We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Sublimation, Primordia and other fundamentals

Lughnasa                                                           Waning Summer Moon

The arid West has many surprises for a flatlander from the humid East. Add in elevation and the surprises multiply. I’ve mentioned the maximum boiling temperature of water which effects tea making and pasta cooking (takes longer). There is, too, the solar snow shovel, the decreased O2.Wet things dry quickly. Water is a constant issue.

sublimateGot a new one. I have a small refrigerator in the loft. I keep water for my workouts in it, an ice wrap for post-workout knee relief, and a tray of Rigel’s canned kangaroo treats. Last week I noticed I’d begun to get some frost buildup in the small freezer. Been a long time, but I remembered defrosting refrigerators. I took everything out, putting the water filtration filter to the side, the carbonated water, the ice pack, and Rigel’s treats. I got a bucket and put it underneath the freezer. Finally, I pulled the cord and left the door open.

I glanced at the bucket later in the day. No water. Well, it was cool. Checked again an hour or so later. No water. Not that cool. So, I opened the freezer to check. The gathered frost was almost gone. Oh. I’d forgotten about sublimation, too, but I was pretty sure that was what I was seeing. Sure enough, there was never any water in the bucket, the frost was gone and I restocked the refrigerator. How ’bout that?

strong and confident after the quilt documentation day

strong and confident after the quilt documentation day

lion's maneFriday, Saturday, Sunday. Kate did well all these days. A little nausea on Sunday, but not the real knock her back sort. It was good to see her up and about. I made her a birthday dinner: ribeye, little potatoes, and Lion’s Mane mushroom. This latter came from a present Jon gave her, essentially a sack filled with sawdust and mushroom spores. She’s been diligently misting it. Sure enough, out popped a white spongy growth, the hippy guy in the fungi perfecti video called them, interestingly, I thought, primordia.

I reached behind the largest one and wrenched it free from the growth medium, took it upstairs and sliced it into steaks. Butter, salt, medium heat. A great complement to the ribeye. Supposed to taste like lobster (not chicken). Kate thought it did. Me, not so much. I liked it though. Kate’s always wanted to get into mushrooms, now we have, thanks to Jon.

Yesterday morning I read through the morning service in the Reconstructionist prayer book. Why? Because it’s the service that the b’nai mitzvah kids have to learn. It’s a powerful work of liturgy, much that is ancient, much that has been reconstructed. I’m going to be working with it a good deal over the next year, so becoming familiar with it seems like part of the job. I’ll write more about it when I get a better understanding, but suffice it to say right now that it sent me into a spiritual place I’ve not been in a while.

See what I did, dad!

See what I did, dad!

Rigel and the deck. Jon left five five-gallon orange plastic buckets, Home Depot with Do It written on the side. They have bricks in them, used bricks he picked up somewhere. I carried them to the deck and put them in front of the deepest tunnels our Rigel had dug in search of voles, or rabbits. Working so far. Not a pretty solution, but a good temporary fix.

Brother Mark is still in Amarillo. He says gringos and Latinos seem to get along well there. Mary has started her school year at the National University of Singapore. Joe and SeoAh are in Hawai’i. He’s working; she’s seeing Oahu for the first time.

Cool here this morning, 40 degrees.

Living With Father

Beltane                                                                  Sumi-e Moon

father's dayFather’s day is coming. It’s a weak second to the emotional powerhouse of Mother’s day, but for symmetry reasons, I suppose, it exists. My father didn’t know best. He wasn’t the wise, supportive counsel that a struggling, grief stricken teenager needed. Fatherhood as a single father after my mother’s death was a bridge too far for this closed off man, stuck in his tidy traditional understandings.

It was a tough moment for him. When she died, I was 17, my sister 12, and my brother 5. He tried. He had no choice. The house was still there. We were still there, us three kids. We had growing up to do. And now he was in charge of it all. Food, school, counsel, love.

Looking back through the long telescope of advancing age, my own, I can understand that it would have taken a much different man than my father ever was to embrace the difficulties and make a new reality for all of us. This is not a criticism of him, just a statement of fact. Emotional skills needed to handle a grieving family? Nope. Grasp of children’s ordinary struggles? Nope. Awareness of his own pain and an ability to find help with it? Nope. Daily work, cash for the family, that sort of steadiness? Yes. Bless him for that. Without it our little family would have foundered completely.

father's day 3Not all who are called respond to a challenge well. I’m sure he wanted to, sure he tried. Perhaps in a sense this revisits the question yesterday about the universe having our back. My own father didn’t have my back, so it’s tough to see the universe doing better. Like the universe I believe my father offered what he could,  as well as he could. It didn’t measure up. From this distance I’m sure there’s no reason to doubt his good intentions. His intentions were restricted by a fatherless upbringing, by a sturdy German understanding of family and authority, by a belief in his primacy as father in a 1950’s post-WWII household. We needed flexibility, outright love, much patience. As did he.

We all failed. I wish I could write this into a stirring testimony of his secret strengths, the things unknown even to himself that made things ok, but I can’t. It was a tragedy, a long, rolling tragedy, that continues to claim its own pain.

father's day 4Perhaps one incident can stand in for all those years. In 1991 or 1992 my new wife, Kate Olson, Joseph and I rented an RV and took a trip that included a visit to Alexandria, my hometown. By this time, almost thirty years after my mother’s death in 1964, Dad had remarried. When Raeone and I adopted Joseph, I made a concerted effort to reconnect with Dad, believing that Joseph needed to know his grandpa. It was rocky from the beginning, but both of us, Dad and me, tried.

We had a new schism during my divorce from Raeone, harsh words were exchanged and I wrote him a letter pulling back. With Kate in my life I wanted her to meet him, to have another shot at Joe and him developing a relationship, hence the trip. When we got to Alexandria, Dad told us we’d need to meet him downtown. Rosemary wouldn’t let me in the house. I suppose she was taking Dad’s side, trying to be supportive, protective.

But he didn’t challenge her. Didn’t fight to be back in our lives. We took a walk around downtown, he put his arm over my shoulder, clearly wanting to be closer, but unwilling, as he had been most of the time since mom’s death, to reach for the courage to make it happen. He wouldn’t confront Rosemary, make her allow us into the house in which I was raised.

Turkey Run hiking trajil

Turkey Run hiking trail

When we left Alexandria that afternoon, I knew our father and son relationship, as a living thing, was over. We went to Turkey Run State Park, a couple of hours or so from Alexandria, found a spot for the RV and parked for the night. After we’d parked, I put on my running clothes, shut the flimsy aluminum door and took off running the trails in the rain. I cried, I shouted, I protested, I ran and ran and ran until I was exhausted. It was the next to last time I saw Dad before his funeral some 15 years later.

Father rewriteOver the last 8 weeks in the qabbalah class on time we discussed how to rewrite these kind of  narratives of our past so they lose their power to harm us. I believe with Dad I did this long ago by abandoning my notion of him as a superhuman who should (note: should) have been able to heal all our wounds and nurture us into our best selves. I also abandoned my false hero notion of myself or either of my siblings needing to take on that role, covering for his inability. We were all fallible, all wounded by mom’s death and trapped by the stories of our time. We did the best we could, all of us, even Dad. It was not adequate, but that’s the way life turns out sometimes.

I chose to do what I could to see that my sons had an available father, one who showed them love, even in the hard times. It’s not been easy, though it’s been nowhere the emotional drama of my nuclear family. I hope neither Jon nor Joe have a reason at any point to run the labyrinth of their own lives trying to leave me behind. Blessed be.

Ensos and Hot Dogs

Beltane                                                                         Sumi-e Moon


Under the sumi-e moon I introduced this ancient art form to the qabbalah class. It was a sight. I forgot to take the aprons from home and asked Tara if Beth Evergreen had aprons. She found some. All but one were bright red aprons with Hebrew Nationals (a hot dog) in prominent blue letters.

That meant that in this class focused on our relationship to time, utilizing insights from the medieval world of Jewish mysticism, a pagan skeptic led an activity rooted in Zen Buddhism, which itself has roots in Chinese Chan Buddhism. This is the beauty of Beth Evergreen and Reconstructionist Judaism. And Rabbi Jamie’s approach to qabbalah. It allows for both a broad and deep mixing of tradition(s), yet focuses on bringing the insights gained from them into daily life.


Rabbi Jamie, Debra, Alan

In this spirit I introduced the practice of drawing the enso, not only as a profound symbol from the world of Taoist inflected Buddhism, but as a potential daily practice, one that insists on the present, that insists on marrying the body and the mind and achieving that marriage not by intention so much as by letting go of intent, the brush work an extension of the lev, the heart-mind.

It was fun and soulful.

Livin’ Is Easy. Sort of.

Beltane                                                                        Sumi-e Moon

20180604_122702After sledging and searing the meat and softening the vegetables in the fat, I put a three or four pound hunk of chuck roast in the slow cooker along with potatoes, carrots, onions and celery. It cooked all day, coming out fork tender. An easy meal. Jon and the kids got stuck in traffic so they ate later.

Had a visitor, a young mule deer buck with velveted horns, a small knob on top of each one. He loved our front yard, carefully eating only dandelion blooms. Wish I could have gotten him in the back, he’d have loved the delicacies there. In this brave new world on Shadow Mountain, dandelions are a beautiful addition to the late spring, early summer yard. Mowing only to keep down the fuel. Gonna have a go at that today after I put fresh gas in the mower.

Ruth and I are going to practice sumi-e today. I want to mimic my presentation for Thursday night. Enso practice, then a keeper. I also want to learn the kanji for ichi-go ichi-e.

Summer temperatures have come to the mountains, but in the way of heat in this arid climate, it’s not unbearable. The new fans in the loft, bedroom and over the dining room table help.


Get Ready

Beltane                                                                                 Sumi-e Moon

20180516_144714So. Couldn’t get the mower started. Last year’s fuel still in there. Don’t know how I missed that, but I did. Gonna have to siphon it out, didn’t feel like it yesterday. I did run the snowblower out of fuel last week, so that won’t be a problem come winter. I also got all the chairs and the table moved, the swinging chair and the yellow lounger, too. An outside space for eating, hanging out. Not happy with it yet. Also picked up a lot of loose wood, not all of it, but a good chunk. By the time I got to the chainsaw I was tired. And I don’t do the chainsaw when I’m tired. Too damned risky.

A good start. One thing writing novels has taught me is that even a big task can be accomplished if done through persistence. A big push often wears me out, makes me task phobic for a while. Small increments get progress and a feeling of accomplishment that keeps me engaged. Doesn’t always work, of course. Reimagining, for example. Guess I’ve never figured out the incremental steps.

bullfightIn writing the short story Jail Break yesterday, I found myself tapping memories of my day at the Plaza del Toros in Mexico City. Hadn’t expected that, but it is a good example of how much travel can offer to writing. That trip was in 1994, I think. Still clear and present.

Regression. Kate got eager on Saturday and helped me as I cleaned out the garage. She helped herself into a very sore shoulder, neck muscles and bursitis. A three vicodin day on Sunday. I saw it as a good thing. Not the pain of course, but that she’s healed enough to overdo it.

Jon and the kids are coming up this afternoon. They’ll spend the night, go hiking tomorrow.

bat mitzvahA big Beth Evergreen week. Tomorrow is an adult ed session on linguistics. On Wednesday afternoon Tara, Alan Rubin and I meet with Rabbi Jamie to discuss the curriculum for the 6th/7th grade religious school. Tara (director of religious ed) started her note to us with, “You brave men.” Oh, my. Turns out the curriculum focuses on bar/bat mitzvah preparation. I’m honored that they trust me. This rite of passage is important, though not universally observed. Wednesday night is the MVP, mussar vaad practice group, Thursday has mussar and qabbalah.



One meeting, one moment

Beltane                                                                                    Sumi-e Moon


enso-zen-circleMy presentation on time falls under the sumi-e moon and I plan to use sumi-e. I’m taking my brushes, ink, ink stones, red ink pad, Kraft paper, and rice paper. As well as my hourglasses. I will do Shakespeare’s soliloquy from Macbeth as a counter point. Each person will first practice an enso on the Kraft paper, then do one on rice paper.

icho.go.ichi.e3What is an enso? The word means circle in Japanese. In Zen it has a much more expansive meaning.* Zen is, of course, Chan Buddhism, a curious blend of Taoism and Buddhism created in China. Monks from Japan went to China to learn about Chan and brought it back to Japan. They also brought back the practice of drinking tea, which initially was a stimulant to help with long meditation sessions. It later transmogrified into the Japanese tea ceremony with its beautiful idea of ichi go ichi e, or once in a lifetime.

*”In the sixth century a text named the Shinhinmei refers to the way of Zen as a circle of vast space, lacking nothing and holding nothing in excess. At first glance the ancient ensō symbol appears to be nothing more than a miss-shaped circle but its symbolism refers to the beginning and end of all things, the circle of life and the connectedness of existence. It can symbolize emptiness or fullness, presence or absence. All things might be contained within, or, conversely, excluded by its boundaries. It can symbolize infinity, the “no-thing”, the perfect meditative state, and Satori or enlightenment.  It can even symbolize the moon, which is itself a symbol of enlightenment—as in the Zen saying, “Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.” In other words, do not mistake doctrines, teachings or explanations, which are intended to guide one toward enlightenment, for enlightenment itself. Ensō can also represent the moon’s reflection on water, thereby symbolizing the futility of searching for enlightenment outside oneself.”  Modern Zen

On Time

Beltane                                                                      Sumi-e Moon

out-out-brief-candle“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”  Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5


And, then, time. Last qabbalah class on time yesterday evening. Next week presentations. I have to come up with something and I got nothin’. Might go with an hourglass. It’s a nice physical symbol since in it time seems to run out, then be restored with an easy flip. Hourglasses, on their sides, are also shaped like the infinity image. So, there’s measured time, yet measured time that can be reversed, and eternal time, running on past the end of earthly time. Might go with Shakespeare.

time-managementWe’ve been pulling at the strands of various ideas about time, from measured time to eternal time to shabbat moments and the radical obvious, time is only ever the present. The past and the future have no reality, no agency, save in the present.

Rabbi Jamie asked an interesting question last night. Why do any of this? What’s the point? He leans toward the practical, unwilling to dwell only in the abstract. Learning has to count. As readers of this blog know by now, I’m more on the dwelling in the abstract end of the pool, so I appreciate his pulling me back into this life with questions like this.

Look insideThe answer he gave to his own question, with which I agree, was this. I’m not quoting. We do it to hold our notion of self more lightly, to give the ego a rest from its orientation to survival, to making it in the world. At the soul level, the most basic level of our human existence, we all connect. Think the collective unconscious, the divine spark, in the image of the sacred. In effect qabbalah posits an Oversoul, or better, an under or inner soul, the quality of which is the same for all humans.

I mentioned the irony that we spend our time developing a firm sense of self, striving for authenticity and compassion, only, at the end of life to give it up. Yes, we all agreed, that’s a good reason for holding the self lightly. We have to let it go. The soul, if there is such a thing, and I’m not ready to say there isn’t, that links us all to all, does not need the self.

The image, from Rabbi Rami Shapiro, that makes this clearest for me was that of waves on the ocean. Our life is a wave on the ocean. It rises out of the ocean, exists and moves on its own, and at its end, sinks back into the ocean. Never was it anything other than ocean.

Hard Copies, Hard Work, Hard to Understand

Beltane                                                                     Sumi-e New Moon

hard copiesStarted a long project yesterday. I’m printing out all of Ancientrails. Been wanting to do a total backup and I will at some point, but if it’s going to be useful to my ongoing work, hard copy is better. Besides, think how satisfying it will be to hold a copy of all this. Then, I got to thinking. Oh, but a fire! I’m going to make a copy of the copy when it’s done, then make copies of all my hard copies of my novels. I’m going to ask Jon if I can store those copies in his garage in Aurora. Yes, all the novels are on flashdrives (and in a safety deposit box, all except my work on Jennie’s Dead and Rocky Mountain Vampire) and all of Ancientrails is in the cloud, but the hard copies are important, too. The things that come up before we fall asleep.

Haven’t mentioned the dishwasher in a while, certainly not the Samsung of late and unlamented memory, but that’s because the Kitchenaid works. It has eased a burden. Dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, gas/electric stove and refrigerator. All really are labor saving appliances. No ice delivery. No need to fell trees and split wood. No hand washing of dishes and dirty clothes. No hanging clothes out on the line and bringing them back in. We don’t think about these wonders unless one ceases to work, but they do free us up for other more important matters like facebook and texting. Ha.

similar to the one I used back in 1974

similar to the one I used back in 1974

I have felled trees and split wood to use a wood cook stove and to heat a house with an airtight wood stove. I have washed dishes by hand as a matter of course. No scrub board and clothes line in my past though. Laundromats. I’ve never had an ice box though that was the go to word for the refrigerator when I was a kid. My grandmother called all cars, the machine.

As always we live in a time between this moment and the past, between this moment and the future, never fully leaving behind the ways and memories of the past and never fully engaged in the ways and possibilities of the future. It is in precisely this sense that the present is both past and future, at least in the only useful understanding of them.

By the qabbalah class this evening I’ll have finished Carlo Rovelli’s book, The Order of Time. I rarely read books twice, too much to read, but I will definitely read this again. A lot of it is clear, understandable, but so counter-intuitive that it’s hard to recall, hard to assimilate. For instance, according to Rovelli, whose field is quantum loop theory, time is not a dimension at the quantum level. It’s not necessary for the equations that explain quantum mechanics.

quantum2If I’m understanding his primary argument, time at the Newtonian level is a result of blurring. This may seem like an odd idea, and it is, but it’s not so hard to grasp if you think about the blurring that is necessary for us to perceive the world around us. Example. If you shrank to the atomic level and tried to walk across a table top, you’d fall in. It’s blurring of the quantum world that makes the table seem solid to us. Time is a result, again if I’m getting this, of the blurring of the transitions from event to event which, at the quantum level have no prescribed order.

Anyhow, to really comprehend Rovelli’s work, I’ll need to go through it again having the whole as context for the parts.



Just in Time

Beltane                                                                                           Mountain Moon

Time The_Persistence_of_Memory By Image taken from About.com, Fair use,en.wikipedia.org w index.php curid 20132344

The Persistence of Memory, Dali, 1931.  By Image taken from About.com, Fair use, en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php cur id 20132344

Time last night. Qabbalah. Does the past exist? Oh? How do you know? Key learning, something I have to learn and relearn, the past exists, yes, but only in the present. Just like, oddly, the future. Why? We never have any time other than the present. Never. We can pull ourselves away from awareness of the present by being focused on the past regrets, anger, guilt, yet we can only experience the past in the present. So, whether it has any ontological reality or not, we cannot know it except as a ghost that we carry forward with us.

Likewise, the future never arrives. Free beer tomorrow. Our dreams or fears or hopes or anguish about a future event can affect us, but, again, only in the present. Now is all there is, and, again oddly, the moment we think of the now, it is past.

Kilauea Leilani May 5 lava fountains 230 feet high, USGS

Kilauea Leilani May 5 lava fountains 230 feet high, USGS

Moment to moment the Reconstructionist prayer book says, the process of creation is renewed. Creation continues. Revelation continues. Tradition changes. This seems right to me and offers us substantial hope. We are not bound by past. This moment is new and we can choose in it to experience the past differently, to change the narrative, to reframe. In the same way we can choose-this is very existential-to reframe our future hopes and fears.

Time nowIn the present, which has never existed before and will recede as if it were never there, all things can be made new. This is a subtle idea, at once obvious and at the same time almost impossible to grasp. Yet it is true that the 71 years of my life have passed in moments, always in the now. Even in 1947 my life passed moment to moment in increments, the very same as the increments I experience today in 2018.

Reb Zalman, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, and a resident of Boulder until his death, talks about sin as a remnant of the past that is no longer useful, a story whose narrative obscures our ability to be in the present and, therefore, to make choices in the present. I really like this idea since it removes sin from morality and certainly removes it from any stain on the essence of a person. When we discussed this last night, I offered a metaphor from gardening, “A weed is a plant out of place.”


Beltane                                                                      Mountain Moon

classBack in the day, the now further and further away day, I always went to class. I might have missed a few, but it was rare. I enjoyed learning from lectures, getting in the mix of dialogue, thinking out loud. Last night I was the only student in the qabbalah class on Time.

Rabbi Jamie and I had a solid hour together talking about the nature of the sabbath, the notion of sacred time, and, hidden space-time. L’Olam va’ed, translated most often as forever and ever, has another translation, hidden time witnessed. The second translation, a qabbalist’s, points to the intersection of the three dimensions: space, time, and soul. Soul is consciousness in this frame. It is a nexus that is crucial to understanding existence per se. Without all three, space, time and consciousness, the fabric of the universe cannot exist, or, perhaps better, in my opinion, couldn’t be known as we humans know it.

The tao. The tao feels like the central idea that I have learned, even though it’s pretty damned slippery. Putting it into this qabbalistic paradigm, being one with tao is awareness of L’Olam va’ed. When our soul sees hidden time, we see reality as it is, a moving generative force and we can align ourselves with its flow, not impede it.

homosapienBeing human is a daunting task, steeped in misdirection, existential isolation, perception clouded by tradition, by language, even by our body. Qabbalists and taoists and ch’an buddhists have worked, hard, to peel the onion of our awareness. They are subtle, in their own way as subtle as particle physics or genetics or neuroscience, attempts to understand this task, the one none of us can jettison, save through suicide. They differentiate from the narrowing tendency of science by insisting on a full, a comprehensive positioning of this strange creature that we are in the wild.

Make no mistake, the universe is the true wilderness and we wander in it as innocents, thrown into it for what reason we do not know, headed toward a destination we do not understand and cursed or blessed with awareness, consciousness, soul as we travel.

girl-powerThought experiments like taoism, qabbala, ch’an or zen buddhism try to shock us out of our stupor, the life lived without seeing the wilderness for what it is, the life lived within the conventions of a particular time, a particular language, a particular place, a life lived without knowing what life is. Most people find little reason to peak behind the curtain of this emerald city that we think is what is. The apparent life, the one with family and money and the NFL and food and houses and sunlight and night, seems to be all that could be. We do not question, we try to paddle the little barque of our body on this river (life) often using only our hands over the edge of the boat.

wokeAnd yet there is more, not more in the sense of more layers or more depth, for those layers and depths, the wilderness, always surround us, are the water to which we are the fish, but more in terms of what we can know, what we can access, what we can use to help us become awake. Woke, in the current vernacular, not woke to racism and sexism and oppression in this instance, but woke to the true majesty and wonder of life itself, of this wilderness journey, this most ancient of ancientrails.

Do you want to wake up? Shake off the slumber of convention? Head out into the wilderness knowing it for what it is? If you do, there are paths to take, fellow pilgrims with whom to travel. I honestly don’t know whether it’s important or not to peel the onion, only that in doing so, I’ve become alive, able to see. And I prefer that consciousness, awareness to life as a long sleep.


October 2018
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