We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Mountain Spirits

Lughnasa                                                                            Kate’s Moon

On Samain of 2014 I came up here to Shadow Mountain for the closing on our home. In the backyard of our new home three mule deer bucks greeted me. They were curious about me and I about them. We stood with each other for some time. The mountains had sent three spirits to welcome me.

They returned yesterday.

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Up Here

Lughnasa                                                                              Kate’s Moon

BaileyBailey, Colorado is about 20 miles west of us on Hwy. 285. It’s an up and down, winding path with vistas of the Continental Divide and several fourteeners including Mt. Evans, the weathermaker for our neighborhood here on Shadow Mountain.

Bailey is also the first, coming from the east, town in Park County, which abuts our own Jefferson County. That’s significant because the marijuana laws here in Colorado give counties the authority to accept or include dispensaries. Jefferson County, one of Colorado’s largest, has said no for now. Park County though, said yes. Kate and I make the journey to The Happy Camper, located just outside of Bailey, every once in awhile.

Entrance to the Sasquatch Museum

Entrance to the Sasquatch Museum

I went yesterday while Kate entertained the Needleworkers at our home. On a whim, after my visit to the Happy Camper I decided to satisfy my curiosity and visit the Sasquatch Outpost. It’s in Bailey, down the steep 7% grade known as Crow Hill, about six miles from the dispensary.

While there, I spoke to some folks, a couple of employees and two men who seemed to be hanging out, sussing out the level of credulity. Turns out it’s pretty high. Voicing the expected level of uncertainty, “Could be natural phenomenon,” one man, six foot two, white haired, well spoken, showed me on his phone a photograph he’d taken on a recent research trip with some Australians. It showed an Aspen bent in a 180 degree arc and, he said, “Fastened to the ground.” This Aspen had branches leaning up against it. When they do research, he and his buddy go to places that have what he described as a high incidence of such things.

Sasquatch Museum

Sasquatch Museum

When I asked why we didn’t have more information about the Sasquatch, he replied, “We do. There’s the BigFoot Field Researchers Organization. It has over 30,000 sightings graded A, B, C. With A the most reliable, C the least.” He recounted a recent Park County incident outside Shawnee, about 8 miles further west from Bailey, up the Ben Tyler trail. “Not all that far up. There’s six switchbacks before you get into the Lost Creek Wilderness. Guy saw a bigfoot right there only three switchbacks up.”

(the archways shown here are what the guy showed me on his phone.)

It would be exciting to have a North American ape living in our mountains. I found myself enthralled by the idea that out there, living a reclusive life like the pine martens and lynx and bobcats we rarely see, is an 8 foot, bipedal creature in our own evolutionary path. But. Geez. Seems far fetched to me. Still.

Oh, and there’s also this, more Bailey culture, a bit changed from the last time I posted a photograph of it. Trump inflected, I think. The America Will Act banner is new.

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Simcha

Lughnasa                                                                     Kate’s Moon

beautifulIt’s been a rainy, cold week here on Shadow Mountain. The dial on the various fire risk signs is either on low or moderate. Gotta love the monsoons. Yesterday we came home from Beth Evergreen and it was 71 in Evergreen, 60 at the house. Not very far mileage wise from Evergreen, but the altitude really makes a difference.

I’ve returned to a state of general well-being, forget why I veered off that course for a few weeks. Joy is around every corner these days from Kate’s progress in living with Sjogren’s Syndrome to Jon’s new house to our upcoming trip to Idaho for the eclipse. Rigel’s return to her young dog-on-the-hunt persona livens our day.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityRuth and I are going to the Fiske Planetarium tomorrow for a show on the moon. Kate will go along, as will Gabe. That way Jon can have time to work on the bench in the dining room. I’ll have a chance to stop at the Growing Kitchen‘s outlet store while Kate takes the kids elsewhere. The Growing Kitchen is a company that makes its edibles from the bud of the marijuana plant rather than from trimming created when the bud is processed for joints. I want to see if there’s a quality difference. Seems like there would be.

We’re also attending shabbat services tonight. It’s a “mostly musical” shabbat with all original music written by Rabbi Jamie. The poster for it reads: Is your Rabbi a rock star? Ours is! He’s a very talented guy, both musically and intellectually. Beth Evergreen has become a solid part of our lives, a community that always seems to make me feel better for having shown up. It actually is what the Christian church talks about as a beloved community. Interesting I had to go Judaism to find one.

 

Lughnasa 2017

Lughnasa                                                                              Kate’s Moon

Welcome to the season of the first harvests. Coincidentally, on the Jewish calendar, today is Tisha B’Av  the 9th of Av, a fast day that commemorates the destruction of the first temple by the Romans in 70 CE.

demeterThe proselytizing Roman Catholics gathered in Lughnasa and turned it into Lammas, a sabbat name used often in Wiccan circles, but in fact part of a persistent and largely successful attempt by the Catholic church to eliminate the old Celtic faith. Parishioners baked loaves of bread (lammas means loaf mass) from the first harvested grains and brought them to mass.

The Celtic cross-quarter holiday (comes between a solstice and an equinox or an equinox and a solstice) of Lughnasa marks the beginning of the harvest season. The harvest, on the Great Wheel, has three holidays: Lughnasa, Mabon (fall equinox) and the start of the Celtic new year, Samain, another cross-quarter holiday celebrated on October 31st. In other words from today through October 31st the ancient Celts reaped the results of the growing season, which began on May 1st at Beltane. Beltane and Samain are the original holidays of the early Celts, one marking the start of the growing season, the other its end. Samain means Summer’s End.

fiddledIMAG0591A glorious time of year when the crops were good, Lughnasa also kicked off a long succession of market days, actually weeks, when celebrations were common. The tradition of Lughnasa market days with their heaps of produce from gardens and fields came to the United States with the Celts who immigrated here, many into the Appalachian mountains where their culture fed folk music and crafts into the new country. Their Lughnasa celebrations, then known as fairs, are the genesis of county and state fairs.

Living in the mountains as I now do, the dominant agricultural/horticultural emphasis of the Great Wheel comes into sharp relief, no harvest here, except some hay from mountain meadows, and a few farmer’s markets with desultory goods. Yet. In places with little to no agriculture the results of the harvest season are even more important, though occurring far away. No food, no life.

20170730_150912Kate has a garden remnant doing surprisingly well. She got this plant from a project at Beth Evergreen and had me transplant it. We will have a bit of Lughnasa sometime soon, if the fruits on it ripen. If they don’t, we plan to have fried green tomatoes. Kudos to Kate for accomplishing a difficult feat at 8,800 feet, growing tomatoes. She’s my Demeter.

We’re laying in stores for the long fallow season ahead. Kate made peach honey yesterday from Western Slope peaches we purchased on a cool, rainy Saturday from the Knights of Columbus. They would have happily assisted the Romans in destroying the first Temple. The contradictions of life.

 

 

Less Angry

Midsommar                                                                 Kate’s Moon

johari windowOn the last night of kabbalah a classmate, Cece, chose for her presentation an exercise involving the Johari window. She had this model (illustration) with blank quadrants for each of us. We filled in 3-6 adjectives in the hidden self quadrant, then passed the paper to our left and others added adjectives in the open self quadrant.

It’s a powerful exercise when done in a safe setting. It was powerful here even though many of us had only the other 5 nights of our kabbalah class as baselines for our observations. The information other people give us about ourselves is key to life in groups, but most of the time the feedback involves glances, body language, or indirect observations. Getting direct information about how others see us can increase intimacy and trust. Not to mention that it’s just interesting.

PEACE DYERToo long introduction to the point. One of the others in the group wrote on my sheet, less angry. There were four people in the class who know me from the mussar class on Thursday afternoon and probably remember my agitation after the 2016 election. I was not and am not a happy U.S. citizen, but something has changed for me. I’m not sure what changed, but I am less angry, though I hadn’t realized it.

I did surprise myself a couple of weekends ago when we were in Glenwood Springs with Lonnie and Stefan. Over lunch they both expressed understandable and referented anger at Trump, at the decline of civility, at the danger facing our democracy. “He meets the definition of a fascist.” Stefan said.

“An election can fix most of what’s being done in Washington right now,” I replied. Stefan had quoted an Italian friend from Florence who said, “We had ours (Berlusconi) and know you have yours.” I agreed with that, going on, “Yes, the nativist and alt-right type movements are strong on the continent, but France just turned them back. And, Hillary won the popular vote here.”

peace“Well, what does that mean?” Lonnie asked, “The system elected Trump.” “The electoral college, yes.” I said, “But more people, some 3 million more, rejected him. He does not have a mandate.”

I think the gridlock and deadlock in D.C. right now reflects that rejection. We are a divided people, yes, but we’ve been divided before. We’re still the strongest economy in the world though by some measures China is catching up. Point is, I was voicing a don’t panic, don’t despair attitude toward our current political mess. I agree with the analysis that Trump is a disaster for our country. There’s no question that he and the Republicans are trying to take us to places as a people that are despicable and mean. True that.

But my anger at all of this has been tempered over the last couple of months. I’m just not as reactive. And I like feeling this way. My analysis has not changed, at least not much. I still view both parties as agents of a rapacious capitalism that creates false gods, false gods on whose altars their worshippers would sacrifice the very lives of our citizens. Just look at the idea of “reforming” Obamacare by gutting Medicaid.  With Medicaid expenditures out of the way, their plan goes, draconian tax cuts for the wealthy won’t break the Federal budget. Evil.

soul-mate-heartI still believe that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But for me, how to be part of the solution has changed, I think. Long, long ago I realized that my anger toward my father, whether justified or not, was hurting only me. Not him. I set it aside. Somehow the same realization occurred to me about politics and only recently. So, I set that anger aside, too.

Now the question for me is how to be part of the solution. I’ve always had a straight line approach to radical politics. Join up with others, focus on an issue at the root of a social ill and work until something good happens. It’s a strategy that has worked for me over and over since the mid-1960’s. I’m moving in a different direction now.

beautifulThis is in part a third phase change. The angry young radical has aged. I can see the finish line from here and want to make the time before my death as fruitful, loving and creative as I can. Anger interferes. I want to write, to spend time with Kate and Jon and Ruth and Gabe and Joe and Seoah, with friends at Beth Evergreen, friends from Minnesota, Mark and Mary. I want to study Latin, kabbalah, China, art. I want to hike in the mountains, travel this state, see the solar eclipse. Obsessing over the insults to our body politic just doesn’t seem useful to me right now.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityLiving well is a political statement I need to make. Politics, in other words, though crucial to our common life, is not the only component of a life well lived and should not be allowed to interfere with the very goal of politics itself: a decent life for all. In my case I’ve often allowed that interference and right now I’m saying enough. The priority for me, now, is this smaller life, the domestic and semi-public life of family and learning and creativity. Feels calmer, more livable, more age appropriate.

 

Easing Back

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

books and cupWith concern about my knee prosthetic assuaged, I’ve gotten a better workout routine going. It’s taken me awhile to match my new workout time, start between 9 and 10 am, with productivity on other projects like reimagining and a new novel, but I’m getting there.

Yesterday I printed out work on Loki’s Children, the second part of the Missing trilogy, and the Protectors, a nugget about a group called the Carthaginians. That gives me three stories to consider. I’m also going to through a file I have in Evernote called story ideas. Check out what I’ve been squirreling away for the past couple of years.

Reimagining work right now consists of scissors and a stapler: cutting up the printed out pages from ancientrails, stapling individual posts together, then filing them under the conceptual (chapter?) headings I’ve defined. I ended up with well over 200 printed pages so this is no small task.

kabbalahThe kabbalah class is over until after the high holidays, but I plan to read in both the first volume of the Zohar and the key work by Isaac Luria. No idea right now about how to organize that reading, but Rabbi Jamie will help. Kate and I continue to study mussar, the Thursday at 1 pm group grounding us in both Jewish ethics and a small community.

Sister Mary and her s.o. Guru will be here Tuesday through Thursday. They’re flying here from Tamil Nadu where Mary and her friend Anitha were presenting at a conference. Mary has a conference in L.A. beginning on Friday. She’s got lots of air miles to her credit.

Measure once. At least once.

Midsommar                                                                     Kate’s Moon

ted

So that happened. Ted of All Trades, a former Iowa handyman now living here, came over to install the 15,000 BTU air conditioner in the loft. The loft is 850 square feet so it has to be that big or it would run all the time. I researched this, found the right air conditioner, bought it and brought it home. Forgot one thing. “That’s a big box,” said Ted, a hyper masculine, shaved head, brawny guy. Oh. “You have 25″ of window and a 29 1/2″ air conditioner.” Oh. Right BTU, wrong size. 70 years old and I haven’t learned to measure things. So, back it goes. Not sure what I’m going to do to cool the loft now.

Ted does not impose a trip charge. “Nope, I don’t do that. I want to earn my money.” We then had a conversation about the mountain way when it came to trades. “I went to a customer’s house. Said I’d be there at 8 am, got there about 7:45. Knocked on the door.” He shook his head, “The guy came to the door and said, ‘Who are you?'” “Ted,” I said, “Ted of All Trades.” “Holy shit, I wasn’t expecting you until 9:30 or later.”

The Midwestern work ethic, especially one grounded in the agricultural ethos of Iowa, would chew up and spit out guys who don’t show up on time. Ted’s on time, start to finish attitude about his business has him booked until October in spite of having been in the mountains only a year.

Grief

Midsommar                                                                         Kate’s Moon

arid westWe’re grieving. Kate visited her rheumatologist yesterday. She has both Sjogren’s Syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. Eric told her that patients with Sjogren’s struggle in the arid west since it’s a disease that creates dryness in the mouth and the eyes. The low humidity here exaggerates and reinforces those symptoms. In addition both Sjogren’s and r.a. (rheumatoid arthritis) can sap energy, cause joint stiffness and generally make life difficult. “This is the new normal,” Kate said.

Jon also has multiple significant diseases: type 1 diabetes, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease (low production of cortisol), r.a. and has managed them very well. He’s 48 now and shows none of the sequelae normally associated with a long history of type 1 diabetes. These chronic conditions take up money, time and a lot of attention, requiring daily, and often more frequent than that, self-care.

grief-quotes-quotes-about-griefLife is different now and will remain that way, that’s what we’re grieving. We had hoped there would be some medicine, some procedure, some magic that would put these insults behind us, but no.

Most of us, by the time we reach our seventies have some cluster of physical irritations and annoyances: hearing loss, kidney disease, bad joints, high blood pressure, generalized anxiety disorder, for example. If we’re lucky, we can absorb these changes, mitigate their problems and live our lives in spite of them. There is, however, always a period of adjustment, of realization that, yes, this body or this psyche has a now permanent malfunction, a condition of dis-ease.

They are reminders, often not gentle, that someday, sometime, something will end it all. The grief involved in these lesser problems is a precursor to the larger grief, the loss not only of function, but of life itself. If we let them, these short of fatal conditions can teach us how to confront and absorb the larger grief.

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.

Organ Recital

Midsommar                                                                      Most Heat Moon

dodge-a-bullet-illusOrgan recital: Kate does not have throat cancer. Didn’t know that was what Dr. James Chain, an ENT, was thinking until he eliminated the idea yesterday. Nothing quite like dodging the metaphorical bullet you didn’t even hear fired. Her sense of smell, adumbrated, and her sense of taste, flattened, however, may not return. Tough for weight loss. If food doesn’t taste-bad or good, it’s not appealing. We’re working right now to figure out what she can taste so we can emphasize them in our menu choices and cooking.

My knee. Well, in short, nothing wrong. Dr. Peace, he of the elfin ears and round face, said, “Ligaments feel good, strength is good. You have more flexibility than 90% do at this point. You’re good.” Kate asked, “Can he kneel to weed?” “Oh, yes.” Me, “Oh, no.” This because I have significant pain when I kneel on my left knee. “For some reason,” Dr. Peace said, “50% of knee replacement patients report pain on kneeling. 50% don’t. We don’t know why.” Oh.

Dr. Peace says that short of blunt force trauma: ski accident, automobile crash, a bad fall I can’t hurt the prosthetic. “It’s designed for you to be active.” That’s good news because it means I can challenge it as much as I can stand.

Knee X-ray image after a total knee replacement operation. The diseased knee joint is replaced with artificial material (White parts). Frontal view and side-view.

Knee X-ray image after a total knee replacement operation. The diseased knee joint is replaced with artificial material (White parts). Frontal view and side-view.

It was my knee prosthetic’s moment on the big screen. The x-ray screen. In scales of gray and white I could see the anchoring bolt dug deep into my tibia and the large lunette window shaped chunk attached somehow to my femur. Glue was mentioned. Say what? Most weird of all though, my knee cap floated free, a sort of slightly flattened disc which looked as if it wanted distance from the rest of this oh so necessary joint.

In short, good news all round. We celebrated with a meal at RICE Sushi and Bistro not far from Dr. Chain’s office. The temperature was a Minnesotan frying 95 degrees, but as we climbed the mountains of the Front Range we got down to a more bearable 77 at home.

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