We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Old, but not dead

Summer                                                                         Woolly Mammoth Moon

20180705_07254120180705_072553Sixth dead tree down. All limbed, the slash moved to the road, and Elk Creek Fire Department notified. They have a new program this year. We put slash within 5 feet of the road and in 5 foot or so piles. They’ll come by and chip it. This is not a small deal since the last slash chipping I had done cost $600. Sometime in the next few days I’ll cut all six of them into fireplace sized chunks and stack them.

Just a few stray aspen in the wrong places to fell and I’m done with tree work for the year. I like it. It’s outside, the smell of fresh cut wood, get to use my body, creates firewood and helps give our property a better chance in a very high fire season. I miss the same sort of work that our large gardens in Andover used to give me, but I have no intention of recreating those here. Too hard up here, other things to do. Well, if we had a greenhouse, I’d get back to it. I miss working with plants, with the soil.

20180704_110235A friend wrote about my life here in Colorado. He is, he said, intentionally simplifying, trying to have fewer obligations, yet I’m taking care of dogs, doing more work around the house, cutting down trees and teaching at Beth Evergreen. Now I happen to know that this same guy, who is older than I am, recently completed a show in which he made posters of all the bridges across the Mississippi in the Twin Cities. He has also found a patron who loves his art, so he’s producing larger art works across various media. Not exactly slowing down in that sense. Life in the old lane does force us to make choices about how to use the energy and time we have, but so does every other phase of life. Now though we know ourselves better so we can get more bang for the time and energy.

His comment did give me pause, wondering if I’m ignoring the moment, the actual state of my life. Kate and I were talking about this a couple of days ago in relation to her diminished energy, occasioned by Sjogrens, arthritis and this damned nausea that afflicts her. When we whack down the nausea mole, I’m hoping the other symptoms will give her some rest for a while, especially since her shoulder surgery has been so successful. Even so, we do have to adjust to our current physical and energetic and intellectual reality, and she’s not likely to go back to the energizer mode of yesterday.

20180704_111915Here’s my situation. I have my chronic illnesses, collected along the way. I don’t hear worth a damn, have stage III kidney disease (stable), glaucoma, high blood pressure, an anxiety disorder (which, frankly, is much, much improved), arthritis in various spots. A repaired achilles tendon and a titanium left knee make my legs not what they were. All these are facts. If you ask me, I’ll tell you, though, that my health is excellent. None of this drags me down, either physically or emotionally.

ancora impari

ancora impari

Having said that, my intellectual faculties seem intact though I admit it’s hard to know sometimes from the inside. I’m emotionally more stable, less reactive, have a more nuanced approach to relationships, much of this thanks to the lessons of mussar at Beth Evergreen and the very sensible approach to life that is Jewish culture. THC helps me sleep better than I have in my life. Writing still excites me, makes me feel puissant and I have projects underway, a novel and a collection of short stories, plus an idea for a novelization of the Medea myth. Kate and I have a great relationship, we do a lot of things together, enjoying the years of getting to understand and appreciate each other. Grandparenting is a wonderful life moment.

Right now, in other words, I am old, 71 is past the three score and ten, yet I’m still eager, still curious, still hopeful, still physically able. So for me, 71 is my age, but decrepitude has not captured me yet. It will, if I live long enough, I’m sure, and slowing down, when it becomes necessary, is something I foresee. It doesn’t frighten me, since death doesn’t frighten me. Until then, I’m going to keep plowing ahead, purpose driven and excited about life and its various offerings.




Will Wonders Never Cease?

Summer                                                                   Woolly Mammoth Moon

Happy to report that the two friends with critical life moments had good news, one through medical surveillance and one through a lifetime of work brought into clear focus. May the congregation say, Amen. Or, blessed be.

Under the Woolly Mammoth Moon two natural wonders continue apace. The 416 fire, though now reporting 37% containment, has increased in size to 47,000 acres plus and further information on the inciweb site for it indicate weather conditions are favorable for the fire to continue to grow. In addition to its location only 13 miles north of Durango, where my buddies and I spent a weekend, it’s also very close to Mesa Verde and the Canyon of the Ancients. This fire began on June 1st and has lasted into the difficult fire conditions of midsummer.

Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde, Mark Odegard

Cliff Palace of Mesa Verde, Mark Odegard

Back on the Big Island, Kilauea continues to erupt.

June 27 fissure 8 cone supplies lava to the ocean overflows

June 27 fissure 8 cone supplies lava to the ocean overflows USGS. The cone is now nearly 180 feet high.

June 28 Night view of the lava channel toward fissure 8 under a nearly full moon.

June 28 Night view of the lava channel toward fissure 8 under a nearly full moon. USGS

At the Kilauea caldera, Halemaʻumaʻu crater, home of the goddess Pele, continues to deepen and subside, the floor now 1,300 feet below what used to be the overlook area. The USGS reports that the popular parking lot next to the crater is no more, having fallen into Halemaʻumaʻu.


Cliff Palace

Beltane                                                           Woolly Mammoth Moon

The Quadruplets

The Quadruplets

We drove yesterday where others walked long ago. The drive from the visitor center at Mesa Verde to the Cliff Palace where we went on an hour long tour took a long while, maybe 30 minutes up an incline. The land at Mesa Verde slopes up at an angle with fingers of land separated by eroded valleys. At the end of these wide fingers the land slopes down again, gently. As a result, according to an exhibit at the Spruce Tree dwelling museum, Mesa Verde is not a mesa at all, but a cuesta. Mesa’s have sharp cliffs while cuesta’s slope, as they do here, toward the lower ground.


Paul and Mark descending

The route down to Cliff Palace (I’ll post pictures when I get back home) was the same one the cliff dwellers used, narrow steps cut into sandstone, augmented a bit by the occasional iron railing. There was, too, a ten foot ladder on the way down and two ten foot ladders on the way out which also followed a cliff dweller path. It would have been a fun place to grow up as a kid, scrambling up and down over rock and ladders, a more or less level surface above the home site where games could be played.

As at many sites where rock was a primary building material, the skill level was high with walls that were plumb, right angles, and a mortar that both bound the rock together and allowed water to seep through without loosening.


Cliff Palace

Mark asked an interesting question about wall coverings. These rocky appearing structures would have had several coats of plaster on them and would have been painted. That means they would have looked much different than they do now.

A ranger at the visitor center compared Mesa Verde to Giza and other World Heritage sites. When Tom asked him what was good about working there, “We get visitors from all over the world.” Another Ranger I talked to, Doug Crispin, had an obvious reverence for this Park. He was a first generation immigrant and said, “This is an American story. I’m honored to be here to share it.” He and I mused over a thousand years from now, “Will anyone be coming to look at the ruins of Durango? Probably not. But Mesa Verde will still be here.”

Right outside my hotel room is a small balcony with two chairs, a small table and a view of the Animas River. Had I been in this room on April 7th of 2015 the Animas would have been a sickly, mustard yellow thanks to the toxic spill from the Gold King Mine upstream from here. It’s clear now, with people kayaking, long  boarding, even fishing, but it took a long time. Here’s a hardly reassuring couple of paragraphs from the Durango Herald, April of this year:

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House

San Juan Basin Public Health said water samples taken throughout the Animas River indicate there’s no risk to human or environmental health from normal use of the waterway.

However, the health department suggests people who come in contact with the river to wash with soap, keep a close watch on children who are more susceptible to unintentionally swallowing river water and treat water before consumption.

Meanwhile, the 416 fire, from the same newspaper, an hour ago: “The 416 Fire hasn’t exhaled its last column of smoke yet, but steady rainfall Saturday did help tame the 16-day-old wildfire and allow firefighters to increase containment lines around the 34,161-acre blaze.

20180616_122340I slept last night with the patio door open, screen closed. I could hear the Animas, the river of souls, running. When I woke up this morning, it was raining. My ear was eager for the sound, found it soothing, familiar in a humid East, Midwestern way.

Being with Tom, Paul, and Mark has reminded us all of the depth our long time relationships has nurtured. We move together through the day easily, listening to each other, making decisions, continuing lines of thought, sparking new ones. One of Paul’s hopes is that this trip might encourage us to use a meeting app like Zoom to get together even while far apart physically. I’d like that and hope we can make it work, too.

Kate says the stump grinder got a lot done in 2 hours. I’m excited to see it. An outdoor room. Later we’ll have him back to do the front, leaving widely spaced trees with no stumps.


The True Yellow Peril

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon


This morning

In January the solar panels often disappear under snow cover. In June they’re more likely to be covered in pine pollen. Both reduce their effectiveness. Snow, however, does not reduce my effectiveness while the true yellow peril does. Fuzzy, nose focused, weighed down not only by the pollen but by the helps (and thank god for them) for the symptoms. No good solutions here. Do what you can. Wait.

the orgy continues

the orgy continues

Two full days now, Friday and Saturday, given over to sneezing, lack of sleep (due to sneezing), consuming nasal steriods, second generation antihistamines (so called non-drowsy), and using saline sprays. Not to mention eliminating the current stash of kleenex we have. All this more for the record here than anything else.

Whinging stops.



Just in Time

Beltane                                                                                           Mountain Moon

Time The_Persistence_of_Memory By Image taken from About.com, Fair use,en.wikipedia.org w index.php curid 20132344

The Persistence of Memory, Dali, 1931.  By Image taken from About.com, Fair use, en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php cur id 20132344

Time last night. Qabbalah. Does the past exist? Oh? How do you know? Key learning, something I have to learn and relearn, the past exists, yes, but only in the present. Just like, oddly, the future. Why? We never have any time other than the present. Never. We can pull ourselves away from awareness of the present by being focused on the past regrets, anger, guilt, yet we can only experience the past in the present. So, whether it has any ontological reality or not, we cannot know it except as a ghost that we carry forward with us.

Likewise, the future never arrives. Free beer tomorrow. Our dreams or fears or hopes or anguish about a future event can affect us, but, again, only in the present. Now is all there is, and, again oddly, the moment we think of the now, it is past.

Kilauea Leilani May 5 lava fountains 230 feet high, USGS

Kilauea Leilani May 5 lava fountains 230 feet high, USGS

Moment to moment the Reconstructionist prayer book says, the process of creation is renewed. Creation continues. Revelation continues. Tradition changes. This seems right to me and offers us substantial hope. We are not bound by past. This moment is new and we can choose in it to experience the past differently, to change the narrative, to reframe. In the same way we can choose-this is very existential-to reframe our future hopes and fears.

Time nowIn the present, which has never existed before and will recede as if it were never there, all things can be made new. This is a subtle idea, at once obvious and at the same time almost impossible to grasp. Yet it is true that the 71 years of my life have passed in moments, always in the now. Even in 1947 my life passed moment to moment in increments, the very same as the increments I experience today in 2018.

Reb Zalman, founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, and a resident of Boulder until his death, talks about sin as a remnant of the past that is no longer useful, a story whose narrative obscures our ability to be in the present and, therefore, to make choices in the present. I really like this idea since it removes sin from morality and certainly removes it from any stain on the essence of a person. When we discussed this last night, I offered a metaphor from gardening, “A weed is a plant out of place.”

Terraforming. Buck Rogers, eat your heart out

Beltane                                                                                    Mountain Moon

Kim Stanley Robinson: Red, Blue, Green Mars meet the proposal.

The Future of Food

Imbolc                                                                           New Shoulder Moon

third plate Mentioned The Third Plate a few posts ago. A book by chef Dan Barber, owner of the Blue Hill restaurant in Manhattan and a principle in the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County.

Rotation Grains
smoked farmer’s cheese and broccoli pistou
Maine Diver Scallop
bacon, winter squash and kohlrabi
Stone Barns Pig
tsai tsai, horseradish and pickled grapes
11 day dry-aged bolero carrot steak
mushroom, kale and onion rings
blue hill farm milk
yogurt, turmeric and ginger
Malted Triticale porridge
White Chocolate, quince and Beer Ice Cream
Stone Barn Center for Food and Agriculture

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

He uses four big concept areas, pictured at the top: Soil, Land, Sea, Seed to tell a story about what he sees as the future of food. He’s trying to take the conversation about food beyond the now well known critiques of books like Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Aldo Leopold’s The Sand County Almanac, and any number of books published in the late sixties like Eull Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher. Throw in Wes Jackson’s Becoming Native to This Place, almost anything by Wendell Berry and the thought world championed by John Muir and Edward Abbey and you can see the big conceptual field Barber has tried to plow.

He seems on to something. Using examples like the dehesa in Spain that produces jambon iberico, The Bread Lab run by Washington State plant geneticist Stephen Jones, the farm of Klaas Martens who teaches him about reading the language of the soil, Veta La Palma, a Spanish aquaculture corporation set up in an estuary of the Gulf of Cadiz, and Anson Mills, a fascinating concept by Glenn Roberts who uses landrace farming to resurrect old grain crops and nurture new ones, he seems to propose a recursion to localized crops, that is, wheat, for example, that grows best in upstate New York.  This recursion includes animals, too, where their rearing takes on the characteristics that oenologists call terroir in wines.


This recursion would have chefs take their cues, their menus, from what farmers can grow in their immediate area and from those sites with a focus on sustainability and ecosystem regeneration. The fascinating aquaculture experiment that is Veta La Palma  uses the Guadalquivir River and the salt water of the Gulf of Cadiz to farm high quality sea bass. The focus does not have to be only local or regional but can include instances of food production with ecosystem supportive techniques.

This seems similar to the disaggregation idea in power production, local solar and wind and geothermal and hydro.  Anything that deemphasizes the industrial and the corporate in favor of the local and ecological.


He talks about his idea in agriculture as middle agriculture, that is agriculture smaller than corporate, but larger than the small family farm or the boutique garden. He’s trying to get to scale sufficient that it could actually feed large numbers of people.

It makes me want to cook in the way he suggests. That is, find food grown here in the Rockies, use it along with food sourced from the Veta La Palmas, the dehesas or the Bread Labs, and build our menus at home around it, changing with the seasons. Right now that would take a good bit of work, but it might be possible and it would certainly be worth it.

A continuing theme.

the tao

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

taoHad a strong sense yesterday of the tao. Often elusive for me, yesterday had a distinct flavor, a wind blowing through the events of the day and I rode with it.

Gabe’s sick, a croupy respiratory bug. Now, Jon has to deal with this as a single parent. A sick kid and two working parents is hard, but a sick kid and two divorced working parents is harder.

Into Aurora yesterday at eight a.m. to pick Gabe up and bring him up here. It was daylight saving time, the next day, and I felt loggy, off, a mild buzzing in my head and stomach not quite settled. There’s only one route to Aurora from here, Hwy 285 which becomes Hampden Road in Denver. Hampden runs through southern Denver, four lane at points, six lanes at others, lots of businesses, especially past Interstate 25 headed east.

I’d waited until eight to leave to avoid rush hour. The tao of the day laughed. At about Swedish hospital traffic seemed to slow, slow, slow, then crawl. And, occasionally, stop. Three lanes of traffic clotted. And, the clot lasted. Usually, from Swedish Hospital to Colorado Avenue is about a three minute drive. Thirty minutes. A lot of it with plenty of time to read the warning label about the semi-fluid lubricant in tire bearings on the semi sitting next to me.

1514204365009It was jaggedy, edgy tao, putting up barriers, then releasing. Gabe had his own struggle with this tao. I was forty minutes late picking him up.

We drove back to the mountains in silence. My hearing aid battery died in Lakewood, about thirty minutes from home. Even with the hearing aid, the noisiness of the Rav4 makes hearing Gabe’s soft voice from the back seat impossible for me.

Once home Kate had to leave for a mani-pedi, so I remained in the house in case Gabe needed anything. He came with a cooler containing ginger ale and cheese.

I felt jangly, stomach still off. Reading the Third Plate kept my mind distracted, a positive barrier to temporary discomfort. This book has a lot to teach. Of the many key learnings so far, one that keeps coming back like a ruminant’s cud was a short encounter between Dan Barber, the author, and Wes Jackson, a hero of mine who runs the Land Institute in Kansas.

Stone Barns and Dan Barber's Blue Hill restaurant

Stone Barns and Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant

Dan had visited an organic farmer in upstate New York who “listened to the language of the soil,” reading soil health from the weeds that grew in his fields. This particular formulation, language of the soil, grabbed me because I had come to the same metaphor over my years of gardening in Andover. The soil speaks, tells you what it needs. You just have to see what you’re looking at. This farmer’s attention to that language resulted in an organic farm, growing mostly heirloom varieties of corn, wheat and other grains, intermixed with soil healing crops like spelt and clover.

After Dan told Wes about this farmer, he nodded. “Yes, Dan. He sounds like a great guy, but it won’t last.” Someone else, he went on, will buy the farm and all of the careful reading of the soil’s language will disappear. The chemical/industrial farming ethos will return. When Wes recognized Dan’s disappointment, he said to him, “What can I say? We live in a fallen world.”

tao3This anecdote has stuck with me, I think, because of the sale of our land in Andover. We did so much, worked hard at creating soils that would grow healthy, vibrant plants, but then we moved on.

It was the tao of Monday, a slow pulsing tao that put up obstacles, then took them down. It placed Gabe’s illness alongside a huge accident with ambulances and fire trucks, wreckers, clean up crews and three lanes of traffic forced down to one lane. It put Wes Jackson’s sigh alongside my sensitive stomach, alongside Kate’s beautiful nails, calming her and getting her ready for surgery next week. Rigel once again pushing her nose into us, pacing. An obstacle. Back on the metronidazole.

Riding with this tao I let the obstacles and their resolutions wash over me, not as frustrations (mostly), but as the way of this Monday. When the day was over, I was glad, especially glad to have been sensitive to the tao.

THC, Taxes and Kabbalah

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon


Taxes mailed in. Two packages headed back to the land of sky blue waters. One to a soon-to-be 70 year old guy. Got more tramadol for Gertie and Rigel. Both of them are arthritic. We know how that feels.

Spent an hour frustrating myself yesterday trying to use my sumi-e brushes and ink. I wanted to draw a raven. The bill kept coming out like a nutcracker or Angelina Jolie’s lips. Beyond my skill level right now. Back to learning strokes. I have completed 10 Hebrew letters, adding a quote and my chop. I bought the chop in Beijing in 1999. First time I’ve used it. A fun add to this work.

20180308_063942 (2)

Well, I’m no calligrapher for sure, but I still like this. A bit funky. Still working. Not gonna do all the letters, but enough to make my kabbalah presentation interesting.

Odd night at Beth Evergreen. A fellow congregant, Jonathan, who describes himself as a CBD evangelist, gave a presentation on cannabis. He has done some research on both CBD’s and THC, in particular their therapeutic value. “We need,” he said, “to reestablish our relationship with these plants. They’ve been used for healing for thousands of years.” The transition is from getting high to getting well.

medicine cannabis oil and hemp marijuana extract

 cannabis oil and hemp marijuana extract

He made some claims that seemed hyperbolic to me, shrinking brain tumors, for example, but the current state of cannabis research is so abysmal that it could be true and no one can prove it.

His basic message was that THC/CBD mixtures were the most effective due to a synergistic effect between these two molecular structures. CBD’s can be derived from hemp plants, which have essentially no THC, or marijuana plants which do have the psychoactive THC. CBD’s relieve pain and have anti-inflammatory properties while THC alone gets you high. Or, as in my case, to sleep each night. The two together have less psychoactivity, but more therapeutic power.

This was part of our adult education program. I show up before the events and set up chairs, this time in a semi-circle. We were in the sanctuary, the Torah ark behind Jonathan with its eternal light glowing. Not your usual adult ed event.

A Horticulturist

Imbolc                                                                           New Life Moon

As my melancholy continues to lift, new and old values push themselves forward, wanting to be included or excluded. I didn’t, for example, attend the Democratic caucus last night. Though I did want to be home for Kate, who uncharacteristically has anxiety about her upcoming surgery, Sjogren’s adds an unknown, I also didn’t want to go. Kate pushed back on this, saying the activist has been an important part of me, well, almost forever. True. And maybe, probably, I’ll alter course on this one, but right now I want to focus on other things.

third-plate-dan-barberIn addition to cooking, the sumi-e (ink brush painting), and working out, I mentioned the possibility of a greenhouse. Expensive, so we’ll see about that. But. I began reading a book I’ve had for a while, The Third Plate. It puts me back in the mental and very physical world of Andover. In fact, the feeling, while I was reading it, was so comfortable, a sort of ah, here I am at home feeling, that I recognized it as an old value pushing itself forward.

It’s more than just getting my hands in the soil, nurturing seeds. It’s about being part of the farm-to-table movement, about acting on eating better food, about staying connected, directly, with mother earth. While reading this, I realized horticulture was a deep part of me, one Kate and I spent a lot of time, energy and money on, not because we had to, but because it was significant and nourishing.

carey_reamsBuddy Bill Schmidt will recognize the quote that begins the chapter on Soil: “See what you’re looking at.” Carey Reams, an unlikely looking radical, used to say this. He was the founder of the outfit from which I purchase soil additives, the High Brix Gardening folks in Farmington, Minnesota. He contended, as do many now in the farm-to-table world, that agriculture went astray long ago, moving toward products that fit mechanized food production rather than human nutrition.

There are too many examples that prove this, unfortunately. One is that the bulk of corn grown in the U.S. either goes for corn syrup or feeding cattle. Another is the development of tomatoes with skins hard enough to stand a mechanical picker.

wheatThe vast wheat fields of the Great Plains grow an annual wheat, two varieties that work well in steel rolling mills. Not only have these annual crops destroyed the ten feet or more of top soil that buffalo and deeply rooted grasses developed there, but the steel mills which make this crop profitable separate the germ and bran from the kernel, leaving only fluffy white flour. What’s bad about that? Well, turns out the nutrition in wheat lies in the germ and the bran.

IMAG0619I guess this is the native Midwesterner in me. I grew up driving past corn fields, pastures filled with Holsteins and Guernseys, pigs and beef cattle. The Andover gardens, the orchard and the bees, along with our small woods satisfied this part of my soul. I’m going to investigate local CSA’s, see if that’s a route back into this world. We have to buy groceries anyway, so why not from folks who share a philosophical position close to my own.

This is different, you see, than being attentive to the lodgepole pines and the aspen, the mule deer and the elk, the fox and the mountain lion. These are part of wild nature and beautiful, also important to my soul. But the world of horticulture, of growing and consuming food and flowers, fruits and honey is, too. A reemerging part of me. And I’m happy to see it, to feel it come.


July 2018
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