We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Home Again

Beltane                                                                               Woolly Mammoth Moon

HelmsmanBack from the lands of the ancients. Back from the still growing 416 fire, now 30% contained. Back from an immersion in my old life so complete that I would occasionally say here, referring to the Twin Cities or Minnesota. The web of context and thick memories with Tom, Mark and Paul is old and deep.

We ate breakfast (thanks, Mark) in Durango at the Doubletree where we stayed. Packed up and left in the rain. It rained or sprinkled the whole time we were in Durango and that same pattern continued all the way back to Conifer. This meant my three amigos got to see the mountains with clouds hanging over them, the forests with mists boiling up in and through them, the grasses green, and small, temporary creeks flowing as the rain sought lower ground through rocky elevated terrain. It was a picturesque drive made mythic.

Paul's t-shirtNew memories. Climbing the ladders out of Cliff Palace. Talking with Doug Crispin about Mesa Verde. Tom as the Great Helmsman. Mark with his notebook open, sketching as we drove. “Riding loosens me up, makes it better.” Paul’s Common Ground County Fair t-shirt. (see poster) Wandering through the Durango RR museum with its odd, large and varied collection: the blonde black bear, the bi-plane, the solar car, a private train car, memorabilia from the capture of Saddam Hussein and  a thousand miniature soldiers, among other things. Visiting the Telluride Bud Company with Mark, his first visit to a legal pot shop.

The rain, a constant for the last couple of days, has to have helped our fire situation, too. A good thing.


Cliff Palace

Beltane                                                           Woolly Mammoth Moon

The Quadruplets

The Quadruplets

We drove yesterday where others walked long ago. The drive from the visitor center at Mesa Verde to the Cliff Palace where we went on an hour long tour took a long while, maybe 30 minutes up an incline. The land at Mesa Verde slopes up at an angle with fingers of land separated by eroded valleys. At the end of these wide fingers the land slopes down again, gently. As a result, according to an exhibit at the Spruce Tree dwelling museum, Mesa Verde is not a mesa at all, but a cuesta. Mesa’s have sharp cliffs while cuesta’s slope, as they do here, toward the lower ground.


Paul and Mark descending

The route down to Cliff Palace (I’ll post pictures when I get back home) was the same one the cliff dwellers used, narrow steps cut into sandstone, augmented a bit by the occasional iron railing. There was, too, a ten foot ladder on the way down and two ten foot ladders on the way out which also followed a cliff dweller path. It would have been a fun place to grow up as a kid, scrambling up and down over rock and ladders, a more or less level surface above the home site where games could be played.

As at many sites where rock was a primary building material, the skill level was high with walls that were plumb, right angles, and a mortar that both bound the rock together and allowed water to seep through without loosening.


Cliff Palace

Mark asked an interesting question about wall coverings. These rocky appearing structures would have had several coats of plaster on them and would have been painted. That means they would have looked much different than they do now.

A ranger at the visitor center compared Mesa Verde to Giza and other World Heritage sites. When Tom asked him what was good about working there, “We get visitors from all over the world.” Another Ranger I talked to, Doug Crispin, had an obvious reverence for this Park. He was a first generation immigrant and said, “This is an American story. I’m honored to be here to share it.” He and I mused over a thousand years from now, “Will anyone be coming to look at the ruins of Durango? Probably not. But Mesa Verde will still be here.”

Right outside my hotel room is a small balcony with two chairs, a small table and a view of the Animas River. Had I been in this room on April 7th of 2015 the Animas would have been a sickly, mustard yellow thanks to the toxic spill from the Gold King Mine upstream from here. It’s clear now, with people kayaking, long  boarding, even fishing, but it took a long time. Here’s a hardly reassuring couple of paragraphs from the Durango Herald, April of this year:

Spruce Tree House

Spruce Tree House

San Juan Basin Public Health said water samples taken throughout the Animas River indicate there’s no risk to human or environmental health from normal use of the waterway.

However, the health department suggests people who come in contact with the river to wash with soap, keep a close watch on children who are more susceptible to unintentionally swallowing river water and treat water before consumption.

Meanwhile, the 416 fire, from the same newspaper, an hour ago: “The 416 Fire hasn’t exhaled its last column of smoke yet, but steady rainfall Saturday did help tame the 16-day-old wildfire and allow firefighters to increase containment lines around the 34,161-acre blaze.

20180616_122340I slept last night with the patio door open, screen closed. I could hear the Animas, the river of souls, running. When I woke up this morning, it was raining. My ear was eager for the sound, found it soothing, familiar in a humid East, Midwestern way.

Being with Tom, Paul, and Mark has reminded us all of the depth our long time relationships has nurtured. We move together through the day easily, listening to each other, making decisions, continuing lines of thought, sparking new ones. One of Paul’s hopes is that this trip might encourage us to use a meeting app like Zoom to get together even while far apart physically. I’d like that and hope we can make it work, too.

Kate says the stump grinder got a lot done in 2 hours. I’m excited to see it. An outdoor room. Later we’ll have him back to do the front, leaving widely spaced trees with no stumps.


Fire on the horizon

Beltane                                                                                 Woolly Mammoth Moon

We’re out here in the land dominated, for the moment, by the 416 fire. I smell no smoke, see no smoke, but the fire’s presence a few miles north of here is evident in conversation, google searches, and the need to plan around it. It’s grown now to over 32,000 acres with 18% containment.

Yesterday was a red flag day, today is 90% chance of rain. Sounds good, right? Water puts out fire. Well. Water also courses down fire hardened soil, soil made, as inciweb calls it, hydrophobic. Result? Flash flood warnings, especially for Hermosa Creek and Tripp Gulch. Flash floods are one of the sequelae of these big fires that last long after the fire is out.

Our plan today is to head over to Mesa Verde, see what we can see, then, this afternoon or so, find the Durango RR museum. Google says Mesa Verde is about 40 minutes to the west. Not much further north is the Canyon of the Ancients where the mysterious Anasazi culture had its home base. We’re in land settled long ago by descendants of those adventurous souls who crossed the Bering Land Bridge. A sense of humility is in order out here.

The drive from Conifer to Durango is a lesson in geology, following Hwy 285 through the long Platte River Canyon up to Kenosha Pass, then the sudden appearance of the broad, flat plain, South Park. South Park and its fellows, Middle Park and North Park are Colorado’s high plains, South Park at an average altitude of 9,000 feet. Turning south at the road to Buena Vista (where Kate had her quilt retreat in February) we drove along more high plains, and, as the mountains impinged more and more on the road, found a long stretch of beetle-killed pines.

This is poor country with makeshift shelters made from hay bales and shipping containers, old pickups parked forever, and a general feeling of hard lives. Until Pagosa (or, in the Ute, as Paul found, Stinky) Springs. Pagosa Springs (stinky from the sulfur) is a fairly large town as is Durango. Surprisingly so given the land that precedes them from the north.

The creeks here are full, running fast. The mountains steep and tree covered. Yet I’m sitting in a Doubletree Hotel room with all the appointments you would expect. Colorado is a land of heights and valleys, rocky rivers and streams, elk and mule deer, black bears and mountain lions, sprinkled with pockets of population, often upscale.

There is a conversation, now over thirty years old, that continued on the way here. We know each other, have memories and friends in common. What are you reading? What is the nature of time? How do whirlpools form? Wives and kids. Dogs. Hopes. Fears. Creation of tidal tables. What have you been up to?

Well, gotta get a shower, then breakfast. Traveling to do.

Venn Merging

Beltane                                                                                  Woolly Mammoth Moon

Yesterday two worlds came into contact, even if only briefly. The first was Kate and mine’s current world, the world of the Rocky Mountains and Reconstructionist Judaism, Evergreen and Shadow Mountain. The other was our old world, the world of the Land of Lakes and the Woolly Mammoths, Andover and the Twin Cities.

First, Ode showed up at mussar. Then, Tom and Paul. The middot of the week is grace and reading Rami Shapiro’s book, The Art of Loving Kindness, carried us into a discussion about shabbat as a “counter-cultural rebellion” which encourages living one day a week as if work and worry are not the point of life. Has always made sense to me, BTW, long before Beth Evergreen, but I’ve never acted on it, never observed a sabbath day.

Anyhow the context of the conversation made me realize what a grace-full moment it was for me when Tom, Paul and Mark showed up here in Colorado. It was, in one sense, perhaps even the best sense, ordinary. I knew they would find the conversation fascinating, because it was a conversation we’d been having for over thirty years. How do you live? What about life is important? How can we move ourselves into a more meaningful, graceful, gratitude filled existence?

So that moment at the synagogue smooshed together two venn diagrams, Minnesota and Colorado. And it felt really good. They met Rabbi Jamie. Debra referred to the four of us as the quadruplets, older white haired white guys of similar size and habitus and life.

Then the party moved over to Shadow Mountain. My slow cooker Irish stew was, well, partly there. The lamb was tender, but the potatoes were not. Neither Kate nor I, though she is much more able at it than me, are big on hosting events at our house. Too busy at one point, now a bit less able. But these were friends who would forgive an underdone potato for the  conversation around the table. And the occasional poking of Rigel’s head under their arms.

Kate went to bed, then got up, came out and said, “You have the best friends.” Indeed, I do.

This morning at 8:30 we’ll take off in the giant SUV that Tom has rented. First stop, the Crow Hill Cafe, then The Happy Camper. Maybe the Sasquatch Outpost? Certainly Kenosha Pass, South Park, Fairplay. On down through South Park. Maybe we’ll look at the Rocky Mountain Land Library, maybe we’ll stop in Pagosa Springs for a soak in the hot springs. Not sure. Doesn’t matter.

We’re headed to Durango in the southwest corner of the state. The 416 fire, north of Durango, as of yesterday:

“While residents in two areas were allowed to return to their homes Thursday, the 416 Fire grew to 32,076 acres with no update on containment.

The fire, burning just 13 miles north of Durango, is still being worked by over 1,000 firefighters who are battling this thing from the air and the ground. Burn out efforts, that is, efforts to burn up the fire’s potential fuel, continued throughout the day.” 9News, Denver.

Here’s a link to a Durango Herald article on fire analysts, very interesting.

Mowing the Fuel

Beltane                                                                        Sumi-e Moon

WildfireOf course, one of the things I forgot to mention about my brief, successful excursion into small engine repair is this. Now I can mow the fuel. That clogged carburetor had given me a pass for a week or so until I decided to tackle it myself. Mowing the fuel is much different from mowing a yard. The purpose has little to do with aesthetics or neighbor pleasing. The fines, as the fire experts call them, are grasses and flowers that, when dry, serve as a fuse so that ground fires can travel from place to place.

That’s why the 10 foot rule on limbing trees. All limbs must be at least 10 feet off the ground when there are fines because flames can leap from ground to tree otherwise. There are also ladder fuels like shrubs and young trees which can ignite from the fines and carry the fire up, like a ladder, to the higher branches of the conifers. Reduce (mow) fines, cut down ladder fuel and limb trees. After creating spaces among and between trees, these are the usual annual chores to make a property as fire resistant as possible. They also include cleaning gutters. Fire mitigation in the WUI is never done. Until, that is, a big fire. Then you can wait a while to return to fire mitigation.


Sharpening Doubt

Beltane                                                                                   Sumi-e Moon

Note Durango arrow near the bottom of the map

Note Durango arrow near the bottom of the map

Good friend Mario (his traveling name) coming today. I’ll pick him up at DIA and take him to Boulder where he’s going to stay for a few days before Tom and Paul arrive on Thursday. Then we’re off to visit the 416 fire, see how it’s doing 13 miles north of Durango. Well, not really, but we do have reservations in Durango and the 416, still only 10% contained as of yesterday, is a monster, a megafire to use Boulder journalist Michael Kodas’s phrase. We’ve had to rearrange our itinerary already with the Durango/Silverton RR shut down due to the 416.

Sharpening doubt has become an excellent practice. The 416 is a good example.  When we plan, even as little as a month or so in advance, mother earth can shrug, say, well, it was a good idea. Or, pollen season. We take breathing as automatic until we can’t. My last couple of weeks of misery reminds me that breathing, that every few seconds miracle of exchanging used co2 for o2, the outside coming in and the inside going out, has its limits. And, of course, that is a reminder of its ultimate limit, cessation. We live as if. We live as if our plans are solid, our breathing will continue; but, in fact there are doubts about both, contingencies, real ones.

doubtHow does this make for an excellent practice? Doesn’t it really just increase anxiety? You might think so, but no, at least not for me. What it does for me is highlight the value, the necessity, of faith. How so? Faith is a choice to live in the face of doubt, faith is an act of courage that says, in spite of doubt, or because of doubt, I choose to get up in the morning. I choose life. Trivial? Hardly. Just ask Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams. Faith, not faith in a supernatural guarantor, but faith that for this moment the contingencies of life will not extinguish me, not overcome me, is a necessary virtue, in many ways, the sine qua non of virtues.

Living the unconscious, unexamined life, paying the bills, mowing the lawn, taking your meds, watching TV or movies, setting aside the reality, the truth that tomorrow is never certain, that even this moment could be fraught may seem easier, but in fact it’s a state of denial. What’s the problem with that? Two things at least. The first is that when one of those contingencies forces you against the wall, presses on you, it will come as a surprise, a betrayal, a monster. The second, and the one I’m working on with sharpening doubt, is it dulls vital living.

I want to know, to remember, to live in spite of the real dangers, not imaginary ones. Breathing can, will stop. That birthday party may not happen. This might be the day that a megafire rushes up the Brook Forest valley and consumes our home. Could be that as a result of the Korean summit meeting, instead of peace, nuclear missiles will fly. Could be that a guy like Trump will get elected as president.

downloadI want to know that my choice to come up here this morning to write is an act of small courage, an act of faith that my breathing will not stop, not right now, that I will not fall down the stairs and break my neck, that what I write has some importance in spite of little evidence. Think, for example, of Stephen Hawking. The contingencies of life, the abyss, opened its maw for him early. Instead of cowering before it, he did not allow those contingencies to define him, instead he chose to live as if what he could do in spite of those contingencies, in spite of the moment to moment dangers to his existence, was important. True faith. The courage to become who you are in the face of dangers, toils and troubles. That’s faith.

Not sure I’m expressing this well. Let’s try this. The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s denial. Denial truncates life, makes its secondary aspects appear primary. The job. The car. The apartment. School. This is where a religious metaphor is useful. We can make idols of our career, our marriage, our children, our home, even our fears. That is, we can make them, in H. Richard Niebhur’s term, our centers of value. We do that when they are the focii around which we make our decisions, guide our lives. They become, in every functional sense, our gods, determining our choices.

curriculumofthesoulv2But life will not be fooled. That job will end. A marriage can falter. The children can move away, disappear. Our home can burn down or be lost to the mortgage brokers. What happens to your life when it has its own personal Ragnarok? Can you survive the death of the gods? The answer is yes only if you have known all along that they are what is secondary, that they are not gods at all, demi-gods at best, maybe dryads or nymphs, maybe not divine at all.

What is divine, what is sacred is this strange mystery, this life. And it is fragile. Yet it is in its fragility, the precariousness of it, that the juice, the vibrancy lies. We can choose to become who we are as if that fragility does not matter, cannot force us into denial, cannot make us put our faith in temporary things, and, they’re all temporary. The true idolatry is to take the temporary as if it has permanence. The job defines me. This marriage will last. Our home is safe. No. The only permanence lies in choosing in this moment to live in spite of. To live as if the temporariness, the impermanence that defines life will not manifest right now, while knowing all along that impermanence is the truth, that it will have its way with our life, now or later.





The True Yellow Peril

Beltane                                                                               Sumi-e Moon


This morning

In January the solar panels often disappear under snow cover. In June they’re more likely to be covered in pine pollen. Both reduce their effectiveness. Snow, however, does not reduce my effectiveness while the true yellow peril does. Fuzzy, nose focused, weighed down not only by the pollen but by the helps (and thank god for them) for the symptoms. No good solutions here. Do what you can. Wait.

the orgy continues

the orgy continues

Two full days now, Friday and Saturday, given over to sneezing, lack of sleep (due to sneezing), consuming nasal steriods, second generation antihistamines (so called non-drowsy), and using saline sprays. Not to mention eliminating the current stash of kleenex we have. All this more for the record here than anything else.

Whinging stops.



Yellow Peril

Beltane                                                                                Sumi-e Moon

pollenOne thing it took moving to the mountains to learn: I’m allergic to lodgepole pine pollen. I could have done without revealing this part of myself. It’s a couple of weeks of fine yellow grime on table tops, windows, cars, window sills, all for sex and we’re forced to participate. Well, my body fights back. Ah, choo!

Went to the hardware store yesterday. Not a frequent trip for me. I eyeballed that new handle for my small sledge hammer. Not so well, as it turns out. Also, that beaded chain for a longer pull on the dining room fan? Gosh. There’s more than one size of beaded chain. Other than that the new vise will work well and those spikes (well, I thought they were spikes, but one of the employees said, nope, not spikes. So, just really big nails, I guess) will secure the cedar planks to the tree stumps and cut logs around the fire pit. Precision in the real world is not my thing.

Durango Silverton Narrow GaugeIn climate change news the 416 fire outside Durango has claimed part of the itinerary for the Tom, Mark, Paul and me trip. We were going to ride on the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad. Nope. Closed through the time we’ll be there due to fire risk. We may hit Four Corners and Mesa Verde and the hot springs instead. The area is full of interesting bits.

linguisticsWent to a talk at Beth Evergreen last night on linguistics. Elizabeth Moore, an administrative assistant on our staff, is a very smart woman. She majored in linguistics and offered a crash course. A lot I didn’t know. She gave a quick overview of a very complicated discipline, explaining its fundamental disciplines like phonology, pragmatics, syntactics, morphology and its more esoteric branches like neurolinguistics and cognitive linguistics, graphetics and philology.

Back home, sneezing all the way.


Western Swing

Beltane                                                                                Sumi-e Moon

aickman2Working on a second Aickmanesque short story. School Spirit is done though it can use editing. Working now on Main Street, a story inspired by Kaye Cox who, along with three of his friends, was decapitated by a sheet of iron that fell off a truck while he and his buddies were behind it. High school. I’m finding that writing with Alexandria in mind is a rich mine, lots of feelings, lots of stories. My current plan is to write at least 12 short stories, all in Aickman’s style, all based in Alexandria. Enough for a book. Jennie’s Dead is not done, but it’s still sitting there, throbbing away. I’ll get back to it at some point. It will call to me.

Jon finished the bench! At least the until now missing top. Still needs a coat of light stain and a varnish. Looks great and is done in time for Kate’s hosting of the needleworkers. The fan that got moved has some tics, not yet a fully good installation. I think I can take it the rest of the way. He said hopefully.

20180601_204307Kate and I went out for the first time since her shoulder surgery, except for Beth Evergreen events. We went to the Center Stage venue in Evergreen to hear Katie Glassman, whom we first encountered at Jews Do Jews, and her significant other, Greg Schochet.

She’s from Colorado, Denver, but now lives in Boulder. She’s a queen of the fiddlin’ scene, extolling last night the fiddle contest culture which brings fiddlers together from all over the nation. She’s won many contests and reminded me of the Charlie Daniel’s Band song, The Devil Went Down To Georgia. She might be the best who’s ever been.

Katie and Greg last night

Katie and Greg last night

Since the night focused on Western swing, you might imagine the hats, vests, boots, and belts on many of the men. In this instance it was the roosters who dressed up, not the hens. It felt like the first truly Western event, outside of the National Western Stock Show of course, that we’ve attended.

Katie’s father was there, having retired that day from the Denver Public School system after 32 years of teaching. Gabe, who attends an elementary school in DPS, had his last school day yesterday for the year, too.

It was a sweet, fun, upbeat evening that left us smiling.


Projects, More Projects and Lost Gold

Beltane                                                                             Sumi-e Moon

Ted of All Trades came by yesterday. We want to add a screen door on the front so we can keep the front door open during the summer. Screen not for bugs, in this case, but dogs. He offered a couple of suggestions, one we’re considering. Maybe have it open left instead of right. Why? Chinooks and other high winds, often well 0ver 60 mph, can catch, in our situation, a right hand swinging door and wham it against the house.

The Gap

The Gap

There’s a gap between our composite deck at the east facing door and the garage. For younger folks, not a big deal, but for Kate, with neuropathy in both feet, the jagged surface created after several snows becomes treacherous. We had a work around the last two years with rubber mats I threw over the snow once I shoveled it, but that’s an imperfect solution. The advantage of the composite decking is that I can use a plastic snow shovel and just shove the snow off. A back preserving snow removal method and one I can then extend all the way to the garage. Ted proposed a floating deck extension. Sounds fine.

Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad2In other trade folk news I had Will out on Tuesday to talk about stump grinding. Two years ago I cut down about 60 trees for fire mitigation. I can do it, but I can’t leave stumps cut very close to the ground, too hard for me to hold the saw steady far below my waist. Lots of centrifugal force on a chainsaw blade and I tip it into the ground. Instant dull blade. With 60 I’m not going to do it. He’s not gotten back to me with a bid because he usually bids stump removal by the inch diameter and I think he’s shocked at the potential cost.

Anyhow he knew a lot of cool stories about our area. Two for instances. Back when Denver was being built, end of the 19th century, there was a mining railroad that ran from Denver all the way to Fairplay, about 60 miles. It ran along the present route of Hwy. 285, our main thoroughfare east and west now. Ore on the train, into the Denver. Smelting.

But. Some smart guy realized that the train also ran through the mountains. Which had lots and lots of old growth Ponderosa and Lodgepole pine. Never been forested. Wait. So much building in Denver, all this wood. Aha. The lumberjacks left the forested east face of the Front Range untouched, a first acknowledgment of a view shed, I suppose, but between there and Fairplay they clear cut everything! Made sense back then. Just trees. Far away from civilization. Free. Today though the small, evenly aged forests that we have, that create much of the fire danger for us are a direct result of this work. Young forests, never thinned, and now with a century + of fire suppression. A combination of the worst possible forest management techniques.

A building left in Webster, now a ghost town

A building left in Webster, now a ghost town

Second story. The Reynolds Gang gold. This was one’s good if you’re a little short on retirement funds. Back in the same time period there was a rip-roaring, bar and brothel filled town called Webster beyond Guanella Pass but before Kenosha Pass. There’s no visible evidence of Webster from 285 today, but then it was a place where miners and lumberjacks came to relax. Or, their equivalent of that idea. Not the sabbath, for sure.

Lots of gold and silver. The Reynolds Gang, twice, robbed Webster, getting away with a substantial horde. A railroad guy asked then governor of Coloradao, John Evans, (a main Denver thoroughfare is named after him), for help. “Sure,” he said. He sent out the Colorado Militia, a group of state paid thugs who had recently mustered out of the civil war. They knew killing.

Reynold's Gang robbingOne night they found the gang around a camp fire somewhere still in the Webster area. The Militia, which I think was modeled after the Texas Rangers, did not what any upstanding law enforcers would do. They went in with guns hot, lighting up the night with muzzle flashes. All dead, except a small group, maybe 2 or 3, who escaped with the loot. No one saw them leave and they ran in the dark so they didn’t pay attention to where they ran.

Reynold's gang lootYes. They dug a hole or found a small cave or animal den, stashed the loot and ran on to escape the militia. They lived long enough to mention to somebody that they’d stuck a knife in a tree to mark the sport. But the militia caught up with them later. Dead. So somewhere in the mountains around the former townsite of Webster is a tree with the tang of a knife protruding, probably about 20 feet up now, allowing for the growth of the tree.

And, no. No one’s ever found it. Get out the metal detector. Or, Kate suggested, power up your drone. We could live large in the third phase on Reynold’s gang gold.

June 2018
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