We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Humans don’t try to dominate. We listen. We adjust.

Winter                                                                  The Moon of the Long Nights

lunarflow, Gouache on paper by Heron Michelle

lunarflow, Gouache on paper by Heron Michelle

The full Moon of the Long Nights glows in the west this morning, roughly over Evergreen. Its gentle light blots out many stars, but makes up for that in its own silvery beauty.

The moon is a place alien to us in spite of its ubiquity. We see it most nights, know its facing terrain intimately, most of it visible through good binoculars. We’ve even sent a few humans to walk upon it, twelve all told, but that small number underscores rather than challenges its wildness. Even if humans settle on the moon, its surface will still be no place for unprotected human bodies. We were not made for that place even though it is our closest solar system neighbor. It is the first outpost of the wilderness, the strange and foreign place, that is everything else in the vastness of space.

There are still places on earth where we can experience wildness. High Country News, a magazine that focuses on issues effecting the contemporary West, has become a favorite read of mine; and, in its Christmas issue, featured an article by Outside writer and editor, Christopher Solomon, “In the Home of the Bear.”

mcneil_travelSolomon recounts a visit to the McNeil River Sanctuary. He won a chance to visit this protected spot for the Alaskan brown bear in an annual lottery. The fairly long quote below has rattled around in my mind since I read it a week or so ago. It reveals, at least to me, a path we could walk to accomplish Thomas Berry’s Great Work for our time, creating a sustainable human presence on this planet, our home in the wildness of space.

The he in the first sentence is Larry Aumiller, a manager of the sanctuary for three decades. He “spent three decades studying how humans could live in harmony with Ursus arctos on the landscape.”

McNeil_Falls_in_July, DrewHH - Own work

McNeil_Falls_in_July, DrewHH – Own work

…over time, he learned how humans and bears could reside together.

And what works? First of all, restraint — not bulling into the landscape. Bears don’t like surprises. Moving slow and being predictable are good starts. That’s why humans walk the same trails, about the same times every day, and in the same group size. Over decades of such long and careful practice, the bears here have learned to see humans as another presence on the landscape — neither the source of a meal, nor the cause of pain or fear. They are “neutrally habituated,” in the argot of this place…

Almost everywhere else, the ability for humans and bears to move easily among each other has been lost. What is different at McNeil is that humans don’t try to dominate. We listen. We adjust. We find out how it all fits together, and where we fit in. “Here we learn that we can live among the great bears,” Fair writes. “Here we learn the human behaviors that allow this.””  In the Home of the Bear, High Country News

Humans don’t try to dominate. We listen. We adjust. We find out how it all fits together, and where we fit in. Oh, what a wonderful world it would be…

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

Winter                                                           Moon of the Long Nights

“Out of the night that covers me,

      Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.”  William Ernest Henley, Invictus

Moon_944x708

astronomy today, formation of the moon

The Winter Solstice. Today and tonight. 23.4 degrees of tilt. Explanation for the tilt is not settled science though at least part of the answer seems to lie in the accretion of matter and the occasional outright collisions that occurred during our planets formation early in the history of the solar system. Another interesting theory, perhaps part of the answer too, is that any large imbalance, say a supervolcano with a huge mass, could have caused the earth to tilt so that mass ended up near the equator.

Whatever the exact reason, the current tilt, which remains constant as the earth revolves around the sun, creates our seasons. As the earth orbits, the tilt causes a reduction and increase of the energy of the sun’s light by either concentrating it during the summer solstice (leaning toward the sun) or by spreading the light over a wider area (leaning away from the sun) during the winter solstice. Today at 9:28 MST the northern hemisphere will be at its maximum tilt away from the sun while, of course, the southern hemisphere is thrust toward the sun and celebrating its summer solstice.

All of this is a continuing evolution caused by forces set in motion by the big bang over 13 billion years ago. The fact that I’m sitting at 8,800 feet on a chunk of rock thrust up by the Laramide orogeny, watching snow drift down as the air up here cools toward below zero temperatures, waiting for the longest night of the year, 14 hours and 39 minutes here in Conifer, showcases the violent origins and their ongoing impacts on earth and her sister planets. When we settle into the chair tonight, or hike outside with a headlamp, or listen to some quiet jazz or Holst’s The Planets, the darkness enveloping us is an in the moment result.

As the earth leans away from the sun, we can lean into the darkness, the long night when the woods are lovely, dark and deep. As we do, we have the opportunity to sink into the fecund darkness within us, a soul link with the darkness all around us and our tiny solar system. In it we can recall sleeping animals in their dens, beneath chilled lake waters, in their lodges made of sticks and branches. In the darkness we can rest a moment beneath the surface of the snow and cold covered soil where roots and microbes work feverishly transmitting nutrients and available water into plants slowed, but not killed by the seasonal temperatures.

anchor deepIn the darkness we can attend to the dark things within us, the places in our souls where our own origins and their ongoing impacts create a climate for our growth, down below the conscious considerations of our day-to-day lives. We can embrace this darkness, not as a thing to fear, but as a part of life, a necessary and fruitful part of life.

I’ll sit in my chair this evening as the night unfolds (I love that imagery.) and consider death, my death, my return to the woods, lovely dark and deep. And, I’ll hug close to my heart the life I’ve been given and this opportunity, granted by the stars, to meditate on it.

 

 

Winter Nights

Samain                                                   Bare Aspen Moon

Friend Tom Crane found this image. The delights of winter nights.

witner sky

So cold

Samain                                                               Bare Aspen Moon

668-zero-630x522The great wheel has turned again, moving Orion further down the southwestern horizon in the early morning. The air is cooler here. A Beth Evergreen friend, Alan, came in to the kabbalah class and announced, “Winter is really here. It’s so cold outside!” It was 22. Now in my fourth winter season here I’ve stopped commenting.

Temperature tolerance is so much about perspective. I saw a meme on Facebook that featured two parka clad folk with frost on the edges of their hoods. “What people in Texas are like if the temperature dips below 80.” A man from Texas wrote, “This is true.” Another posted a photograph of a red bench rest with two snow flakes, “It’s a blizzard in Dallas!”

faith-in-what-will-beThose -40 degree nights at Valhelga during one Woolly retreat. Working out on my snowshoes in the woods behind the library in Anoka, -20 degrees. The moments of -50 degree wind chill. Days with the temperature below zero, many days in a row. Minnesota. Not a lot of snow, but pretty damned cold.

And, yes, my body has begun to change its reaction, 22 does seem cold. Yet my brain. Nope. T-shirt weather. Rock the sandals and the shorts.

The Winter Solstice, no matter what the temperature, is coming. My favorite time of the year.

The Great Wheel and the Ten Sephirot

Samain                                                                        Bare Aspen Moon

SamainThink I’ve figured out my kabbalah presentation. Still a bit rough around the edges but that’s going to be part of it. It’ll be a how to think with the tree of the life as a touchstone example, using the Great Wheel as an instance.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks trying to figure out whether or not I’m trying to put the cliched square peg in a round hole. That is, can the Great Wheel be interpreted from within the tree of life’s basic framework? Or, vice versa.

My tentative conclusion right now? Yes, they both speak to  the same essence, to a fundamental truth about the nature of reality as we humans experience it. Both abstractions focus us on the dynamic of life arising from the inanimate and returning the borrowed elements to the inanimate at the end of a cycle. We could call it entropy, but entropy does not have the revivifying element of both the tree of life and the Great Wheel.

sephirothshiningonesThis a crucial difference between a secular, scientific world view and a mystical one. Entropy posits, as I mentioned in a post not long ago, that all things die, including death, I suppose. The Great Wheel and the tree of life challenge that grim metaphysics with an alternative.

In the tree of life emanations from the keter, or crown, flow down through the ten sephirot, emerging after a journey through possibilities and limitations, into malchut, the realm of the Shekinah or the feminine aspect of the divine. This is the daily reality you and I experience. Rabbi Jamie uses the illustration of a fountain with metal leaves (the sephirot) that catch the emanations, then direct the flow downward toward malchut. This could be entropic. Divine emanations could flow down to malchut, exist there for awhile, then simply disintegrate, disappear. Or, they could all flow down to malchut until it was filled, then the flow would stop. The heat death of the universe could be seen as such a result for the big bang.

But this fountain flows both ways. Malchut, as Rabbi Jamie explains it, is also a pump and the fountain sends water (divine energy) back up the tree of the life, returning it to the ein sof, the infinite oneness. Repeat until God is repaired.

tzimtzum_classicGod became fractionated during the tzimtzum, the contraction of divine energy that made the finite possible. This idea is still difficult for me, but I’m just accepting it for the purposes of this presentation. During the tzimtzum the infinite light, ohr, tried to manifest in the finite, filling the space created by the contraction, but the vessel, things, (ein sof = no-things, infinity) could not hold it and shattered. That shattering created all the elements that now make up our universe. (and other universes, too) Trapped inside all of these elements is the ohr. The ascent and descent of divine energy, from the keter to malchut and backup through the sephirot to the keter from malchut, is the way the ohr will once again join with the infinite. How? No clue.

OK. So how does this correlate, if at all, with the Great Wheel? The Great Wheel divides into two halves, a fallow half beginning at Samain and ending at Beltane when the growing season begins. That’s roughly from October 31st to May 1st on the Gregorian calendar, but of course the reality varies by latitude and altitude. The key thing to consider here is a growing time, a time of vitality and, not only vitality, but vitality created from the inanimate materials of soil, air and sun followed by a fallow time when plants die back, when the animate returns to the inanimate.

slinkyThis is a malchutian manifestation, I think, of the ascent and descent and ascent again of divine energy represented by the tree of life. Why? Well, until the divine energy passes through yesod and becomes real in malchut, it is hidden, invisible, just like the vivifying function of the soil and the air and the sun is hidden during the fallow time. Both represent the cyclical nature of things coming into existence from apparent no-thing, then returning themselves to the invisible, the hidden.

Whereas the summer solstice could be seen as a major holiday for malchut, so the winter solstice could be seen as a major holiday for the keter and the ein sof. The summer solstice is a celebration of growth and fertility, the winter solstice a celebration of darkness and hiddenness, the depth (or height) of the nine sephirot and their crown.

Now it could be said, and I have said, that the Great Wheel represents cyclical time and that the notion of time itself is a matter of mental organization for the human mind. It could also be said that the very nature of the Great Wheel limits it to malchut since it expresses the seasonal changes of our particular planet. I believe, at least right now, though, that the Great Wheel instead reveals the universal nature of life on our planet, in malchut, as a simulacrum of the energy paths of the tree of life.

Planetary_Motion_SpiralThe slinkys I will hand out, tiny one-inch ones, illustrate what I mean. The Great Wheel turns through one year, one orbit around the sun, then repeats and is, in that, cyclical and not chronological. But, if you link this orbit to that one we get a spiral as our rapidly moving planet follows our solar system around the galaxy at unimaginable rates of speed. The Great Wheel then extends in space, in a spiral, this year’s revolution becoming another while the whole planet and its sun captive neighbors push further and further around the Milky Way. And, just to add complexity, as the whole galaxy moves, too.

 

Chronos

Samain                                                                     Bare Aspen Moon

Found by friend Tom Crane.

Our story

The Raw and The Cooked

Samain                                                                           Bare Aspen Moon

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

The Raw and The Cooked, French Edition

After a very busy week, a good busy with friends and Hebrew, kabbalah and time with Kate, yesterday was a rest day. Wrote, did my workout (which takes a while), napped, had a wonderful lamb supper cooked by Kate, who’s a wizard with meat. Watched some more of the Punisher on Netflix. On seeing that on the TV as she went to bed Kate said, “I don’t like your choice of programs.” “I know,” I said. Eating red meat and watching TV are hangovers from my Indiana acculturation, neither of which would I recommend to my children or grandchildren, but which I also thoroughly enjoy. No excuses.

Admitting to liking television in the crowds in which I tend to run is like admitting you enjoy belching or farting in public. Declassé. And it is, I suppose. My rationale (or, perhaps, as is often the case with rationales, my rationalization) is relaxation, in particular relaxation from a day usually spent in intellectual and physical activity. I love stories and TV, especially right now, is full of good storytellers who use visuals to enhance their storytelling. I’m sure there’s a sophisticated psychology explanation for this habit, but TV serves a purpose in my life. So there.

Thanksgiving this week. I’ve got a Martha Stewart recipe for capon with pancetta and fig stuffing. Which, of course, requires finding a capon, a mystery meat, as I said yesterday, to Colorado butchers. Tony’s Market. I ordered one and I’m going to call them today just to make sure it’s really coming. I did try to find a capon on which to experiment, but the only one I could find was $63.00. Ouch. Thanksgiving will be the experiment.

capon2I really like cooking, used to do a lot more. It requires mindfulness and produces a meal for others to enjoy. Just popping up from my days of anthropology: The Raw and the Cooked, by Claude Leví-Strauss. In this book the French anthropologist talks about the binary of raw food to cooked, prepared food, seeing the development of cooking as fundamental for the human species, a key movement leading toward civilization. (I’m not going to go into it here, too complex, but if you’re interested in dialectical thinking, the raw-cooked distinction is an example of binary opposition, a distinctively French version of dialectical thought which underlies Leví-Strauss’s idea of structuralism, a short introduction to it is here.)

My point in this last paragraph is that cooking is central to being human; so, engaging in it, at any level, links us directly to the story of human evolution. In that way we can look at Thanksgiving, or any big holiday meal, as linking a key step in our change from merely animal to animal with culture, to another key step, the abstraction of particular days, the elevation of particular moments in time, into holidays. The other night I realized that for dogs all days are the same no Tuesdays or passovers or superbowls, no Guy Fawkes or Mexican independence days, rather sequences of day and night, with food and friends, human contact.

EmersonWe’re not like dogs in that fundamental sense. As Emerson observed, “The days are gods.” Another binary opposition is the sacred and the profane, like the holy and the secular, ordinary time and sacred time. We imbue, out of our speculative capacity, the passing of time with certain significance. The day we were born. The yahrzeit notion in Judaism, celebrating the anniversary of a death. A day to celebrate the birth of a god, or to remember a long ago war against colonial masters. We identify certain days, a vast and vastly different number of them, as new year’s day, the beginning of another cycle marked by the return of our planet to a remembered spot on its journey.

20161229_161617_001When we merge our speculative fantasies with the chemistry of changing raw food into a beautiful cooked meal, we can have extraordinary times. The natural poetics of wonder join the very earthy act of feeding ourselves to create special memories. Very often on those days we gather with our family, a unit that itself memorializes the most basic human purpose of all, procreation of the species. We don’t tend to think of these most elemental components, but they are there and are sine qua non’s of holidays.

So, cook, pray, celebrate. Laugh. With those you love. If you care to, take a moment to consider these amazing things, too. That we know how to transform a neutered rooster into something delicious, something that will undergo the true transubstantiation, the changing of soil chemicals, the bodies of animals and plants into a human body. That we have the idea of Thanksgiving, or the idea of Hanukkah, or the idea of Labor Day and mark out a chunk of the earth’s orbit as special for those ideas. That we choose to gather on them with our small unit of humanity’s long, long ancientrail of development and critical change and doing so honor all of these elementals.

 

 

 

There Is No End of History

Samain                                                                           Joe and SeoAh Moon

The moon is a waning crescent. Orion has moved from a position due south of us, when he first rose this year, to a position to the westsouthwest, just beyond Black Mountain toward Evergreen.

Sky, near infrared

Sky, near infrared

This reminds me that planet means wanderer in the original Greek. “Greek astronomers employed the term asteres planetai (ἀστέρες πλανῆται), “wandering stars”,[1][2] to describe those starlike lights in the heavens that moved over the course of the year, in contrast to the asteres aplaneis (ἀστέρες ἀπλανεῖς), the “fixed stars“, which stayed motionless relative to one another.” wiki We know now that even the fixed stars are not fixed, but are in motion relative to each other. Each galaxy moves in relation to the others, our whole solar system is in motion, too.

There is no fixed point. Continents drift, the earth itself wobbles, the moon’s orbit is decaying. In fact, there is no evidence that any of the things contained in the vastness of the universe are permanent. Black holes swallow stars. The eventual-in this case eventual covers a really, really long period-fate of all things, according to the Big Bang theory and its correlate, the expanding universe, is a big cooling, followed by many black holes which suck in and destroy everything. The black holes themselves dissolve due to Hawking radiation. And no thing is left. At least in our universe. Probably. Today’s best understanding suggests something like this as the ultimate end. Of the other, potential universes, the multiverses of string theory, I don’t know.

Space expansionSo what? Death, or at least extinction, is characteristic not only of life, but of the thing in itself, the ding an sich that Kant named the reality beyond our sensory mediation. I suppose this means Ragnarok is the true theological observation about even deity. Nirvana and moksha both promise release from the cycle of death and rebirth. Hmmm. Metaphysically not possible in this universe since the time frames assumed here are infinite. Even heaven. Obliterated. Wings, halos, heavenly choirs. Chilled out in the end.

This leaves us with the compression of time that our human lifespan grants us or forces upon us, depending on your viewpoint. And, it means that all religious speculation is, finally, not about life after death, for we know how that story finishes up, but about living this one life, or these serial lives. Reincarnation is not ruled out by the big bang. Just that it will not, cannot, go on forever.

thrownIt also takes me to Heidegger’s notion of thrownness, that at birth we are deposited into a specific place, with particular parents, in a community in a nation on a continent, in a unique time period, of which we can experience at most 100 years or so, 100 revolutions around the sun. This we know is ours, barring a Trumpian/Kimian nuclear catastrophe or the eruption of one of the world’s super volcanoes or the sudden emergence of a life ending meteor. This life. This brief flash of brilliance that is you.

How shall we live in this, the moment of our existence? This is the question. Many religious and ethical and political and economic systems have arisen as answers. None of them have proved universal, none of them have proved lasting, even in the relatively short historical period. When we peek up over the rim of our fundamental assumptions, we see an anarchic reality, shifting, transforming, its shape guided in part by chance, in part by consciousness.

The world’s religions, in any time, including now, have often suggested that they can peek over that same rim and see order. That they have texts, revelations (the peek), which offer guidance about life as it should conform to that order. Except they conflict. Except we know the physical evidence they see is not ordered at all, at least not in the moral/ethical way they claim, but is, instead, in motion toward dissolution.

taoismTaoism makes the most sense to me in terms of how to live with this understanding. We flow with it, we live on the journey that presents itself to us. Grabbing any tool, political or economic or religious or ethical, and reasoning deductively about what must be is going to result in error, often huge error, at enormous cost in lives.

This is not an argument against religion, or economics, or politics though it may sound like that. It is an argument for humility, for acceptance of our limits, against the hubris of metaphysical certainty. In this view then the teachings of any faith, the hopes of any style of government, the transactional world of any economics, should (and I use this word advisedly) be weighed against their results in the daily life of people and the world that supports them. Bad results equal bad faith, bad governance, bad economy. Good results equal good faith, good governance, good economy. But nothing more than this because even good faith and good governance and good economy has limits. There is no end of history. There is only an ultimate end to everything.

 

Daily Life

Fall                                                                                Harvest Moon

Ruth and me destinations

Destinations with Ruth (planetarium in Boulder and Sweet Cow, an ice cream place in Denver) The Rav4’s purpose.

Into Stevinson Toyota yesterday for a Rav4 oil change. Stevinson’s West on the western edge of Denver. The big yellow signs with their dire steep inclines, tight curves warnings go past me now unremarked, except for the occasional realization that I’ve acclimated to mountain driving some while ago.

Stevinson is about 35 minutes away, but the Toyota approach to service appeals to me enough to make the trek. They do what needs to be done to keep the vehicle in good shape. That’s what I want. And, it works. The next oil change will be at the 100,100 mark. Can’t say I like the Rav4, but it gets us from point A to point B, even in winter in the mountains. I do sense an electric car in our future.

Kate, Ruth and Ruths bff, Wilson

Kate, Ruth and Ruth’s bff, Wilson

Family business meeting at Brooks Tavern over lunch. We’re still absorbing some financial strain from Jon’s time with us, so the budget’s a little tight, but that won’t last forever.

Kate’s doing well with the substantial burden Sjogren’s places on her daily. Though the dryness that is Sjogren’s signature symptom, especially mouth, throat, eyes, is definitely bothersome, the most difficulty for her comes from fatigue. It makes her self-defining upper middle class get’r done energizer bunny approach to life just not possible anymore, except for short periods of time. That imposes a psychological burden that is worse, I think, than the fatigue itself.

Finished the installation of the weather station. It looks great, to my eye, on the loft’s deck. I’ve reacquainted myself with some of the buttons and whiz bangs of the console, but it will require some rtfm to get back to facile with them. The internet connection might be harder because I purchased the link for it back when Vista was the most recent Microsoft OS. We’ll see.

20171016_165812Been trying to get Boiler Medics, the guy who installed our new boiler, out for a seasonal check of the system. Something’s happening there because they’ve ghosted me for the last few days. This behavior is the mountain way for tradespeople in our stretch of the Front Range; it’s frustrating.

Get my new workout today from On the Move Fitness. I’m enjoying getting a new workout every 6 weeks or so. It’s easy to get in a rut with fitness and Deb, owner of OMF with her husband Dave, seems to have a good grasp of my needs. The workouts she devises challenge me, but are not onerous. Lower back pain and my left shoulder pain have largely disappeared thanks to them. Not to mention that knee. I can now get up from a chair using only my legs, an accomplishment that seems small unless you’ve spent a good deal of time unable to do it.

In A Techno-Desert, Thirsty for Human Interaction

Fall                                                                             Harvest Moon

5:20 am on Shadow Mountain. 43 degrees. 12% humidity. Pressure 22.60. No wind. Crescent moon. All the same without knowing these data points, I know. Still. I like to know them anyhow.

naisbittThis week Thursday I get to see Joe and SeoAh. I’m excited just to see them, to have some high touch in this high tech age. Remember Alvin Toffler? A futurist, he posited that the more complex and sophisticated our technology becomes, the more necessary direct human interaction. (Toffler preceded Naisbitt by at least two years with this idea, but Naisbitt made it a corporate buzz phrase. I find his notion of balance between our physical and spiritual reality an interesting idea.)

True. We exist, at least many of us, especially those younger than a certain age, in a cloud (pun intended) of virtual data. This blog, for example. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Email. Text messages. Twitter. I see, regularly, information and pictures about high school friends, old college friends, friends in Minnesota, family. I don’t use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, not enough time in a day, but I’m on Facebook at least daily. I send and receive many e-mails, text messages. All this keeps me up to date, to some extent, on people I care about, a gratifying level of connection available, in yesteryear, only to voluminous letter writers.

1954-09 Galaxy Magazine by Ed EmshwillerBut the connection is, of course, partly, maybe mostly, illusory. We get only snippets, usually disconnected snippets. No hugs. No careful listening. No smiles. No touch on the hand during a conversation. No walks. No meals. The further out from our fleshly world, the less real information about another we receive because the context for what we know is very limited.

I don’t happen to see this as bad. I’m grateful for the chance to learn about even parts of the lives of people who once belonged to my fleshly world. But it does create a longing for in person moments, to embrace Joseph and SeoAh, for example. Or, to attend a 55th high school reunion, or show up at a Woolly Retreat in November,which I will not be able to do this year.

High Tech High TouchAs we age and travel becomes more difficult, I imagine this will become an even more poignant issue, extending even into our fleshly world. There’s promise, yes, in telemedicine, for example. We already meet with our financial planner over Skype. How many of our now daily or weekly interactions will become virtual? The key issue here, the one I think Toffler alluded to, though he may not have named it outright, is isolation.

We are on the map of the future where a cartographer might write in florid typescript, “Here there be dragons.” We just don’t know what the combination of high tech and increasingly low touch world might mean. Isolation is deadly, killing the spirit and ravaging the soul. Will we end up in a technological desert, thirsty for real human interaction, seeing it in the shimmering illusions of social media, but not being able to reach it? If so, what can we do about it?

 

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