We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

populus tremuloides

Fall                                                                     Harvest Moon

Aspen in our yard

Aspen in our yard

Lower down, toward Evergreen, many of the aspen have retained their gold leaves, but up here many of the leaves formerly known as gold have turned brown and black, then begun to fall off. When the aspen leaves fall, their gray-white bark still makes them stand out against the green of the lodgepole pine, but the effect is stark, skeletal.

Aspen’s are interesting. If you’ve ever had one in your yard, their most distinctive characteristic can be quite a pain. They reproduce from roots, sending up new trunks at different spots. This means that in aspen groves the trees are genetically identical, or, said another way, they’re all the same tree spread out over a considerable distance.

This has prompted a curious competition between my adopted home state of Colorado and our immediate neighbor to the west, Utah. Which one has the world’s largest living organism? Aspen groves can be quite large, large enough to qualify by mass as the world’s largest living organisms. For example, from this article: “…the Pando grove in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest contains around 47,000 trunks, which collectively weigh more than 13 million pounds.” That’s pretty damned big.

20170923_065501When I post a picture like this one, in other words, you think you’re looking at many aspen trees on the side of Black Mountain. In fact you’re looking at only a few distinct trees with many, many trunks.

I’m going to investigate this a bit further because it has just occurred to me that this doesn’t, at first glance, seem to be a wise evolutionary strategy. Each trunk of the aspen grove requires nutrients from the soil which means to me that each trunk of this widely dispersed single tree has to compete with the other for a limited amount of nutrients. Over time it would seem they would deplete the soil of the nutrients they need. Curious.

The aspen grove did a lot of heavy lifting at Beth Evergreen over the High Holy Days. The comparison of a synagogue to an aspen grove meant we were all connected to each other, our communal life linked in an intimate way. A somewhat strained idea in my opinion, but you see the point.

aspensThe aspen grove is a wonderful example of the confusion our senses can bring to us. When we look at the grove, we see individual trees. But, no. There is an occult connection, hidden below the earth’s surface, that binds them together and makes them one. It’s not hard, when contemplating the aspen grove, to return to the angel with the flaming sword guarding the gates of Eden. As I suggested a few posts below, that angel can be seen as language, which both conceals and reveals; it reveals itself as language, but conceals the pathway to the Tree of Life. Behind the angel lies paradise.

In a similar way our senses give us individual trees in an aspen grove, but that perception conceals the aspen’s true nature as one organism. Each time you see an aspen grove, you experience in miniature the true experience our senses give us: Where there is an underlying unity, we see discrete things. The aspen grove can help remind us that our senses lie, if not by commission, then certainly by omission.

 

 

White Gold

Fall                                                                                 Harvest Moon

A few pictures from our first significant snow of the season:

Yesterday morning

Yesterday morning

Black Mountain yesterday

Black Mountain 

The aspens are the flames of summers heat leaving the mountains

The flames of summer’s heat leaving the mountains

Before the Storm

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

Wow. Barely into October and I pushed about 5 inches of fluffy, but still wet snow off the back deck just now. The snow began before midnight last night. Thanks to winds blowing from the east, an upslope storm, we’ll get the bulk of its moisture. We’ll probably be on the upper end of the 7-10 inch forecast. This is a relatively rare event where the eastern Front Range gets more snow than the ski areas further west. Still snowing. Will continue, according to the forecast, through late afternoon today.

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kates sister

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kate’s sister

The weekend had that urgency before the storm feel to it, the first big storm of the season. On Saturday the fines got mowed and I worked on uncrating our Jeremiah Miller paintings. He’s my brother-in-law and an excellent artist. If you remember our Andover house, these are the two very large paintings that hung in the living room and our bedroom. A1 Movers crated them in December of 2014 and they’ve been in their specialized shipping containers since then.

The crates, very sturdy, are taller than I am and heavy. They were clumsy to move. I could maneuver the smaller one onto a small table made of saw horses and a slab of plywood, but the bigger one was too heavy. Jon helped me with that yesterday. Until I opened them, we had no idea how the paintings had fared. The smaller one is in good shape. I plan to open the bigger one today. The dry air here helps, at least in the short run. Over time it might advance the drying out of the paint and cause craquelure, something I’ll have to look into.

The energy surge I get when the air cools down kicked in a couple of weeks ago. It’s reinforced by 20 years of early fall gardening work in Andover. This was the time when the garlic got planted, the last of the leeks, onions, kale, collard greens, beans, beets, lettuce harvested and flower bulbs dug in. The raspberries were ripening constantly and the apples, too. It was also the time of wood cutting and splitting for our fire pit.

I got out the chainsaw and decided to cut stumps left standing from the fire mitigation work a couple of years ago. An Iraq vet, Julie, who heats with wood, stopped by on Friday and asked if she could have the bucked wood. Kate said yes and Julie carted off all of it, front and back. We still have a few dead trees that need to come down so we’ll have firewood. That left just the stumps and they stood out even more.

 a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

The Jonsered I’ve had for twenty plus years, the one I used to cut down the large stand of black locust to clear the way for our gardens and to keep the woods cleared of snags, is past its usefulness. I should have had it rebuilt several years ago apparently. Chainsaw Bob said it’s not fixable. It’s hard to start and dies suddenly. Frustrating. Got four or five stumps cut close to the ground, difficult to do since it involves bending over and holding the saw level with the soil, as close as possible to the surface. Then I noticed I’d been too close to the soil and the saw blade had gone into it. Instant dullness. Gonna go see Chainsaw Bob and see if he has a rebuilt Jonsered I can buy. I’ve got many stumps to cut and those few dead trees.

Also hung the Arcosanti bell Kate got in Arizona years ago. It tolls when the wind blows and we decided long ago that its peeling memorializes our dead dogs. Noticed that the small diamond shaped windcatcher that makes it toll had fallen off, but couldn’t find it. We’ll have to create something in place of it.

typhonIt was a week of this sort of activity, getting ready for the storm, catching up on errands. My exercise, Jennie’s Dead work suffered, but my choice. This week I’m back at all of that, going to On the Move Fitness on Thursday for a new workout.

Jennie’s Dead is going well. Not sure what I’m doing with it, at least not completely. I’m retelling versions of certain myths and those retellings have become extended. I find them great fun to write, but I’m wondering now if they’re overwhelming the main story line. The Typhon/Zeus fight for control of Olympus has a lot of nuance.

Ancora Imparo. I’m still learning.

Mowing the Fines

Fall                                                                 Harvest Moon

January, 2017

January, 2017

As the post below shows, we’re setup to get our first winter storm. We’ve had some snow, though it came and went in Colorado fashion, fast. This one will likely change things here by chilling the ground and preparing the way for snow that actually hangs around a bit. It’s early October, so that’s a bit of a surprise. Looking forward to it, in the way only retired folk can. No commute down the hill, slipping and sliding as everybody tries to remember how to do this. It is way too early to put on the snow tires, isn’t it?

Yesterday was beautiful and today is predicted to be the same. Highs in the 60’s. Mowed the fuel yesterday. Four times this year, I think. We don’t really have a lawn, just lodgepole pines, a few aspen, some rock and bunch grass, though the leach field has a nice plot of green. All those nutrients we send out each day. Reason to mow is to keep what the wildfire folk call “fines”, as in fine fuel, not trees or shrubs, from growing too high. When the fines dry out, they can spread a fire quickly and if there are low hanging branches (below 10 feet) fire can spread from fines to trees. This is known as ladder fuel. The grass burns, a branch catches, then the tree, then its neighbor. After that. Forest fire.

Mitigation, 2015

Mitigation, 2015

Wildfire mitigation has been a primary concern for me since we got here, but after reading Megafire, by Michael Kodas, I have a different perspective. Most of the wildfire mitigation strategies are for ecosystems lower than ours where the ponderosa pines predominate. They tend to have the lower branches, though they are also much more fire resistant than lodgepoles. Much thicker bark and generally bigger, more widely spaced trees. Kodas points out that lodgepole/aspen forests,  dominant in the higher elevations of montane ecosystem between 6,500 and 9,500 feet (we’re at 8,800.), tend to have forest clearing fires every 100 to 300 years.

That means we have less frequent fire risk than the lower elevations, but, when the fire comes it will likely be a crown fire, jumping from treetop to treetop in the closely spaced groves of lodgepole pine. No fire mitigation will protect against a crown fire. When I had the deputy chief of the Elk Creek Fire Department out here to talk about fire mitigation, he said when it comes, a fire will sweep up from the valley through which we drive to get to Evergreen. “Nothing will stand in the way of it,” he said.

crown fireIn a localized fire, mitigation can help a lot. Our house is now pretty well protected with the ignition zone, about 30 feet out from the house, cleared of trees and the trees just at that zone and somewhat further out have had their branches cut to above 10 feet. We have fire-rated shingles and I mow the fines. I’ve not had the gutters cleaned, which is a potential problem, but we’ll get to that next spring. With a flat, short driveway, access from a well tended county road and mitigation our house stands a very good chance of survival. In a crown fire though, no combination of mitigation strategies will keep it standing.

All this means we’ve done what we can. There’s not been a burn here for over a century so our risk, though not high, does exist. We have a lower risk of fire at any one point in time than our lower neighbors. But, when it comes, better be out of here.

So, the key for us now is to have a good disaster plan, a way to make sure we get out what we want and need if we have to evacuate. On Oct. 15th a member of Beth Evergreen is doing a presentation on just that. We’re somewhat of the way there, but we could use some sharpening up.

Weather Forecast Mountain Style

Fall                                                                   Harvest Moon

Jefferson and West Douglas Counties Above 6000 Feet/Gilpin/Clear Creek/Northeast Park Counties Below 9000 Feet Severe Watches & Warnings

Winter Storm Warning
Issued: 4:14 AM MDT Oct. 8, 2017 – National Weather Service
... Winter Storm Warning in effect from 9 PM this evening to 3 PM
MDT Monday... 

* what... heavy snow expected. Plan on difficult travel conditions,
  including during the morning commute on Monday. Total snow
  accumulations of 6 to 10 inches, with localized amounts up to 14 
  inches, are expected.

* Where... Rocky Mountain National Park and the Medicine Bow 
  range, the mountains of Summit County, the Mosquito Range, and 
  the Indian Peaks, the northern Front Range foothills and the 
  southern Front Range foothills

Friends and Family

Fall                                              Harvest Moon

The harvest moon and Orion, hanging there in the night sky, suspended as if by magic. No amount of astrophysical knowledge about them, light years away, red giant, suns in themselves, galaxies hidden there, that gray dusty surface now littered with space reaching machines and an American flag or two, can alter the wonder I feel each time, and I mean each time, I see them. This morning. Wonderful. Yesterday. Wonderfull.

Spoke with cybermage Bill Schmidt yesterday. He’s made an interesting circular journey from his days as a novice at St. Bonaventure, through his marriage to Regina and raising a family, back to a spot near that same place where his Jesuit pilgrimage began, now with a lake view and time for contemplation, plenty of time. Those of us who are fine by ourselves, but also love the company of others, don’t need many friends, just good ones. Bill’s a good one.

Kate’s singing the worried song, but I hope she won’t be worried long. Chest x-ray follow-up yesterday. She’s had some more shortness of breath. A medical education becomes a strange sort of curse as aging bears down because each crick and crack can have dire potential. She doesn’t want to worry me, so she keeps her concerns to herself, which amplifies them.

After the x-ray I took her out to lunch at Pho Real, a Vietnamese soup place in “historic” downtown Littleton. It’s a three block, maybe four stretch of older brick stores, much like downtown Stillwater and Anoka in Minnesota. Really just old retail centers before the age of strip malls and Walmart, but beautiful in their pragmatic way and redolent of times not really that long ago, yet culturally far away from Interstate highways, the internet and smartphone, self-contained shopping centers.

Joseph called yesterday. His base commander has tasked him with briefing a two-star Army general in Seattle about JSTAR’s utility. On the 19th. Which is the same day I get to Warner-Robins. He’ll be back later that night or the next morning. Means I’ll have time with SeoAh so we can catch up.

 

 

Your Honor

Fall                                                   Harvest Moon

 

I wrote about the middot (character trait, soul trait) kavod—honor, dignity, respect—a few posts below. With two evenings focused on it, Wednesday at the MVP group, mussar vaad practice group, and the Thursday night Tikkun Middot Havurah, and my preparation for the Wednesday night presentation, I’m ready for the practice.

After considering the trait in group, we then choose a practice for the coming month that will encourage to integrate the trait into our daily lives. As Marilyn said Thursday night, mussar is not self-help since its focus is on relationships with others, of being of service to others. Rabbi Jamie says, “learning how to bear the burden of the other.”

This is not Jewish power of positive thinking, or dress your mind for success. It’s about real change, in your own character, change that makes you better able to be present to the other, the other made in the image of God just as you are.

Practice involves a focus phrase, in my case, Your Honor, and a particular way of inserting kavod into my day-to-day experience. We commit to each other for a practice. I said I’d try—no, not try, I will—each time I read something in the paper that pisses me off politically, which happens a lot, I’ll focus on honoring the humanity of my opponent, or enemy.

Rabbi Jamie thankfully talked me off that precipice. “That may be too much. Try honoring the anger.”

That sort of whipped my head around. Say what? Honor the anger? I agreed with him that trying to honor the humanity of the Trump/Pence/Tillerson/Sessions/Pruitt crowd might be too difficult. But honoring anger? It seems so un-middle class. I mean, we’re supposed to swallow our anger, aren’t we? At least be ashamed of it. So… Honor it? Still, he’s an insightful guy, who has gotten to know me over the course a year plus now, and I trust him. I agreed.

Although I’m only a day into the practice, I’m already very surprised by it. I chose to go with honoring my anger in all situations, not just when reading the blankety-blank news. That means when the guy cuts in front of me and slows down, I honor the anger. “What the hell? You son-of-a-bitch!” Like that.

That last was not a hypothetical. It happened yesterday. I reacted. Hotly. But instead of going into the usual physical demonstration of my feelings, I honored the anger. What made me mad? His behavior put my life at risk and Kate’s life. He violated simple rules, both legal and commonsense ones, for a momentary, unnecessary advantage.

I realized my anger was referented. But in the moment it took to honor my anger, I also allowed a gap between my anger and my reaction. I got to choose how I reacted. That was different than letting the anger surface and take control of me. It put a small pause between a justified reaction and a response. I didn’t have to honk my horn, wave my middle finger, I could recognize the anger, own it, respect it and choose to act, or not.

When I did do the same while reading the news, in one for instance the NRA’s cynical admission that maybe bump stocks for creating automatic weapons require regulation, I noticed again that my anger was referented. Why do they think admitting that one egregious gun modification is too much means anything in the poisonous environment they have created? Why do they insist on adding more and more guns into our social mix? How dare they threaten me and mine with their medieval (sorry for the disrespect middle ages) attitudes rooted in fear?

But. Again, I didn’t have to let the referented anger boil over. It didn’t have to come to invective. To an emotional charge that might raise my blood pressure and not have any effect at all on the gun issue. Calm down and honor your anger. Seems like a good practice for the month

 

 

 

 

 

Gasthaus

Fall                                                                                     Harvest Moon

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Bull and doe, Evergreen Lake, 2015

Coming out of Beth Evergreen last night the full harvest moon hung over the town, silver and wonderful. It limned the mountains, highlighted the blue in the spruce tips on the drive back up Shadow Mountain. Earlier in the evening we saw several mule deer on the way down the mountain, does and bucks, then five or six of the much larger elk wandering around, ironically, right below a flashing Elk Crossing sign.

The Arapaho National Forest wraps around Black Mountain Drive/Brook Forest Drive so as we make our way up and down the mountains into Evergreen we’re surrounded not by residential development, though there is some, but mostly by forest, lodgepole pines, aspen higher up, Colorado blue spruce and ponderosa pine lower down that come right up to the road, as does the slope of the various mountains we pass.

Black Mountain, 2017

Black Mountain, 2017

At night this drive activates my fantasy life. I imagine the mountain lions and bears, the mule deer and the elk, the skunks, pine martens, pikas, Abert and red squirrels, an occasional bull snake all living there, either in hiding or bedded down or up and stealthily pursuing their next meal. Though the portion of the Arapaho National Forest where we are is not wilderness, it does abut the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area and Staunton State Park. Once in awhile moose come through our area, too, though they’re mostly toward the west, in Staunton and toward Bailey. This is the WUI, pronounced wooee, the wildlife/urban interface.

You could say we don’t belong here, we humans, that this mountainous land belongs to the mountain lion and the bear, the magpies and the Great Horned Owls. And you would be right, of course. Yet the truth is we humans do not have a place uniquely ours. We’re an adaptable species, able to live on islands, on the coasts of great oceans, lakes and rivers, on deserts and vast fertile plains. We’ve spread from Africa, where we roamed the veldt, hunting and gathering over vast stretches of land, to colder climates in the north and to all the continents of the planet.

Black Mountain, September, 2017

Black Mountain, September, 2017

I say we do belong here, but only as guests, as itinerant cousins of the wild animals, the sturdy pines. But, then, we are guests, too, on the Great Plains stretching north and south in the center of North America. Guests, too, on Iceland, Greenland, Britain. Guests as well in the Himalayas, in the jungles of the Congo and on the Sahara. Guests in the high Andes and on the distant lands of Tierra del Fuego.

As guests we have to realize we share our living space with species not as adaptable as we are. As guests we owe it to our neighbors to make our presence as unintrusive as possible, as honoring as possible. One manifestation of this honor is driving with care, going more slowly than perhaps we might want because our neighbors could need to cross the road. Another part of it is to see that the land we own (ha. that we temporarily inhabit) is as friendly to the locals as it can be. That we don’t poison the land, that we don’t build more than we need.

I tend to think of it as living in a vast apartment building. Our noise level, our lights, our motors, our driveways all impact the folks living in the next place. So we need to be considerate. When we leave our apartment, when our time as guests of Shadow Mountain and the Arapaho Forest is over, the neighbors remain. They own the condos and they can’t move. Leaving the place better than we found it is the least we can do.

Behind the Texts

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryThree nights in a row at Beth Evergreen. Challenging for this early to bed, early to rise guy. Though. Kabbalah fascinated me. I’m beginning to feel my way into the occult, again. The hidden wonders. This time around I may be able to actually hold at arm’s length the cultural vehicles and not resist the message because of the messengers. That is, kabbalah, in particular, has a poetic, evocative, confounding approach that speaks to my sense of absurdity. And, my in but not of relationship to Judaism also allows me a critical distance that I find very helpful.

At the mussar vaad practice group last night we had a discussion about the character trait kavod: honor, respect, dignity. It focuses on realizing the worth of each individual, of self and other, the god-in-me bows to the god-in-you.

There is a distinctively Jewish way of taking up this idea. For instance, a story in the Talmud has rabbi’s discussing whether a man on his way to hear the megillah, scripture written on a scroll (megile) but not part of the Torah, the story of Esther read at Purim being the usual example, must stop to bury a corpse he finds on the road. Yes, the rabbi’s conclude, he must bury the body rather than go hear the reading of the miracle of Esther. Why? Because of the honor due to any person, even their corpse. That transmits the message about kavod in way that’s hard to ignore. Teaching stories are a significant part of Jewish civilization.

BlakeThis story works for me. The imagery is something I can relate to because I’m human. Honor is so important and so often gotten wrong. Think, for example, about the instance of DJT honoring America First; just as Kim Jong Un honors himself and North Korea first. Or the gang member who feels dissed, disrespected, dishonored. A sense of kavod would have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, the holocaust. It would prevent child abuse and domestic violence. Harming another whose dignity and respect is as worthy as your own is just not possible.

How we honor ourselves and, in turn, honor others is, therefore, a critical issue for our daily lives, our communal lives, our global lives. The kabbalistic conversation about Paradise hidden behind the wilderness of language allowed me, in a way I can’t explain, to peel away words and constructs and feel my way into the place where all pulses and throbs and lives and knows neither time nor space. The words for god, gods, goddesses point to this place, but like Hotei pointing at the moon, they are just fingers, not the moon itself.

Long ago, during the height of the sixties, many of my friends and compatriots were turning to Buddhism, to Hinduism, think Hare Krishnas and Zen. You might think, with my Asian bent, that they appealed to me immediately. No. I wanted, I said to myself, to go where they were going, but with Western cues, ones that were already woven into the fabric of my cultural inheritance. I was studying anthropology at the time and keenly aware of the way culture subtlety shapes our reality-the wilderness of language being no small part of it.

Abraham

Abraham

That’s how I ended up in Seminary. Eventually. And there were moments during sem, moments later during my time in the Christian ministry, when certain Christian traditions pulled me in in a manner similar to kabbalah: the Jesus prayer, lectio divina, contemplative prayer, retreats. The mystical side. As kabbalah is an important mystical tradition in Judaism. I got sidetracked, and yes I believe it was a side track, though, by my political commitments, by my nurture the institution commitments, by my always soft, but extant, commitment to the textual underpinnings of Christianity.

The quasi-Scholastic nature of the religions of the book, and most religions are, in one way or another, religions of the book: buddhist sutras, the tao te ching, the vedas, the koran, the bible, the tanakh, however, pushed me away, as it did Emerson. I want a religion, like him, of a revelation to us, not the dry bones of theirs. So I chose to read the book of nature, to step outside the textual traditions and the wilderness of their dogma, their stories. I’m still out there.

But. With the help of Beth Evergreen and the spirit of reconstructionist thought I’m once again able to be fed by those same texts without immersing myself in their interpretive world, at least not in a, I’d better get this or I’m lost (in the sense of geographically lost, not the metaphysical idea of salvation) sense. This is freeing for me, and Beth Evergreen has made it possible. I can take those cues from our Judaeo-Christian cultural inheritance and hear their powerful messages without becoming entangled in them, enmeshed.

As Leonard Cohen might say, Hallelujah.

Behind the Wilderness is Paradise

Fall                                                                           Harvest Moon

east of edenBehind the wilderness. Everett Fox is a Jewish scholar who did a translation of the Torah into English while preserving the Hebrew syntax. He  made some startling word choices, too, such as in this verse: Exodus 3:2 “He (Moshe) led the flock behind the wilderness–and he came to the mountain of God, to Horev.” Behind is such an interesting choice.

As our discussion went on last night in the first night of the second Kabbalah class taught by Rabbi Jamie, he referenced the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden. When they were gone, having eaten from the tree of good and evil (language in this interpretation), God installed an angel with a flaming sword to protect the entrance to Eden and the tree of life. The very language which allowed Adam and Eve to discern good and evil, or, to create it (!), now guards the pathway back into Paradise.

Here’s a leap, and one I made last night. Behind the wilderness is Paradise. The wilderness itself is language, is the angel with the flaming sword, protecting the entrance to Paradise. How do we get behind the wilderness? Behind language? Language, in an uneasy marriage to our senses, conceals and reveals. It reveals our sensations, our thoughts, and functions as a river flowing from prehistory to today, carrying in its waters the sum of written human culture. But. That same uneasy marriage also conceals what lies behind the wilderness, what Kant called the dinge an sich, the thing-in-itself.

eden-garden-of-god_1920x1080Behind the wilderness is the God who is, as Fox translates later in this passage: I-will-be-there howsoever I-will-be-there. It is this God whose messenger Moshe saw in the bush that burned without being consumed. This God’s name, a verbal noun composed of a mashup of past-present-future tenses for the verb to be, does not reveal. It conceals. It means, it does not describe. The messenger in the bush speaks for the vast whorling reality in which past, present and future are one, all experienced in the present and as part of which we are each integral, necessary and non-interchangeable.

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