Friendship. Solitude. Memories.

Samain and the Fallow Moon

The 32nd Woolly Mammoth retreat. Or, so. Happening near Stillwater, Minnesota at Dunrovin retreat center. Soon. The topic: Friendship and Solitude. The last full retreat I attended was in 2015 shortly after my prostate cancer diagnosis. Given the recency of our move to Colorado and the shock of that news that retreat was especially important for me.

Friendship and the Woollies. In many ways the Woollies, my men’s group for over 30 years, was a tutorial in alternative methods of male friendship. We did not bond over the Vikings, not even the Packers. We didn’t start out as a poker night or a hunting group or as fishing buddies. The Woollies were an outgrowth of the Men’s Movement, furthered in Minnesota by Robert Bly, yes, that Robert Bly, in particular.

We learned that friendship could be nurtured through intimacy, with each other. Not a shocker, I know, but far from the norm when men gather for just about anything. In the early years we had retreat topics like Fathers, Mothers, Death, Pilgrimage.

During the year we met on the first Monday and the third Monday of every month. That was another learning. Friendship requires commitment and work. Frank always took March so he could serve corned beef and cabbage in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. This honored Frank’s Irish blood, not the Roman Catholic Church. At Scott’s Yin would put out a Chinese meal and until her death, Yin’s mother, Moon, would help. At other homes it was soup, or barbecue, or turkey chili. We would eat together, then have a meeting on a topic the host chose.

On the first Monday we would gather at a restaurant, in the early years at the Black Forest in Minneapolis. We talked about that son, the Asperger’s one, who was difficult. Or, the movie we’d just seen. Might have been Spirited Away or a blockbuster. Sometimes work, but most often about relationships.

At Villanova, a Catholic retreat center on the Mississippi, there was a lunar eclipse. Our retreats then were usually in January. A group of us went outside around midnight and stood in the snow and well below zero weather to watch the moon turn red. Another January retreat at Valhelga, a family retreat center designed by Woolly Stefan Helgeson, the temperature was -30. The Minnesota January was part of our year.

Now I meet once a month with five of these men using Zoom the video conferencing software. These friendships are lifelong. Amazingly, for a group of ten men, none of us have died though two are into their eighties.

Solitude. Mostly introverts. Solitude preferred. One Woolly moved to northern Maine. Paul. I moved to the Rocky Mountains. Jimmie, though not an introvert, is in South Dakota. Another, Charlie, lives on a lake in northwestern Wisconsin. There is a Woolly diaspora and where we chose to live reflects the preference for solitude.

Solitude accepts our inner life as worthy. Necessary. It’s about nurturing a friendship with whoever narrates your life right now. It allows us to grow as individuals, to honor ourselves, and be able to honor others.

Perhaps I would have added memory to this retreat topic. Friendship and Solitude are complementary for sure. But it is the memories that bind us together. The broomball on the ice at Valhelga. The visits to Richard Bresnahan’s pottery studio at St. John’s Monastery. Meals at the Black Forest, Christo’s, Sawatdee. Frank’s ongoing hate affair with the Roman Catholic Church. Warren’s articles on aging written as a reporter for the Star-Tribune. That one guy that got shot at by his wife. The night we ate in what turned out be a former Nazi military commander’s house, ironically in the very Jewish suburb of St. Louis Park.

My friends, my brothers, the Woollies. Then, now. Forever.

Fall and the Rosh Hashanah Moon

Kep in the loft
Gertie

Worked out yesterday. Was sleeping really well, really well. Until. Cold noses in my face. Yes, Kep. Yes, Gertie. A yip from Gertie. Kep jumps up on my legs. OK, OK, give me a minute. Forces head back onto pillow, hopes the dogs will disappear for about fifteen minutes. Nope. All right, all right, I’m getting up. Geez. 4:30. Right on time, but no slack for a tired dad.

Rigel, “Who, me?”

Kate had a dentist appointment in the morning. We took Gertie and Rigel with us since it’s cooling down up here. I drive because her ability to walk very far has diminished. I can put the car as close as possible to the entrance. She came out with brighty whities.

requires moving 5 tons of river rock. 10,000 pounds.

We’re scheduled for an absurd temperature drop on Thursday along with some snow. Hope the cold and snow calm down the extreme fire conditions we’ve had for the last month or so.

The CBE Mitzvah committee may help with my fire mitigation. My energy level for doing it is low. My desire to get it done is high. Susan convinced me that she might find some folks willing to help in some way. Here’s my e-mail to her after we talked:

Susan,

How I feel most days.

I needed your directness. It’s tough for me to ask for any help, ever. I know, I know, I’m a guy. Partly that. Partly, too, I want to do as much as I can as long as I can. It’s about love.

I promise when I wear out, before I wear out, I’ll give you a call. Right now I’m really fine. Except for that fire mitigation stuff.

It has surprised me how much having people out there that care matters. As you say, just knowing that is so much.

I’m pretty self-reliant, one of those blessing and curse sorta things, but I’ve always needed friends and community. Beth Evergreen is both. And, more.

So, gratitude to you, to your committee, to the ancient path that breeds such caring folks. We’re in this together and that makes all the difference. Really, not rhetoric.

Tough Weekend

Fall and the Rosh Hashanah Moon

On her birthday

Kate’s had a tough weekend. Short of breath, feeling tired. We didn’t make it to Rosh Hashanah services last night. A year and two days after her bleed. She’s made great progress on weight, nausea, even her Sjogren’s is less problematic. Her stamina, up till this weekend, had increased and she was doing more.

Her daily life involves a lot of tubing and schlepping. At night she carries her Inogen, portable CO2, as well as her pump and feeding supplies. Heavy for her. She does remarkably well with all of it, but this alone takes a toll, too. Hoping for a better day for her today.

Need a lung disease diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan. So slow.

Yesterday was Tom and Roxann’s 16th anniversary. At their wedding they featured the mandorla. “In icons of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the mandorla is used to depict sacred moments that transcend time and space…” Wiki Marriages, good ones at any rate, live into their own mandorla. Happy anniversary! It was also the 7th anniversary of Regina Schmidt’s death. Bill continues to honor her and their love. A mandorla still, I think.

Tomorrow, October 1st, I get my second Lupron shot. 9 am at Urology Associates Swedish offices. In the butt. Thank you, Sherry.

works for both paragraphs

Then, let the fun begin! Hot flashes have become more frequent, a bit more intense. Still only annoying, but, they are annoying. They creep up the body, making it flushed and warm. Last night I had my sweatshirt off and the window open, the cool night breeze a relief.

Extreme fire danger here. Red flag warning yesterday and today. We have a higher fire risk rating than the area around Paradise, California. One of the highest in the country. Good times. I’ve been too nervous about the fire danger to get my chain saw going. Maybe this week.

My friend Dave, personal trainer, had bad news about his brain cancer. The tumor is back after surgery only a few months ago. He’s at the extreme end of survival time for glioblastoma. As he said, it’s a horrible place to be. 53 years old.

You might think I would be stressed and anxious, but I’m not. Living today. Will wait for tomorrow.

See As Seen

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

42 degrees this morning on Shadow Mountain. Orion standing guard over the Southern gate, the sky black. Walked out to the white Denver Post tube nailed next to our mailbox, picked up the paper, took it back inside. Put it at Kate’s place so she’ll have it when she gets up around 7.

Spent most of yesterday with buddy Tom Crane in from the Twin Cities. We went to the Cutthroat Cafe in Bailey for breakfast. Have to remember that the room there is very live, lots of ambient noise.

front left, Mark, front right, Warren. Back left Jim, Bill, Paul, Tom, Me June, 2012

Catching up. The Woollies, our men’s group, the place we met as sort of initiates well over thirty years ago, continues to age, but with no deaths. Two Woollies turn 75 around now: Warren and Mark. Frank and Bill are 82. Or is Frank a bit older? Can’t recall. Haislet’s over 75 as is Jim Johnson. Paul and I are 72. Tom’s 71 and Scott must be about that. Stefan is the youngster, still in his mid-sixties.

Tom made an interesting comment about friendship, recalling something I’d said about foreign travel. I travel, I said, to see how other cultures eat, love, do the ordinary things of life, and to then, in turn, reflect on the options my own culture has chosen. Long term friendships are the same, he suggested. A way we can see how others live their lives.

Yes. We’re all anthropologists to one degree or another, trying to draw understanding from other cultures and from the lives of others we know well, about ourselves, the paths we’ve chosen.

It was a topic we discussed, our own paths now since we’ve laid aside some of the paths we loved. Tom the pilot is in the past. Tom the CEO, mostly in the past. Charlie the horticulturist, the beekeeper. The docent.

Bill (foreground), Tom. On his boat on Lake Minnetonka, August 2018

We drove up the Guanella Pass, repeating a journey Tom, Bill Schmidt and I took a few years ago. At 11,670 feet it’s almost exactly 3,000 feet higher than Shadow Mountain. And, chilly, with a stiff wind. While up there, I mentioned to Tom how much I love the mountains, their wildness. Later, over ice cream in Georgetown, he said much the same thing about the ocean. These are paths we’ve not given up.

Tom keeps a boat on Lake Minnetonka, a cabin cruiser, that continues his passion for the water. He built a boat, an eight-footer, when he was young. Went to sea as an officer in NOAA’s uniformed service. Spends downtime often in Mendocino, California and on Maui.

To see yourself as another sees you is to receive a gift, a gift of self-awareness stimulated by an honest, loving gaze from outside. A rare and precious thing.

Friendship, family, marriage. And unique communities like Congregation Beth Evergreen, the Woollies. That’s where we go to find out things about ourselves that we’ve overlooked, underestimated, suppressed. In a real sense the examined life is not possible without others, an irony of a sort.

Tom sent me this photograph, Guanella Pass Summit, with a caption, “You’ve found your path.” Not sure if he meant that literally, the path there beside me, or metaphorically, but it hit me in a profound way. Oh, yeah. The mountains. They’re my path. Altitude. Wildlife. Wild and stony places.

A quote often seen here on t-shirts, back windows of cars and suv’s, attached to the ubiquitous Thule cargo carriers on tops of Subarus: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir. Kate and I chose for Muir, for the mountains.

Gabe, ninth birthday, 2017

While Tom and I ended his visit with a meal at Sushi Win in Evergreen last night, Kate called. Gabe was in the hospital again. This time with a bowel obstruction. He had surgery at 1 am this morning. Seems he had swallowed a couple of magnets that screwed up his small intestine as they danced around each other. WTF.

We’ll see Gabe today after Kate’s pulmonology appointment. This one, we hope, will move us toward a diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan for her lung disease. National Jewish docs this time, not Colorado Pulmonology Intensivists.

Get livin’ or get dyin’

Lughnasa and the Harvest Moon

The Sword of Damocles

New workout. Met with Dave, personal trainer at On the Move Fitness. He’s a thin, muscled guy, a bicyclist’s physique with a hearty, but haunted manner. The curving scar from just above his left temple to parallel with the middle of his left ear explains the haunted part.

He’s an outlier in the world of glioblastoma patients. His surveillance scans were, up until this April, clear. It looked like he had been cured. Then, boom. A seizure. Then, another one. Trips to the E.R. Another scan. The cancer was back.

Since his journey and mine share a lot of similarities, we’ve bonded. Seeing him yesterday was a chance to catch up. He’s been at home most of the time since his surgery, taking chemo and getting his mojo back. I mentioned the awful decision he and Deb had to make about whether to radiate after surgery.

I didn’t want to take all my cards off the table, he said. Meaning he didn’t want to become cognitively deficient, yet alive. A real possibility if he chose radiation. Not radiating made it more likely the cancer could return. Hobson’s choice*. There are instances when living itself becomes a problem. I talked to a lot of smart people. The chemo is a slow trickle. He shook his head, I didn’t want to take all my cards off the table.

We agreed that this cliche has real meaning for both of us: get living or get dying. There’s a choice even here. Do you face toward your life and the world or do you face the disease and death? How you choose matters. The irony of our being together to make my body strong was not lost on me.

Lodge skillets

Afterward I drove over to Evergreen, where I bought a 12″ cast iron skillet. Been wanting one for a while, mostly to sear steaks and roasts. I had a tenderloin roast in the fridge. Tony’s Market, again. Went to the King Sooper next to the Village Gourmet and picked up some potatoes for the evening meal.

Stopped at Congregation Beth Evergreen and made copies for my bagel table on Saturday. I like that we’re merging back into congregational life there.

Guess who was coming to supper? The eminence grisé of the former Crane Engineering. He even has a card, designed by mutual friend Mark Odegard, that says so. Tom’s here for a visit.

Speed Queen 7000 series

Before that though there were matters domestic to take care of. Had to order a new dryer. A Speed Queen. 10 year warranty. These folks trust their work. Appliance Factory. Buy new sheets for our bed. Amazon. Also had to get the malfunctioning O2 concentrator ready to go off for repair. Harder than it could have been. Or, should have been.

Plopped that tenderloin roast on the heated to high cast iron skillet and seared away. Worked well. Coulda been on a chuck wagon on top of Shadow Mountain instead of in our kitchen.

It was good to share the table with Tom. The dogs clambered around him, saying hi. We caught up on his life. Saw each other as only long time friends can see each other.

He and I head over to Bailey this morning for breakfast. We’ll plan, in a very loose sense, our day. Friendships require nurturing. Tom’s excellent at it.

Thomas Hobson

BTW: The phrase is said to have originated with Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in his stall nearest to the door or taking none at all. wiki

Friends

Lughnasa and the Moon of the First Harvest

Got a card yesterday from the Black Forest, Das Schwarzwald. A get well card purchased at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts by my buddies in the Woolly Mammoths. They had gone together to see a show of Native American women artists, one of the more powerful exhibits in recent years my docent friends have told me.

Each man wrote a personal message on the card. I read them all, smiling, seeing this gray head, that gray beard. The old smiles. Hearing the laughter. Knowing the Black Forest, probably outside at a round metal table, traffic whizzing by on 26th Street. Frank ordered a sausage, if memory serves. Maybe some spatzle, weinerschnitzel, lentil soup. St. Pauli Girl drafts.

And, felt sad. Wistful. I love these guys and know them. Well. In the way only 30 + years of being together could allow. It was a sweet sadness, one that told me these relationships still live within me, not extinguished, not weakened by almost 5 years in Colorado.

Ely, 2015

Regrets? No. An affirmation of life, of the power of friendship, of its durability. The sadness is real, as is my gladness at driving up Brook Forest Drive to our home on top of Shadow Mountain.

Both Minnesota and Colorado have wildness and wilderness at their hearts. The Northwoods, the Boreal forest, the lakes, Lake Superior. Wolves, deer, lynx. Muskie and walleye. Mt. Evans, Rocky Mountain National Park, the San Juan Wilderness. Black bears, moose, elk, mountain lions, fox. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Tibetan monks at Congregation Beth Evergreen, 2018

Colorado has Congregation Beth Evergreen. A quirky synagogue with a collection of folks who call themselves mountain Jews. It’s where I’m seen and where I see others. Deep moments of human connection, like the Woollies. Glad for both.

Inner Glow

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Oh, gosh. Today.

Driving Kate to Lisa’s office for her annual physical, then heading on to Lone Tree, another 20 minutes. Dressed in blue sweats and my radiation hazard t-shirt from Los Alamos. This first day I’m going to choose The Band for my Pandora station. Tomorrow baroque.

I had a light supper last night, as suggested. Egg drop soup and a cookie. I’m on my second glass of water this morning. Hydration is important. I want Patty to tell me again that my bladder’s a perfect size.

Woke up at 3:30, not ruminating, but uneasy. Went back to sleep for an hour. Up at my usual 5:00. Fed the dogs, got the paper. Came up here to the loft.

The next seven weeks are about healing, staying with the protocols, adjusting to the unknown. Not daunting, but not easy either. Tomorrow is the Lupron injection.

Black Mountain this morning

Leaving the mountain top, going down the hill. From cool (44 right now) to hot. 75 at noon in Lone Tree. Well, that’s hot to us. Will get hotter as the weeks roll by.

Tom and the Woollies are going boating on Lake Minnetonka today. A floating meeting. Tom will motor over from Shorewood to a Wayzata dock to pick up the guys. A better parking lot, a bit easier access from the Cities. Had my druthers, I’d be there instead of staring at the Cyber Knife listening to When They Drove Old Dixie Down.

Rabbited

Beltane and the Recovery Moon

Zoomed. Friends as zeroes and ones. Pixelated. Paul near Robbinston, Maine. Way up there near New Brunswick. Bill, Tom, and Mark in the Twin Cities metro.

They said, “If no one else can drive you to radiation, one or some of us will come out and do it.” Had to pause for a minute. Tears just at the edge. Friends.

Beth Evergreen. Community, or, better, as Bill suggested on the zoom, belonging. Made real.

Velveteen Rabbited. Our cracks filled with gold, our selves more valuable. Seeing and being seen.

And of course Kate, Jon, Ruth, Gabe. Joe and SeoAh. Mark and Mary and Diane. Friends and family. When life gets hard, who we turn to. Thanks. And, I love you all.

Stress is good

Imbolc                                                                              Valentine Moon

Minnesota-Winter-Weather-Forecast 2019Zoomed yesterday with old friends Paul, Tom, Bill, Mark. Paul’s in Maine, the other three are still in the homeland, getting blasted by an old-fashioned grit your teeth, squeeze the steering wheel, freeze up the nasal passages Minnesota winter. Nostalgic, eh? Given my 40 year residence there I’m ashamed to say that I’m not sorry to have missed it. Minnesota macho no longer.

30 years + I’ve known these guys. There’s an ease to being with them, even in little squares (Hollywood Squares sort of) created by the magic of pixels and bytes. We know the back story, the good times and bad, the struggles and the victories. When we speak together, the subtext is often as loud as the spoken. When Roxann’s mother faces the transition from home to assisted living, we know about Tom’s mother and the long process finding her a safe place. When Bill says, how do you solve a problem like Regina, paraphrasing the Sound of Music, his history with the Jesuits and hers as a nun is unspoken. So is the difficult time span of her death from cancer now some years ago. Old friends, like old dogs, are the best.

Ode signed in from near Muir Woods, a cottage overlooking the Pacific. Two weeks of vacation. Tom’s headed for Hawaii and Mama’s Fish House later in the month. Bill spent five days in Florida. Paul had, and I think I had something very similar, a disease that his doctor called the plague. His doctor fingered the same culprits as Kate did for me: kids. Fomites, Kate says. Paul visited grandkids; I taught 6th and 7th graders.

post furmination

post furmination

Took the Kep in for furmination yesterday. Before our now below zero temps we had a run of 50 degree weather. (The reason Minnesota macho has faded from my body.) Blew his coat. When he blows his coat, he looks like a ragamuffin, small tufts of fur his body deems not necessary hanging all over, falling off, making Kate crazy. Off to Petsmart for a thorough wash, comb out, vacuuming. He looks pretty good now.

Ode talked about living a stress free life. I know what he means, no work deadlines, no income needs, no drama at home, much less home maintenance (condo), the chance to go where you want, when you want. Like California in the midst of a brutal Minnesota winter. The chance to work on art projects either set aside while working or not pursued. The chance to visit with old friends, go to the Robert Bly evening at Plymouth Church. In general a life peaceful, not troubled by the undercurrents of the workaday world. He calls this The New Senior Reality Game-plan. And good for him.

reslienceNot my goal. I thought about it. I see the allure. In some ways I wish I could want that, too, bow out of the ongoing stream of pressures, both domestic and personal. But I don’t want it. To be clear I’m not a stress junkie, nor an adrenaline junkie. I manage my anxiety much, much better than I ever have, not letting the day’s troubles spill over into what might happen next. I’ve tried and often succeed at acting without care for results. But stress per se still keeps me engaged.

I like the challenge of learning to teach middle schoolers, of integrating enough of the Jewish tradition to walk among my friends at CBE, of caring for Kate and the dogs. I like the challenge of coming up with a new novel, even though I’ve never sold one. I like the challenge of becoming a better painter, of finding my voice with oils.  I could give up home maintenance responsibilities, like when we have ice dams to deal with or a driveway to plow or electrical matters to resolve. The priority of the living ones in our nuclear family, Kate, the dogs, and myself vitiate that for now, however. I enjoy the challenge of learning about astrology, keeping up with science, especially NASA and genetics.

still me

still me

Stress itself is neutral. In fact, it can be a good thing, motivating us to stay in life, to learn, to engage, rather than become socially isolated. It can, of course, be too much. And recently I’ve had more, much more, than I want. I would appreciate it if some of this stress would fall away. Kate gains 20 pounds, gets her stamina back. I’m back to working out, a real stress reducer. I have a novel and a painting underway again. But for all the stress in my life to go? No, not for me.

I’m in this life fully until it’s over and for me that means stretching myself intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. Stress free is not for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Left Behind

Winter                                                              Waxing Moon

A Basin. Ski maps are a Colorado art form

A Basin. Ski maps are a Colorado art form

Gabe came up and spent the night on Saturday. He was his usual self, watching TV, playing with the dogs, building some contraptions with a new construction toy he got. Ruth and Jon went to A-Basin, skied in great powder and got here around 5 pm. When they left for the day, it was the first time since Christmas eve that Kate and I, Gertie, Rigel, and Kepler were without guests.

Murdoch, SeoAh, and Murdoch’s daddy left at 10 am headed through Kansas and on into Missouri, then back south to central Georgia. We have products with the Korean language in our refrigerator, frozen rice cakes and dumplings, hoisin sauce, and our pantry has rice cakes, a specialty soy sauce, sesame seeds and sesame oil. She left her tea kettle and a vacuum, too. I think she’s going to be back. She’s an unusual guest; her presence is unobtrusive and helpful.

20190121_065343 (2)I finished the creation of the waters yesterday. Some gold flake to give continuity with the first one, not finished yet because I’m waiting on some Elmer’s glue for the gold leaf.

When Mark was here, I asked him a question that’s been on my mind. “How do you know when to stop?” He laughed and said that was every artist’s question. Too often, he said, we wish we could go back to an earlier version. Oils are a bit more forgiving in that regard than, say, watercolor, or, as Tom suggested, sculpture.

Awaiting Elmer

Awaiting Elmer

Mark then added, “The next problem is storage.” So true. I have all my paintings now resting on bookshelves, blocking access to certain volumes. Gotta get a different solution. In this case oils are less forgiving. Oils dry very slowly, like taking years to completely dry. That makes putting them against each other even in a vertical file impossible. Hmmm.

Gertie and Kep are happy to have the house all to themselves. No more long stints in the sewing room while Murdoch got his downstairs time.

Snow coming tonight and tomorrow. May it continue.