We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

A Few Trees

Beltane                                                                                                Rushing Waters Moon

 

 

ram dass

Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Ponderosa, Flying J Ranch

Flying J Ranch

Flying J Ranch

Grandmother Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Grandmother Ponderosa, Beth Evergreen

Mother’s Day

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

Mother’s Mothers dayday. It’s hard to write about Mother’s day. My mother’s death in 1964, when I was 17, drained the day of meaning. I suppose it didn’t have to be that way. I might have taken the opportunity to celebrate her on this day, but somehow it’s never felt right.

Even though I know it’s a Hallmark holiday, a clever way to sell cards and flowers and candy, it has a sneaky power that comes from the Judaeo-Christian admonition to honor thy mother and thy father. This is a simple phrase, easy to remember and oft repeated, but often difficult to fulfill. This sentiment is not unique to the West, of course. Asian cultures often have an exalted view of parents, extending even past death to care and grooming of graves.

Mom was a 50’s mom. She never learned to drive. She stayed at home, raising Mary, Mark and me though at the time of her death she was updating her teacher’s license so she could work again full-time. It was her plan to use her income to pay for our college costs.

cards-mothers-day-ad-1952She was not, however, fond of the typical duties of a housewife. That’s not to say she neither cleaned, nor cooked, nor did laundry. She did all these things, but only as necessities.

Mom’s been dead 53 years and my memory of her has faded, but the presence of her has not. That is, I can still feel the love she had for me, the countless hours she spent bringing me back from literal paralysis during my long bout of polio. In fact, in what is surely an apocryphal memory, I can recall being in her arms at the Madison County Fair surrounded by bare light bulbs strung through the trees, a cotton candy machine whirring pink spun sugar, and suddenly feeling sick with what would become that disease. But I felt safe with her. The memory may be a later construct, but the feelings behind it are genuine.

Since my relationship with my father soured during the Vietnam War, in 1968 to be exact, I have felt parentless, sort of adrift in the world without close family support. That’s a long time. And, yes, much of that experience was reinforced and maintained by my own actions. Nonetheless it has never changed. My analyst once described my family as atomized rather than nuclear. It was apt.

So, mom, today I want to say thanks for your love and your caring. Thanks for all the energy and attention you put into all of us. Thanks for the gift of recovery. Thanks for the vision of me as a capable person. Thanks for all the meals, the clean laundry, the clean house, especially since I know these things were not what you really wanted to be doing. Thanks for giving me life. It’s been a long time, but perhaps I can celebrate mother’s day now. For you.

 

 

Life. And Danger.

Beltane                                                                  Rushing Waters Moon

When the temperatures were in the teens below zero and winds whipped the trees, driving along a barren stretch of road meant a breakdown could kill you. That sensation is a major component of Minnesota macho, enduring the worst the north pole can throw at you. At times it was invigorating, at other times we were just glad to have survived it. It did make opening the door at home and going into a warm house a real joy.

mtn lion richmond hill march 9 2017This morning I fed the dogs as I usually do, but I left them inside, no longer willing to risk a mountain lion attack. Mountain lions add frisson to life in the Front Range Rockies. It’s similar to driving in well below zero weather.

It’s also different. In the instance of weather the danger is without intention, the cold does not care whether you live or die. The mountain lion cares. To the mountain lion our dogs are food, perhaps a day’s ration of calories. So are we. Though mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, they do happen and as development presses further and further into their territory the chance of an encounter, fatal or not, increases.

There are bears here, too. Unlike the mountain lion the bear will not hunt us, but if we interfere with a bear, say a sow and her cubs, she will hold her ground and defend her babies. Though the bear is not a predator of humans, they are a danger because an encounter can end in severe injury, even death.

BearMountain lions and bears, oh my, are not the only fauna here that can hurt you. At lower elevations there are timber rattlers. There are also black widow and brown recluse spiders, all venomous enough to cause great harm. In these hills we find not the sound of music, but the shake of a snake’s tail. Julie Andrews might not skip so blithely here.

Wild nature is neither our friend nor our enemy, whether it’s Minnesota cold or Rocky Mountain predators, Singapore heat, or California surf. We live out our short moment as reflective, aware extensions of the universe, as natural and as deadly as the mountain lion, as dangerous when surprised as the bear, as willing to defend ourselves with deadly force as the timber rattler, the black widow and the brown recluse.

It is fragile, doomed to fail, this mystery we call life. Yet while we have it, be we bear or mountain lion, rattle snake or poisonous spider, we fight to keep it, do whatever we need to do to survive. This is the harsh reality at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy*, a necessary part of existence we share with all living things. It is better, it seems to me, to be aware of our shared struggle, to see ourselves as fellow creatures. Yes, we can reflect on our struggle, but that fact does not make us better than our living companions, it only makes us different from them.

 

*maslow

Third Phase Matters

Beltane                                                                                        Rushing Waters Moon

1000Kate and Charlie in EdenGood news here on the medical front. After imaging and functional testing of her lungs, Kate seems to have some impairment, but nothing significantly bad. Also, her echocardiogram showed problems that are manageable and most likely related to aging and altitude. We met with her cardiologist yesterday, Tatiana, and she reassured us about my biggest concern, pulmonary hypertension. Turns out there’s a distinct difference with this diagnosis in Colorado and in, say, Minnesota. It often occurs in aging patients and can have its roots in lower oxygen supply at night, a problem with altitude. We have an oxygen concentrator now for Kate and her O2 levels at night have improved a lot. Also, earlier this year she had an endoscopy and a colonoscopy which found nothing.

The third phase is an interesting mix of the financial, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Challenges can come from any of these aspects of our lives and when they come they can be dire. Knowing this it’s easy to fuss about them. And, it can be easy, too, to imagine the worst possible outcomes. Kate and I are pretty good at managing the anxiety associated with third phase problematics, but it comes up even so.

heart-rateThat’s why a healthy third phase life demands careful attention to all five areas.  Since December 1st, date of my knee surgery, we’ve had physical (medical) matters figure prominently. Now that those concerns have ameliorated we can work on ways to maintain our health.

It’s not just us. Good friend Bill Schmidt heads for the hospital on Monday for some medical care. It’s not only ourselves that these challenges effect, but our friends and family, too. That can produce emotional and spiritual concerns.  I know Bill’s strong and that his genes are good-he looks good in his genes-even at 80, but a hospital is a hospital and surgery is surgery. There are always risks. While not worried about Bill, I am concerned.

Bill Schmidt

Bill Schmidt

In our current abysmal political climate medical matters in particular can also cause financial problems. Which then, cascading like the waters in Maxwell Creek this morning, can cause emotional and spiritual issues. Ah, life in a capitalist paradise. A robber baron’s capitalist paradise, that is.

Kate and I are fortunate that we’ve found a spiritual community where we can stretch and grow our inner strengths. With the spiritual side of life strong most other matters can be handled, even approaching death. Not where we are now, but it is where we will be one day.

A Clashing of Spiritual Longings

Beltane                                                                          Rushing Waters Moon

St. LaurenceIrv Saltzman invited us to a performance by his singing group, the Renaissance Singers. It was held in a wooden Episcopal Church, St. Laurence’s, which is near our home. Directed by a Chinese national, Hannah Woo, who is finishing her Ph.D. in musicology, they were 8, four men and four women. As a group, they matched each other well. April, a soprano, had a lovely clear voice and a large range. Irv, formerly a tenor, has now transitioned into a bass/baritone role. Their performance was wonderful. At a meal afterwards we discovered April is our neighbor.

musicRenaissance choral music and instrumental renaissance music has always captivated me. It’s easy to see courtiers in colorful costumes listening to this music in a palace, brown robed and cowled monks hearing it in a morning prayer service, or small groups performing at home for their own amusement. It’s also the music most often heard at Renaissance festivals. Sorta makes sense, eh?

The sanctuary had a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams and two large, clear windows that looked out to the east, toward Shadow, Evergreen and Bear mountains. It rained while we were there and the mountains were in mist, the windows covered with raindrops slowly moving from top to bottom. There were individual chairs, padded with kneelers, arranged in a three sided configuration, making the sanctuary a sort of thrust proscenium stage, an ideal arrangement for a small group of singers.

A church artist had painted the stations of the cross and they were around the sanctuary, set off by bent sheet metal frames. A copper baptistry, large, sat over a cinerarium where the congregation deposits cremation remains and memorializes the dead with small plaques.

Edited+Holy+Week+2017-21Between the two windows hung a large crucifix, a cross made of bare, light wood and a bronze Jesus hung by two nails. I had an odd sensation while listening to this music I’ve often heard in monastic settings on retreat. It carried me back into the spiritual space of an ascetic Christianity that often comforted me. This time though I came into the space as a peri-Jew, identifying more with Marilyn and Irv and Kate, with the still new to me spiritual space of Beth Evergreen, than the theological world represented by this spare, but beautiful sanctuary.

The crucifix stimulated the strongest, strangest and most unexpected feeling. I saw, instead of the Jesus of Christianity, a hung Jew, a member of the tribe. More than that, I felt the vast apparatus and historical punch created by his followers, followers of  a man who shared much of the new faith world in which I now find myself. It was an odd feeling, as if this whole religion was an offshoot, a historical by-blow that somehow got way out of hand.

These feelings signaled to me how far I’d moved into the cultural world of reconstructionist Judaism. I see now with eyes and a heart shaped by the Torah and mussar and interaction with a rabbi and the congregants of Beth Evergreen.

pagan humanismThis was an afternoon filled with the metaphysical whiplash I’ve experienced often over the last year, a clashing of deep thought currents, spiritual longings. This process is a challenge to my more recent flat-earth humanism, a pagan faith grounded not in the next world, but in this one. Literally grounded.

What’s pushing me now is not a desire to change religious traditions, but to again look toward the unseen, the powerful forces just outside of the electromagnetic spectrum and incorporate them again into my ancientrail of faith. This makes me feel odd, as if I’m abandoning convictions hard won, but I don’t think that’s actually what’s going on. There is now an opening to press further into my paganism, to probe further into the mystery of life, of our place in the unfoldingness of the universe, to feel and know what lies beyond reason and the senses.

Ancor Impari I’m Still Learning

Beltane                                                                             Rushing Waters Moon

senior drivingTwo things. Turning left yesterday after visiting the Colorado Potters Guild spring show, I looked up and noticed I had executed a left turn in front of an oncoming SUV. We missed each other, though it could have been otherwise. Later, turning a corner onto 8th Avenue heading out of Denver, I banged the right rear of the Rav4 against a curb. It’s important to be honest about such a critical skill as driving and right now, I’m lacking something. Maybe it’s attention, maybe it’s an inability to drive and chew gum at the same time. I don’t know. But I need to do something about it.

Goya_'I_am_Still_Learning'

Goya ‘I am Still Learning’

Second thing. When I was a little boy, my dad had two nicknames for me: tech and crit. Neither were positive. The first, tech, was short for technical. He said I was very precise, very techincal in an argument. I would pick at things that others wouldn’t notice or didn’t care about. True. Still do it. It is, for better and worse, the way my mind works.

The second, crit, summarized my tendency, linked to tech, to be more critical than most. True. If I see something, I say something. An irritating habit, I know, for those around me, but, again, it’s the way my mind sees the world. Over time I’ve become aware of the way these tendencies affect others, but being able to modulate them is very difficult for me.

Why? Well, later in life I found the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory and discovered my INTP personality type. It fits. Here is a recognized weakness of this personality type:

  • Insensitive – Oftentimes INTP personalities get so caught up in their logic that they forget any kind of emotional consideration – they dismiss subjectivity as irrational and tradition as an attempt to bar much-needed progress. Purely emotional situations are often utterly puzzling to INTPs, and their lack of timely sympathy can easily offend.

intp-personality-typeOh? Well. Tech and crit-me-manifested very, very early. Dad focused on an interactive aspect of my personality that is designed to irritate others. It’s not the only aspect, hardly, but having it emphasized was difficult for me. Actually, it still is.

(INTP at learning mind)

But here’s another way to look at it, this time as a strength:

  • Honest and Straightforward – To know one thing and say another would be terribly disingenuous – INTPs don’t often go around intentionally hurting feelings, but they believe that the truth is the most important factor, and they expect that to be appreciated and reciprocated.

This is a strength that has an obvious downside, or weakness. I want to modulate the hurtful aspect of this character trait through the middah of chesed, or loving kindness. This does not mean I will change the way my mind works. Don’t think I can after a good deal of experience. It does mean that I can introduce a pause between my observation, which will still exist, and its articulation. In that way I can assess whether the truth in a particular situation is helpful or hurtful.

My focus phrase for this will be: see the good, too. Always.

April

Beltane                                                                         Rushing Waters Moon

quote-april-is-the-cruelest-month-breeding-lilacs-out-of-the-dead-land-mixing-memory-and-desire-t-s-eliot-35-3-0387

April was fraught. Physicals and other medical matters created, if not anxiety, then very close attention. Kate’s shortness of breath and fatigue triggered imaging, a chest x-ray and an echocardiogram. There’s a physician’s nostrum that goes: if you look, you’ll find something. And so it was. Some scarring on her lungs, a short list of heart issues that “do not require surgery at this time.” For us anyhow, knowing is better than not knowing and the increased clarity eased concerns about her overall health. At least right now.

20170423_091304 (2)Ruth and Gabe turned 11 and 9. With the divorce birthdays have become contentious. Jen planned a birthday party for Ruth that didn’t include Jon. Ouch. Still in its first months after final orders the divorce means Jon and Jen have to establish new norms about how to deal with such things. Not easy when the breakup itself created more conflict.

Jon also needs to buy a home, get back into the city so his commute won’t be so long. Once he has a new place the custody arrangement will become more equal and parenting should be easier for him. The spring housing market is the right time, lots of houses on the market, though the still heated Denver housing market, one of the hottest in the country, affects affordability.

He’s been here almost a year and our garage plus outside it has overflow from his storage unit, enough to make our capacious garage (space for four cars) feel cramped. We’re ready to get back to our quieter, septuagenarian lifestyle, too.

April included several events at Beth Evergreen. A passover cooking class, a community seder, and the three day presence of Rabbi David Jaffe. Kate and I took the cooking class and helped set it up. We also did several different things for the Rabbi Jaffe events.

We spent a night and a day at a hotel in Lone Tree learning about hemophilia.

April, Eliot said, is the cruelest month. Maybe not exactly cruel this year, but stressful? Yep.

CNS and Social Change

Spring                                                                   New (Rushing Waters) Moon

book-coverToday I’m making chicken noodle soup and Kate’s making Vietnamese pho. We’ll serve this at a Beth Evergreen leadership dinner for Rabbi David Jaffe, author of Changing the World from the Inside Out, a Jewish Approach to Social Change. Along with our friend Marilyn Saltzman, chair of the adult education committee, who is making a vegetarian squash soup, we’ll provide the soups for a soup and salad meal. I really like this low key involvement. It feels manageable.

Although. I am hoping that Rabbi Jaffe’s time here at Beth Evergreen, tomorrow through Saturday as a visiting scholar, will spur the creation of an activist group focused on some form of response to the Trump/oligarch era. In that instance I’m willing to move into a more upfront role, though I would prefer to remain a follower.

Then, there’s the Sierra Club. I wrote here about my excitement with Organizing for Action, Conifer. That was back in January, I think. Lots of people, lots of energy. Good analysis. I thought, wow. Here’s my group. Then, I never heard from them again, my e-mails went unanswered. Weird, but true. Weird and disqualifying for a group that’s organizing political work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo I renewed my effort to connect with the Mt. Evans’ local group of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club. Colorado seems to work more through these regional clusters than as a whole. There are nine of them, covering the entire state. The Mt. Evans’ group includes our part of Jefferson County, Clear Creek County and a northern portion of Park County. It’s titular feature, Mt. Evans, is a fourteener (over fourteen thousand feet high) which has the highest paved road in North America leading to its summit. According to locals here it’s also the weathermaker for our part of Conifer.

I finally made it to a meeting a couple of weeks ago. When I came back, Kate said, “You seem energized.” I did. And, I hadn’t noticed. Something about that small group plugged me back into my reigning political passion of the last six or seven years: climate change. Oh, yeah. With OFA I’d tried to head back toward economic justice, my long standing motivation for political work, dating back to the UAW influences I picked up as a teenager in Alexandria. Guess the universe understood me better than I understood myself. Not much of a surprise there.

buy this here

buy this here

My mind began ticking over, running through organizing scenarios, figuring out how we could (note the we) raise the visibility of the Mt. Evans group, gain more members, influence local policy. This is my brain on politics. I might be willing to play a more upfront role here, too, though I want to explore other ways of being helpful first.

Anyhow, between these two, I’m sure I’ll get my political mojo working in some way. And that feels good. Want some soup?

 

 

The Mortal Yet

Spring                                                                Passover Moon

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Mighty Fortress is Our Family

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

kogenateThis weekend focused in part on grandson Gabe though he was absent from it. Gabe has hemophilia.

Many diseases have their own subcultures. Think HIV/aids, Hepatitis B, breast cancer, MS, cystic fibrosis. Hemophilia has its own. On Friday and Saturday Kate and I attended a hemophilia education event in Lone Tree.

A notable defining characteristic of the bleeding disorder subculture is how misunderstood the disease itself is, and how much others don’t appreciate the demands on both those with the disease and their family. I imagine other disease focused groups share this general attitude. While it is certainly true that most folks have never heard of the clotting cascade or what can go wrong with it and we don’t live with the day-to-day strain of possible bleeds or other serious complications, these attitudes create an us against them mentality.

Physicians don’t understand. Friends don’t understand. Grandparents don’t understand. The only ones who get it are those of us directly affected.

FactorTrack3And, ironically, Big Pharma. One of the oddities of the bleeding disorder community is its relationship with big drug companies. In most, perhaps all, other instances, the choice of medication for a particular condition or illness is the physician’s responsibility, often in consultation with the patient, yes, but just as often not. The physician’s job is to understand the patient and, if needed, the application of a certain pharmaceutical to their situation.

Not so in bleeding disorders. Parents of afflicted children and adults with a bleeding disorder have a personal relationship with drug representatives from companies like Bayer or Shire or CHS Behring and Octapharma. They have to learn about how molecular structure impacts the efficacy of a factor product. Factor is short for clotting factors which are missing or weakened in bleeding disorders.  There’s also the issue of half-life. In recent time the choice about whether to use a product produced from human plasma or a synthetic product has tilted now toward the synthetic, recombinant, because human plasma derived products too often carried HIV-but they were all that was available. This necessity to choose among the various factors offered, taking on a role normally filled by a physician, no doubt empowers parents and afflicted adults, but it also makes the circle draw closer, tighter.

All of this reinforces a cult-like insularity. One couple spoke about their children’s grandparents as “clueless.” The laughter in the room indicated that most of those there shared that opinion. How could grandparents possibly understand? Now, you might imagine that didn’t sit well with me, Kate or Barb Bandel, Jen’s mother. There were other ageist moments when our commentary in group discussions were either ignored or diminished. We raised these very children who now see us as unable to understand issues that affect children. This is not only ironic, it’s damaging.

When the nuclear family becomes the stronghold against uninformed outsiders, a whole panoply of possible resources wither up. Parents don’t take time for themselves, at least at first, because who else could know what to do? Children don’t go away for the night, even to grandparents. The strength of the extended family is cut off to the detriment of all parties.

 

 

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