The Narrow Room

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Two important things. 1. I get now, in a gut way, that the Tao that can be named is not the Tao. 2. In the fallow time the harvest moves toward death and decay.

Been considering the text of Chayei Sarah again. Reading some interesting Jewish commentaries and sermons preached by various rabbis on the parsha. Immersion in biblical literature turns all my inner lights on. Woke, I guess.

Also had an interesting e-mail conversation with Rich Levine about Emerson’s notion of a religion of direct revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs. He said he found revelation in the experience of joy. I had said much the same about awe. When I wrote him back, I introduced a thought. Could it be that access to the sacred, the divine, the world next to this one can come only through feelings? If so, could it be that words written about it might be barriers rather than illuminators?

In that exchange it hit me, the Tao that can be written is not the Tao. Oh, yeah. The name of God that can be written is not God. The stories about God and those who follow Her are neither sacred, nor divine in themselves. They may evoke an experience of the sacred, but they are not it.

The fallow time moves toward death and decay. These diseases that Kate and I have, the ones you will have, augur the fallow time for our bodies. They propose death, not as imminent necessarily, but as inescapable. And I hear them

The COPD is not an enemy, but a marker along the trail of mortality. So is prostate cancer. Interstitial lung disease. Sjogren’s syndrome. These sign posts show the way, the path toward a universal destination of the body.

Learning to live with these signals is a life long process. If we learn how to admit them into our awareness as signals rather than foes, then we can nod, say yes, I see.

No, this does not mean that we say, oh, I see, well then measure up my narrow room. (see Bryant’s poem below) This does not mean that we cease treatments that can prolong our life. Though it could mean that if you want it to. It simply means that we live with a clarity about the end.

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.

Things I love to do

Fall and the Crescent Moon

Oh. Achy this am. More mitigation. Closing in on all the trees I intend to take down. Maybe I’ll finish today. For sure by the weekend. In between, we’ll have 8-12 inches of snow overnight tonight. It will be gone Friday. The Solar Snow Shovel.

The density of trees in a lodgepole forest means it’s harder to drop a tree without snagging it. I’ve had several opportunities to practice snag cutting techniques I learned on youtube. They work and I’m glad to know them. Snags cause most deaths in the logging industry. Their often strange lines of force make cutting them an exercise in observational physics. The more upright, the more difficult.

One tree I cut yesterday bounced off the stump to land straight up and down about a foot away. Grrr. An angled cut, watch for the cut to begin to close, pound a wedge in the cut, then complete the cut from below. The tree drops straight down, hopefully away from the branches snagging it. My first cut today.

Decided to hire a landscaper to do the five foot ignition zone around the house. Landscape cloth, stakes, river rock. It will affect how the house looks and I’d like a neater job than I’m capable of pulling off.

When this round of mitigation is complete, I’ll have very little of this sort of work left. I’ll miss it. Weeding and thinning. The plants are big, but still plants.

Of course, I have to release the chain on the saw. It bound up on me right at the end of yesterday’s felling. Not sure what the problem is. I worked on for awhile using my wonderful limbing ax from Gränsfors in Sweden. My felling ax and my log splitter from them have not seen as much use as it has.

Went to Tony’s Market again. Love their food. I could shop there all the time, except it’s pretty expensive. Worth it. Always high quality meats, deli salads, veggies and fruit, baked goods. Realized their secret yesterday. Supermarkets make their money off the goods sold along the walls, not so much off the goods in the aisles. Tony’s only sells items sold on the walls.

After that I spent an hour or so on something else I love to do. Research. Read through the parsha for Nov. 23rd again, focusing this time on geography. Where was Canaan? The Cave of Machpela, the Tomb of the Patriarchs? What about Mamre and its oak? Found them. Also read the parsha in RJ Crumb’s illustrated Genesis. Mr. Natural goes to the Middle East.

When I first read the parsha, pen in hand, I focused. My mind was right there, engaged. I felt comfortable, excited. Much like getting ready to cut down trees. Or, cook a meal. I’m treating it as myth, a myth that has shaped not only Jewish traditions, but Christian and Muslim ones as well.

Parshas get their names from the first words in them, in this case, chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. Chayei Sarah recounts the death of Sarah and Abraham, the finding of Rebecca at the well, a wife for Isaac, and the sons of Ishmael, born to Hagar, Abraham’s concubine.

Holiseason

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

Today is the last day of Sukkot. A notice went out for volunteers to come in and take down the Sukkah. Rabbi Jamie slept in the sukkah a couple of nights ago, putting his sleeping bag on the picnic table inside it. He’s an outdoor guy, loves camping, mountain biking, and skiing.

The last day of Sukkot is Simchat Torah. You’ve probably seen pictures of this holiday where the Torah scroll is unwound and folks hold it up in the sanctuary, then dance. It’s a fun, celebratory holiday, putting a punctuation mark on the holiday month of Tishrei and rewinding the scroll to Bereshit.

The parsha for this sabbath is Bereshit. The beginning. The Hebrew name for the book Christians call Genesis. This first parsha is the beginning of Genesis and also begins the reading of the five books of the Torah through another Jewish year.

The month ends on October 29. Rosh Hodesh, the new moon, starts every Jewish lunar month and is a minor holiday of its own. This will be the month of Heshvan.

This year Samain will be under a new moon. As Tishrei begins the Jewish new year on Rosh Hashanah, so Samain begins the Celtic new year. In the Celtic new year the emphasis is on the fallow season upcoming as Samain literally means summer’s end, the end of the growing season. It’s the last harvest festival.

November 1st is the festival of all Souls in the Christian liturgical calendar and the next day, November 2nd, is dia de muertos, the day of the dead.

Diwali, celebrated on October 27th this year, is a Hindu celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, hope over despair, and knowledge over ignorance. It’s a new moon holiday, too. Hindu new moons come in the middle of the calendar month.

Before my time at CBE, I started Holiseason on September 29th, Michaelmas. Now I start it with Rosh Hashanah. It runs until Epiphany, January 6th. Enjoy this holiseason when so many cultures have feasts, days of prayer and offerings, good times. We need these days which exist outside of ordinary time and remind us of the sacred nature of the reality we inhabit every day.

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.

A small c convert

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

I had a dream awhile back. Don’t remember much, but I do remember being around the table at CBE. Rabbi Jamie was there, I don’t recall who else. At some point, I said, “I’m a convert.” And, I suppose it’s true enough in some ways.

Definitely a convert to CBE. Both Kate and I are members. She, who is a convert, with her Jewish identity and me, a pagan “suckled in a creed outworn.” to quote Wordsworth in “The World Is Too Much With Us.”*

This community is diverse in its way: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist flavors of Judaism show up in conversation and have persons who either identify with them or used to. There are transgender folk and there must be some gay folks. One or two people of color, rare for the Evergreen/Conifer area. Politically conservative, liberal, and radical. I’ve not met a libertarian, but I imagine there are some of those, too. A lot of former East Coasters, but a number of native Coloradans. Some come from Evergreen, Conifer, but many live in Denver or its burbs. A few from Israel, others who’ve lived in other countries for some period of time.

Nearly all though are at least well enough off to own a car, a home. I don’t know the average educational attainment, but it’s high. Might even tip over into the post-graduate level. Almost all are white. Almost all are Jewish. I’m the only outlier who is a member, as far as I know.

CBE reflects an old immigrant motif in America where folk of similar religion and, often, of country of origin, gather in a religious community. Polish Catholics. Shinto Japanese. Muslims from many countries. Irish Catholics. Puritans. Buddhists from many Asian lands. Up here in the Front Range there aren’t many options if you’re Jewish. You come to CBE or go into Denver which has a large Jewish community. (There is one other small Jewish congregation up here.)

But the dream notion of conversion goes deeper than just the community for me. I’m a convert to the reconstructionist way of approaching religious questions. That is, if it’s working, keep it. If it’s not, change it.

In my pagan turn, which came many years ago when I started researching Celtic lore, I have found most of what passes for pagan these days just plain silly. Much of it comes from rehashing, in not very careful ways, 19th century Victorian fantasies, or grabbing parts of other auld faiths, like Nordic mythology. See Asatru, for example. Some of it tries to revive the Olympic deities in various ways. There’s even a clever Satanist twist which has claimed Lucifer’s rebellion as a model for standing against the established order.

At CBE I’ve found a series of parallels with my own (possibly silly to you) approach to paganism. Jews use a lunar calendar, for example, and much of their liturgical year has its grounding in agricultural practices. In fact tomorrow at CBE a Sukkot ritual will celebrate the harvest, out doors, in a structure that by tradition is open to the sky. There is a ritual for each new moon, not often observed, but it’s there.

There is also in Judaism a distinctive body positive attitude that encourages good eating, good sex, good self care. Asceticism is not Jewish. One of the aspects of Judaism, related to this, is a candor about death, a way of including mourners in the community through sitting shiva, care of the body immediately following death, and including mourners in every worship service.

With the horrible turmoil after my mother’s death I find this approach soothing. Wish we’d had it then. This is, btw, the 55th anniversary of her death this month, her yahrzeit.

In the kabbalah, which I have studied a bit, there’s a universalism that comes from believing that every bit of the universe has a shard of divinity, of ohr the divine light. I can move from this understanding to an animist position very easily.

Here again I’m a convert to CBE. I don’t have to give up or alter any of my beliefs to be a full member. In fact I lead adult education, taught middle-schoolers, and participate as an “out” pagan in all parts of CBE’s life.

Jewish tradition and Jewish civilization has much that is humane, justice oriented, thoughtful. It is, like many faiths, a repository of human wisdom, of poetry, of answers to the big questions. I’m learning a lot at CBE and am glad for the particularity of its Jewish life. So, yes, I’m a convert. A small c convert.

* The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn. 1802

The Wild World

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

A scrim of clouds played with Orion and the Sukkot Moon, revealing and then hiding, hiding and then revealing. The walk to the mailbox is short, but as I take it my mind whirls up to the distant stars, to Greek myths, to the peak of Black Mountain faintly illuminated by the moon. It is a delightful way to start the day, quiet, usually no cars, still a bit early for commuters.

Scattered clouds change the night sky, creating mystery. A lesson in the occult. If you’re an early bird and can see the sky, I recommend this consciousness expanding morning ritual. It places the day in context. The universe observing itself through my eyes. A quiet joy.

We drove down the hill yesterday in the early morning, out of the house at 6 am headed for Corneal Consultants. Kate’s first cataract surgery. On the way she asked me, Do you know why Kirby Puckett was such a good hitter? No. He batted right, but had a dominate left eye. Oh. I see. I was a good hitter. I have left eye dominate and bat right handed. The stuff you learn about someone.

In case you got to wondering, as I just did, about the relationship between eyeball and river uses of the word. Latin cataracta waterfall, portcullis, from Greek kataraktēs, from katarassein to dash down, from kata- + arassein to strike, dash Merriam-Webster. I’ll have to check the OED later.

It went well. She’s wearing a clear plastic eye-shield and the dark pupil of her dominate eye gives little space for the beautiful blue green of her iris. Drops every two hours. A visit to the doctor today.

On the way into Evergreen last night to pick up pizza at Beaujo’s an emergency vehicle came out of the fire house, cutting through the rush hour traffic which lined both lanes of 73. While I drove as close to the slight drop off as I could, an Elk cow looked in at me. Neither Gertie nor Rigel went nuts. Thankful for that.

In a front yard on the other side of Cub Creek nine or ten of her sister cows laid on the grass, eating their cud, looking very relaxed and at home. During the rut and into the winter the elk are more present in Evergreen. Not like Estes Park where they wander into businesses, but still visible.

Today Alan and I have brunch at 11:00. The first time I’ve seen him since my bagel table in late September. Kate had a bad couple of weeks and he had acting in Cabaret, singing at the High Holidays, and the Rotary Club’s recycling day. Looking forward to catching up with him.

Kate’s friend from both Bailey Patchworkers and CBE, Jamie Bernstein, has agreed to take her to her follow-up appointment so I can see Alan. Thanks, Jamie and Kate for setting it up.

Simcha

Fall and the Sukkot Moon

Over to Aspen Roots. No, not a nursery, our hair stylist Jackie’s place. We’re as beautiful as we can get for a couple of days. Thence to King Sooper for soup ingredients: golden leek and potato. Picked up fresh sage, fresh thyme, leeks, Yukon Gold potatoes. And, some pita chips while Kate went to the bank.

Back home to cook. Simple, but labor intensive. A pound and three quarters of potatoes halved and sliced thin. Garlic sliced thin. Leeks washed and, yup, cut thin. Made a bouquet garni. Cheese cloth with the sage, thyme, bay leaves tucked in and tied up. Fun, but I find it tiring to stand so long. Maybe an hour plus.

The soup went with us to the mussar evening group. It was enjoyed. I’m always a bit nervous taking my cooking outside our house. My cooking style is innovative, not always to the recipe.

Kate presented on joy, simcha. I read Wendell Berry’s poem: Before Dark. We discussed the barriers to joy, how to cultivate, recognize joy.

Rabbi Jamie had to leave the group early. The second or third kid who drew swastikas on cars at a school parking lot came in for a talk. With his very dressed up parents. Jamie does this every once in a while. Last year he spoke to a kid who didn’t believe in the holocaust, an active anti-semite. He said the kid came around in the conversation. This kid and the others had followed along. Still pernicious, of course, but different.

Home in the behemoth. We have a Nissan SUV that looks like a gun boat and drives like an RV. It was the only thing they had at the Enterprise agency last Friday. The new Rav4 is at Caliber Collision having its rear bumper and rear door repaired. Kate’s accident a month ago or so.

Leaving early this morning, about 6:15 for Corneal Consultants in Littleton. Kate’s having her first cataract removed. The next one in two weeks. Hope to get some mitigating in later today.

Ikigai gone

Fall and the Full Sukkot Moon

Each morning Orion is a bit further to the west, hunting must be better on the other side of Black Mountain. That’s where he’s headed. This morning the full Sukkot moon lit his search for game, hanging in the west over the northern most peak of Black Mountain. Seeing Orion, Cygnus, Draco in the early morning sky makes me joyful. Visiting old friends each time I go out for the newspaper. A reminder of how non-earthcentric our galaxy and the universe are.

Trying to reach down inside, find an ikigai. Hard right now. My usual pattern of working daily on a novel or the garden or fire mitigation has disappeared. Not been seen for months. Yes, I get Ancientrails done each day, and I’m glad for that, grateful I have the early morning time.

Rabbi Jamie talked about loneliness in his erev Rosh Hashanah sermon. Embrace it, David Whyte counsels. Lean into it. What I’m experiencing is not the same as feeling alone, lonely, but I sense I’d do well to lean into this defocused state. It’s similar to loneliness in that it involves distance, but in this case I’m not feeling distance from others, but distance from a self I’d come to appreciate.

I’ve chosen, so far, to feel uncomfortable about this. Why aren’t I getting anything done? Why has my writing stopped? It’s not like I don’t have time, I do. But when I have time I could use, I wander around, not sure what comes next. Sometimes I paint. Sometimes I read articles on the web. Sometimes I read a little. Could read a lot more. I say I want to.

What if instead I decided to go with the schedule I have rather than the one I want or think I need? What Self would emerge then? Taking the pressure off to be something, someone else? That would be the wu wei move. Let life be. Flow with it, don’t force it.

My old Tao Te Ching teacher, I took a series of online Taoism classes several years ago, says forcing things is a Westerner’s style. When I read that, I thought of my choosing to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them. Guess I’m a Westerner.

Actually, I’m more bi-cultural. Strong forcing, yes, but also a willingness to let things take their course, to emerge, to flow with them. Right now feels like a wu wei moment. Perhaps for a good while.

Days of Awe

Fall and the Yom Kippur Moon

This is a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance for Jews in all places. Yom Kippur. The holiest day of the year, one when the soul is bare before the Self and all creation. Asking and seeking forgiveness. Putting in the past wherever you fell short. Cleansing for the year ahead. The Day of Atonement.

Kate and I will probably go to services this morning though we missed Kol Nidre last night. She wasn’t feeling good.

It’s been a tough week or so. Again. Her feeding tube has been giving her fits. Leaking. Since it’s now her primary source of nutrition, any hassle with it is significant. And, her shortness of breath seems to be worsening.

We see a cardiac-thoracic surgeon tomorrow morning to plan both her lung biopsy (which she dreads, understandably) and how to assess the new nodule that was found during her last c.t. Not a pleasant prospect, either one.

I’m dog paddling these days, trying to keep my head dry. I work out, cook, shop, do the laundry, dabble with gouache. This doesn’t sound like much, I know, but in the times between these activities I have no motivation. Frustrates me a bit since I have other things I want to get to: fire mitigation, revising Superior Wolf, starting a new novel, getting back to sumi-e, going to classes at Beth Evergreen. Some day soon.