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…

What we see

Samain                                                                Bare Aspen Moon

Mist last month, Black Mountain

Mist last month, Black Mountain

The nearly full bare aspen moon stood over Shadow Mountain drive last night, bright and low enough to be poked by the lodgepole pine. Full moons up here alter the appearance of the mountains, sometimes putting them in lunar shadows, dark silhouettes against the late evening sky, and shining their ghostly light into clearings and onto roadways. They also light up the eyes of animals wandering through the Arapaho National Forest or crossing the road: mountain lions, mule deer, elk, black bear.

When I was a flatlander, I imagined mountains as always the same, like the Matterhorn, tall and rocky, always tall and rocky. Or, Mt. Everest, always snowy and cold. Now that I’m a mountain man I know they change appearance many times during each day and from season to season. The beauty of the mountains is usually stark, but stark for different reasons: snow one day, hoar frost on another, golden aspens one season, bare aspen in another.

Later in November

Later in November

Mountain streams like Cub Creek, Maxwell Creek, Bear Creek, Shadow Brook run fast and full in the late spring, slower during the summer and often freeze over in the winter. There are, also, particularly this close to Denver, seasonal fluctuations in traffic on mountain roads. When Kate and I moved here in December of 2014, we saw signs that said Heavy Roadside Activity. We couldn’t imagine what meant. Lots of earth moving equipment? Animals? It wasn’t until spring that parking at trail heads along our drive down to Evergreen began to fill up with cars, then spill over to the roadside and fill even what we came to recognize as overflow parking lots that had been covered by snow.

Right now? Invisible. It’s dark. No mountains out there according to my eyes.

Mystifying Move

Samain                                                                             Bare Aspen Moon

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

A friend wrote that he found our move here mystifying. No doubt. At age 67 and 70 respectively Kate and I left our lifetime home, the American Midwest (except for her brief sojourn in Houston), flat and humid, for the Rocky Mountains, high and arid. We had built a substantial life based on flat and humid, lots of horticulture, a woods of our own, plenty of space for our big dogs to roam. There was room in the Andover house for Kate’s sewing, my books and writing, an exercise space, a kitchen and dining area that worked for us.

We both had professional and friendship links of over 40 years in Minnesota. We made consistent use of the many cultural assets in the Twin Cities, having met at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. We attended the Guthrie and other theater and musical events. I was a docent and guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for 12 years with frequent visits to the Walker, the Russian Museum and led a group that made monthly visits to quirky art related venues. Political engagement over a long period of time had, at the point of the move, led me to the Sierra Club where I helped work on the legislative program.

In other words we were both literally and figuratively well-rooted.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, 2014

Ira Progoff Intensive Journal Workshops intervened. Progoff was a psychoanalyst in the Jungian tradition, the same theoretical framework used by my long time personal analyst, John Desteian. I first attended a Journal workshop in 1988 in southern Wisconsin. It altered my perception of the world through a six day process of guided meditations, journal writing guided through Progoff’s books and by a skilled facilitator. From this first one I developed a mantra, Stream flowing, White Pine rooting, that I used for decades in personal meditation. At a second Journal Workshop in Georgia, I deepened my appreciation of these workshops. They have an uncanny way of illuminating the current moment of my life in a way that’s both connected to the past, yet focused on the future.

Progoff’s intention is that the Journal be a source of continuing self-analysis. You learn the method at a workshop, then continue to use in daily life. I’ve found the journals too unwieldy for daily use, but the Journal workshops themselves transformative. I hope to attend one next year to get more insight into our life after the move.

IMAG0096It was the Tucson workshop that triggered the move. I say triggered advisedly because it shifted my sense of priorities after Kate’s retirement. Up till then the long, well-established roots I mentioned earlier made leaving Minnesota unthinkable to me. We had seriously discussed a move to Duluth, to Hawaii and often, to Colorado, but for me Minnesota’s thumb on the scale proved decisive. How could I leave the Woolly Mammoth’s, my men’s group of over 25 years at that point? How could I leave the political work and the work at the MIA? How could we leave our gardens and orchard, the bees?

However the various exercises in the Tucson workshop led me down a different path. First, it established clearly that my life phase that time, March/April of 2014, was defined by Kate’s retirement. It allowed me, encouraged me, to go into that phase with clearer eyes, to consider what our mutual life could mean now that she was free of daily work. With the exception of Anne, Kate’s sister who lives in Waconia, our family had moved on, both boys having left for Colorado, Jon around 2000, Joseph in 2005. Though Joseph had since joined the Air Force and left Breckenridge, Jon married and had two children.

Ruth and Gabe were 7 and 5, turning 8 and 6 the month of the Journal workshop. I planned to make a visit on the way home, driving from Tucson to Denver to surprise Ruth for her birthday. This meant the grandkids were on my mind.

Ruth, late March, 2014

Ruth, late March, 2014

I sensed, in meditation and through writing occasioned by the workshop’s flow, that our family’s center of gravity had shifted, for good, to Colorado. Both Jon and Joseph moved to Colorado for the skiing. Joseph would likely return to Colorado after his time in the Air Force (it seemed like that then, maybe not quite as much now) and our grandchildren were young. If we stayed in Minnesota, we would see them only occasionally and have little chance to play much of a role in their maturation.

This realization, that our family had shifted its home base from Minnesota, which we both loved, to Colorado, made me think moving to Colorado made some sense. Kate had gotten there long before me, so when I raised the question on my return, a decision to leave came quickly. We soon had a realtor, began making regular trips to G-Will Liquors for boxes and purchased colored tape.

First project, fence for the dogs

First project, fence for the dogs

Living in the mountains, at altitude, had three main drivers. The first was free air-conditioning. “If there’s no snow (or rain) falling from the sky and you’re not in a cloud, then the temperature decreases by about 5.4°F for every 1,000 feet up you go in elevation.” on the snow. So you can do the math for 8,800 feet. The second was to live in a distinctly different environment from our Midwestern home. Denver didn’t meet this criteria since it’s at what I consider the western terminus of the Midwest, where the plains wash up against the Front Range of the Rockies, and it’s a metro area, therefore not very different in kind from the Twin Cities. The third was to put some distance, though not too much, between us and the grandkids. We didn’t want to be used as babysitters, but to be available as grandparents.

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

Ruth and Jon helping us get ready for the moving van, Dec. 2014

This latter desire on our part, to engage the grandkids, but not be engulfed by them, was a distinct point of conflict with Jen, Jon’s then wife. She complained, from the first time we decided on Black Mountain Drive, that we were living too far away. No matter how often we pointed out that we had moved 900 miles closer, she always came back to how far away we were. While we understood her point, it was exactly that sort of attitude that had made us choose some distance.

So we moved to the mountains on the Winter Solstice of 2014, barely 9 months after the workshop in Tucson. We came into alignment as the workshop changed my attitude toward the relative virtues of staying in Minnesota or being close to the grandkids. In effect, it brought me around to Kate’s thinking.

 

Saws and Paws

Samain                                                                    Bare Aspen Moon

20151013_112839Down the hill to Aurora yesterday afternoon. Newly spruced up (ha) chainsaw, limbing ax, pole saw, loppers, Swede saw, fuel for the chainsaw and bar and chain oil were on a tarp in the Rav4. Cleared out some overgrown shrubbery, cut down three scrubby trees and trimmed up small trees grown into the chain link fence on the south side of Jon’s new place. Also removed some dead wood. Had to leave a couple of dead trees. I didn’t know how to take them down without taking out the neighbor’s wooden fence at the same time.

Rigel went with me, sitting in the backseat, sometimes her head between the front seats, looking, looking, always looking. She spent most of the time I was there with Ruth, who was reading on the bed in her room. Gabe came out and helped me move a dead tree limb. He also offered advice on cutting limbs off a tree in the corner of the property. “Use the chainsaw, grandpa.” “Using a chainsaw overhead is dangerous, Gabe. I might cut my head off.” “Oh.”

Jon had lumber out, building a table in his backyard. He ran boards through a planer, nailed pieces together. Measured twice. Cut once with his power saw. In his kitchen there are no appliances. He and his friend Max deconstructed the kitchen a month or so ago and moved the appliances into the living room. Jon is at the point of installing douglas fir strips from a former museum as a new kitchen floor. In Ruth’s room he’s building a loft bed, in Gabe’s a desk. He loves making things and he’s good at it.

20170928_172531At 5 pm Jen came and picked up Ruth and Gabe for their week with her. “Bet it’s lonely when they leave, Jon.” “Actually it’s sort of a relief.” Single parenting is hard. I remember that feeling of relief when Joseph returned to Raeone’s, though my joy at his return was much greater.

Rigel and I drove back as the clouds turned red, then pinkish-orange, gray, then disappeared in the darkness of night. The lights of the Denver metro twinkled from the vantage point of Highway 285. The large lit cross positioned on the side of a mountain where the foothills begin shone out at us, a familiar landmark now. The humorists at the Colorado D.O.T. are at work again. The led sign just before 285 begins to climb read its usual: Watch for rocks and wildlife. But, it then blinked, changing the wording to: “Be aware. Falling rocks have the right-of-way.” Mountain humor.

 

 

Over the River and Through the Woods. To the meat locker.

Samain                                                                              Bare Aspen Moon

13 degrees here this morning. About an inch of snow overnight. Thanksgiving, requiring the horse to find the way to Grandma’s house, is almost upon us.

Over the river and through the woods,
To grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,
Through (the) white and drifted snow!

Yep. They’ll cross the Platte and Cherry Creek and the Mississippi (in the air), drive through valleys and up mountains to get here.

Over the river and through the woods,
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Grandmother sans cap

Grandmother sans cap

And, yes, we’re going to have a capon. Capons are mystery meat to the clan of Colorado butchers. Even at Elizabeth Meat Locker yesterday a worker there looked blank when I asked about capons. “What are they?” “Chickens with their balls cut off. They get fat.” Oh.

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

Guanella Pass, an ancientrail. Friendship, an ancientrail

After having breakfast and goodbye with Tom and Bill at the Lakeshore Cafe in Evergreen, I picked up Kate and we took the grand circle route to complete two errands. They both required our presence in the physical world, something I note with greater frequency these days. There are things that absolutely require showing up in person and they often involve physical objects that have to be picked up and moved from one place to another.

In this instance, Diana had finished her work on the cushions for the Jon built benches in our dining area and the Elizabeth Meat Locker had finished carving up our quarter of beef. Diana is in Lakewood, off Sheridan Avenue, a left hand turn from Hwy 285. She’s a friendly woman, proud of her work. And, the cushions look good. Not installed quite yet, due to cleaning required first, but they will support Thanksgiving guests.

ColoradoAfter carrying the two cushions and the remaining fabric, about 3 yards, out to the car, Kate and I drove off in a southeasterly direction toward the high plains town of Elizabeth. We turned east at Castle Rock on Colorado 86. 86 heads resolutely away from the mountains, which are in the rearview the whole way. Elizabeth is a small agricultural town, known to any Midwesterner in its general outline and types of stores and shops. That’s why I said not long after we moved that the Midwest washes up here against the solid reef of the Rocky Mountains and finally disappears. In Elizabeth Kate and I were on familiar turf.

The Meat Locker has several letters missing in its sign and the building could use tuck pointing over its entire surface, but the folks are friendly. They butcher locally raised (Jefferson and Park County being local in this instance.) grass fed animals. The guy who didn’t know what a capon was helped us load our quarter of a beef into the truck using three cardboard trays with handles. We’ve almost finished last year’s beef so this amount seems about right for us.

On the way home Grandma rested, her feet placed over the vent which blew cool air. “The bee’s knees,” she said.

Brick Mortar vs Online - BannerCushions, a frozen beef quarter, groceries these are a few of the physical objects that we still use our truck to retrieve. I imagine at some point we’ll have an economy that divides itself between physical objects that have to be moved, including your own body to doctor’s appointments, for instance, and physical objects that can be purchased online and delivered. I know we’re already there with online sales, but I mean a situation where the economy consciously organizes itself by these categories. Right now we have a transitional situation between brick and mortar businesses built under the old, we have to go there to get it paradigm, and an online retail economy powered to our homes by the USPS, Fedex or UPS. It’s clumsy and not always transparent which is better, online or physical shopping. I think that will sort itself out over the next decade or so, maybe a bit more.

 

The Time Has Come. Again. And will come once more.

Samain                                                                    Joe and Seoah Moon

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

Walrus-Carpenter, John Tenniel

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

 

And so it is, every time Tom and Bill and I find ourselves on the shore of the ocean surrounded by oysters, or on Guanella Pass or in the strange Buckhorn Exchange, holder of Denver’s liquor license number one.

It is, I suppose, possible to think of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass as excellent examples of life’s true way, one governed by chance and the exigencies visited on us. Or, another way of explaining it, other than chance, might be, the universe speaking to us. Could be synchronicity, could be a kabbalah experience, could be the photographer/novelist at the artist’s co-op in Georgetown.

20160813_161919Skiing is an example. Jon’s love of skiing, learned in the flatlands of Minnesota, with bumps just big enough to gain some momentum, occasioned, much later in his life, a move to Colorado. Joseph came here, too, to live in Breckenridge. Jon met Jen. Ruth and Gabe. Years of traveling from Minnesota to Colorado. Then, our own move to Colorado. Now here we are, near the Guanella Pass, near Georgetown with a friend who lives there. So Tom and Bill could come visit and we could meet the photographer and former petroleum engineer, Ellen Nelson. We could, too, as Tom said, reenter the conversation that defines our lives.

There is, too, for me, the chance experience of Kate, all those many years ago, when she went to Temple Israel in Minneapolis and felt immediately at home, tears streaming down her face. Without that moment we wouldn’t have sought out, just on a whim, two classes on King David being held on a cold night in nearby Evergreen. That was two years ago to the day tomorrow. We found Congregation Beth Evergreen. Now we’re there among friends, contributing and growing more deeply involved. And my pilgrimage across the landscape of life, which began in Oklahoma in the Red River Valley, now continues with a strong Jewish inflection in the mountains of Colorado.

 “Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

“Every Man Knew” was commissioned from artist David Conklin by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

None of this was part of a plan. Yes, plans can help us in certain parts of our lives, but if we fool ourselves into believing that the planful side of us guides the most important parts of our lives then we miss the larger, more significant streams on which we drift. Kate sews. So she has met the women of Bailey Patchworkers and the Needleworkers. I love Kate, so I’ve met the folks at Beth Evergreen and taken another right hand turn on my pilgrimage. Bill and Tom and I met through chance in a group of men called Woolly Mammoths. How weird is that? Yet here we are, together now in the Rockies, thirty years later.

Somehow we have to stay open, to not ratchet down the hatches of our mind. This is counter-intuitive as the heavy storms of life wash over our bows, threatening to sink us. In fact we often need to sink, to go under the surface of our life, to allow the stormy waters of a new life to rush over us, fill us, even drown our old life; so that we can pop back to the surface, water streaming, eager for the changed world that now exists up there.

JackLondonwhitefang1It is no wonder that many folks can’t do this. It’s just too scary. But I can tell you, from the vantage point of 70 years, that the intentional has very rarely taken me where I thought it would. Studying hard in high school? Yes, I followed that thread off to college, but college waters quickly swamped my little vessel, pushing me under. I drowned many times in the ensuing years. Philosophy overcame my fragile barque. Then, opposition to the Vietnam War. Alcohol, met in my freshman year, held me under from 1966 to 1976. A long time love of Jack London’s novels, especially Call of the Wild and White Fang, awakened in me a desire to see lands where pine trees and lakes, wolves and moose were. After a move to Wisconsin pursuing those lands, the ocean of Christianity once again swallowed me. Which led me to Minnesota. And, eventually, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, where, after a divorce, I would meet Kate, who cried in the Temple and whose son, Jon, now mine, too, loved to ski. Which led, in its own, very unplanned way, to this home on Shadow Mountain. So many other instances.

 

 

 

The Rockies, Not Far From Home

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Old Men and the Mountains

Old Men and the Mountains

 

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Mt. Bierstadt, Mt. Evans from the Guanella Pass summit

Downtown Georgetown and Silvery Plume Mtn.

Downtown Georgetown and Silver Plume Mtn.

Moose

Samain                                                                    Joe and SeoAh Moon

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA

Moose, Superior National Forest, Minnesota, USA

The Moose.  Been awhile since I’ve written about my totem animal. I didn’t gain the moose in a sweat lodge or a vision quest. Nor did a psychic or friend suggest it.

Nope. Got to thinking about myself a long while ago. Introverted, wandering the forests by myself, not easily cowed, even by predators. Usually alone. And the moose came to mind.

May not be pretty, but they stand tall and act with vigor. I know no one picks a field mouse as their totem animal and that self-selection is sort of frowned upon; but, moose just seemed to fit.

Up here they live not far away, wandering the Arapaho and Pike National Forests. In fact, a male showed up in the meadow at the base of Shadow Mountain just over a month ago. Their only foe, the wolf, is no longer present here, so their numbers have gone up after a recent re-introduction by Colorado Natural Resources. The moose in Minnesota are in trouble, thanks mainly to global warming. The winters are no longer cold enough to consistently kill off the ticks that plague them. Not sure why that isn’t true here in Colorado.

I guess what appealed to me about the moose is its solitary nature, its home turf in the wilderness, its majesty. Moose are one of the iconic animals of the north along with wolves and loons and ravens. Out here in the Rockies they join the buffalo and the wild horse, the grizzly bear, the mountain lion, the elk. I see myself as a man of the north and now, too, of the west, but especially the mountains, so we share a home range, two of them in fact.

Seeing the sights

Samain                                                                   Joe and SeoAh Moon

20171027_161725Slowly. Things change. Sometimes fast, but often slowly. Jon has most of his stuff removed from the house, a few things remain in the garage. The bench he’s making will soon have colorful cushions. Kate’s already hard at work thinking about colors, about furniture arrangements, window treatments for the rest of the house.

Yesterday we did a marathon, sitting in the Rav4 of course, to get those cushions ready for Thanksgiving. Colorado Fabrics, the place to go for quality cloth in the Denver metro, is in Aurora, far to the east in Aurora. Aurora is the eastern edge of the metro. We live 35 miles west of Denver. So, navigating the entire metro, and on city streets because the southern metro area has no freeways to help cross it.

Then, roll of fabric in the back, we turned around and drove back three quarters of the way home to Diane’s. Diane is a fabricator. She takes the foam Kate purchased, cuts and sews the fabric, puts in zippers and stuffs the covers. They’ll be done by the big meal. Jon, Anne, Ruth and Gabe, at least, will be here.

I like these sojourns that take us on city streets. I’m still an avid student of the way cities form, shape themselves, develop character. Getting to Colorado Fabrics is a lesson in the way Denver has pushed its way south, overwhelming Hampden Avenue, Highway 285, which was once a four lane, relatively easy to use transit across the line where the ‘burbs began. No more. Now it’s a clogged thoroughfare sandwiched between the Denver city limits and a string of homes and businesses that extends miles beyond it in all directions. But it’s not been replaced by anything better.

Diane’s place is in Lakewood, a you can’t tell you ever left Denver behind part of the metro area, but to the west, in the same fashion as Aurora is to the east, though not nearly as big. While driving on Sheridan north, we had to turn around due to a navigational error in the wetware I use to find my way. As we turned around, Kate said, “Goats.” Sure enough, a house with concrete gargoyle statues, a lion or two and lots of other stuff I assume meant to be decorative had a large field in back with maybe 10 or 12 goats wandering around. Kate then noticed horses and gardens. Mind you we’re still well inside the metro area, not far out of Denver proper. This is the West. It’s different out here.

Diane herself lived in a neighborhood that was new, I imagine, in the late 50’s, perhaps early 60’s, in the last century of the millennia just past. Mostly small bungalow type houses with smallish lots, most of brick. She had a large silver maple tree in her front yard and we walked through fallen leaves to her front door. The crushing of those leaves under our feet gave off the smell of a midwestern autumn, something we no longer experience in the mountains. Instant nostalgia. Raking the leaves. Jumping in the piles. Pushing them into the street and setting the on fire. God, I can’t believe we really did that. But we burned our trash, too.

Diane is a large, friendly woman with a home full of items with an oriental flavor: buddha statues, a Japanese style painting, a Chinese acrobat holding a small table up on his legs. She had a couple of small dogs who were very noisy when we first got there. She went through, carefully, what we wanted done with the fabric. Did we want the pattern to run horizontally or vertically? Did we want to emphasize the darker or the lighter aspect? Where could she place the zippers so we could flip them if we needed to? She had a small desk in an alcove area next to her kitchen. Kate and I were on a settee next to it.

Since this was rush hour time, Kate and I ate at a buffet I’d discovered when I was out for the closing on our house, exactly three years ago. The closing was on Halloween and I did this and that for three or four days afterward.

Finally, home. We left Black Mountain Drive around 1 p.m. and it was 5:30 by the time we got back. Turns out excursions of this length now leave us both a bit tired, Kate often a lot. Just the aging process accentuated in her case by Sjogren’s and rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Kavanah

Fall                                                                         Joe and SeoAh Moon

But the end is not yet

But the end is not yet

2017 Woolly Mammoth Retreat Question. Three Mammoths are not yet 70, a couple at 70, four mid-70’s and two in their 80’s. All, however, firmly in what I call the third phase, the phase of life after career and family building are usually over. That’s the time frame this question referents.

Since I will not be attending this year, I’m going to write my answer here and send it along to the retreat.

What is our intention for this phase (or the remainder) of our life; hopes, truths, fears, losses, sufferings, challenges, inspirations, duties and non-duties?

It is different now, in the third phase of life. With a career and a family we built our lives to a crescendo and this, this is the denouement*:  the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved. Other words: conclusion, finale, epilogue, coda, final scene, finish, end.

It is not retirement, at least not any more. This is not the finish line, it’s the period before the finish line, after the race has largely been run. But not all the way. The finish line might be a fourth phase, a sort of lingering in the face of medical challenges that end only one way, death. None of us, to my knowledge anyhow, are in that fourth phase and we have at least one who is still flirting with the end of the second phase, but for the most part we’re in life’s epilogue.

One of the reasons I came up with notion of the third phase was that the retirement model of my childhood was more like the fourth phase, a lingering that, though it might include golf, fishing, a grandkid on the knee, was still a lingering that saw death close by. It was a time of not-working, defined by whatever leisure pursuits one chose.

2010 01 19_3454Not for us. As all of you (Woolly Mammoths at least) know, I entered the third phase from a different vantage point, having left the ministry behind as a full-time vocation in 1991. I focused on writing novels though there was a regressive moment in which I moved over to the UU ministry, at least partway.

I have written several. And I’m not done. My 8th, Superior Wolf, has a finished first draft and I’m working on my 9th, Jennie’s Dead. Not to mention the vampire novel I’m plotting in my head right now, one set around a castle hidden away in the Rocky Mountains. So, the not-working, retirement focused third phase is not for me. I’m having too much fun.

The third phase began in earnest for me when we decided to move to Colorado. Why? Because we were leaving behind not only the political and museum work I’d done for years in the Twin Cities, but we sold our garden, our orchards, our woods, our flower beds. We also stored all the bee equipment we’d purchased over the years. Those were the work equivalent activities of my post-ministry years, equal in some ways to novel writing.

So my intention for the third phase had, at the point of the move, at least these components: a focus on Jon, Ruth and Gabe, continued writing, immersion in the West and the Rockies, seeing what new life Kate and I could construct outside our Midwestern home places.

20171016_070053Of course, and I think this is true even if you remain in a familiar place, the unexpected always shapes things, too. How could we know, for example, that our family focus, the proximate reason for the move, would shift dramatically when Jon and Jen headed into fourteen months (and counting) of an acrimonious divorce. How could we know that in my first physical with our new physician, Lisa Gidday, that she would find a hard spot on my prostate? How could we know that Kate would face challenges from rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s Syndrome?

How could we know, in a more positive vein, that the mountain streams would be so interesting in their seasonal variation, the aspens so wonderful in their monochromatic fall splendor? How could we know that mule deer and elk, mountain lions and bears and fox would become part of our everyday life? How could we know that a small Jewish community, a community of mountain Jews as they call themselves, would become central to our lives?

What is intention? It’s an important idea for Jews. Kavanah**, or intention, can determine the religious efficacy of prayer and ritual. If the intention, the kavanah, is not sincere and focused, the prayer or ritual is considered deficient.  I’m not trying to be theological here, or, maybe I am, but not in a traditional sense. The kavanah of our third phase is critical, I think. It does need to be sincere and focused to prepare and establish an orientation of our heart/mind.

kyudo3_250Intention matters a great deal because, unlike Jewish prayer and ritual, so much of our life is unknown. What can we bring to life as it twists and turns, zigzags its way? A willingness to treat life with love, care, awe, joy will allow us to navigate the planned and the unplanned with grace. That is my intention for this (and, for that matter, any) phase of life, now this third phase. I will be open to the new, approach others with chesed, loving kindness, embrace awe, seek out the joyful and the laugh filled.

Whether I write, spend time with family, hike in the mountains, learn the ancient Jewish ways in their modern clothing, engage in the day to day with Kate and the dogs, or maintain relationships in the far away, I intend to laugh, love and play. After that? Well, there is no after that.

 

 

*1752, from French dénouement “an untying” (of plot), from dénouer “untie” (Old French desnouer) from des- “un-, out” (see dis-) + nouer “to tie, knot,” from Latin nodus “a knot,” from PIE root *ned- “to bind, tie.” etymology online

**”Kavanah comes from an ancient verbal root also found where the object or subject is the “heart”. It connotes “to direct, to prepare, to establish”, an orientation of mind, heart, intention. According to Moshe Halbertal, it implies concentration and sincerity…” wiki

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