We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

And so…

Fall                                                                               Healing Moon

The standard model

The standard model

Been pondering success after my Percival/Grail post for the Woolly Mammoth retreat. This paragraph in particular:

In terms of publishing my work I’ve failed. Big time. Consistently. A big lump of zero. At first I submitted my work, but I allowed rejections to stoke my fear, rather than my persistence. (which is, I should add, odd, since persistence has otherwise been a strong suit) I stopped submitting. I even stopped writing at one point and spent a year reading the classics, starting with Dante’s Divine Comedy. All of it.

I took a big risk at the age of 41 with Kate’s consent and support. By any standard understanding of success I did not succeed. To succeed would been to have least published, made some money. But, no. Those facts are not in question.

Here’s the question that interests me now. Would I have been a better person today if I had published, made some money? I don’t think so. Now this is not a defense of failure as a great teacher, a springboard to future achievement, rather it’s a question of what success means.

success failSuccess means you gain more of something you desire by doing something. So it presumes lack, a missing ingredient in your life that can be obtained through hard work or brilliance or talent. Get a promotion. Build a business. Publish a book. See your name in lights. Think how much motivation the idea of success brings to our culture. If only you think more clearly, innovate faster, learn method acting, master Python, then, then…

Then, what? People will admire you. Like you. Say your name in whispers. Write about you in articles and books. That’s the upside of ambition, isn’t it? More money in the bank. Name recognition. Contribution to the future, a legacy.

I’m in no way denigrating people who set a goal and succeed. Kate became a doctor. Tom started an engineering business. Ode designed museum exhibits. My sister Mary has become an international educator, invited to teach in places like Japan, Pakistan, Finland, Australia. Joseph is a major in the USAF. Good for all of them.

Abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain supreme peaceBut many (most, I wonder?) hope for the corner office, the book jacket, the big bank account, the poster for the rodeo and don’t succeed. Set goals and fail to achieve them. Self help literature, especially of the business genre, offers pathways to success, a journey to maximum achievement. They wouldn’t sell if the people who bought them were already realizing their dreams.

So what about the rest of us, the ones who couldn’t lean quite far enough off the Merry-Go-Round to grab the brass ring? Based on my perspective at 71, I say to failure, meh. I’m alive. Fit. Have friends. A wife I love. Grandkids and sons. I don’t do regret. I live forward, not with my head turned toward the past. I live today, neither yesterday nor tomorrow. I feel good about myself, about my tiny spot in the vast ongoingness.

Would my life have meant more in some hypothetical cultural currency had I become, oh hell, let’s go all the way, a famous author? Hard to say, but I doubt it. Why? Because over time there have been millions of writers, authors of books of many kinds, some famous for a while, then blinked out by the passage of time and changes in intellectual and aesthetic fashion. The same is true of painters, of architects, of politicians, of lawyers and business executives.

My point is I'm in the upper right quadrant

My point is I’m in the upper right quadrant

Now I suppose if I had plunged our family into poverty, wasted a great talent through dithering, caused human suffering by not succeeding I might feel differently. Might. But even then my life could only be lived forward and in this moment. Even then.

Here’s what I know now. Set goals and push toward them. Of course do that if you want. Do not attach your sense of self to the outcome, however. Never, and I mean never, compromise your true Self to realize a goal. Why? Because whether you reach your goal or whether you do not, you still have to live, still have to be human. If you give away your humanity to succeed, you have then truly failed.

And if you succeed? Send up balloons. Shake a few hands. Invest wisely. Because at some point it will be behind you and you will have to put one foot in front of the other. Life’s just like that.


Fall                                                                     Healing Moon

Exhumation of the Mastodon: Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827.

Exhumation of the Mastodon: Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827.

Another of life’s inflection points. I want to consider it, honor it, respond to it, but I’m having a hard time. Just too tired. And, I feel guilty about that. Like somehow I should be able to just power my way through and get back to the usual. Which is unrealistic. Certainly for the next few weeks, maybe on an ongoing basis. Need to know what the new normal might be like. Too soon. I know it. So I’m trying to hold back, not speculate, not project. The fact of trying though suggests I’m not always successful.

Here’s an analogy I discovered in the High Country News, my favorite source of information about the West. In reviewing a novel called West there’s a quote from a widowed farmer on his way to the land beyond the Mississippi. He says, to a Dutch land agent he encounters on a river boat, “I am seeking a creature entirely unknown, an animal incognitum.” Apparently Thomas Jefferson also sought the animal incognitum, probably a Mastodon.

Humanity has always wondered what's on the far shore -- even if our guesses sometimes miss the mark.

Humanity has always wondered what’s on the far shore

Right now, I’m on the riverboat, looking at the western shore of the Great River, wondering what lies on the land which spreads out from there to the Pacific Ocean. It contains, I know, a life incognitum, a life so far unknown. Not entirely unknown, certainly. There will be familiar elements in familiar places, but the rhythm, the demands, the joys? Will change. That farmer and I share a desire to explore the land, to find the incognitums, to embrace them, and find our way anew.

It’s a source of energy. I love the unknown, the strange. Vive la difference! More news as this pilgrim sets foot on the shore, buys an oxen or two and loads up the Conestoga with supplies.


On Her Way Home

Fall                                                                                   Healing Moon

Kepler, a serious dog

Kepler, a serious dog

Took Kepler in to see Kate yesterday. We sat on the large front porch at Brookdale, enjoying the mid-sixties sunshine and blue Colorado sky. Kep nuzzled her, sat down, then looked back, yep, still here, and settled down in front of her. Guarding.

United Health Care has said our benefits stop on Sunday. Having an insurance company determine the end to this incident rather than medical professionals is annoying, but it’s felt close to time for a while. The weight gain is the primary issue at this point and we can work on that from atop Shadow Mountain.

Joe and SeoAh are on their way with Murdoch, planning to arrive Sunday. Perfect timing. Joe turns 37 on Wednesday, too. 37!

Life will change again, of course, when Kate comes home. We’ll have to see how much, probably quite a bit in the beginning, though not sure what will change. I’ll have to assess  the rest of my life in relation to it, whatever it is. She’s first.

suncityKate and I have had our first brush with the skilled nursing, assisted living world. We visited Merton at the Forum in Phoenix and I’ve visited congregants in various nursing homes, but this is the first time for one of us. As a rehab place, I would rate Brookdale as excellent. It’s clean and well-maintained. The staff are friendly and attentive. The rehab crew has kept Kate moving forward.

But. God, I wouldn’t want to be there too long. No matter how good the food (according to Kate, pretty good) or friendly and professional the staff, no matter how clean the carpets and fresh the paint, it’s a context of despair and desperation. Folks with their heads down shuffle along behind walkers, a demented patient screams at night, people move around in motorized recliners, wheel chairs. The rooms (apartments they’re called) are generic, similar to a modest upscale motel chain with white popcorn plaster, large but antiseptic bathrooms, no comfortable chairs for lounging.

happyThey share, too, a primary problem visible in the Del Webb communities like Sun City. That is, they’re age homogeneous. No toddlers. No teens. No mid-life adults except for staff. Just older folks and not only older folks, but older folks with serious medical or mental issues, or both. This is not a real place. It’s a concentration of maladies. Not a healthy, diverse environment.

Home. Better. She’s coming back.




Stop the Squirrel Cage

Fall                                                                     Healing Moon

stressWent to mussar yesterday for the first time in three weeks. Lots of hugs. Lots of obvious caring for Kate.  One of the ironies of this whole situation is that three weeks ago yesterday Kate and I co-taught a mussar session on compassion, rachamim. The next morning at 6 a.m. she was in the E.R. at Swedish. She’s been gone from home ever since.

Yesterday’s mussar was a sort of going away party for Rabbi Jamie who starts a three-month sabbatical on Sunday. Lot of folks brought sweet thangs. My first buffet in memory with snickers bars on the table.

Since I’d had a tough day at CBE on Wednesday, I wondered how I’d react in this setting. At first I was uncomfortable, both with the attention and with the fact that it was Kate who was ailing, not me, yet I was the focus. That lasted awhile. Roughly until we got into the discussion about emet, truth.

emet-truthIt was not the content of the discussion, but its nature that finally lifted my stress. Considering the meaning of truth, identifying the Jewish take on it, relating the search for truth to loving-kindness all stimulated my thinking, made me go deep. And that was the solace. Leaving the squirrel-in-a-cage stressors behind for a while, I went into that realm of memory and creativity where old ideas and new conditions meet, changing each other.

Rabbi Jamie is a great interlocutor. I learn from him, but mostly with him.

talmudThere is, I’m coming to understand, a unique Jewish epistemology, one which places a possible truth on the table and passes it around to the many gathered in its presence. Each one comments, shares the part of the elephant that they can see. The process iterates since commentators will comment on others reactions. It does not mean that there is no truth, this is the key move, but that truth itself is multi-perspectival. It takes a village to know a truth.

This has similarities to pragmatism which recognizes that truth with a capital T is not within our grasp, but that our search for it can identify useful approximations, their usefulness identifying their degree of truth.

So now I know a great stress reducer for me. Challenge the mind. Make it work. Let go of the present troubles in a search for new ideas, new ways of grasping what it means to be human.

Let Down

Fall                                                                                 Healing Moon

I missed seeing Kate yesterday for the first time since that Friday when we went to the Swedish Hospital’s E.R. And, I missed seeing Kate.

20181016_091641Odd experience yesterday. I led an exercise that involved body outlines I made from this template. (they actually looked better than this picture might suggest.) The kids responded to several prompts, among them: first school memory, early friends, where were you born, childhood hobby, childhood dream, then illustrated them on their body outline. The results are beautiful in many cases, revealing in all of them.

They were into it, using markers and crayons and stickers. The latter many of them used to decorate their faces as well. It felt energetic and engaged, the exercise, but I couldn’t get a conversation going about the results, so it felt like a failure to me. Alan, on the other hand, thought it was a great success. So did all the teachers who looked at the results.

The idea was to get the kids thinking about their childhood as they shift from childhood to being a teen. And, in that sense, yes, it worked. Where it failed was in having a discussion about commonalities and differences among the results.

Afterward, like the first two times I taught, all I wanted to do was sit down. Like a hard workout. Exhaustion. Attending to the little sprays of emotion, provocations of other students, even their eagerness and desire to do a wonderful job (which most of them had) was difficult. At least for me. Very difficult.

At the staff meeting afterwards exhaustion and an attendant lability found me looking out at the others: Rabbi Jamie, Alan, Tara, Debra, Karen, Tal from inside. Hard to describe. I was there, listening, understanding, but it was as if there was an invisible barrier of weariness between the watcher within and the physical circumstance he inhabited in that moment. I spoke very little, in spite of a fascinating introduction to the method of studying torah that resulted in the talmud.

In another instance I might have said I was depressed. The physical sensations were very similar: subdued, a feeling of distance, limited affect, low energy. That led me to my refrain over the last almost three weeks. I’m ok. No, I’m not anxious. Yes, I’m in the moment, responding to now, not imagining the future or regretting the past. I have believed that of myself, believed it was my experience, but was it?

As far as anxiety goes, I’m exquisitely sensitive. Generalized anxiety disorder will do that to you. I am, at least I think I am, an expert on my own anxious responses, what they feel like, how they manifest. As long as the ambit was Kate, her medical care, the dogs and their needs, my own needs, I felt fine. No, of course, I wasn’t joyous, nor was I unconcerned, but at no time did the usual stomach flutters, sweaty palms, shallow breathing signal an OMG moment. Was I repressing them? I really don’t think so.

But, there was a high stress level. That’s undeniable. It was a fraught situation, especially the first two weeks with Kate bombarded by tests, procedures, transfusions, and finally the bowel resection. Even so, the stress did not trigger anxiety. It did, however, exact a price and that price was exhaustion, depletion. As long as I was only handling the temporarily  resectioned world I described in an earlier post, I was fine. Being alone with all this was not a difficulty for me, in fact, I prefer it.

When, however, I took this still existing high stress level-Kate’s still gone from home, driving in and out takes a toll, for example-into a social setting, I believe it surfaced the stress in a much different way. I was no longer in my temporarily resectioned world but in that ongoing life that is the world, the ongoingness that seems so strange from within a bubble of stress or grief. Yet, it is not strange, it’s the usual, the normal, the everyday, it was my stress that was unusual.

I was not able to fully enter into the casual flow, the ordinary ongoingness. I wanted to, but the effort required was just beyond me. This doesn’t seem aberrant to me, but it did make me realize the degree of stress, of the energy required to cope that I’ve been experiencing.

Final note here: People want to help and I truly appreciate that. But, I’m not real good at knowing what kind of help I need, what would be useful. I’ve always been a very private person, one inclined to handle my life on my own terms with my own energy. I know the pitfalls in that, but it’s a lifelong habit. And, one I generally admire. Right now I think it might be in my way, but I’m not sure what to do about it.



Just Say No to Despair

Fall                                                                            Healing Moon

DyingA guy could be forgiven for feeling despair. Climate change has turned the dial up on danger. In so many ways already and bound to worsen. Fascism is not just for Europe anymore. The Proud Boys, as one article I read the other day pointed out, are brown shirts. Thugs for a narrow and dangerous political perspective.

And, of course. Well, you know who he is. He’s trying to shut down protest around the White House among other despicable things. The backlash against identity politics grows more vicious and more widespread, surfacing especially as a wedge issue for right-wingers. Women, in particular, have had a constant barrage of insults since 2016, misogynists emboldened by the same evil that courses through Congress, down Pennsylvania Avenue and spills into the air over the whole country.

fascism proud boysWe’re fighting so many conflicts in so many places. There’s a trade war underway. Immigration policy and environmental policy and policy for public lands, to mention only a few, are being made by people against immigrants, pro-coal and oil, and advocates for mining and pumping on Federal land.

I’m not feeling despair. I’ve not gone over to the dark ecology side even though I agree with their projections for our future. I’m not jettisoning political life in spite of the steady rhythm of awful policies and values spewing forth from Washington. I know years of progress have been shredded and actively reversed. Yes, I know all of that.

20181004_082605However. Life is not lived in some grim future contaminated by and doomed by the present. No, it is lived now. Today. Here. Loving Kate and the dogs, relating to friends from Minnesota, from Congregation Beth Evergreen. Being with family like Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Joe, SeoAh. I pay our bills, cook lunch, feed the dogs, visit Kate, teach religious school, write this blog. All now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now.

None of the rays of darkness trying to blot out decency and hope prevent me from living my life now. This life, this one right now, right here on Shadow Mountain is good. You might think that Kate’s medical issues make it otherwise. You would be wrong. The current medical matters and all the others that have kept us occupied over the four years since we moved here are life itself. As is Jon’s divorce and the sequelae from that, still rolling over us. Also life itself is the care and love between Kate and me and the dogs, between us all and our friends, family. Life goes on until it doesn’t. That’s not news; that’s the oldest ancientrail there is.

expectThrownness has deposited us all in these times. Could have been pharaonic Egypt, Song Dynasty China, the Jalisco era in Mexico, but it wasn’t. It’s now. YOLO. Or reincarnate Or shift off to heaven or bardo. No matter. It won’t change that fact.

A guy could be forgiven for feeling despair; yet, I don’t feel it. Instead I feel love, joy, delight. I relish the cold, the snow, the mountains. I live for living for friends and family. Doesn’t matter the context of awful. Doesn’t change that. I’m not putting on blinders, not ignoring the world. I’m saying that no matter what happens it will not sway me from the only life I’ve been given, one with the humans and animals and plants and rocks and streams, the stars and weather and climate with which I interact directly.



The Heat

Fall                                                                               Healing Moon

climate change vollmanThough I haven’t begun to read them yet, William Vollman’s two volume work: No Immediate Danger and No Good Alternative, the Carbon Ideologies paints a bleak picture. So does the IPCC‘s latest report. I also reported here, quite a while back, about a new movement called dark ecology that, like these three works, takes a dim view of our (that is, the world’s) willingness to execute the necessary carbon emissions restrictions.

Much as I hate to admit it, I believe these darker, more hopeless perspectives about the struggle against climate change might be right. If they are, we may be walking down a path that leads to an HG Wellian Time Machine world with the poor morlocks wandering the face of the earth (think the 99%) and the eloi burrowed into her mantle, using their great wealth and power to survive the heat and climatic chaos.

climate change eloi and morlocksIf we cannot slow down the rate of climate change (which is the most we can do, since so much climate change is already baked in), then we move to mitigation and adaptation. Geoengineering will become a buzz word as various strategies are tried. Climate refugees will become more and more disruptive across the world, especially those moving from coastal areas into interiors and onto higher ground. The already underway shifts in plant and animal eco-systems, climate refugees all, will bring them with different disease vectors, disruption to agriculture and sea life.

dark ecologyWe will not be known for Vietnam, civil rights, feminism, ruining health care, electing fascists to high office, but as the generation that allowed an earth compatible with human populations to slip away. Hard as it is to imagine the results of this inaction will be far, far more damaging than all the wars, holocausts and pogroms. How will we explain this to our grandchildren, to Ruth and Gabe in our instance? I understand the political and economic forces that have gotten us here, but explaining them will not alter the misery.





Fall                                                                         Healing Moon

love this idea

love this idea

As Kate’s rehab improves her strength, the middle of the recovery process is underway and underway well. She’ll have gains to make at home, weight gain chief among them, and I won’t consider this incident over until she’s gained at least ten pounds.

In an interesting NYT article on refugia* I began to think about those searing moments of our lives when their landscape changes forever, denuded of the familiar, apparently ruined. Most of us have at least a few, some have many. College often sets loose a wildfire of realizations as the mind encounters strange ideas, ones that can wreck the delicate eco-system of childhood beliefs. Death of someone close, my mom, for example. A failed marriage, or two. Substance abuse and recovery. Children of our own. Moving away from familiar places. (and these are just from my life.) Getting fired. Getting hired. Selling your business. Finding a new, strong purpose.

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

Kate in the E.R., September 28th

In the heat of the fire itself, Kate’s visit to the emergency room and the various procedures, recovery from them, for example, it can seem as if all will be gone, nothing left of the old life, maybe not even anything worth living for. This sense of total destruction is often inchoate, a visceral curling up under one of those fire shelters the hotshots use. But there comes a time when the fire has used up all the available fuel, when it goes out, becomes the past, rather than the present.

In that transition from crisis to life in the burned over section, that’s where the refugia are critical. “These havens shelter species that are vulnerable to fires. Afterward, they can be starting points for the ecosystem’s regeneration.” Our love remains, protected by its watercourse way, cool and flowing even during the heat. The dogs and their rhythms remain, a furry oasis shielded from the fire by distance. This loft remains, a literal haven, not untouched, but intact. The house. Our friends who’ve followed Kate on the Caringbridge, near and far. Our family.



But the old forest, the one that stood when the flames rushed up the hill toward us, is gone. Kate will not return to the same house, not even to the same dogs, for they and she have transformed. The homeness of our house remains, but its configuration will change, how we use it will change, how we see it and understand its role in our future will change. The companionship of the dogs remains, but their lives will have to adapt to the new, and while adapting, will change the new in their way.

I cannot yet see how the refugia will repopulate the forest of our life. The fire is not yet out, the crews of hotshot nurses, physical therapists and occupational therapists are working to find hotspots and put them out, to build fire breaks and clear out old fuel. When their work is done, Kate and I will rebuild the wild forest that is our time together, our small contribution to the ongoingness. There is opportunity here, a chance to reexamine old habits, old dreams, old hopes, to reconsider them in light of the altered landscape. What will it give us? I don’t know. But, when Kate returns home and begins to heal here, on our old forest’s ground, we’ll find out.


*”The fires left scenes of ashen destruction, but they did not wipe out everything. Scattered about the ravaged landscapes were islands of trees, shrubs and grass that survived unharmed.

It’s easy to overlook these remnants, which ecologists call fire refugia. But they can be vital to the long-term well-being of forests. These havens shelter species that are vulnerable to fires. Afterward, they can be starting points for the ecosystem’s regeneration.”  NYT

When it rains…

Fall                                                                                     Healing Moon

Two days ago

Two days ago

9 degrees here on Shadow Mountain with snow blowing in the air. A bit unusual since snow most often comes straight down up here, like rain. The storm has underperformed for us, but it’s here and I like it. Black Mountain is gone, disappeared by the gray blue clouds.

Without going into details that shouldn’t be in writing yet, Jon is in trouble again. To say that this is bad timing colossally understates the case. Kate’s in a delicate moment of her recovery. The stakes this time, as they were last, are very high: custody of his kids, his job, his ability to pay his mortgage and therefore to keep his house. He and the kids were up here yesterday when he got a call from the Denver Police and had to return home.

Not sure what to do, not sure there’s anything I can or should do other than support him emotionally. I’m not making any assumptions about the situation, about his “guilt” or innocence. I don’t understand it very well and it’s intricately complicated. I do know that the implications are dire.

punta arenas

punta arenas

Spoke with Kate yesterday afternoon and her heartburn/nausea from a breakfast without ativan prior to eating has passed. She and her body are trying to figure out a new way to live together, to become healthy again. Not easy after the insults of the last couple of weeks. She’s determined, stubborn and this last trait will mostly serve her well right now.

A mutual friend from CBE, Rick Levine, will bring a meal to Brookdale today at 4:30 p.m. I’m sure that’s well beyond whatever traffic difficulties the current storm will bring.

New snow tires, Blizzaks, purchased last month, sit in the garage still bound together from shipping. I mean, it’s mid-October! I’m not unhappy about that. It’s unlikely this presages the full on beginning of snow season. November, even late November, makes more sense as a time to have them installed. The reason I buy snow tires, even though good all-seasons would probably suffice in this milder winter climate, is that Kate and I are older drivers and need all the extra advantages we can get. I leave the lights on during the day for the same reason, that additional clue to others that we’re coming.



A Life Temporarily Resectioned

Fall                                                                      Healing Moon

1605–15; < Latin resectiōn- (stem of resectiō) a cutting off, trimming, equivalent to resect(us) (see resect) + -iōn- -ion

pruning gooseberries

pruning gooseberries

Always had trouble with the word resection. Why can’t doctors just say, cut out, excise, remove? After Kate’s bowel resection for her bleeding, I decided to finally figure out this word.

As with most technical language, it’s more precise than removing a piece. Instead of cutting out a piece of the colon, a surgeon resections it. Resecting can mean any degree of alteration in an organ from outright removal, to partial removal, to altering it in some way short even of partial removal. The best synonym I found, the one that helped me finally get it was this. Pruning.

As a former horticulturist, I did a lot of pruning. Cutting this diseased part of a plant away. Removing an errant branch or stem. Thinning blooms to create larger flowers. Resecting all along and didn’t know it. Sometimes there was total resection of a plant no longer healthy, or of plants out of place (otherwise known as weeds).

down the hill and through the woods to Grandma's room we go

down the hill and through the woods to Grandma’s room we go

I’m belaboring this etymology because I realized how useful this word was for describing what I’ve done for the last two weeks or so. I temporarily resectioned my life. I pruned away all that was not essential. That left being with Kate, understanding her medical condition, showing up for procedures and recovery, sitting with her. It left giving the dogs as normal a life as possible. After all, they don’t understand the situation. It left feeding myself and getting plenty of sleep. It left writing Ancientrails and posting on the Caringbridge website about Kate’s progress. Everything else got pruned away.

No CBE work. No writing. No exercise. Minimal grocery shopping, some work outside. Filling the car with gas, getting the oil changed. Necessary maintenance.

2014, Andover

2014, Andover

I chose to prune away parts of my life so I could attend to an unusual occurrence, an anomaly that required most of me. With Kate now in rehab, her bleeding behind her, that severe pruning, like I would do to the raspberry canes at the end of the season, cutting them off to the ground, will fade away. Though. When she comes home, there will still be home care for her, of course. But, the driving and leaving the dogs behind for hours at a time will be over.

Our lives can require these rescections. Sometimes they’re temporary, as this one will have been, sometimes they’re permanent, like Kate’s surgery. If Kate had needed more home-based care, this resectioning might have become more permanent. This can happen in the third phase, when one partner requires a good deal more care.

Feeling level. Lighter.

October 2018
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