We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.


Winter                                                               Moon of the Long Nights

As she wanes, the moon of the long nights has gone sliver, showing herself this morning covered in a gauze of clouds over Conifer Mountain, just above the tops of the lodgepole pines. Soon she will fade away and the night sky will be black, the best stargazing.

The language of Judaism. Expressed yesterday evening in stained glass. Rich Levine has been teaching in the religious school at Beth Evergreen for several years. He’s connected with a stained glass artist named Linda Elliot. His students and Linda have collaborated to design and then create three works for the congregation.

stained glassThe first is a star of David made of 108 triangles. This familiar symbol of Judaism has six points creating a triangle pointing up toward the source of all things and another pointing down toward this world, the ancientrails of human and sacred movement. This piece was made with 3rd and 4th graders who wrapped each triangle in copper foil and placed them.

The next window, made with another religious school class, presents Joseph’s second dream. In this dream there are eleven stars, the sun and moon and the eleven stars bow down to Joseph. This dream triggers the theft of his coat of many colors and finds him left for dead in a pit. Since this is the means by which Joseph ends up in Egypt, where his entire family eventually joins him during a famine predicted in his first dream, it is also the start of the Egyptian bondage.

Linda Elliot and Joseph's Dream

Linda Elliot and Joseph’s Dream

This image incorporates the rainbow, the sign of the universal covenant between God and all peoples, all the descendants of Noah. It has eleven stars, more abstract than the star of David, with the moon in the lower right hand corner. The sun joins the image when it rises each day.

The third window, seen veiled in the right of this photograph, created this last year by yet another class of religious school students, focused on abstraction, the expression in form and color of love. To my eye it’s abstract in a manner similar to Joseph’s Dream though Joseph’s Dream focuses on a particular narrative.

In the new work the twelve tribes  emerge from the base line and push up toward the burning bush, spreading their message out, out, out in rays away from the bush.

Linda explained that the glass in this piece was made in Oregon. “They have a recipe, like Betty Crocker, which they use to create predictable colors.” But on Saturdays, she said, the same workers go into the glass making shop and tweak the recipes, creating what this company calls Saturday glass. This piece is made of Saturday glass and is, as a result, unique in its most basic material.





The burning bush itself has two layers of glass, one more orange tinted that faces in to the social hall and another, red, that faces the outside. When the sun shines directly through the burning bush, the red will appear like flames. This red is one of the finest reds she’s ever seen in glass according to Linda. I’ll take a picture of this panel on Thursday when the sun’s out and add it back into this post.

In the new work I see a beating heart, the pulsing center of generations spreading out into the whole world from the twelve tribes.

These three works, Rich’s work with religious school students and Linda’s help in their realization illustrates my point from a post below about religions as a language of the soul. In them Congregation Beth Evergreen finds particular references to the ancient tradition, yet they also convey the universal power of symbols, the revelatory nature of dreams and the outward extension of a small nation made of twelve tribes, history made by the human family.




2018. Where’s my jetpack?

Winter                                                            Moon of the Long Nights

FutureFirst post of 2018. Ancientrails will start its 14th year in February, a long run for a blog started to ease my boredom during recovery from Achilles tendon repair. It long ago became part of my daily routine and remains so. I have no agenda with it; it’s a place to record what occurs to me, though what occurs to me does have definite repeating themes.

I was telling Kate last night that ever since 2000 writing the years has seemed like an exercise in science fiction. I mean, 2018? Jetpacks instead of a few electric cars. Food synthesis on demand. Space hotels. Ray guns, even. Concealed carry ray guns. Definitely not a rotund orange haired demagogue with the mind of a gnat. Definitely not a plague of wildfires and the imminent destruction of humanity by the planet which gave us birth. But, the future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera, as Doris Day sang.

20171202_192559This is a resolution-less New Year’s for me. Over the last year a Colorado life emerged, one that fits my age and stage, and one worth nurturing. It has these components: attention to the mountains, to the wildlife here, to the changing weather. Jewish immersion: studying kabbalah, mussar, Hebrew and getting to know as friends members of Congregation Beth Evergreen. Writing: ancientrails and novels, right now, Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire. Family: Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Joe SeoAh, Murdoch. Working out. Caring for our home. Maintaining contact with friends and family far from here.

It also includes a contraction of political activity, much less time in the city, and no gardening though there may be some beekeeping in my future through Beth Evergreen’s religious school. This is enough. It’s a full life, one that allows me to express myself, learn new things and walk the ancientrail of family and friends. There’s no need, at least right now, for new. I want to continue with the last year’s emphases.

New yearI do have hopes. I hope Kate continues her surprisingly upbeat attitude as she considers shoulder replacements and how to deal with the energy drain of Sjogren’s. I hope Jon continues to gain distance from Jen, to renovate his new home, to grow as a single parent. I hope Joe and SeoAh and Murdoch have a great year and I hope to see them again soon. I hope I can read more. I hope Beth Evergreen flourishes since it has become important to both Kate and me. I hope Korean tensions resolve peacefully. I’d like it if we could have a year with no major home repair issues.

2018. Another turn of the Great Wheel, another trip around the sun. What it holds we cannot know. I’m looking forward to it. Happy New Year!

Rice Cake Soup. And more.

Winter                                                                     Moon of the Long Nights

rice cake soup ddeok-kookYesterday SeoAh taught me how to make rice cake soup. It’s delicious, a good breakfast soup. It has an unusual role in Korean culture. At the New Year, the spring festival, (same time as Chinese New Year), all Koreans eat, with their families, a bowl of rice cake soup. When they’re done, they’re all a year older. The entire nation becomes a year older on the same day, using the same ritual.

The new InongenG3, Kate’s portable O2 concentrator, has refused to charge beyond 16%. Called service and they suggested a hard reset. “Set the unit on the right and the battery on the left of the table. Set an egg timer for thirty minutes. At 30 minutes, plug the unit in for 30 minutes. After that, put the two back together and charge.” Just a bit condescending. Didn’t work the first time. Trying one more time, then this puppy is getting rehomed and  exchanged for a new one.

20171225_162548Kate had a battery of tests, some blood work and a CT scan. The CT scan showed nothing. Which is good since they were looking for a possible pulmonary embolism. She may have a stress test next. The question moves on to cardiac issues. It’s been a tough year for Kate physically, but she’s handled it with calm and resolve. Still more stuff to workout. That damned right shoulder, too.

Joe and SeoAh decided to stay today, leave tomorrow. Joe and I took down the boxes of his stuff that we moved here from Andover. He’s going to sort through them, making a throwaway pile, a keep here pile, and a move to Robbin’s pile. He’ll start by taking some of that last pile tomorrow. He has many, many baseball, basketball, football cards. There are Transformers, a train set, the Great Books, college text books, Christmas decorations, fun things he had on the ledge in his room back in Minnesota. All that between high school and after college stuff.

Auld Lang SyneWe watched the Murdoch detective series last night. The detective is Murdoch the Akita’s namesake. There is a great ease in family relationships of long standing. So much that does not have to be said. So much confidence in the future of those relationships. Holiseason moments abound in these experiences, giving us fuel and stability for the months ahead.

May your days-and nights-be merry and bright, may old acquaintance be recalled and a cup of kindness lifted to them all.


Our Mt. Olympus

Winter                                                                 Moon of the Long Nights

1514204356436Holiseason continues. Last night I saw the ordinary miracle of this wonderful time. Kate’s brisket and latkes had been eaten, the dragon fruit, papaya, persimmon, Korean pear salad, too. Kate, short of breath from cooking and Sjogren’s, had gone to bed.

Sitting on the bench that Jon built, on the cushion that Kate designed, around the beetle kill table we struggled to get made last summer, Jon, Joe and SeoAh sat talking. I was watching the fire that Ruth built, one match Ruth, petting little Murdoch and fending off his needle puppy teeth. Ruth was outside taking photographs in the darkness. Gabe watched TV in the kid’s room, on the Hanukkah present installed a couple of weeks ago.

Joe and Jon talked, in a brotherly way, with the ease of long acquaintance. SeoAh talked with them, injecting her laugh and her smile now and then. It was Christmas Eve.

1514204365009Sitting beside me was the tree Joseph had cut down only a couple of hours before, one of three Colorado blue spruces, small ones, that had the blue ribbon put on them by Splintered Forest two years ago when indicating trees to cut for mitigation. This Christmas tree was locally sourced and home cut.

Last year at this time I sat on the same couch in a morphine haze, left leg propped up and watching Ruth and Gabe tear into a table full of Hanukkah presents. In that moment, medicated and yet still in some pain, an overwhelming sadness hit me. Where was Christmas? What was I doing in this alien moment, encased in a tradition not mine? How did I lose touch with my own past? It was a feeling of existential estrangement, as if I’d become unmoored, a small boat adrift in foreign seas.

Flash forward to last night. A year of living Jewishly has passed. I still don’t feel a need or desire to become a Jew, but the rhythms of Jewish life, the way of thinking that is Reconstructionist Judaism, and most of all the people who are Beth Evergreen have all seeped into my way of seeing the world. The Hanukkah menorah, for example, is no longer a substitute Christmas tree under which gifts can be spread, but a mystical symbol of the kabbalist’s Tree of Life. The people who gather around it are my people.

1509361986461But. So is the son who cut down the Christmas tree and his wife, the nominal Buddhist, who brought presents for Christmas. This other celebration, this Christmas, marks the moment of incarnation, the moment a god chose to become human. Christmas in my past was mostly the lights, songs, meals and anticipation of Christmas morning. It has taken this estrangement from it for me to see the brilliance of it all.

No. Not the tree. Not the presents. Not the lights. Not the songs. Not even the meal, though it plays a big role. No, the brilliance of it, often missed, maybe mostly missed is the central idea of a god becoming human. This is our Mt. Olympus. This is our story of Zeus and Hera. This is our Veda, our tale of Odin hanging from the tree. And its meaning is both simple and profound.

Mount Olympus, Greece

Mount Olympus, Greece

Human life is the gods’ life. We are, as Teresa of Avila said, the hands and feet of the gods. (Well, ok, technically she said just god. I’m paraphrasing.) But Christmas means even more. Each birth offers a new form of god to the world. Each birth is worthy of three kings showing up with gifts. Each birth is worthy of angels singing from on high, Alleluia. Each of us once tiny infants in the manger carries the essence of divinity. Each of us reveals an instance of the holy, so unique and necessary for the full telling of the Christmas story that the human story is not complete without us. Our stories are the stories of gods and goddesses who walk the earth. Today.




Christmas Eve

Winter                                                                         Moon of the Long Nights

Don’t know where this snow came from but we got whacked. Joe and SeoAh had a miserable ride coming from Columbia, Missouri yesterday. Their route followed wet weather, rain outside Nashville for most of the day, then snow in Kansas and Colorado. Slow, difficult visibility with blowing snow on the plains. Got better as they got into the Denver metro though I-70 was closed to the west, as in shut down, east and west, at Golden. Golden is right at the start of the Front Range.

Kate and I spent yesterday afternoon taking Rigel, Gertie and Kep to the groomers. It took about three hours due to Kep’s furmination. We bought a new shower curtain for the guest bathroom, new towels, had our business meeting, then took a nap in front of Petsmart while we waited.

I stayed up until Joe and SeoAh got here, about 9:30 p.m. Murdoch had a rough ride, losing weight from retching. Once he got in the front seat though things got better for him. Kate made him some chicken and rice before they arrived and I fed it to him by the handful last night. He’s a happy guy, running into the house and grabbing a toy right away. When I took him out back to see if he needed to pee, he looked at the snow with a confused expression. Hmm. We’re not in Georgia anymore.

Ruth and Gabe are coming up today while Jon goes skiing, then we’ll have brisket and latkes around 4 pm, smushing together a Christmas Eve meal with Hanukkah, which ended Wednesday. A family holiday day. Looking forward to it.

The end of the year is upon us and holiseason continues to peak. Lots of lights, love, laughter.

A Good Day

Winter                                                                   Moon of the Long Nights

winter solstice4Up well before dawn on the longest night, experiencing its long darkness here on Shadow Mountain. Wrote ancientrails, wrote some on Rocky Mountain Vampire, wandered out to the newspaper tube. No paper. Back inside for breakfast.

Kate does the NYT crossword every morning and when the physical paper, remember those?, isn’t here, she misses it. Unfortunately, like all things mountain the service quality of Denver Post delivery ranges from occasionally tolerable to often annoying. Mail, too. Worse of course during the annual buying orgy which now strains the logistical systems USPS, Fedex and UPS.

Wielding my now year old plus 21 days titanium knee, I got the snowblower going. It was good to be back outside, especially since the fluffy snow allows me to stick the accelerator on 6 and zoom, well, go faster than 1, up and down the asphalt. The snow glittered in the morning sun, hoar frost coated the lodgepole pines in our yard and up on Black Mountain.

winter solstice And The Wheel Goes Round And Round And The Falme In Our Souls Will Never Burn Out. Happy Winter SolsticeWorkout, finally back in the groove. Three resistance plus two high intensity cardio workouts a week and one longer, slower cardio. About six and a half hours or so. Lunch. Nap. Make tamale pie with cornbread crust. Kate did some errands and got home as I poured the cornbread mix onto the cooked hamburger and vegetables. Tasty.

Text from Joe. They’re in Columbia, Missouri, about 11 hours away. Murdoch’s along. Holiseason continues. Lights. Family. Gifts. Food. Deep connections to the horizontal and the vertical.

A good day.


what’s in your pot tonight?

Samain                                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

vacation at home vintage posterAfter writing the post below, about slowing down, I realized I need a vacation. Time off. A break. A pause. I need to vacate the life I love for just a bit, to clear out the schmuz in my pistons. Confess I don’t know how to do that right now. Money. Visitors. Holidays. I’m considering how to do it.

So I’ve started cooking more. My joy in cooking is making stuff up. Last night I went through one of my favorite cook books, How the World Cooks Chicken. There were two large thawed chicken breasts in the sink.

Taking ideas from one recipe and adding them to another. I like that. So I saw quince in one, but you could substitute apples. I had apples. Parmesan cheese. Hmm. Sounds good. But, no parmesan. Well. Let’s see. There’s salmon in the freezer. Why did that come up? I like poached salmon. Wait. Why not? I could poach the chicken.

Two cups of water in the skillet. Some bullion. Paul Prudhomme poultry seasoning on the chicken breasts. Sliced up apple. Porcini and sea salt seasoning. Kate likes mushrooms. There was some Zatarain’s cilantro rice. That’ll go with the chicken. And some frozen peas. Easy peasy.

The poaching went faster than I thought so I had to toss the skillet in the upper oven, but everything got done. Not bad. Afterward I realized the chicken could get cut up, the leftover rice and peas thrown in with the chicken broth and voila! Soup. Nice. That was fun.

Anyhow that’s how I cook.

TabernacleAfterward, kabbalah. Three presentations. One on the idea of the holy of holies. The temple looms large in Jewish thought, in many, many ways. One on the link between the ten sefirot and a Japanese inspired version of Chinese medicine, acupressure. One on the surprisingly pervasive influence of the kabbalists in the shabbat service. All were, in their own way, interesting. Having to come up with a presentation did cement the learning for each of us, that was clear. And, they led to interesting speculations.

The new class, ready in January, will be on the correspondence between the Hebrew letters and the 22 interconnections between the sefirot.

What we see

Samain                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

Mist last month, Black Mountain

Mist last month, Black Mountain

The nearly full bare aspen moon stood over Shadow Mountain drive last night, bright and low enough to be poked by the lodgepole pine. Full moons up here alter the appearance of the mountains, sometimes putting them in lunar shadows, dark silhouettes against the late evening sky, and shining their ghostly light into clearings and onto roadways. They also light up the eyes of animals wandering through the Arapaho National Forest or crossing the road: mountain lions, mule deer, elk, black bear.

When I was a flatlander, I imagined mountains as always the same, like the Matterhorn, tall and rocky, always tall and rocky. Or, Mt. Everest, always snowy and cold. Now that I’m a mountain man I know they change appearance many times during each day and from season to season. The beauty of the mountains is usually stark, but stark for different reasons: snow one day, hoar frost on another, golden aspens one season, bare aspen in another.

Later in November

Later in November

Mountain streams like Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek, Shadow Brook run fast and full in the late spring, slower during the summer and often freeze over in the winter. There are, also, particularly this close to Denver, seasonal fluctuations in traffic on mountain roads. When Kate and I moved here in December of 2014, we saw signs that said Heavy Roadside Activity. We couldn’t imagine what meant. Lots of earth moving equipment? Animals? It wasn’t until spring that parking at trail heads along our drive down to Evergreen began to fill up with cars, then spill over to the roadside and fill even what we came to recognize as overflow parking lots that had been covered by snow.

Right now? Invisible. It’s dark. No mountains out there according to my eyes.

Mystifying Move

Samain                                                                             Bare Aspen Moon

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

A friend wrote that he found our move here mystifying. No doubt. At age 67 and 70 respectively Kate and I left our lifetime home, the American Midwest (except for her brief sojourn in Houston), flat and humid, for the Rocky Mountains, high and arid. We had built a substantial life based on flat and humid, lots of horticulture, a woods of our own, plenty of space for our big dogs to roam. There was room in the Andover house for Kate’s sewing, my books and writing, an exercise space, a kitchen and dining area that worked for us.

We both had professional and friendship links of over 40 years in Minnesota. We made consistent use of the many cultural assets in the Twin Cities, having met at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. We attended the Guthrie and other theater and musical events. I was a docent and guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for 12 years with frequent visits to the Walker, the Russian Museum and led a group that made monthly visits to quirky art related venues. Political engagement over a long period of time had, at the point of the move, led me to the Sierra Club where I helped work on the legislative program.

In other words we were both literally and figuratively well-rooted.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Workshops intervened. Progoff was a psychoanalyst in the Jungian tradition, the same theoretical framework used by my long time personal analyst, John Desteian. I first attended a Journal workshop in 1988 in southern Wisconsin. It altered my perception of the world through a six day process of guided meditations, journal writing guided through Progoff’s books and by a skilled facilitator. From this first one I developed a mantra, Stream flowing, White Pine rooting, that I used for decades in personal meditation. At a second Journal Workshop in Georgia, I deepened my appreciation of these workshops. They have an uncanny way of illuminating the current moment of my life in a way that’s both connected to the past, yet focused on the future.

Progoff’s intention is that the Journal be a source of continuing self-analysis. You learn the method at a workshop, then continue to use in daily life. I’ve found the journals too unwieldy for daily use, but the Journal workshops themselves transformative. I hope to attend one next year to get more insight into our life after the move.

IMAG0096It was the Tucson workshop that triggered the move. I say triggered advisedly because it shifted my sense of priorities after Kate’s retirement. Up till then the long, well-established roots I mentioned earlier made leaving Minnesota unthinkable to me. We had seriously discussed a move to Duluth, to Hawaii and often, to Colorado, but for me Minnesota’s thumb on the scale proved decisive. How could I leave the Woolly Mammoth’s, my men’s group of over 25 years at that point? How could I leave the political work and the work at the MIA? How could we leave our gardens and orchard, the bees?

However the various exercises in the Tucson workshop led me down a different path. First, it established clearly that my life phase that time, March/April of 2014, was defined by Kate’s retirement. It allowed me, encouraged me, to go into that phase with clearer eyes, to consider what our mutual life could mean now that she was free of daily work. With the exception of Anne, Kate’s sister who lives in Waconia, our family had moved on, both boys having left for Colorado, Jon around 2000, Joseph in 2005. Though Joseph had since joined the Air Force and left Breckenridge, Jon married and had two children.

Ruth and Gabe were 7 and 5, turning 8 and 6 the month of the Journal workshop. I planned to make a visit on the way home, driving from Tucson to Denver to surprise Ruth for her birthday. This meant the grandkids were on my mind.

Ruth, late March, 2014

Ruth, late March, 2014

I sensed, in meditation and through writing occasioned by the workshop’s flow, that our family’s center of gravity had shifted, for good, to Colorado. Both Jon and Joseph moved to Colorado for the skiing. Joseph would likely return to Colorado after his time in the Air Force (it seemed like that then, maybe not quite as much now) and our grandchildren were young. If we stayed in Minnesota, we would see them only occasionally and have little chance to play much of a role in their maturation.

This realization, that our family had shifted its home base from Minnesota, which we both loved, to Colorado, made me think moving to Colorado made some sense. Kate had gotten there long before me, so when I raised the question on my return, a decision to leave came quickly. We soon had a realtor, began making regular trips to G-Will Liquors for boxes and purchased colored tape.

First project, fence for the dogs

First project, fence for the dogs

Living in the mountains, at altitude, had three main drivers. The first was free air-conditioning. “If there’s no snow (or rain) falling from the sky and you’re not in a cloud, then the temperature decreases by about 5.4°F for every 1,000 feet up you go in elevation.” on the snow. So you can do the math for 8,800 feet. The second was to live in a distinctly different environment from our Midwestern home. Denver didn’t meet this criteria since it’s at what I consider the western terminus of the Midwest, where the plains wash up against the Front Range of the Rockies, and it’s a metro area, therefore not very different in kind from the Twin Cities. The third was to put some distance, though not too much, between us and the grandkids. We didn’t want to be used as babysitters, but to be available as grandparents.

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

This latter desire on our part, to engage the grandkids, but not be engulfed by them, was a distinct point of conflict with Jen, Jon’s then wife. She complained, from the first time we decided on Black Mountain Drive, that we were living too far away. No matter how often we pointed out that we had moved 900 miles closer, she always came back to how far away we were. While we understood her point, it was exactly that sort of attitude that had made us choose some distance.

So we moved to the mountains on the Winter Solstice of 2014, barely 9 months after the workshop in Tucson. We came into alignment as the workshop changed my attitude toward the relative virtues of staying in Minnesota or being close to the grandkids. In effect, it brought me around to Kate’s thinking.


Saws and Paws

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

20151013_112839Down the hill to Aurora yesterday afternoon. Newly spruced up (ha) chainsaw, limbing ax, pole saw, loppers, Swede saw, fuel for the chainsaw and bar and chain oil were on a tarp in the Rav4. Cleared out some overgrown shrubbery, cut down three scrubby trees and trimmed up small trees grown into the chain link fence on the south side of Jon’s new place. Also removed some dead wood. Had to leave a couple of dead trees. I didn’t know how to take them down without taking out the neighbor’s wooden fence at the same time.

Rigel went with me, sitting in the backseat, sometimes her head between the front seats, looking, looking, always looking. She spent most of the time I was there with Ruth, who was reading on the bed in her room. Gabe came out and helped me move a dead tree limb. He also offered advice on cutting limbs off a tree in the corner of the property. “Use the chainsaw, grandpa.” “Using a chainsaw overhead is dangerous, Gabe. I might cut my head off.” “Oh.”

Jon had lumber out, building a table in his backyard. He ran boards through a planer, nailed pieces together. Measured twice. Cut once with his power saw. In his kitchen there are no appliances. He and his friend Max deconstructed the kitchen a month or so ago and moved the appliances into the living room. Jon is at the point of installing douglas fir strips from a former museum as a new kitchen floor. In Ruth’s room he’s building a loft bed, in Gabe’s a desk. He loves making things and he’s good at it.

20170928_172531At 5 pm Jen came and picked up Ruth and Gabe for their week with her. “Bet it’s lonely when they leave, Jon.” “Actually it’s sort of a relief.” Single parenting is hard. I remember that feeling of relief when Joseph returned to Raeone’s, though my joy at his return was much greater.

Rigel and I drove back as the clouds turned red, then pinkish-orange, gray, then disappeared in the darkness of night. The lights of the Denver metro twinkled from the vantage point of Highway 285. The large lit cross positioned on the side of a mountain where the foothills begin shone out at us, a familiar landmark now. The humorists at the Colorado D.O.T. are at work again. The led sign just before 285 begins to climb read its usual: Watch for rocks and wildlife. But, it then blinked, changing the wording to: “Be aware. Falling rocks have the right-of-way.” Mountain humor.



January 2018
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