We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Independence from DJT

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

trumpYesterday was the fourth of July. Our September 16th, viewed from Mexico. Our July 1st, from the northerly perspective of Canada. A day to launch an almost-ICBM from Pyongyang. A day not long after our President, OUR PRESIDENT, released on Twitter a video of himself wrestling, during a WWF event, another person whose head had been replaced by the CNN logo. I can’t believe I just wrote that. I can’t believe I’ve seen the video. I can’t believe DJT is in the Whitehouse.

Sigh. Yes, I can. That’s worse, actually, than disbelief. Disbelief holds out hope that incredulity might synch up with reality. Belief, in fact not even belief, but empirical observation shows that DJT did in fact post such a video and I’ve seen it. He is, too, actually in the Whitehouse, in the Oval Office, behind the desk where President’s sit, his long red tie brushing the floor, his floppy comb over shedding wispy blond hair and flakes of orange self-tanning lotion falling with them. In our Whitehouse. In our Oval Office.

Declaration of Independance

Declaration of Independence

On our Independence Day. Question. How do we get independence from him? And his minions. I know how. Elections. But, can the Democratic party pull off a win in the 2018 elections? Hell, I don’t know. And, more importantly, the 2020 election. Don’t know.

Sitting here on Shadow Mountain, with a beautiful blue sky framing Black Mountain, I’m far away from Washington, D.C. in miles and in altitude. And attitude. A benefit of this distance is no Beltway Fever. I can still see the United States from here, looking toward the humid east, the cold north, the hot dry south and the intermountain West. The mountains defy politics. They stand tall against the arrogance of politics, a granite wall solid, lasting. The cold drifts down from the pole, cooling the overheated rhetoric. The West retains its contradictory spirit of liberty, wide-open spaces and corporate overlords. The south. Well. Perhaps Trump could go unprotected by sunscreen to Arizona.

20170701_094556We are more than our government. We are a nation of vast reaches, landscapes that fire imaginations around the world. We are a nation of immigrants, a nation to which immigrants from that same world still desire to come, even if the xenophobic, chauvinistic politicians infesting Washington try to make us undesirable. We are a nation of hopers and dreamers in spite of the dreamkillers on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yes, we can lose all this to demagogues and mean-spirited fundamentalist ideologues. But I don’t think we will. Perhaps that’s the nostalgia of an old man for the country of his youth. Perhaps. Except the country of his youth exuded sexual repression, feared communism, had sundown laws, treated women like chattel and children. This country, the one now dominated by fearful men who would like to return to just that time, has seen clear advances in the treatment of women, people of color, various sexual preferences. It is, too, a nation whose economy links it in trade to most nations of the world. So, change is not only possible, it has happened in my lifetime and will, I know, happen again in my lifetime.

Throw the bums out.

 

 

Happy Birthday, SeoAh. And, United States!

Midsommar                                                                        Most Heat Moon

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

SeoAh’s birthday today. American independence day, too. She’s a sweetheart and now celebrates her birthday in and around U.S. military bases. Strange the way life works out.

She’s on her way to Korea at noon today since Joseph has a six week long course in Nevada.  Joe will go there in mid-August when his classes finish.

It’s a bit odd, maybe a lot odd, that our Calcutta born son, now married to a Korean woman, spends his days working to keep America safe. If that doesn’t push back, hard, against those who hate immigrants and people of color, I don’t know what will.

Especially since my immigrant ancestor, Richard Ellis, served as a captain in the American Revolutionary Army. He was Welsh, sent here from Dublin, Ireland by his mother after his father was killed in battle. The Ellises have been here for a long, long time. Now, continuing that line we have SeoAh and Joseph. This is, for me anyhow, the American Dream. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo fireworks here in the mountains since we have a stage one fire ban in effect. Still, I’m celebrating the birth of this nation. Its central idea, that any who agree to its principles can have an equal say in its governance, is so radical that it is often overlooked. Also conveniently forgotten is the reality that all white people here, that’s absolutely every one, are all boat people or descendants of boat people. Immigrants with no exceptions.

What we have in this already great country will survive even the depredations of this bizarre President. Yes, we have to resist him, but we will. The journey of these United States is not over and its ability to contribute to the world at large is not over either. As long as the Joseph’s and the SeoAh’s are here, ready to live their lives both with and for us all, the dream lives on.

 

 

Midsommar Eve

Beltane                                                                     Moon of the Summer Solstice

midsommarThis is the last day of Beltane, the Celtic season marking the start of the growing season. Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice and in the way of the Celts, actually mid-summer. I plan to start calling the season midsommar, after its Swedish spelling since the Scandinavians do this season right: bonfires, family gatherings, great food, lots of naked dancing. Out here in the moisture starved West and up here on fuel rich Shadow Mountain, there’ll be no bonfires. Just too dangerous, but we’ll be with the Swedes in spirit tomorrow.

 

Oh. Really?

Beltane                                                                         Moon of the Summer Solstice

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryI guess it’s time to admit it. I’m a deeply religious guy, whatever that means. It means at least that I find religion and religions fascinating, personally transformative. I have approached religion since high school with a mixture of deep skepticism and a willingness, no, a need to rethink, refeel, reexperience what I’m told.

J. Harry Cotton, professor of philosophy at Wabash College, introduced the radical skepticism to my journey. In my senior year of high school I had grown dissatisfied with the Methodist version of Christianity, so I asked the local Roman Catholic priest to give me instructions in the Catholic faith. He introduced me to the traditional Aquinian arguments for the existence of God. Since I had not, at that time, fully recognized the relentlessly logical bent to my mind, I found these arguments profound and felt like the Methodists had hidden them from me.

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Triumph of Thomas Aquinas, Benozzo Gozzoli

Then, that fall, J. Harry systematically dismantled each one of them. It’s not hard to do with the proper philosophical tools. Take God as the Aristotelian prime mover of the universe. God put the whole shebang in motion, otherwise how would things have gotten started? Well, like many similar arguments, this one suffers from the problem of infinite regression. So, if the universe required a prime mover, then who or what moved the prime mover?

When I left J. Harry’s class that afternoon, walking across the great lawn with brick academic buildings on every side, my world had been shaken at a foundational level. Out went the whole Christian project in my life, right then. Later, I would find Camus and his version of existentialism, which still informs me, but then, there was nothing.

downloadSince that day until now my ancientrail has always wound its circuitous path back to the big questions. I’ve explored Christianity, Islam, now Judaism, Taoism, existentialism, various spiritual disciplines like lectio divina, meditation, morning and evening prayers, contemplative prayer, even some modest peaks into Tibetan buddhism occasioned by my friendship with Gyatsho Tshering. Though I am now and have been for a while an idiosyncratic version of Taoist/pagan, I’m finding the Reconstructionist path in Judaism a surprisingly familiar one.

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

Reconstructionist thought, begun by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, is radical. Very radical. He asserted that the Torah is not divinely inspired. He went on to say that God as a supernatural intervener makes no sense. He rewrote Jewish rituals and insisted on a reexamination of the whole tradition, reconstructing it where it made sense. I love a key line of his, “The past gets a voice, but not a veto.” Yes. Very Emersonian.

Maybe my reimagining faith project is not so far out as I have sometimes thought. Perhaps it’s the work I’ve been in training for most of my adult life. What if I knuckled down and got at it with a reconstructionist bent in mind? Might be interesting.

 

The Longest Day

Beltane                                                                             Rushing Waters Moon

These are the last two days of the Rushing Waters Moon but its namesake creeks will continue rushing for another week or two. Last week’s substantial snow has been followed by some rain and last night another inch or so of snow. More precipitation to come, too.

The Moon of the Summer Solstice is new on the 25th. If I had the cash, I’d go to Sweden.

 

Memorial Day

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

To any Hoosier boy Memorial Day announces the Indy 500. Likewise, as a Hoosier student it meant, summertime! But up here on Shadow Mountain? We’re not quite ready for the parades and “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

May 20th, 2017

May 20th, 2017

20170520_08535320170520_085347

Mother’s Day

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Mother’s Mothers dayday. It’s hard to write about Mother’s day. My mother’s death in 1964, when I was 17, drained the day of meaning. I suppose it didn’t have to be that way. I might have taken the opportunity to celebrate her on this day, but somehow it’s never felt right.

Even though I know it’s a Hallmark holiday, a clever way to sell cards and flowers and candy, it has a sneaky power that comes from the Judaeo-Christian admonition to honor thy mother and thy father. This is a simple phrase, easy to remember and oft repeated, but often difficult to fulfill. This sentiment is not unique to the West, of course. Asian cultures often have an exalted view of parents, extending even past death to care and grooming of graves.

Mom was a 50’s mom. She never learned to drive. She stayed at home, raising Mary, Mark and me though at the time of her death she was updating her teacher’s license so she could work again full-time. It was her plan to use her income to pay for our college costs.

cards-mothers-day-ad-1952She was not, however, fond of the typical duties of a housewife. That’s not to say she neither cleaned, nor cooked, nor did laundry. She did all these things, but only as necessities.

Mom’s been dead 53 years and my memory of her has faded, but the presence of her has not. That is, I can still feel the love she had for me, the countless hours she spent bringing me back from literal paralysis during my long bout of polio. In fact, in what is surely an apocryphal memory, I can recall being in her arms at the Madison County Fair surrounded by bare light bulbs strung through the trees, a cotton candy machine whirring pink spun sugar, and suddenly feeling sick with what would become that disease. But I felt safe with her. The memory may be a later construct, but the feelings behind it are genuine.

Since my relationship with my father soured during the Vietnam War, in 1968 to be exact, I have felt parentless, sort of adrift in the world without close family support. That’s a long time. And, yes, much of that experience was reinforced and maintained by my own actions. Nonetheless it has never changed. My analyst once described my family as atomized rather than nuclear. It was apt.

So, mom, today I want to say thanks for your love and your caring. Thanks for all the energy and attention you put into all of us. Thanks for the gift of recovery. Thanks for the vision of me as a capable person. Thanks for all the meals, the clean laundry, the clean house, especially since I know these things were not what you really wanted to be doing. Thanks for giving me life. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I can celebrate mother’s day now. For you.

 

 

Ichi-go ichi-e Once in a lifetime

Beltane                                                                                   Rushing Waters Moon

Fog this morning over Black Mountain. It comes in and out of view as the mist moves toward us. Now it’s gone altogether. There’s a thin scrim of icy snow on the solar panels. Colder last night.

Kanō Eitoku (1543–1590), Cypress Trees

Kanō Eitoku (1543–1590), Cypress Trees

My Japanese informed aesthetic often finds resonance here in the mountains. The ponderosa pines that surround Beth Evergreen’s synagogue present heavily crenulated bark, twisted branches and a sturdy calm. From the sanctuary, looking south and east, one window pane has an especially crooked branch that reaches up like a hand. When the snow comes, it looks like a portion of a Kano school gold screen. Ravens and crows land on these branches, too, also emulating the scenery that inspired so many Japanese painters and printers.

Moon watching, a Japanese pastime, has its analogue here as well. The moon rising and setting among the mountain peaks, clouds placing a thin gauze in front of it, the stars as its context, emphasize the moon’s romance. I can stand on my deck here off the loft and watch clouds cross the moon’s face. Its silvered light makes beautiful shadows of the lodgepole pine.

Hokusai (1760-1849), Boats and Moon, an ukiyo-e print

Hokusai (1760-1849), Boats and Moon, an ukiyo-e print

Big eared mule deer and thick, tall elk come down to Maxwell and Cub creeks, lapping up the cold fresh melted snow. Mountain lions slip noiselessly through the undergrowth, lie prone on rock cliffs waiting for them to pass nearby. Bears root up tubers. Minx, bobcats, pine martens, smaller predators, hunt for prey. Rabbits and squirrels and mice feed, look over their shoulder. The web of life is vibrant.

Bull Elk, Evergreen, 2015

Bull Elk, Evergreen, 2015

Ichi-go ichi-e is a Japanese phrase often associated with the tea ceremony. The tea master arranges art in the tokinama, chooses teas and sweets, decides which tea bowls and tea pots and tea utensils to use, then greets their guests as they arrive, often no more than one or two. He does this to create an ichi-go ichi-e, a once in a lifetime moment or for this moment only. It connotes the treasure of each meeting between or among people.

Each moment of the day Black Mountain offers ichi-go ichi-e to those of us who live near it, if only we stop and look. To appreciate ichi-go ichi-e though we need to pause, or as mussar teaches us, put a space between the match and the flame. If we slow down our glance, our gaze, let it come to rest, if we take a breath and consider what is right there in front of us, then we find once in a lifetime moments happening throughout our day.

Ponderosa Pine, Beth Evergreen, April, 2017

Ponderosa Pine, Beth Evergreen, April, 2017

These do not, as you might think, cheapen or dilute over time, rather they enhance our experience of the world. We recognize the fleeting nature of life, of this moment and that moment, of the unique and precious and irreplaceable flavor to each encounter. Nothing is old, all is new, always.

In fact, to the extent that we can gain an appreciation of ichi-go ichi-e, then we never age.

 

Beltane, 2017

Beltane                                                                       Rushing Waters Moon

beltane_2017Cue the couples out in the fields doing their sympathetic magic for the fertility of the crops. Light the bonfires for leaping over and the bonfires for driving the cattle between. Gather the naked Scots outside of Edinburgh for the great fire festival. Dance in the streets because the growing season has finally come round again, the Great Wheel has turned and food will begin to appear from mother earth.

The greenman is dead, long live the greenman. Let the lady and the god Cernunnos mate again and again and again. Watch as the seeds break open and pierce the soil, spreading leaves, gathering in sunlight and drinking in rain. See the birds, gone for the season, return to sing and fly and swoop and delight us.

As winter has made us fold our arms and shiver, put on coats and boots, Beltane says, open them, embrace the sky, kick off the boots, shed the coat. Go out into the forest and walk, slowly. Listen to the streams falling down the mountainside. Feel the wind come over the continental divide, still cool from the snow covered peaks beyond it.

maypoleThis is Beltane. Mayday. Collect women and men, girls and boys, give them streamers and ribbons, connect them to the tall pole and have everyone swirl, under and in and out and back again. Pick flowers for the table, for a basket, for your lover.

May the power in each plant, in each rock, in each deer and fox and moose and elk and badger, in every person you meet, each bit of food you eat illuminate your heart and may your heart illuminate theirs. This is a time for coming out. Hug. Kiss. Smile. Appreciate.

Show gratitude for the snows of winter, the transition of spring, and the promise of nourishment spreading among us now. We have come again to the season of plant growth. The time when animal babies slowly mature. Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music of the earth herself and her consort the sun.

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.

July 2017
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