We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

North

Lughnasa                                                                      Waning Summer Moon

strangerReading two books right now, The Stranger in the Woods and Northland. They are oddly complementary. Northland recounts a three-year long journey by the author following the northern border across the U.S. It starts in Maine. This early part of his journey is through land very familiar to friends Paul and Sarah Strickland who live near the St. Croix River separating the U.S. and Canada. Stranger in the Woods tells the story of Christopher Knight, who grew up in central/northern Maine, graduated from high school, became a burglar alarm installer, then, at age 20 decided to disappear into the woods. He was found 27 years later after having spent the intervening time in silence, living alone in a rocky clearing and subsisting off of raiding cabins near his well-concealed home.

Porter Knox, author of Northland, says that land in the U.S. along the northern border is a land apart, distant from the rest of the country both for its inhabitants and visitors. Having lived in Minnesota for forty years, I know the Northland border there and in Michigan, too. It’s severe country in Minnesota with temperatures the rest of the country read about during the winter, lakes carved by the retreating glaciers of the last ice age and boreal forests. It’s also poor country with soil too rocky and thin for agriculture and too distant from cities for most commercial purposes. Tourism is the main economic driver there and that’s seasonal.

Knight’s family had developed a way of living in the Northland. They had a large garden, hunted, were clever with their hands and spent time with books, not media. It was a subsistence existence that reminded me of the movie Captain Fantastic. Christopher took the northland life style to a logical extreme, becoming isolated not only from the rest of the country, but from human community itself. In Minnesota and Wisconsin his family would probably have been called Jackpine Savages, which refers to folks who live off the land there, often taking multiple jobs while living mostly off game, fish and gardens.

As I write this from the top of Shadow Mountain, I can see how different and faraway this border and these lifestyles must seem to the rest of the U.S. In fact, it strikes me as odd how little known these northern lifeways are. Redneck culture, not the same, but also rural in origin, has a lot of visibility. So does the older Appalachian Scotch-Irish culture from which Redneck culture emerged. Cowboys were similarly isolated from mainstream U.S. culture, but their presence is large in U.S. history, too. Not so for the folks who live in the colder regions along the border with Canada.

 

Hoaxer

Lughnasa                                                    Monsoon Moon

Another interesting day. Wrote in the morning, then out to Lake Minnetonka for a few hours on the lake riding Falcor, Tom’s lucky dragon. It’s a Sundancer 280, capable of giving Tom a reminder of his youthful boat building days. He built his first boat at 10. He and Bill and I went from his slip over to Lord Fletcher’s, a restaurant that caters to the boating crowd. We all had walleye.

A truly Minnesota experience. A boat. Friends. A lake. And, walleye.

Coming back to the hotel, I took a nap, then went to the club lounge for appetizers. Enough for dinner.

Later, Jazz Central where I heard docent friend Grace Goggin’s son, Peter, play the sax in his band, Hoaxer. He’s good, really good, and Hoaxer is the real deal. They play a hard driving, innovative, energetic, even funny brand of jazz. They were, by turns, raw and sweet and passionate. If you get a chance, listen to them.

I stayed there until 10:30, way past my bedtime, then, for some reason, went back to my hotel and watched tv. Vacation mind, I guess. A little sleepy this morning. In an hour I leave for St. Paul, for the Groveland celebration, inside now due to thunderstorms.

Unexpected

Lughnasa                                                        Monsoon Moon

70+ miles I drove yesterday morning. First over to Oak Grove, close to here, then to Stevens Square where I photographed the first Community Involvement Programs building, then the second one. I lived in both. Forgot the place on 1st Avenue, but I’ll get that. Over the course of the morning I visited streets and neighborhoods I’d come to know intimately, St. Paul, New Brighton, Andover, Minneapolis. More on the feelings from this homecoming later

The biggest surprise of the day came at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. I got there about 2:30 or 3:00. Picking up my badge was long in the past, but my body remembered. Passed the guard desk by. The lobby area is completely, well, almost completely different. Tables, a big coffee shop, redone gift store. Pleasant.

I walked all the way back toward the rocks shaped in Lake Tai. Called scholar’s rocks their strange forms, curves, sharp edges, diversity reminded Chinese literati of the mountains, their power and mystery, but most importantly, of the Tao.

Up the first flight of stairs and I was in the Asian arts wing. It holds an extensive collection of Chinese and Japanese art as well as more modest exhibits of Indian, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Thai art. A collection I came to know very well. There were various Buddhas, some calling the earth to witness enlightenment, others with the mudras of reassurance, of wish granting.

A favorite part of the collection for me is the large hall containing Chinese paintings, just off the Buddhas display. Moving from one depiction of mountains to another, often scrolls longer than I am tall, there were the fantastical shapes towering up, up, up, with some small human, usually a lone scholar, sitting watching a waterfall, gazing up at the clouds. The closer I looked, and I examine these painting very carefully, the more an unexpected feeling crept me over me. Grief.

It was subtle at first, felt like simple nostalgia, a sort of sadness mixed with the wonder I’ve always felt among these objects. Slowly though, as I saw the Fergana stallions, the famed blood sweating horses from the area of the ‘stans, and noticed the upcurled lip of the copper sculpture, a rare, fine piece of work, and realized I’d never taken in his mouth before, the feeling became clear. I missed this place so much. It was an ache, a hole in my heart. Unexpected. Very.

The feeling stayed with me as I looked at a long scroll depicting a festival along a river, the Wu family reception hall, the new arrangement of the Japanese collection. It came most into focus when I looked at the tea implements, the tea house.

As I left the Asian collection and went into the excellent rearrangement of the African collection, the feeling dissipated. It did not return while I visited the Native American and Latin American galleries. Nor did it return when I saw a couple of my favorite paintings, Goya’s Dr. Arrieta and the MIA’s Kandinsky. I don’t recall its title. In theses collections I was merely a museum goer, a knowledgeable one, yes, one familiar with the art, deeply familiar in some instances, but no longer experiencing that hole in my heart.

I’m not sure what to make of it, but it was strong, very strong and it has a significance I’ve not yet sorted out.

From the MIA I went over to the Red Stag, sight of many Woolly meals over the years. Tom and Bill were already there. Ode, a colonoscopy prep victim on Monday, got good drugs at the procedure, enough to make him lose a whole day. He forgot. When reminded by Tom’s call, he came down.

It was a good visit, normal in its way. A place we’d been before, together. We’d been together many times, this was one more. Yet it was also abnormal since 900 miles separates me from this normal moment. These are life-long friends and life isn’t over yet.

Pilgrimage

Summer                                                                                    Monsoon Moon

St. Croix River, September, 2016

St. Croix River, September, 2016

Returning to the auld sod. September of two years ago was my last trip to Minnesota, that one for a day long Woolly Mammoth retreat in Stillwater. This time it’s Groveland UU’s 25th anniversary and their acceptance as a covenanting community of the UUA. Kate and I were part of Groveland from very near its inception, meeting in the round upper room of the Highland Park Library. I had just left the Presbytery and needed a religious community that did not make my mind go into reverse in order to remain.

The UUA proved to be a caravan serai for my longer journey, a spot where I could consider the contradictions of monotheism in friendly company. Groveland gave me a chance, over the years, to write out and present a travelogue of my own soul. This was a rare and welcome opportunity, one where I could say out loud what would have been heresy in my Presbyterian robes.

Mom, Dad, Me

For a while in those years I thought I would return to the full time ministry, perhaps even settle as a clergy in a small congregation. My analyst, John Desteian, later helped me identify this wish as a regression, a return to my back then profession to pick up something I’d left behind. In the retrospectoscope of many years now I think it was a need to say goodbye to that world, the world of the religious professional, to acknowledge that I no longer belonged in it, perhaps never did.

The notion of vocation is powerful. When triggered, as mine was in a complex mix of politics and renewed interest in spirituality, it becomes self-defining. Called, some say. I never felt called to the ministry; though I did come to feel that the peculiar mix of politics and institutional leadership of my short, fifteen year, career was my vocation. Ordained first to my work as manager of Community Involvement Programs apartment living training program for the developmentally disabled, moving from there to the political work of the West Bank Ministry and finally onto Presbytery staff where I had broader responsibilities for mission and congregational development, I was able to pursue a commitment I made to myself during high school.

Industrial ruins of the Johns-Manville plant, 2015

Industrial ruins of the Johns-Manville plant, 2015

While working as a managerial intern for Johns-Manville corporation, the CEO of the factory where I worked offered me a full ride scholarship. In return I would work for the corporation as a manager for five years after college.

I needed the money because my SAT scores, though good, were not competitive for the best financial aid. I even found the work I’d done as an intern interesting. My summer project was to develop a diagnostic tool for the factory, defining and then developing a method to track what Jim Lewis, the CEO, called key operating indicators, koi’s. It was fun, digging around in the data to find a group of numbers that indicated the ongoing health of the work, then developing a method to track them on a regular basis.

When it came time to reply to Jim’s offer though, I had a very strong gut response. No. I would not, I said to myself then, ever work in a setting that compromised my values. At that point I was a strong labor advocate and attuned to the damaging, psyche cramping, even soul destroying power of corporate America.

Ye young radical, 1968

When I went to United Seminary in 1971, I gave myself a year. I wanted to get out of Appleton, Wisconsin, out of Fox River Paper company’s rag room. I needed to use my mind, not my back. When I got to United, I discovered a campus and, at the time, a profession, pushing back against the war in Vietnam, in solidarity with the civil rights movement, and intellectually rigorous. I liked my classmates and was able to continue the radical political life I’d begun, like so many, in the late sixties college movement against the war.

As I went deeper into the spiritual tradition of Christianity, I found contemplative prayer, long retreats, an inner world of great depth. Intellectual curiosity kept me coming back for more. And, that commitment I made was not challenged, not at that time.

It was only after adopting Joseph in 1981, five years after my ordination, that I began to find cracks in the metaphysics I’d accepted. If Joseph had been raised in his birth home, in Bengal, he would likely have been raised Hindu. And, as a Hindu, he would have been beyond the pale of salvation. No. The same sort of gut response I’d had to the Johns-Manville offer hit me. No. If I could love this boy now, I would love him as a child devoted to Shiva or Vishnu or Kali. And, if I could do that, and the god I served could not. Well.

09 11 10_Joseph_0271Was that the real trigger? I’m no longer sure. It was a contributing and significant one, that I know. I believe now that it was the rationale I could explain to others. The true inner shift was a different one, a result of the contemplative and spiritual work that I first found in seminary.

I read the Creation of the Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner when it was first published in 1986. It opened my mind and heart to the power of metaphor, how metaphor could be used as an oppressive tool, one so subtle that what appeared as spiritual might actually be enslaving. In particular Lerner’s work convinced me that transcendence, with its up and out of the body, up and away from the natural order move, reinforced, even helped create patriarchy. The best, the most sublime, part of us was not in our embodied form, but in our ability to leave the body for a higher spiritual plane, to merge with God. This was a move that reinforced that the three story universe where true power, the most real, was above us, literally, in the realm of God, the father. Heaven.

Instead, I came to believe that true power, the most real, was right here, in our bodies, on this earth, in the amazing web of life in which we participated along with the rest of the animate world. Transcendence became, for me, a concept that smuggled in a world ruled by men and kept the world that way through constant repetition and its anointing as the way to true spirituality.

IMAG0680croppedAgain, NO. See a pattern here? When I made the turn from up and out of the body to down and in, my religious worldview shifted permanently. My spirituality became an embodied one, one that found the universe in my hands, my feet, my skin, the very fleshy things that are of this world. When gardening and beekeeping and orchard tending occupied a lot of both Kate and mine’s time, it was easy to see the link between the soil and this embodied, non-transcendent spirituality.

This was the core move, the one I could explain theologically, intellectually, even emotionally through the Joseph story; but, which was in fact a metaphysical shift away from spiritual realms other than the one into which we are thrown at birth. I’m still in that place. I’m still anti-transcendent, pro-body, pro-earth. I find God an unnecessary idea, but, oddly, I find religion itself compelling. Still.

Judaism, reconstructionist Judaism, is, unexpectedly, a comfortable home. It requires no dogma, requires no belief, and has an establishing principle of skepticism toward the past, yet an acceptance of the power of tradition. Beth Evergreen in particular is a place that allows, encourages deep exploration of self, of community, of our obligations to each other as fellow creatures, and to the gritty world that supports us. All I ever wanted, really.

 

Losing Daylight

Summer                                                                Monsoon Moon

The big Dodge Ram sits in our garage, so it won’t get hit with hail in case we have a thunderstorm. Nothing says I don’t give a damn like returning a pock marked car to the rental folks. Supposed to go back today.

Kate had a couple of days clear of nausea, then got hit hard yesterday. It’s difficult to describe how debilitating it is to experience this inner discomfort regularly. I can see it. I can sort of imagine it, but she’s dealing with it. No. Fun. At. All. I feel bad for her, with her.

Here in Conifer we’ve already lost 20 minutes of daylight since the summer solstice, 14:59 on June 21, 14:39 today. I go to bed at 9 pm and I can already tell the difference. It’s beginning to get dark now at 9. The darker it gets the happier I am and, as an added bonus, the darker it gets the cooler and wetter it gets, helping sleep and mitigating wildfire probabilities.

Feeling a little sad this morning. Kate and I had an argument last night. It happens, but I never feel good when it does and the feeling lingers. Reminds me that our moods are fickle, sometimes referented, sometimes not, but always changing. Not becoming attached to one mood or another, up or down, being equanimous (yes, it’s really a word. either that or it was made up in our Mussar group) helps level out our moods. Although, I do appreciate both a good up and a good down. Vitality does not lie in sameness.

Looking forward to seeing Minneapolis and friends the first week of August. Groveland Unitarian-Universalist celebrates becoming a Covenanting Community in the UUA on August 4th. They wanted me to come and I’m pleased they do. Like the days in Durango I’ll get a chance to catch up with folks with whom I’ve had long term relationships, seeing Woollies and I hope docent friends as well as the Groveland folks.

Plus, I’m staying at the Millennium Hotel which is on the edge of Loring Park. I lived in Loring Park up on Oak Grove, a wonderful third floor apartment that, thanks to its location on the hill, had a beautiful view of downtown. That was back in 1975/1976. Which is, wait for it, 43 years ago or so. 28. Whoa.

I’ll get to see the statue of famed 19th century fiddler, Ole Bull. When I was chair of Citizens for a Loring Park Community,  we turned down the Daughters of the Sons of Norway who asked us to let them move it somewhere cleaner and safer. Than our neighborhood? Come on. I’ll also get to walk to the nearby Walker Art Museum and the somewhat further away Minneapolis Institute of Arts. When I head to the MIA, I’ll pass through Stevens Park, which was my first home in Minneapolis. I was a live-in weekend caretaker and janitor for Community Involvement Programs. The old Abbott Hospital was right across the street. Lots of Stevens Park stories.

Not to mention that wonderful road trip across the Nebraska plains. Which I actually enjoy when enough time lapses after I’ve done it.

 

A Lunar Month of Significance

Summer                                                                     Woolly Mammoth Moon

Rustic Ranch, Bailey, breakfast on the Durango Trip. Sweet cream pancakes.

Rustic Ranch, Bailey, breakfast on the Durango Trip. Sweet cream pancakes.

As the Woolly Mammoth Moon phases away toward a new moon, its month, the same lunar month we always have, yet also a different lunar month from any we’ve ever had, all spiraling through space as we follow the sun while orbiting it, I just wanna say thanks for what happened under its gentle influence.

It rose as a new moon, invisible but watching us, on June 13th, the day Mark, Paul, Tom and I headed out to Durango and the 416 fire. It was a trip both across southwestern Colorado and back into 30 years of friendship. Not to mention back to the days of the Pueblo dwellers of Mesa Verde. It was, in a sense, a way to say to each other that, yes, these friendships are for a lifetime. That this lifetime, whatever it may mean individually includes each other–and Bill. When you think about it, affirming the power of our past and honoring the reality of our future, is pretty damned cool.

Ode lays out the trip

Ode lays out the trip

It was also on this same trip that I read the essays about ground projects by Bernard Williams and about setting a rejection goal. The first one affirmed my existential sense that life gets meaning from our intentions and our labor to fulfill them; the second has transformed my writing life. A big, huge, amazing, wonderful thing.

Also under the Woolly Mammoth Moon, Alan Rubin and I began digging in to developing a curriculum for 6th and 7th graders in the Religious School at CBE. This work has affirmed the depth of my immersion into the Jewish world of CBE and reconstructionist thought. It also underscores my continuing fascination, see posts below, with the supernatural, or at least the fruits of humanity’s speculation about the supernatural.

20180415_155755

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, ballet at CBE

Also under the WMM, I’ve been putting together the Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler series for the 2018/2019 adult education year. This will feature both courses from the Great Courses company and courses from the MOOC aggregator, Coursera plus the odd film or two.

I also met Harv Teitelbaum. He’s the Sierra Club’s lead for their anti-fracking initiative, a big deal here in Colorado. I believe he and I share a similar attitude toward our current political reality and a similar focus on local races while maintaining an emphasis on the Great Work.

My flaxen haired Nordic goddess

My flaxen haired Nordic goddess

It’s been a big, big month for me and I want to say out loud how grateful I am to all of you who’ve made it possible. Yes, Kate, especially you. It’s been a very difficult month for you nausea wise, I know, but you picked up a board membership at CBE and guided the food committee for the Patchworkers. All the time you’ve been supportive, though understandably surprised, at my new commitment to finally, finally, finally submitting my work. You’re the gyroscope in all this, keeping us stable and focused. Thanks, Kate.

We came; We zoomed; We parted.

Summer                                                                      Woolly Mammoth Moon

20180616_114748

Paul

Zoomed. We talked for over an hour, Mark, Paul, Bill and me. Each of us was in a different physical location, Paul in Maine, me in Colorado, Mark and Bill in the Twin Cities. This technology is a definite push beyond Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. It is more like letter writing in its length of interaction and interpersonal depth. In that sense it works against the grain of 140 characters, photographs and short posts. It’s more like real life in its immediacy and interactions that includes body language.

Ode

Ode

Even its limits are closer to real life. No e-mail blasts. No dashing off a quick post, then moving on to something else. This is sitting across the room from someone, though in this case the rooms can be hundreds of miles apart. Some of the social niceties are impossible of course. No shared snacks. No hugs. Different weather. It was pouring rain in the Twin Cities, dry here in the Rockies. No offering hospitality of the physical kind. We couldn’t decide to get up and go somewhere else afterwards, or, for that matter, even during the hour. If we got up, it would be as if we left the room.

I liked it. In this mode we can nurture old friendships, share confidential news in private (at least I think it’s private, but who knows really), spark off each others sentences, laugh together. It may not be a trip to Durango or a hike at the

Bill

Bill

summit of Guanella Pass, but it’s not a short typed note either. Can this technology sustain us over time? Difficult to tell. We’re creatures, at least those of us on this Zoom session, of the old, pre-computer days when communication across distances was sporadic and limited to long distance phone calls and letters; for us this way of being with each other is novel to some extent and compares not so much, really, to social media, but to actual, in person meetings.

Me

Me

Whether the digital natives will see in it a form of being with each other that they want to pursue, I don’t know. One of the factors that held me in the Twin Cities so long was the physical presence of and frequent visits with Woolly friends. In the important sense of in depth conversation Zoom and its like provides a very close equivalent. Perhaps it will make distance matter less, allow us to rearrange ourselves physically with less loss. I hope so.

 

 

Zoom

Summer                                                                      Woolly Mammoth Moon

zoom20180228_062626Gonna work a new technology into old relationships this morning. At 9 am MDT, 10 am CDT and 11 am EDT, Mark, Paul, Bill and I will crank up Zoom. A virtual gathering of part of the Woolly Mammoth herd. On the shores of the St. Croix River in northern Maine, the top of Shadow Mountain, and in the Twin Cities of Minnesota we’ll gather around an early 21st century campfire and tell stories. It’s hard to say how this sort of meetup, a more sophisticated version of Skype, might transform relationships, but that it has begun already, is clear to me.

In fact, over the last week I used Zoom twice, having never used it at all before that. The first instance was a national gathering of Jewish educators piloting a new curriculum for pre Bar or Bat Mitzvah students. The second was a more local gathering with folks in the Denver metroplex talking about starting a speaker’s bureau for the state Sierra Club.

Mary in Singapore

Mary in Singapore

Years ago my brother Mark, my sister Mary, and I would use Skype to bridge even further distances, Singapore and Saudi Arabia to mid-continent North America. Neither Skype nor Zoom has the visual clarity and sense of presence of the video conferencing rooms used by large corporations, but they are a way to use the technology on the cheap. Skype is free and Zoom is inexpensive, free for all but the person who agrees to pay a modest monthly charge for an account.

Could relationships exist only fed by this technology? I doubt it. Alvin Toffler, writing in 1970, used the term high tech, high touch in his work Future Shock. He posited that the more we use advanced digital technology to communicate, to share information, the more we would desire being with each other in person, in IRL. Of course, this observation applies, too, to our use of the so-called smart phones (actually, hand held computing devices) and social media like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram.

50th High School Reunion, IRL

50th High School Reunion, IRL

In writing that I can recall that there is, in fact, a third category of relationship, one between IRL and virtual with folks from real life. I’m remembering Kathryn Donahue, for instance, a woman I met only on Facebook though she grew up in my hometown, younger than me. When she died a couple of years ago from lung cancer, I was shocked and sad. I never met her though I talked with her and saw her posts. The same may as well be true for many of of the college friends I see on Facebook and now on Instagram. I knew them once, long ago, but these folks, too, I never see in person. Even Anitha, Mary’s friend in Singapore, I’ve only met once, for lunch, when Kate and I visited Mary, yet I now follow her career and life with interest on Facebook. We exchange notes occasionally.

Those relationships are thinner than friendships, but more than casual acquaintances. Not sure what they are. I find them valuable, enriching, especially now that I’m over 900 miles from the physical locations of my youth and second phase life. Would this technology solve loneliness for a person confined to home or to a room? I don’t know, somehow I doubt it; but, perhaps we’re still in the very early stages of understanding how human relationships can be nurtured absent any physical contact. (forgot about letters, the old form of social media. letters are different than Zoom, of course, in some ways more personal, in some ways less. the obvious difference now is that contact is so much easier and much, much faster. and, with Zoom and Skype, we can add in body language.)

singularityI suppose this has implications as well for the old wheeze of uploading my consciousness, complete with memories, to the cloud. What would I, or you, be then? What would it be like to not be embodied? I suppose these virtual platforms give us a way to try out that transition without going all the way into an electronic reality. Perhaps they’re really a transition moment between this stage of human evolution and one we cannot imagine.

Could be, I suppose, that this will be the workaround for the singularity. Instead of becoming subordinate beings to vastly superior machine intelligence we can become machine-like intelligence ourselves, augmented in our virtual life by artificial intelligence.

Before that happens, though, I’ll chat with my buddies, folks I’ve known IRL for over thirty years. Looking forward to it.

 

 

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