We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Lughnasa 2017

Lughnasa                                                                              Kate’s Moon

Welcome to the season of the first harvests. Coincidentally, on the Jewish calendar, today is Tisha B’Av  the 9th of Av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

demeterThe proselytizing Roman Catholics gathered in Lughnasa and turned it into Lammas, a sabbat name used often in Wiccan circles, but in fact part of a persistent and largely successful attempt by the Catholic church to eliminate the old Celtic faith. Parishioners baked loaves of bread (lammas means loaf mass) from the first harvested grains and brought them to mass.

The Celtic cross-quarter holiday (comes between a solstice and an equinox or an equinox and a solstice) of Lughnasa marks the beginning of the harvest season. The harvest, on the Great Wheel, has three holidays: Lughnasa, Mabon (fall equinox) and the start of the Celtic new year, Samain, another cross-quarter holiday celebrated on October 31st. In other words from today through October 31st the ancient Celts reaped the results of the growing season, which began on May 1st at Beltane. Beltane and Samain are the original holidays of the early Celts, one marking the start of the growing season, the other its end. Samain means Summer’s End.

fiddledIMAG0591A glorious time of year when the crops were good, Lughnasa also kicked off a long succession of market days, actually weeks, when celebrations were common. The tradition of Lughnasa market days with their heaps of produce from gardens and fields came to the United States with the Celts who immigrated here, many into the Appalachian mountains where their culture fed folk music and crafts into the new country. Their Lughnasa celebrations, then known as fairs, are the genesis of county and state fairs.

Living in the mountains as I now do, the dominant agricultural/horticultural emphasis of the Great Wheel comes into sharp relief, no harvest here, except some hay from mountain meadows, and a few farmer’s markets with desultory goods. Yet. In places with little to no agriculture the results of the harvest season are even more important, though occurring far away. No food, no life.

20170730_150912Kate has a garden remnant doing surprisingly well. She got this plant from a project at Beth Evergreen and had me transplant it. We will have a bit of Lughnasa sometime soon, if the fruits on it ripen. If they don’t, we plan to have fried green tomatoes. Kudos to Kate for accomplishing a difficult feat at 8,800 feet, growing tomatoes. She’s my Demeter.

We’re laying in stores for the long fallow season ahead. Kate made peach honey yesterday from Western Slope peaches we purchased on a cool, rainy Saturday from the Knights of Columbus. They would have happily assisted the Romans in destroying the first Temple. The contradictions of life.

 

 

Easing Back

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

books and cupWith concern about my knee prosthetic assuaged, I’ve gotten a better workout routine going. It’s taken me awhile to match my new workout time, start between 9 and 10 am, with productivity on other projects like reimagining and a new novel, but I’m getting there.

Yesterday I printed out work on Loki’s Children, the second part of the Missing trilogy, and the Protectors, a nugget about a group called the Carthaginians. That gives me three stories to consider. I’m also going to through a file I have in Evernote called story ideas. Check out what I’ve been squirreling away for the past couple of years.

Reimagining work right now consists of scissors and a stapler: cutting up the printed out pages from ancientrails, stapling individual posts together, then filing them under the conceptual (chapter?) headings I’ve defined. I ended up with well over 200 printed pages so this is no small task.

kabbalahThe kabbalah class is over until after the high holidays, but I plan to read in both the first volume of the Zohar and the key work by Isaac Luria. No idea right now about how to organize that reading, but Rabbi Jamie will help. Kate and I continue to study mussar, the Thursday at 1 pm group grounding us in both Jewish ethics and a small community.

Sister Mary and her s.o. Guru will be here Tuesday through Thursday. They’re flying here from Tamil Nadu where Mary and her friend Anitha were presenting at a conference. Mary has a conference in L.A. beginning on Friday. She’s got lots of air miles to her credit.

Life near the end of Midsommar

Midsommar                                                                   Kate’s Moon

a while ago

a while ago

Jon’s work on the benches for our dining room shows his continuing growth in woodworking. I’ll post pictures when he’s done, but the panels he’s building are cabinet maker good. That’s a pretty high skill level and he’s self taught after an apprenticeship with Dave Schlegel, a renovation contractor in Minneapolis many years ago.

The grandkids were up last night. Ruth’s excited about middle school, “I won’t be in the same classroom all day.” Jon, “That’s good for your teachers.” Ruth, “That’s good for me.” She’s a sweet kid. Gabe wants to be a sweet kid, too, but some misfiring neurons keep pushing him toward ornery. Maybe as the divorce settles and they move into Jon’s new house, achieve a new normal, he’ll come back toward center. But, maybe not.

20170721_172815Kate’s doing a lot of self care. She’s eating more, trying to get her weight up, an irony lost on neither of us. She does facial saunas, sinus clearing saline, pays attention to the development of thrush and knocks it back. Yesterday was her third or fourth infusion of Remicade for her r.a. Her rheumatologist gave her a drug for her dry mouth, a saliva stimulator. She uses the oxygen concentrator at night and sometimes at naps. Its humidifier has been a big help. None of these aggravations are fatal, but they do rob her of energy and sleep, of time, of resilience. Hard. But, she’s a strong, smart woman and able to develop a solid care plan for herself.

In my world I’m rediscovering my love affair with writing novels and my resistance to writing non-fiction. I reread Jennie’s Dead, maybe ten to twelve thousand words. Got excited about entering that universe, finishing it. This one’s about magic, straight up. I’m still going to continue research and general work on reimagining through Samhain, seeing if, as I said the other day on Ancientrailsgreatwheel, I get renewed energy for it in the fall. I am, however, going to look at a few other project fragments and pick one to flesh out, probably Jennie’s Dead, but there are a couple more. I miss the discovery and joy of creativity I experience while writing novels.

Lariat Lodge, Evergreen

Lariat Lodge, Evergreen

Since the visit with my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Peace, I’ve ramped up my workouts, now aiming for 10,000 steps on the days I don’t do the resistance work, 7,000 on those days. So far, I’m hitting those marks. The new resistance work is good, sufficiently good that I’m considering extending my work with On the Move Fitness so that I can get a new workout every six weeks or so. Keeps things mixed up and I have a tendency to get into a rut with workouts I design myself. Also, my form gets out of whack, or was never in whack to begin with.

Measure once. At least once.

Midsommar                                                                     Kate’s Moon

ted

So that happened. Ted of All Trades, a former Iowa handyman now living here, came over to install the 15,000 BTU air conditioner in the loft. The loft is 850 square feet so it has to be that big or it would run all the time. I researched this, found the right air conditioner, bought it and brought it home. Forgot one thing. “That’s a big box,” said Ted, a hyper masculine, shaved head, brawny guy. Oh. “You have 25″ of window and a 29 1/2″ air conditioner.” Oh. Right BTU, wrong size. 70 years old and I haven’t learned to measure things. So, back it goes. Not sure what I’m going to do to cool the loft now.

Ted does not impose a trip charge. “Nope, I don’t do that. I want to earn my money.” We then had a conversation about the mountain way when it came to trades. “I went to a customer’s house. Said I’d be there at 8 am, got there about 7:45. Knocked on the door.” He shook his head, “The guy came to the door and said, ‘Who are you?'” “Ted,” I said, “Ted of All Trades.” “Holy shit, I wasn’t expecting you until 9:30 or later.”

The Midwestern work ethic, especially one grounded in the agricultural ethos of Iowa, would chew up and spit out guys who don’t show up on time. Ted’s on time, start to finish attitude about his business has him booked until October in spite of having been in the mountains only a year.

Grief

Midsommar                                                                         Kate’s Moon

arid westWe’re grieving. Kate visited her rheumatologist yesterday. She has both Sjogren’s Syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. Eric told her that patients with Sjogren’s struggle in the arid west since it’s a disease that creates dryness in the mouth and the eyes. The low humidity here exaggerates and reinforces those symptoms. In addition both Sjogren’s and r.a. (rheumatoid arthritis) can sap energy, cause joint stiffness and generally make life difficult. “This is the new normal,” Kate said.

Jon also has multiple significant diseases: type 1 diabetes, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease (low production of cortisol), r.a. and has managed them very well. He’s 48 now and shows none of the sequelae normally associated with a long history of type 1 diabetes. These chronic conditions take up money, time and a lot of attention, requiring daily, and often more frequent than that, self-care.

grief-quotes-quotes-about-griefLife is different now and will remain that way, that’s what we’re grieving. We had hoped there would be some medicine, some procedure, some magic that would put these insults behind us, but no.

Most of us, by the time we reach our seventies have some cluster of physical irritations and annoyances: hearing loss, kidney disease, bad joints, high blood pressure, generalized anxiety disorder, for example. If we’re lucky, we can absorb these changes, mitigate their problems and live our lives in spite of them. There is, however, always a period of adjustment, of realization that, yes, this body or this psyche has a now permanent malfunction, a condition of dis-ease.

They are reminders, often not gentle, that someday, sometime, something will end it all. The grief involved in these lesser problems is a precursor to the larger grief, the loss not only of function, but of life itself. If we let them, these short of fatal conditions can teach us how to confront and absorb the larger grief.

A Clashing of Deep Thoughts and Spiritual Longings

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

(found this draft and just published it. It’s from a month or so ago.)

Irv Saltzman invited us to a performance by his singing group, the Renaissance Singers. It was held in a wooden Episcopal Church, St. Laurence’s, which is near our home. Directed by a Chinese national, Hannah Woo, who is finishing her Ph.D. in musicology, they were 8, four men and four women. As a group, they matched each other well. April, a soprano, had a lovely clear voice and a large range. Irv, formerly a tenor, has now transitioned into a bass/baritone role. Their performance was wonderful. At a meal afterwards we discovered April is our neighbor.

Renaissance choral music and instrumental renaissance music has always captivated me. It’s easy to see courtiers in colorful costumes listening to this music in a palace, brown robed and cowled monks hearing it in a morning prayer service, or small groups performing at home for their own amusement. It’s also the music most often heard at Renaissance festivals. Sorta makes sense, eh?

The sanctuary had a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams and two large, clear windows that looked out to the east, toward Shadow, Evergreen and Bear mountains. It rained while we were there and the mountains were in mist, the windows covered with raindrops slowly moving from top to bottom. There were individual chairs, padded with kneelers, arranged in a three sided configuration, making the sanctuary a sort of thrust proscenium stage, an ideal arrangement for a small group of singers.

A church artist had painted the stations of the cross and they were around the sanctuary, set off by bent sheet metal frames. A copper baptistry, large, sat over a cinerarium where the congregation deposits cremation remains and memorializes the dead with small plaques.

Between the two windows hung a large crucifix, a cross made of bare, light wood and a bronze Jesus hung by two nails. I had an odd sensation while listening to this music I’ve often heard in monastic settings on retreat, being carried back into the spiritual space of an ascetic Christianity that often comforted me. This time though I came into the space as a peri-Jew, identifying more with Marilyn and Irv and Kate, with the still new to me spiritual space of Beth Evergreen, than the theological world represented by this spare, but beautiful sanctuary.

The crucifix stimulated the strongest, strangest and most unexpected feeling. I saw, instead of the Jesus of Christianity, a hung Jew, a member of the tribe. More than that, I felt the vast apparatus and historical punch created by his followers, followers of  a man who shared much of the new faith world in which I now find myself. It was an odd feeling, as if this whole religion was an offshoot, a historical by-blow that somehow got way out of hand.

These feelings signaled to me how far I’d moved into the cultural world of reconstructionist Judaism. I see now with eyes and a heart shaped by the Torah and mussar and interaction with a rabbi and the congregants of Beth Evergreen.

This was an afternoon filled with the metaphysical whiplash I’ve experienced often over the last year, a clashing of deep thought currents, spiritual longings. This process is a challenge to my more recent flat-earth humanism, a pagan faith grounded not in the next world, but in this one. Literally grounded.

What’s pushing me now is not a desire to change religious traditions, but to again look toward the unseen, the powerful forces just outside of the electromagnetic spectrum and incorporate them again into my ancientrail of faith. This makes me feel odd, as if I’m abandoning convictions hard won, but I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on. There is now an opening to press further into my paganism, to probe further into the mystery of life, of our place in the unfoldingness of the universe, to feel and know what lies beyond reason and the senses.

 

 

Major Changes

Midsommar                                                                   Kate’s Moon

20170423_090148Jon’s house deal in Aurora finalized. He takes possession on September 7th. That will put him much closer to his school, within a long bike ride. The ride to school is how he got his exercise before moving up here so he’s looking forward to that. It also means that the custody arrangement will revert to 50/50, which will be a dramatic change for all involved.

He’s finishing up some projects here in the meantime. He installed the living room air conditioner last week. The benches that will surround half of our relatively new dining room table are under construction. He’ll finish those, I hope, this week.

This also means that after September 7th, Jon will no longer live with us; he’s been on Shadow Mountain a little over a year. It will be sad. Jon moved to Colorado 14 or 15 years ago and our time with him diminished to little, only on visits. Now we’ve had a chance to reconnect, to resee him and for him to resee us. That’s not a chance parents and children often get when the child is 48. His move also means our three times a month weekend time with Ruth and Gabe will end. We’ll see all three of them, but much less frequently. So there will be grief, as well.

Passover 2016

Passover 2016

We plan to use the fall and maybe the winter to finish our move, which has been on partial hold while we hosted Jon, Ruth and Gabe. There’s art to hang, furniture to relocate, maybe some painting and flooring, some bits of this and that left over after our kitchen remodel.

It is time though for Kate and I to complete the changes we want to make to our home and property. It’s also time for our lives to slow down a little, to have substantially less stress. It’s been a complicated year with the sturm und drang of the divorce, my knee surgery and recovery, Kate’s gradual coming to grips with Sjogren’s Syndrome. A year or so with no medical or family drama would be pleasant.

 

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Leaning in

Midsommar                                                                  Most Heat Moon

Strange times in the inner world of Mr. Ellis. Feeling peaceful. Leaning into life rather than pushing against it, struggling. Feels. Weird.

The move from Minnesota, which we did for love of Jon, the grandkids, adventure and the mountains has had a more drastic effect than I could have imagined. I thought the chief task here on Shadow Mountain would be becoming native to this place, instead it was becoming native to myself.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We move, then I have prostate cancer in a place where I know almost no one, with a doctor known from one or two visits. Not the best setup for entering a new place. But I got good care, came to know Lisa much better and have prostate cancer in the rearview so far.

Sometime after that Kate read an article about a study of King David at a local synagogue, Beth Evergreen. We went on a cold winter night and had a challenge finding our way, but we got there. Bonnie, who would become a friend, led the session and we met many others that night, including Marilyn and Tara Saltzman, who would also become friends.

Kate’s long ago conversion to Judaism, when she was in her early 30’s, had been dormant for the most part though firm. Here we were in a new place and Beth Evergreen had people who seemed friendly, the synagogue greeted us warmly. Both of us. I decided to attend further events to support Kate and, besides, I’d always enjoyed my relationship with Jewish folks over the years.

Since then Kate has deepened and lived her Jewish life, taking Hebrew classes, getting to know more members of the congregation through mussar (Jewish ethics). Joan Nathan has become her culinary heroine and she’s made many recipes from King Solomon’s Table including a seven-species salad for a holiday whose name I don’t recall.

Meanwhile I’ve been taking it all in, an experience I’ve taken to calling Jewish immersion. Each faith tradition has its own culture, its own way of being for those who participate. The whole, the gestalt of this, can be seen as a language, a language unfamiliar, even foreign, to outsiders. Without intending to I’ve been learning the language.

I think about conversion, about becoming a member of the tribe in the way Kate did, but somehow it doesn’t feel right for me. I keep myself open, however, not closing either heart or mind. The study of kabbalah has cracked open a door, a door I thought I had closed, the door of a faith reaching beyond the sensible world.

We’ll see where that goes.

 

 

Altitude: A Blessing and a Curse

Midsommar                                                                       Most Heat Moon

visionaire-5-oxygen-concentrator-airsep

Living at altitude in the arid West has its challenges. So far we’ve decided that the blessings outweigh the curses. Kate did come back from her 55th reunion trip to Iowa healthier. Part of that was a treatment for thrush she began before she left, but a part of it, too, was being much closer to sea level (better O2 stats) and much more humidity. We joked about taking the oximeter and the blood pressure monitor on a drive around Denver to find a place we could live that would be healthier for us. The oxygen concentrator is a better solution for us right now.

Tibial-Keel-Punch-Protocol-Render.In other health news an x-ray of my left knee (total knee prosthetic imaging) raised a question. On Monday I see Dr. Peace, my orthopedic surgeon, for a follow up. Kate thinks and I hope he will say nothing’s wrong. I will use the time to ask again about how much I can challenge the knee. Can I, for example, kneel? It’s painful now, yes, but does it actually harm the prosthetic? Is hiking up a mountain trail too stressful for it? Why do I still have pain seven and a half months after surgery? Are my high intensity workouts too much? I don’t want to be too cautious, neither do I want to be cavalier.

Jon’s waiting on news about whether the seller of the house he’s purchasing will replace galvanized piping. Could be a deal breaker. Possible bummer alert.

 

 

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