We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Hunger

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

artistsYesterday in mussar Jamie gave us a writing prompt: write about a want that occupies a lot of inner time and attention, then to try to find the root of that want. This was a lead in to talking about avarice.

I wrote about wanting to finish Superior Wolf, about getting back to translating Latin and wonder why, at 70, I still wanted to do these things. It’s not as if we need the money or I need the recognition.

This desire, this want, is about a desire to remain an agent in the world, puissant, to not disappear. So, in a sense, it’s about death, about not dying early, I think.

Later in the discussion a woman who travels to India once a year to stay in a Buddhist nunnery said that an early Buddhist teacher of hers had talked with her about the hungry ghost within each of us. The example he gave her was about a person who walks into a bookstore to buy one book and then walks out with five. Hmmm. I recognize that person, c’est moi.

EliotI’ve looked up the idea of the hungry ghost and I don’t think it really applies to me, but the caution evident in the bookstore example certainly does. Buying books represents a deep seated want, too. But what is it?

Knowledge can also be a hedge against death. If I only understand, then I can prevent, stave off, head off, my canoe’s eventual transition into the Gulf of All Souls. Which of course, I can’t do. As I wrote in the exercise above, nothing counters death, not puissance, not agency, not even, ironically, health. Nor, knowledge.

HesseSo, the books represent my own struggle with the nature of mortality, my way of structuring my inner world. And, yes, it can be a problem if I refuse to recognize it for what it is. But, and here’s the liberating possibility for me in both books and writing, if I acknowledge what they are for me, if I embrace the underlying motivation, yet not its anticipated result, then I can continue writing and reading, using them not as shields against disappearing, but as ways of being in the world, not as ways of protecting myself.

Let me try to say this a bit more clearly. Wanting to be an agent in the world is, in itself, a good thing, so long as the reason for doing it is a desire to be of service, to offer something from my uniqueness. If that desire becomes corrupted, becomes a way to hide, then no matter the books on the shelves, no matter the understanding that comes from reading, no matter the stories and books in manuscript form, it is all for nothing. In fact, it’s worse than being for nothing, for hiding from our known fate leaves us in a constant state of hunger for that which we will never reach and, even worse, for that which will not secure its goal even if I sold all all my books and stories and learned all the information my books I have to offer.

Conclusion. I will continue to read and write because it is what I do, because it is an important part of what makes my presence in the world unique and valuable for others. But neither writing nor reading will save me. Only acceptance will do that.

 

Snow, And Lots of It

Spring                                                                      Passover Moon

20170405_144607Switched my work routine around, now writing on Superior Wolf in the early morning, breakfast, Latin, workout, lunch, nap. So Ancientrails comes later in the day. Like now, at 3 pm.

We got somewhere between 12 and 20 inches of snow last night. Our house looks like an old cabin in Switzerland after a heavy snow. When I cleared the deck early this morning, it was challenging. Kep stood at the door when I opened it, looked outside, looked at me, then delicately put a foot outside. A few seconds later he was bounding through the white, a black and white blur.

In the way of mountain weather, our driveway, plowed at 4:30 am by Ted, is now clear. The sun, beating down on it at altitude, transfers heat quickly to the asphalt. This aspect of weather here is a real joy. You can have snow, lots of it, and still find mobility pretty easy not long afterward.

Kate had her first infusion of Remicade, an anti-rheumatoid arthritis biologic, on Monday. We hope it will reduce the pain in her hands, shoulder and back while also reducing the fatigue that RA also creates. The infusion takes two hours, sitting quietly in a chair with up to 8 other people in the room, undergoing the same sort of procedure. It’s hard to know in advance whether these things will work, but we expect good results.

Over at Beth Evergreen tonight Kate’s going for her last or next to last Hebrew class, then to a cooking class for a new approach to the passover meal. At 5 pm, Rabbi Jamie will teach a class, Exodus From Boring Seders. We’re attending a community seder next week on April 12 at Mt. Vernon Country Club. Maybe it won’t be boring.

Jon plans to look at mortgages this month, houses in May. We both hope it goes smoothly for him.

 

 

 

At An Undisclosed Location

Winter                                                                          Cold Moon

There’s a bright golden haze on Black Mountain. The clouds presaging the storm pile up over the continental divide to the west, then begin to slip over to our side. The sun’s rising and it has painted those clouds with a brush from Raphael’s palate. Over the course of the day they will slump this way, graying the sky and carrying the moisture necessary for what Weather5280 now estimates as 10-20 inches of new snow. And so we rest in those delicious moments before the heavy snow arrives, estimated to be around 9:30 a.m.

New information in divorce matters. Jen has moved out of the house on Pontiac Street to an “undisclosed location.” Ruth apparently knows where it is, but didn’t offer to tell Jon and he won’t ask. That’s part of the restraining order which is still in place, no using the kids as communication conduits. This is a positive moment for Jon though because it means he can get in the house and get the remainder of his stuff.

Kepler has astounded Kate and me. He tore off the outside nail on his left front paw, leaving the quick exposed. Pretty painful. We took him to the vet on Monday. They sedated him, cleaned up the nail, put a bandage on it, then wrapped the whole foot in a bandage and some leopard spotted coban. He has not touched the foot bandage. Not at all. Every other dog we’ve had would have had that damn thing off the same night without an e-collar.

I’ve rethought turning my life over again. The threads I’ve got established are substantial and nourishing: novels, working out, Latin, this blog, mountain living, friendships, Beth Evergreen. I want to sustain the momentum I have in all these areas, so my life will remain much the same. Two changes I do want to make. I want to include more reading time, reading non-fiction on such topics as: the West, American political life, magic, science. Also, I need to find, sometime in the next month or so, a platform for the anti-Trump work.

It will be awhile before the rhythms reestablish and the new changes take hold. Though the knee is no longer painful, there’s still a long way to go before it’s rehabbed. That means distractions related to the knee will continue. Also, I have to wrestle this sleep demon to the ground and exorcise it. These things will happen.

 

The Year of the Absent December

Winter                                                         Cold Moon

lionTwo good friends, Allison and Tom, have recommended I see Lion, on my list for this week, especially now that I’m mobile, both on foot and behind the wheel. Yes, the knee is becoming much less painful though strength and stamina will take a while to regain. Not sure whether it’s the drug cocktails I’ve been taking or what, but sleep has become a precious commodity again, not easily found in batches long enough to feel rested. Ick.

2016 will be year of the absent December for me. My 20161203_083526surgery was December 1st and much of the first two weeks + I spent in a narcotic haze. Or so Kate tells me. The remainder of the month has been physical therapy and figuring out how to manipulate the meds so they help me rather than hurt me. Not an easy task.

The good part was having the grandkids here for most of Hanukkah. When Kate and I returned them to Jen yesterday, Ruth came back to the car to say goodbye to me. We touched hands and she smiled, a furtive lightning of her face. I said, “Remember what I told you about your audition.” (that I have faith in you) She said she remembered. This is her audition for the Denver School of the Arts. She presents her portfolio and sits for an interview.

Kate after election day

Kate after election day

Next big medical event is Kate’s endoscopy tomorrow. This is a follow-up on an occult blood finding, so it could have serious implications, though I’m not expecting them. I have physical therapy at 7:15 a.m., then we head down the hill on 285 to Swedish Hospital for a 9 a.m. procedure.

A sequelae of the absent December is waking up from it to a New Year. What will I do in 2017? Will it be continuous with the first two years here? Or, will I rethink it all, maybe reshuffle the deck one more time? I’m leaning toward the latter. There will be Superior Wolf, yes. There will be workouts, yes. There will Beth Evergreen. There will, I decided yesterday, be Latin. I’m picking that project up again beginning this week. But, beyond those and how those fit with other potentials? I don’t know. I do know that taking a big insult to my physicality, even for a good cause, has got me in a contemplative mood, wondering, once again, about how life fits together.

Squirrely

Lugnasa                                                                     Superior Wolf Moon

20160520_065329I’m an information squirrel, storing internet acorns in evernote, a few in bookmarks (a lot fewer since I began using evernote). Of course, I have my library, too, which is another manifestation of the same phenomenon. And the horizontal file cabinet, yes, and the wire shelving with bankers boxes full of old manuscripts, art history material, files on the Great Wheel, climate change, Islam. In the garage below me shelving holds several boxes filled with journals, another form of saving information. And, of course, there’s Ancientrails itself, in the millions of words by now.

It’s all a sort of security blanket, a way to be sure that if, at some point, I need that book on Norwegian fishermen on Lake Superior, I’ll have it available. An introvert like me, happy at his computer or in a chair reading, wandering the mountains alone, finds stimulation in such things.

table top for art cartNow, as Ruth and Gabe spend more and more time up here with me, they find the books and the sort of small objects and art that I collect fascinating. They have penetrated my private world in a way I’ve not experienced since Joseph was a child. It’s fun and we have interesting talks about various matters that have been important to me, represented by shelves of books, prints, art, skulls, folk religion artifacts. As with raising Joseph, I’m always surprised-and delighted-when I get catapulted back to a particular time in my life by the current lives of my grandchildren.

 

 

Journal July 30, 2016

Last Day of Summer                                                           Park County Fair Moon

chiefhosa300We’re glad to be doing this, having Jon here, seeing the grandkids more often as they come to be with him. It’s important, as important as anything we could be doing right now. It does remind me, however, that we’re used to a somewhat more, ok a lot more, sedate style of daily life. The change is good for us though, keeping us engaged. And, a bit tired.

Yesterday we hit 90+ here. Even with the lower humidity it was downright unpleasant. Ruth was sick, Gabe, too, so we didn’t go to the Denver County Fair. This morning instead.

Jon worked on the walnut top shelf for the three lower sections of shelving in the loft. With the staining process he’s chosen, the walnut will show off its dark, close to black color and create a strong contrast with the birch bookshelving that now lines the loft. He’s also preparing the final coat on the art cart’s distressed oak table top, the oak that came from the bed of a junked tractor-trailer. Once both of these are done, I plan to spend a good bit of time rearranging my library, putting up or placing art, getting this wonderful space Kate found for me into its final (for now) configuration.

I am back at work on Superior Wolf. After I reimagined the story, taking it back to its deep origins in the primordial gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, things seemed to fall into place. I have two novels that I’ve been using as models, the sort of big thing I’d like to produce: The Historian and Jonathan Strange and Dr. Morrel. They both took a quirky, but deeply researched approach to, on the hand, vampirism, and on the other, black magic. They were original within an often cliched genre, surprising in their treatment. That’s what I want for Superior Wolf and Jennie’s Dead.

Still nothing on the Latin. I won’t leave all those years of work on the side, I know it, but I’m finding the discipline difficult right now.

 

Getting Back To Work

Summer                                                                  Park County Fair Moon

ballgameSummer has come in full glory and I’m still not back to work. Getting frustrated with myself, need to get a discipline underway. Back to the work in the morning pattern that has seen me through several novels and lots of Ovid.

It is now a year and a day since my cancer surgery, a real spade turner in the soil of my psyche. Are my old goals still appropriate? Does the divorce and the engagement with Jon and the grandkids override them? Doesn’t feel that way. My ability to give correlates with the care I take of myself. Taking care of myself means continuing creative and scholarly tasks. That work plus exercise are central to my life and cannot be avoided without damaging my Self.

computerRight now the days float by. This meeting with Jon. That power washing of the solar array. Mow the fuel. Reorganize the loft. Work in the garage. Read the NYT. Keep up with the presidential campaign. All of these things are important, even necessary, but I’m doing them and not creating the daily discipline that longer projects require. I know how to do it. I have done it. But not now.

This morning I have my first class in a Native Plant class that focuses on the montane ecosystem, the one in which we live. It’s a start in the discipline. What I need is to protect my mornings again. Get up here in the loft, write a thousand words a day, translate at 5 verses of Ovid.

I need encouragement to get this routine started again.

Relax

Summer                                                                                    Moon of the Summer Solstice

gathering storm“The shorter my possession of life, the deeper and fuller I must make it.”  Montaigne

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”  Chinese proverb

Both of these seem like third phase road signs. Perhaps they could be put up like Burma Shave signs at birthday moments on our trip around the sun. I like the resonance between them, the apparent contradiction which reveals our achievement/success fixation. It’s hard to break, even as life winds down.

The Montaigne quote came from this article in the NYT about an 85 year old competitive runner. It’s worth a read. The Chinese proverb, which I can’t confirm as an actual Chinese proverb, sounds very Taoist. Lean into life, follow its flow, stop trying to bend circumstance to fit your preferences and discover the life you can lead without pushing against it.

Raffles Town Club breakfast: Singapore

Raffles Town Club breakfast: Singapore

Since Asia, Joseph and Seoah’s wedding and our visit to Singapore, I’ve had several long projects: expunging images, wildfire mitigation and garage organization. Today is the first day in a long time when I don’t have an immediate task ahead, one that requires several days or weeks to complete. I’ve enjoyed this time. Getting up, taking the chainsaw and ax outside. Sitting here, going through Ancientrails, deleting images while at the same time reviewing, at least lightly, what I’ve written over the last ten plus years. Pulling and pushing, shifting this there, that here. Basically manual labor. Like we had in the garden in Andover.

I want to get back to writing now. Latin, I’m not so sure. At times it makes me feel like I’m back in school, not the positive learning arc I associate with school, but the tension of assignments not yet done, wondering if I’m really cut out for this. The tension, which I’ve accepted as part of the process up til now, might be who I think I should be, rather than who I am. A challenge to my assumptions. Good.

Write It Out

Beltane                                                                             Running Creek Moon

freshman year

Freshman Year, Alexandria H.S.

Ever since the great iconoclasm, my voice has been muted. Not sure why.  Topics don’t seem to occur to me. I’ve never had a theme, a particular ax, though felling and limbing the occasional political issue shows up once in awhile. Philosophical, quasi-theological pondering. That, too. Lots of did this, did that. The online continuation of a journal keeping way I’ve had for decades. Art. Yes, but not as much as I want.

Maybe there was a more intimate link between the images and the vitality of this blog than I realized. Apres le mitigation the whole copyright issue, the fate of images in an age of digital reproduction, will occupy some of my time.

Work on both Superior Wolf and Jennie’s Dead have been ongoing, though not yet much writing. Reimagining Faith occupies a lot of my free thinking time, wondering about mountains, about urbanization, about clouds that curve and mound above Mt. Evan’s, our weather maker. No Latin yet. Not until I can have regular time up here in the loft. Not yet.

Could be that underneath all this lies a reshuffling of priorities or a confirmation of old ones. It’s not yet a year since my prostate surgery and a friend of mine said it took her a year to feel right again. This year has felt in some ways like my first year here, a year when I can take in the mountain spring, the running creeks, the willows and their blaze of yellow green that lights up the creek beds, the mule deer and elk following the greening of the mountain meadows.

My 40 year fondness for Minnesota has also begun to reemerge, not in a nostalgic, wish I was still there way, but as a place I know well, a place to which I did become native, a place which shaped me with its lakes, the Mississippi, Lake Superior, wolves and moose and ravens and loons. Where Kate and I became as close as we could with the land we held temporarily as our own. Friends. Art. Theatre. Music. Family. Perhaps a bit like the old country, an emigre’s memories which help shape life in the new land. An anchor, a source of known stability amidst a whirl of difference. The West. Mountains. Family life.

So. There was something in there anyhow. Now, back to fire mitigation.

Staying With It

Imbolc                                                                     Maiden Moon

Latin. If I plotted my feelings on a graph, they would look like a roller coaster. Yesterday I read my written translations, rather than trying to pick my way through a sentence without consulting what I’d done in the previous couple of weeks. Very goods and atta boys. That made me feel more confident. Consulting the English after I translate a sentence has made me better.

It’s still about plateaus. This one is nearer to the goal than I’ve ever been. My skill is mostly adequate, with substantial help from the commentary and using English translations to make me rethink my work when necessary.

I’ve invested so much time in this project that I want to continue. Not an easy decision, but since I wrote about this a while back, I’ve made progress on my novels and on Reimagining while continuing to translate 5 or so verses a day. Switching my work flow to novels and Reimagining first, then Latin adjusted my work day to my priorities. Feels much better.

 

 

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