We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

Hard freeze. 23 this morning with some snow, mostly ice. A neighbor reported on Next Door Shadow Mountain that Shadow Mountain, 285 and even 470 were icy and in thick fog. Bad driving. But, poor conditions for a wildfire. That’s something.

Ode's portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Ode’s portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Feeling a bit down this morning. Nothing 12 days of Kate’s hospitalization + general exhaustion doesn’t explain. We’ve both been thinking about death. She told me yesterday if things go south that her friend (and mine) Jamie Bernstein can take care of all her sewing stuff. I handled that poorly. “I don’t want to hear that. That’s not what you want is it?” “No,” she said. But she had breached that barrier and I pushed it away, out of my own fear, I suppose. Gonna rectify that today.

I’ve slept in our bed now for 12 nights without her there. She’s gone from the house and her absence is palpable, a thing in itself. She’s not on the bench in the morning. Not in her chair in the evening. Her sewing machine is back from the repair folks, but sits still in its rolling container. No hugs. No I love you’s before leaving and on return. Nothing can, in fact, be something.

Thoughts of a permanent absence, death, come easily in this situation. I don’t shove them away, I don’t embrace them. I acknowledge them as the mind running scenarios, what ifs, based on current reality. I also imagine her return, negotiating the steps, setting up the bedroom and the downstairs for her. All part of the I don’t like surprises part of the mind. A survival tool that can seem cold, unfeeling. It’s not. Just stuff that needs consideration, not rejecting.

Yamantanka

Yamantanka

Yamantaka teaches us that considering our own death in an unblinking way can cure our fear of it. I both believe that and believe I have reached that point in my own soul. I suppose there’s an analog here about Kate’s death. Hers is as inevitable as mine. And, considering it doesn’t make it more or less likely. It simply means that I’ve accepted an assured reality though the timing is, as always, unknown.

OK. That’s out in the open. Not an obsession. What’s happening occasionally.

Another hard part right now is odd. On Friday we’ll be at two weeks since Kate went into the E.R. Am I supposed to collect myself, get back in the groove, accept this bifurcated existence, her in medical care, me at home? I definitely have to spend time tomorrow sorting through the bills and starting to pay them. Something she does.

I’ve been cooking, doing laundry, keeping the house picked up, feeding the dogs, playing with them, driving in to see Kate, trying to keep up with the medical information. But, I’ve set aside working out. Gonna pick that back up today or tomorrow. I’ve set aside teaching in the religious school, attending mussar or the adult ed committee. I canceled the first Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler.

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

I’m struggling with what’s a normal response in an abnormal situation. Is it ok to just focus on the domestic, on Kate and on home? Or, do I rob myself of the emotional support I’d get from being back in the mix at CBE? What about the things I’ve agreed to do?

Or, am I too soon in thinking about any of this? How will I know? A sort of strange twilight right now, matters shrunk down to the nub, life at its most basic with questions of health, the future, even death in every moment.

Let me finish with this. I am not depressed. Even my slight down feeling I mentioned earlier has lifted somewhat as I’ve written myself into my current reality, leaving it all out there, not hiding. This is my life and unless my health changes it will be my life until clarity declares itself either toward Kate’s recovery or a continued decline, perhaps even death.

uncertaintyEnd note. I realized as I wrote that last paragraph that a key sticking point right now is uncertainty. Will Kate’s various medical issues resolve? That is, will she get well enough to leave for rehab? If so, when? If she’s in rehab, how long? How much care will she need when she comes home? I’m not wracked by any of these questions, but they illustrate the fundamental issues in play right now, with no clarity about any of them available. That’s what makes knowing how I might react so difficult right now.

 

 

Day 11

Fall                                                                                           Healing Moon

If you’re interested and haven’t found Kate’s Caringbridge website, you can keep up more often on it.

Cream of wheat, she ate the whole thing!

Cream of wheat, she ate the whole thing!

She’s progressing, as I’ve posted there. Her attitude has brightened, she’s eaten solid foods including fish and pasta, and she passed a fitness test that qualifies her for in-hospital acute care rehab. Nausea is still an issue though Ativan seems to knock it back. Now the questions turn to recovery, to discharge. Still not clear even though this is day 11, unusual in these days of get’em outta here hospitalizations.

Annie’s been in to see Kate each day, bought stuffed animals for her, has helped with the dogs and the dishes, made it possible for me to see Kate without worrying about home stuff. Thanks, Annie.

Here’s how it is with me. I’m tired. Even though I’ve been able to extinguish anxiety, at least of a crippling sort, I’m still concerned about what’s happening to Kate, traveling with her along the emotional and physical ups and downs. When I go in to see her, it’s usually six hours plus, sometimes more, before I return home. At the hospital I see many more people than I usually do in a day, wearing for this introvert who’s happy alone most of the time.

Yesterday

Yesterday

All this drains me, of something. Not sure what, exactly, but by the time I get home, reading, do anything with intellectual nuance repels me. I suppose I could do it if I knuckled down, but that’s sort of the point, the draining part of all this takes away my will to buckle down, get more done. That’s part of what I’m allowing to be the case, part of the flow of the chi that I simply acknowledge, accept.

Interestingly, I have found physical labor soothing. On Sunday I went over to Big R and bought a 4x6x3/4 rubber horse stall mat. Kate had this idea a while back to mind the gap between our house and the garage. I mentioned it a few posts back. Got the pallets she wanted and I came up with the idea of using these mats as the surface for the pallets.

A work in progress

A work in progress

Cutting the mat proved a challenge. Getting just one was to see how difficult this was gonna be. Very. I tried a bolt cutter. I tried a hack saw and a miter saw. Then I had what was probably not one of my brightest ideas, the chain saw. It worked. But. The rubber particles produced covered the floor, my eyes (I put on goggles.), and got into the chain saw’s filter, pushing out an acrid, afternoon at the dragstrip sort of smell. Hmm. Better stop.

That was when I decided to check the internet. Oh, a box cutter. I had one, so I used it. It was a little dull and the mat’s are 3/4 inch thick. Not to mention that I’m 71. Difficult. But it worked. I got a somewhat clumsily cut mat that was 44.5 by 44.5, the width of the larger pallets. Plunked it down. These mats by the way are also heavy. “Like moving a body,” said the guy at Big R who loaded it in my Rav4. I’m pleased to say that after the snow and ice of the last two days, it maintained its grippiness and snow removal from it was easy. Two more to go.

If it gets a bit warmer and less inclement, I plan to start splitting wood.

Though when we went to the E.R. a week ago Friday this felt like a sprint, it’s obvious now it’s a marathon. For both of us. We have Beth Evergreen folks and family, other friends. So important at times like these, even for committed introverts (as we both are).

BTW: When I came home yesterday afternoon, the internet was down. I knew that meant we’d had a power outage. A transformer near Aspen Park. The point here: the generator was chugging away, keeping the lights on. Literally. Made me happy I went through all that bullshit to get it installed. Power was out for about 4 hours.

 

Clouds

Fall                                                                              Harvest Moon

20180906_165554Clouds. So. Clouds at 9,000 feet. In Minnesota, in the flatlands, this sounds normal. There they are, fluffy, white, cotton balls against blue. However. When you live at 8,800 feet, clouds at 9,000 feet means fog. Or, like this morning. I drove down to Aspen Park, about 800 feet lower than us. Fog there. Clouds at 8,000 feet. Things considered usual for 69 years now quite different. Odd.

Progress!

Fall                                                                          Harvest Moon

So. A source of the bleed, diverticulitis. Probably multiple episodes over the years. Good news.

To come home she still has to get her hemoglobin up and may have a surgical procedure related to the diverticuli and maybe the gall bladder. Not home tonight or tomorrow night, if surgery, then longer yet. We both feel cautiously optimistic about resolving the nausea and very happy about locating the source of the bleed. We also know, thanks to the multiple scopings of her GI tract, that she has no cancer anywhere from mouth to, well, the other end.

I’m home, taking care of the dogs now. Unless she calls, I’ll go back in tomorrow. She’ll see the GI doc that did the colonoscopy and a GI surgeon. Finally, a bit of progress.

A beautiful, red flag day in the neighborhood. High temps, wind and low humidity. A perfect combination if you’re a forest fire.

 

Mabon, 2018

Mabon                                                                      Harvest Moon

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

Shadow Mtn. Drive, about a mile from home. Black Mtn ahead

As I type the heading here, I can look up and see the aspen groves near the peak of Black Mountain. Like golden islands in a dark green ocean. Part of the ever changing beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

Mabon is the second harvest holiday and comes on the autumnal equinox. (The rising sun has just hit the aspen grove, now it looks like molten gold.) If you lived in a subsistence farming economy, as most humans did in Europe only a few centuries ago, then what happened on and around this holiday would have meant the difference between life and death in the fallow months ahead. No wonder the market days were so important, so filled with ritual and fun.

mabon-greeting-cardWhat did you plant in the first and second phases of your life that’s coming to fruition right now? Tom. Bill. Mark. Paul. Will you dance around a bonfire? Alan. What will sustain you in the fallow months when work in the fields is done? The loves and passions of your earlier life might do it. Might not. Is there a new field, one that can be worked with the experience and skills available to you? What will you harvest in the third phase of your life?

This harvest holiday I’ve been nostalgic about combines and corn pickers, hay balers and grain trucks, the tall elevators waiting for grain, the train cars waiting to move it. That was my flatlander past. What is the new harvest, the one lived among mountains, streams, mule deer and elk?

mabon8

“The Harvest Moon” by Samuel Palmer

Turns out it has some resonance with crops I’ve planted before. Kate. Family. Friends. Writing. Reading. Religion. Art. Music. Dogs. Closeness to the non-human natural world. But, there are also new crops, most new varieties of old ones, new strains. Judaism. The montane ecosystem. Beth Evergreen friends. Noticeable aging. Submitting work, a true harvest. Making art, sumi-e, playing with colors. This pack of dogs: Gertie, Rigel, Kepler. A married Joseph and SeoAh. A divorced Jon. The grandkids.

Someday, soon or late, the reaper will come for me, harvesting another of this strange fruit, humankind. Each day, think of it, that reaper gathers in a new harvest of souls. And how little we know of that harvest. Do our deaths nourish the universe as our harvests in life have nurtured others? Perhaps.

May you have a pleasant and bountiful Mabon season. Harvest home is near. Enjoy it.

 

 

Before the Fall

Lughnasa                                                         Harvest Moon

taken around Beth Evergreen before Yom Kippur services, 2018

20180919_090427 20180919_090827 20180919_090613 20180919_090653 20180919_090935 20180919_091257 20180919_091357 20180919_091017

 

Eternal Return

Lughnasa                                                                Harvest Moon

mabonLughnasa and the Harvest Moon. We are in the season of reaping what has been sown. From the first of August or so until Samain on October 31st gathering in is the main theme on the Great Wheel. The fall equinox, Mabon, is near. September 22nd. It comes with the Harvest Moon, that fluke of planetary dynamics that has lit up farm fields at just the right moment for as long humans have been farming.

No longer a Midwesterner, I don’t see the combines in the long rectangles of wheat, the corn pickers going through the tall stands of sturdy green, the hay balers saving alfalfa and timothy for feed. There are no ads here for hay rides through the apple orchards, no pick your own gardens for late season fruits. That sort of agriculture depends on rain and once past the 100th parallel, oops now the 105th as the arid West creeps eastward across the Great Plains, average rainfall becomes less, often much less than 20 inches a year.

Here fall and Mabon announce themselves in the gold of the aspen, jewel like groves set among larger stands of forever green lodgepole pine. Along the mountain streams Maxwell, Cub, Bear some dogwood flashes bright red. Low lying marshy areas turn a green gold and the cattail spikes stand proudly. Too, the mule deer and elk begin to come down from their summer fields, following food. There will be, in a week or two, the elk rut, with that strangled sound the bull elks make, a bugle. There will also be many more tourists here this week and next. The come for the jewels on the mountain sides, scenes I can see from my study window.

great wheel3The Great Wheel turns, but its turning is the original local expressing a universal. Here the golden aspen in the Midwest the great harvest machines lumbering through fields. In the Midwest stunning colors here a dichromatic palette. How the harvest season manifests depends on weather and here in the Rockies altitude. Pikes Peak and Mt. Rosalie near Bailey, for instance, have already had their first snow, passing out of the harvest season.

The expression of the season also depends on the plant species that have adapted themselves to a particular locale. One dominant deciduous tree, the aspen, makes our montane ecosystem much different from the remnants of the great woods that dominates the Midwest. Then there are the animals. Pheasants in the Dakotas and Nebraska. Elk and mule deer on the Front Range. Coordinates matter, too. Fall is different here at latitude 39 degrees than in, say, Warroad, Minnesota at 49 degrees. The other marker, the longitude, we’ve already referred to.

green knight

green knight

I celebrate the turning of the wheel, await its changes with anticipation. There is comfort, at least to me, in the regularity and predictability of the seasons. They tell me that time is not linear, that it is instead a spiral, cork-screwing its way through spacetime. They tell me that eternal return is written into the way of the universe, that even our life and its mayfly like time compared to the mountains on which I live, is, too, part of a great coming and going, a leaving and coming home. Somehow, through some mechanism now hidden to me, this life I’ve lived will matter and its significance, like your own, will revisit humanity, tempered and changed by the seasons of the universe. I suppose, in this way, we are all immortal, at least until the cold death of this cosmos. But, perhaps, even in that case, we will live on in one of the infinite multiverses, offering our harvest of human consciousness to feed other souls.

 

The Journey, It’s Always About the Journey

Lughnasa                                                           Waning Summer Moon

The first day of our Latin American cruise

The first day of our Latin American cruise

We may be inching toward a diagnosis for Kate’s nausea. As successive hunches and medical tests have identified nothing wrong with her G.I. tract, trés frustrating, one of Kate’s early notions might turn out to be correct.

She saw her rheumatologist, Dr. Westerman, yesterday and he conceded that gastroparesis may be the cause of her nausea. It’s a bugger. Something, usually unknown, causes the stomach to lose its motility. The result is that the stomach does not empty as well, sometimes, in severe instances, not at all. Weight loss, malnutrition, lack of appetite. All symptoms, all one’s she has.

Still, knowing the cause would mean we can begin to adjust things like diet for her. If gastroparesis turns out to be right, there are other things we can do, too, including possible experimental drugs.

this morning

this morning

Rain and chill here this morning, 43 and gray as the sky begins to lighten. All rain is welcome. Sleeping is much better with the cooler nights.

I zoomed again yesterday, this time with Jen Kraft of Moving Traditions (the b’nai mitzvah curriculum), Alan, Rabbi Jamie, and Tara Saltzman, director of religious education at Beth Evergreen. We were nailing down roles and expectations for the first night of religious school, tonight. My anxiety level has gone down as we approach the actual launch, which means I’ve prepared as well as I can. After that, inshallah.

hiit2Getting back to five days a week exercise. Always feel better. Trying to regain my former high intensity workouts on the off days from resistance work. These workouts increase cardiac fitness, important especially in the mountains. In my case I do two five minute sets, varying speeds each minute from medium intensity (30 seconds), high intensity (20 seconds), and as fast as possible (10 seconds), with a two minute rest between them. I like high intensity because it’s effective and short in duration.

625448_164319917056179_937468223_nLooked into stamina after last week’s exhausting day at CBE with Alan. Discovered that I’m doing, mostly, what can be done. The part I’d let drift away was the high intensity workout. So, I’ll return to that. But, the real message is that stamina decreases with age, even with good sleep, decent diet and exercise.

What’s happening for Kate and me, I think, is a difficult and grudging acceptance of certain physical changes. It’s easy, and understandable, to focus on what’s wrong, to look for the better tomorrow if only we can do this or that. Yet, and it’s a big yet, I feel there may be a tricky, more important, and nuanced reaction available. We need to also concentrate on what we can do well, even given the limitations of stamina and chronic medical conditions.

Back in the long ago faraway I went through a series of therapists, one a guy, Brian, I really liked. He was a former Catholic priest, insightful and well-educated. But, his approach, existentialist psychology, focused on what was wrong. Each session we would identify problems and seek solutions, changes in behavior or inner narrative. Each session. Problems, work for solutions. Always what was wrong, what needed to change.

Abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain supreme peaceI finally realized that a problem oriented therapeutic approach kept me trapped in a continuing circle of what’s wrong? What do I need to do? How can I change? In other words my life was always problematic. Like whack a mole for psychological issues. No relief, just unending work on what was wrong. What was wrong was me.

Nope. Needed to get out from under that weight, accentuate the resources I had, the strong parts. I needed a therapeutic approach (and, a concomitant approach to myself) that found strengths, that put my struggles in the broader context of a life that was not a problem, not a puzzle, but a human journey. Jungian psychology and John Desteian did that for me. What a relief and I finally got movement in my inner life.

yourselfKate and I, I think, are at a similar cross roads. We need to accentuate the resources, the strengths that we each have, and they are considerable. Loss of stamina and chronic diseases (which we both have) are part of our lives, yes, but they are not our lives. Our lives are about sewing, quilting, the board at CBE, old friends, grandchildren, sons, our life together. They’re about writing and teaching and hiking and reading. About filling our days with purpose and love. Death is a certainty, but we don’t have to reach for it. It will come for us, in its own time. Until then, carpe diem!

 

Gifts. All day long.

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

Rigel and Kepler

Rigel and Kepler

What gifts did I get yesterday? The first question before I go to sleep. Woke up, emerged from unconsciousness to consciousness. Breathed the whole night long. Kate was next to me, sleeping, my partner. Kepler was, as always, happy to see me wake up. He rolls over so I can scratch his stomach, his tail goes up into happy mode. As the morning service says, the orifices that needed to open, opened, and closed when appropriate. There was water at the tap, always a gift in this arid climate. The meds that my doc has prescribed to help me extend my health span got washed down with some.

Gertie and Rigel were happy to see me, coming up for a nuzzle and a lean. The air was cool and the stars still out. Shadow Mountain stayed stable underneath me. The carrier brought the Denver Post and we read the collective work of its reporters, recorded by the printers on newsprint made most likely in Canada.

the loft

the loft

When I went up to the loft, I got on this computer, using electricity supplied by the Inter Mountain Rural Electric Association. As the sun came up, our own solar panels began translating its energy that traveled 93 million miles, generated by the powerful nuclear fusion of our star. My mind is still sharp enough to put words together, thoughts. My hands still nimble enough to pound the keyboard.

All these gifts and we’re only at about 6 am. The list goes on throughout the day. Kate at the table when I go down for breakfast. The workout created by my personal trainer. Time to nap. A mussar class focused on tzedakah and zaka, how can we purify our soul by gifting resources to others. A car that runs on gas brought here by oil tanker, trucks, a gift from the plant and animal life of long ago, crushed into liquid form by the power of geological processes. Back to Beth Evergreen for the second time for the annual meeting.

There the gifts of people, relationships built and nurtured over the last few years, granting both of us the opportunity to be seen, known, and the chance to offer who we are and what we have. Finally, the cycle ends with a return to sleep, to unconsciousness. Hard to avoid gratitude after doing this sort of exercise each night.

A True North

Lughnasa                                                                Waning Summer Moon

Still thinking about the north. In 1969 Judy and I left Connersville, Indiana, headed toward Appleton, Wisconsin. In my mind the landscape would be pine trees, glistening lakes, deer, lots of people in plaid shirts. Maybe still a lumberjack or two. Jack London’s White Fang, Call of the Wild, Sea-Wolf, Burning Daylight had made me a distant fan of a place closer to the Arctic, one where the wildness of our planet had not been consumed by factories and roads.

Burning DaylightTurns out the Fox River Valley was not that place. The Fox River which runs from the Green Bay through Appleton and finally into Lake Winnebago had no available oxygen for aquatic life thanks to years of dairies and paper mills, two of the worst polluters, dumping effluent. But you could see this north from there. In the Fox River Valley it manifested itself in a tortured way through snowmobile culture and the annual ritual of the deer hunt. Both were violent and dangerous. On winter nights the lights of snowmobiles rake the roadways and countrysides as riders drive their vehicles alongside the roads from bar to bar for a shot and a beer. It was often said that grudges got settled during deer season.

White Fang’s north also announced itself in the weather. That winter we had two feet of snow in one storm, an amazement to this long time Hoosier, resident of an agricultural and industrial belt that had confused seasons often with slush and ice storms in place of winter, northern winter. I learned about engine block heaters. Temperatures dropped to way, way below zero. And stayed there.

LondonWisconsin was a bad experience for me. Judy and I had married at 21 and 17. I had graduated from college that spring and had no idea what to do next. So. Get married. By Appleton neither one of us were sure why we’d said yes to the other. The long winter nights found us drinking beer by the case and playing sheepshead with Judy’s family. Her father, a convinced alcoholic, and I, just getting started in my addiction, didn’t really get along. He was a snowmobile racer, a deer hunter, an ink salesman and a Packer fan. I had little interest in any of those things. Our only common ground was his daughter.

By 1970 I’d found myself withering in Appleton. Too much alcohol. Judy and I had agreed on an open marriage, it was the sixties after all, but when she acted on it, I discovered I hadn’t meant it. I had three jobs in Appleton: life insurance salesman (never sold a policy, lasted three months), a baker making bread and pound cakes, but getting to work at 4 a.m for $1.50 an hour lost its charm quickly, and, finally, as a rag cutter at the Fox River Valley Paper Company. This was a distinct change from studying anthropology and philosophy, fighting the establishment. And not a good one.

Seminary took me to Minnesota, where I did find my true north, not in New Brighton, of course, but up north in the boreal forest, among the 10,000 glaciated lakes and on the shores of Lake Superior. This was Burning Daylight territory. I stayed for forty-five years.

Burntside Lake, Ely

Burntside Lake, Ely

While up north, from 1969 to 2014, I discovered the insular nature of this land. The long blue ellipse of Lake Michigan made Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Upper Midwest, lack a through route to the West. We were not on the way to anywhere. You had to want to go up there for some reason and most folks in the U.S. chose not to. Nothing there unless you fished or hunted or had business or family. Cold, too. Brutal winters. As far north as most folks got was Detroit or Chicago.

Especially distant, especially unknown were the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota with the Iron Range, the Arrowhead region, Lake Superior, Voyageurs National Park, the BWCA, Warroad. It is a culture that has some common ground, snowmobiles, snowshoes, ice fishing, hiking, mineral extraction, cross-country skiing, but little integration even with the states in which they lie. What integration there is tends to be that of tourist destination and tourist though of course the Iron Range and the copper mines of the Keweenaw, the laker supported transport of the Great Lakes, and such cities as Duluth, Superior, Sault St. Marie, and Marquette attract citizens as well as visitors.

Now living in a region dominated by the story of the vanishing frontier, the Indian wars, the cowboy, mountains, and the false allure of unbridled freedom, the north country has receded from view again. It is far away, not on the way to anywhere most choose to go, and largely unknown. Yet it still feeds my imagination and my memories there are warm and many. No, I never mushed a dogsled to take medicine to a plague ridden village isolated by a blizzard (Sergeant Renfrew of the Canadian Mounted Police), but I did mush a dogsled. I never caught a muskie or a lake trout, but I did spend many happy hours picking blueberries in the late August sun. It was the north of my Jack London induced fantasy and I loved it. As I now do the Rockies.

 

 

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