We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

When it rains…

Fall                                                                                     Healing Moon

Two days ago

Two days ago

9 degrees here on Shadow Mountain with snow blowing in the air. A bit unusual since snow most often comes straight down up here, like rain. The storm has underperformed for us, but it’s here and I like it. Black Mountain is gone, disappeared by the gray blue clouds.

Without going into details that shouldn’t be in writing yet, Jon is in trouble again. To say that this is bad timing colossally understates the case. Kate’s in a delicate moment of her recovery. The stakes this time, as they were last, are very high: custody of his kids, his job, his ability to pay his mortgage and therefore to keep his house. He and the kids were up here yesterday when he got a call from the Denver Police and had to return home.

Not sure what to do, not sure there’s anything I can or should do other than support him emotionally. I’m not making any assumptions about the situation, about his “guilt” or innocence. I don’t understand it very well and it’s intricately complicated. I do know that the implications are dire.

punta arenas

punta arenas

Spoke with Kate yesterday afternoon and her heartburn/nausea from a breakfast without ativan prior to eating has passed. She and her body are trying to figure out a new way to live together, to become healthy again. Not easy after the insults of the last couple of weeks. She’s determined, stubborn and this last trait will mostly serve her well right now.

A mutual friend from CBE, Rick Levine, will bring a meal to Brookdale today at 4:30 p.m. I’m sure that’s well beyond whatever traffic difficulties the current storm will bring.

New snow tires, Blizzaks, purchased last month, sit in the garage still bound together from shipping. I mean, it’s mid-October! I’m not unhappy about that. It’s unlikely this presages the full on beginning of snow season. November, even late November, makes more sense as a time to have them installed. The reason I buy snow tires, even though good all-seasons would probably suffice in this milder winter climate, is that Kate and I are older drivers and need all the extra advantages we can get. I leave the lights on during the day for the same reason, that additional clue to others that we’re coming.

 

 

A Fortnight Ago

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

moon waxingAs I drove home yesterday from Brookdale Green Mountain Rehab, the healing moon was a sickle in the evening sky with gaseous Jupiter a planetary pendant sparkling beneath. This morning as I walked up to the loft Orion stood tall in the southern sky, guarding the entrance to winter, to the fallow time.

All this week we’ve had fog, sometimes up here on Shadow Mountain, more often after Aspen Park on the way down the hill on 285. Fog presents the mountains like a fan dancer, revealing this patch of rock and ponderosa pine, only to conceal it and reveal a gulch filled with a lower down cloud. The interplay of climate, weather and mountains. Beautiful.

at Brookdale

at Brookdale

A new phase of Kate’s ordeal has begun, a more upbeat one, but one that will demand a lot, too. In the first phase she had to endure, now she will have to act. Eat. Exercise. Eat. Exercise. Sleep. Repeat. She’s ready, but also tired, drained. Down to 80 pounds.

I’m putting my toe back in the water at CBE. Alan Rubin and I will visit Kate this morning at 9:30, then have some time together to plan next week’s religious school session. I feel a need to get myself out of the drive in, drive back, take care of the dogs, sleep cycle I’ve felt necessary for the past two weeks. Not all the way out, just far enough to reengage, to connect with both my commitments and folks I care about who care about Kate and me.

Don’t know how long Kate will be at Green Mountain, but I imagine it will be longer than I assumed. She looked frail, but determined when I saw her in her new spot. She’ll need that. A new cycle will probably emerge from this new living situation for her.

 

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

Hard freeze. 23 this morning with some snow, mostly ice. A neighbor reported on Next Door Shadow Mountain that Shadow Mountain, 285 and even 470 were icy and in thick fog. Bad driving. But, poor conditions for a wildfire. That’s something.

Ode's portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Ode’s portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Feeling a bit down this morning. Nothing 12 days of Kate’s hospitalization + general exhaustion doesn’t explain. We’ve both been thinking about death. She told me yesterday if things go south that her friend (and mine) Jamie Bernstein can take care of all her sewing stuff. I handled that poorly. “I don’t want to hear that. That’s not what you want is it?” “No,” she said. But she had breached that barrier and I pushed it away, out of my own fear, I suppose. Gonna rectify that today.

I’ve slept in our bed now for 12 nights without her there. She’s gone from the house and her absence is palpable, a thing in itself. She’s not on the bench in the morning. Not in her chair in the evening. Her sewing machine is back from the repair folks, but sits still in its rolling container. No hugs. No I love you’s before leaving and on return. Nothing can, in fact, be something.

Thoughts of a permanent absence, death, come easily in this situation. I don’t shove them away, I don’t embrace them. I acknowledge them as the mind running scenarios, what ifs, based on current reality. I also imagine her return, negotiating the steps, setting up the bedroom and the downstairs for her. All part of the I don’t like surprises part of the mind. A survival tool that can seem cold, unfeeling. It’s not. Just stuff that needs consideration, not rejecting.

Yamantanka

Yamantanka

Yamantaka teaches us that considering our own death in an unblinking way can cure our fear of it. I both believe that and believe I have reached that point in my own soul. I suppose there’s an analog here about Kate’s death. Hers is as inevitable as mine. And, considering it doesn’t make it more or less likely. It simply means that I’ve accepted an assured reality though the timing is, as always, unknown.

OK. That’s out in the open. Not an obsession. What’s happening occasionally.

Another hard part right now is odd. On Friday we’ll be at two weeks since Kate went into the E.R. Am I supposed to collect myself, get back in the groove, accept this bifurcated existence, her in medical care, me at home? I definitely have to spend time tomorrow sorting through the bills and starting to pay them. Something she does.

I’ve been cooking, doing laundry, keeping the house picked up, feeding the dogs, playing with them, driving in to see Kate, trying to keep up with the medical information. But, I’ve set aside working out. Gonna pick that back up today or tomorrow. I’ve set aside teaching in the religious school, attending mussar or the adult ed committee. I canceled the first Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler.

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

I’m struggling with what’s a normal response in an abnormal situation. Is it ok to just focus on the domestic, on Kate and on home? Or, do I rob myself of the emotional support I’d get from being back in the mix at CBE? What about the things I’ve agreed to do?

Or, am I too soon in thinking about any of this? How will I know? A sort of strange twilight right now, matters shrunk down to the nub, life at its most basic with questions of health, the future, even death in every moment.

Let me finish with this. I am not depressed. Even my slight down feeling I mentioned earlier has lifted somewhat as I’ve written myself into my current reality, leaving it all out there, not hiding. This is my life and unless my health changes it will be my life until clarity declares itself either toward Kate’s recovery or a continued decline, perhaps even death.

uncertaintyEnd note. I realized as I wrote that last paragraph that a key sticking point right now is uncertainty. Will Kate’s various medical issues resolve? That is, will she get well enough to leave for rehab? If so, when? If she’s in rehab, how long? How much care will she need when she comes home? I’m not wracked by any of these questions, but they illustrate the fundamental issues in play right now, with no clarity about any of them available. That’s what makes knowing how I might react so difficult right now.

 

 

Clouds

Fall                                                                              Harvest Moon

20180906_165554Clouds. So. Clouds at 9,000 feet. In Minnesota, in the flatlands, this sounds normal. There they are, fluffy, white, cotton balls against blue. However. When you live at 8,800 feet, clouds at 9,000 feet means fog. Or, like this morning. I drove down to Aspen Park, about 800 feet lower than us. Fog there. Clouds at 8,000 feet. Things considered usual for 69 years now quite different. Odd.

The Laramide Consolation

Fall                                                                          Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Reminded yet again of the evanescence of our human life span. As I’ve driven 285 down the hill into Englewood and back up again, some days two and three times in the last week (today is a week from Kate’s trip to the E.R.), I’ve become aware of the mountains in a new way. Always I pay attention to them, rocky outcroppings of gneiss and marble, sandstone, carved by small, powerful streams and covered with lodgepole pine, ponderosa, aspen, shrubby oak. The exposed layering, sometimes all aslant, sometimes straight up and down, and in at least one very beautiful, curious instance, curved like wooden planks bent for canoe hulls, lies open like a literal book of the ages.

The new part of my experience is this, motion and upheaval. Mountains are stolid, perhaps they define stolid in a way most earthly features do not. They stay there, the same each day, Black Mountain’s peak still in the same place as it has been since we moved here four years ago. But there is that spot, just before Hwy 470, where 285 slices between the hogbacks*, then the mountains are gone, receding in the mirror as I drive on east at the very end of the Midwest, the last hurrah of the great plains.

hogbackIt is there, right there. Between 80 and 85 million years ago the Laramide orogeny found tectonic plates crushing against each other in that slowest of slow dances, continental formation and reformation. The result here at the hogbacks and all along the long collection of peaks and valleys we know as the Rocky Mountains shoved formerly settled layers of the earth’s crust into the air, up from the subsurface. The power and violence of the orogeny ripples past me, past all of us on 285, especially at the cut just before it dips under 470.

Apparently immobile now, the hogbacks steeply upthrust layers show the direction of its unearthing, no longer laid down below an ancient ocean’s floor, but blinking slowly like a lithic lizard gazing at the unexpected sun. I have no trouble seeing it slowly emerge, pushed up, up, up as forces way beyond human imagining tore it out of its dark home. 80 million years ago.

And here we are, tiny creatures in small metal containers passing back and forth through it, living our 70 or 80 or 90 years, then disappearing from existence. Let’s say 80 years for ease of calculation. At 80 million years ago that’s 1,000,000 human lifetimes. I would have to live and die 1,000,000 times to know the earth like those hogbacks.

shiva nata raja, Shiva Lord of the Dance

shiva nata raja, Shiva Lord of the Dance

Four years ago I wrote about the consolation of Deer Creek Canyon during my episode of prostate cancer. It was a similar feeling and I’m calling this the Laramide Consolation. Our days are precious, our lives unique, our presence in the universe irreplaceable. Just like the hogbacks. We, all features of cosmic evolution, wink in and out of existence, even the Laramide Orogeny being a mayfly moment compared to the creation of our planet and its creation a blink compared to the creation of the solar system and so on back in infinite regress until that thunderous blaze of first light.

The consolation here, at least for me, is to know that our life and death expresses what the Hindus call Shiva, the ongoing destructive and creative forces that underlie all. Death is not, in other words, a cruel punctuation, but a delicate force that refreshes and renews. Our consciousness of it, of course, colors our experience but in no way changes its necessity and its pervasiveness. There will never, never be anything like true immortality, nor, if we are sane creatures, should we reach for it.

*In geology and geomorphology, a hogback or hog’s back is a long, narrow ridge or a series of hills with a narrow crest and steep slopes of nearly equal inclination on both flanks.

 

Still ongoing

Fall                                                                          Harvest Moon

Tuesday

Tuesday

Clouds have begun to creep down Black Mountain while sunlight bathes its slopes facing us, lighting up the golden patches of aspen. Another of Black Mountain’s infinite looks. She’s a lady who dresses for the season and often appears mysterious, as she does right now.

Kate had an abdominal x-ray, an ultrasound of her arm, and began to receive nutrition through a mid-line. I’m glad because she’s had no food, except one clear liquid meal, since last Thursday. Her hemoglobin was up yesterday though some bleeding was ongoing. Contradictory (at least to me), so not sure what to make of it.

Learned yesterday that she’ll not be coming straight home from the hospital but will go to a subacute (whatever that means) rehab center, probably one in Littleton. Again, not sure why, though I imagine it’s because she’s been in bed so long and will need some physical therapy.

Surgical waiting room on Sunday

I’m cautiously optimistic though so far it seems to be forward and backward with her. We’re still not sure why she bled or from where. The nausea, which has been a cruel insult given her past six months or so, seems to be from her bowels not functioning.

The surgeon ordered a sort of lidocaine bath for the surgery site, surrounding the bowels in this non-opiod pain reliever. She’d been getting dilaudid, but any opium derived pain reliever tends to impede bowel function. Complicated and tricky caring for her.

Mountain spirit visiting

Mountain spirit visiting

And, yes, I’m pretty weary. Annie, sister-in-law, will be here tomorrow. She will be able to manage the dogs so I’m not feeling I should be home when I’m at the hospital and at the hospital when I’m home. I have been eating well, sleeping as much as I can, trying to create a regular routine so the dogs have a semblance of normal. But, that’s all I’ve been doing. At some point I have to pay bills, exercise, do grocery shopping. I have done some laundry.

One really big plus this time around is that we have a functioning dishwasher. When Kate went in for shoulder surgery in April, our dishwasher had just died and it took almost her entire recovery period to replace it. Having dirty dishes in the sink was a drag on the heart.

That’s the Shadow Mountain report for yesterday, October 3rd.

Mabon, 2018

Mabon                                                                      Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

As I type the heading here, I can look up and see the aspen groves near the peak of Black Mountain. Like golden islands in a dark green ocean. Part of the ever changing beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Mabon is the second harvest holiday and comes on the autumnal equinox. (The rising sun has just hit the aspen grove, now it looks like molten gold.) If you lived in a subsistence farming economy, as most humans did in Europe only a few centuries ago, then what happened on and around this holiday would have meant the difference between life and death in the fallow months ahead. No wonder the market days were so important, so filled with ritual and fun.

mabon-greeting-cardWhat did you plant in the first and second phases of your life that’s coming to fruition right now? Tom. Bill. Mark. Paul. Will you dance around a bonfire? Alan. What will sustain you in the fallow months when work in the fields is done? The loves and passions of your earlier life might do it. Might not. Is there a new field, one that can be worked with the experience and skills available to you? What will you harvest in the third phase of your life?

This harvest holiday I’ve been nostalgic about combines and corn pickers, hay balers and grain trucks, the tall elevators waiting for grain, the train cars waiting to move it. That was my flatlander past. What is the new harvest, the one lived among mountains, streams, mule deer and elk?

mabon8

“The Harvest Moon” by Samuel Palmer

Turns out it has some resonance with crops I’ve planted before. Kate. Family. Friends. Writing. Reading. Religion. Art. Music. Dogs. Closeness to the non-human natural world. But, there are also new crops, most new varieties of old ones, new strains. Judaism. The montane ecosystem. Beth Evergreen friends. Noticeable aging. Submitting work, a true harvest. Making art, sumi-e, playing with colors. This pack of dogs: Gertie, Rigel, Kepler. A married Joseph and SeoAh. A divorced Jon. The grandkids.

Someday, soon or late, the reaper will come for me, harvesting another of this strange fruit, humankind. Each day, think of it, that reaper gathers in a new harvest of souls. And how little we know of that harvest. Do our deaths nourish the universe as our harvests in life have nurtured others? Perhaps.

May you have a pleasant and bountiful Mabon season. Harvest home is near. Enjoy it.

 

 

Before the Fall

Lughnasa                                                         Harvest Moon

taken around Beth Evergreen before Yom Kippur services, 2018

20180919_090427 20180919_090827 20180919_090613 20180919_090653 20180919_090935 20180919_091257 20180919_091357 20180919_091017

 

Oh

Lughnasa                                                             Harvest Moon

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Black Mountain, yesterday. From Shadow Mtn. Drive

Tomorrow we peek over the transom toward the fallow season. Six more weeks of harvest,  the heart of the harvest season is now, then Samain, summer’s end. Up here the temperature cooled off overnight and we’re at 35 degrees right now, getting close to a first frost. There’s even a small hint of snow for next Wednesday. As I wrote earlier, Pike’s Peak and the much closer Mt. Rosalie had snow last week. Happy with the change.

Deb Brown, my personal trainer at On the Move Fitness, really made me feel good yesterday. “You move better than most of the 30 & 40 year olds I see. And, you’re strong.” She was sincere and I was touched. I told her about the odd finding I got from the 23&me folks; I have the same genetic muscle profile as elite power athletes. “Well, you’re capitalizing on it.” “My wife said, ‘What happened?” “Tell to her to ask you that again when you’re 108!” We laughed. Left me smiling.

book of lifeThe book of life closed on Wednesday. It was a fast day, unusual in Judaism which finds asceticism puzzling, but on this day, once a year, there is a fast for the whole of Yom Kippur*. That’s from evening to evening. The point is to make us tune into our bodies, to remember that the body carries our soul, and to make the final push for teshuvah, return to the holy soul our body carries.

OK. I’ll admit I surprised myself, right here, with this keyboard. It happens, but not often like this. I wrote “make us tune in to our bodies.” Oh. It may be, as Bill Schmidt suggested obliquely earlier this month, that this Jewish experience runs deeper than I’m admitting.

*“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough,” Jewish educator Aliza Bulow explains on Aish.com.

Although there are medical exceptions to fasting, the Yom Kippur tradition dates back to biblical times, according to Chabad.org. When the Jewish people were wandering in the desert for 40 years after enslavement in Egypt, they worshiped a golden calf — which is contradictory to the religion’s monotheistic tenets — and Moses went to Mt. Sinai to ask for God’s forgiveness. Moses came down from the mountain after God forgave (them) him, and that day became known as Yom Kippur. The tradition of Yom Kippur continued when the Jews reached the land of Israel — Jews gathered in the first two temples until they were destroyed — and persisted again when they were ultimately exiled and dispersed across the globe.Time

 

Eternal Return

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

mabonLughnasa and the Harvest Moon. We are in the season of reaping what has been sown. From the first of August or so until Samain on October 31st gathering in is the main theme on the Great Wheel. The fall equinox, Mabon, is near. September 22nd. It comes with the Harvest Moon, that fluke of planetary dynamics that has lit up farm fields at just the right moment for as long humans have been farming.

No longer a Midwesterner, I don’t see the combines in the long rectangles of wheat, the corn pickers going through the tall stands of sturdy green, the hay balers saving alfalfa and timothy for feed. There are no ads here for hay rides through the apple orchards, no pick your own gardens for late season fruits. That sort of agriculture depends on rain and once past the 100th parallel, oops now the 105th as the arid West creeps eastward across the Great Plains, average rainfall becomes less, often much less than 20 inches a year.

Here fall and Mabon announce themselves in the gold of the aspen, jewel like groves set among larger stands of forever green lodgepole pine. Along the mountain streams Maxwell, Cub, Bear some dogwood flashes bright red. Low lying marshy areas turn a green gold and the cattail spikes stand proudly. Too, the mule deer and elk begin to come down from their summer fields, following food. There will be, in a week or two, the elk rut, with that strangled sound the bull elks make, a bugle. There will also be many more tourists here this week and next. The come for the jewels on the mountain sides, scenes I can see from my study window.

great wheel3The Great Wheel turns, but its turning is the original local expressing a universal. Here the golden aspen in the Midwest the great harvest machines lumbering through fields. In the Midwest stunning colors here a dichromatic palette. How the harvest season manifests depends on weather and here in the Rockies altitude. Pikes Peak and Mt. Rosalie near Bailey, for instance, have already had their first snow, passing out of the harvest season.

The expression of the season also depends on the plant species that have adapted themselves to a particular locale. One dominant deciduous tree, the aspen, makes our montane ecosystem much different from the remnants of the great woods that dominates the Midwest. Then there are the animals. Pheasants in the Dakotas and Nebraska. Elk and mule deer on the Front Range. Coordinates matter, too. Fall is different here at latitude 39 degrees than in, say, Warroad, Minnesota at 49 degrees. The other marker, the longitude, we’ve already referred to.

green knight

green knight

I celebrate the turning of the wheel, await its changes with anticipation. There is comfort, at least to me, in the regularity and predictability of the seasons. They tell me that time is not linear, that it is instead a spiral, cork-screwing its way through spacetime. They tell me that eternal return is written into the way of the universe, that even our life and its mayfly like time compared to the mountains on which I live, is, too, part of a great coming and going, a leaving and coming home. Somehow, through some mechanism now hidden to me, this life I’ve lived will matter and its significance, like your own, will revisit humanity, tempered and changed by the seasons of the universe. I suppose, in this way, we are all immortal, at least until the cold death of this cosmos. But, perhaps, even in that case, we will live on in one of the infinite multiverses, offering our harvest of human consciousness to feed other souls.

 

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