We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

I Care

Lughnasa                                                                            Harvest (new) Moon

20170919_170415

Yesterday, after Ruth’s cross country meet, Kate and I drove over to a Vietnamese restaurant we like on Federal Avenue. A Jeep ahead of us had a full size flag flying from a flagpole attached to the back bumper. It read “American Truckers.” When we got closer at a stoplight, I noticed this strange juxtaposition of bucolic pastime and outright hate speech. It was chilling to me that someone would find, purchase, then choose to display on their rear window such a message.  As DJT might say, Sad!

 

A new moon

Lughnasa                                                                          Harvest (New) Moon

By NASA - Global plate motion 2008-04-17

By NASA – Global plate motion 2008-04-17

The disaster (Eclipse) moon has finally waned completely as we enter two days of new moon, the Harvest Moon. Not, however, without more disaster. Puebla, Mexico got hit by an earthquake, 7.1, that also shook Mexico City. And Maria, the third category 5 hurricane under the Eclipse moon, smashed her way toward Puerto Rico while Jose, a former category 4, may make trouble for New England as a category 1. It’s ironic that an eclipse on August 21st, a sign of doom for many thousands of years, marked the beginning of a month with so much misery. It is confirmation bias, right?

We need the Harvest moon. It’s a sign of hope, a welcome source of light for combines and corn pickers throughout the Midwest. The Harvest moon is the moon nearest the autumnal equinox which occurs this Friday at 2:02 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. Those of us with roots in the agricultural center of the U.S. know this is a time for farmers to work hard, the success or failure of a year often determined right now. In the plains states, if a journey takes you across, say, I-80, you could see wheat fields full of combines, contract crews that go from state to state, province to province, gathering the bounty.

As fall progresses, so do certain sports. Baseball ends its summer and prepares for the Fall Classic. The NFL is now two games into its season, banging brains in major cities across the U.S. College and high school football does the same. It’s also cross country season. Joseph ran cross country for St. Paul Central in his high school days back in the late 1990’s. Granddaughter Ruth continues that family tradition. Here she is, crossing the finish line yesterday afternoon in Sheridan, Colorado.

 

Awesome

Lughnasa                                                                                       Eclipse Moon

OzymandiasThe last night of the Eclipse Moon, a disastrous month for North America from the eclipse to its waning moment. The wildfires are still burning in the West from the state of Washington to California, in Oregon and Montana and Idaho. Harvey and Irma related disaster cleanup has only begun. The same in southern Mexico for the victims of the 8.1 earthquake. Jose is still pounding around in the Atlantic and Maria, now a category 5, has just shattered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and is headed for Martinique and Puerto Rico. It’s not the apocalypse, no, but for those whose homes and forests are on fire, under water, battered by wind or destroyed by the movement of the earth, it may as well be.

Awe is not confined to the benign, the amazing and wonderful. Each of these disasters, both in their gestalt and in their particulars, and as a collection of events, is awesome. They show the limits of human preparation, of human intervention. We are not, even with our nuclear weapons and our space station and our icebreakers, more than bystanders when these acts of earth strike us. We even have a name for them, force majeure, enshrined in insurance policies.

Nations and civilizations rise and fall, but earth, air, fire and water continue in their eternal way, or, at least as long as the earth herself lasts, to do what they want, when they want, where they want.

We are, in the end, Ozymandias, look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair.

How can we remember?

Lughnasa                                                                  Eclipse Moon

Large Wildfires burning now

Large Wildfires burning now

We’re still under the Eclipse moon that brought us totality across the U.S. That same moon has now shone on Harvey, as he devastated the western Caribbean, then Texas, and Irma, as she moves through the eastern Caribbean on her way to landfall in Florida. Meanwhile, Jose, another Category 4 storm is following Irma’s path for now and Katia, a Category 2, is going ashore in the Mexican state of Veracruz. An earthquake 8.1 on the Richter scale struck southern Mexico on the Pacific side shaking much of the nation.

Lost in the darkness of totality, the shaking of Mexico and the powerful winds, rains and storm surge of the hurricanes, at least on national news, are the wildfires rushing through the forests of the West. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 8,081,369 acres had burned in the U.S. from Jan. 1 through Sept. 9. This well exceeds the average from the last ten years for the same time period: 5,558,384 acres. Worryingly, the average number of fires per year over the same Jan thru Sept period is 50,857. The number of fires in 2017 so far is 47,854. Fewer fires and more acreage burned means larger fires with more destructive potential. These are the megafires Michael Kodas has written about in his book of that name, published last week.

Warning today for Irma

Warning for Irma

The Eclipse Moon of 2017, its lunar month, might well change its name to disaster moon. My mind often feels overwhelmed by the magnitude of the catastrophes during the month of the Eclipse Moon. I’m able to notice them as they present themselves, but unable to hold my attention on any but the most recent, most horrific news.

This is a problem because each of these disasters: hurricane, earthquake, wildfire brings devastation to wide swaths of land, over multiple populations, concentrated and rural. The news predicts their coming, at least in the case of wildfires and hurricanes, then sends out pictures and text of their immediate, painful encounter with whatever is in their path. But this season, the wildfire this time has been followed by the hurricane now and the earthquake, then more hurricanes. And the critical phase, the recovery and rebuilding phase, does not begin until the event has finished.

all oneThis means that across North America, in Mexico, the U.S., the Caribbean and Canada we have centers of destruction that have not even begun to pick up the debris and sort through wreckage before the next catastrophe has hit. Millions of people, millions of acres of land, buildings, millions of wild animals are suffering and will continue to suffer. Right now. Which one has priority? How do we marshal our collective resources across so wide a swath of pain?

Perhaps an even better question is, how do hold in our hearts and minds all of these, the burned forests, lost homes and devastated wildlife? The buildings and lives inundated by waters from the Atlantic and Caribbean displaced by wind and rain. The cities and towns and villages gripped by a moving earth. Will we go forward from the month of the disaster moon, watch football, go back to school, prepare our homes for winter and forget about them?

 

The High Road

Lughnasa                                                                  Eclipse Moon

summit lake park, the highest city park in North America

summit lake park, the highest city park in North America

In fact, the highest paved road in North America. Which happens to be only 46 miles from our front door, the Mt. Evans Road. It’s a joint project of the Denver Parks System and the National Park Service with the NPS controlling admission to the road leading to the summit and DPS controlling access to three fee areas: Mt. Goliath (bristlecone pines at the krummholz level), Summit Lake, which is a clear mountain lake with a small glacier poised high above it on Mt. Evans, and the summit itself.

Last year Ruth and I drove up, but were too late to get any further than Summit Lake, the road continuing on past there closed for the season. This year, today, Ruth and I went again. This time we made it all the way to the top. But. The Mt. Evans Road closes every year the day after Labor Day and the summit had a huge number of people with the same idea we had. I knew it would be that way, but it was an incremental improvement over last year.

mt. goliath natural area

mt. goliath natural area

Next year, during the week, early in the morning in June, July or August. It opens on Memorial Day, if, that is, it has no snow.

The road itself, especially the segment after Summit Lake is narrow and, as the orange sign said, Damaged. That makes crawling up and down it with others entertaining. The downhill side of the road, which shifts as it snakes its way up and down the mountain, has no barrier and for much of the road virtually no shoulder.

Since Colorado has many bikers, both bicyclists and motorcyclists, sharing the road with a car in the other lane and a bicycle or two can be challenging. Not to mention the road damage which can include, and in fact often did today, chunks of road missing, eroded away. This phenomenon almost always presented itself on the downhill side of the road. So there’s that big SUV pushing its way up, you’re on the way down, a good long drop with plenty of over and over and over and over again potential if you make the wrong move, and a bicyclist or two, bless their VO2 maxed out hearts, struggling up or down. Yowza.

In visiting it next year I plan to visit it as a mountain deity, one which took my breath away today, even sitting in my internal combustion powered chair. Mt. Evans is our weather god, altering the flow and intensity of weather patterns as they come from the west and cross the continental divide not far away. The result, in our little Evansonian microclimate, is increased precipitation both winter and summer, but more in the winter. Remember that 200 inches plus we had the second winter we were here? Mt. Evans for the assist.

Mt Evans Summit

Mt Evans Summit

There was one mountain goat visible to me today. Improbably it was standing among a bunch of hikers above the Meyer-Womble Observatory, which, until an Indian Observatory opened in 2001 was the highest operating telescope in the world. Apparently the mountain goats lick the soil on the summit to obtain needed salts.

If you ever visit during the summer, let’s go. I’m always up for a visit to the mountain top.

Here on Sufferance

Lughnasa                                                               Eclipse Moon

20170519_060312Vast, blue sky with puffy white clouds. Jagged mountains and flat plains, forests and wildlife. Wildfire. Snow, rivers, a few lakes. Air, earth, fire and water. The West is so elemental. It’s no wonder that it has enlivened the imagination of those who visit it or read about it, yet is so difficult a place to live. Here the natural world apart from the built world (also natural in its way) dominates. The cities like Denver and Salt Lake City, Cheyenne and Boise, Vegas, Tucson, Phoenix are islands, admittedly big islands, but islands nonetheless, of concentrated human habitat. They disappear around the bend of a mountain pass, or are obscured by arid land with few towns.

It is obvious that we humans are here on sufferance, ravaged by fire, made thirsty by drought in an already arid land, moving slowly even in our cars and trucks across mountain reaches, unable to grow enough to eat. It is, I think, this stark contrast between the wealth and power of human civilization humbled by the land and the sky that makes the west mythic, much like northern Minnesota and Michigan.

The west has begun to seep into my bones, become my home. I live here and have begun to feel it, the place. Still learning, though.

 

Working

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

hell2Moving forward, slowly, with Jennie’s Dead. Exploring the religion of the ancient Egyptians, trying to avoid hackneyed themes, not easy with all the mummy movies, Scorpion King, Raiders of the Lost Ark sort of cinema. Jennie’s Dead is not about Egypt, ancient or otherwise, but it plays an important role in the plot. Getting started is difficult, trying to sort out where the story wants to go, whether the main conflict is clear, to me and to the eventual reader.

Also moving forward, also slowly, with Reimagining. The pile of printed out posts has shrunk considerably, now filed. As I’ve gone through them, I read them a bit, for filing purposes. One notion that jumped out at me was my turn away from text-based religions, from the sort of quasi-scholastic reasoning that occurs.

image of godAs Emerson said, “Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”

I guess Emerson and I had the same quandary. We love the ancient texts, their poetry and philosophy, yet do not want to be bound by them. We want our poetry and revelation straight from the source, nature and the human experience of our own time. Yet, it seems to me, we’re both informed in our search for the poetry of existence by the way those seekers of the past found revelation in their time. Surely the logic of wanting our own revelation grounds itself in the stories of Genesis, the work of Moses, the resurrection story of Jesus, even the night flight of Muhammad and the whirling cosmic dance of Shiva.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThis means I’m in a curious position relevant to my own education in the Christian tradition and my new education, underway now, in the older faith tradition of Judaism. Both are normative, in their way, but not as holy writ. Rather, they are normative in a more fundamental sense, they reveal the way we humans can discover the sacred as it wends and winds its way not only through the universe, but through history.

We may not, in other words, be bound by their philosophy and insight, the history of their revelation, yet how the ancients made themselves open to the whispers and shouts of the sacred, how they received its insights and what use they made of it in their lives, those shape us because we are the same vessel, only thrown into a different time.

Arthur_Szyk_(1894-1951)._The_Holiday_Series,_Rosh_Hashanah_(1948),_New_Canaan,_CTThis is a similar idea to that of the reconstructionists, but not the same. Reconstructionists want to work with a constantly evolving Jewish civilization, grounding themselves in Torah, mussar, kabbalah, shabbat, the old holidays, but emphasizing the work of building a Jewish culture in the current day, reconstructing it as Jews change and the world around them changes, too. I’m learning so much from this radical idea.

2695406589_2517d8b0f2What I want to do though, and it’s a similar challenge, is to reimagine, for our time and as a dynamic, the way we reach for the sacred, the way we write about our experience, the way we celebrate the insights and the poetry it inspires. In this Reconstructionist Judaism is a better home for me than Unitarian Universalism. UU’s may have the same goal, but their net is cast into the vague sea of the past, trying to catch a bit from here and a bit from there. It is untethered, floating with no anchor. Beth Evergreen affirms the past, the texts of their ancestors, their thousands of years of interpretation, the holidays and the personal, daily life of a person shaped by this tradition, but also recognizes the need to live those insights in an evolving world.

 

American Values

Lughnasa                                                                         Kate’s Moon

Indiana_Klan_percentageThe alt-right and Charlottesville, Virginia. Many said this violence doesn’t represent American values. Horsepuckey, as we used to say.

In Alexandria, Indiana, my hometown, we had full-sheeted KKK folk handing out membership applications near the Curve pizza place. In my era the John Birch society was big, its Get US out of the UN billboards in highly visible evidence. There were also the Minutemen, an early militia movement.

Just north of Alexandria about 20 miles is Marion, Indiana where my father worked for several years. A notorious lynching occurred there in 1930. Strangely, years later in St. Paul, Minnesota I made friends with Clarence Davis whose ancestor was one of those lynched.

I can extend this circle of hate to Elwood, Indiana, 7 miles to the west, which had, in my memory, signs that read, No Niggers In Town After Sundown, taken down only after the 1964 civil rights act.

What’s really unnerving is that this was a microcosm, I know these things because I grew up in this general area. Take other 20 mile diameter circles and lay them down over the rest of Indiana, of Illinois, of Iowa, certainly of the south. You could find similar histories, each with their own marks of this violent and oh so American overbelly.

 

 

Fire and Fury. Big, big trouble.

Lughnasa                                                                               Kate’s Moon

My family’s Asian pivot began decades ago when Mary went to an Indiana University campus in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She’s still in Asia, though now for a long time in Singapore, thirty years or so later. Brother Mark began teaching English as a second language and worked in Taiwan, then in Thailand and Cambodia. He was in Southeast Asia over twenty years and still considers Bangkok his refuge, if not his home. In 1981 Raeone and I welcomed a four-pound, four-ounce baby boy into our home from Calcutta, India. That boy turns 36 this fall. In 2016, after a year long deployment in Korea, Joseph married SeoAh, a native born Korean he met in a coffee shop in Seoul.

SeoAh’s family lives in the south of Korea near Gwangju. Better, I thought, than being in Seoul under the current circumstances, but Joseph says no. He knows far better than I do. This means that all the saber rattling going on between two tyrants with low impulse control is personal. We have family literally in the way of any outbreak of violence.

 

 

 

Less Angry

Midsommar                                                                 Kate’s Moon

johari windowOn the last night of kabbalah a classmate, Cece, chose for her presentation an exercise involving the Johari window. She had this model (illustration) with blank quadrants for each of us. We filled in 3-6 adjectives in the hidden self quadrant, then passed the paper to our left and others added adjectives in the open self quadrant.

It’s a powerful exercise when done in a safe setting. It was powerful here even though many of us had only the other 5 nights of our kabbalah class as baselines for our observations. The information other people give us about ourselves is key to life in groups, but most of the time the feedback involves glances, body language, or indirect observations. Getting direct information about how others see us can increase intimacy and trust. Not to mention that it’s just interesting.

PEACE DYERToo long introduction to the point. One of the others in the group wrote on my sheet, less angry. There were four people in the class who know me from the mussar class on Thursday afternoon and probably remember my agitation after the 2016 election. I was not and am not a happy U.S. citizen, but something has changed for me. I’m not sure what changed, but I am less angry, though I hadn’t realized it.

I did surprise myself a couple of weekends ago when we were in Glenwood Springs with Lonnie and Stefan. Over lunch they both expressed understandable and referented anger at Trump, at the decline of civility, at the danger facing our democracy. “He meets the definition of a fascist.” Stefan said.

“An election can fix most of what’s being done in Washington right now,” I replied. Stefan had quoted an Italian friend from Florence who said, “We had ours (Berlusconi) and know you have yours.” I agreed with that, going on, “Yes, the nativist and alt-right type movements are strong on the continent, but France just turned them back. And, Hillary won the popular vote here.”

peace“Well, what does that mean?” Lonnie asked, “The system elected Trump.” “The electoral college, yes.” I said, “But more people, some 3 million more, rejected him. He does not have a mandate.”

I think the gridlock and deadlock in D.C. right now reflects that rejection. We are a divided people, yes, but we’ve been divided before. We’re still the strongest economy in the world though by some measures China is catching up. Point is, I was voicing a don’t panic, don’t despair attitude toward our current political mess. I agree with the analysis that Trump is a disaster for our country. There’s no question that he and the Republicans are trying to take us to places as a people that are despicable and mean. True that.

But my anger at all of this has been tempered over the last couple of months. I’m just not as reactive. And I like feeling this way. My analysis has not changed, at least not much. I still view both parties as agents of a rapacious capitalism that creates false gods, false gods on whose altars their worshippers would sacrifice the very lives of our citizens. Just look at the idea of “reforming” Obamacare by gutting Medicaid.  With Medicaid expenditures out of the way, their plan goes, draconian tax cuts for the wealthy won’t break the Federal budget. Evil.

soul-mate-heartI still believe that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. But for me, how to be part of the solution has changed, I think. Long, long ago I realized that my anger toward my father, whether justified or not, was hurting only me. Not him. I set it aside. Somehow the same realization occurred to me about politics and only recently. So, I set that anger aside, too.

Now the question for me is how to be part of the solution. I’ve always had a straight line approach to radical politics. Join up with others, focus on an issue at the root of a social ill and work until something good happens. It’s a strategy that has worked for me over and over since the mid-1960’s. I’m moving in a different direction now.

beautifulThis is in part a third phase change. The angry young radical has aged. I can see the finish line from here and want to make the time before my death as fruitful, loving and creative as I can. Anger interferes. I want to write, to spend time with Kate and Jon and Ruth and Gabe and Joe and Seoah, with friends at Beth Evergreen, friends from Minnesota, Mark and Mary. I want to study Latin, kabbalah, China, art. I want to hike in the mountains, travel this state, see the solar eclipse. Obsessing over the insults to our body politic just doesn’t seem useful to me right now.

spiritual-enlightenment-spiritualityLiving well is a political statement I need to make. Politics, in other words, though crucial to our common life, is not the only component of a life well lived and should not be allowed to interfere with the very goal of politics itself: a decent life for all. In my case I’ve often allowed that interference and right now I’m saying enough. The priority for me, now, is this smaller life, the domestic and semi-public life of family and learning and creativity. Feels calmer, more livable, more age appropriate.

 

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