Beltane and the Recovery Moon
Beltane Cancer Moon
5 or so inches of snow over the night before and yesterday. Looks like winter again here. Solar panels covered. Black Mountain hidden in the clouds. The drive down the hill yesterday took some skill. Slick spots, long runs snow and ice covered while going down. Wouldn’t want to have to do that everyday for work. On occasion it’s interesting, different. Our workshop leader, Joanne, lives in Fresno where it gets hot, and in Hawai’i, where it never gets cold. This weather is not to her liking.
This is the last day of the workshop. Now considering how to continue this work on my own. Each other time, three before this one, I’ve come back and not continued the journal. This time it feels like I finally understand the method enough to do it unguided, or at least with the help of Progoff’s main book, At a Journal Workshop. The week long retreats have been sufficient for me to gain new insights, position myself in my life at the moment, and chart out a path forward. That’s why I’ve come to back to this experience.
One thing I’ve not touched on yet in this new journal is reading. I want to read more, more methodically. This desire comes over me from time to time, right now it’s coming in strength. I read a lot anyhow, you know that, but I want to take specific time for more difficult reading. Gotta figure out how to work that in.
There is, too, some overlap between ancientrails and the intensive journal. Sometimes they’re covering the same or similar ground. Will have to work out the relationship between them.
It’s a bit strange to be at May 10 and have the temperature at 24, snow covering the driveway, the roofs, the walkways. In Minnesota the safe time for planting was typically May 15. Don’t think it would work here, at least not every year. We warm back up next week. For now, though. Winter wonderland. Like, I wonder why it’s still winter?
Next week will test the equanimity. Monday am. Kate’s appointment with Gupta. Lung disease diagnosis and fitness for j-tube surgery. Later in the day, her new crowns. Tuesday, axumin scan to determine the extent and location of my cancer. Wednesday, a visit with my ophthalmologist. Retinal photography. Thursday, mussar. Friday, all-season tires and dye into the air conditioning system. A visit to Anova Cancer care for a treatment plan. A jump shift from this quiet week.
One important thing the journal workshop has underlined for me is that I’m not ready to die. I have family I want to care for, see grow up, grow older. Friends I want to know better. I have books to write. Places to visit. Deep work still ahead of me. This is not new, of course, and the journal workshop hasn’t made me aware of it, no. But, it has put me in touch with the gestalt of these things and my desire to keep at them all. The feeling level.
Death will come, but as I heard someone else say, let it be tomorrow.
Spring Rushing Waters Moon
Took Kate out for errands yesterday. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. She went into the goldsmiths and got a new battery for her mercury dime-faced watch. I parked, came in and found her looking at wedding rings. Well, replacement wedding rings. After 29 years she has misplaced hers. Vega ate mine with the watch band I used to hold it long ago. It’s out there somewhere in the wilds of Andover. Kate walked into the goldsmiths, walked to the car. We went to Hopsin’s Dry Cleaner, the post office, and the Village Gourmet, looking for a bread box.
When we got back home, she was not ashen, not exhausted. Her stamina has improved. A lot. A testimony to weight gain, blood and iron infusions, and her commitment to ot/pt. Her face is fuller at 94 pounds. We’re both cautiously optimistic. Next up is the lung diagnosis and the j-tube placement. Some day.
I’m off to Bailey this morning for our month’s worth of thc. The Happy Camper. I’m going to take the opportunity to go to the Rustic Station for breakfast. Their sweet cream pancakes are wonderful. Tom and Mark and Paul, I’ll eat them with mindfulness of our trip to Durango.
It’s a blue sky, sun shiny Colorado day. We get a lot of them though in recent months we’ve also had our share of dark and gloomy. I like both. The sunny days lift my spirit; the gloomy ones inspire my creativity.
Got groceries delivered and the house cleaned yesterday. Having groceries picked and delivered relieves a major energy drainer. Well worth the extra 10-20 bucks. Sandy, our house cleaner, got energetic and washed some bedding, my electric blanket included. At first, I thought she had shorted it out like the first one that got washed, but no, it lives!
Spring Recovery Moon
The recovery moon has begun to wane, but not before both Kate and me have made significant gains. Kate’s weight is up and her spirits have gone up with it. My mucus glands seem to have gotten tired, weary of all their work over the last couple of months. Yeah. Still many miles to go for Kate, but she’s making good progress.
Whenever a Johnson sister comes to visit, the talk turns to fabrics or yarn or weaving. This family sews, knits, quilts, and, in Anne’s case, weaves. BJ and Kate had a pattern in hand yesterday. “Why does it say knit, then pearl here? What if you’re doing that on circular needles?” “Do you like sparkly yarn?” “I did.” (I don’t.)
Came downstairs yesterday after my workout (oof, again, but a bit better than Thursday) to violin music. BJ practicing is always a pleasure to hear. Warms up the house, helps it feel alive. Just like the dogs. Musicians, I realized, again, are athletes, always training. Muscle memory is important for them, too, as well as music theory. Correct technique, too. My personal trainer watches and corrects my technique, musicians often have to do that for themselves after a certain point in their development.
The program I posted for Shecky’s concert at Merkin Hall involves not one, but three Beethoven sonatas. BJ says this is unusual, most play only one. Complicated to learn and execute. He started practicing them the other day, so he has about two months to get ready. Memory, style, technique. He’s reading a Jan Swafford biography of Beethoven, too. BJ recommended Swafford’s work. so I bought his first, a biography of Charles Ives, a favorite composer of mine.
The snow has melted almost completely off the driveway. Colorado. The solar snow shovel. Cheap and easy.
Friend Tom Crane and Roxann are on Maui, got there yesterday. Maui is the best. That’s its county motto. Each island is a county. Maui is wonderful lots of beautiful beaches, great restaurants, Lahaina (which means merciless sun and was an old whaler’s resupply stop), Haleakala, the curvy road to Hana. Mama’s Fish House.
I prefer Kauai, more rural, less intense, but Maui’s a fine place, too. Tom and Roxann have a meal planned at Mama’s where Kate and I celebrated my birthday several times. Her continuing medical education events that took us to Hawai’i often corresponded with Valentine’s Day.
Though the snow has melted off the driveway (mostly) it did cover up the bare spots in the backyard. With temps in the teens the snow will hang for a bit. Not long though since rain and high 50’s are forecast for this week. Snow is not over here though. April is our second snowiest month. In 2017 we got four feet of snow! It came the two days prior to our arrival back from Singapore after our trip to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding.
Spring Recovery Moon
Each night Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, and other stars of the northern sky orbit around Sirius, the pole star, doing their dance through and just above the lodgepole pines visible outside our bedroom window. Cassiopeia, like a shy maiden, appears right now behind a clump of lodgepoles early in the night, but slowly reveals herself, her trademark distorted W shape gradually appearing in full.
This morning the waning Recovery Moon and Jupiter sat next to each other, the moon with a pale wet halo, both over Black Mountain. This is wild country here. We saw a fox two mornings ago, a healthy red fox with a bushy tail held erect, running down Black Mountain Drive with either a critter or a kit in its mouth.
We’ll be in the 60’s this week, then more rain or snow over the weekend. When I picked up a prescription at King Sooper’s the other day, the pharmacy tech looked out the window and said, “Oh, god. It’s snowing, isn’t it?” It was. A bright blue sky and round shots of graupel struck the grocery store parking lot behind me. “I love snow, but I’m so tired of it.” “Oh, it’ll quit snowing eventually.” “Yeah,” she laughed, “in August.”
When sick, getting healthy is the most important thing on the docket. When well, all those pesky things you ignored take the top spot. Like that damned dead bolt. It sticks. And by stick I mean won’t move when we try to release it. This has taken a while to get bad. I could use a small pliers and a rubber piece (for traction) to open it for a while. Now that doesn’t work. Arthritic fingers and thumbs make these simple tasks go from difficult to impossible. Then, the toilet in the loft has developed an unpleasant habit of leaking from its seal to the floor or one of the bolts holding it down. Unusable in that state. Minor things, yes, but beyond the reach of an illness focused, snot for brains me. On them today.
Don’t remember whether I said it here or not, but Kate’s up to 85 pounds! Wow. I made an arbitrary number, 90 pounds, as the signal that the mess from Kate’s bleed would be officially over. She’s getting there. Almost exactly six months later. What an ordeal for her.
Rigel has developed a habit that will force a change in my behavior. We’ve taken to leaving certain items on the counter like bread, chips, apples and to using a small wire container in the sink as an alternative to a wastebasket. We put a plastic grocery bag over it, throw trash in it, then tie it up and throw it in the trash compactor. SeoAh’s idea and a handy one. Except. Rigel. She smells stuff she wants and uses her size to reach up and get it. Result. Mess. In three rooms yesterday. Gotta get a bread box and clear out space for the other items in the cupboard above the counter. A rejiggering of storage is necessary. Dogs.
Kate and I missed our hair cuts last month due to pneumonia. We’re both a bit shaggy and look forward to seeing Jackie today.
Ta for now.
Spring Recovery Moon
Go now, the illness has ended. Feeling 95%. Still something in my lungs, not much. So seven weeks after the molasses filled drive back from Denver, I feel able. Still got workouts and stamina to increase, but I enjoy that. Imagine me doing a little dance on the balcony of the loft, a dance of thanksgiving for a strong constitution and a return to the unremarkable state of health.
What’s next? Call a plumber to fix the toilet leaking from its seal to the floor. Get our hair done. An appointment for teeth cleaning. Mail the taxes. Send Mary the letter confirming her part ownership of that oil well in Canadian County, Oklahoma. Finally get to my trainer for a new workout. Follow up on that PSA increase. Kate’s hi-res ct and visit to the pulmonologist. Get back to regular cooking. You know, stuff. Stuff that we do when we’re not occluded by an internal war between our immune system and some inner space invader.
I also have a lunch with Alan Rubin on Wednesday. Slowly getting back to some contact with CBE. It’s been a long while, but I miss those folks. I was still besnotted during the chicken cook soup cook off and not fully there.
If you want, you can insert a youtube video of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” here.
Remember the Producers? Zero Mostel? In it was the classic hit, “It’s Springtime for Hitler”. Well, it’s springtime in the Rockies and all of Colorado. Here’s another pirouette for great comedies and a plié with arm extended for the beauty of Black Mountain.
Not to go too far with this but there is a certain element of resurrection here. I used the word occluded, another word could have been buried. During a long and severe illness we turn in on our selves, our world becomes a primal struggle over which we have little if any external control. By primal I mean just that, a fight waged between cellular creatures so small we cannot see them, entities that have more in common with that first molecule that wiggled in the primordial soup than they do with us. During this conflict the body focuses on the struggle, not on errands, to do lists, future dreams, present possibilities. We become buried by the constant back and forth of immune system versus virus, immune system versus bacteria.
Now, sometimes, but only once, our body doesn’t win. That’s true burial or cremation, or going green into the ground, whatever carcass disposal mode suits you or your survivors. However, most of the time we emerge, as if in a Hammer film, from our undead state to once again walk among the tribe of the still living.
And, yes, in that state now, I feel resurrected, reborn, renewed. A little shaky perhaps but that fits such a state doesn’t it? What’s next? Not in the quotidian sense I mentioned above, but what’s next in the sense of “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver was the poet of our intimate relationship with mother earth. She listened, saw, felt what it meant to be embodied, to be embodied in this amazing natural state, this gift, this once in a lifetime reality that we are.
This one, my wild and precious life, my one wild and precious life, has been returned to me, or at least that’s how it feels. What, as the city planners say, is its highest and best use? I’ve had ideas before, but this is a chance to consider what that means now: 72, mortality signals falling like rain, yet invigorated and experienced, befriended and befriending, not alone, well read, ready. What will I do?
Spring Recovery Moon
Head. Mostly clear. Lungs. Mostly clear. I’m beginning to feel the illness bidding me goodbye. So long, it was good to know ya. Nah, it wasn’t. And don’t come back, please.
Kate continues to show steady, if incremental, gains. She smiles more, laughs more. Until, that is, she opened the letter from Swedish Hospital advising us that our balance with them was $25,000. Oooff. Our insurance provider has not, for some reason, paid them. I get to chase that down today. Being sick in America. If the illness doesn’t get you, the debt collector will.
If we didn’t have resources, didn’t have enough education and chutzpah to front the insurance company about this, we might end up stuck with the bill. Kate’s experience since September has been long, invasive, and expensive. Without insurance we’d be eating away at our IRA. I don’t think this should be too hard to clear up; but the ominous nature of a letter like that creates an unpleasant frisson. To say the least.
I’m debating going to see my doc about o2 sats. They’re below normal, though not in a dangerous range. The high 80’s a good deal of the time. Normal is above 95, though above 90 nobody worries. Since we’ve gotten here, my sats have been around 90 most of the time. As Tom pointed out, we’ve lost 75% of our available oxygen just by being at 8,800 feet. That would make a normal reading 93 if I’m doing my math and physiology right.
I really don’t want to confuse Kate’s journey right now, especially since we see the same doc, so I may wait a bit, be sure the flight of respiratory illness I sampled over the last two months has actually ended. In time I would like to know if anything in my lungs compromises my breathing. It’s certainly possible. I smoked for 13 years. Not proud of it, but I did. I also worked in a couple of high particulate matter jobs in my younger days, cutting rags at a paper mill and moving completed asbestos ceiling tiles to pallets. And, Dad had severe asthma, using an inhaler virtually his whole life.
Ruach. The Hebrew word for breath, wind, and for spirit. The Greek word is pneuma. God breathed ruach into the lungs of Adam and he lived. Since the traditional test for death was holding a mirror or a hand up to the nostrils, no moisture on the mirror, no felt breath, it’s not a stretch to equate breath and breathing with life. No breath, no life. Many traditions, especially Hindu and Buddhist, have breathing related practices. So do the Sufi as my friend Debra Cope has taught me.
What impedes breathing, impedes life itself. Impedes the spirit of all life that dwells within us. Like health breathing is unremarkable to most of us until its ease experiences an interruption. Water boarding, or extreme interrogation (not torture as our CIA likes to say), is horrific because it emulates drowning. Our body has reflexes built in, the diving reflex, for example, that protect us in the case of sudden immersion in water. This means that our DNA carries a history of dangers to our breathing.
The pulmonologist treats matters related to breathing. But the pulmonologist, no matter how skilled and learned, deals with the physical challenges to breathing, not the spiritual implications. No, that is up to us and our own way of understanding the body/mind/spirit links.
A breathing issue is not, then, solely the province of pulmonology. It is also the province of theology broadly understood. Theology, for me, is the way you identify, organize, and deal with matters of ultimate importance. Life itself is, of course, a matter of ultimate importance to an individual; therefore, life and how it is for us at any particular point is a directly theological matter. Breath, the spirit of life that fills our lungs, provides our cells with oxygen so that they can carry out the physiological functions that are life in the body, is also of ultimate importance.
Here’s a website devoted to breath meditation.* Note in the second sentence that prana, a Sanskrit word, means both breath and life. No breath. No life.
My journey right now forces me to investigate my breathing at both a physiological and a theological level. It’s all o.k., too. None of us get leave this ancientrail alive. Something takes our breath away. That something shows the fragile nature of even the most master of the universe sort of person. Right now I’m going to attend to my breathing, my o2 sats, the spirit and life they make possible within me. An ancientrail of the third phase, no doubt.
*Breath is the universal factor of life. We are born the first time we inspire, and we die the last time we expire. Breath is life itself. In Sanskrit the same word–prana–means both breath and life.
All that lives, breathes–even plants and the bacteria that make bread rise. The process of breath is identical in all, consisting of inhalation and exhalation. It is the most immaterial factor of our existence, being a link-manifestation of the mind/spirit that dwells in all. For this reason, the breath is the natural and logical basis for meditation, the attempt to “enter into life.” The breath is the key to the cultivation of pure consciousness.
Imbolc Recovery Moon
29 years ago tomorrow Kate and I stepped on a glass* in Federal Court Chambers, the Landmark Building, Rice Park, St. Paul. The next day, just to show how long ago 29 years is, we flew Pan Am to Rome. We wrote thank you notes on the plane and mailed them from the Vatican Post Office. Probably wouldn’t make that decision today, but then it seemed sorta cool. Cousin Diane Keaton was my best person.
The honeymoon followed spring north in Europe proceeding from Rome to Venice, Vienna, Paris, London, Inverness, Edinburgh, and London again. We also made it to Florence, Salzburg, and Bath. Along the way we discovered what it meant to be together.
Pompeii was a revelation about humanity in the face of catastrophe. The Uffizi a revelation about the human creative spirit. Venice showed the adaptive capacity of our species. Vienna. We arrived at 10 pm, hungry after a foodless train ride that passed through the Dolomites from Venice. Wiener schnitzel in a small restaurant with red table cloths. Paulaner non-alcoholic beer. Later Andean musicians played the pan pipes under our balcony at the Hotel Astoria on the ringstrasse. Paris. Of course the Louvre. The Rodin museum. Life as a graceful and elegant soiree. Crossing the English Channel by ferry. Before the Chunnel. London. The Basil Street Hotel had a women’s club like the better known men’s clubs for which England is famous. From there to Inverness where we walked hand in hand along the Ness river at night, fog rolling off it, spilling over the sidewalk. We ate breakfast at the Station Hotel in a large ballroom with a carpeted corner they used for dining. Then, Edinburgh where we ordered room service and stayed in bed watching movies on tv. Back to London. At the Reject China shop where we bought our Portemerion dinner ware the clerk suggested I might like to go to a pub while Kate shopped. I visited antique stores instead. Then, home.
The last 29 years have seen other adventures. Cruising the Mediterranean. Twice the Panama Canal. Once almost all the way around Latin America. Hawai’i several times. Korea for the wedding. Singapore. New York, of course. New Orleans. Chicago. Other places, too.
Those are frosting on the life we created 29 years ago. The life itself, that’s the cake. We’ve moved three times. Once into the house on Edgcumbe Boulevard in St. Paul. The one with the pool. Where we lived with our first Irish Wolfhounds, Celt and Sorsha. Where Joseph played baseball with the Hasidic kids next door. After that, Andover. 20 years of exurban life. Flower gardens. Vegetable gardens. Bees. An orchard. A firepit. The lives and deaths of many dogs. Joe finishing high school. Jon off to Colorado to teach. Then Joe off to Breckenridge to work and ski for three years before he joined the Air Force. And now, Shadow Mountain. Seeing the grandkids often, the many insults life has thrown us, even so, just life. Joe married. SeoAh in our lives. Congregation Beth Evergreen. A Colorado finish to a life begun at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, an easy stroll to the Landmark Center. Will we stay here on Shadow Mountain? Don’t know. TBD.
I love the arc of our life together, the suffering and the joy. No life has only one or the other. The key factor of our love has been this: support each other in living our best life. We’ve mostly succeeded. Kids, grandkids, dogs, gardening together, harvesting honey together, traveling together. Kate sewing, me writing. The MIA. Music, jazz and classical. Seeing the world. Living in the mountains. Life now in its third phase.
I love her still, always. I know her better, she knows me better, and yet we’re together. That’s proof of the broken glass moment. Till death do us part. And beyond even that.
*”The fragility of glass suggests the frailty of human relationships. Since even the strongest love is subject to disintegration, the glass is broken as a kind of incantation: “As this glass shatters, so may our marriage never break.” For more interpretations: myjewishlearning.
Imbolc Valentine Moon
Zoomed yesterday with old friends Paul, Tom, Bill, Mark. Paul’s in Maine, the other three are still in the homeland, getting blasted by an old-fashioned grit your teeth, squeeze the steering wheel, freeze up the nasal passages Minnesota winter. Nostalgic, eh? Given my 40 year residence there I’m ashamed to say that I’m not sorry to have missed it. Minnesota macho no longer.
30 years + I’ve known these guys. There’s an ease to being with them, even in little squares (Hollywood Squares sort of) created by the magic of pixels and bytes. We know the back story, the good times and bad, the struggles and the victories. When we speak together, the subtext is often as loud as the spoken. When Roxann’s mother faces the transition from home to assisted living, we know about Tom’s mother and the long process finding her a safe place. When Bill says, how do you solve a problem like Regina, paraphrasing the Sound of Music, his history with the Jesuits and hers as a nun is unspoken. So is the difficult time span of her death from cancer now some years ago. Old friends, like old dogs, are the best.
Ode signed in from near Muir Woods, a cottage overlooking the Pacific. Two weeks of vacation. Tom’s headed for Hawaii and Mama’s Fish House later in the month. Bill spent five days in Florida. Paul had, and I think I had something very similar, a disease that his doctor called the plague. His doctor fingered the same culprits as Kate did for me: kids. Fomites, Kate says. Paul visited grandkids; I taught 6th and 7th graders.
Took the Kep in for furmination yesterday. Before our now below zero temps we had a run of 50 degree weather. (The reason Minnesota macho has faded from my body.) Blew his coat. When he blows his coat, he looks like a ragamuffin, small tufts of fur his body deems not necessary hanging all over, falling off, making Kate crazy. Off to Petsmart for a thorough wash, comb out, vacuuming. He looks pretty good now.
Ode talked about living a stress free life. I know what he means, no work deadlines, no income needs, no drama at home, much less home maintenance (condo), the chance to go where you want, when you want. Like California in the midst of a brutal Minnesota winter. The chance to work on art projects either set aside while working or not pursued. The chance to visit with old friends, go to the Robert Bly evening at Plymouth Church. In general a life peaceful, not troubled by the undercurrents of the workaday world. He calls this The New Senior Reality Game-plan. And good for him.
Not my goal. I thought about it. I see the allure. In some ways I wish I could want that, too, bow out of the ongoing stream of pressures, both domestic and personal. But I don’t want it. To be clear I’m not a stress junkie, nor an adrenaline junkie. I manage my anxiety much, much better than I ever have, not letting the day’s troubles spill over into what might happen next. I’ve tried and often succeed at acting without care for results. But stress per se still keeps me engaged.
I like the challenge of learning to teach middle schoolers, of integrating enough of the Jewish tradition to walk among my friends at CBE, of caring for Kate and the dogs. I like the challenge of coming up with a new novel, even though I’ve never sold one. I like the challenge of becoming a better painter, of finding my voice with oils. I could give up home maintenance responsibilities, like when we have ice dams to deal with or a driveway to plow or electrical matters to resolve. The priority of the living ones in our nuclear family, Kate, the dogs, and myself vitiate that for now, however. I enjoy the challenge of learning about astrology, keeping up with science, especially NASA and genetics.
Stress itself is neutral. In fact, it can be a good thing, motivating us to stay in life, to learn, to engage, rather than become socially isolated. It can, of course, be too much. And recently I’ve had more, much more, than I want. I would appreciate it if some of this stress would fall away. Kate gains 20 pounds, gets her stamina back. I’m back to working out, a real stress reducer. I have a novel and a painting underway again. But for all the stress in my life to go? No, not for me.
I’m in this life fully until it’s over and for me that means stretching myself intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. Stress free is not for me.
Imbolc Valentine Moon
Glad to see the Valentine Moon fade away. It presided over a difficult month.
The snow storm that wasn’t. Instead of 6-12, we got maybe 2. But it is -2 for temp. Before the storm that failed Kate and I watched the fog rolling in, covering the lodgepoles and the aspens. A bit of snow here and there, but mostly the fog coming down Black Mountain.
Kate’s feeling better. She smiles more, jokes. Her food intake was low and not nutritious before the tpn. It seems like we may be going in the right direction. At last.
Got the freezer defrosted. We have an insulated garage. As I restored the items to the freezer out of the Option Care styrofoam containers, I took inventory. Good stuff in the freezer still, even though we lost several items to freezer burn. Chili. Gravy. Challah. Sauces.
Very domestic day. Defrost freezer. Change Kate’s nutrition bag. Cook supper: hamburgers, tator tots, and kale cooked with bacon in the instapot. A load of laundry. Empty and reload the dishwasher. Home stuff. Satisfying.
Saw a meme on facebook. A deranged, autocratic psychopath showed up in Singapore. Kim Jong Un was there, too. Korea is personal. Not only is it SeoAh’s home, the two of them could return to Osan at some point.