The Mountains Are Calling

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Yamabushi monk

Not sure exactly what’s going on here. They mention Shugendo. It’s a fourteen hundred year old tradition that has esoteric Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto roots. They refer to themselves as Yamabushi, those who prostrate themselves on the mountain.

Master Hashino

It seems like they’re dedicated to reducing the distance between humans and mother earth. Or, perhaps better, creating awareness of that already existing intimacy, now obfuscated by so much.

Fellow travelers with me, I think.

Green

Summer Solstice and the Recovery Moon

This morning

Black Mountain has a wispy cloud draping over its peak, moving slowly toward the northwest. The greens this summer, with so much water, are intense, Hawaiian. The lodgepoles are a deep dark green, the aspen groves a yellow green spotlighted by the sun. The grasses are lush, the dandelions abundant, cheery dots of yellow.

The white cloud dances with the blue sky, revealing it now, obscuring it. It’s another cool morning, 43. Perfect for sleep. The mountain streams continue to flow fast, white where they hit the rocks, still not full with the snow melt proceeding slowly. On the way to CBE yesterday Kate saw a cardboard sign, hand lettered, Slow: Fawns.

And, snow is in the forecast for this weekend. Yes, on the day of the summer solstice, weather5280 predicts snow that might hit us. Snow. The fire hazard signs are still on low, have been since March. Never this far into the summer. I’m grateful for the wet, for the dampening of wildfire probabilities. One less thing.

Patsy Cline

Day 5, fraction 5, of the 7000 cGy prescription. After today’s isotopic rain, only 30 to go. The weekends are off. Time for the body to rest, they say, though I imagine not running a seven day a week practice has something to do with it, too. Pandora so far: The Band, Baroque, Coltrane, Patsy Cline. Haven’t decided about today. Maybe Izzy.

No side effects so far. Early days for both the radiation and the Lupron. Feels like I have a job. Get in the car at a certain time each day, navigate four lane highways to Lone Tree. Same exit, same turns. Same office. But in this case I don’t have a job, I am the job.

The Beano seems to work, suppressing the gas which screws up the Cyber Knife’s navigation of the volume created by Dr. Gilroy. The Miralax helps as well. The calcium/d3 pills are horse pills, almost as long as a finger joint.

Mussar Vaad Practice group, MVP, last night. Rich Levine led a wonderful session on simplicity. Kate and I went for the second time in a row. Still wears us out. Finished at 9:30 pm, way past both our bed times. Here’s an interesting statistic, of the 10 of us in the MVP group, two of us have active cancer right now and one is in remission from breast cancer. 30%.

The Mountains Called Me

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

After I wrote about the one-antlered elk, another buck jumped our fence. He had two antlers, both velveted, as you can see. These two large animals are the Rocky Mountain subspecies of Cervus elaphus, one of six in the U.S., and the subspecies with the largest racks. In the 700 pound range. They’re big.

These guys stayed all night, lying down from time to time, then getting up to continue snacking on grass, dandelions, our backyard aspen, a Colorado Blue Spruce. When I woke up yesterday morning, they were dining right outside our bedroom window.

The dogs have to go out in the morning and when they did, they chased the elk to the corner of our property. One-antlered guy jumped the fence while I watched. He walked over to it and jumped. Right over. Our fence is five feet high. Dr. Gilroy, who’s from Wyoming, said to keep elk out there, they have to put ten foot fences. I believe it after seeing this one clear ours with grace and ease.

The two-antlered buck stayed a while, but he eventually left, too.

Another instance of synchronicity. I mentioned the three mule deer bucks I saw on Samhain when I came for the closing on our property in 2014. In the intervening four and a half years we’ve had neither mule deer nor elk in the back, fenced in portion of our property. In the front, yes, but not in the back.

We say this to prostate cancer

These two spirits of the mountain came the day I started my radiation treatment. And they stayed the night. No wonder our ancient ancestors painted these creatures in soot and ochre on cave walls. No wonder cultures around the world find spirit animals to guide them. When big animals show up in your life voluntarily, your life shifts. You have to consider their presence.

Some have said that Colorado has not been kind to us. I get it, too. Prostate cancer diagnosed four months after we got here. A new knee. Jon’s divorce. Kate’s shoulder, Sjogren’s, bleed, lung disease. All since we got here.

It’s not Colorado though. AA has a saying, wherever you go, there you are. This comes from the notion of the geographic escape. If I just leave this town where all my trouble started, I’ll start over fresh. Nope. Wherever you go, there you, the alcoholic, are.

We brought aging with us. My PSA was 4.0 the last physical I had in Minnesota. I’m 72, Kate’s 75 this August. Stuff begins to catch up with us at these ages. Genetics plays a large role as do dietary choices, exercise. Even with those all good, it’s still: eat right, exercise, die anyway. Not blaming Colorado. The contrary.

I have what I consider solid evidence that we not only belong here, but that we are welcome. Congregation Beth Evergreen. The frequent visits with Jon and the grandkids. The everchanging, but always wonderful beauty of the mountains.

And, for me, the grace note of these animals. Yes, Charlie, we know this is a difficult time. We know too that you are, like us, an animal. You can worry and fret or you can stop, eat the dandelions, the grass. Lie down among the lodgepole pines and the aspen. Jump the fence into another world. You did just that when you and Kate moved to Shadow Mountain and we’re glad you came. Amen. Blessed be.

Imagining Imaging.

Beltane…………………………………………………………..Cancer Moon

Some heaviness in my walk. Taking out the trash for its delayed pickup. Memorial Day. Getting the Denver Post in its orange plastic wrapper. Putting it at Kate’s place.

The sun rise has begun to melt the frosty crown on Black Mountain. All conditions are impermanent, disappearing in the sun, blowing away in a Chinook.

Gabe called last night and wanted to know if I was coming to his continuation. Fifth grade to McCauliffe. I’m not sure, buddy. I have this procedure tomorrow. In his world fifth grade matters as much. I had already taken my thc for bedtime, tired.

It overwhelmed me. His need. Ruth’s. Who wants to go, but had planned to be up here today, to help us, the conflict hidden until it wasn’t. Jon’s navigating their worlds and ours.

My view on the ct today. The cancer is already there. This is just a pair of special binoculars that can peek inside the black box, see where it is. Once this gets read, a treatment plan will fall into place. Unless it’s equivocal, a finding I don’t want. I could know by tomorrow what’s next.

The Right Thing for Us

Beltane Cancer Moon

Things I think about while falling asleep. Life. A stream rushing down the mountain of time, a branch into a tributary, tributary to river, river to the gulf of eternity, a small part of the sea of infinity.

Project print ancientrails update. Got into May of 2015. Then, printer spooling error. Spent an hour on it yesterday, got tired. Learned long ago to quit at a point when I’m doing the same thing over and over. Come back the next day with fresh eyes. Later this morning I’ll be back at it.

Looked out the bedroom window this morning. Frost. Rained over night and the temperature is just below freezing. A nubbly ice covered the deck and the stall mats, but the driveway was only wet. Saw a mule deer crossing Eduardo and Holly’s yard.

The sun is now well up at 5:30. The victory of the light will peak in three weeks. I look forward to the Summer Solstice as the moment when night begins to claw its way back into prominence.

Jon and Ruth left Gabe here yesterday while they went skiing. A-Basin. It still has peak snow cover, may be open until July 4th. Unusual. When they got back, Ruth and I made spaghetti and meatballs. She’s turning into a sweet, loving person. A real pleasure to see.

While walking back to the house after getting the paper this morning, I thought about her and Gabe. We moved here to have these kind of interactions with them, casual and frequent. It was the right thing for us to do.

50th High School Reunion, Alexandria, Indiana

When I was in school in Alexandria, Memorial Day marked the end of the school year. Summer begins! Days of freedom wandering alleys collecting pop bottles for small change. Going to the field with Rick Meyers and the Kildow boys to play army. Playing blackjack every weekday afternoon in the paper boys shack of the Times-Tribune. The occasional pickup softball game. Riding bikes around town. Outside until well after dark. No thoughts of pedophiles, school shooters, terrorists. No climate change worries. No computers. No cell phones.

Here in Colorado school typically ends in June though Ruth, because of McCauliffe’s schedule, got out a couple of weeks ago. This is Gabe’s last week. They will both start school again in the second week of August, both at McCauliffe for this one year, Ruth in the 8th grade and Gabe in the 6th.

Ruth, as do most of her friends, has a season pass to Elitch Gardens, an amusement park that serves as summer day care for many Denver teens. They have rides named Brain Drain, Mind Erase. You can see the attraction after school’s over.

33 foot Jesus

Beltane                                                                            Cancer Moon

progoffMeet up in cyberspace. My old friends Paul, Mark, Tom, and Bill zoomed into the bits and bytes yesterday from the land of first light to my spot among the purple mountain majesties. We spoke of those things that matter now. Mark is done with his second book. Bill’s going to Tanzania next year as his long term project, U-Face Me, takes off. Paul’s about to join the joint replacement club with a new hip. Tom’s adjusting to life as an eminence grisé.

Woke up yesterday realizing I’d not prepared any food for Kate. After breakfast I made her a pound of sloppy joed hamburger and a couple of quarts of vermicelli soup, a favorite of hers from our Monastery Soups cookbook. Got ready to go to Progoff.

At noon I headed down the hill toward Evergreen, hopped on I-70 for a short run to the Genesee Exit. U.S. 40, the old cross country national highway which I-70 more or less parallels has a short run between that exit and Golden. Gonna stop this afternoon at the buffalo overlook, just off that same exit. An article in the Denver Post says there are buffalo calves. Makes sense. It’s spring/summer.

Progoff cabrini

Sacred Heart of Jesus statue at the Shrine

Down old 40 toward Denver you can access Lookout Mountain, Buffalo Bill Cody’s grave, museum plus giftshop, and the world famous, to Catholics, shrine of Mother Cabrini. The most prominent feature at the shrine is a 33 foot high statue of Jesus, set at the shrine’s highest point. When I left last night at 9, Denver’s lights twinkled below me and Cabrini Jesus stood lit up and proud above.

If you’ve ever been on a retreat at a Catholic retreat center, you’ve been to the Cabrini set up. Hallways with one bedroom rooms on either side, large kitchens, kitschy paintings, and furniture bought with comfort not fashion in mind. A chapel. And, since this is the Rocky Mountains, vacationland U.S.A., a big gift shop.

When I arrived yesterday, the large parking lot was about three quarters full and most of the visitors I saw were Latino. The retreat center cum chapel cum giftshop is at the end of a switchback road that climbs several hundred feet up a rounded peak, one of the first of the foothills. It overlooks Golden, then Denver, to the east and the continental divide to the west.

Joann Hackett, the workshop leader, flew in Saturday from Hawai’i. Quite a shift from humid, warm Hawai’i to the dry, 60 degrees Rocky Mountain foothills. She was the workshop leader in Tucson, my last Progoff workshop. She began this work when she went to a Journal workshop lead by Ira Progoff. She got to know him very well, found his intensive journal idea compelling.

progoff2There are seven of us, a small group by workshop standards. Two folks from Denver, one from Berthoud, another from Boulder, one from Ft. Collins, and one man from Santa Fe. One other commuter. This first segment, all the segments are two days in length, begins with identifying the current period of your life. Mine had an obvious starting point, the move to Colorado. You spend time fleshing out what makes this the current period of your life, then move on to an exercise called steppingstones. Steppingstones, in the Progoff work you get 12, are key moments in your life that led you to this period of your life.

As I wrote them this time, mine were roughly, polio, mom’s death, participating in the 60’s, adopting Joseph, marrying Kate and leaving the ministry to write, becoming a docent at the MIA, working on the Great Work, the move to Colorado, cancer, Jon’s divorce and Kate’s illnesses, cancer’s reemergence. The steppingstones, I’ve discovered, change according to the perspective you bring to the exercise, a perspective shaped by what you’ve defined as the current period. Over the course of the workshop you expand on each of these, writing about them, following the memories and the feelings they evoke.

Gotta get ready for today’s session. Talk to you later.

 

 

 

An Important Couple of Weeks Here

Beltane                                                                   Cancer Moon

It’s another Colorado day. Blue sky, sun, a bit chilly. Mountains. Pines. Fresh air.

Mother Cabrini Shrine

Mother Cabrini Shrine

At 12:15 I head over to the Mother Cabrini Shrine where this Progoff workshop will take place. It’s about 40-50 minutes from here depending on the route. Close to Golden. Being a commuter will be a new experience for me.

Kate will be alone. My phone will be on vibrate and I enabled voice messaging. She asked me to. I actually prefer not to get voice messages. I like text or e-mail. Woke up this morning realizing I need to make a few things for her to have. Food.

Brother Mark has decided to head to Bangkok after his year in Arar, Saudi Arabia. Bangkok will be different. Humid. Also hot. But a society with a different past, a different religious inflection, Buddhist not Wahabi Muslim, a very different architectural heritage and cultural mores. I admire his having taught in Arar for the whole year. He’s going on vacation.

Mary and Mark, Andover

Mary and Mark, Andover

My sister Mary has become an international figure in her field, speaking and teaching in Finland, the Philipines, Indonesia, Greece, other places I’ve forgotten. They both traverse our planet often, going from place to place.

I’d like to write here about my boy but he’s asked me not to for opsec reasons. Operational security. Geez.

In part due to caregiving and in part due to my own spiritual journey the cancer has not dominated my life. At least not yet. The Progoff workshop will give me a chance to explore it from within and should help with residual anxiety.

The week after the workshop Kate has an appointment with her pulmonologist and later gets her actual crowns. Cue God Save the Queen. I have the axumin scan, a glaucoma check, swapping out the snow tires for all seasons, and a visit with the radiation oncologist Dr. Gilroy. By the end of that week many things will be clearer.

The air conditioner in our Rav4 will get a diagnostic shot of a gas that glows under a black light when they change the tires. After a few hundred miles I go back to see if they can find a small leak. If not, we may need to replace the air conditioning unit. Much cheaper than a new car.

 

“I won’t optimize the length of my life.”

Beltane                                                                                Rushing Waters Moon

Black Mountain

Black Mountain

The Rushing Waters Moon is down to a thin crescent. 2% of the lunar surface illuminated. Maxwell, Cub, Blue, Shadow, Brook, and Bear Creek are still pulsing, but they will begin to slow as we move deeper into Beltane. Alan Watt’s little book, The Water Course Way, comes to mind when I write about these patient devourers of mountains. Soft wins over hard.

Cool today. 29 when I got up. Snow all gone for now. The prediction is for a wetter and cooler May, something both of these former Minnesotans can enjoy. Good sleeping. Too, coming after a wet winter, this sort of May will further reduce fire dangers. Told Kate yesterday it could be cool and wet right up to the monsoons, late August. A summer without fire worries would be nice.

Got an e-mail yesterday from Dave, of Deb and Dave, who own On the Move Fitness and have been my personal trainers for two years. He sent it to all those who use their small fitness center. Dave has brain cancer, up until this last week in remission. Not now. Resonates for me. I wrote him back. “Cancer’s a bitch.” Both he and Deb responded. Deb said, “I agree, cancer’s a bitch.”

cocoMichelle is a mussar friend. Her husband has prostate cancer, too. Already metastasized. Leslie, also a mussar friend, has had her breast cancer reemerge twice. I mention these because it underlines that cancer is probably in your circles as well. Yes, treatments have improved life expectancy and some prevention efforts have helped, but cancer itself, in its multiple manifestations, continues to be an agent of Azrael, the angel of death.

In itself, as I’ve written before, I consider whatever ultimately kills me as a friend. Life is not forever. We cherish our mothers who bring us into this life. (Well, we cherish some mothers.) Why not cherish what completes our cycle? No, I’m not rooting for prostate cancer to be that friend. And, yes, I’ll wait as long as I can to meet my friend, yes.

In “Free Solo”, the documentary about his free climb of El Capitan, Alex Honnold says to his girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, “No, I’m not going to optimize the length of my life.” The comment hit me a couple of ways. First, it’s so contra-normative for this health obsessed age in which this diet or that exercise regimen or those supplements will ensure you’re not only healthy, but will live long. (and, maybe prosper) No keto diet or paleo diet or spinning class or hot yoga or ginseng will extend your life beyond a human’s natural limits. And the death angst that causes folks to fantasize that maybe this intervention will do just that is fantasy. Denial. Fear. I like Honnold’s up front recognition of death as a part of life.

free soloSecond, he’s not giving up his central purpose, to push climbing as far as he can, because it might kill him. Neither should we put any part of our life on hold because we’re going to die. Yes, cancer puts that right up in your face, like climbing free solo, but it does not control your response. If you’re brave enough to say with Alex, “No, I’m not going to optimize the length of my life,” then you’ve found a platform firm enough to withstand whatever existential threat comes along.

This is what Yamantaka wants to teach us. Our death is sure. Our fear is unnecessary and interferes with our ability to live. Life is precious, rare, and finite. It is a gift bestowed upon us without condition, ours to use, to enjoy, to contemplate, to share, to embrace. Don’t let anything get in your way.