We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

So cold

Samain                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

668-zero-630x522The great wheel has turned again, moving Orion further down the southwestern horizon in the early morning. The air is cooler here. A Beth Evergreen friend, Alan, came in to the kabbalah class and announced, “Winter is really here. It’s so cold outside!” It was 22. Now in my fourth winter season here I’ve stopped commenting.

Temperature tolerance is so much about perspective. I saw a meme on Facebook that featured two parka clad folk with frost on the edges of their hoods. “What people in Texas are like if the temperature dips below 80.” A man from Texas wrote, “This is true.” Another posted a photograph of a red bench rest with two snow flakes, “It’s a blizzard in Dallas!”

faith-in-what-will-beThose -40 degree nights at Valhelga during one Woolly retreat. Working out on my snowshoes in the woods behind the library in Anoka, -20 degrees. The moments of -50 degree wind chill. Days with the temperature below zero, many days in a row. Minnesota. Not a lot of snow, but pretty damned cold.

And, yes, my body has begun to change its reaction, 22 does seem cold. Yet my brain. Nope. T-shirt weather. Rock the sandals and the shorts.

The Winter Solstice, no matter what the temperature, is coming. My favorite time of the year.

What we see

Samain                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

Mist last month, Black Mountain

Mist last month, Black Mountain

The nearly full bare aspen moon stood over Shadow Mountain drive last night, bright and low enough to be poked by the lodgepole pine. Full moons up here alter the appearance of the mountains, sometimes putting them in lunar shadows, dark silhouettes against the late evening sky, and shining their ghostly light into clearings and onto roadways. They also light up the eyes of animals wandering through the Arapaho National Forest or crossing the road: mountain lions, mule deer, elk, black bear.

When I was a flatlander, I imagined mountains as always the same, like the Matterhorn, tall and rocky, always tall and rocky. Or, Mt. Everest, always snowy and cold. Now that I’m a mountain man I know they change appearance many times during each day and from season to season. The beauty of the mountains is usually stark, but stark for different reasons: snow one day, hoar frost on another, golden aspens one season, bare aspen in another.

Later in November

Later in November

Mountain streams like Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek, Shadow Brook run fast and full in the late spring, slower during the summer and often freeze over in the winter. There are, also, particularly this close to Denver, seasonal fluctuations in traffic on mountain roads. When Kate and I moved here in December of 2014, we saw signs that said Heavy Roadside Activity. We couldn’t imagine what meant. Lots of earth moving equipment? Animals? It wasn’t until spring that parking at trail heads along our drive down to Evergreen began to fill up with cars, then spill over to the roadside and fill even what we came to recognize as overflow parking lots that had been covered by snow.

Right now? Invisible. It’s dark. No mountains out there according to my eyes.

Mystifying Move

Samain                                                                             Bare Aspen Moon

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

A friend wrote that he found our move here mystifying. No doubt. At age 67 and 70 respectively Kate and I left our lifetime home, the American Midwest (except for her brief sojourn in Houston), flat and humid, for the Rocky Mountains, high and arid. We had built a substantial life based on flat and humid, lots of horticulture, a woods of our own, plenty of space for our big dogs to roam. There was room in the Andover house for Kate’s sewing, my books and writing, an exercise space, a kitchen and dining area that worked for us.

We both had professional and friendship links of over 40 years in Minnesota. We made consistent use of the many cultural assets in the Twin Cities, having met at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. We attended the Guthrie and other theater and musical events. I was a docent and guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for 12 years with frequent visits to the Walker, the Russian Museum and led a group that made monthly visits to quirky art related venues. Political engagement over a long period of time had, at the point of the move, led me to the Sierra Club where I helped work on the legislative program.

In other words we were both literally and figuratively well-rooted.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Workshops intervened. Progoff was a psychoanalyst in the Jungian tradition, the same theoretical framework used by my long time personal analyst, John Desteian. I first attended a Journal workshop in 1988 in southern Wisconsin. It altered my perception of the world through a six day process of guided meditations, journal writing guided through Progoff’s books and by a skilled facilitator. From this first one I developed a mantra, Stream flowing, White Pine rooting, that I used for decades in personal meditation. At a second Journal Workshop in Georgia, I deepened my appreciation of these workshops. They have an uncanny way of illuminating the current moment of my life in a way that’s both connected to the past, yet focused on the future.

Progoff’s intention is that the Journal be a source of continuing self-analysis. You learn the method at a workshop, then continue to use in daily life. I’ve found the journals too unwieldy for daily use, but the Journal workshops themselves transformative. I hope to attend one next year to get more insight into our life after the move.

IMAG0096It was the Tucson workshop that triggered the move. I say triggered advisedly because it shifted my sense of priorities after Kate’s retirement. Up till then the long, well-established roots I mentioned earlier made leaving Minnesota unthinkable to me. We had seriously discussed a move to Duluth, to Hawaii and often, to Colorado, but for me Minnesota’s thumb on the scale proved decisive. How could I leave the Woolly Mammoth’s, my men’s group of over 25 years at that point? How could I leave the political work and the work at the MIA? How could we leave our gardens and orchard, the bees?

However the various exercises in the Tucson workshop led me down a different path. First, it established clearly that my life phase that time, March/April of 2014, was defined by Kate’s retirement. It allowed me, encouraged me, to go into that phase with clearer eyes, to consider what our mutual life could mean now that she was free of daily work. With the exception of Anne, Kate’s sister who lives in Waconia, our family had moved on, both boys having left for Colorado, Jon around 2000, Joseph in 2005. Though Joseph had since joined the Air Force and left Breckenridge, Jon married and had two children.

Ruth and Gabe were 7 and 5, turning 8 and 6 the month of the Journal workshop. I planned to make a visit on the way home, driving from Tucson to Denver to surprise Ruth for her birthday. This meant the grandkids were on my mind.

Ruth, late March, 2014

Ruth, late March, 2014

I sensed, in meditation and through writing occasioned by the workshop’s flow, that our family’s center of gravity had shifted, for good, to Colorado. Both Jon and Joseph moved to Colorado for the skiing. Joseph would likely return to Colorado after his time in the Air Force (it seemed like that then, maybe not quite as much now) and our grandchildren were young. If we stayed in Minnesota, we would see them only occasionally and have little chance to play much of a role in their maturation.

This realization, that our family had shifted its home base from Minnesota, which we both loved, to Colorado, made me think moving to Colorado made some sense. Kate had gotten there long before me, so when I raised the question on my return, a decision to leave came quickly. We soon had a realtor, began making regular trips to G-Will Liquors for boxes and purchased colored tape.

First project, fence for the dogs

First project, fence for the dogs

Living in the mountains, at altitude, had three main drivers. The first was free air-conditioning. “If there’s no snow (or rain) falling from the sky and you’re not in a cloud, then the temperature decreases by about 5.4°F for every 1,000 feet up you go in elevation.” on the snow. So you can do the math for 8,800 feet. The second was to live in a distinctly different environment from our Midwestern home. Denver didn’t meet this criteria since it’s at what I consider the western terminus of the Midwest, where the plains wash up against the Front Range of the Rockies, and it’s a metro area, therefore not very different in kind from the Twin Cities. The third was to put some distance, though not too much, between us and the grandkids. We didn’t want to be used as babysitters, but to be available as grandparents.

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

This latter desire on our part, to engage the grandkids, but not be engulfed by them, was a distinct point of conflict with Jen, Jon’s then wife. She complained, from the first time we decided on Black Mountain Drive, that we were living too far away. No matter how often we pointed out that we had moved 900 miles closer, she always came back to how far away we were. While we understood her point, it was exactly that sort of attitude that had made us choose some distance.

So we moved to the mountains on the Winter Solstice of 2014, barely 9 months after the workshop in Tucson. We came into alignment as the workshop changed my attitude toward the relative virtues of staying in Minnesota or being close to the grandkids. In effect, it brought me around to Kate’s thinking.

 

Saws and Paws

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

20151013_112839Down the hill to Aurora yesterday afternoon. Newly spruced up (ha) chainsaw, limbing ax, pole saw, loppers, Swede saw, fuel for the chainsaw and bar and chain oil were on a tarp in the Rav4. Cleared out some overgrown shrubbery, cut down three scrubby trees and trimmed up small trees grown into the chain link fence on the south side of Jon’s new place. Also removed some dead wood. Had to leave a couple of dead trees. I didn’t know how to take them down without taking out the neighbor’s wooden fence at the same time.

Rigel went with me, sitting in the backseat, sometimes her head between the front seats, looking, looking, always looking. She spent most of the time I was there with Ruth, who was reading on the bed in her room. Gabe came out and helped me move a dead tree limb. He also offered advice on cutting limbs off a tree in the corner of the property. “Use the chainsaw, grandpa.” “Using a chainsaw overhead is dangerous, Gabe. I might cut my head off.” “Oh.”

Jon had lumber out, building a table in his backyard. He ran boards through a planer, nailed pieces together. Measured twice. Cut once with his power saw. In his kitchen there are no appliances. He and his friend Max deconstructed the kitchen a month or so ago and moved the appliances into the living room. Jon is at the point of installing douglas fir strips from a former museum as a new kitchen floor. In Ruth’s room he’s building a loft bed, in Gabe’s a desk. He loves making things and he’s good at it.

20170928_172531At 5 pm Jen came and picked up Ruth and Gabe for their week with her. “Bet it’s lonely when they leave, Jon.” “Actually it’s sort of a relief.” Single parenting is hard. I remember that feeling of relief when Joseph returned to Raeone’s, though my joy at his return was much greater.

Rigel and I drove back as the clouds turned red, then pinkish-orange, gray, then disappeared in the darkness of night. The lights of the Denver metro twinkled from the vantage point of Highway 285. The large lit cross positioned on the side of a mountain where the foothills begin shone out at us, a familiar landmark now. The humorists at the Colorado D.O.T. are at work again. The led sign just before 285 begins to climb read its usual: Watch for rocks and wildlife. But, it then blinked, changing the wording to: “Be aware. Falling rocks have the right-of-way.” Mountain humor.

 

 

Hooray for the Pumpkin Pie

Samain                                                                      Bare Aspen Moon

20171123_063842

My phone camera didn’t do it justice, but Thanksgiving came in over Black Mountain with a gorgeous pink cloud, a penumbra of gold light on Black Mountain itself and a glow over our home. May the rest of the day, and especially the capon, be as beautiful.

Finished the pancetta and fig stuffing by celebrity felon, Martha Stewart, last night. It smells like it will be as good as I imagined. The capon-yes, we have it-thawed out and will go in the oven around 11:00 a.m. Kate made a pumpkin pie and got the caramelized yams ready. Ruthie’s pecan pie is covered in foil. She’s also bringing deviled eggs. They’re planning on coming up around noon or so.

Last night, for some strange reason, the neighbor had his sledge hammer out, using it to pound on a plastic garbage container. For quite a while. Don’t know if his mother or his mother-in-law or both are coming today.

thanksgiving-farm-harvest-postcard

We will be saying our gratefuls around 2 p.m. I’m grateful for you if you’re reading this. I’m also grateful for all the love here: dogs, Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Annie. I’m also grateful for the lodgepole pine that spent millions of years acclimating themselves to this particular altitude. And for the clouds and the mountains, which have such great altitude, and the streams and the mule deer. The elk, the red and gray fox, the moose, the mountain lions, the bears, the marmots and pikas. The rattlesnakes. The available oxygen in the atmosphere and the amazing organs we have that convert it to our use. So many things. Endless really. Thankful for all of them, now and forever.

 

The Rockies, Not Far From Home

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Old Men and the Mountains

Old Men and the Mountains

 

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Downtown Georgetown and Silvery Plume Mtn.

Downtown Georgetown and Silver Plume Mtn.

Moose

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA

The Moose.  Been awhile since I’ve written about my totem animal. I didn’t gain the moose in a sweat lodge or a vision quest. Nor did a psychic or friend suggest it.

Nope. Got to thinking about myself a long while ago. Introverted, wandering the forests by myself, not easily cowed, even by predators. Usually alone. And the moose came to mind.

May not be pretty, but they stand tall and act with vigor. I know no one picks a field mouse as their totem animal and that self-selection is sort of frowned upon; but, moose just seemed to fit.

Up here they live not far away, wandering the Arapaho and Pike National Forests. In fact, a male showed up in the meadow at the base of Shadow Mountain just over a month ago. Their only foe, the wolf, is no longer present here, so their numbers have gone up after a recent re-introduction by Colorado Natural Resources. The moose in Minnesota are in trouble, thanks mainly to global warming. The winters are no longer cold enough to consistently kill off the ticks that plague them. Not sure why that isn’t true here in Colorado.

I guess what appealed to me about the moose is its solitary nature, its home turf in the wilderness, its majesty. Moose are one of the iconic animals of the north along with wolves and loons and ravens. Out here in the Rockies they join the buffalo and the wild horse, the grizzly bear, the mountain lion, the elk. I see myself as a man of the north and now, too, of the west, but especially the mountains, so we share a home range, two of them in fact.

Getting Things Done

Samain                                                                                   Joe and SeoAh Moon

typhonIt’s been a while now since I got good writing done on Jennie’s Dead. I’ve gotten a bit done on two new projects, Rocky Mountain Vampire and my version of the Way of a Pilgrim, but mostly I’ve been focused on keeping up with kabbalah, mussar and Hebrew, working out and getting stuff done around the house.

This latter, getting the chainsaw in for repairs, setting up a time to talk house insurance with our broker, hanging a set of decorative lights out front, making chicken noodle soup, moving paintings, cleaning up the garage is driven by two forces: Jon’s finally moving out and the onset of winter. The onset of winter motivation is conditioned by 20 years of gardening and caring for bees and property in Minnesota. There, once winter sets in some outdoor things simply cannot be done. Too damned cold. Frozen ground. Lots of snow. That sort of thing.

Up here, see the post below, winter is more episodic. One day it’s challenging to get to the mailbox, the next day it’s totally dry, maybe even warm. Still, the coming of snow and cold and ice pushes a conditioned response. Get the nest warm and cozy. Now.

While my productivity meter is the positive range, I feel scattered. Part of that is the evening events at Beth Evergreen: Gary Hart on Sunday, Difficult Conversations on Tuesday and kabbalah last night. After my knee surgery, I started going to bed early, 8 pm, and getting up early, usually between 4:30 and 5:00. All of these evenings pushed past 9 pm and one went closer to 10. That leaves me tired and not as able intellectually. My mind does not work nearly as well under these circumstances, gone are the days of cramming and long nights with the books.

20170919_155736I also feel scattered because I consider my writing primary and when I let it slide, I feel like I’m shirking even if I’m getting other stuff done. Yet, to contradict this, Kate and I have done a lot together, the Gary Hart and Difficult Conversations evenings, putting up the lights, getting ready to work on the garage, studying Hebrew. And that feels great. I love being with her, getting thing done with her.

Mostly I solve this kind of dilemma with a schedule, a routine that keeps space for writing, for time with Kate, for time to work on the house, for time to study and be active at Beth Evergreen. Right now, that’s been interrupted and I’m feeling a little down, a little off.

I do remember the quote that goes something like, “Those aren’t interruptions, that’s your life calling.”

Looking forward next week to the visit of Bill Schmidt and Tom Crane. Oh, the fun we will have.

Language of the Dumb

Samain                                                                      Joe and SeoAh Moon

moon-to-the-moonWhen Kate and I came home from the Gary Hart presentation on Sunday night, the moon, nearly full, rode low on the horizon, huge and white, half covered by scudding clouds. It then played with us like a bubble dancer, grabbing this cumulus and that one to cover itself, showing more then less of the old man on its face. After the horizon was no longer visible the moon shone through the lodgepole pines of the Arapaho National Forest, illuminating this home to wild critters as we climbed the mountains on our way to Black Mountain Drive.

The everyday and everynight beauty of these mountains still makes my heart sing, now almost three full years into this move. Yesterday coming up Shadow Mountain Drive, it came to me that I was learning the rhythms here, driving with more confidence because it was daytime and the deer, the elk normally show up at dawn and dusk. At that exact moment, as this thought came to me, a movement on the shoulder caught my eye. A fox. A healthy red-orange fox with a huge bushy tail had started out to cross the road, noticed me coming and paused. The mountains had spoken.

1509361960968The language, the speech of the inanimate and the dumb, is all around us, sending us clear messages. Dogs are an obvious example. The longer you live with dogs, especially multiple dogs, the more their language becomes clear. The lean, the movement toward a door, the excited dance, the playful bow, the bark of warning, the one of joy. Friend Bill Schmidt, a farmer as well a nuclear engineer and cyber mage, has told me of dairy cattle and their affections.

As a gardener, the soil communicated with me through the health or dis-ease of the plants Kate and I grew. If the leaves were less than a deep green, I suspected missing soil nutrients and worked to correct them. The plants themselves told me when they were too dry with droopy leaves, when they needed pruning with too many branches or stalks, when they were ready to yield their work for the season.

On a more mystical level three mule deer visited me on the Samain afternoon when I first came to this house. We stood, eye to eye, for several minutes as they told me they lived here, were my neighbors, that we would be together after that moment, that we were welcome. They came not for feed or attention, but as emissaries, messengers, angels of the mountain and the forest.

The sky tells us what weather comes, then delivers it to us, helping us gauge the nature of our changing climate. In this same way people we meet communicate to us through body language, a hunched shoulder, a slight turn away, eyes that light on some aspect of a room. All around us language, everywhere communication. If only we see.

Thanks

Samain                                                              Joe and SeoAh Moon

mysticsHakarat hatov, Hebrew for gratitude, literally means recognizing the good. My friend Bill Schmidt often quotes Meister Eckhart, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” In the 1980s I had a Jesuit nun as a spiritual director. She suggested I keep a gratitude journal because, she said, gratitude is the root of all spirituality.

As the Hebrew suggests though, there is a step just before gratitude, recognizing the good. We can live a life full of bitter disappointment amidst a bounty that would make others cry for joy. One Hasidic author I read said, “For example, a person has a drive to make ten million dollars and (regrettably) achieves it. Now he wants twenty…he nullified the value of the ten million in his mind.” Getting to Know Your Soul, Bilavi Mishkan Evneh.

20171016_070053Or consider our home here in Conifer. We have running water, indoor plumbing, a boiler, a gas stove, a microwave, a refrigerator. We have food in the refrigerator. We have a car in the garage. Three different perspectives on this seemingly so what list: 1. a person living in a refugee camp. 2. a person living in a favela in Rio 3. a homeless person in Denver or right here in Conifer. Not so so what now, is it?

But. We could look up the mountain, see the mini-palaces some folks have built up there and say, “We would be truly happy if only we could live there.” Or, when we see the occasional Maserati or Lamborghini or Ferrari on the mountain roads, which we do, we could say, “How much better life would be if only I had one of those.” This would be nullifying the ten million dollars.

“Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes, “Gratitude rejoices with her sister joy, and is always ready to light a candle and have a party. Gratitude doesn’t much like the old cronies of boredom, despair and taking life for granted.””  Alan Morinis, Jewishpathways

gratitudeHow much better for our souls to recognize the love Kate and I share, the dogs that grace our lives, the material blessings we have, and they are blessings in the most theological sense of that term, as the good surrounding us, supporting us, allowing us to feel joy.

Enough is a close cousin of gratitude. When we recognize the good we have and that it is enough, then we can be joyful. Happy? I don’t know. Up to you. But joyful and satisfied, yes.

gratitude thank youI am grateful right now for the sound of Gertie sleeping, the miracle that is this computer on which I write, the electricity that powers it, that I woke up this morning, again, that Kate woke up, too. I’m grateful that the air is cool outside and that we have heat inside. I’m grateful l had fruit and vegetables and protein for breakfast. I’m grateful I had the chance to help Jon load the trailer last night. I’m grateful for the time with Joe and SeoAh and for the chance to participate in finding Murdoch. I’m grateful to live on a mountain, in the mountains, with Black Mountain always out my study window. And this list could go on, and on, and on.

So. My prayer, “Thanks.”

December 2017
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