We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

For Tom

Lughnasa                                                                    Kate’s Moon

This is an overdue shoutout to my good friend, Tom Byfield.

So sorry to hear about your stroke, Tom. Gotta be scary, but if anyone I know can face down scary with a big laugh, it’s you. Moving to assisted living sounds like a big change, but there again, with books and arts and visits to the MIA when you’re able, I’m sure you’ll build a rich life.

It got me thinking about assisted living as an idea. Now that I’m past the 70 line, too, and with the history of strokes in my own family-Mom and Dad both-I know it’s always a possibility. I would find the transition to living in an apartment very difficult, but not impossible.

Tom, you’re a great role model for the 8th and 9th decades of life. You’ve met them with humor and passion, with intelligence and wit. You’ve stayed engaged and formed new friendships. I admire that. A great deal. Your poem at my moving to Colorado good-bye party is a treasure. I read it every once in while just for fun.

What happens after all this sturm und drang? Who knows? Maybe the afterlife for those of us who care about beauty is a vast museum with all the best art, good food, family and old friends. Plus all those dogs you’ve ever loved. It’d be pretty interesting to have DaVinci or Mary Cassatt or John Singer Sargent or a potter from the Song dynasty as a docent, wouldn’t it?

Right now the best I can come up with is that life is about friends and family, about love. That life, no matter what happens after, is a pretty damn interesting ride. As long as it lasts for both of us, I’m your friend.

 

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Trenchant

Midsommar                                                               Most Heat Moon

Kate hit the intercom yesterday. “Look outside.” I went to the deck on the loft, looked down and sure enough, there was Rigel, digging away in our rocky backyard. It may be hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but the ones they learned while young and living on the Great Anoka Sand Plain? They’re in there.

At first she couldn’t locate her prey. Yet, she persisted. A real Elizabeth Warren, our Rigel. After digging a four foot long shallow trench, and after trying (unsuccessfully) to dislodge several tree roots, she found her critter. Kate thinks it was a vole. Whatever it was, it is no more, except as part of Rigel’s food supply yesterday.

Vega and Rigel used to dig deep holes in our Andover yard, deep, doggy height deep. They tag teamed, one digging, the other resting. Turns out this is pack behavior, not just sisterly. Yesterday, Rigel dug, then Kep dug. Kep gave up, but Rigel kept going and got the goody at the end of the trench.

Afterward, Rigel had this, “I still got it.” attitude. Head up, tail high, body tight. She has resumed her shed patrols, another trick she learned in Andover. In Minnesota rabbits bred under our honey house and on occasion she and Vega would catch one. There must be critters under the one here on Shadow Mountain, too, but I don’t know what they are.

Summer Solstice 2017

Midsommar                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

cropped0017As our habitable space ship races along its track, its tilt gives us seasonal changes and four regular moments, two with roughly equal days and nights, the equinoxes, and two extremes: the solstices. The longest days of the year occur right now with the sun rising early and setting late ignoring Benjamin Franklin’s early to bed, early to rise. Six months from now, in the depths of midwinter, we will have the winter solstice where darkness prevails and long nights are the rule.

Those who love the seasons of the sun find the heat and light of midsommar ideal. Even in northerly latitudes shorts and sandals and t-shirts or sundresses or tank tops can be worn outside. We who move upward by 8800 feet from sea level for the cooling effect of altitude find a different kind of joy at the winter solstice. Either way solstice days and nights, their temperatures, are remarkable.

IMAG0346At midsommar in the temperate latitudes where farms dominate the landscape, the growing season, which began roughly around Beltane, is now well underway. Wheat, corn, barley, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers have risen from seed and fed by rain or irrigation make whole landscapes green with the intense colors of full growth. Midsommar mother earth once again works hard to feed her children.

Extreme weather follows in the wake of these solar extremes with tornadoes, derechos, hail storms and flooding in the summer, bitter cold and driving snow in the winter. Especially around the summer solstice such weather can put crops at risk of flailing by hail, drowning from overflowing creeks and rivers, being ripped out of the soil by rapid vortices. The vast blue skies of midsommar can turn gray, then black, or brackish green. It’s the natural way of moving water from one spot to another.

There can be, too, the absence of this sort of weather, drought. When aridity takes over, when moisture moves elsewhere for a season or a decade or more, these wet weather extremes disappear. Crops wither, food dies.

fire ban croppedOur seasonal dance is not only, not even mostly, a metaphor, but is itself the rhythm of life. When its regularities falter, when either natural or artificial forces alter it, even a little, whole peoples, whole ecosystems experience stress, often death. We humans, as the Iroquois know, are ultimately fragile, our day to day lives dependent on the plant life and animal life around us. When they suffer, we begin to fail.

So this midsommar I’m reflecting on the changes, the dramatic shifts to new high temperatures, more violent weather, less reliable rain. What the Great Wheel once brought to us as a season for nurturing crops and livestock may now become the season when crops and livestock struggle to survive. That means we will have to adapt, somehow. Adapt and reduce carbon emissions.

midsummer1The meaning of the Great Wheel, it’s rhythms, remains the same, a faithful cycling through earth’s changes as it plunges through dark space on its round. Their implications though, thanks to climate change, may shift, will shift in response to new temperature, moisture regimes. The summer solstice may be the moment each year when we begin, again, to realize the enormity of those shifts. It might be that the summer solstice will require new rituals, ones focused on gathering our power to both adapt to those shifts and alleviate the human actions ratcheting up the risks.

Us, not them

Beltane                                                                            Moon of the Summer Solstice

Minnesota remains my home, even as I acclimate to a second home in the Rockies. I’ll always be proud and relieved that Minnesota political culture exists and includes this familiar strain, captured in a song about mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This was the culture I wish had been heard in the Castile trial.

Home Schooling

Beltane                                                                      Moon of the Summer Solstice

2011 03 06_3396The shift to Reimagining has happened faster than I thought it would. My mind is like Kepler, our only dog who likes toys. He has a whole box of toys and he goes into it, noses around, finds the one he likes (why that one? no idea.), takes it out and carries it over to a place he’s decided is his toy stash area. I have several ideas that I’ve been playing with for years, e.g. becoming native to this place, emergence, tactile spirituality. In ways I don’t understand my mind goes over to the box of these ideas, hunts around, selects one and puts it front and center for maybe a second, maybe longer. Sometimes I pick up and play with one for awhile.

Right now just prior to sleep seems like a cue to start digging in the toy box. Last night it was an idea I had long ago, back when I started moving away from Christianity and toward a pagan perspective. I got to wondering about origins, about where certain things came from.

VadnaisIn the shower one day I began to wonder where our water came from. At the time Kate and I lived on Edgcumbe Avenue in St. Paul so the question really was, where did St. Paul get its water? I had no idea. Turns out St. Paul public works pumps water out of the Mississippi and into a chain of lakes including Pleasant Lake and Sucker Lake just across the Anoka County border in Ramsey County north of St. Paul.

At that point I began meditating in the shower (what can I say?), following the water flowing over me back to its source in the Mississippi, then back up river all the way to Itasca State Park and the headwaters there in Lake Itasca. Sometimes I would include the watershed, imagining rivers and streams emptying into the Mississippi on its way south toward the Centerville pumping station. Rainfall, snow and ice melt contribute, too.

LakeIt78Though I haven’t done it, it would be possible to track back much further to the arrival of water on earth. This is a very interesting topic which I raise only to demonstrate the potential in this kind of thinking.

Last night I recalled this early meditation on water and began to consider what it would be like to homeschool ourselves on the other inputs that come into our apartments, condominiums or single family homes, i.e. electricity, gas, broadband, telephone service (yes, some of us still have landlines). In other words what modes of generation produce the electricity in your home? Where are those power stations located? You might even ask yourself, what is electricity anyhow?

Contemporary life, especially since the early 1900’s, has distanced us further and further from the vast variety of things necessary to keep us alive. Do you know, for example, where the power comes into your house? Or the water? Most of us treat electricity, gas, and water as if they just show up in our taps, our outlets, our furnaces. This is understandable, it doesn’t seem important. As long as they show up reliably, we don’t consider them.

vintage-refrigerator-adOpen the refrigerator. Where did the food come from? How about the carpet on your floor? The roofing material. Concrete. Paint. How about the car in your garage? Where was it built? What sort of materials go into making it? Where do they come from?

Each and every article of clothing, toothbrush, plate, door knob, seat covering, bicycle tire is a rearrangement of elements secured from somewhere by mining or forestry or chemical engineering. We twenty-first century Americans, even those living in poverty, rely on a vast web of resources, each of which had to be gathered, transported, processed and delivered to our home. While this allows us to live in comfort unknown to most people on earth, even the very wealthy, throughout history, it also literally blinds us to the complex web of activity and materials that make it possible.

One way of reimagining faith is to open ourselves to the way that web of activity actually functions to help us live. Holy water. Holy gas. Holy wool. Holy garlic. Holy stone. Holy sewage. If we take to time to notice, to attend to the wood beneath our feet, the plaster over our heads, the water in our glass, the food on our plate we can begin to reinsert ourselves in that complex web, to be an active part of it, not a dumb recipient.

ElectricityThe incredible complexity of this web has put a thick wall between our daily lives and the earthiness of all that is around us. We start the car, shift into drive and head out to work or the store or on vacation dulled to the effort expended on the gasoline that fuels it, the rubber in the tires, the precious metals and the not-so precious metals in the body and frame and engine. I’m not talking right now about a car’s implication in climate change, or economic injustice, or urban planning. I’m focusing on getting to know how it came to be, what of our world made it possible.

landWhy? Because focusing on these things, deconstructing our things, begins to break the spell of modernism. Modernism offers us in the developed world a world prepackaged for our needs, organized so that we don’t have to till the field anymore, or hitch up the horse, or drop a bucket down a well. In so doing it waves the wand of mystification over our senses, blinding us to the mines, the aquifers, the oil fields, the vegetable fields, the landfills, the seeds and chemicals required to sustain us. This enchantment is the first barrier to a reimagined faith, to placing ourselves once again in the world.

It must go.

 

 

Think Again

Beltane                                                                Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (1)Reimagining Faith has been a project of mine since I slipped out of the Unitarian Universalist world leaving behind both Christianity and liberal religion, the first too narrow in its theology, the second too thin a broth. The stimulation for the project lay first in a decision I made to focus on my Celtic heritage for the writing I wanted to do. This commitment led me to the Great Wheel of the Year and its manifestation literally took root in the work Kate and I did at our Andover home.

When we bought the house there, it sat on a lot with the usual scraped earth look of new home construction. It had no lawn, no trees in front, no soil adequate for growing flowers. We hired a landscape architect and added several thousand dollars to the mortgage for his work which included retaining walls, perennial beds, wild prairie on two sides of our house and tiered perennial beds in the back with a patio at their bottom. Our goal was to enjoy the landscaping throughout the time we owned the house. And we did.

2011 10 13_1265In retrospect our request to him to make it all as low maintenance as possible seems laughable. He did as we wanted, putting in such sturdy plants as Stella D’oro, a species of daylily, shrubs, a bur oak and a Norwegian pine, some amur maples, a hardy brand of shrub rose, juniper, yew, a magnolia that Kate wanted, and a river birch. This work included an in-ground irrigation system and the very strange experience of having no lawn until one morning when the sod people came and rolled it out. Then we had a lawn that evening.

2012 05 01_4112We looked at it, saw that it was good and thought we were done. Ha. It began with a desire for flowers. I wanted to have fresh flowers available throughout the growing season, so I studied perennials. At that time I thought I was still holding to the low maintenance idea. I would plant perennials that would bloom throughout the Minnesota growing season, roughly May 15 to September 15, go out occasionally and cut the blooms, put them in a vase, repeat until frost killed them all back. Then, the next year the perennials would return and the process would recur. Easy, right?

No. Gardens are alive. They are dynamic. Species of flowers have very different horticultural needs. Some, like the spring ephemerals, grow early to avoid the shade of leafed out trees and shrubs. Some, like bleeding hearts and hosta, require shade. Others, like iris, a particular favorite of Kate, need an application of a pesticide to eliminate iris borers. Others, like tulips, wear out in the harsh weather cycles common to Minnesota. Trees planted around the beds grow, too, changing the sun and shade areas from year to year. Soil gets depleted as plants take nutrients from it to fuel their growth. Different flowers require different sorts of soil, too.

06 20 10_Garden_0052Once this world opened up to us, we began to enjoy working with all these variables to create beauty around our home. Gardening for flowers, eh? Well, how about some vegetables. This led to a two-year project of cutting down thorny black locust, chipping the branches, then hiring a stump grinder. After this was done, Jon built us several raised beds. We filled them with good soil and compost. Tomatoes, potatoes, beans, garlic, leeks, onions, carrots, beets flourished. Vegetables, eh? Why not fruit and nuts?

400_late summer 2010_0163Ecological Gardens came in with permaculture principles and added apple trees, plums, cherry trees, pears, currants, gooseberry bushes, blueberry bushes and hawthorns. On the vegetable garden site they added raspberries, a sun trap for tomatoes, and an herb spiral. At that point then we were maintaining multiple perennial flower beds, several vegetable beds, fruit trees and the bees that I had started keeping.

We did later add a firepit and picnic area, but those were the main horticultural efforts. This was a twenty year long immersion in plants and their needs, the way the seasons affected them and our human responsibility for their care.

WheelofYear1GIFWhen I stepped away from the Presbyterian ministry after marrying Kate, the Celtic pagan faith reflected in the Great Wheel began to inform my theological bent more and more. What was to come in the place of the Christian path? Perhaps it was a way of understanding our human journey, our pilgrimage as part of the planet on which we live rather than as separate from it or dominate over it.

Wicca, though, and the various neo-pagan movements seemed thin to me, not without merit as earth-based faiths, but often filled with gimcrackery and geegaws rather than guidance for the next phase of human existence here. I began to wonder about an ur-faith, a way of believing, of being religious, that could exist alongside, even below the other faith traditions, some path that could put us back in the natural world (from which we have never actually removed ourselves) and in so doing undergird the kind of compassion for our planet that might save humanity.

This is the concept behind reimagining faith. Is it possible to create a framework for an earth-based faith that respects science, yet offers ritual and private contemplative practices? What would a book look like that attempts to create a theology, conceptual scaffolding for such a faith? I got this far a while ago. But something has stopped me from moving forward. This post is about poking myself to move forward.

HesseI have finished 7 novels and am nearing completion of an 8th. So I can work on a long term project and see it through to completion. I’ve also been part of creating several organizations still in existence in Minnesota, among them MICAH, Jobs Now, and The Minnesota Council of NonProfits (originally the Philanthropy Project). These, too, are long term efforts that I helped see to completion.

Over time I’ve also worked with several other institutions in various roles that lasted for years: the Sierra Club, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Citizens for a Loring Park Community, the Stevens Square Community Organization, the West Bank PAC and the West Bank Community Development Corporation, not to mention the Presbyterian Church and the Unitarian-Universalists.

2010 01 19_3455I’ve had less persistence in my two non-fiction writing projects: an ecological history of Lake Superior and Reimagining Faith. Not sure why. Getting started on the research and idea end was not a problem, I have file folders, bookshelves, posts here on Ancientrails and various sketches for outlines. But I’ve never sustained the push to finish.

My now year long immersion in Reconstructionist Judaism, studying first mussar (ethics) and now kabbalah, has caused several sparks to go off for the Reimagining Faith work. I’m beginning to feel the urge to commit substantial writing time, thinking time to this project. What I’d like to do is produce a book that would lay out the skeleton and put some flesh on it. At that point I’d like Reimagining to become a collaborative project with whomever feels an attraction to it.

So let be it said, so let it be done. Yul Brynner, the Ten Commandments.

Life. And Danger.

Beltane                                                                  Rushing Waters Moon

When the temperatures were in the teens below zero and winds whipped the trees, driving along a barren stretch of road meant a breakdown could kill you. That sensation is a major component of Minnesota macho, enduring the worst the north pole can throw at you. At times it was invigorating, at other times we were just glad to have survived it. It did make opening the door at home and going into a warm house a real joy.

mtn lion richmond hill march 9 2017This morning I fed the dogs as I usually do, but I left them inside, no longer willing to risk a mountain lion attack. Mountain lions add frisson to life in the Front Range Rockies. It’s similar to driving in well below zero weather.

It’s also different. In the instance of weather the danger is without intention, the cold does not care whether you live or die. The mountain lion cares. To the mountain lion our dogs are food, perhaps a day’s ration of calories. So are we. Though mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, they do happen and as development presses further and further into their territory the chance of an encounter, fatal or not, increases.

There are bears here, too. Unlike the mountain lion the bear will not hunt us, but if we interfere with a bear, say a sow and her cubs, she will hold her ground and defend her babies. Though the bear is not a predator of humans, they are a danger because an encounter can end in severe injury, even death.

BearMountain lions and bears, oh my, are not the only fauna here that can hurt you. At lower elevations there are timber rattlers. There are also black widow and brown recluse spiders, all venomous enough to cause great harm. In these hills we find not the sound of music, but the shake of a snake’s tail. Julie Andrews might not skip so blithely here.

Wild nature is neither our friend nor our enemy, whether it’s Minnesota cold or Rocky Mountain predators, Singapore heat, or California surf. We live out our short moment as reflective, aware extensions of the universe, as natural and as deadly as the mountain lion, as dangerous when surprised as the bear, as willing to defend ourselves with deadly force as the timber rattler, the black widow and the brown recluse.

It is fragile, doomed to fail, this mystery we call life. Yet while we have it, be we bear or mountain lion, rattle snake or poisonous spider, we fight to keep it, do whatever we need to do to survive. This is the harsh reality at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy*, a necessary part of existence we share with all living things. It is better, it seems to me, to be aware of our shared struggle, to see ourselves as fellow creatures. Yes, we can reflect on our struggle, but that fact does not make us better than our living companions, it only makes us different from them.

 

*maslow

Baphomet Among the Hay Rides of Belle Plaine

Beltane                                                                      Rushing Waters Moon

On occasion I would drive on Mn. Hwy. 169, not often, but once in awhile. What I remember most about this exurban community to the south of the Twin Cities is Emma Krumbee’s Restaurant. It’s a country style dining experience cohabiting with an apple orchard, hayrides and lots of cute candles, apple related gifts and smiling waitresses. It always reminded me of Morristown, Indiana where my mother was raised. Downhome, rural comfort food.

Emma Krumbee’s is in Belle Plaine, not a place I expected to see in the New York Times and, in particular, not a place I expected to okay a Satanic Temple Veteran’s Memorial. Read some material* about if from the Satanic Temple’s website.

This is a photograph of the proposed memorial from the same website.

satanictemplemonumentcropped

I like it. It’s spare, a bit ominous, but so is war.

I’m not sure what to make of the Satanic Temple itself. It looks a bit tongue in cheek with its Shop Satan webstore. Here are a couple of items from their webpage.

Baphomet_Candle_The_Satanic_Temple_large

BaphometStatue2017_large

BaphometStatue2017_large

 

*”The path was paved for this historic event when Belle Plaine displayed a distinctly Christian veterans’ memorial in their ‘remembrance park.’ In response to claims that Belle Plaine was preferencing one religion over others, the 2-foot steel cross was removed. Some residents protested the removal and urged the City to find a legal means to bring back the statue. The City responded by opening the park as a “limited public forum” where anyone, including Satanists, are welcome to donate monuments of their own.”

 

“The Belle Plaine city council was professional at all times. They adopted a clear set of guidelines which they adhered to. There was no push-back,” Greaves explained, “unlike some other localities where public office holders have wasted public funds in losing lawsuits, trying to gain unconstitutional exclusive privilege for their own prefered religious viewpoint. Belle Plaine recognized the legitimacy of our request and followed the law as it applies to public forums.”

 

“The Satanic veterans’ monument, a black steel cube adorned on each side with a golden inverted pentagram and adorned at the top with an empty soldier’s helmet, is expected to be installed on park grounds within the next couple of months.”

Naturally

Beltane                                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Upper Maxwell Falls

Upper Maxwell Falls

I’ve found the Colorado equivalent of Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA’s). Here they’re called Colorado Designated Natural Areas. “Designated Natural Areas contain a wide representation of Colorado’s ra​re plants and animals, unique plant communities, rich fossil locations, and geological features.” I enjoyed visiting these areas in Minnesota. Sounds like they’re a little more diverse here. Road trip!

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