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.
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.
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.
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%.
Tomorrow is the Summer Solstice. The day of the sun’s maximum presence for the year. On the solstices the day/night balance shifts. On the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year (though if you check the time tables the difference between June 21st and July 21st is only 13 minutes), the night begins to encroach, slowly.
Whatever guides my soul prefers the dark days, the fallow time. I celebrate on this holiday not the victory of the light, but the coming dominance of the night. I do like the bright blue days here in Colorado, not saying I don’t. Just that my soul gains more richness, more depth as darkness grows. Probably one of the reasons I felt so much at home in Minnesota, at the 45th latitude, half-way to the Northpole.
As a gardener, of course, I relished the light for the vegetables and fruits, for the flowers that fed our bees. The summer solstice signals the growing warmth and long days that nourish all plant life. It was also the time, though, that bugs grew more troublesome, when the humid weather encouraged fungus and mold, viral infections in the plants.
In Sweden, Scotland, and other Gaelic and Scandinavian countries the auld religion still calls to its people. Bonfires. Nudity. Parties through the night. Feasts. I like the idea of them. If there were one close by, I might go.
My relationship with neo-paganism is as fraught as my relationship with Christianity. Judaism, too, at the doctrinal level. There’s so much intellectualizing, writing of ideas, logic. I’ve come to believe that elaborating our feelings toward the natural world in a Wiccan or Asatru way, a neo-pagan syncretic way, is as damaging to the soul as the dogmas and laws of other religions.
In the language of Taoism, the one lens which seems to consciously push away dogma, I would say it this way: The religion that is written and elaborated is not religion. Barriers between our soul and its path.
Emerson has influenced me here and he was, in turn, influenced by Taoism. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you’ll have read these words more than once:
“Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also.” Emerson’s Introduction to his essay, Nature.
It is this sensibility that I celebrate as each of the Great Wheel holidays roll round. The sensibility that helps us become native to the various places where we live. The sensibility that finds the soul’s interaction with the seasons enough. The sensibility that drags down, pulls away the words to look directly at this universe into which we are born. The sensibility that does not fight the turning of the wheel, but sees the seasons of our lives as one with the changing seasons. This is my understand of wu wei, conforming our life to what is, not what might be.
What I encourage is the sun on your face. Your hands in the soil. Your feet on a hiking path. Your ears alive to the buzzing of bees, the bugle of the elk, the bark of the dog, the words of your friends. What I encourage is living your life as it comes, knowing that it leads to death, yes, but that until death you are alive.
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.
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.
When I first came to Shadow Mountain, on Samhain of 2014, I went out back to look around. In the backyard were 3 mule deer bucks. We looked at each other for a long time, seeing each other. We didn’t get too close, but we didn’t move away either.
It felt at the time, and feels now, that the mountains had sent spirit animals to greet me, to say it was ok if I chose to live among them. 3, that mystical number.
On this, the first day of my radiation therapy, the mountains sent another messenger, a large elk buck with one large antler covered in velvet and the other side empty. He is damaged, like me. Yet he’s eating dandelions, proceeding with his life. Not handicapped, just different.
The mountain has assured me that, like this buck, I will be different, too. No prostate. Radiated and testosterone suppressed. Just different. I belong here, the mountain says, and I agree.
32 degrees this morning on Shadow Mountain, raining. Fog grays out Black Mountain. So far our usual summertime foe, wildfire, looks less formidable. At least for this year.
And, yes, if you, reader of Ancientrails, are tired of the medical overcast here, so am I. However.
As Kate and I talked yesterday, I told her about my new friend David, who has a prostate cancer situation more dire than mine. His has metastasized. He said, “I’m good at compartmentalization.” I’m not. Don’t want to be.
I’m a realist. Neither optimist nor pessimist. I want to know what is. There’s good evidence in psychological studies of depression that realists end up depressed more than optimists. That optimists are happier than realists or pessimists. May be. Still can’t look away.
That’s what you’re reading here. My attempt to see. Inside and out. And, even though I learned from Cosmos and Psyche that skepticism is a tool, not a lifeway, surprise; it’s a tool I’ve used so long that I can’t put it back in the toolbox, hang it on its little outline on the pegboard of my mind. Skepticism and realism have never made me the life of the party. Debbie Downer might be more apt.
Yet some deep commitment to honesty, learned I’m not sure where, keeps me realist and skeptic. I don’t like being manipulated, by others, by institutions, by myself. So I long ago chose to deal with the psychological fall out of the examined life, a fair exchange in my world. Not always pleasant, but cleaner. Candid.
I’m in a tough place. Tired out. Psychically weary. Physically weary. Workouts stalled due to schedules. Writing non-existent except for this blog. Habit. Of very long standing. No hiking. Watching a lot of TV, dulling the mind, the heart. On purpose.
Of course, as we enter the ninth month after Kate’s bleed, with all that has entailed, and considering flu and pneumonia for February and March, it’s not a surprise. Add the I’m Back! from prostate cancer, the imaging difficulties, the appointment today, and I’m pushed over the line sweet Jesus.
Symptoms: staring blankly, weariness, heaviness in the soul, irritability, lack of motivation. I don’t know what to do with my life, I said to Kate yesterday. Not sure what I meant, though it felt true at the time. In 2015, during the diagnostic runup to the prostate surgery, I talked about losing all sense of the future. My mind just wouldn’t go there. Not the, oh, I’m in the moment sort of thing, but a symptom of possible lost hope. This is probably the same. Cancer eats away not only at the body but at time, too. At our sense of ourselves as ongoing.
I have novels to edit. Ancientrails, the printed edition, to organize and edit. Paintings to paint. Grandkids to see. Domestic chores to get done. Colorado to see with Kate. Yes. All true. But right now I don’t have a sense of urgency with them, they don’t call to me. Sit down. Pen in hand. Start whacking out paragraphs. Or, stand up. The moon and the sun, the lesser light and the greater light. What colors should I use? What shape? Where should they go on the painting?
Will pass. May last through my treatment, however long that takes.
It seems we are all becoming wabi sabi humans. Or Velveteen rabbits. The same perhaps. Deepening the love for ourselves and others, wearing the roadmaps of our lives for others to see while we sort through the inner souvenirs, not so visible.
I agree. Third phase life, done well, could also be called the
Velveteen Rabbit phase. When we become real to ourselves. The cracks in
our lives mended with gold, their existence treasured. Even the
impermanence of life becomes beautiful, a frame for the whole. Our
imperfections, flaws, mistakes as crucial and necessary as our
achievements. We see that now.
Kate’s going to be in the hospital one more day. They want to be sure the j-tube is working, no leaks. A gastric function test today with contrast. Like making sure all the plumbing is in order after sealing the wall. Not sure what they’ll do if they find a leak.
Today it feels like I woke up in a Truman Show simulacrum, one focused on medicine, a Grey’s Anatomy in which Kate and I are a plot thread about medical issues affecting the geriatric demographic. Maybe I’ll drive out to Littleton Adventist this morning and someone there will tear a hole in the screen separating us from the cameras and crew.
Having Kate back in the hospital has flashed forward the bleed and its long aftermath, the second bleed, the pneumothorax. On the first day she’s gone my reaction is to be self-indulgent. Eat poorly and watch a lot of TV. Yesterday was hot dogs, ice cream and several sessions of Big Mouth, a Netflix cartoon about hormonal middle-schoolers. It’s surprisingly good, recommended by Ruth. Not sure why I have this reaction, marking her absence surely, but why self-indulgence?
I suppose those are denial strategies. Eat and forget. Watch and forget. Suppress. Repress. Good thing I have this bandage stripping habit. Wouldn’t want to get stuck. My inclination these days, these third phase days, is to be more forgiving of myself. As somebody said, if your compassion does not include yourself, you are not yet (something): fully compassionate, enlightened, realistic? Ah. Looked it up. It is incomplete.