We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

the tao

Imbolc                                                                       New Life Moon

taoHad a strong sense yesterday of the tao. Often elusive for me, yesterday had a distinct flavor, a wind blowing through the events of the day and I rode with it.

Gabe’s sick, a croupy respiratory bug. Now, Jon has to deal with this as a single parent. A sick kid and two working parents is hard, but a sick kid and two divorced working parents is harder.

Into Aurora yesterday at eight a.m. to pick Gabe up and bring him up here. It was daylight saving time, the next day, and I felt loggy, off, a mild buzzing in my head and stomach not quite settled. There’s only one route to Aurora from here, Hwy 285 which becomes Hampden Road in Denver. Hampden runs through southern Denver, four lane at points, six lanes at others, lots of businesses, especially past Interstate 25 headed east.

I’d waited until eight to leave to avoid rush hour. The tao of the day laughed. At about Swedish hospital traffic seemed to slow, slow, slow, then crawl. And, occasionally, stop. Three lanes of traffic clotted. And, the clot lasted. Usually, from Swedish Hospital to Colorado Avenue is about a three minute drive. Thirty minutes. A lot of it with plenty of time to read the warning label about the semi-fluid lubricant in tire bearings on the semi sitting next to me.

1514204365009It was jaggedy, edgy tao, putting up barriers, then releasing. Gabe had his own struggle with this tao. I was forty minutes late picking him up.

We drove back to the mountains in silence. My hearing aid battery died in Lakewood, about thirty minutes from home. Even with the hearing aid, the noisiness of the Rav4 makes hearing Gabe’s soft voice from the back seat impossible for me.

Once home Kate had to leave for a mani-pedi, so I remained in the house in case Gabe needed anything. He came with a cooler containing ginger ale and cheese.

I felt jangly, stomach still off. Reading the Third Plate kept my mind distracted, a positive barrier to temporary discomfort. This book has a lot to teach. Of the many key learnings so far, one that keeps coming back like a ruminant’s cud was a short encounter between Dan Barber, the author, and Wes Jackson, a hero of mine who runs the Land Institute in Kansas.

Stone Barns and Dan Barber's Blue Hill restaurant

Stone Barns and Dan Barber’s Blue Hill restaurant

Dan had visited an organic farmer in upstate New York who “listened to the language of the soil,” reading soil health from the weeds that grew in his fields. This particular formulation, language of the soil, grabbed me because I had come to the same metaphor over my years of gardening in Andover. The soil speaks, tells you what it needs. You just have to see what you’re looking at. This farmer’s attention to that language resulted in an organic farm, growing mostly heirloom varieties of corn, wheat and other grains, intermixed with soil healing crops like spelt and clover.

After Dan told Wes about this farmer, he nodded. “Yes, Dan. He sounds like a great guy, but it won’t last.” Someone else, he went on, will buy the farm and all of the careful reading of the soil’s language will disappear. The chemical/industrial farming ethos will return. When Wes recognized Dan’s disappointment, he said to him, “What can I say? We live in a fallen world.”

tao3This anecdote has stuck with me, I think, because of the sale of our land in Andover. We did so much, worked hard at creating soils that would grow healthy, vibrant plants, but then we moved on.

It was the tao of Monday, a slow pulsing tao that put up obstacles, then took them down. It placed Gabe’s illness alongside a huge accident with ambulances and fire trucks, wreckers, clean up crews and three lanes of traffic forced down to one lane. It put Wes Jackson’s sigh alongside my sensitive stomach, alongside Kate’s beautiful nails, calming her and getting her ready for surgery next week. Rigel once again pushing her nose into us, pacing. An obstacle. Back on the metronidazole.

Riding with this tao I let the obstacles and their resolutions wash over me, not as frustrations (mostly), but as the way of this Monday. When the day was over, I was glad, especially glad to have been sensitive to the tao.

Happy Anniversary

Imbolc                                                                         New Life Moon

Courtroom inside the Landmark Center

Courtroom inside the Landmark Center

So. 28 years ago today Kate and I went to the Landmark Center in Rice Park, downtown St. Paul, up to a renovated Federal courtroom where we mixed Jewish and Christian traditions in a written by us ceremony. At the amazing reception Kate’s two sisters, BJ and Sarah played, with two other musicians, a chamber piece we had composed for the occasion. That marked our place of meeting, seats, season seats together, at the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

That night we spent at the Nicollet Island Inn, a hotel in an old stone manufacturing building on an island just above lock and dam #1 on the Mississippi. In the morning we took a taxi to the airport, boarded a PanAm flight and landed at DaVinci International several hours later.

We followed spring for three weeks, traveling always north, ending up eventually in Inverness, Scotland after having visited Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Venice, Vienna, Paris, Bath, Edinburgh, and London. We had two first-class Eurail passes, navigating all of this journey by train. We were both younger then, able to lug suitcases out of taxis and onto platforms. In 1990 the Chunnel had not yet been built so we crossed the English Channel the old fashioned way, by ship.

VeniceTo open up our relationship by this kind of excursion through the Old World, its art and its food, its people and landmarks, gave us a wonderful touchstone for the years ahead. We’ll always have the Spanish Steps, Crispi’s, the Uffizi, that first view of the Grand Canal from the train station, the wiener schnitzel after the foodless train from Venice to Vienna, staying on the Left Bank in Paris, the Louvre. There were the sheep placers as we took the train from Dover to London, the overnight sleeper from London to Edinburgh, and the late evening walk along the misty river Ness.

My bride, a Norwegian-Jewish princess. Then. Now.

My bride, a Norwegian-Jewish princess. Then. Now.

We returned to the U.S. thoroughly married with our Portmeirion china on its way from the Reject China shop in London.

The next three weeks don’t hold that sort of adventure, though they will have important moments for our still vital marriage. Kate’s shoulder replacement is a week and five days from now. Joseph pins on Major a bit later. We’ll see Jon and Ruth and Gabe, the folks at Beth Evergreen. We’ll feed the dogs and love them. Drive through the Rocky Mountains as we do errands, get from here to there. This is life as we age together, a commitment we made to each other, then sealed with a trip. Still in love, still excited about our relationship.



Imbolc                                                                           New Life Moon



“The noun simcha is mentioned in the Bible 94 times and is derived from the verb samach, which appears 154 times in the text. It is rooted in the Akkadian word shamahu meaning sprout or flourish.” Simcha, The Dayton Jewish Observer

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. So says Keats in his Endymion. Kate and I are leading the mussar class on Thursday, focused on joy and sadness. What else is a joy forever?

Most of the material I’ve read about joy distinguishes it from pleasure with a time distinction. A bite of food, a kiss, a winning hand, a new toy brings pleasure in the moment, but the pleasure dissipates quickly. Joy, to paraphrase Keats, is a thing of beauty forever. Joy, in other words, is lasting.

Rabbi Jamie says true joy can be recalled and experienced again whenever we want. Not fully sure about that, but a finger on the scale in favor of a lasting experience seems right to me.

Chagall, Fiddler

Chagall, Fiddler

Kate has come up with an exercise that will get us started on considering joy in our own lives. She designed a sheet with three columns: single-digit, adolescence, adult. We will write as many instances of joy as we can recall from each of these life phases. My hope is that in telling our stories of joy that we can experience them again and help others experience them with us.

How can we increase joy in our lives? Can we? (A)…rabbinic teaching concerning simcha points to the inner self as the source of contentment and joy. “Aizehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko, Who is rich? He that rejoices in his own portion (Avot 4:1).” ibid

So at least part of joy is perspective. What makes our life rich? Joyful? Knowing what is enough. What is enough? No less than we need, no more than we require. This seems to link joy to gratitude. If we have enough, we are grateful for what we have. Our life gains in simplicity since we don’t end up on the constantly promoted hedonic treadmill.

With simplicity, then, we know deep satisfaction. Not only do we have enough, but we do not waste our energy and our worry on getting more. Ah.

Joy yoshitoshiLast week at mussar we had a fascinating conversation on the essential dourness of both Jewish and northern European cultures stimulated by the Norwegian concern that they had won too many medals in the winter Olympics. In both cases happiness, and by correlation, joy, are suspect. Why are you so happy? What makes you think that will last?

In the Jewish instance this trait seems to correlate with the multiple times in Jewish history, starting with slavery in Egypt, that a golden age or at least a comfortable existence had been destroyed by pogroms, the expulsion from Spain, the holocaust. Are you happy now? Just wait.

In the northern European instance it seems to have more to do with seriousness. “For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem. Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; “Dust thou art, to dust returnest,” Was not spoken of the soul.” Psalm of Life, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

early cave painting

early cave painting

Both cultures, in other words, find joy and delight and glee and exultation, ecstasy and exhilaration suspicious at best and distracting at worst. Distracting from what? From the possibility of life’s stability being snatched away in an instance. From the need to keep the shoulder to the grindstone, quite literally. From the guardedness that protects us from disappointment, suffering, pain. Joy may make us vulnerable.

So it’s no wonder that joy is a middot, a character trait that needs cultivation. The soil for it is rocky, like that in our backyard here on Shadow Mountain, at least in these two cultures.

Joy Brown, creative joy

Joy Brown, creative joy

How to do that? I chose to scan my life looking for joyful moments. My hope is that I can begin to identify in the now, embrace them, live in them. Looking at my list (it’s posted here.) I can see some common threads. Intimacy: seeing Orion at night, dogs nuzzling, the mountain night sky full of stars, hugging Kate, hearing from Tom, Bill, Mark, seeing them. Challenging myself: learning Latin, using my sumi-e brushes, grinding ink, having a new idea, reading a new book, writing ancientrails. Letting the world in: driving over Kenosha pass and seeing South Park laid out ahead, the golden aspen among the lodgepoles on Black Mountain, paying close attention to the natural world. Being in community: working with Marilyn and Tara and Anshel, setting up for adult education events at Beth Evergreen, having an idea, sharing it, seeing something happen. Travel: hearing the howler monkeys on the road to Angkor, leaving for a trip, rolling retreats (roadtrips), the earthen smells when getting off the plane on Maui, Kauai, Hawai’i. Inner moments: the moment of mystical connection with the universe in 1967, meditation, remembering the two year old me who learned to walk after polio, mindful cooking.

One track for increasing the joy in my life then would be to seek intimate moments, identify new ways to challenge myself, stay alert and let the world in, continue at Beth Evergreen, travel, allow time to cultivate the inner life.


“On the bright side, simcha is a word laden with exhilaration and festive activities. Simcha expresses not only the joy of an event, but it is also the noun which means a happy event.

A holiday is a simcha, a family gathering is a simcha, a wedding is a simcha, the birth of a child is a simcha and a Bar or Bat Mitvah is a simcha.

The host of an event is a baal simcha and the sound of joy resonating from the event is kol simcha.

Simchat yetzirah, a joy of creativity, is a way to describe the exhilaration one feels while being engaged in a creative process…

(A)…rabbinic teaching concerning simcha points to the inner self as the source of contentment and joy. “Aizehu ashir? Hasameach bechelko, Who is rich? He that rejoices in his own portion (Avot 4:1).” ibid


The Rockies, near home

Imbolc                                                                 Imbolc Moon

Looking east from the summit of Kenosha Pass

Looking east from the summit of Kenosha Pass


Through the Platte Canyon, over Kenosha Pass, onto the highplains of South Park, past Fairplay, into the Collegiate Range and finally to the Liar’s Lodge in Buena Vista on the Arkansas River, not far from Leadville. Picked up Kate and Valerie, two Bernina’s, lots of cloth, a suitcase, cutting boards and other accessories of the sewing life. Also petted Sadie, the dog who greets all who come to Liar’s Lodge, then reversed course through a light snow that made the drive out of Buena Vista picturesque.

About ten miles out of Buena Vista, on a hill, with no traffic in either direction, a man in a black SUV pulled onto the highway into my lane and I had to swerve to miss him. Sent my heart rate up. This is steep, curvy country with so many possible sources of accidents, but this one? Would have been stupid, stupid, stupid. Other than that the drive was uneventful.

Here are a few photographs. I stopped along the way, taking time to look, to see. So much more to explore here in Colorado. And all this is within an hour and a half of home.

The Lazy Bull, South Park

The Lazy Bull, South Park

Tarryall Ranch, now public land. Good fishing.

Tarryall Ranch, now public land. Good fishing.




Imbolc                                                                            Imbolc Moon

Buena_Vista_4676Off to Buena Vista in about an hour. To the Liar’s Lodge. Kate will be there until Monday noon, sewing. A quilting retreat. I’m taking her out and picking her up.

Once we get past Fairplay, about 45 minutes or so west of here on Hwy. 285 and the county seat of Park County, we’ll be in new territory for us. I’m excited to see more of South Park, the large high prairie that begins at the Kenosha Pass. Total trip is around 1 hour and 45 minutes according to Google.


In the Veldt

Imbolc                                                                      Imbolc Moon

bush, South Africa

bush, South Africa

Brief continuation of the post below. Thinking about destinations and journeys some more. A thought triggered by a BF Skinner example of creativity, “A chicken is an egg’s way of making more eggs.” Perhaps destinations are our way of creating journeys. Perhaps destinations exist to insure that we travel, get out of our comfort zones and investigate ourselves on the road.

I don’t know whether it’s still au courant in physical anthropology but there was a theory that travel in the African bush was responsible for our increase in brain size as a species. When we crossed large open spaces while hunting and gathering, we were vulnerable, a predatory species without the usual predatory equipment of fangs, claws, rippling muscles.

The theory was that to stay alive we had to be very good at noticing movement, noticing danger and that that increased work for the brain. The humans or pre-humans who were best at that task survived and presumably selected for large brains. As a result, some have speculated that our brain works best when we’re in motion.

Just thinking out loud here.

Sky. Slope. Rock. Streams. Evergreens. Being in the journey.

Imbolc                                                                               Imbolc Moon

Wanted to mention two internal conversations. Both have occurred while in transit through the mountains.

20150512_141606The first, perhaps the simpler, has been about how to describe our environment in the most economical way possible. I know, I didn’t say it was deep, just persistent. I’ve come to these nouns: sky, evergreens, slope, rock, streams. Yes, it leaves out houses and wildlife, roads and cars. But. The context for life up here can be described using those five words.

The second has been about destinations and journeys. Whenever I leave home, on foot (rare) or in the Rav4, I have a destination in mind. I’m leaving Black Mountain Drive and going to Beth Evergreen or to Jon’s house or to King Sooper or to Dazzle. Something is attractive enough or is needed enough to make me get up, go outside, start the car and go.

Because of these motivations, whatever they are, the journey tends to focus itself on the destination. Not surprising, eh? What do I need to get at the store? Did I remember everything? My wallet. Coffee. Keys. Phone. The destination can infect the entire journey, put us in blinders so that we’re like horses headed to the barn for hay.

Yet. The journey can occupy more time than we spend at our destination. But we view it as incidental and the arrival at the destination the real act. This is not about whether the destination is more important than the journey, the two require each other, rather it’s about intention and attention.

14608842_1689729854679011_2228956598700838196_oIf the present is all we ever have, and it is, then the journeys we take, no matter how mundane, are also the present at the time we are on them. There is no future. We only imagine it. There is no past, it is a memory. There is only this moment, keys clacking, letters and words appearing on the screen, a car going by, Black Mountain and blue sky out the window.

So. What? What I’m trying to do is appreciate the journey for what it is, not as wasted time between this destination and that one, but as an experience sui generis. Our whole life is a journey between emergence and disappearance, how sad it would be if we missed our life along the way.

Big Guys Do Cry

Winter                                                                  New Imbolc Moon

Being sick, even mildly sick as I’ve been for four or five days now, takes me into strange territory. Mortality flits across the mind. All the obituaries that include the phrase, “after a brief illness.” Labile. When I saw this video about Ronnie the Donkey, I cried. And, too, when I read about this special organization, Cayleb’s Senior Dog Rescue. Kate and I donated.

Donkey And His Mom Celebrate Their Emotional Journey    This donkey was so depressed after he lost his baby boy. But the woman who adopted him knew exactly what he was going through and figured out the sweetest way to make him feel at home. Today on Party Animals, Ronnie’s mom is throwing him a very emotional 5th rescue-versary party to celebrate their amazing journey 😍

Posted by Party Animals on Saturday, January 6, 2018

Got to wondering about being labile. Why is that part of illness?

I asked Kate. Less energy to maintain your defenses, she said, in essence.

Castle Dinas Bran, Llangollen, North Wales

Castle Dinas Bran, Llangollen, North Wales

Which raises a second question. Why the defenses? Why would I need to place a barrier between my feelings and my expression of them, especially feelings of tenderness? Is it too difficult for my sanity to rock my inner world? Somehow I don’t think so. It seems more likely that big boys don’t cry. As our president might say, Sad. Why not recognize when the heart softens, when it takes in a moment of love and responds? Why not just go ahead and cry? Tear up.

Maybe one of the functions of illness is to remind us of our heart truth. When the body feels threatened, insulted, perhaps the mind takes the opportunity to reexamine our spot in this world. Perhaps it allows the cultural constructions, the moats and castle walls we put up, to crumble a bit, so we can know they exist. We do tend to forget about those fortifications, the ones built by stereotype, by social convention.

dinas bran. I visited these ruins in 1995.

dinas bran. I visited these ruins in 1995.

We northern Europeans seem to have well-built walls. Perhaps that’s why we can be gulled too easily by ideologues who have burnished their fear of the other, who take their fear and embarrassment as cues for violence rather than compassion. It is a danger we could altogether eliminate, if we let the right feelings in.

As for me, I’m going to try. The moat drained, the walls down. Good. Let them stay that way.

Georgia on their mind

Winter                                                                Moon of the Long Nights



After, all in, SeoAh and Murdoch in the back

After, all in, SeoAh and Murdoch in the back

Rice Cake Soup. And more.

Winter                                                                     Moon of the Long Nights

rice cake soup ddeok-kookYesterday SeoAh taught me how to make rice cake soup. It’s delicious, a good breakfast soup. It has an unusual role in Korean culture. At the New Year, the spring festival, (same time as Chinese New Year), all Koreans eat, with their families, a bowl of rice cake soup. When they’re done, they’re all a year older. The entire nation becomes a year older on the same day, using the same ritual.

The new InongenG3, Kate’s portable O2 concentrator, has refused to charge beyond 16%. Called service and they suggested a hard reset. “Set the unit on the right and the battery on the left of the table. Set an egg timer for thirty minutes. At 30 minutes, plug the unit in for 30 minutes. After that, put the two back together and charge.” Just a bit condescending. Didn’t work the first time. Trying one more time, then this puppy is getting rehomed and  exchanged for a new one.

20171225_162548Kate had a battery of tests, some blood work and a CT scan. The CT scan showed nothing. Which is good since they were looking for a possible pulmonary embolism. She may have a stress test next. The question moves on to cardiac issues. It’s been a tough year for Kate physically, but she’s handled it with calm and resolve. Still more stuff to workout. That damned right shoulder, too.

Joe and SeoAh decided to stay today, leave tomorrow. Joe and I took down the boxes of his stuff that we moved here from Andover. He’s going to sort through them, making a throwaway pile, a keep here pile, and a move to Robbin’s pile. He’ll start by taking some of that last pile tomorrow. He has many, many baseball, basketball, football cards. There are Transformers, a train set, the Great Books, college text books, Christmas decorations, fun things he had on the ledge in his room back in Minnesota. All that between high school and after college stuff.

Auld Lang SyneWe watched the Murdoch detective series last night. The detective is Murdoch the Akita’s namesake. There is a great ease in family relationships of long standing. So much that does not have to be said. So much confidence in the future of those relationships. Holiseason moments abound in these experiences, giving us fuel and stability for the months ahead.

May your days-and nights-be merry and bright, may old acquaintance be recalled and a cup of kindness lifted to them all.


March 2018
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