We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

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

Passover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

river-lb

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

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

Yet Did Not Fall

Spring                                                                  Passover Moon

sputnikYesterday when I came out to let Gertie and Rigel out of the garage, around 5 am, I looked up at the stars, as I always do, enjoying the clear skies here. That long evolved predator/prey seeking eye caught, right away, a high object streaking across the sky. Was it a satellite, the space station? I don’t know, but I do know that in my childhood, my own childhood, no person on earth could have gone outside, looked up at the sky and seen such a sight. Until Sputnik the only streaking objects in the sky were meteors and comets. Nothing moved quickly across the darkness, up with the stars, yet did not fall or disappear around the sun.

This morning when I came out, at about the same time, the stars were absent, covered by clouds. Six or seven inches of new, wet snow lay on the deck outside our backdoor and it was snowing hard. Still is. This storm is delivering on its forecasted levels. Yeah! This wet snow clogs up the snow blower so we’re having Ted, the handyman/snowplower guy from Ames, Iowa (just across I-35 from Kate’s hometown of Nevada), take care of our driveway. He came about 20 minutes ago and may be back if it the snow continues until midnight as the winter storm warning suggests.

6:45 am today

6:45 am today

It’s light out now and Black Mountain has once again disappeared from view, covered in clouds and snow. The school bus just went past. Being a school bus driver in the mountains in the winter must be challenging. Along with school bus driver, the other two jobs I would not like to have up here are mail person and garbage truck driver. They all have to navigate the mountain roads rain or shine, sleet or snow. They all have to stop frequently, counting on the skills of others not to kill them while they do their work.

The snow shuts off our solar panels just like night. I bought a snow rake to release the snow on them, but I haven’t used it yet. Maybe today.

Two Masks

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Due to the mechanics of posting the post below precedes this one conceptually. Just sayin.

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first row, second from the right

I’ve discovered two more masks: the unhappy 10 year old bucket schlepper and the 17 year old grieving his dead mother and trying to manage his fear of the future.

Here’s how I discovered the first mask. As I’m trying to go to sleep, my mind serves up memories and feelings designed (I think.) to prevent sleep’s arrival, a habit of some years. No notion as to why. Anyhow the other night a stream of memories crossed my going to sleep threshold and tightened my gut, gave me a small ping in the lower left abdomen and tensed up my legs. I’m familiar, very familiar, with this particular sequence of muscle contractions, but this time I decided to suss out the mask I wear when they appear.

It didn’t take me long to find it. This was the 17 year old boy who lost his mother suddenly over a period of 7 days. A stroke. After her death, with no real help in grasping what it meant and how it could be coped with in a healthy way, he began to scan the future, to look for other catastrophes. Perhaps if he was very, very careful he could spot them in advance and prevent them. After developing fully, this defensive strategy would become a generalized anxiety disorder. Not hard to see why.

second row, second from the right. 17

second row, second from the right. 17 note the hair

Now I know that the onset of anxiety symptoms, even the jaw muscles that grip harder than they need to on occasion, carry that 17 year old’s deep uncertainties and fears right into the present. If I looked in a mirror, I’d probably see a kid with deep brown eyes, a full head of hair and a queasy look on his face. Perhaps now I can take off this mask, give the 17 year old back to his own time and put on the mask of the experienced adult who knows this, whatever it is, will not last, the experienced adult who knows death is not the enemy, but our friend, a part of every life.

What’s behind mask number two? Yesterday afternoon I sat down in my leather chair and realized I was tired, real tired. Exhausted. Yet the exhaustion seemed far out of proportion to the demands of the day. Was I wearing a mask that might explain the exhaustion? I felt my way inside and there it was.

Grandpa mask

Grandpa mask

Mask number two is the face of a twelve year old boy carrying buckets of water up from a basement, tossing them out the backdoor, and going back down for another one. When we moved to Canal Street in Alexandria, a bigger house, one we owned, Dad didn’t know that the basement flooded. Indiana is in the humid east, not the arid west. Big storms and heavy rains were common. When they came, our basement would fill up with water and I had to help Dad bail it out. This was often late at night. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but no. I had to carry buckets.

Dad was not happy about it either and took it out on me, grousing about my unwillingness, my reluctance. I know this sounds like whining, but I’ve long ago moved past this in almost all aspects of my life though it did occur to me later that Dad could have invested in a sump pump.

Copper piping here had sprung another leak. My exhaustion was not from finding a plumber, or from diagnosing the leak, not even from the hassle all this entails up here in the mountains. No, the exhaustion was my body revisiting those nights of carrying water up from the basement and throwing it out the backdoor while I was sleepy.

This was a leak. It involved water and our basement. The result? A twelve year old’s frustration and powerlessness returned for a visit. Once I realized this, named it, saw the mask for what it was, my exhaustion lifted.

Put it on, Take it off

Spring                                                                 Passover Moon

“It is easy to see the mountain in the distance. It is not so easy to see the mountain on which you stand.”

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Masks. I’ve been using the kabbalistic notion of masks-personas, complexes, yes, but somehow mask makes thems easier to discover. For me. It’s simple, at least in concept. We wear a mask all the time, often perhaps usually unconsciously. The kabbalistic idea taught by Rabbi Jamie Arnold encourages us to recognize our masks and get to know them with the ultimate goal of being able to take off and put on masks at will.

Masks may have a pejorative connotation for you as concealers of the “true” person, but this understanding suggests that our pure soul, that part of us perfectly attentive to the universe, needs no mask. A Christian might call this pure soul the imago dei. Whatever it “really” is, it is the Self that nests within the necessary apparatus for connecting with the world. It cannot touch the world by itself. When it comes into contact with the world, a mask forms. This enables the Self to see partially rather than comprehensively. (I made up this last idea, but it makes sense to me as far as I understand the concept.)

As I said in a previous post, many masks are obvious: devoted husband, father, brother, scholar, timid business person, brash businessperson, prophet, lover, athlete, lawyer, plumber, mother, sister. Part of the discipline is to stop, to take a moment, and ask what mask am I wearing right now?

For instance, at the moment I’m wearing my Ancientrails mask, a writer, blogger, self-revealer, journaler. I’m also wearing my naturalist, photographer mask which gets called up as Black Mountain goes through its morning changes. My Ancientrail’s mask is introspective, yet also expressive. It does conceal much of my Self because it links to specific and partial aspects of who I am. But. It also reveals. It reveals in the quite literal sense of putting these words on the page, but it also reveals that certain part of who I am when I have it on.

20170330_063248

My naturalist, photographer mask came on me several times as I wrote this because Black Mountain’s changes this morning were strikingly beautiful. This mask took me out of Ancientrails, out of the inner world, and into the Front Range, into the world of mountains and light. I found myself gasping several times as the light changed this 10,000 foot peak’s face to the world, its mask.20170330_065707

 

 

Makes Sense

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

We had snow. Will have more snow. So good to see moisture. We don’t get much here, this is the arid West after all, so what we get we need.

Right now dewpoint and temps are the same so we’re in a foggy state. Black Mountain is invisible. That something so massive can disappear, either in the dark or in fog, seems odd to me. Still. If I didn’t know it was there, it would not be, from my perspective.

senses

Yesterday afternoon Kate said the hard snow falling was making a sound on the skylights. She imitated it. I couldn’t hear it. As the hearing in my right ear declines, and with total deafness in the left, there are aural Black Mountains in the fog for me. I don’t hear a lot of things within the range of normal hearing, but I don’t know I don’t hear them. Those sounds don’t exist for me.

Of course, all of our senses have a limited range to begin with. Ultraviolet and infrared are light waves outside the visual ability of human eyes, yet, they, too, exist. We exist in a perceptual bubble, our evolved ways of knowing the world shutting out far more than they let in. Science, of course, is a direct attempt to extend human experience beyond the range of our senses, to discover what we don’t know, in fact, can’t know without sophisticated instrumentation.

dry chrysalis

I find this humbling and inspiring. Our inability to see, to hear, to taste, to touch, to smell the comprehensive array of stimuli around us means we exist in a constant perceptual fog. There is not only more than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio, there is more all around you. Considering these, our real and dramatic limitations, it’s inspiring to me that we humans have been able to develop our lives and our cultures in the incredibly complex and nuanced way that we have.

I suppose, too, that there may be an important metaphysical point buried here. If we can’t see ultraviolet, smell the 10,000 things that any dog can, hear the very low sounds of whale communication, it’s possible that there are more worlds out there, perhaps places where life goes on. How can we know such things if we can’t even hear the snow on the skylights?

Delights and Horrors

Spring                                                                  Anniversary Moon

rumiThe third phase, that phase after the career and nuclear family focused portion of our life has come to an end or is winding down, has its own delights and horrors. Auto-didacts, those with pleasurable, but challenging hobbies, those with adequate funds, those with a close network of friends and family have a good chance of enjoying the third phase more than any other part of their life. It’s a time when the pressures of achievement and child-rearing recede. They may not disappear, but their initially critical significance shifts to the margins.

This leaves the possibility of centering on who you truly are, expressing the soul/Self, the unique you created when sperm hit egg all those years ago. A rich time, filled with creativity and exploration, can be the result. It certainly has been that way for Kate and me. We’ve traveled, gotten closer to our kids and grandkids, gardened, raised dogs, moved to the mountains. She’s quilted, sewn, cooked and finally taken up the spiritual journey she started so long ago with her conversion to Judaism. I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions. We’ve both nourished friendships from our Minnesota life and begun to develop friendships here in Jefferson County, Colorado.

It is also in the third phase, however, when the body begins to signal its eventual end. Even if there are no presenting issues of the moment, the third phase, by its very definition occurs as our age passes into the mid-60’s and beyond. The implications of this becomes clear when we make the calculation about doubling our life span so far. At 50 it’s just possible to conceive 100; but at 60, 120 is a stretch. At 70 the notion of reaching 140 is ridiculous.

will-testament_audible-wisdom-org_CCWith prostate cancer two years ago and a total knee replacement last year my body has given notice that its sell-by date is approaching. Yes, both of those have resolved well, at least so far, but they are concrete proof that I will not live forever. Something, sometime. Now it seems to be Kate’s turn to face her mortality. She has a cluster of medical issues that are challenging, making her low energy and too thin.

The horrors I mentioned above are not these, these are normal, though disconcerting. We age. Our bodies break down, then stop. Hundreds of thousands of years worth of hominid deaths makes this all too common.

20170310_174900The horrors are the loss of the one you love, the person whose life has become so entwined with your own, not enmeshed, I don’t mean here a situation where life going on without the other is inconceivable, but the loss of a person whose life has been a comfortable and comforting fit with your own, a bond of mutual affection. Imagining life without Kate leaves me with a hollow feeling.

This loss, too, is common. Just read the obituaries and see the list of “survived by.” It is different from your own death because your life goes on with a big hole. I know this feeling too well. My mother died when I was 17. This is horror. Is it survivable? Of course. But life after the death of a spouse is a change none of us who are happily married seek. Yet, it seeks us. It is the nature of two finite creatures bonded through love. One leaves first.

These matters are on my mind today as we try to hunt down and fix what’s ailing Kate. I’m not ready, will never be ready, for life without her. May it be far in the future if it happens for me at all.

 

Here’s to 27 more

Imbolc                                                                             Anniversary Moon

Well. 27 years ago today Kate and I walked up the steps at the Landmark Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, went into an old Federal Judge’s chambers, stood before Harry Lichy and said our vows, stomped on a glass and started something that has changed both of us for the better.

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We spent the night at the Nicollet Island Inn on the Mississippi River, then took a taxi to the airport where we boarded a Pan-Am flight (yes, it was that long ago.) for Rome. Our honeymoon, three weeks of following spring north in Europe, went from Rome to Inverness, Scotland before we turned around and took the night train from Edinburgh back to London.

Though an overused term, I’ll say that for our lives this was an epic journey. We spent time with each other in many different circumstances. There was that 10 hour train ride from Venice to Vienna through the Dolomites where, to our dismay, we discovered they sold no food. Our trip to Pompeii found Kate carrying water in a backpack. The result? Bad back pain. There was the laundromat owner in Paris, on the left bank, who gave us a beautiful poster which now hangs in our home. The Reject China Shop where we bought our Portmerion china. A wonderful walk along the River Ness on a foggy night in Inverness. And so much more.

Bee-guy

We’ve had quite a life together so far. 17 dogs. Bees. A big vegetable garden, a big flower garden, an orchard. A firepit. Raising Jon and Joseph. Marriages and a divorce. Grandkids. Another epic journey from our 40 year home in Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Both encouraged, by each other, to create. Kate’s quilts and other handwork. My novels.

Mostly though, a quiet love that has persisted. Just like Elizabeth Warren. Persistence and resilience are too often overlooked as key ingredients of a successful life. We’ve had them both. And will into our future.

Jittery

Imbolc                                                                         Anniversary Moon

aloneBeen experiencing an unusual phenomenon, at least unusual for this period of my life. I’m getting all kinds of anxiety signals from my body. My feet rest on their balls when I sit down, not flat on the floor. My gut has this hollowed out and tense feeling. My jaw has small aches as my teeth grind unconsciously. This also makes facial muscles twitch. When lying in bed, I’ll notice that my legs are tight, again an unconscious contraction.

What’s weird is that I can’t identify any source for these unsettling signs. My best guess right now is that they’re the product of a combination of things: the ongoing upset from the divorce and its aftermath, the exhilarating yet internal compass spinning immersion in Beth Evergreen, the two year plus loft finishing as well as our still evolving life as Coloradans, and the various medical challenges we’ve both encountered since moving here. Why the physical signals right now if that’s the right analysis? Don’t know.

images (3)When we had our couple’s escape at Tall Grass Spa, I first noticed these physical manifestations. It was during the relaxing, 80-minute massage. As certain parts of my body felt calmer, others, like my legs and my gut, began to call out to me.

As I’ve said here before, I’m an anxious guy with the diagnosis to prove it. Zoloft and the patience encouraging benefits of aging have seen an end to the gross physical manifestations of anxiety until now. That’s not to say I have had none, but this combination of multiple instances has me feeling like I did in college and much of my life thereafter. Not something I want back. I peg the bulk of the anxiety I’ve experienced over the years to my reaction to my mom’s sudden death and the follow-on impact of a soured, then estranged relationship with my father. And, again, I have 18 years of on and off Jungian analysis that says I know what I’m talking about here.

images (2)A follower of gestalt therapy in my younger days, I learned to pay attention to and interrogate a jumpy stomach, a twitchy foot. These are not disconnected from my psyche, to the contrary they reveal things occurring in that inner world hidden from view to my Self.

Maybe I’ll finally get back to meditating. That helps, I know.

Each Person a Holy Well

Imbolc                                                                       Anniversary Moon

While writing the pendulum piece yesterday, I began to consider my inner life in a way I hadn’t before. It occurred to me, probably obvious to you, but not to me, that the inner world is timeless. It’s not part of the body (I’m not sure what I mean by this.) and does not participate in the changes of aging. That world, one we each carry within us (or about us, or as us), is quiet relative to the constantly moving, pulsing, buzzing blooming nature of reality beyond it. (Thanks to William James.)

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chalice well, Glastonbury

Perhaps this is what the New Testament means when Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” Not only is the within timeless, it’s also boundaryless, extending into an infinite realm, not all known, at most partially. That’s not to say it’s static, not at all, just ask your dream life.

This is exciting to me, considering the world within. The weird part, the somewhat new part for me, lies in the metaphysics of the within. As I consider it, feel its reality, my inner world seems separate from the physical realm altogether. I know, in terms of contemporary neuroscience, that this could be challenged; but, in spite of that, this private place seems untethered from both the outer realm and my body and, oddly, my mind.

The mind, in my use of it here, is a tool, a way of managing the interface between my body and my current concerns in the world. It does have a Janus faced quality in that it can look out to the world as the dasein of Heidegger suggests; but, it can also look inward, into my inner world. Using the mind as a point of reference, it becomes a mediator between inside and outside, but, in a manner similar to the inner world, a part of neither.

Janus_as

So, when I say the inner world is not part of my mind, I say that because the mind is the tool I use to know that world, as it is the tool I use to know and interact with the outer world.

Therefore, we can ask, what is the ontological character of the inner world? Does it have being in the way of, say, a rock, a tree, a dog, another person? I don’t know the answer to this question. It is, in the sense of isness, real since it can be perceived as Bishop Berkeley put it, but its isness seems different qualitatively from my body or the world in which it moves and lives and has its being.

This inner world is the homeworld of the imagination, of the interplay between ideas and intuition. It is the realm of memory and the alteration of memory, of the creation of memory. It is the place of fairy tales, of myth, of legend, of gods and goddesses. It can be explored with some difficulty. It often manifests after it has done its own work, throwing up a new way of seeing. In fact, my understanding of it as timeless and spatially infinite is just such a new of way of seeing for me.

Canto 3

Canto 3

I’m not saying this well. What is amazing to me, what is pushing me to explore this idea is the vastness of the inner world and its unique nature for each human being. Maybe for each dog and cat, wombat and shark for all we know. In other words in a room full of people we see them in this familiar world as distinct entities, yes, but still in this world. Yet, each person is a holy well that, like the holy wells of Ireland and Wales, provides entrance to another world, a world sui generis.

So, in fact, that room full of people is not only what it appears to be, but is also a collection of unique worlds, worlds unseen by any eye but each person’s inner eye.

Still exploring this idea, trying to suss it out.

 

 

At the Tallgrass Spa

Imbolc                                                                    Valentine Moon

 

tall grass spa

Tallgrass Spa on Upper Bear Creek Road. We had originally intended to go to Maui for my 70th birthday. We wanted to celebrate at Mama’s Fish House, where we’ve had both anniversary and birthday meals. The divorce and its impact on our time created a different focus for this February. Our plan was to celebrate our mutual entry into the 7th decade, Kate having preceded me, as she always does, in things age related.

We decided, instead, to combine our upcoming 27th anniversary (27!) with my birthday and Kate’s of last year by having a couples afternoon at the Tallgrass Spa in Evergreen.

tall grass view

As you drive in to the spa, this is the view toward the west. The mountains give any trip, no matter how short, a sense of majesty. The thirty minute drive from Shadow Mountain to Tallgrass is especially beautiful.

Upper Bear Creek Road begins at Evergreen Lake and continues for some miles. Along it are homes, many of them, that are big, stony or wooden, with elaborate grounds. This one sold recently for $2,300,000.

upper bear creek road

That was getting there. Once in the Spa we were given sandals to wear, shown to a room where we could change into Tallgrass robes (blue, one size fits all) and then taken to a quiet lounge area, beautiful with a fireplace, and a view of the mountains.

First, we had an 80 minute massage lying on tables next to each other with lots of hot oil, slippery hands, the scent of eucalyptus and mint and bergamot and, for me, a heated blanket, not for my Scandinavian wife.

In their relaxation of muscles the hands of the masseuse triggered memories, ones held in the body, not sure how they were resident there, but they were. An obvious one was her treatment of my knee, still somewhat swollen from the surgery. When her hands were on it, the journey of the last three months came forward. At another spot I remembered a moment in Rome on our honeymoon.

The biggest revelation though was the amount of tension, of anxiety I carried. As she relaxed me, I could feel my body tense, trying to get back to the state with which it had become familiar. We both knew the last nine months had been difficult ones for our family, but like all things, even that difficulty can become normal. On that table at Tallgrass my body told me so.

After this was a spa lunch, turkey sandwich for Kate, brie and fig sandwich for me. It was a pleasant time, sharing the lunch in the quiet lounge. We were creating a memory, probably the long time result, perhaps an alternative body narrative, too, for the last few months. That is, it was possible to relax even in the midst of family turmoil.

The last event of our day there was a pedicure. I’ve gone 70 years, literally, without ever having had a pedicure. The process fascinated me. In this room there were four throne like chairs lifted above the floor on risers, two steps up to them. Below the chair is a basin, a small sink, filled with soapy water. The pedicurist sits at the basin. Bare feet go into the water and the pedicurist cleans them, a very biblical, foot-washing moment and surprisingly intimate.

Did I want short or long nails? Short. She clipped my already short nails with a nail clipper. An implement somewhat like a dental pick but with a flattened end went underneath and around the toenails. Cuticle cream, tan and squirted on in small dabs, softened the cuticles, allowing Becky to clip my cuticles. I forgot the emery board which she used to smooth off rough edges.

All the while conversation was going back and forth among Kate, her pedicurist, Becky, me, and the woman getting her feet done in the chair next to Kate. The woman next to Kate was having a spa day paid for by her employer. Her husband was a chef. “I only make reservations,” she said, a line she’d obviously used before.

The talk turned to animals, llamas, dogs, mastiffs and rescues and bulldogs. Kate’s pedicurist, whose name I don’t recall, had a pitbull mix that had been attacked by a mountain lion a month and a half ago, but survived. She and Becky both live in Bailey. Sobering. Kate, whose throne was in the middle, could see out into a meadow across from Tallgrass where a herd of mule deer and several elk bucks wandered.

Exfoliation with a salt scrub came next. Becky rubbed a gently scratchy substance onto my feet, one at a time, sloughed it off with water, foliation and hydration with oil followed.

Touch, human touch, was the theme of the whole day. Where the massage was quiet, the pedicure was chatty, friendly and the lunch was just for us two. I’m now launched into my seventh decade, partnering with Kate as she walks the path, always ahead of me.

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