A hot August, the third hottest on record for Denver, boiled over the border to meteorological fall. Too warm yesterday even here on the mountain top. Neither Kate nor I like the heat, wait for the cold weather.
Labor day weekend special meal. Ribeye, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella, bay leaves and balsamic vinegar. Garlic bread. I love to cook, would like knowing more.
SeoAh is in Korea. Murdoch is in doggy university for 28 days learning how to be a canine good citizen. Joe’s home alone at Robbins AFB. Mark’s in Phnom Penh getting a visa for Vietnam. Mary’s in the classroom in Singapore. We’re up here on Shadow Mountain.
Yesterday was the 1st of Elul, the last month in the Jewish lunar calendar. Elul is a month for heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of and for the soul. When Elul ends, the High Holidays begin, starting with Rosh Hashanah, New Year, and ending with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
This corresponds well to my own inner work which begins to get grittier and intense as the night creeps up over daylight. Picking up this idea, going to use Elul for my own heshbon hanefesh.
An accounting of the American soul would surely include consideration of mass shootings. Our complicity in carbon emissions. The mess we’ve made of a once revered style of governance. How we’ve pushed ourselves into red tents and blue tents. But, too, the daily mitzvah’s of thousands, millions. The energy of our hope, our resilience. The vast diversity of our body politic. Those who still stream toward us from places of violence, of desperate poverty, of authoritarian regimes. Our wonderful, wild public lands.
When the book of life closes on Yom Kippur, will the USA be in it or not?
Lughnasa and the crescent Moon of the First Harvest
Cool again this morning. Great sleeping. So much so that Rigel couldn’t be bothered to get up and go outside before breakfast. I had to go down and roust her. All that barking at the bunnies under the shed tired her out, I guess. Thankfully she seems to be calming down about them.
Brother Mark is back in Saudi Arabia. His employment there has taken some odd turns. He’s headed to Riyadh instead of either Arar or Qassim. As he says, Saudi can be a challenging place to work.
Today is sister Mary’s birthday. Happy birthday, Mary! She’s starting another year as a professor at the teacher’s university of Singapore.
In other family news Kate and I went on an errand run yesterday. We were out so long that the battery on her O2 concentrator died. Happened on the way home. Even with that she was not exhausted. Still upbeat. Her stamina has improved remarkably with regular, balanced nutrition. It was so good to have her with me, doing things. Today is eleven months since her bleed. September 28th, 2018.
We stopped at Babcock Gardens and Feed in Kittredge. Investigating river rock to cover the landscape cloth I’m going to put all around our house. That’s the 5 foot ignition zone. The one and a half inch river rock covers 80 square feet per ton. We’ve got about 500 square feet, maybe a bit more. 5 tons* of rock to move. And, the woman at Babcock’s said river rock is hard to shovel. Hmm. Time for teenagers. Or, it just occurred to me, a bobcat. Course it would have to fit through our gate. Hmm, maybe not.
One odd element of wildfire mitigation is that, if you’ve done it, the firefighters are much more likely to protect your home in case of a fire. If we try, they’ll try.
*All you math folks can tell that’s only 400 square feet worth, right? Well, they only deliver 5 tons at a time. Gonna try to make that much work.
Down to single digits. Nine more treatments. Life after radiation (a bit of a joke, ha) is coming next week. Only three bedbugs were ever found. There was a “bubble” of people who sat in that chair at the approximate time Anova suspects the bugs transferred. They’re having them do extra preparation before they can come into treatment. Not me. Nope. No bedbugs here on the mountain. Gratitude. Probably means I’ll finish on August 9th.
My friend Dave, personal trainer Dave, has calmed down the nausea from his brain cancer chemo. Deb told me yesterday that he rode 78 miles last week, 20 miles that day. He’s in phenomenal shape. You might remember my mentioning that he ran a 15 mile endurance race in British Columbia, the Fitzsimmon Mountains. Lots of elevation gain. This was a year ago. Part of the motivation for staying in shape during cancer treatment is to prove you’re still alive, still have agency over your body. Take that, brain cancer. Take that, prostate cancer.
Found all this out when I took in the check for a large lug of Western Slope peaches. There’s a small section of the Western Slope (of the Rockies, in Colorado) that’s perfect for growing fancy peaches. Tents pop up along roads selling Colorado Peaches. On the Move Fitness takes orders from clients and organizes a bulk purchase from Green Barn Produce. Pick’em up next week. Kate’s going to make a sizable batch of peaches frozen in orange juice.
Another Colorado moment yesterday. On the way to Kate’s hearing test (she’s good in both ears. yeah.) we drove past a long dump truck, a side dumper, full of boulders. When I see a large truck here with boulders, I think of the golf carts leaving Minnesota each year for southern courses. Or, the Christmas trees beginning to head out of state by truck in November. Moving rock is a big business here. Including moving those rocks that fall onto roadways.
Sent a note yesterday to Elk Creek Fire District. They have a staff person who does two hour assessments of fire mitigation needs on your property. It’s been three years since I thinned our lodgepoles and I stopped at that. Might be other things I’m missing.
There were 30 wildfires within the Elk Creek District last year. The recent newsletter points out that firefighters “…must focus on evacuations and effectively apply available resources to defendable homes. In these scenarios, it is crucial that homeowners have already implemented Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) best practices.”
In practical terms this defines the triage that firefighters do in case of a wildfire threatening homes. They leave those already in flames and those too difficult to get to, think way up high or very steep driveways or in an unmitigated stand of trees. Those with short driveways, near major roads, who have done mitigation in their HIZ, will be defended. Our house meets all those criteria and I want to make sure it continues to.
Life in the WUI (pronounced woo-eee), the Wildland/Urban Interface. Yes, it makes about as much sense to live here as in a flood plain or in a coastal city waiting for sea level rise or a bad hurricane. But, we love it here, as residents of those other areas must love their home turf. So…
My friend Rich sees mussar as a metaphysical, not a psychological discipline. It’s soul work, deeper and more consequential than therapy.
Over the last year and a half my skeptical view of soul has begun to break up, fade away. First, from the Cosmos and Psyche (thanks, Tom) insight: Skepticism is a tool, not a lifestyle. Second, from a spiritual realization that despite its implication in the arguments over, say, original sin, soul nonetheless points to a felt reality for me, a phenomenological knowing. Not a dogmatic or doctrinal one.
Big deal, right? You always knew this? Or, no way, dude. Either way, so what?
And, of course, you’re right if you follow this often used, little understood idea back to its sources in Judaeo-Christian thought. Its use either assumed-you always knew this, or, so mean and inhuman, eternal hell for a few years on earth-no way, dude.
The Judaeo-Christian understanding incorporated the Greek notion of psyche, “…the mental abilities of a living being: reason, character, feeling, consciousness, memory, perception, thinking” with a notion of immortality connected to behavior in this life.
I want to push back, back beyond this narrow conception of soul. There was an assumption among the ancient Greeks that soul had to have a logical faculty, and, that it was the most divine attribute of a human soul. ( The current scientific consensus across all fields is that there is no evidence for the existence of any kind of soul in the traditional sense. Wiki.)
First I want to speak for the trees. Let’s call it the Loraxian understanding of the soul. The lodgepoles in our yard, crawling up Black Mountain, growing along Brook Forest Drive as it winds down the mountain. They have souls. They are both alive and animate, creatures with a telos, or end goal. They interact with their environment and grow strong or weak, tall or short, but they remain lodgpole pines, trees with a particular role in a montane ecosystem, a role which they give all they have to fulfill.
The same is true for the mule deer, the mountain lion, the marsh marigold, the elk, the bear, the fox, the squirrel, the dandelion, the cheatgrass, the Indian paintbrush, the mountain trout, the raven and the magpie. Are their souls more or less than ours? Wrong question. Are their souls more like ours or more unlike? Don’t know. I just know that living things on the planet share the wonder of life, an independent spark. That spark gives us organic matter that moves and does so with intention.
I’ve felt this way about the world for a long, long time. Taoism, Emerson, the Romantics, gardening, the Celtic Great Wheel. The mystical moment on the quad at Ball State. Oneness. With it all. I’m even willing to entertain faeries, elves, duendes, daiads, Gods and Goddesses. OK, I know I lost a lot of you with that one, but I’m going with my gut, my revelation to me rather than the dry dusty bones of theirs.
But. I want to push one step further. I believe in the spirits of the mountains. They have visited me here on Shadow Mountain, the mule deer on Samain, 2014, and the elk on my first day of radiation. The mule deer and the elk were angels, that is, messengers of the mountain gods, dispatched by the careful, slow, deliberate entities that are the Rocky Mountains.
I believe in the vitality of rushing water in Maxwell Creek, Cub Creek, Blue Creek, Bear Creek, the North Fork of the South Platte. I believe in the entity that is Lake Superior, that is the great deposit of ores on the Minnesota Iron Range, the ebb and flow of the Oglalla Aquifer.
I believe in Mother Earth, the great Gaia, a living system of ecosystems, biomes watered by rains and the snows, irrigated by streams and rivers, planted by Boreas and Zephryus, and given power to change by the true god, Sol.
Neither animals nor plants can grow without the sun’s energy or the food locked in minerals and vitamin: “Our soils support 95 percent of all food production, and by 2060, our soils will be asked to give us as much food as we have consumed in the last 500 years. They filter our water. They are one of our most cost-effective reservoirs for sequestering carbon. They are our foundation for biodiversity. And they are vibrantly alive, teeming with 10,000 pounds of biological life in every acre. Yet in the last 150 years, we’ve lost half of the basic building block that makes soil productive.” Living Soil film
As it appears, I am an animist, a pagan, a person who has found his spot in the great scheme. I’m a moving instance of matter formed in the great fusion furnaces of stars. I’m a temporary instance, holding together a few atoms for a human lifetime. I’m a significant instance of meaning created by the universe observing itself, throughout my short path, as the dynamic, interlocked, soulful reality that it is.
I need no human word to guide me. I need no idea, no rule. I am and I am within all this. The Arapaho National Forest. The Rocky Mountains. Our nuclear family. Our extended family. The community of folks at CBE. The United States. The Mind of God.
My soul and that of Kepler, Rigel, and Gertie dance with each other. In Andover Kate and I danced with bees, fruit trees, perennial flowers, vegetables, raspberry canes. Here we dance with the mountain spirits.
Long ago I set out on a spiritual journey that went down and in rather than up and out. That is, I would not find validation somewhere outside of myself whether Torah, Gospel, Constitution, or political ideology. I would not privilege the idea of transcendence, or a three-story universe. No god is in heaven, and yet all’s right with the world. My ancient spiritual trail has been to turn within for the source of my revelation. And, I have not turned back.
So easy to get lost in the polluted haze of Trump’s venal presidency. To have our heads down, shaking in disbelief. Wondering when this horror show will end.
So easy. Today though, on this day of tanks and flags, this day when we become like all the nations who try to show bellicosity as a symbol of national strength, I’m very aware it’s all happening far to the east.
Happy to sit high in the Rocky Mountains, far away from the beltway. I lift my head up and look out the window. Black Mountain is bathed in sunlight. So are the tops of the lodgepole pines in our front yard. The sky, a robin’s egg blue, makes all the green pop.
If I were to drive across the plains again, from here to the Twin Cities as I have done so often, I would cross green fields of wheat, of corn. The horizon would be once again flat instead of jagged. Reaching into Minnesota the plains slowly disappear, bumping up against the remnants of the big woods. It’s said that once a squirrel could go tree to tree from the Atlantic coast to Minnesota without ever touching the earth.
Near where the prairie begins to morph into another land form is Pipestone, Minnesota. A sacred place for many peoples native to this land. There the blood of mother earth has congealed into a soft, red stone, perfect for making the pipes used in so many rituals. If you go to the quarries, you can sometimes see folks working there, seeking blocks of pipestone. A very low tech procedure.
Driving on toward the Twin Cities, angling north and east, bean and corn fields begin to dominate. Cattle, pigs. Close to sea level and well east of John Wesley Powell’s demarcation line for the arid West, the 100th parallel (really now the 98th), Minnesota is in the humid east. Summer air is sticky, wet, and filled with bugs of various kinds.
In Minnesota the glaciers that bulldozed the plains left behind small depressions in the earth, over 16,000 of them. A journey north and east, turning due north some where beyond the middle of the state, will find a traveler in the North Woods, filled with lakes, and still more wild than civilized.
It is up there, in the Arrowhead Region, where wolves retained their paw-hold on a U.S. presence. The Arrowhead’s eastern boundary is all shoreline, washed by the cold, deep waters of Lake Superior.
These are the parts of America the Beautiful that I know best. Minnesota and its northerness. The plains and their great level expanses, once filled with grass and buffalo. The Rocky Mountains which rise up from those same plains, suddenly, abruptly, far to the west of any silliness on the National Mall.
I will hold in my heart this day neither tanks, nor flags, nor bluster, but the rocky beaches of the Great Lakes, the farmland of southern Minnesota, the vast wheat fields of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, the upthrust mantle of Mother Earth’s crust where I now sit.
I’ve lived my life in these interior places of the North American continent, held for now under the politic rubric United States of America. They will still exist when this nation has faded into obscurity. And that makes me glad.
Thought more about the tunnel I mentioned in the post below. For a long while, especially from February through mid-May or so, I thought the light at the end of the tunnel was the ironic oncoming train. Seemed like the tunnel had shrunken and passing through it was a unit train headed in our direction.
Once Kate began to gain weight, smile, the tunnel expanded a bit. A small path opened up that we could jump onto and wait out the train. When the cancer diagnosis went from psa to imaging studies, and the imaging studies showed no mets, the small path widened up enough for both of us to stand next to each other.
The exit from the tunnel is still far off. I’m estimating September, late September, as the time when we see if the track outside the tunnel runs through a pleasant valley or back into another mountainside.
When I did the Progoff workshop in May I thought mostly about the time since Kate’s bleed. On the way to radiation today I turned this over again and decided that the move to Colorado was the key moment. Since then four aspects of our new life came to dominate.
Family. Since we moved here on the Winter Solstice of 2014, Jon has gone through a bitter divorce, lived with us for a year and purchased his own home. The grandkids have gone from traumatized to tween and teenager. In 2016 we went to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding. Since then, SeoAh has become an important part of our family, too.
Colorado. We live in this remarkable state, close to many things people spend thousands of dollars to visit. We’ve seen few of them. The tunnel has contained us. Perhaps as we emerge from the tunnel, we’ll be able to plan trips. 5280, a magazine, has an insert this month, 10 classic Colorado road trips. A good place to start.
We live in the mountains among the lodgepole pines, aspens, craggy cliffs and fast flowing streams. Mule deer, elk, fox, bears, and mountain lions are our neighbors. Making our life here on Shadow Mountain has given us great joy, the beauty and the changing seasons
Judaism. Congregation Beth Evergreen has been a refuge, a joy. The folks there have shown us what community means, what mitzvah means, that life together is better than life apart. Friends, intellectual sustenance, spiritual growth.
Healthspan. It was the diagnosis in 2015 that started it. Oh. Cancer? Really? Let’s get it out and move on. Tried to do that. Next up. Arthritic knee. Get a new, titanium one. Yes. Good choice. Kate needed a new right shoulder. Also a good choice. Sjogren’s began to eat into Kate’s well-being, dragging her weight down, causing fatigue, nausea. The bleed made it all more problematic for her. Second bleed. Pneumothorax. Each meant time in the hospital, starting in the E.R. at Swedish. Flu. Pneumonia. Me. Rising psa. Oh? Really? Later here we are in week 3 of the radiation. Hopeful for the near term future. How our lifespan has been affected? Probably shortened.
It is my feeling that emergence from the tunnel will call on us to interact more fully with all of these four. I’m excited and ready.
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%.
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.
Struggled a bit with naming the moon for this new month. Didn’t want to put up my first idea. It seemed, dark. Yet when I went to other ideas, nothing came. Usually the new moon’s name comes easily. It’s a fun way to emphasize an important aspect of the upcoming lunar month. This time though. Not fun. I try to think of something that might dominate the next 30 days or an important (to us or the mountains) event. Recovery Moon. Rushing Waters. Valentine. So. Cancer.
But. Ewww. Debbie Downer. Even so. Axumin scan. Meeting with Dr. Gilroy, a radiation oncologist. Most probably treatment. In my world cancer will dominate. So. Cancer.
Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up last night. Ruth brought a wonderful loaf of challah she’d made. Tasted like Irish soda bread. The braids were clear. I brought up the silver platter I bought for Kate a long time ago. A set, with a serrated knife. For the sabbath meal. I had my pastrami on chunks of challah. They’d stopped at the New York Deli on their way up, buying matzo ball soup as well as stuff for supper and eating it on the way.
Ruth and Gabe laugh easily now, tease each other. As happy now as they were angry and sullen a couple of years ago. Jon’s doing something right as a parent and it’s a pleasure to see. He’s been out of school for a week or so now. The Aurora school district chose Montview to renovate this year. His art room will have a patio and windows. His old room had no windows. Hard to imagine for an art classroom, eh?
The Great Kiva, Chaco Canyon
The move. In 2014 my last Progoff workshop stirred something in me, made me realize if Kate and I were going to make a change in our lives right then was the time to do it. We were both still in good health. We had enough money. Kate had retired.
On the way up here from Tucson I saw the Mogollon Rim, Ship Rock, and stopped at Chaco Canyon. The Mogollon Rim is the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, the massive geological feature that underlies parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado west of the Rockies with its center roughly at the Four Corners. Ship Rock, if you’ve read any Tony Hillerman mysteries already familiar to you, has a sacred role in Diné culture. Chaco Canyon was the Vatican of the Anasazi, direct ancestors of the Pueblo people. As I drove the Mogollon Rim in the early hours of March 28th, 2014, the full moon rose.
Ruth, March 29, 2014
Ruth, April 5, 2019
I could feel, and wrote it about even then, a Colorado self forming. That same Colorado self that I chose to dress last summer. The one with the plaid flannel shirts and jeans. Unexpectedly a lot like my Minnesota self. Yet not. This is a self not with its roots in Lake Superior, North Woods country, but in the Colorado Plateau, in the Rocky Mountains, in the ancient history of human settlement here. And that Colorado self, forming as I drove, wanted that. More than I knew at the time.
I left the Colorado Plateau and drove north to Denver.
Jen wanted to surprise Ruth. Her 8th birthday was only days away when I got to Denver. This from a post on March 29th, “When I knocked on the door, Ruth, the birthday girl who did not know I was coming, fluttered her hands and got a shy look. Taken aback and surprised. Then, glad to see me.” In retrospect I think it was in that moment I took an internal turn away from my home of 40 years and turned to face the Rockies.
This Sunday I start my fourth Intensive Journal Workshop. It runs each day through Friday, the 10th. The whole rising psa, get in the oncological spirit matter has come up since I decided to attend. Makes the whole process even more important. What’s life like for me post the move to Colorado? What’s the next few years’ focus?
No question that health matters have had pride of place almost from the time we got here. My prostate cancer diagnosis came in April and May of 2015, only months after we moved into our house. Kate’s multiple issues, Sjogren’s, the bleed, food aversion and weight loss, anemia, and lung disease have dominated for almost 18 months. We both had joint replacements, my knee, her shoulder.
Having said that, they don’t compare to the importance of having been here for Jon and the kids during that messy divorce and its aftermath. Which continues. Nor do they compare in importance to finding Congregation Beth Evergreen. Or, the constant wonder and awe of living in the Rocky Mountains. Or, the creation of a new family with Joe and SeoAh’s marriage.
How have all these things changed me? What do they suggest for things that need emphasis, and things that need to go in the compost heap of my life? An introvert’s delight, the journal workshop. It’s my birthday present, maybe the best one ever. Thanks, Kate.