We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.


Written By: Charles - Aug• 10•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Monday gratefuls: Feeling loved. Ruth. Jon. Gabe. Chuck roast in the instapot. Pull apart good. The Maids coming tomorrow. The cool nights. Having the lawn furniture up closer to the house. The Ancient Ones. The duckling rescue. The heart of Bill Schmidt. The openness of Mark Odegard. The sensitivity of Tom Crane. The doggedness of Paul Strickland. My buddies for over thirty years.

Remarkable. Yesterday was remarkable. That is, I will re-mark it again and again as a special day. Let me tell you why.

Ducklings in the sewer. When I meet on zoom with my ancient friends, mentioned above, Tom, Bill, Mark, and Paul, we have a topic chosen by each of us in a rotation. Yesterday was Bill’s day and he gave us this song to investigate, especially it’s lyrics.

This was his prompt: “Bob Dylan is an insightful writer/singer.  Here’s a link to his song, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and the lyrics are attached in a pdf file. It was released in early 1965 and every verse is for this time, right now.  Listen, reflect, and share.  Hi light for us any part of this song that says something to you.”

It’s the task of the topic creator to sort of gently guide the discussion, so it was strange when Bill didn’t show up on the call. When we’d all popped up on the screen except Bill, Tom told us Bill had called and said he had discovered a distraught duck mother quacking and looking into a sewer grate. 6 of her ducklings had fallen into the storm sewer.

Bill. I called 911. I said this, This isn’t an emergency, but it’s important. A bit later three trucks and six men show up. A fire and rescue truck among them.

These men didn’t quit. They took the sewer grate off, climbed down. Meanwhile, I talked to the duck mother, tried to calm her down. Eventually I sat down on the curb beside her.

They got five ducklings up and returned them to the mother, who then stopped quacking and waddled off with what she thought was all of her ducklings.

No. I hear another one. One of the rescue guys. One of the ducklings had gone the opposite way from the others, sewer drain pipes lead off in both directions. I hear him. I’ll get him. They flushed out the sixth duckling.

When they got out of the sewer, the mother had disappeared. Four of them took the sixth duckling and began searching for the mother to reunite them all. They found her.

Bill made it back to his apartment before we finished and told us this story. What you do to the least of these, you do unto me. Yes. Bill. Yes.

The mailbox. Jon installed our new mailbox. It took an hour plus, but he worked away at it. I helped a little bit, but not much. My help really consisted of trying to get the old one removed. I told you yesterday how that turned out.

This morning I went out to get the Denver Post, an every morning jaunt. The new mailbox was there and I opened the road facing door. Was it smooth? Yes. It was.

Oh, wait. What’s that? There were two cloth bags inside it, one labeled grandma and the other grandpop. I put Kate’s at her place at the table and brought my bag upstairs with me.

Inside it were several small items. A Donald Duck stuffed animal, a Pokemon card, a picture of a smiling gap toothed man glued to a piece of paper, a small iron coyote baying at the moon, a bracelet, and, a piece of lined note paper.

Ruth. Dear Grandpop, I wanted to do something for you that would help to brighten your day and mood. I collected and made all of these things to make you happy. I made the bracelet of these colors because they reminded me of the sun which I think of as a very bright and happy thing in our solar system, so I hope that when you see it you will feel happy.

Her note goes on this spirit. She found the coyote in a box of her special things, Donald Duck was her favorite Disney Character. “I figured he could be your buddy in the loft.”

“I hope this brightens your day, and mood! Love, Ruthie.” How about my life? She’s brightened it from the beginning.

As I said, a remarkable day.

A Good Saturday

Written By: Charles - Aug• 09•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Sunday gratefuls: Kate, always. Jon. Ruth. Gabe. Joe. Seoah. Tara. Alan. Bill. Tom. Paul. Mark. Diane. Mary. Mark. Rigel. Kep. Derek. Those in close. Grateful for each of you this week. Different reasons, same love.

Driving Shadow Mountain Drive early yesterday. Like a vacation morning, getting up early to hike Haleakala. A patina of light and shadow played over every thing. A mist rose from the small pond where the grass feeding cows drink and where Kate and Gabe saw a female moose. (yes, repetitive, but so wonderful.)

Strangely equivalent to the shopping experience at Safeway. Only employees there, masked, putting up produce, stocking shelves. My cart rattled over the floor. I found it exciting (literally) to be able to shop. Just shop. Wander, consider my choices. Look at stuff I didn’t want to buy like those crab legs sticking up out of crushed ice in the butcher’s glass display case. The sushi guy putting out his first creations of the day. I felt safe while outside and in public. A rush.

So what if I bought some things I might not have had I not been thrilled to be alone. You know, wienies. Bacon. Drove home feeling righteous anyhow. 7 a.m. and I’d already done my grocery shopping. Ha.

Kate had just gotten up when I got home. After putting away the groceries, I made Malt-o-Meal for both of us. Alan and I had a call at 9:00 so I finished up a bit early. Alan’s doing a strategic marketing plan for our Democratic state representative, Lisa Cutter. She needs to play up her bipartisanship, he says, in our purple leaning toward red district.

Kate rested all morning for the coming of Jon and the grandkids. In addition to shortness of breath she experiences a deep fatigue most days. Lying down is easier on her breathing and the fatigue. She’s reading, reading, reading. She just started Sport of Kings after having finished Ralph Ellison’s classic, the Invisible Man, in a couple of days.

After Alan, I fed the dogs their second breakfast, then began prepping and setting out food for the visitors. A text from Ruth came in saying they were at the King Sooper in Conifer buying chips. They brought blueberries and several avocados. Jon made guacamole. He’s a good cook.

Thought I’d help Jon out and remove the old mail box. We’ve needed a new one for a year or so. He planned to install the new one. Got very part way into it and couldn’t figure out how to finish. Those damn screws. Typical. I think some project like this will be easy only to discover it requires some skill I never bothered to learn.

I left it knowing Jon could get it off quickly. He did. But. The old mailbox sat there, half ripped from its platform. Derek drove by, noticed it, and texted me that he was sorry about the vandalism and did I need help fixing it? I am my own vandal. A life achievement.

Ruth has her eyes fixed now on Cornell. Her Grandpop, the Brandel side, went there for computer engineering, so she would be a legacy and get some discounts. Biology and poli-sci right now. Being a freshman in high school these days pushes college right up in your grill. Her high school, Denver North, a newer one, has a specialty focus for bio-med track students. Part of why she’s going there. The other part that it’s walking distance from her mom’s home.

She’s also becoming more politically savvy, understanding the difference between progressive and liberal politics. I told her she may not be my biological grandchild, but she might be my ideological one. She loved it. We have a great relationship, built up over painting, cooking, and a love of learning.

Gabe always loves to see the dogs. He’s an animal person. Ruth and Gabe befriended a snail which now lives in Gabe’s room, eating leaves and blueberries. He even crawls on our hand, Ruth said.

The difficult decisions around opening schools affects all four of the Denver Olsons. (Jen kept the name.) Jon and Jen work for the Aurora school system while Gabe and Ruth attend Denver schools. Jon spent the last week putting together 700 blank pizza boxes, filling them with crayons and other art supplies. Those will go home with kids for online art education. Their first assignment? Decorate the pizza boxes. How cool is that?

Denver schools have set September 8th as a decision point about how to open. Not sure about Aurora, but when to open is still undecided there, too. Come back in pods? Do only online learning? Some combination? One way hallways, better ventilation. Some kids this day, other kids the next day? What’s safe? Wouldn’t want to be a school administrator right now.

After Jon and the kids left, Kate and I decompressed. We love these visits, need them, but they wear us both out. Old folks.

We live here

Written By: Charles - Aug• 09•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Beef stroganoff and egg noodles from Easy Entrees. Waking early. Rigel sleeping, wouldn’t get up. Safeway open at 6 a.m. Nobody there. The Mountains at dawn. Muted behind the tree cover, with the sun coming up as glory, rays leading the way over the peaks to the east. We live here. I kept thinking as I drove. We live here. Then, I realized, we live here.

A word for the dawn. I don’t drive much in the early a.m., but I did this morning. Off to Safeway. Which was clear of unmasked people and almost all shoppers. I felt safe, able to wander a bit. Like B.C. Mostly though I luxuriated in the drive there and back. The Sun sent its emissaries, angels of Light appearing as a crown, streaming high and proud over the eastern foothills. The few Angus Cattle being fed out on the grassy Meadow about a mile down the hill from us. Shadows and darkness still in the Lodgepole and Aspen Forest on the slopes of Black Mountain and Conifer Mountain. Few cars.

We live here, I kept saying to myself. Which changed. We live our life here, we are alive here. Even with Covid. Even with illness and infirmity. Even with Trump in the Whitehouse. Even with the climate changing, moving swiftly toward tragedy. We are alive here.

Forgot to post this

We smiled.

Written By: Charles - Aug• 07•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Friday gratefuls: No pulmonary hypertension. Kate’s echocardiogram. Big grateful. The Maids, coming next week on Tuesday at 10. Yes. Easy Entree. Fancy restaurant meals frozen. And very close. Seeing Jon, Ruth, Gabe on Saturday. Talking with Tara. Kep, sitting beside me, smiling. Rigel, on our way to Easy Entree, head out the window, ears streaming back. Video call from Joe and Seoah.

A big part of the recent downness was the possibility that Kate’s pulmonary hypertension had decided to take hold. It’s a bad actor (as doctors say) and could have meant a bleak future.

Even though she didn’t feel like it, Kate got up, and we drove into New West cardiology for her echocardiogram. In their very large lobby, the chairs were over six feet apart, a nurse took our temperatures, and had us look at a typed list of maybe 15 symptoms. Had any in the last two weeks? Nope.

Noah came out. The echo tech. I had an echo several years ago and still remember his kindness, professional demeanor. Comforting when a test can give life or death information. Kate went back, pushing her bright green Rollator.

While she was back there, Joe and Seoah called from Singapore. The electronic connection was terrible, but the heart connection was strong. Seoah was bubbly. Joe serious. Normal. Love you both. We love you! What a gift. What a timely gift.

Heartened I went back up to the lobby. Kate came out. I asked Noah about the hypertension. He can’t say. Oh, well. He said it might be a week to get the results. Damn.

Back home Kate went down for a nap while I ordered medical supplies, looked up Easy Entree, put an order together. Answered e-mails, finished yesterday’s blog. Then a nap for me.

At 3 I logged onto Zoom for a chat with Tara Saltzman, a CBE friend. Ahh. What I needed. A one-on-one. Systemic racism came up first and I remembered why I love CBE. Authentic, smart people, open. And, why I love Tara. We talked about my fears, Kate’s illness, the pressure here. Her family. Her struggles with a friend’s early death. Catching up, hearing each other. Holding our hearts out in the space between us.

During the talk Kate intercommed me. I have the Maids scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m. Thought you’d like to know even though you’re talking to Tara. Tara smiled. So did I. One pressure lifted.

We signed off after an hour and a half. Agreed to do it again next Wednesday.

Picked up car keys and Rigel, who loves to ride in Ivory. Easy Entree is surprisingly close, basically at the base of Shadow Mountain. We got down there in 5 minutes or so. Went in for the first time to find banks of freezers with food in them. Two rooms full. Got my food and told the clerk I wanted to order a fresh produce box for next week. They have shares with a co-op farm. Easy.

Back home I showed Kate the frozen egg noodles, broccoli, and Toscana soup. The phone rang. Wait, I’ll put you on speaker. It was Tatiana, the cardiologist. She went through the results, both of us holding our breath. Pulmonary b.p. 37, almost normal.

We both smiled. I pumped my fist.

So. Darkest before the dawn and all that. A housecleaner. A source of good food, fresh produce. The call from Seoah and Joe. A talk with a friend. And, a good report from Tatiana. We needed every bit of it.

Hard Stuff

Written By: Charles - Aug• 06•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Thursday gratefuls: Amber. Lisa and the humming bird feeder. Dr. Pullikottli. Kate’s fingers healing. Ruby and her a.c. Mule Deer Buck. The intimacy of difficulty. All those carboniferous trees and plants that gave their lives so I can drive my car. Electric Cars. Go, Tesla. Echocardiograms. Chicken breasts. Read to eat meals.

Two weeks of no workouts. Marking a slow down or at least different focus for daily life. Dug down into my psyche. Like a retreat. Still surfacing. Yesterday I found myself up against it. I can’t keep cleaning the house, I said. I can’t manage the cooking in the way I have been. More tears.

I felt like I was letting Kate down. No, she said. You have been my pillar, my strength. I don’t say it often enough. Oh.

This, she said, is why people downsize. Yes. There’s a moment when you realize, no, I can’t take care of all this anymore.

Is this that time for us? No. We can afford a house cleaner. Kate will find one. I can buy meal kits, ready to eat food. Cook much less. Occasional take-out. Relief.

Derek has done a fabulous job in clearing up our downed trees. The pallets are gone. The front stumps have been ground. The place looks so much better. Will James will take down the remaining fire mitigation marked trees. Next week the gutters get cleaned and the week after the windows.

Ordered beef stroganoff with egg noodles from a chef run ready to eat meal business with an unlikely location. It’s at the base of Conifer Mountain, about 5 minutes away. Ezentrees.com. Looks pretty good.

We both love mountain living, even with its obvious drawbacks for our mutual lung issues. This house suits us. Large enough to house family on occasion, small enough to feel homey for us. The loft for me. These decisions are so fraught, so wrapped up in the past, in our expectations, in cultural values around home. And, independence.

We’ll keep jiggering with paid work, family help, and our own efforts. Hard stuff though.

Not One Thing

Written By: Charles - Aug• 05•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: Amber. Stat locks. Kate’s healing stoma site. Rigel, whose love buoys me up. Kep and his steadfastness. Kate’s reading. Invisible Man right now. Ellison’s classic. The almost full Lughnasa Moon, red over Black Mountain this morning. Our more organized upstairs. Needing more blankets. The kindness of CBE.

Cancel culture. from Merriam-Webster: “To cancel someone (usually a celebrity or other well-known figure) means to stop giving support to that person.” I’m giving the definition because I’ve been reading this term for a while now and didn’t know what it meant. Once I found the definition I immediately thought of a recent change I’d made in my e-mail signature:

“There is a love of wild Nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or no, and however covered by cares and duties.” ― John Muir btw: Yes. I know about his racism. And, I deplore it. But, I also know about his love of the natural world and I love it. None of us are all one thing.

Other items I read pointed to the #metoo movement as a starting point as well as the more recent protests around George Floyd. It goes deeper and further back than that, though. Sinners don’t get into heaven. How much sin denies you entrance through the Pearly Gates? Never real clear. I’m speaking as a theologian here. Martin Luther famously said, “Hate the sin and love the sinner.” I’ve always found that an important idea.

Taboo. Kapu. Karma. Sin. Religious ideas that get social traction. In the Christian tradition the idea of sin, hamartia, missing the mark, plays an outsized role. IMHO. So outsized that it can cancel your heavenly bliss.

But who decides if your sins are too much? Or, just this side of the line?

In Christianity, God decides. But who knows how God views a particular person? Especially yourself? This question has dogged Christian apologetics for centuries. How can we know whether or not we stand in God’s favor? Clearly an important question if the afterlife is in play. Eternity.

The Protestant Ethic* is a good example of how this question can lead to corruption and blasphemy. Calvinists especially felt a need to know where they stood since predeterminism, in some cases double predestination, was a cornerstone of Reform theology. Double predestination says that God not only predetermines all actions in the universe, but also (the double part) determines who goes to hell and who gets salvation.

Since the race was all over at the starting line, the finishing places of everyone already known, it became critical to see if there were signs in this life that could identify which direction you were headed after death.

The Protestant Ethic came to identify hard work and success, financial success in particular, as evidence of God’s favor. A golden ticket.

What was not to be known was God’s judgment. Among believers in the Protestant Ethic who bought pews and clergy, a surety of salvation arrogated to themselves the power of God. That is blasphemy. You could even call it a form of witchcraft, using spells and incantations to bind divinity. For that was surely the expectation. I lived right, I did well. Reward me.

Cancel culture uses similar logic to discover who is damned. Commit a sex crime. Cancel them! Woody Allen. Harvey Weinstein. Bill Cosby. Commit an act of racist hatred. Cancel them. Lindsey Graham. DJT. Derek Chauvin. George Wallace. Bull Connor. And so many unnamed yet. The perpetrators of police murder. Cancel them! The reinforcers of systemic racism. The apologists for wealth and power. Their insurers.

Let me be clear. These are heinous crimes, sins against humanity, and deserve punishment. Prison. Public diminishment. The ignominy of seeing yourself in history books as bad examples.

But. All of these people, like John Muir, are not one thing. Not only sexual predator, not only racist cops or politicians or creepy entertainers. I don’t know any of them well, but there might be a good father there. A devoted son.

Cancel culture condemns the whole person for one aspect of their personality. I understand the impulse. That wrong is, in my eyes, so awful, so often neglected, that those who get caught must be pilloried in the square forever.

But we can’t do that. If so, we’ll need to get someone to make each of us stocks and lock ourselves in them. These bad impulses, the yetzer hara as Judaism names it, are attempts to gratify the ego. And that’s all they are.

Each person also contains a yetzer hatov, an impulse to bear the burden of the other, to love the neighbor as the self. We all let our yetzer hara out to play. Perhaps not as egregiously as the canceled, the left behind of our culture, but perhaps so, too.

We need, no, must, see each human, including ourselves, as working our way through this life, this one wild and precious life, as well as we can. Some choose a slack hold on their impulses, hoping gratification will lift them up. Some choose to struggle, to work with the selfish impulse as a means for motivating change, achievement.

We all, always, have this choice. Even Cosby. Even Chauvin. Even Wallace.

Let’s not have any more left behinds in this damaged and broken nation. We’ll need all our resources to come back from Covid and Trump.

*”Protestant ethic, in sociological theory, the value attached to hard work, thrift, and efficiency in one’s worldly calling, which, especially in the Calvinist view, were deemed signs of an individual’s election, or eternal salvation.” Encyclopedia Britannica


Written By: Charles - Aug• 04•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Tuesday grateful: The Lughnasa moon just setting below Black Mountain. That one violet volunteering near our front steps. The daisies. The faint whoosh of folks going to work. Ruth. Her eagerness to see us. Their garden and her joy in it. Seeing Patty yesterday. Banking. Socrates, the teller.

Gardening. At the end of my time on the Ancient Ones zoom, I surprised myself by summing up my life as having one regret. Gardening. That we hadn’t pursued it here on Shadow Mountain. I miss, I said, growing our own food. Working with soil and plants. I do. Miss it.

Once Kate and I moved to Andover a transition began for me from city boy to horticulturalist. I wouldn’t have predicted that necessarily. We’d done some perennials at our home on Edgcumbe road. Starting with the small bed I planted in the front yard, finishing during the great Halloween blizzard of October 31st, 1991. Daffodils and Iris, if I recall correctly.

It’s true I had a big garden back in 1974 on the Peaceable Kingdom, my failed attempt, with Judy, to develop a spot for the movement to have respite care. My only Psilocybin journey happened there. I watched our Potato plants growing. But the Peaceable Kingdom did not last and neither did gardening.

A bit of gardening at the first house, the one on 41st Avenue, but Slugs took over. There was no gardening at home in Alexandria. A few Flowers maybe, but nothing to remember.

Andover, though. When we got there, the front yard was bare, as was a sloped area behind the house in the back. About an acre of Woods were doing fine, as undisturbed Woods will do. In between was a large patch of weedy, scrubby Grass with a large grove of Black Locust. They didn’t look good, some of them were dead. BTW: many of the Weeds were actually Hemp plants seeded during a World War II field planted in it.

We hired a landscape architect who helped us with the bare Land. I wanted to sow a Prairie on all of it. Kate said no, we could never sell it. We settled on two large areas of Prairie with sod and some new Trees in between them, directly in front of the house. On the sloping area behind the house we decided to do a terraced garden. Irrigation went in with all of it.

In the beginning I wanted to do only perennials. I imagined our house overflowing with fresh cut flowers throughout the growing season. I had a lot to learn. Having flowers blooming from spring into fall requires so many skills.

I did not want to do annuals. And, I didn’t. Along the way I learned about soil amendments, spading forks and gardening spades, trowels, and hori-hori. Killed a lot of plants. Cussed at Rose Chafers, Japanese Beetles, Colorado Beetles. Along the way I fell in love with the families Lily and Iris and crocus. Learned the amazing recovery powers of Hosta.

The Black Locust and their small swords taught me caution and how to use a chain saw, a commercial grade chipper, a Peavey, a Swede saw. Hired stump grinders. I cleared, with Jon’s help, enough area that we could imagine a vegetable garden. Jon built us raised beds from the start, anticipating the day when bending over would not be easy. He made some in whimsical shapes, others square, some rectangular. I filled them with top soil and compost.

We had various compost piles, none of which worked very well. We built one that used split rail fencing and a large metal gate to keep the dogs out. Tully, one of our Wolfhounds, kept finding her way in. But she couldn’t get back out. Strange.

Speaking of Wolfhounds. Jon built a fence around the raised beds to keep them out. They loved to dig in soft garden soil.

More on this later. This has gotten long.

A Blue, Sun Shiny Day

Written By: Charles - Aug• 03•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Monday gratefuls: Radiation. Dr. Gilroy. The sabbatical. Too short. Gardening. Bill. Tom. Paul. Yesterday. Exposing their self-understandings. Tender. Still cool. Kate’s sisters and their bi-Sunday zooms. Sarah. Anne. B.J. Oil checks. Weird. The land in Texas. Mary and Mark, as Mary said, my nomadic family. Rigel and Kep on the bed last night. For a while. The working of Claritine.

Got in Ruby. Turned on the a.c. Pegged 55 on the cruise control and wound my down the hill, then south 470 to Lonetree. It will have been a year on August 9th that I had my last radiation treatment. Today I saw Patty, the kind head radiology tech who oversaw my treatments. She remembered me. Is that you, Charlie?\

Yes, it was. I had on my red Los Alamos split the atom t-shirt. We went through the formalities. Co-pay. Urinary and bowel function and symptoms checklist. A nurse took my vitals. 96 O2, 100/65 B.P. Dr. Gilroy came in.

He hadn’t changed. Still slightly tubby, expensive tattersall shirt. Close cropped gray hair. Jovial. Anything bothering you?

An existential question to start with. Thought about mentioning Kierkegaard, but I didn’t. Nope. Not really. Given my Gleason score, staging, my prostatectomy and the recurrence, the radiation and the Lupron, what are my odds of a cure. About 2/3rds, 1/3rd, he said. 1/3rd have a recurrence. We don’t know why. The odds are good, but 1/3rd is a lot of people.

I see. It didn’t rock me this time like it did when Eigner said 60/40 in July. Getting used to the fact that cancer is always going to be a part of my life. Every 3 month psa’s. On and on and on.

Like walking along on a plank bridge over a deep ravine. Every fourth step might break and you’ll fall through. But most don’t. Just keep walking. Oh. Well. O.K.

We got up, didn’t shake hands. Covid. Masks on. I left. In the lobby I hit the hand sanitizer, opened the door, and walked into a bright blue Colorado day.

Head, Heart, Hands and Health

Written By: Charles - Aug• 02•20

Lughnasa and the Lughnasa Moon

Sunday gratefuls: The framers. Jon’s print. Ode’s. Ruth’s painting. Kate’s heirloom needlepoint: Love is Enough. All beautiful. Art by friend and family. Pho. Singapore noodles. That woman and her kid who needed money. Ruby and her air conditioning. Driving through Evergreen with the window down and the AC on. Allergies. Sympathy for my father. Blue skies, cool nights. No wildfire so far. Lughnasa

Lughnasa in the mountains. Lughnasa is a first fruits harvest festival. In ancient Celtic life it would have meant, like all the major holidays do, a market week. Games, trading, drinking and feasting, contests. State fairs and county fairs are Lughnasa influenced. They tend to fall between August 1st, Lughnasa and the autumnal equinox, or Mabon.

The Madison County 4-H Fair, which was held in Alexandria, my hometown, rather than the county seat of Anderson, Indiana, is a good example. I don’t recall, or maybe just don’t know, the reason Alexandria’s Beulah Park got the honor, but it was great for us as kids.

A carny setup strings of lights, cotton candy machines and hot dog stands, rides, and games. We would go early, watch them setup. Mom holding me on her shoulder, a blue blanket wrapped around me, a string of lights above my head is my first memory. A faint chill shuddered through me. I’ve always believed that was the first sign of my polio.

Local men erected tents with thick stakes and strong rope. Vendors of all sorts came to the fair. My favorite one was the dairy that passed out dixie cups of chilled buttermilk. I’d sprinkle mine with salt and pepper, going back as often as they’d allow it.

Car dealers brought out new model cars. I saw my first 1957 Chevy at the Madison County Fair. Farm equipment dealers brought tractors, hay balers, wagons. Those big yellow and green John Deeres. The red Massey-Fergusons. Tires taller than all of us kids with deep tread.

There were entertainers: magicians, singers, choirs, local celebrities. A queen contest. But the most important part of the fair, the Madison County 4-H fair, were the 4-H exhibits and shows. Some of you city folks may not know about 4-H: Head, Heart, Hands and Health.

4‑H Pledge

I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

This was small town America, rural America at its best. That pledge works. Can you imagine djt taking the pledge, for example?

4-H, the county extension office, and the cooperative extension offices from public land grant universities made room for kids with sheep, pigs, cows, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, horses. The kids came with their animals, often slept in their stalls during the fair. They made room for kids who cooked, baked, painted, did seed art, crafts like crocheting. County extension offices sponsored contests for wood-working, pie baking, honey making, quilting. County 4-H’ers could win blue ribbons, go on to the State Fair in Indianapolis.

Walking through the stalls with Holsteins, Guernseys, Jerseys, Angus, Hereford, and smelling farm smells, the ordure mixed with hay and urine. Seeing the biggest Boar lounging in his pen, his testicles usually visible and the scene of much laughing and pointing. The fancy Pigeons and high-strung Banty roosters. Rabbits with their long ears and velvety fur.

The buildings held jars of pickles, honey, jam. There were live Bees, honeycomb, and jars of amber honey ready to be judged. Decorated cakes. Plates of cookies. Bird houses and hobby horses, hand made. Quilts. And much more.

We knew where food comes from. Our friends and family grew it in their fields, raised it in their barns and pens. This was, and is, a celebration of Mother Earth.

The 2020 Madison County 4-H Fair was canceled due to the pandemic. But it will be back, spreading the country gospel of head, hearts, hands, and health. What we need right now.

Who. Are. You?

Written By: Charles - Aug• 01•20

Lughnasa and the Lughansa Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Yet more rain. Cool nights and mornings. A not so bad day for Kate. Derek. Shrimp and gnocchi. Re-reading Jennie’s Dead. Urge to paint coming back. Tom and his focus for our Sunday gathering, Ancient Friends. The Watchmen on HBO. Recursion by Coloradan Blake Crouch. Writing. Oil paints. The Loft. Kep’s howl. Rigel’s deep bark.

Tomorrow morning we Ancient Friends: Tom Crane, Paul Strickland, William Schmidt, and Mark Odegard will follow Tom’s lead. His prompt starts with the Campbell quote and ends with one. My preliminary thoughts on answering it come after.

The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are
― Joseph Campbell

Tell us about your life:  

First: What are the gifts and talents that you have uniquely combined in this life to be you?

Then: What are the experiences that you have had which contributed to your unique life story.  Experiences are physical, such as travel or work, intellectual, such as learning, and emotional, such as joy, grief, empathic connection?

And in summary, what is it about your life that causes you to smile?

“As you proceed through life, following your own path, birds will shit on you. Don’t bother to brush it off. 
Getting a comedic view of your situation gives you spiritual distance. 
Having a sense of humor saves you.” 

― Joseph Campbell

What makes me smile: Dogs. Little kids. Kate being smart. A Shadow Mountain night sky. Seeing the mountains from Denver and knowing we live there. Driving into the mountains after going down the hill. Joe and Seoah. Ruth and Gabe. Walking into the loft. Seeing Kate at breakfast. Travel. Art. Art museums. Seeing my buddies and family on Zoom. A long stretch of nothing on the calendar.

Gifts and talents uniquely combined: Some intelligence. A drive for justice, fairness, no matter where. A willingness to take personal risks in the pursuit of justice and life directions. A love of reading, of learning. A passion for horticulture, for Mother Earth, for being a husband and parent, for being true to my values. A good speaking voice and public presence. A certain facility with words. The ability to commit. To persevere. A capacity to own my failures, to rectify mistakes. A willingness to let go and become new. A deep capacity to love. A strong body. (awareness of this came late in life) A love of the strange, the novel, the other.

What are the experiences that you have had: Being born in Oklahoma and raised in small town central Indiana. Polio. A close extended family with lots of cousins. Mary and Mark as siblings. Curtis, a distant father, and Trudy, a loving mother. Her death. Wabash. First year Philosophy, Logic. Embracing the liberal arts ideal. Critical thinking. The 60’s! Being part of the culture shaking change of the movement, having a leading role in it in Muncie. Running, and losing, for Student Body President in 1968. Trip to Canada for anti-draft league pamphlets. Seeing John Cage and Marcel DuChamp on stage playing chess in Toronto. Diving into Anthropology. Learning its way of viewing culture. Not applying for a Danforth Fellowship. The GRE’s. Refusing graduate school. Sex in college. Moving to Wisconsin. Then, Minnesota. Judy and the Peaceable Kingdom. Community Involvement Programs. Raeone. Alcoholism. Treatment. Stevens Square Community Organization. Fighting large corporations like General Mills, Control Data, and Sandoz. The West Bank Ministry. Ordination. MJ Hedstrom. Party politics. Helping unseat a long time Hennepin County Commissioner and nominate Paul Wellstone. Organizing, with many others, Jobs Now, the Philanthropy Project, the grandmother Ministry. Taking food to A.I.M when they occupied Wounded Knee. Organizing Sin Fronteras, M.I.C.A.H. (the Metropolitan Interfaith Coalition for Affordable Housing). Various consulting jobs. Working with the James Tillman anti-racism seminars and analyzing the YWCA in terms of racism, then analyzing the Tillman seminars. Writing nine novels. Learning Latin and translating Ovid. Developing and writing this blog for fifteen years. Finally meeting Kate, my first sober relationship. And my best one by far. Our dogs, gardens, meals, love. 17 years of St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts. Leadership Minneapolis. Meeting through it Lonnie, Stefan, Paul, Sarah, and through Stefan and Paul the Woolly Mammoths. 30 years plus of men’s friendships in the Woollies. 12 years a docent and guide at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Switching from economic justice work to climate change politics. Managing the Sierra Club’s political work for two years. Three Ira Progoff workshops. Result of the second one: moving to Colorado. Taking Ruth, when she was three, to the National Stockshow. Loving the Rocky Mountains, their wildness, their thereness. Finding Congregation Beth Evergreen. Reconstructing Judaism as an affirmative place for my own reimagining faith journey. Kate’s long illnesses. The very scary time in September and October of 2018. Prostate cancer. Surgery, then recurrence. Discovering Asian art, Taoism, China. Going to Singapore, Cambodia, Angkor Wat. Seeing Ephesus, Delphi, the Panama Canal. Circumnavigating Latin America with Kate. Eating in Pizzaro’s former home in Lima, Peru. My trip to St. Denioll’s in Hawarden, Wales. Kate and mine’s wonderful honeymoon, three weeks traveling north from Rome to Inverness, Scotland. Building my own library. The mountain spirits who have visited when I needed them. Living on Shadow Mountain. Discovering the West. Covid. Trump. Deep angst with both. Leaning into the future, now, always.