Live Long, and Prosper

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Sunday gratefuls: for the poetry and philosophy contained in the world’s religions. for not having to believe in them. for the intimacy and wonder of holidays. for deep thinkers and their ability to change our minds, to see what we cannot. for the pain and struggles that teach us what’s important and what’s not.

Seoah made a bulgogi soup last night. Delicious. Each time she comes I think, “I’ll cook like that, too.” Then, she leaves. And my cooking returns to its Western, American ways. I’ve added few Korean dishes to my repertoire. Maybe, over time…

Murdoch bounces around, happy and energetic. His teeth still have the pointy sharpness of a young puppy. He discovered the loft the other day, came running in, wagging his tail, rushing around, smelling this, then that. And left. He’s come back. He may join Gertie for longer time periods if he can contain himself.

Stanford University has a recent initiative, A New Map of Life. I like it because it recognizes the three blocks of life I call first, second, third phase: education, family and work, and the third phase. Not retirement, at least not the finish line model, but a new phase of life previously unavailable due to shorter life spans. And, as a result, one without cultural guard rails or guidelines.

Their approach makes so much sense. They want to to redefine, reshape the cultural paradigms for all the phases, not just old age. “Longer lives present us with an opportunity to redesign the way we live. The greatest risk of failure is setting the bar too low.” WP article: We need a major redesign of life. Dec. 8, 2019

Will investigate in greater depth and report back. I’m going through what seems to be an annoyingly long rethink of my own life. This is the fifth year (in 12 days) of our Colorado mountain life. It has peaks and valleys (hah) and they keep on coming.

Old age doesn’t seem to be the real issue for me though it plays a role. What’s more salient is the unpredictable nature of our daily life and the difficulty of getting into a rhythm for creative work. Health span is a key issue. Kate, though much better now than six months ago, still has occasional nausea, occasional fevers and fatigue, occasional heartburn, constant weakness. I have bouts of fatigue, muscle weakness, and general uncertainty added with prostate cancer and COPD.

Not complaining, observing what’s real for us. How do we build a mutual life that reflects and respects these difficult elements without capitulating to them? There is a disparity between us, too. I am younger than Kate by three years and though I have my own serious illnesses I don’t get derailed by them as often as she does from hers.

There’s a question of mutual life and its outlines and our individual lives. I’m admitting here that our answers so far have not been satisfying. It’s a project for both of us and it continues.

Mountain Living

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Friends who know about your own friendship with a constellation. Mt. Evans, which controls our weather. Black Mountain, which dominates my view from this computer. Conifer Mountain, which graces the left side of our journey up Shadow Mountain Drive. Hell, I’ll even give a shout out to the Verizon cell tower on top of Conifer Mtn. And to the folks who put it there.

Thanksgiving here officially ended. Annie’s cell phone went back to Waconia yesterday afternoon wrapped in bubble wrap.

Going to the Conifer Post Office is always a bit fraught. Our Next Door Shadow Mountain lights up with folks complaining about delivery times, deliveries not made, boxes stolen or misdelivered, letters and other mail delivered to neighbors, boxes shown as delivered and never seen. The staff at the front desk is often cranky, too.

Apparently this is a problem for Morrison, Pine, and Evergreen, too. Rural post offices. Also, mountains. Also, snow and rain and curves. Nothing like stopping your vehicle in the road on a snowy day, around a blind curve. Wouldn’t want this job or garbage pickup either. Having to stop a vehicle on the road in the mountains for any reason is hazardous and these folks do it at every house. Every house.

There are a lot of folks who make mountain living now much different from the Jeremiah Johnson era. The folks at IREA who construct and maintain the electrical grid up here. Mail and garbage folks as previously mentioned. The propane folks. Colorado Natural Gas that piped us and many of our neighbors. The Centurylink folks who build and maintain our phone and DSL lines. Jeffco public works responsible for roads, bridges, shoulders. Truckers who bring groceries and other goods to our stores. Workers in various professions who choose to live up here and often accept lower wages to do it. Think vets, doctors, eye care people, dentists.

We are not, contrary to the libertarian mythology, able to live free or die. We need not only family and friends, but a constellation of services and their employees to maintain ourselves up here. God bless them, everyone. Tiny Tim, too.

Shadow Mountain Gratefuls

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Everybody got here. 8 of us. Ruth, Jon, Gabe, Joe, Seoah, Annie, Kate and me. Plus a very interested Gertie, Rigel, Kepler, and Murdoch. Our oven thermometer allowed me to calibrate the lower oven since its heat is different from what gets set. Ruth’s pies, pumpkin and pecan, were wonderful. The heated side dishes made the meal easy to prepare. Love around the table. None of my burns were too bad.

The heated capon was ok, as were the side dishes. Hardly gourmet though tasty. We ate downstairs around the Stickley table that largely gets used for folding laundry. The red table cloth was festive as were the Happy Thanksgiving paper plates.

We used a few questions from a set by a company called Vertillis. The intent was to have a conversation that did not feature Trump tirades, one that was, instead, about us. It worked. After the plates of sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, capon, cranberries, and green beans were empty we broke into groups.

The women, with Kate at the head of the table, stayed downstairs talking while us guys put away food, cleared the table. A moment of gender parity. I mentioned it and Jon said, “Yes. And, two male dogs and two female dogs.” True.

Later Annie, Kate, and Ruth went upstairs, Jon sat in the chair and dozed while Joe, SeoAh, and I talked. The spirit of those questions seemed to linger even after the meal. Seoah said Joseph was her first true love. Who was mine?

The question set me back. After three visits to the altar and many women friends/lovers over the years, I wasn’t sure at first. “Kate,” I said. Raeone and Judy were both relationships formed while I was drinking and their dissolution reflected their flawed premises. Kate though was, pardon the not really a pun, my first sober choice. It’s true love because we both want what’s best for each other, will sacrifice for each other, and share convictions, core convictions, about politics, mother earth, dogs, family.

The essence of holidays, these sorts of conversations reinforce family ties, deepen them. We come together out of individual and nuclear family lives to bathe for a moment in the larger, extended field of our relationships. SeoAh said Koreans celebrate a harvest festival with similar themes.

Even though Kate’s going through some kind of disturbance in her force, nausea and fever, it nonetheless felt to me that this holiday put away the old, bad year and began a new one. Next year Joe and Seoah will be in Singapore, so it will be different.

Murdoch will stay with us for a year since Singapore wouldn’t let him in. Means considerable jockeying since both Murdoch and Kepler are male Akitas with the dog on dog aggression that comes with the breed. We’ll work it out, get a routine down.

Dogs, I read recently, like certainty. If we can get a system that works, when to feed, when to let this one out, then that one, keep Murdoch outside while Kep is inside and vice versa, we’ll avoid squabbles. Squabbles being a euphemism for teeth tearing flesh, blood, wounds, squeals of pain, and my forced interventions.

At two years old Murdoch still has a lot of puppy in him. That’s delightful and will warm up our house. He’s also a sweet boy, nice to have around.

Today is Thanksgiving on Shadow Mountain

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Friday gratefuls: Joe and SeoAh arrived with Murdoch after a long drive. Our plowed driveway. Thanksgiving when everyone can be here. Learning how to make chili from scratch. Discovered that smoked paprika adds to chili. Murdoch’s happy, puppy presence. This computer on which I do so much work. This loft in which I paint, write, read, exercise.

Joe and SeoAh’s arrival delayed Thanksgiving. They encountered several accidents on their way to Missouri for a night’s rest. Didn’t get there until 3 am. I decided we’d wait Thanksgiving rather than have them rush while sleep deprived. Cooked the capon last night, sliced it, covered it in tin foil. Will go in the oven to warm up today.

The big box of side dishes from Tony’s rests in the back of Ruby, cooled by what Kate and I call the great outdoor refrigerator. They, too, will go into the oven to warm up. Then those fancy plates and napkins I picked up at the Paper store will adorn our downstairs table. Around it will be Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Annie, Joe, SeoAh, Kate, and I. Eight souls. The animal souls will be in various places to avoid hassles.

We have 18 inches of snow on the ground and on our roof. A Colorado Thanksgiving. The solar snow shovel will gradually remove it.

Thankful Kate’s health is so much better.

Gathering

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: lodgepole pine and their snow shedding branches, aspens and their massive cloned groves, Maxwell, Blue, Shadow, and Bear creeks, the mule deer, the elk, the rabbits, the voles, the mice, the cougars, the bears, the foxes, the pine martens, the porcupines, the Canadian jays, the magpies, the ravens, the crows, the trout, the minnows, the willows and dogwood. And all the critters I don’t know about and all the soil organisms and grasses and flowers

Annie comes in today. Her flight arrives at 8 am. Joe and Seoah will get here tomorrow. We’re going to eat later as a result, probably around 5. Plus Murdoch, who, it turns out, will be staying with us for the next year. Gonna be interesting.

Jon, Ruth, and Gabe will come up for the day. Since Ruth has agreed to make the pumpkin pie, they have to get here early enough for her to work.

Getting the side dishes made by Tony’s means I can concentrate on the capon. I want to do it well. I hope our oven does not recapitulate its last Thanksgiving performance where it didn’t reach an adequate temperature. It’s been fine since then. Of course.

Lupron has been swinging my moods, giving me hot flashes, making me weaker than usual. Lotta fun. Better than the alternative.

Got plowed yesterday. But. New guy since Ted, our usual plow guy, fell off a ladder at a job and broke several bones. Chris is a substitute. He did an ok job, but he doesn’t know our driveway like Ted does. On Thanksgiving day we’ll have three extra cars here: Annie’s rental, Jon’s, and Joe’s. Ought to be interesting.

A Holiday Week

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Monday gratefuls: the folks at Weather5280, Ted the snowplower, our mail guy, Greg, our Denver Post most of the time delivery person, the UPS and Fedex drivers who deliver our packages. A small web of people who help us in this isolated, yet hyper connected age.

Yesterday I got up around 6 am, late for me, and Orion already had his boots behind Black Mountain. This morning he stood fully above it, the soles of his boots resting on the peak. He’s hunting Lepus the rabbit who always scoots away, just out of reach. Lucky Lepus.

Saturday included picking up a grocery order and a trip to the Happy Camper in Bailey after the bagel table. Tired.

On Sunday we began a ritual going on in many households around the whole nation. Decluttering. Not a lot to do, but still some. Books piled up on the downstairs table where we’ll eat the meal. Papers of various sorts stacked by my place at the table. There are photographs in boxes in the room Kate’s using for exercise. Some jigsaw puzzles going up to the guest room.

Sandy, our housecleaner, will come on Wednesday. Her usual day was last Friday, but we had a snowstorm that prevented her California raised self from coming up the hill.

The capon and the side dishes I’ll pick up Wednesday morning at Tony’s. I’ll also get pizzas for supper Wednesday night when Joe, Seoah, Murdoch, and Annie will be here.

Last year Kate was recently home from Brookdale Green Mountain rehab. Cooking was not part of the plan. “At 2 pm I drive over to Littleton to Tony’s Market to pick up our Thanksgiving meal, a turkey breast and several sides. We decided putting out a big meal this year was beyond us.” Nov. 21, 2018

Inching our way back to a full meal. I love capon and wanted to cook one, but didn’t want responsibility for the whole meal. Kate suggested we go with the side dish bundle from Tony’s again. No pushback from me. Maybe next year we’ll get back to the full meal. Ruth’s agreed to make the pumpkin pie. She’s a good cook and loves to make pies.

The big storm, thankfully, gratefully, comes tonight and tomorrow, leaving Wednesday and Thursday clear. Joe and Seoah should have clear roads.

Over the curves and up the hill…

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The waning half Fallow Moon was beautiful this morning. It was the half closed pupil of an eye surrounded by a circle of silvered moonlight within a larger circle of blue moonlight. The eye followed Orion and his dog as they hunted, looking all round Black Mountain for prey.

While Minnesota and points east have been cold, we’ve had a milder, less snowy first half to November. That’s about to change. How much remains to be seen, but it looks like Thanksgiving week will be both colder and snowier.

Kate and I drove up the hill yesterday afternoon after yet another doctor’s appointment. I asked her if she felt different, more at ease with at least the immediate future. Yes, she said. Me too, I agreed. It’s an adjustment to see fewer appointments ahead, less likelihood of drastic news. A good adjustment, yet it also has a when will the other shoe drop tonality. I believe that feeling will pass as long as our mutual health conditions remember stable over a longer period of time.

I ordered a capon from Tony’s last week. Kate decided to get their side dish bundle: gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans. Ruth agreed to make a pumpkin pie. Joe, SeoAh, and Murdoch plan to get here on Wednesday. Annie, too. Jon, Ruth, and Gabe will join us on Thanksgiving. A full house plus.

As many of you will understand, we’re both looking forward to these visits, a lot, and dreading them, a little. Having three extra people and a now larger Murdoch in the house for five or six days presents psychological and logistical challenges. All worth it, but challenges none the less.

Not nearly as big though as the Keaton Thanksgivings. Mom’s family. Muncie, Indiana. Aunt Marjory’s. She was the acknowledged culinary guru and must have worked very hard to feed 18-20 people. There was a kid’s table, lots of comic books (often brought by me). Uncle Ike, Uncle Riley, Dad, Uncle Ray, if they were all there, would retire to Uncle Ike’s den to smoke cigars and watch football. Aunt Roberta, Aunt Virginia, and Mom must have helped Aunt Marjory in the kitchen, but I don’t remember it.

This was a key link in our extended family’s year, the other major one being a family reunion in James Whitcomb Riley park in Greenfield, Indiana. Jane Pauley would occasionally come. Her father Dick Pauley and Uncle Riley were close friends.

Thanksgiving memories. An American tradition. A strong one because it is non-sectarian, focuses on food and family. Probably my favorite holiday of the year after the Winter Solstice. One for the family, one for solitude.

Turn Starwheel Turn

Samain and a full Fallow Moon

Orion was there, but dim. 4:30 am. Full Fallow Moon above Black Mountain outshone his distant stars. Going outside in the early morning, seeing Orion rise, his big dog, too, has somewhat rekindled my interest in astronomy. Enough that I repurchased something I gave away when we moved, a starwheel. Wonderful name. Relearning parts of the night sky.

The big dipper, easy to locate in Andover, often hides behind the lodgepoles to the northeast, but is now rising early enough that I can see it. With that friend I can find Polaris and Arcturus. Follow the arc to Arcturus. Follow the pointer stars to Polaris.

Coming out at 4:30 or so on a daily basis makes me understand how the heavens could have been used not only as a calendar, but also as a clock. Orion ticks over further and further to the west. Others come to his former spot. A person who focused on the stars at night could tell time with this movement.

Living in the mountains surrounded by the Arapaho National Forest gives each day and night a close connection with the changing natural world. On the ground. In the sky.

One outcome of Kate’s good news and my ok news about our lung diseases (geez) is that we’re here to stay. Yes, we’re challenged by the thin air, but we can cope. Better up here for both of us than down in the polluted air of the Denver metro.

Real Winter

Fall and the new moon (Heshvan)

Stress test today. Oh, boy. Hope they don’t catch it all. Feeling a bit down.

The combination of the COPD diagnosis, my stress test at 11:30, the very nasty road conditions between here and South Denver Cardiology in Littleton. Found myself reluctant to shovel the back deck and the stall mats. Achy. You know. Stuff accumulates. (no pun intended.) Did shovel the deck and mats though. Felt better.

Walked out to the paper. Nope. Snow stops the Denver Post. Only rain, sleet, hail, snow, and gloom of night prevents that sturdy carrier from his rounds.

This is real winter, pre-Halloween. Temp of 5 right now, headed down below that tonight and tomorrow night. Maybe 4-5 inches of new snow, more on the way.

Don’t want to start slogging through the slough of despond. Only makes matters more difficult. Looking for simcha in the beauty of the snow, the bounce of the dogs out the door in the morning, the reading I’m doing for Chayei Sarah.

Feeling it for the folks in California. The pyrocene, indeed.

Satisfaction

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

Yesterday. Packed with stuff. AM I got out there and began cutting down trees. Got a lot of trees down, many smaller spruces. Managed to hang one smallish lodgepole. Will have to deal with that today. It felt so good. I love manual labor of a certain kind. Logging is one. Working in gardens and orchards is another. There’s something about using my body, working with plants and the soil that feeds me. Chainsaw work has serious man cred, too. With all that lupron swimming around, I need it.

Two of the lodgepole pines I felled, one good sized, had the bluish stain of the pine beetle. Both had been dead for some time. One in the front, also showing the blue streaking, has not been dead over a couple of years. Not sure whether this means an infestation will take out all of our lodgepoles. The beetles don’t seem as pernicious here as on those mountain sides along I-70 out toward Silverthorne. On them whole mountain faces are the rust color of dead lodgepole pine needles. The sight shocked me the first time I saw it.

When I got tired using the chain saw, I put it away and got out my limbing ax. I don’t use the chain saw when I’m tired. However, I also love whacking off tree branches with the smaller of my two Swedish axes. I got the two dead trees limbed. Satisfying.

Susan came around noon. She’s the chair of the mitzvah committee at CBE and has stayed in constant touch with Kate and me over the last year plus. The main thing the committee does is meals and when we needed them what a help they were. However, another thing I love to do is cook, so once I got out from under the radiation fatigue, we stopped the meals.

In conversation Susan teased out of me that fire mitigation had me concerned. She offered to coordinate, if possible, a CBE crew to help. With Derek, neighbor Derek, helping, I don’t need them. She brought lunch and dinner anyhow. We had a good conversation over the meal.

Derek is a really good worker and will be taking the bulk of the logs for heating. He also had a call into Elk Creek Fire to chip slash he had generated from his property. Due to equipment malfunctions the chipping crew has gotten behind. They have 150 slash chipping reservations and they stopped taking reservations on the 10th of October. Derek suggested moving slash from our work onto his piles since they’re not to him yet. Excellent plan

After Susan left, Kate and I took a nap, waiting on the arrival of Jon, Ruth, and Gabe for hamburgers, tater tots, salad, and ice cream. Also laundry.

They got up here around three and we had the usual swirl of Gabe and Ruth. Ruth wanted to bake. She made a fudge and cornbread muffins. Gabe went around to all the dogs, one at a time, talking to them, petting them, then disappeared upstairs to watch TV.

Cooking the meal in the kitchen after Ruth’s baking had some challenges, but we overcame them. Ruth cut up tomato, onion and avocado for the burgers. She also tossed the salad. I took care of the tator tots and the meat.

Ruth’s designing the lighting for her drama classes production of Alice (in Wonderland). She had a self-described mental breakdown when she didn’t get the role of Alice. One manifestation of the breakdown was cutting her bangs short. She got over it.

I asked her if her friends liked to cook. She nodded and said, “Really, we like to eat.” Eighth grade. Next year high school. As they were leaving she put on her sandals and came to me for a hug. “Oh, my, you used to be way taller than me.” Yep. With sandals she’s getting close to my height.

Busy, satisfying, loving day.