the axumin scan and getting treatment recommendations. Then, implementing them.

 

Spring, 2019

Spring!                                                                       Recovery Moon

ostaraA full recovery moon on the spring equinox. Lot of powerful juju in the air. The season that announces the return of life (except in Nebraska) begins as the moon swells into its most potent form. Of course, this is only meteorological spring, the date we agree on to name the season’s start, so you have to check local listings for time and channel. Here in the mountains spring’s another month away at least. Probably more like six weeks.

Minnesotans are both happy and wary about the coming of spring. It’s been a long, hard winter and to see it in the past will be welcome. As will be the warmth and color. But. There’s a lot of pent up water there, too, just like in Nebraska, water that will get released as the air grows warmer. Could be a major flooding year. The rivers in Nebraska have exceeded historic high water levels by feet. This is the new normal. Extremes.

We’ve got a string of 40+ degree days ahead, including a couple in the 50’s. Then, more snow. Colorado mountain living. As the melting begins here in earnest, Cub Creek, Blue Creek, Bear Creek, Maxwell Creek will all show their might, taking down the mountains from which they run, taking their stony surfaces and moving them toward the plains. It will take a while, but the creeks are patient and wait each year for the spring winds to melt the snow that has fallen and to melt the ice. They’re a wonder in the spring.

Tao4Alan Watts has a book I like a lot called The Water Course Way. It describes the tao as like water, going around obstacles, over obstacles, not stopping, going on its way regardless of what’s in its path, not troubling itself over temporary stoppages, boulders, canyons, even lakes. Soft wins over hard. The soft water slowly picks away at mountains of granite, basalt, gneiss and takes them a grain at a time, over centuries, millennia, eons back to the oceans.

I struggle with this. I’m more, as I think I said here recently, more of a take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them sorta guy. An unreconstructed activist still clinging to the fever dreams of the 1960’s. Yet there is truth in the tao. Is it the only truth? Don’t think so. But in regard to Kate’s circumstances over the last year or so, it has taken a certain let the process work its way out attitude to survive it with our mental health intact. Had we been pushing, pushing all the time (which I am wont to do) then we would have harmed ourselves in the process of making her well. Not only not necessary, but harmful.

20180405_144305

April 5, 2018. Near CBE in Evergreen

Spring will come. The flowers and the grasses of the montane ecosystem will burst forth, bring us their ephemeral beauty. The creeks will run full down Shadow Mountain, down Conifer Mountain, down Black Mountain always gouging, prying at the very thing that created them. The lodgepole pines will green up, the aspens and willows along the creeks will leaf out. There will be mule deer fawns, elk calves, fox kits, bear cubs, mountain lion cubs. Skis and poles and boots will go in storage and rock climbing gear, bicycles, hiking boots come out.

This is our home now. And we don’t want to leave it. Still uncertain. Waiting for the tao to show us the right path.