We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

CNS and Social Change

Spring                                                                   New (Rushing Waters) Moon

book-coverToday I’m making chicken noodle soup and Kate’s making Vietnamese pho. We’ll serve this at a Beth Evergreen leadership dinner for Rabbi David Jaffe, author of Changing the World from the Inside Out, a Jewish Approach to Social Change. Along with our friend Marilyn Saltzman, chair of the adult education committee, who is making a vegetarian squash soup, we’ll provide the soups for a soup and salad meal. I really like this low key involvement. It feels manageable.

Although. I am hoping that Rabbi Jaffe’s time here at Beth Evergreen, tomorrow through Saturday as a visiting scholar, will spur the creation of an activist group focused on some form of response to the Trump/oligarch era. In that instance I’m willing to move into a more upfront role, though I would prefer to remain a follower.

Then, there’s the Sierra Club. I wrote here about my excitement with Organizing for Action, Conifer. That was back in January, I think. Lots of people, lots of energy. Good analysis. I thought, wow. Here’s my group. Then, I never heard from them again, my e-mails went unanswered. Weird, but true. Weird and disqualifying for a group that’s organizing political work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo I renewed my effort to connect with the Mt. Evans’ local group of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. Colorado seems to work more through these regional clusters than as a whole. There are nine of them, covering the entire state. The Mt. Evans’ group includes our part of Jefferson County, Clear Creek County and a northern portion of Park County. It’s titular feature, Mt. Evans, is a fourteener (over fourteen thousand feet high) which has the highest paved road in North America leading to its summit. According to locals here it’s also the weathermaker for our part of Conifer.

I finally made it to a meeting a couple of weeks ago. When I came back, Kate said, “You seem energized.” I did. And, I hadn’t noticed. Something about that small group plugged me back into my reigning political passion of the last six or seven years: climate change. Oh, yeah. With OFA I’d tried to head back toward economic justice, my long standing motivation for political work, dating back to the UAW influences I picked up as a teenager in Alexandria. Guess the universe understood me better than I understood myself. Not much of a surprise there.

buy this here

buy this here

My mind began ticking over, running through organizing scenarios, figuring out how we could (note the we) raise the visibility of the Mt. Evans group, gain more members, influence local policy. This is my brain on politics. I might be willing to play a more upfront role here, too, though I want to explore other ways of being helpful first.

Anyhow, between these two, I’m sure I’ll get my political mojo working in some way. And that feels good. Want some soup?

 

 

Great Wheel in the Montane Ecosystem

Spring                                                                   Passover Moon

BeltaneAs the passover moon enters its final phase, the Great Wheel heads toward Beltane. No longer spring then, as the wheel turns toward the growing season, toward summer. Up here (above 8,800 feet, the montane ecosystem) there is no real growing season though things do grow: lodgepole pines, aspen, grasses, willows, dogwood, shrubs whose names I haven’t learned.

There are gardens, of a sort. The short warm season and the cool nights make Midwestern style outdoor gardening very difficult. Then, there’s the lack of water. If I were younger, I might take on the challenge, probably with the aid of a greenhouse, but I want to do other things during that time now. Like hiking. Travel in the area.

The only real crop I’ve seen up here is hay, which grows in mountain meadows. The rest of the growing is done by indigenous plants and the occasional plastic covered hoop garden or greenhouse plus a smattering of container grown plants.

modIMAG06205This is so different from my 68 years in the midwest. When I drove back to Minnesota last September for Joseph and SeoAh’s reception at Raeone’s, I experienced an unexpected nostalgia for farming and its sights. I didn’t realize I’d missed tractors in the fields, long rows of wheat and corn and beans, silos and barns, cattle and pigs and sheep. But I had.

To see agriculture in Colorado requires driving east into the high plains. Even there though hay and some wheat, feedlots dominate. Not like Iowa, Indiana, Illinois because even the high plains are still west of Cozad, Nebraska through which runs the 100th parallel which divides the U.S. into the humid east and the arid west.

Here the mountain altitudes and the aridity modify the humid east’s seasonal cycle, conflating spring and early summer, then creating a longer but less colorful autumn. Winter is the most distinct season though it can swing wildly between feet of snow and sunny, warm weeks. The cooling effect associated with altitude means there are few warm summer nights to help vegetables like tomatoes to develop fully.

Beltane, 2016

Beltane, 2016

Beltane in the mountains does not inspire rites of fertility in the fields or the lighting of bonfires for cattle to be driven through. I suppose you could still find a fire or two for those hoping for children to jump over (to quicken the sperm and the egg), but at least in the Colorado I know so far, that’s unlikely.

Beltane is a fire festival and perhaps that’s the true association with the season. Around Beltane the precipitation patterns in the Front Range change, with fewer and fewer chances of rain or snow. The result of this waning of available moisture, which ends, usually, in the monsoons of late August, means fire hazard rises.

More thoughts on how the mountains modify the Great Wheel on May 1st.

The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.

Passover

The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.

river-lb

The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.

Wildgame

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

20170408_142512The birthday girl is here. 11 years old now, officially (I learned yesterday.) a tween. She’s a reader, an artist who now works a lot with wire, a double black diamond level skier, a gifted student, a good friend, a thespian and our granddaughter. Ruth.

She’s now only 2 years away from her Bat Mitzvah. This is about the time for her to get her preparation underway. Lots of Hebrew to learn.

Divorce has been tough on the kids, Ruth and Gabe both. Things do seem to be settling down right now, so I hope the two of them can begin to get on with their elementary school lives. Gabe turns 9 on the 22nd of this month.

20170408_142335We took them both to Wildgame, a restaurant and entertainment place in Evergreen. They have an arcade (see picture), a bowling alley, a pool table, bocce ball court, ping pong tables and a stage for live music. The counter guy told Kate to come before 5 pm because, “It gets pretty crazy after that.”

Had we been prescient the divorce alone would have been enough reason for us to move out here. We weren’t, but we’re certainly glad we’ve been here for the whole family. Even Jen. Divorce with young kids, a reality both Kate and I have known, is just plain hard. I’m sad Ruth and Gabe have had to experience it.

Dogs and kids. I never want to have a life without either of them.

Shifts and Changes

Spring                                                                      New (Passover) Moon

2010 01 19_3454Writing can lay bare something hidden, perhaps something that needed excavation or something attached to a thread, even a flimsy thread, by which it can be pulled from the inner world. Things get lost in there, pushed behind stacks of unused memories or stored with a faulty label. Sometimes ideas once full and vibrant get partially severed from their context, crucial links of thought go missing and the idea fades away.

“I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions.” March 21, 2017 This sentence is an example, a recent example. It stares back at me, rather baldly. Oh. Well, that’s right, isn’t it?

I love to read, follow an idea through its growth and changes, learn about something in depth, wonder about it, tease out of it new implications or old truths.

I love to write. I don’t know why. Might be an inheritance from my newspaperman father. Might just be long established habit. Whatever the reason writing is my painting, my sculpture, my photography. I have to do it to feel whole.

2010 01 19_3455Which, speaking of ideas, then links to the idea of the third phase. That quote comes from recent thoughts on the third phase. A primary wondering for me, I think for all third phasers, is this: what am I about in this last phase of my life?

The Trump catastrophe, a miserable wound of our country’s own making, pulled on the 60’s radical thread always near the surface for me. I’ve been trying to put that mask back on, to become the political activist I once was. I felt obligated. You know, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it hasn’t been happening. I just haven’t connected with other activists. I haven’t been doing much more than writing about it. (a clue here, by the way) Grousing and complaining, yes, sure. But not acting.

Writing and study. Third phase. Beth Evergreen. With Kate I’ve found a community that cherishes study, scholarship, a community that finds writing an understandable vocation. Right now I’m thinking, wondering. Should I lean into my primary passions? Stay with them. Dig deeper. That feels right.

Here’s a confession, too. I’ve never liked politics. The person I become, the masks I put on then, feel far away from my core Self. Why then have I spent so much of my life in one political arena after another?

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardPart duty. For whatever reason I came out of Alexandria with fully formed political ideas about justice, equality, fairness. They were strong, rooted in the powerful union movement among my friend’s parents who worked for General Motors, reinforced by the liberal politics of my Roosevelt Democrat parents and then pushed toward action in the turmoil of the 60’s.

Part ego. It feels good to lead, to have people hang on my ideas, to see change occur when something I’ve helped shape makes things happen. But this is part of what feels far away from my core, introverted Self. That ego drive also presses forward an angry, demanding, often insensitive persona. A persona I dislike.

Part religious conviction. The almost random way in which I ended up in seminary, then the ministry came from following political conviction away from graduate academics and toward an institution willing to pay me to organize, to act politically. There was a merger of political passion and the prophetic line of a certain strain of liberal Christianity, even radical Christianity.

No conclusions here. Not yet. Just more of the shifts and changes, movements in my soul. Something will come out of all this. Not sure what. Not right now.

 

 

Watching For This

Spring                                                               Anniversary Moon

King's emporium

 

Consider the Predators of the Mountains and How They Live

Spring                                                                Anniversary Moon

Been thinking about predators, mountain lions in particular. About how difficult and demanding their life is: hunting for a next meal, finding prey that moves, that can fight back. Consider the plant eaters and how they thrive. Wandering over to the meadow, to the willow, to the shrub, scraping in the soil for roots. I admire the predator, the lonely vigilance their life requires, but to live like that? No thanks. I prefer grocery stores.

Here’s an amazing photograph taken by a Japanese space probe circling the moon.

earth-rise-2-1260x840-cAnd another one by Cassini.

Titan and Saturn

Titan and Saturn (natural colors)

Blessing

Spring                                                                   Anniversary Moon

soul1There are shifts and changes going on, movement in my soul. When we moved here, I left behind relationships precious beyond words. Not entirely, no. I’ve stayed in contact through facebook, e-mails, occasional visits, especially from the Woollies, but the day-to-day, go to lunch chances for nourishing those relationships has disappeared. I was lonely here atop Shadow Mountain.

This in no way denigrates the most special relationship of my life with Kate. I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have made this move without the strong anchor of our marriage. That anchor has only gone deeper into the oceans of my inner world as we’ve been out here.

Neither does it denigrate the wonder and majesty of living in the Rocky Mountains, nor does it denigrate my introverted path, so happy in its loft, this library. That loneliness did not diminish these important parts of my life.

Soul_SpiritBut it was real and significant. It manifested as a sense of yearning, a desire for companionship like what I’ve had with the Woollies and the docent corps at the MIA. I think, had it continued, that it would have become corrosive, perhaps even damaging to those core aspects of my life that remained solid.

Over the last couple of weeks though, perhaps a month or more, our engagement with Beth Evergreen has made that loneliness recede. In both the afternoon and evening mussar groups I’ve found a place to open myself up, to be vulnerable. To be seen. The study of kabbalah that will commence in May will deepen this experience, I’m sure of it.

To be in a religious community and have no professional responsibility for it is unusually freeing for me. Contra to the Dawkins and Hitchens of the world I find religion inspiring, most religions. I guess engagement with religion is a core facet of my self, too. Probably obvious to others, but only becoming so to me now. Beth Evergreen is the most authentic religious community I’ve had the privilege of knowing. In being part of it I’ve found a deep well to nourish the roots of my soul. A blessing.

In the Shadow of Finitude

Spring                                                              Anniversary Moon

700 pixels- punta arenasNo certainty yet on Kate’s malaise though the likelihood of something terminal has receded. Dr. Gidday is good at reassurance, no false cheer, just a reasoned confidence. I remember in the midst of my prostate cancer workup she looked at me and said, “We’re going to get you through this.” I believed her. She’s moving methodically through the possibilities for Kate’s shortness of breath and her fatigue, ruling out the most pernicious first. We’ll know more over the next month or so. I’m relieved right now and want to stay that way.

It was one of those medical days yesterday. After seeing Gidday, we went to Swedish hospital and played find the right lab so Kate could have her blood drawn. We found the lab and it was closed for lunch. We took the hint and went for lunch ourselves at the Beirut Grill. Shawarma, tabouleh, mint tea. Then, back to Swedish.

Kate and me1000cropped“You know, if we weren’t in our 70s, I’d say this move to Colorado was jinxed. But when you take 70 year old+ bodies and move them somewhere else. Well. Wherever you go, there you are.” Kate nodded. We’re in that time when the body comments on its journey in unpleasant ways. The way things are.

This does put us in closer touch with our mortality, but I find this invigorating, clarifying. Life has an end. We know it and it is precisely the thing makes each day so precious, so full-if we can remain mindful. I’m grateful for these reminders of our finitude and for our lives lived in their shadow. Weird, I know. But it’s so.

 

 

The Vernal Equinox, 2017

Spring                                                                        Anniversary Moon

In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the Northern Hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade.”  NYT, The Seasons Aren’t What They Used To Be*, March 19, 2017. See an NYT graphic representation here.

650 2011 04 20_0898

 

We’re celebrating the spring equinox with yet another red flag warning. We need precipitation. Spring in the mountains is not yet, though the temperatures felt like it this whole last week.

A while ago I asked an entomologist at the Cedar Creek Nature Center in Anoka County what was the key phenological sign of spring. Bloodroot blossoming was his answer. Up here on Shadow Mountain it seems to be pasque flowers and they are blooming. Yet in many years, most years, there would be no pasque flower blooms now due to snow cover.

On the Great Wheel, the spring equinox is the point when the promise of Imbolc’s freshening of the ewes begins to appear in the plant kingdom. Leaves push out. Spring ephemerals hurry up and bloom, getting out ahead of tree and shrub leaf shade. Buds for later blossoms appear. Green pushes out brown. The sound of tractors are heard in the fields.

This storied season has a vital presence in poetry, song and many of the world’s religions. Mother earth seems to defy the fallow season, the cold season by creating life abundant from little more than sun and soil. No wonder the tales of resurrection in Christianity, in the Egyptian legend of Osiris and Isis, and the Greek’s Orpheus and Euridice, Demeter and Persephone have their analogs in spring.

bulbsYet it is not a true analog. Mother earth only seems to defy winter and the fallow time. It is not, in fact, death and resurrection, but a continuum of growth, slowed in the cold, yes, but not stopped forever, then magically restarted. Corms, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes all store energy from the previous growing season and wait only for the right temperature changes to release it. Seeds sown by wind and animal, by human hand are not dead either. They only await water and the right amount of light to send out roots and stalks.

20170318_163044I prefer the actual analog in which human and other animals’ bodies, plant parts and the detritus of other kingdoms, all life, return their borrowed materials to the inanimate cache, allowing them to be reincarnated in plant and animal alike, ad infinitum. Does this deny some metaphysical change, some butterfly-like imaginal cell possibility for the human soul? No. It claims what can be claimed, while reserving judgment on those things that cannot.

After Beth Evergreen’s mediation shabbat service last week, a member of the congregation and I got on to the topic of death. “I think it will be like before I was born,” he said. “Yes, I’m a nihilist, too,” I said. “But, I admit the possibility of being surprised.” He agreed.

Brand-Storytelling-In-The-Post-Truth-EraIt is spring, I think, that gives us this hope, no matter how faint, that death might be only a phase change, a transition from this way of becoming to another. It’s possible.

A necessary complement to the objectivity of science, then, is the subjectivity of experience. An enthusiastic openness to the lives of other species — the timing of tree blooms on city streets, the calls of frogs in wetlands or the arrival of migratory birds — is an act of resistance to deceptions and manipulations that work most powerfully when we’re ignorant. “Post-truth” does not exist in the opening of tree buds.” ibid

 

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