We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Black Sun

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

PutrefactioA week from today we’ll be on the road in a rented R.V., Ruth and Gabe on board, headed to Driggs, Idaho. It will be Kate’s 73rd birthday.  I wrote a post on Ancientrailsgreatwheel.com about dark ecology and the ecocide. It occurred to me just now that the total eclipse might be the perfect metaphor for it.

As the extinction event occasioned by our rapidly changing climate, both already well underway, slides over the face of our inner sun and blots it out, we will not enter total darkness, but the corona of that black sun will flare in our consciousness, the heavens filled with the stars and galaxies of our inner universe will pop into view. We will have a chance then to consider the majesty of all of which we are a part, often hidden. We will see the world without us and know that it can and will be beautiful, more than we can imagine.

alchemyPerhaps this eclipse on August 21st is an opportunity for us all to merge the outer with the inner, to experience the same fear our long ago ancestors did when they imagined the world might die, the sun might never reappear. It may be a chance to integrate this slow motion catastrophe through which we are living, in which we are implicated, and consider it in a new way.

I’m going to try for that experience. Maybe you will, too.

 

 

 

Easing Back

Midsommar                                                                          Kate’s Moon

books and cupWith concern about my knee prosthetic assuaged, I’ve gotten a better workout routine going. It’s taken me awhile to match my new workout time, start between 9 and 10 am, with productivity on other projects like reimagining and a new novel, but I’m getting there.

Yesterday I printed out work on Loki’s Children, the second part of the Missing trilogy, and the Protectors, a nugget about a group called the Carthaginians. That gives me three stories to consider. I’m also going to through a file I have in Evernote called story ideas. Check out what I’ve been squirreling away for the past couple of years.

Reimagining work right now consists of scissors and a stapler: cutting up the printed out pages from ancientrails, stapling individual posts together, then filing them under the conceptual (chapter?) headings I’ve defined. I ended up with well over 200 printed pages so this is no small task.

kabbalahThe kabbalah class is over until after the high holidays, but I plan to read in both the first volume of the Zohar and the key work by Isaac Luria. No idea right now about how to organize that reading, but Rabbi Jamie will help. Kate and I continue to study mussar, the Thursday at 1 pm group grounding us in both Jewish ethics and a small community.

Sister Mary and her s.o. Guru will be here Tuesday through Thursday. They’re flying here from Tamil Nadu where Mary and her friend Anitha were presenting at a conference. Mary has a conference in L.A. beginning on Friday. She’s got lots of air miles to her credit.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Midsommar                                                             New (Kate’s) Moon

travelIf you’re an alcoholic like I am, you learn early in treatment that the geographical escape won’t work. Wherever you go, there you are is the saying. It’s true that the addictive part of my personality follows me from place to place as well as through time. Even so, this move to Colorado has awakened me to an unexpected benefit of leaving a place, especially ones invested with a lot of meaning.

I lived in Minnesota over 40 years, moving to New Brighton in 1971 for seminary. I also lived in Alexandria, Indiana until I was 18, so two long stays in particular places. In the instance of Alexandria, I was there for all of my childhood. In Minnesota I became an adult, a husband and father, a minister and a writer.

Here’s the benefit. (which is also a source of grief) The reinforcements for memories and their feelings, the embeddedness of social roles sustained by seeing friends and family, even enemies, the sense of a self’s continuity that accrues in a place long inhabited, all these get adumbrated. There is no longer a drive near Sargent Avenue to go play sheepshead. Raeone and I moved to Sargent shortly before we got divorced. Neither docent friends nor the Woolly Mammoths show up on my calendar anymore with rare exceptions. No route takes me past the Hazelden outpatient treatment center that changed my life so dramatically.

2011 05 09_0852While it’s true, in the wherever you go there you are sense, that these memories and social roles, the feeling of a continuous self that lived outside Nevis, in Irvine Park, worked at the God Box on Franklin Avenue remain, they are no longer a thick web in which I move and live and have my being, they no longer reinforce themselves on a daily, minute by minute basis. And so their impact fades.

On the other hand, in Colorado, there were many fewer memories and those almost all related to Jon, Jen and the grandkids. When we came here, we had never driven on Highway 285, never lived in the mountains, never attended a synagogue together. We hadn’t experienced altitude on a continuous basis, hadn’t seen the aspen go gold in the fall, had the solar snow shovel clear our driveway.

jewish-photo-calendarThis is obvious, yes, but its effect is not. This unexperienced territory leaves open the possibility of new aspects of the self emerging triggered by new relationships, new roles, new physical anchors for memories. Evergreen, for example, now plays a central part in our weekly life. We go over there for Beth Evergreen. We go there to eat. Jon and the grandkids are going there to play in the lake this morning.

Deer Creek Canyon now has a deep association with mortality for me since it was the path I drove home after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Its rocky sides taught me that my illness was a miniscule part of a mountain’s lifetime and that comforted me.

This new place, this Colorado, is a third phase home. Like Alexandria for childhood and Minnesota for adulthood, Colorado will shape the last phase of life. Already it has offered an ancient faith tradition’s insights about that journey. Already it has offered a magnificent, a beautiful setting for our final years. Already it has placed us firmly in the life of Jon, Ruth and Gabe as we’ve helped them all navigate through the wilderness of loss. These are what get reinforced for us by the drives we take, the shopping we do, the medical care we receive, the places we eat family meals. And we’re changing, as people, as we experience all these things.

Well over fifty years ago Harrison Street in Alexandria ceased to be my main street. The Madison County fair was no longer an annual event. Mom was no longer alive. Of course, those years of paper routes, classrooms, playing in the streets have shaped who I am today, but I am no longer a child just as I am longer the adult focused on family and career that I was in Minnesota.

Wherever you go, there you change.

Kate and a wandering Woolly

Midsommar                                                                        Most Heat Moon

Back ouching yesterday, still this morning. Annoying.

20170405_152848Drove the hour out to Denver International to get Kate. Found Scott Simpson with her at the arrival gate. He’s on his way to Carbondale to see his son. We took him to Union Station where he planned to board a Bustang for the rest of his trip. Scott’s reading Homo Deus right now and says it’s rocking his world. Good to see him.

Kate hopped up front after we dropped him off. Well, hopped might be a bit too spry. Moved up front. She looked great, the vacation agreed with her health. She’s a flatlander and a child of the humid east. Her dry mouth was much better in Minnesota and Iowa as was the O2 concentration.

She and Anne drove to Nevada, Iowa, both having reunions, 55th and 50th. They had a good time. On her return to Minneapolis Kate stayed with her long time friend Penny Bond and caught up with her lunch lady friends, Mary Thorpe and Jane West.

Good to have her home.

 

 

Reunion Weekend

Midsommar                                                                    Most Heat Moon

20170423_090148We had a light frost the other night. The weather has been generally cool since Kate left which is ironic. Friday and yesterday were her 55th reunion, today she drives back to the Twin Cities to stay with longtime friend Penny Bond. Monday the ladies who lunch will gather to include her again while she’s in town.

Kate’s made contact with many Coloradans, at first with the Bailey Patchworkers, then with the Needleworkers and now with Beth Evergreen. During her recent Sjogren’s flare all of these groups expressed concern about her. She’s only been here a couple of years but she has integrated into the community. Good to see.

Jon and the grandkids have walked the Great Sand Dunes, driven to the ancient dwellings at Mesa Verde and will head north to the Dinosaur National Monument before coming home. Jon invited me to come to the Dinosaur National Monument and meet them there, but this is Kate’s reunion weekend and I’m the official dog guy. Otherwise, I’d have done it. It’s one of the many places in Colorado I want to see. It’s a bit unusual in that it is in Colorado and in Utah, following the course of the Green River.

20170618_082145I’ve been speculating about my knee, about how hard I can push it and not have to replace it too soon. Tough since I want to keep my cardio work up. My decision so far has been to privilege my heart over my knee, reasoning that heart health has longer term benefits, but I don’t want to be stupid about it either. Decided last night that I want to see my internist, Lisa Gidday and get some guidance.

Today is mundane: groceries, laundry, groom Kep. Work on reimagining. No workout today. Going back to Sunday as a rest day for now. I prefer to workout, but there’s that nagging thing about the knee. A bit of caution right now.

We are a diverse species

Beltane                                                                   Rushing Waters Moon

Actual complaints received by the British travel agency, Thomas Cook Holidays:

1. “On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

2. “They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”

3. “We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

4. “We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price.”

5. “The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”

6. “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”

7. “It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallartato close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.”

8. “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

9. “Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers.”

10. “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

11. “The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun.”

12. “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”

13. “I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”

14. “The brochure stated: ‘No hairdressers at the resort.’ We’re trainee hairdressers and we think they knew and made us wait longer for service.”

15. “When we were in Spain, there were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

16. “We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.”

17. “It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”

18. “I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”

19. “My fiancée and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be re-reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

BE AWARE …

Semiotics. Up Close and Personal.

Spring                                                                              Passover Moon

Female Golden Stag Beetle

Female Golden Stag Beetle

In a long ago TV program, the name of which I can’t remember, a character said of his Porsche, “It’s my carapace.”  Yes. The vehicle we choose is a statement about us, carmakers learned this from the carriage makers. Kate and I drive a Rav4. It’s functional, unexciting, and a mostly serviceable way of moving from point A to point B. We bought it in a hurry when our Tundra had a fatal seizure not long after I’d given the Celica to charity.

But we’ve added a bit to it. First, there’s that damage to the front end, unrepaired. Long unrepaired now, maybe 2 years. That’s a statement. We also have two stickers on the back: Our House Runs On Clean Energy and Fin Del Mundo: Ushuaia. During the presidential campaign, we also had a Bernie Sanders sign. There is a small sticker on the side window for the planetarium in Boulder. Gertie and Rigel ride with us from time to time. Another statement.

fishI mention the Rav4 and the Porsche first because these thoughts often occur to me while I’m driving. Vanity license plates. Fancy wheels. Political bumper stickers. Coexist. Rainbow pride. If you’re going to ride my ass, at least pull my hair. Keep honking I’m reloading. Flagpoles on the back of the pickup: the red white and blue on one side, the yellow, Live Free or Die flag on the other. Gun racks. Lowriders. Bentleys and Priuses. The occasional Maserati or Ferrari. Maybe you’re on a motorcycle wearing colors. Maybe you’re pulling a boat, or a camper, or a horse trailer.

As a culture we have chosen our vehicles as a prominent way to signal to others who we are, or who we would like to be.  I read an article that said the political leanings of a particular area could be sussed out by the number of pickup trucks on the road, the more pickups the redder the politics. I’m sure you could find a similar metric by counting Cadillacs or Hummers or expensive sports cars.

I used to have a ponytail and I’ve had a beard almost all of my adult life. Look at a woman’s nails, at earrings, necklaces, bracelets. All semiotics.

evolvedAt home. Even the dogs with whom we live. Semiotics. Furniture. Art. Books. Rugs and window treatments. Semiotics. Both to others, but also, and often more importantly, to ourselves. Reminders of who we are. Or aspirational signals about who we want to become. Or, false flags, representing how we wish others to see us. The solar panels on our roof. The well maintained exterior of our home. Even the stumps of the trees cut down for fire mitigation. All messages to the world.

We are opaque. Who we are, what we mean in the world, is not evident from our bodies. We want to know, need to know, what others are like, but we’re very poor judges. That’s why stereotyping exists. It attempts to add semiotics to skin color or body shape. Because we want some advance clue as to the nature of the other. Are they are a threat? Are they a potential mate? Might we agree with them on something important? Could they be trusted?

grateful deadWe all know this, at least at a subconscious level, so we offer clues. Those Grateful Dead Dancing Bears. The menorah lit in the window. The stylized fish. The stylized fish with legs and Darwin in the middle. A Bronco’s sticker. A Viking’s sticker. A lacrosse stick. Somehow we feel these things reveal a portion of who we are. Make us less opaque, perhaps a bit more transparent.

As a long ago student of anthropology, these kind of things fascinate me. I offer no conclusions, other than what they reveal about our essential opacity and our desire to be known in spite of it. The wide range of these semiotics are perhaps more necessary in a diverse nation with no tribal traditions, no single ethnic heritage, no long history as, say, Franks or Germans or Spaniards.

 

The Wanderer

Spring                                                                        Passover Moon

Mark on the sands of Araby

Mark on the sands of Araby

Brother Mark has been in town for the last couple of days. It was, in some ways, as if I saw him for the first time this visit. His lifestyle is unusual, truly counter cultural. He works at his long time occupation, teaching English as a second language, saves money, then heads off to travel for a few months. Over the last five years or so he’s worked in Saudi Arabia, teaching in Hail, Jubail, Jeddah and a couple of other places I don’t recall right now.

He’s seen every continent except Africa, crossed the old Soviet Union on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a trip he started in Beijing, and worked day labor type jobs when his funds from the teaching ran low. He also makes time to drop in on relatives and friends, staying a while, then moving on. I admire his willingness to live frugally and engage his passion, to see the world. So, a shoutout to Mark, the wanderer.

 

State Sponsored Violence

Spring                                                                    New (Passover) Moon

This disturbing documentary from the New York Times made me remember a long ago lecture on violence by Bob Bryant, my professor of Constructive Theology and my friend.

The gist of the lecture was this, violence exists on a continuum. At one end is extreme trauma meted out by instruments of destruction like bombs and bullets. At the other end of the continuum is violence perpetrated by neglect, by public policy, by omission.

President Duterte of the Philippines bends the continuum into an Ouroboros-like circle where his policy results in extreme trauma. As “I’ll kill you.” gets carried out by police, military and vigilantes, the rule of law, the notion of a system that can make mistakes and must be checked by the courts, gradually dies, too.

It would seem that Duterte is an outlier in both his rhetoric and the results of his policy. Yet consider this. Estimates by policy wonks about the number of people who would die in the USA without Obamacare suggest that approximately 43,000 a year-a year-would die from lack of medical care if ACA had been repealed and replaced by the Republican “plan.”

What Bob Bryant taught me was that the violence continuum was only about means, about tactics. The results are the same. If you die from a vigilante’s bullet in the Philippines, you are no more dead than a young child in the US who dies because they can’t afford an inhaler for asthma.

This is important to understand. It means the healthcare debate, for example, is not only about medicine but also about state sponsored violence. Even the debate about Meals on Wheels and the school lunch program are also about state sponsored violence. Framed in this way the matter is not one for think tanks and ideological purity but one for those who believe compassion and care are marks of a decent society, who believe government exists to serve, not deprive.

Mud Bugs

Imbolc                                                                           Anniversary Moon

20170318_161305

During the meal

Ruth’s play was in the morning. We drove into Aurora to see it, close to the airport. We came back home, took a nap then went out for the No No’s crawfish boil. Well, I went for the crawfish boil and Kate came along as what the reservation referred to as a non-crawfish eater. We got there early so we saw the waiters put together four tops into single long tables, five of them.

These tables got covered with thin plastic from a roll and the plastic got covered with what I’d expected, newspapers. After we were seated, waiters first brought small plastic containers of fried dill pickles. Wonderful. Next came gloved waiters with metal containers of boiled potatoes and slices of andouille sausage. They simply threw potatoes and sausage slices on the table for each person. Andouille is spicy and a real New Orlean’s treat.

Finally, in the same metal containers came the crawfish, red and spicy from their hot water bath. The waiters tipped the containers over in front of us and small mounds heaped up. The room quieted as we all got to work.

Early in our marriage Kate and I went to New Orleans for a continuing medical education event. It was notable for three reasons. The first and least significant was seeing a grumpy Jerry Lewis pushing a stroller off a plane at the airport. His family looked equally happy.

Having been to New Orleans several times in the years prior to our trip, I wanted to see the area around New Orleans rather than stay in the narrow area of the French Quarter, so I drove out to the bayous. It was April. When I found a bayou that was also a state park, I pulled in, found the boardwalks and walked out into the swampy grassland. Much to my delight and surprise the bayou was full of blooming irises. They were everywhere.

IrisLouisianaHeaderw.title3

The alligators were just waking up, too. I saw several, moving slowly, trying to get their reptilian blood warmed up. They hunt nutria in this area and there were plenty of these large rodents. The alligators, however, were not up to speed and I witnessed many clumsy attempts by sleepy, cold alligators to catch one. The nutria, far faster than their not yet fully present predators, escaped easily.

20170318_154231The last and most memorable moment of the trip came after I decided to drive around in cajun country and find an authentic cajun restaurant. I found one in a small town somewhere not too far from the bayou. I went in, it was in the middle of the afternoon, and I was the only diner in the place. A waitress came over and I told her I wanted to try some authentic cajun food. What would she recommend?

I don’t recall the other things she brought, but she did bring me a plate of boiled crawfish, fresh from the bayou. And proceeded to peel them and feed them to me. It was odd, intimate and unexpected, but seemed perfectly natural.

As I pinched off the tails of No No’s mounded crawfish and leveraged the meat out of them by breaking the small chitinous bands that held it in, I thought of her, that small restaurant, and all those irises.

 

 

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