We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Little Forces, Big Results

Spring                                                                           Rushing Waters Moon

Upper Maxwell Falls, 2015

Upper Maxwell Falls, 2015

The mountain streams we see regularly: Shadow Brook, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek, Cub Creek have begun, a bit early, I think, their post-ice plummet toward sea level. In May these streams are often boiling, filled with snow melt and pushing the limits of their banks. On any given day driving past them as they speed downhill, down the mountain, they look interesting, worth watching for the tumult; but, in fact, these racing streams are much more than merely interesting.

They are the levelers of mother earth. They take the mighty and strip them down to size, pebble by pebble, rock by rock, chunks of soil by chunks of soil. A defining characteristic of a mountain is its imposing size, its thereness. Mountains dominate their landscape, putting up barriers to human passage that often forced the pioneers of nineteenth century America to go around them rather than over them. They seem, in the moment, eternal.

When living in or visiting a relatively young mountain range like the Rockies, no reasonable person would ever expect them to look any different than they do right now. Colorado is proud of its fourteeners, those summits exceeding 14,000 feet. Mt. Evans, for example has a summit of 14,265 feet. That’s precise. And, would you add it to a website or book or road sign if you expected it to change? No.

Near Bailey, 2015

Near Bailey, 2015

But it will. One only has to drive east toward the Atlantic to see what’s in store for even Mt. Evans. Look at the Appalachians. Their mountain building episode (orogeny) happened around 480 million years ago. When it was done, the Appalachians stood as tall as the contemporary Rockies. The Rocky Mountain orogeny was a quite recent, geologically speaking, 80 million years ago. They too will wear down.

In the spring we see this process at its most obvious as mountain streams from every summit in every range of the Rocky Mountains, including here in the Front Range, obey gravity and try to find the lowest points available to them. Of course, the streams are not the only process at work. Drive on Highway 285 out of Conifer, as we do often going down or returning from Denver, and you will see large steel mesh hanging over some cliffs. In other places there are bolts driven into the side of rock faces, giving them a slightly Frankensteinian look. In other spots massive retaining walls of concrete encase an especially troublesome chunk of mountain.

These CDOT efforts are not always successful, witness the many Watch for Falling Rocks signs sprinkled throughout Colorado. Freezing and thawing splits the rock faces and they come tumbling down, creating talus or road obstructions. Just this last year, near Glenwood Springs, a large boulder broke loose from its millions of years long position and crashed down on an SUV on I-70, killing the driver. Winds, too, often reaching high double digit speeds, also wear away the rock.

These forces are slow, miniscule in appearance, but massive in their results over long periods of time. When driving by a mountain stream in full force, remember the Appalachians. They’re coming, but not soon, to a Rocky Mountain range near me.

Great Wheel in the Montane Ecosystem

Spring                                                                   Passover Moon

BeltaneAs the passover moon enters its final phase, the Great Wheel heads toward Beltane. No longer spring then, as the wheel turns toward the growing season, toward summer. Up here (above 8,800 feet, the montane ecosystem) there is no real growing season though things do grow: lodgepole pines, aspen, grasses, willows, dogwood, shrubs whose names I haven’t learned.

There are gardens, of a sort. The short warm season and the cool nights make Midwestern style outdoor gardening very difficult. Then, there’s the lack of water. If I were younger, I might take on the challenge, probably with the aid of a greenhouse, but I want to do other things during that time now. Like hiking. Travel in the area.

The only real crop I’ve seen up here is hay, which grows in mountain meadows. The rest of the growing is done by indigenous plants and the occasional plastic covered hoop garden or greenhouse plus a smattering of container grown plants.

modIMAG06205This is so different from my 68 years in the midwest. When I drove back to Minnesota last September for Joseph and SeoAh’s reception at Raeone’s, I experienced an unexpected nostalgia for farming and its sights. I didn’t realize I’d missed tractors in the fields, long rows of wheat and corn and beans, silos and barns, cattle and pigs and sheep. But I had.

To see agriculture in Colorado requires driving east into the high plains. Even there though hay and some wheat, feedlots dominate. Not like Iowa, Indiana, Illinois because even the high plains are still west of Cozad, Nebraska through which runs the 100th parallel which divides the U.S. into the humid east and the arid west.

Here the mountain altitudes and the aridity modify the humid east’s seasonal cycle, conflating spring and early summer, then creating a longer but less colorful autumn. Winter is the most distinct season though it can swing wildly between feet of snow and sunny, warm weeks. The cooling effect associated with altitude means there are few warm summer nights to help vegetables like tomatoes to develop fully.

Beltane, 2016

Beltane, 2016

Beltane in the mountains does not inspire rites of fertility in the fields or the lighting of bonfires for cattle to be driven through. I suppose you could still find a fire or two for those hoping for children to jump over (to quicken the sperm and the egg), but at least in the Colorado I know so far, that’s unlikely.

Beltane is a fire festival and perhaps that’s the true association with the season. Around Beltane the precipitation patterns in the Front Range change, with fewer and fewer chances of rain or snow. The result of this waning of available moisture, which ends, usually, in the monsoons of late August, means fire hazard rises.

More thoughts on how the mountains modify the Great Wheel on May 1st.

Mountain Docent

Spring                                                                         Passover Moon

Fan Kuan, Travelers Among Mountains and Streams. Early 11th century, Song Dynasty

Fan Kuan, Travelers Among Mountains and Streams. Early 11th century, Song Dynasty

I may have found a way back into the art world, one I can sustain even from here on Shadow Mountain. A couple of weeks ago I decided to add links to several prominent museums to my bookmark bar: the MIA of course, the Chicago Art Institute, the Met, the Vatican Museum, the Uffizi, the Asian Art museum in San Francisco, the Getty Open Content site and the Google Cultural Institute. I’ll probably add more.

This started as an effort to collect places from which I could draw interesting images for Ancientrails. Many of these museums have made their collection’s images or significant portions of them available as open content. As far as I know, the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands was the first to do this thoroughly. Every image on this museum’s website can be downloaded, used in any way. This even includes uses like those of Richard Prince, the well known appropriater of other folks’ work to create his own.

You may recall that I got myself in a bit of a twist over just this issue last year, so I’ve been eager to find image sources that won’t send me threatening letters from their lawyers. This growing movement among museums seemed like a solution. What better images could I find than great art?

Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak. 1863 Fogg Museum, Cambridge

Albert Bierstadt, The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak. 1863 Fogg Museum, Cambridge

Then, while poking around on these various websites, I clicked on the Google Cultural Institute. On its home page it has various teasers to get a viewer to go deeper. One of them up at the time I visited was a collection of works on mountains, some 4,000 +. Aha. Mountains. In art. I live in the mountains. There could be something here.

Yes, it occurred to me, I could investigate art focused on mountains. Hokusai’s “Views of Mt. Fuji.” Fan Kuan’s “Travelers Among Mountains and Streams.” Bierstadt’s views of the Rockies. And so many more. This could enrich my experience of my home terrain and provide a vein of exploration, a way to study art again with a purpose. Not to mention that I flirted briefly with the idea of becoming the Mountain Docent. This idea could add a double entendre to mountain docent.

Cotopaxi, Frederic Church, 1862

Cotopaxi, Frederic Church, 1862

We’ll see if the idea sticks, but right now I’m excited about it. It connects well with the notion of becoming native to this place, too, and could serve as a resource for reimagining faith.

As I turned the idea around in my mind, it struck me that I have an intimate knowledge of another form of landscape, too: agriculture and horticulture. So, I may expand this project to include images of farming, of fields, of gardens, of seasonal change, the experiences of which led me to immerse myself in the idea of the Great Wheel.

Not  sure where this will take me, but right now I’m pretty excited about it.

 

 

The Mortal Yet

Spring                                                                Passover Moon

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

Snow yesterday and last night. Not a lot, maybe 2 inches. At most. But, all moisture is welcome. More rain and snow in the forecast for next week, too. Go, sky.

This week saw lab results and imaging results coming in over the threshold. Like getting final grades at the end of term though these matter, especially at this age, much more. All good for both of us, mostly. My kidney disease has actually improved some. No real trouble. Of course, there’s always the mortal yet that needs to be added here. But for now, still above ground and likely to stay that way for a while.

The weekend is grandkids. Ruth and her Destination Imagination team, the Jaw Dropping Crunchy Brains, compete in the statewide event tomorrow. We’ll be in attendance.

SamsMenuCOVER-621x1024Tomorrow, Earth Day, April 22nd, is Gabe’s 9th birthday. He wants to eat at Sam’s #3 and so we will. A good day to celebrate the grandkids.

Today I’m off to the Lego store to get a gift certificate for Gabe, then I’ll head all the way south on Hwy. 470 to Ikea. I’m picking up a chair frame and two stools. The chair frame is for a reading chair like mine. With it Ruth and I can read together in the loft.

Finally, I’ll swing by Dairy Queen for an ice cream cake for Gabe’s birthday celebration up here on Shadow Mountain. That should be enough for today.

Of course, all this driving will be in full view of the Front Range, making it seem like I’m really out here on vacation. Which is what it still feels like most of the time.

 

 

Mountain Across the Road

Spring                                                                   Passover Moon

Black Mountain this morning.

20170420_063218

20170420_061450

 

A Year and 7 Days

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Subway in Singapore

Subway in Singapore

It’s been a year and a week since Joseph and SeoAh were married in Gwangju, Korea. We were in Singapore on this day a year ago. We met Anitha, mentioned below, at Relish, a restaurant near Mary’s home and dined that evening at the Tanglin Club, a holdover of the British raj, a private club for owners of rubber plantations.

After coming home to a 46 inch snowfall, we picked up our dogs from the Bergen Bark Inn. Vega got bloat, was operated on the same day and died the next morning. A huge heartache, doubled by its surprise.

Passover 2016

Passover 2016

That May Jon and I dined at a Mexican restaurant in the heavily Latino portion of Aurora where his school is located. “Jen and I are getting divorced.” Oh. My. Still echoing today though the final orders for the divorce were read into the record in November of last year.

That same month I got a letter from a photographer accusing me of using one of his photos without a license. He had me. I was guilty, guilty, guilty. A negotiated settlement passed a thousand dollars to him and inspired a weeks long project of removing all photographs and suspect images from Ancientrails.

The Old Man of the Mountain

The Old Man of the Mountain

Last year was also the peak of fire mitigation work. The sound of the chainsaw was heard in the land for hours at a time. It was fun work and created a zone of safety around our house.  I’m especially grateful for that work this year since we’ve had very little snow and it looks to be a long and potentially hot summer.

In June Timberline Painting put stain on the garage, our two decks and the shed. It was in the same month that Kate and I began to attend the mussar sessions at Beth Evergreen. This was Kate taking up the law of return, re-embracing a decision she’d made 30 years ago to convert.

Too, the Presidential campaign was very much with us. Even though Trump made us shudder, his chance for victory, either for the Republican nomination, or God forbid, for the Presidency itself, seemed very, very unlikely.

20160925_133910That August buddy Mark Odegard, older than me, pushed himself to do prints of all the bridges crossing the Mississippi in Minneapolis and St. Paul. He finished and had a show of his work. That same month we contracted with Bear Creek Design to redo our downstairs bathroom into a zero entry shower.

In September I traveled by car to Minnesota, taking in a reception for Joseph and SeoAh at Raeone’s new home near Central High School in St. Paul. The Woolly’s were having a retreat day that same weekend, so I got to reconnect with my brothers in Stillwater, overlooking the St. Croix.

20161201_201051That driving trip convinced me that my left knee had to get better. Driving made it so painful that sleeping was tough and long stretches on the road difficult. After consulting with Lisa Gidday, my internist, I visited orthopedic surgeon William Peace. We scheduled the replacement for December 1st.

Kate and I observed our first Sukkot in a booth built on the grounds of Beth Evergreen. We continued to get more deeply involved there, attending High Holy Day services and some evening mussar events.

20161022_113629We voted by mail on October 19th. Didn’t help. Trump got elected. Joseph deployed to Qatar. Mark (brother Mark) continued to teach in Saudi Arabia. Final orders for the divorce were handed down and we celebrated Thanksgiving.

Then I had knee surgery. Ouch. I woke up about six weeks later. Only to discover that Donald Trump had, in fact, been elected and that, even worse yet, he would be inaugurated on the 20th of January. Not even the morphine, oxy and tramadol could repress the pain of that realization. And so it came to pass.

It was in the context of all this swirl and drung that I reached the biblical three score and ten. A new decade of life, a sense of completion and a feeling of a new beginning. Still seems odd, still living into that. Somewhere over the course of this time I joined Beth Evergreen, made friends there.

Ruth at Wild Game

Ruth at Wild Game

This month Ruth turned 11 and Gabe will turn 9. Jon’s begun to look for houses, to check out mortgages. Kate and I have our physicals tomorrow. She’s got some serious issues that will become clearer over the next week or so. I have some anxiety about them. My health seems pretty good, even though our time here in Colorado has seen me down a prostate and up a new prosthetic knee.

The year after Joseph and SeoAh’s wedding has been full. Maybe a quieter one coming up?

Hunger

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

artistsYesterday in mussar Jamie gave us a writing prompt: write about a want that occupies a lot of inner time and attention, then to try to find the root of that want. This was a lead in to talking about avarice.

I wrote about wanting to finish Superior Wolf, about getting back to translating Latin and wonder why, at 70, I still wanted to do these things. It’s not as if we need the money or I need the recognition.

This desire, this want, is about a desire to remain an agent in the world, puissant, to not disappear. So, in a sense, it’s about death, about not dying early, I think.

Later in the discussion a woman who travels to India once a year to stay in a Buddhist nunnery said that an early Buddhist teacher of hers had talked with her about the hungry ghost within each of us. The example he gave her was about a person who walks into a bookstore to buy one book and then walks out with five. Hmmm. I recognize that person, c’est moi.

EliotI’ve looked up the idea of the hungry ghost and I don’t think it really applies to me, but the caution evident in the bookstore example certainly does. Buying books represents a deep seated want, too. But what is it?

Knowledge can also be a hedge against death. If I only understand, then I can prevent, stave off, head off, my canoe’s eventual transition into the Gulf of All Souls. Which of course, I can’t do. As I wrote in the exercise above, nothing counters death, not puissance, not agency, not even, ironically, health. Nor, knowledge.

HesseSo, the books represent my own struggle with the nature of mortality, my way of structuring my inner world. And, yes, it can be a problem if I refuse to recognize it for what it is. But, and here’s the liberating possibility for me in both books and writing, if I acknowledge what they are for me, if I embrace the underlying motivation, yet not its anticipated result, then I can continue writing and reading, using them not as shields against disappearing, but as ways of being in the world, not as ways of protecting myself.

Let me try to say this a bit more clearly. Wanting to be an agent in the world is, in itself, a good thing, so long as the reason for doing it is a desire to be of service, to offer something from my uniqueness. If that desire becomes corrupted, becomes a way to hide, then no matter the books on the shelves, no matter the understanding that comes from reading, no matter the stories and books in manuscript form, it is all for nothing. In fact, it’s worse than being for nothing, for hiding from our known fate leaves us in a constant state of hunger for that which we will never reach and, even worse, for that which will not secure its goal even if I sold all all my books and stories and learned all the information my books I have to offer.

Conclusion. I will continue to read and write because it is what I do, because it is an important part of what makes my presence in the world unique and valuable for others. But neither writing nor reading will save me. Only acceptance will do that.

 

Recently

Spring                                                                      Passover Moon

20170405_191415Well. The sun is out, the snow has melted on the roads and it’s a cheery day here on Shadow Mountain. The changes here are fast and often extreme.

Kate and I went to a cooking class for a passover meal last night and stayed out until 9:30. That’s late for us since we turn in between 7 and 8 pm. I remember back when I was young. I could stay up until, you know, 10 pm, 10:30 pm, no problem.

The cooking class featured chicken breasts, a very surprising quinoa cake, asparagus, crepes with a haroset like mixture of sauteed apples, pears, dates and nuts and a coconut chocolate confection for dessert. There were fifteen of us and we spent the time wandering from dish to dish, helping with this or that.

I helped set up. I’m really liking being in a religious community and not having a leadership role. Helping put out tables, arrange chairs, set out plates, glasses and silverware feels good.

We’ve seen lots of elk and mule deer this week, much more than in the month or two prior. Last night at the cooking class there were three female elk dining on the grass outside while we learned the secrets of egg whites and egg yolks inside. Just all us mammals getting what we need from our environment.

Snow, And Lots of It

Spring                                                                      Passover Moon

20170405_144607Switched my work routine around, now writing on Superior Wolf in the early morning, breakfast, Latin, workout, lunch, nap. So Ancientrails comes later in the day. Like now, at 3 pm.

We got somewhere between 12 and 20 inches of snow last night. Our house looks like an old cabin in Switzerland after a heavy snow. When I cleared the deck early this morning, it was challenging. Kep stood at the door when I opened it, looked outside, looked at me, then delicately put a foot outside. A few seconds later he was bounding through the white, a black and white blur.

In the way of mountain weather, our driveway, plowed at 4:30 am by Ted, is now clear. The sun, beating down on it at altitude, transfers heat quickly to the asphalt. This aspect of weather here is a real joy. You can have snow, lots of it, and still find mobility pretty easy not long afterward.

Kate had her first infusion of Remicade, an anti-rheumatoid arthritis biologic, on Monday. We hope it will reduce the pain in her hands, shoulder and back while also reducing the fatigue that RA also creates. The infusion takes two hours, sitting quietly in a chair with up to 8 other people in the room, undergoing the same sort of procedure. It’s hard to know in advance whether these things will work, but we expect good results.

Over at Beth Evergreen tonight Kate’s going for her last or next to last Hebrew class, then to a cooking class for a new approach to the passover meal. At 5 pm, Rabbi Jamie will teach a class, Exodus From Boring Seders. We’re attending a community seder next week on April 12 at Mt. Vernon Country Club. Maybe it won’t be boring.

Jon plans to look at mortgages this month, houses in May. We both hope it goes smoothly for him.

 

 

 

Life on Shadow Mountain Yesterday

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

The big storm comin’. 8-16″ of snow. Ended up around 2. Of course, all moisture is good moisture, so we’re happy we got that, but we’d hoped for more. More storms are on the way though. Maybe one of them will hit the sweet spot that carries water up from the south.

It was housecleaning day yesterday. Sandy drives up from Littleton every two weeks. She even does windows.

20170326_103558The loft is near it’s final configuration, at least for now. I do get the urge to move things every once in awhile, but I’m liking this setup. Just some art hanging and rearranging, pull-up bar installation, book reordering, a bit of moving boxes down to the garage below and it will be complete. Two and a half years later it feels wonderful.

This is the best space I’ve ever had all to myself and I love it. Thanks again, Kate, for finding this. This last push, refiling and rearranging, getting the shelving up (thanks, Jon) has me given me a place that inspires me, pulls out of me my best scholar/writer self. That’s the mask I don when I walk in here.

 

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