We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

All That Falls Shall Be Reborn

Lughnasa                                                                 Kate’s Moon

lughnasaOh. Right. Slept in yesterday until 7:30 am. About 2.5 hours past normal rising. The guy from Conifer Gutter came by to give us an estimate on needle guards for our gutters. Then, well, I worked out and forgot to post.

But, here we are on Tuesday, 48 degrees outside after a drippy, Midwest-nostalgia day of rain yesterday. Kate sewed; I dithered. Read a bit more on Dark Ecology and responding to the ecocide. That sort of uplifting thing.

Still don’t have the rhythm of the new workout routine and actual work down. This is because I shifted my workout to mornings-cooler and less likely to get distracted. That’s also my best working time, for writing and research not to mention stuff around the house. I’ll get it eventually, but the herky-jerky rhythm I’ve got now feels, well, herky-jerky.

Went to an energizing lecture titled Fifty Shades of Talmud. Yes, it was about sex in this compilation of commentaries and arguments that created Rabbinic Judaism. The woman who wrote the book, Maggie Anton, spoke about talmud study with an infectious enthusiasm. Made me glad. I love to see people living from their passion, deep into something that fascinates them.

lughnasa1

Kate, for example, loves to sew and quilt. She finished a great wall hanging for me yesterday, four moose prints on a field of green. I’ve long considered the moose my spirit animal. Thanks, sweetheart.

Rigel continues to spend her every outdoor moment yearning after jaws against the flesh of tiny critters. She sniffs under the deck and on the deck, presumably following the movements of whatever is under there. She digs and sniffs and barks under the shed, too. She’s rejuvenated and following her doggy passion. In fact, she’s my new third phase role model. I want to be like Rigel. No, I’m not going to start sniffing the deck, barking under the shed, but I want to live my life like she’s living hers, all in.

 

 

 

Kate, Judaism and Pine Pollen

Beltane                                                                             Moon of the Summer Solstice

20170405_152848Kate continues to struggle with dry mouth, a very sore throat and other symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome. She’s lost weight as a result. Lab tests don’t suggest anything terminal going on, but her distress is significant. If you know Kate, you know she has an energizer bunny mode, but she’s been on the battery depleted side of that equation for a while now.

Lots of Jewish stuff this week: Star Trek and Judaism on Tuesday, kabbalah on Wednesday, mussar and a meeting with Rabbi Jamie yesterday, and a Grateful Dead shabbat service tonight. I’m learning a lot and slowly integrating into the congregation. When I mentioned the possibility of an Evergreen Forum, a quarterly series of speakers somewhat analogous to the Westminster Forum in Minneapolis, I somehow ended up on the adult education committee, too. In that role I’m now helping coordinate the forum. As I said here earlier, I’m happy to have a place in a religious community with no leadership responsibility. A novel and fun experience for me.

20170613_203228A new seasonal reality for us: pine pollen. All these lodgepole pines insist on involving on us in their reproductive orgy that happens this time of year. A fine yellow dust settles on everything. Coming in easily even through screens, it’s especially apt to settle on things electrical, so the computers and the tv and the microwave all have a coating. It also coats our solar panels, reducing their efficiency. If it rains, a yellow scrim settles over the driveway, pooling where the water does. I wish these pines could figure out a more direct way to make more pines.

 

 

 

Live long

by Gage Skidmore

by Gage Skidmore

Beltane                                                                          Moon of the Summer Solstice

Pushing myself. Up to 10,000 steps on the four days I don’t do resistance work, 5,000 on those days. Feels good, so I’ll probably stay at it. The resistance work is helping, too. Less knee pain, less stiffness, better balance.

Looked at lilacs on Monday. After reading some material online, it looks like Syringa vulgaris (guess what? common lilac) and Syringa x prestonia, a Canadian cultivar, work well at our altitude. Gonna put in two bushes this year and see how they do. If they do well, I’ll add more next year. Cautionary note: don’t add fuel where it might feed a fire in the trees. They both need full sun and at least some amended soil. That we can provide.

Blessing that is the origin of the Vulcan salute

Blessing that is the origin of the
Vulcan salute

Last night I went to an interesting session, Star Trek and Judaism at Beth Evergreen. Several original cast members were Jewish, most prominent among them William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

A fascinating take away was the origin of the Vulcan salute. Nimoy, as the sole Vulcan in the main cast, got to have a lot of say about developing Vulcan culture. He attended a service in which the shekinah, the feminine aspect of God, gets invited in. She’s so powerful that everyone shields their eyes and a group of men upfront were wailing, according to Nimoy in a video clip. He decided to peek and noticed that they were holding their fingers in what you would immediately recognize as the familiar Vulcan greeting. It’s the Hebrew letter shin, the first letter of shekinah, shalom, sabbath.

 

 

 

10,000 Things

Beltane                                                                       Moon of the Summer Solstice

Hiking Staunton State Park yesterday launched me on my first day ever of 10,000 steps, actually 11,435. A weird thing to be proud of, I know, but still, I am. My eventual goal is to hit at least 10,000 every day. First though, I had to do it once and yesterday was that day.

A few memories of that hike:

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Life in the Rockies

Beltane                                                                        Moon of the Summer Solstice

zoharpageHeavy rain yesterday afternoon, felt like being back in the humid East. Black Mountain is no longer white; it’s green with its lodgepole and aspen looking healthy. It’s gone from white haired old man to green man. Good to see. Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek and Blue Creek are all full. The snowpack is well above average. A much better scenario for this summer. Thankful.

I’m relieved at Kate’s news, again. She’s had a rough time since the second week of my surgery and I hope the ENT doc has her on a path to eating with no pain. This is seven months of up and down health. Tough for her.

Second kabbalah class tonight at Beth Evergreen. I’m beyond fascinated. This Jewish mystical tradition seems to synch up with the way my mind and spirit work. I haven’t been this excited since I began to move toward paganism many years ago. The three main threads in my spiritual life have been, for a long time now, existentialism, paganism and Taoism. Looks like I may be adding a fourth.

 

Think Again

Beltane                                                                Moon of the Summer Solstice

images (1)Reimagining Faith has been a project of mine since I slipped out of the Unitarian Universalist world leaving behind both Christianity and liberal religion, the first too narrow in its theology, the second too thin a broth. The stimulation for the project lay first in a decision I made to focus on my Celtic heritage for the writing I wanted to do. This commitment led me to the Great Wheel of the Year and its manifestation literally took root in the work Kate and I did at our Andover home.

When we bought the house there, it sat on a lot with the usual scraped earth look of new home construction. It had no lawn, no trees in front, no soil adequate for growing flowers. We hired a landscape architect and added several thousand dollars to the mortgage for his work which included retaining walls, perennial beds, wild prairie on two sides of our house and tiered perennial beds in the back with a patio at their bottom. Our goal was to enjoy the landscaping throughout the time we owned the house. And we did.

2011 10 13_1265In retrospect our request to him to make it all as low maintenance as possible seems laughable. He did as we wanted, putting in such sturdy plants as Stella D’oro, a species of daylily, shrubs, a bur oak and a Norwegian pine, some amur maples, a hardy brand of shrub rose, juniper, yew, a magnolia that Kate wanted, and a river birch. This work included an in-ground irrigation system and the very strange experience of having no lawn until one morning when the sod people came and rolled it out. Then we had a lawn that evening.

2012 05 01_4112We looked at it, saw that it was good and thought we were done. Ha. It began with a desire for flowers. I wanted to have fresh flowers available throughout the growing season, so I studied perennials. At that time I thought I was still holding to the low maintenance idea. I would plant perennials that would bloom throughout the Minnesota growing season, roughly May 15 to September 15, go out occasionally and cut the blooms, put them in a vase, repeat until frost killed them all back. Then, the next year the perennials would return and the process would recur. Easy, right?

No. Gardens are alive. They are dynamic. Species of flowers have very different horticultural needs. Some, like the spring ephemerals, grow early to avoid the shade of leafed out trees and shrubs. Some, like bleeding hearts and hosta, require shade. Others, like iris, a particular favorite of Kate, need an application of a pesticide to eliminate iris borers. Others, like tulips, wear out in the harsh weather cycles common to Minnesota. Trees planted around the beds grow, too, changing the sun and shade areas from year to year. Soil gets depleted as plants take nutrients from it to fuel their growth. Different flowers require different sorts of soil, too.

06 20 10_Garden_0052Once this world opened up to us, we began to enjoy working with all these variables to create beauty around our home. Gardening for flowers, eh? Well, how about some vegetables. This led to a two-year project of cutting down thorny black locust, chipping the branches, then hiring a stump grinder. After this was done, Jon built us several raised beds. We filled them with good soil and compost. Tomatoes, potatoes, beans, garlic, leeks, onions, carrots, beets flourished. Vegetables, eh? Why not fruit and nuts?

400_late summer 2010_0163Ecological Gardens came in with permaculture principles and added apple trees, plums, cherry trees, pears, currants, gooseberry bushes, blueberry bushes and hawthorns. On the vegetable garden site they added raspberries, a sun trap for tomatoes, and an herb spiral. At that point then we were maintaining multiple perennial flower beds, several vegetable beds, fruit trees and the bees that I had started keeping.

We did later add a firepit and picnic area, but those were the main horticultural efforts. This was a twenty year long immersion in plants and their needs, the way the seasons affected them and our human responsibility for their care.

WheelofYear1GIFWhen I stepped away from the Presbyterian ministry after marrying Kate, the Celtic pagan faith reflected in the Great Wheel began to inform my theological bent more and more. What was to come in the place of the Christian path? Perhaps it was a way of understanding our human journey, our pilgrimage as part of the planet on which we live rather than as separate from it or dominate over it.

Wicca, though, and the various neo-pagan movements seemed thin to me, not without merit as earth-based faiths, but often filled with gimcrackery and geegaws rather than guidance for the next phase of human existence here. I began to wonder about an ur-faith, a way of believing, of being religious, that could exist alongside, even below the other faith traditions, some path that could put us back in the natural world (from which we have never actually removed ourselves) and in so doing undergird the kind of compassion for our planet that might save humanity.

This is the concept behind reimagining faith. Is it possible to create a framework for an earth-based faith that respects science, yet offers ritual and private contemplative practices? What would a book look like that attempts to create a theology, conceptual scaffolding for such a faith? I got this far a while ago. But something has stopped me from moving forward. This post is about poking myself to move forward.

HesseI have finished 7 novels and am nearing completion of an 8th. So I can work on a long term project and see it through to completion. I’ve also been part of creating several organizations still in existence in Minnesota, among them MICAH, Jobs Now, and The Minnesota Council of NonProfits (originally the Philanthropy Project). These, too, are long term efforts that I helped see to completion.

Over time I’ve also worked with several other institutions in various roles that lasted for years: the Sierra Club, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Citizens for a Loring Park Community, the Stevens Square Community Organization, the West Bank PAC and the West Bank Community Development Corporation, not to mention the Presbyterian Church and the Unitarian-Universalists.

2010 01 19_3455I’ve had less persistence in my two non-fiction writing projects: an ecological history of Lake Superior and Reimagining Faith. Not sure why. Getting started on the research and idea end was not a problem, I have file folders, bookshelves, posts here on Ancientrails and various sketches for outlines. But I’ve never sustained the push to finish.

My now year long immersion in Reconstructionist Judaism, studying first mussar (ethics) and now kabbalah, has caused several sparks to go off for the Reimagining Faith work. I’m beginning to feel the urge to commit substantial writing time, thinking time to this project. What I’d like to do is produce a book that would lay out the skeleton and put some flesh on it. At that point I’d like Reimagining to become a collaborative project with whomever feels an attraction to it.

So let be it said, so let it be done. Yul Brynner, the Ten Commandments.

Ichi-go ichi-e Once in a lifetime

Beltane                                                                                   Rushing Waters Moon

Fog this morning over Black Mountain. It comes in and out of view as the mist moves toward us. Now it’s gone altogether. There’s a thin scrim of icy snow on the solar panels. Colder last night.

Kanō Eitoku (1543–1590), Cypress Trees

Kanō Eitoku (1543–1590), Cypress Trees

My Japanese informed aesthetic often finds resonance here in the mountains. The ponderosa pines that surround Beth Evergreen’s synagogue present heavily crenulated bark, twisted branches and a sturdy calm. From the sanctuary, looking south and east, one window pane has an especially crooked branch that reaches up like a hand. When the snow comes, it looks like a portion of a Kano school gold screen. Ravens and crows land on these branches, too, also emulating the scenery that inspired so many Japanese painters and printers.

Moon watching, a Japanese pastime, has its analogue here as well. The moon rising and setting among the mountain peaks, clouds placing a thin gauze in front of it, the stars as its context, emphasize the moon’s romance. I can stand on my deck here off the loft and watch clouds cross the moon’s face. Its silvered light makes beautiful shadows of the lodgepole pine.

Hokusai (1760-1849), Boats and Moon, an ukiyo-e print

Hokusai (1760-1849), Boats and Moon, an ukiyo-e print

Big eared mule deer and thick, tall elk come down to Maxwell and Cub creeks, lapping up the cold fresh melted snow. Mountain lions slip noiselessly through the undergrowth, lie prone on rock cliffs waiting for them to pass nearby. Bears root up tubers. Minx, bobcats, pine martens, smaller predators, hunt for prey. Rabbits and squirrels and mice feed, look over their shoulder. The web of life is vibrant.

Bull Elk, Evergreen, 2015

Bull Elk, Evergreen, 2015

Ichi-go ichi-e is a Japanese phrase often associated with the tea ceremony. The tea master arranges art in the tokinama, chooses teas and sweets, decides which tea bowls and tea pots and tea utensils to use, then greets their guests as they arrive, often no more than one or two. He does this to create an ichi-go ichi-e, a once in a lifetime moment or for this moment only. It connotes the treasure of each meeting between or among people.

Each moment of the day Black Mountain offers ichi-go ichi-e to those of us who live near it, if only we stop and look. To appreciate ichi-go ichi-e though we need to pause, or as mussar teaches us, put a space between the match and the flame. If we slow down our glance, our gaze, let it come to rest, if we take a breath and consider what is right there in front of us, then we find once in a lifetime moments happening throughout our day.

Ponderosa Pine, Beth Evergreen, April, 2017

Ponderosa Pine, Beth Evergreen, April, 2017

These do not, as you might think, cheapen or dilute over time, rather they enhance our experience of the world. We recognize the fleeting nature of life, of this moment and that moment, of the unique and precious and irreplaceable flavor to each encounter. Nothing is old, all is new, always.

In fact, to the extent that we can gain an appreciation of ichi-go ichi-e, then we never age.

 

The Vernal Equinox, 2017

Spring                                                                        Anniversary Moon

In the latter half of the 20th century, the spring emergence of leaves, frogs, birds and flowers advanced in the Northern Hemisphere by 2.8 days per decade.”  NYT, The Seasons Aren’t What They Used To Be*, March 19, 2017. See an NYT graphic representation here.

650 2011 04 20_0898

 

We’re celebrating the spring equinox with yet another red flag warning. We need precipitation. Spring in the mountains is not yet, though the temperatures felt like it this whole last week.

A while ago I asked an entomologist at the Cedar Creek Nature Center in Anoka County what was the key phenological sign of spring. Bloodroot blossoming was his answer. Up here on Shadow Mountain it seems to be pasque flowers and they are blooming. Yet in many years, most years, there would be no pasque flower blooms now due to snow cover.

On the Great Wheel, the spring equinox is the point when the promise of Imbolc’s freshening of the ewes begins to appear in the plant kingdom. Leaves push out. Spring ephemerals hurry up and bloom, getting out ahead of tree and shrub leaf shade. Buds for later blossoms appear. Green pushes out brown. The sound of tractors are heard in the fields.

This storied season has a vital presence in poetry, song and many of the world’s religions. Mother earth seems to defy the fallow season, the cold season by creating life abundant from little more than sun and soil. No wonder the tales of resurrection in Christianity, in the Egyptian legend of Osiris and Isis, and the Greek’s Orpheus and Euridice, Demeter and Persephone have their analogs in spring.

bulbsYet it is not a true analog. Mother earth only seems to defy winter and the fallow time. It is not, in fact, death and resurrection, but a continuum of growth, slowed in the cold, yes, but not stopped forever, then magically restarted. Corms, bulbs, tubers and rhizomes all store energy from the previous growing season and wait only for the right temperature changes to release it. Seeds sown by wind and animal, by human hand are not dead either. They only await water and the right amount of light to send out roots and stalks.

20170318_163044I prefer the actual analog in which human and other animals’ bodies, plant parts and the detritus of other kingdoms, all life, return their borrowed materials to the inanimate cache, allowing them to be reincarnated in plant and animal alike, ad infinitum. Does this deny some metaphysical change, some butterfly-like imaginal cell possibility for the human soul? No. It claims what can be claimed, while reserving judgment on those things that cannot.

After Beth Evergreen’s mediation shabbat service last week, a member of the congregation and I got on to the topic of death. “I think it will be like before I was born,” he said. “Yes, I’m a nihilist, too,” I said. “But, I admit the possibility of being surprised.” He agreed.

Brand-Storytelling-In-The-Post-Truth-EraIt is spring, I think, that gives us this hope, no matter how faint, that death might be only a phase change, a transition from this way of becoming to another. It’s possible.

A necessary complement to the objectivity of science, then, is the subjectivity of experience. An enthusiastic openness to the lives of other species — the timing of tree blooms on city streets, the calls of frogs in wetlands or the arrival of migratory birds — is an act of resistance to deceptions and manipulations that work most powerfully when we’re ignorant. “Post-truth” does not exist in the opening of tree buds.” ibid

 

Imbolc, 2017

Imbolc                                                                                 Valentine Moon

 

Feb

Imbolc, or in-the-belly, celebrates the time in Ireland when the ewes would freshen. Their pregnancies meant milk would be available after the long fallow season that had begun at Samain, Summer’s End.

Pregnant ewe

Pregnant ewe

Imbolc lies halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, what the Celt’s called a cross-quarter holiday since it falls between two quarters defined by the solar year. That milk is also a promise, like the gradual lengthening of days after the longest night of the year in late December, that spring and the growing season will come.

It’s easy for us in our refrigerated, grocery stored world to gloss over these signals of the natural world. It seems like we don’t require them anymore. After all we can buy milk, cow’s milk, at any time of the day or night, 365 days a year. And the growing season particular to our latitude and longitude also seems irrelevant since it’s always the growing season somewhere on earth. The occasional gaps that even modern transportation can’t resolve can often be filled by greenhouse or hydroponically grown produce. We’re good, right?

I’m afraid not. Celebrating Imbolc or any of the Great Wheel holidays will not resolve our alienation from the sources of our sustenance, the sun and mother earth, but this ancient tradition exists to call us back home. The Great Wheel is a reminder that the cycle of life continues, even when the fields and animals are barren. The power of the sun, working in harmony with the soil, with plants, with animals that eat the plants does not disappear. It can be trusted.

awakening

It is though, that alienation, evident in so many ways, that drives climate change, that creates produce modified for harvest and storage, not human well-being, that underwrites the paving over of cropland and wetlands. We imagine that somehow the droughts in California will stop there. We hope they’ll be confined to somewhere else, somewhere where we’re not. Global agriculture means we’ll be affected wherever the damage occurs.

Colorado River Basin

Right here in Colorado we have a key example of the interdependence for which the Great Wheel stands. Our snowpack, high in the Rockies where the Colorado River rises for its journey south toward its ancient destination in the Gulf of California, determines the amount of water available to nine states. Including California. Winter snowfall, melted by the increasing warmth of spring and summer, nourishes millions of people, cities like Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

common ground

In the age of Trump and rising nationalist, right wing populism, the need for the Great Wheel has never been more profound. It softens our in the moment, human conflicts by lifting up the long term, the cycles of life in which all humans, all life participate. The Great Wheel reminds us that there is no other when it comes to living on this planet. We’re all here and bound to one another, connected. My hope is that someday, perhaps someday soon, we’ll all realize that and adjust our politics accordingly.

 

Life does, in fact, go on

Samain                                                                        Thanksgiving Moon

20161015_184129

Kate and Ruth

In spite of the political upheaval life, as it always does, continues, mostly in its old grooves. Here on Shadow Mountain for example the divorce process has entered its waning days. Final orders will be issued late this month though the outline for them, largely fair and equitable is already known. Jon’s anxiety level has receded. Good and heartening to see.

We had Asplundh tree service here on Friday and Monday clearing out the tree cover from the power line easement. I spoke with the workers, current day lumberjacks operating outside the timber industry.

“That’s hard work,” I said.

“Yes, but it’s honest. No shortcuts.” replied the bearded young man in charge of the crew. He’s right about that.

The utility bills from IREA, Intermountain Rural Electric Association, have been, since May,  $10, a line fee that supports such work as the Asplundh team. The electricity we use has been produced by our solar panels.

Lycaon

Lycaon

I continue to write, now upwards of 63,000 words (I was a little too early when I said I’d reached 60,000 last week.).

Kate and I are becoming more and more a part of Congregation Beth Evergreen. It’s an interesting experience for me. I’m a participant, not a leader. I like it, being part of a community but not being responsible for it. I can help in modest ways and that feels appropriate to me for right now. That may change though with the political work that is brewing.

It’s dry, no snow. According to the weather services, this could reach a record snowless period for Denver. We’ve had a little snow on Shadow Mountain, but only two instances, rare. This, plus the winds and the low humidity, means the potential fire situation here remains at an elevated risk.

This morning at 10 I have my pre-op physical for my December 1st total knee replacement. The pain in the knee worsens, it seems, by the day. That’s good, I tell Kate, because it’ll feel so much better after the new knee. I’m grateful there’s something that can be done about it.

thanksgiving-wishAnd, improbably, it will be Thanksgiving next week. There is no hint of over the river and through the woods weather to stimulate that Thanksgiving feeling. We may get a storm on Thursday. That would help.

We’re going to smoke a small turkey. Annie will be here from Waconia, Jon and the grandkids. Unlike the nation we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving on Wednesday because the grandkids go to their mom’s for Thanksgiving this year. Under the new divorce terms holidays alternate and this year is Jen’s Thanksgiving. It will be good once again to have family (and dogs) underfoot during the holiday.

Just realized in all the election fun I’ve allowed holiseason to get started without any remarks. Look for that to change as we head into the most holiday rich season of the year.

 

 

 

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