America the Beautiful

Summer and the Radiation Moon

So easy to get lost in the polluted haze of Trump’s venal presidency.
To have our heads down, shaking in disbelief. Wondering when this horror show will end.

So easy. Today though, on this day of tanks and flags, this day when we become like all the nations who try to show bellicosity as a symbol of national strength, I’m very aware it’s all happening far to the east.

Happy to sit high in the Rocky Mountains, far away from the beltway. I lift my head up and look out the window. Black Mountain is bathed in sunlight. So are the tops of the lodgepole pines in our front yard. The sky, a robin’s egg blue, makes all the green pop.

If I were to drive across the plains again, from here to the Twin Cities as I have done so often, I would cross green fields of wheat, of corn. The horizon would be once again flat instead of jagged. Reaching into Minnesota the plains slowly disappear, bumping up against the remnants of the big woods. It’s said that once a squirrel could go tree to tree from the Atlantic coast to Minnesota without ever touching the earth.

The Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota

Near where the prairie begins to morph into another land form is Pipestone, Minnesota. A sacred place for many peoples native to this land. There the blood of mother earth has congealed into a soft, red stone, perfect for making the pipes used in so many rituals. If you go to the quarries, you can sometimes see folks working there, seeking blocks of pipestone. A very low tech procedure.

Driving on toward the Twin Cities, angling north and east, bean and corn fields begin to dominate. Cattle, pigs. Close to sea level and well east of John Wesley Powell’s demarcation line for the arid West, the 100th parallel (really now the 98th), Minnesota is in the humid east. Summer air is sticky, wet, and filled with bugs of various kinds.

In Minnesota the glaciers that bulldozed the plains left behind small depressions in the earth, over 16,000 of them. A journey north and east, turning due north some where beyond the middle of the state, will find a traveler in the North Woods, filled with lakes, and still more wild than civilized.

Burntside Lake, near Ely, Minnesota

It is up there, in the Arrowhead Region, where wolves retained their paw-hold on a U.S. presence. The Arrowhead’s eastern boundary is all shoreline, washed by the cold, deep waters of Lake Superior.

These are the parts of America the Beautiful that I know best. Minnesota and its northerness. The plains and their great level expanses, once filled with grass and buffalo. The Rocky Mountains which rise up from those same plains, suddenly, abruptly, far to the west of any silliness on the National Mall.

I will hold in my heart this day neither tanks, nor flags, nor bluster, but the rocky beaches of the Great Lakes, the farmland of southern Minnesota, the vast wheat fields of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, the upthrust mantle of Mother Earth’s crust where I now sit.

Camp Du Nord, Northern Minnesota

I’ve lived my life in these interior places of the North American continent, held for now under the politic rubric United States of America. They will still exist when this nation has faded into obscurity. And that makes me glad.

The 13th Fraction

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Heating up here. 94 down the hill. 73 on Shadow Mountain.

13th fraction today, then a four day rest. Got there early only to discover that they were running behind. Quick when I finally got in. ‘Yesterday was 12 out of 35. Bit more than a third finished.

Mozart today. The time went by fast. It starts with a whir of gears, then the bird’s head of the cyber knife begins to swing toward me. It stops at about my knees, seems to consider what’s next, then moves just above my abdomen. It’s choreography is the same as the little video you may have seen here.

There’s a moment when it dips below the table on my right side, then aims up from underneath. A whir, a twist, and it comes back up high. Finally it returns to roughly the starting position and swings away. Treatment done.

Kim, or Patty or Nicky come in and remove the rubber band from my feet, undo the loose velcro band over my legs, and take the small donut I use to give my hands something to do. The table is lowered to an easy height for getting up. I collect my things from the table, say good-bye and head back toward Conifer.

Today 470 was a mess going west (or north, if you’re silly enough to look at the compass). On occasion it’s bad. The construction to give users of this highway express lanes has been ongoing since we arrived. There are often different traffic patterns due to moved concrete barriers, dips and turns as the road shifts from one old portion of highway to a new one.

That Damned Tunnel

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Thought more about the tunnel I mentioned in the post below. For a long while, especially from February through mid-May or so, I thought the light at the end of the tunnel was the ironic oncoming train. Seemed like the tunnel had shrunken and passing through it was a unit train headed in our direction.

Once Kate began to gain weight, smile, the tunnel expanded a bit. A small path opened up that we could jump onto and wait out the train. When the cancer diagnosis went from psa to imaging studies, and the imaging studies showed no mets, the small path widened up enough for both of us to stand next to each other.

The exit from the tunnel is still far off. I’m estimating September, late September, as the time when we see if the track outside the tunnel runs through a pleasant valley or back into another mountainside.

When I did the Progoff workshop in May I thought mostly about the time since Kate’s bleed. On the way to radiation today I turned this over again and decided that the move to Colorado was the key moment. Since then four aspects of our new life came to dominate.

supervised trip, A-Basin, 2016

Family. Since we moved here on the Winter Solstice of 2014, Jon has gone through a bitter divorce, lived with us for a year and purchased his own home. The grandkids have gone from traumatized to tween and teenager. In 2016 we went to Korea for Joe and SeoAh’s wedding. Since then, SeoAh has become an important part of our family, too.

Colorado. We live in this remarkable state, close to many things people spend thousands of dollars to visit. We’ve seen few of them. The tunnel has contained us. Perhaps as we emerge from the tunnel, we’ll be able to plan trips. 5280, a magazine, has an insert this month, 10 classic Colorado road trips. A good place to start.

We live in the mountains among the lodgepole pines, aspens, craggy cliffs and fast flowing streams. Mule deer, elk, fox, bears, and mountain lions are our neighbors. Making our life here on Shadow Mountain has given us great joy, the beauty and the changing seasons

Kate at the CBE board’s oneg, Rosh Hashanah, 2018

Judaism. Congregation Beth Evergreen has been a refuge, a joy. The folks there have shown us what community means, what mitzvah means, that life together is better than life apart. Friends, intellectual sustenance, spiritual growth.

October 8, 2018

Healthspan. It was the diagnosis in 2015 that started it. Oh. Cancer? Really? Let’s get it out and move on. Tried to do that. Next up. Arthritic knee. Get a new, titanium one. Yes. Good choice. Kate needed a new right shoulder. Also a good choice. Sjogren’s began to eat into Kate’s well-being, dragging her weight down, causing fatigue, nausea. The bleed made it all more problematic for her. Second bleed. Pneumothorax. Each meant time in the hospital, starting in the E.R. at Swedish. Flu. Pneumonia. Me. Rising psa. Oh? Really? Later here we are in week 3 of the radiation. Hopeful for the near term future. How our lifespan has been affected? Probably shortened.

First day of radiation

It is my feeling that emergence from the tunnel will call on us to interact more fully with all of these four. I’m excited and ready.

Round 3

Summer and the Radiation Moon

Yesterday

Under the warmth of nuclear fusion’s endless possibilities my body takes in fractions of photon radiation, breaking the DNA of cancer cells and friendlies alike. Outside it was 83 degrees, the sun hitting us with more direct beams. Inside it was all Cyber Knife and its accelerator hitting me. Different nuclear generative processes, but both powerful in their own way.

This is a three day radiation week. The long July 4th weekend is time off, then back at it five days a week until done on August 6th. Yesterday I listened to Bach’s well-tempered clavier. Today, Berlioz. Night on Bald Mountain.

After I said I still had no side effects, Dr. Gilroy, in our weekly management meeting yesterday, said, “Well, you might slide through the whole time. In the last week there’s often an increase in urinary frequency.” Of course that’s just the radiation. The Lupron’s an agent all of its own. Still no side effects from it either.

Kate on the porch on Pontiac Street, 2015

Trying to feel my way toward the life after radiation. Kate’s feeling better, not all the way back, but much, much better. At first I was thinking about 7 weeks in the Cyber Knife tunnel. What it will be like when all the fractions have been given?

I realized though that we entered the true tunnel when Kate’s Sjogren’s began to effect her eating. A couple of years ago. The tunnel narrowed on September 28th, 2018, now nine months past. The bleed and its subsequent hospitalizations, imaging studies, doctor’s visits, and surgeries took more and more of both our energies.

Fortunately, Kate’s long ordeal began to have positive notes as cancer returned for me. If we’re lucky, and I think we will be, we’ll reach a point in September, after the second Lupron shot and a surveillance psa, when we can catch our breath, assess where we’ve been and where we’re going.

One of the tricks of living is to stay in the moment as much as possible without losing sight of life’s context. Not easy. The context includes the past and the future, yet we never inhabit either one. Only the present. Right now I’m living life fraction by fraction. One trip to Lone Tree at a time. One meal at a time. One workout at a time.

In September are the High Holidays, Sukkoth, Simchat Torah. The month of Elul precedes Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays, and as such is considered a time of repentance and preparation. Perfect for us this year. Too, on September 29th is Michaelmas, the springtime of the soul. In this instance Michaelmas falls on erev Rosh Hashanah.

And, in my own inner calendar, daylight’s change from 14 hours and 54 minutes on June 21, the summer solstice, to 11 hours and 53 minutes on Michaelmas, means that I’ll be moving further into the deep parts of my soul.

Looking gently forward to Elul, to Michaelmas, to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This year Rosh Hashanah could be a true new year for us, the start of a healthier time. May it be so.

Little we see in nature that is ours…

Summer and the Recovery Moon

This morning

Yellow stains even on my keyboard. The stuff is everywhere, though the rain yesterday knocked yet more of it down, out of the air. I imagine that’s why my Lodgepole pollen allergy has been calmer this year.

A lot of intellectual heavy breathing going on right now. Examples: “The 2020 issue that matters is democracy itself” E.J.Dionne, Washington Post, July 1, 2019. “Do the Republicans Even Believe in Democracy Anymore?” Michael Tomasky, NYT, July 1, 2019. “Climate Change Is a Public Health Emergency, Medical Groups Warn“, Dana Najjar, Medscape, July 1, 2019. And so on.

There has been, over the last year, a rise in climate nihilists, ones that look at the data, especially the still rapidly rising carbon load in the atmosphere, and conclude that we have neither the tools, nor, most importantly, the will, to modulate carbon emissions.

Articles question the future of democracy. They point to Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Kim, and Viktor Orban of Hungary. They also point to the rise of the alt-right, Brexit and Boorish Johnson, the success of China’s centralized rule. The Washington Post had an article titled, “We’re in an anti-liberal moment. Liberals need better answers.” WP, June 21, 2019.*

Instead of Fukuyama’s The End of History, we have the end of democracy and the possible end of human civilization. A heady turn around from his credulous opinion that liberalism and capitalism had finished off the conflicts of the past.

While I have sympathy with the naysayers, even agree with some of their main conclusions, I’m reminded of those folks who’ve predicted the end of the world over the centuries. Always wrong. Why? Because the apocalypse is not monocausal. If this is the relative death of democracy, we can look back at history and know that even that reality will change. If the climate nihilists are right, adaptive technologies and now unknown human responses to an overheated environment ensure some will survive and thrive.

The black outlook surfacing in so many news sources, from so many intelligent people, reflects instead a general feeling that, as Wordsworth said,

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away…

“The World is Too Much With Us” William Wordsworth

I’ve quoted some from the Washington Post article below because I believe it offers a solid anti-dote to despair. It underlines liberalism’s promise of a life lived with creative freedom, a sort of life that should be available to all. It also admits that liberalism has gotten too cozy with capitalism, evidenced by the so-true political cliche that both Republicans and Democratics are parties of and for corporate America.

As we near the fourth of July, I’m going with Emma Lazarus, with Scott Nearing, with Ram Dass, with Mary Oliver. Thomas Berry. Emma Goldman and Joe Hill. With Ruth and Gabe as they project our family into the maw of both strongman politics and radical climate change. None of this changes how much I love my family, how much I believe in human inventiveness, how much I care about politics and the Great Work.

*” …liberals in recent decades have spent most of their time focusing on the coexistence of different outlooks — promoting interdenominational peace, a public square in which religious and secular voices can both speak, and above all an emphasis on groups asserting their special identities — and forgetting to foster a sense of life well lived. Liberals have promoted group tolerance at the expense of self-cultivation. In the face of increasing criticism, however, liberals need to answer that they already champion a highest good: creative freedom…”

Liberalism’s main problem is that its vision of a life well lived has been corrupted — not by too much license and self-expression, but by an overemphasis on economic freedom that has undercut its own promise.We’re in an anti-liberal moment. Liberals need better answers. Washington Post, June 21, 2019

Inner Wilderness

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Speculating further after my post on Wild, Wildness, Wilderness. Wilderness is a place where humans rarely go, a place where the ebb and flow of life depends on plants and animals, not the artifice of roads and streets, buildings and houses, stores and parking lots. (I’m bracketing the climate change influence for the moment.)

Thought about cancer. Realized that the interior of a human body, even, perhaps especially, your own body, is a wilderness, too. Rarely visited by humans, very, very rarely by yourself-colonscopies, imaging work, sonagrams, echocardiograms being exceptions, of course, but in those cases the boundary of the wilderness is not opened. It’s penetrated by beams and rays and sounds.

As my old internist Charlie used to say, “We’re all a bit of a black box inside.” The inner world is not all that’s hidden from others; the inner world of the body is hidden, too.

We carry wildness and wilderness with us wherever we go.

A Yellow Tinged Orgy

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Pine pollen, June, 2015

The wind blew up last night as the sun set. With it came the yellow cloud, lodgepole pine pollen. The yellowness, which looked like smoke, refracted the deep reds of the evening sky. Coulda been fire. The fine yellow powder settles on everything. We’ve been lucky so far because the rain has knocked down a lot of the pollen. Not now.

It’s a wild sexual orgy, a sign of midsummer, as the lodgepoles go through their ancient reproductive strategy. Here’s an evocative sentence from Walking Mountains: “With their strobili unabashedly protruding and their ovules wide open, the young gametophytes stand ready to receive the blasts of pollen from trees near and far.” 50 shades of green.

When I was in Lone Tree yesterday, the truckometer read 100. I drove the older Rav4 since Kate volunteered to take Mary all the way to the airport. Stifling.

Sushi Rama

Two weeks out of seven over, 10 fractions beamed into my prostate fossa. The weekends are off. I’m finding I really like the break. To reward myself for a solid two weeks of radiation therapy I followed Ruth’s recommendation and found Sushi Rama. So-so. But fun. The conveyor belt idea works very well, I imagine, when the customer base is large and consistent throughout the day. Variability in a burb makes some sushi get that old and tired look.

Wild. Wildness. Wilderness.

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Wild Man on a coat of arms, Albrecht Durer, 1499

Jimmy Johnson. Woolly, artist, designer, wayfinder, South Dakotan. He emphasizes an old men’s movement idea, the wild man. Find your inner wildness. Keep it alive. Present. That way our vitality remains.

OK. But. Cancer. Is wild. Exhibits a form of wildness that has no care for its environment. Only about replication at the expense of whatever can feed it. Sorta like capitalism. Especially fossil fuel companies.

A certain form of inner wildness has found me and I don’t like it. It’s the opposite of the wild man’s inner wildness. Instead of bringing vitality it feeds on life until it is no more. Again, like capitalism, especially fossil fuel companies.

In another sense though cancer’s wildness is no different from any wildness. It’s red in tooth and claw, survival of the fittest it’s prime directive. This vast forest, the Arapaho National Forest, in which we live is like that. Wherever there are deer and elk, there are mountain lions. A Rocky Mountain truism.

The mountain lion feeds from its environment, is ruthless and opportunistic. As an apex predator, the mountain lion may have no enemies here, but after the mountain lion dies, the forest will absorb their essence, put it back into the plant world. Which feeds the deer and the elk. The circle of life.

Cancer is part of this. It’s an element of the natural world just like decomposition, photosynthesis, a mountain lion attacking a mule deer. This wildness within me lives by the laws of natural selection. It doesn’t care who I am anymore than the mountain lion cares which mule deer they can catch. Cancer is predator and I’m its prey.

Luckily I have a means of fighting back. Even so, cancer is wily, persistent. It’s an open question whether this prey can take out so formidable an adversary. TBD

Kudos to Mary

Summer and the Recovery Moon

Kate at Biker Jim’s on Father’s Day

Kate’s recovery continues to go well. She drove the half hour to PetSmart and picked up Kep yesterday. I took him in on my way to the Cyber Knife. She’ll also drive Mary to the Federal Center RTD stop. Mary tried to find a shuttle or taxi and experienced the mountain way. Either not possible or folks didn’t answer the phone. Wish I could take her, but the Cyber Knife beckons.

Mary’s working on school libraries in Singapore. They’re surprised when I tell them I have Masters Degree in Library Science. Libraries are under a lot of pressure these days and are rethinking how they fit into colleges, universities, communities. Mary has helped the nation with her knowledge of how students actually use libraries. She’s so successful that she’s working well past the usual retirement age. Unusual. Kudos to Mary and her internationally acclaimed work.

Brother Mark likes to comment on the Vietnamese currency, the dong. He says it’s drooping right now. What kind of stimulus might make it rise, he wonders. LOL. He’s on vacation, plenty of time to consider the world around him.

With nine treatments my inner glow has increased. I may be a beacon on Shadow Mountain for aircraft trying to orient themselves. Listened to the Cream yesterday. Nicky was not familiar with them, but she knew Eric Clapton. The Cream was one of the first super groups: Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker. I saw them in a weed smoke filled theatre in Chicago’s old stockyard district, maybe 1968. Got stoned just sitting there.

No side effects so far. But. Every ache, like the hip ouching me as I fed the dogs, or some shortness of breath, or general weariness makes me wonder. Is this it? Are the side effects commencing? No. No. No.

Well, at least I think no on that last one. It’s hard to separate the fatigue from driving back and forth, the treatments, pushing myself to get all my exercise in, and any that might be the result of either the radiation or the Lupron.

goes over the faded Baby’s On Board

A strange place to be. Waiting. Not wanting to invite trouble. The runup to both treatments had a lot of focus on the side effects. Cancer care is like that. Here, take this. It’ll help kill your cancer. And, oh, by the way, your hair and teeth will fall out. But that’s only temporary. Oh. Good.

Most important of all: remember why radiation, why lupron. Kill cancer. Go for a cure.

Been focusing on simplicity of the heart as I drive back and forth, reminding myself to stay in the moment, to not let other drivers, current circumstances drag me out of my inner calm. Tough for me, but really good practice. I failed yesterday when a peloton rode up narrow, no shoulder Shadow Mountain Drive. “Ride single file!” I yelled out the window.

Simplicity is about navigating the churn, the “blooming, buzzing confusion” that is our mind, as William James put it. I’ve taken to using advice for people experiencing panic attacks. Find five things you can see. Five things you can hear. Five things you can feel. I like this because it echoes techniques I learned long ago from the existential psychologists like Carl Rogers. Grounding. It helps.

Back to the Inner Glow

Summer and the Recovery Moon

And, summer. A warm week ahead. Of course. Mountain weather. Great sleeping.

My first weekend respite from the radiation is over. It’s off to Lone Tree and Anova around 11:10 or so. Have to get gas. Burn through a lot of the fossil fuel with an hour commute. But, it is in a nice car. Back on the Beano, only drinking tap water. No seltzer. Bubbles.

The Gleaners, Jean-Francois Millet

Sunday is my rest day from working out. I read. An essay on charity and justice in the Torah parshah for Kate and mine’s bagel table on September 14th. These suckers are long. In this instance Deuteronomy 21:10–25:19. It contains the most laws of any parshah in the Torah. The charity and justice essay is a reflection on the laws concerning gleaning.

Then, some art criticism in a book Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light. Peter Schjeldahl. This guy is a genius. Wonderful, short essays on contemporary artists and their work.

Finally, a couple of articles on what conservatives are up to intellectually right now. It seems Trump has unveiled cracks in a conservative consensus begun around the time of William Buckley: a corporate oriented focus on the economy, a robust military with a kickass foreign policy, and conservative social values. Simpler times, man. Simpler times.

A CBE friend brought over a blueberry lemon pound cake and a large plastic container of serious vanilla ice cream. She’s in cancer treatment right now, too. We talked for an hour or so until Jon, Ruth, and Gabe came up to take another run at the serious clog in our bathroom sink.

He knows a lot about houses and their inner workings. I don’t. With Ruth and Gabe’s help the three of them spent a lot of time in our crawl space first with a snake, then with Drano, then with the snake again. It was a stubborn clog, mostly hair, I think. They persevered and got it. Yeah!

I made mashed potatoes with cut up steak from yesterday’s left overs. Broccoli florets. Ice cream, as you might imagine, for dessert.

Getting a plumber up here to come by for such a small task is difficult. Only a few good ones up here and they spend most of their time on remodels and new construction. They work in small jobs when they can. Good thing Jon could help.

Ruth decided to stay all night so she can help us today. I hope she and Kate can get back to sewing.