General News


We are back in this old house after a six-day road trip through the Southwest. Even though this old house is only about 1300 sf, it feels huge after a series of motel rooms! We were primarily headed to the Grand Canyon with stops at Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Rock Art Ranch, and Canyon de Chelley. It was a birthday celebration for me as well as a chance to see some amazing petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (ancient rock art paintings). In reading further about these mysterious carvings in the rock that various people groups did over a period of several centuries, I learned that these figures, some recognizable, some not, were, among other things, ways of saying “We were here.” Not that much different than modern day graffiti in some ways.

Today, these sites are considered sacred by the descendents of these various people groups. There is some debate as to whether the rock art figures were considered sacred when they were created. Some archeologists, tribal and otherwise, feel they may have been more like our newspapers or a map of where water sources were. Some may have been recording a person’s dream or vision. Whatever the reason, people in the past took time and energy to chisel out or paint these figures, some in very hard-to-get-to places. These ancient people wanted to leave a record of some kind for someone else to find.

Standing in the canyon at Rock Art Ranch outside of Winslow, Arizona, I was caught by the natural beauty of the place. I could understand why ancient people utilized the cool water and shade the canyon provides from the blazing desert sun. There are a gazillion canyons in the Four Corners area of the USA (Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico). Not every canyon has rock art in it. Why were they so prolific in the Rock Art Ranch canyon and not someplace else? What message were they trying to tell others when they climbed way up some of the walls and chiseled intricate figures and designs? What message were they trying to tell themselves?

All of this got me thinking. This is a “big” birthday for me, one of those that makes me stop and reflect on the passing of time in deeper ways. I am aware that I have far fewer years left on earth than I have already lived. Seeing those rock art figures made me wonder what kind of mark I am leaving that says “I was here.” Sure, I have written books, borne children, had good friendships and creative work. I have also done things I wish could be erased from my life. Do any of the petroglyphs or pictographs record a confession of a misdeed? Or were they an ancient form of Facebook where only the successful hunts were shared with others?

The question became for me: What will last from my life? Or will it, and I, completely disappear in the distance of time, someday to be forgotten by all? My Christian faith says no, from an eternal perspective, but from an earthly perspective, I have to recognize that even my journals and books will someday be forgotten, discarded, disintegrate as did the many broken pottery shards I saw, forever disconnected from their original whole.

This can be kind of gloomy language around a birthday, a milestone age many of the ancient peoples never lived long enough to see. Yet, reflecting on what is meaningful, long-lasting, worthy of focusing on is a good thing to do as I begin the last section of my life. It is time to discard people and things that are life-draining and focus more on that which is life-giving. It is a time to reflect on the “carvings” that are on my soul. Experiences and words leave lasting impressions on our lives. If my soul were a rock, what has been chiseled into it, painted onto it? And what is the message those carvings have for me as I flip the calendar on a new decade?

 

 

One of the older cottages near this old house is undergoing major renovation, probably for the first time since it was built decades ago. To give you an idea of the age of the cottage, not only is it sitting on the ground, having no foundation similar to the situation here at this old house, but there is literally only eight inches between the ground and the floor of the bathroom, barely enough room for modern plumbing. The descendants of the original family quit using it after the parents died back in the 1980s. The parents would come and spend all summer, rolling up the living rug to host dances for friends. The mother was also famous for keeping a close eye on the community tennis court, making sure everyone observed Quiet Hours and throwing scofflaws, who tried to sneak in and play on it, off. After they could no longer come, the house would sit unused for months, even years, at a time. Occasionally the son would come, bringing his much younger second wife, but they were always too busy with their life out-of-state to come much. Someday, they always said, the wife was planning on coming up and spending lots of time in the house but the sad news is, she contracted early onset Alzheimer’s disease, ending “someday” for her. As none of her children nor the grandchildren of the original occupants cared much about the house or the community, it was sold.

A couple from California bought it. Lovely people and a nice addition to the community. They have been working carefully with the Landmarks Board so as to not transgress the rules of living in a National Historic Landmark area when it comes to remodeling. It will be interesting to see that house revived and upgraded in the months ahead. It is a delight even now to see lights on there when the new owners would be in residence and even the construction workers give it a look of “aliveness.” A constantly dark house is kind of depressing, kind of like someone who won’t join in the party.

I suspect that if any of the original owners of that house or even the original Boulder Chautauquans were to show up today, they would be quite surprised. First of all, all the original tents have all been replaced by wooden cottages. Parking has been an issue up here since Day 1 but now it is with cars instead of horses and wagons. The public latrines and shower house have been converted to cottages and the cottages that were below the Auditorium are all gone. There are still a few apple trees left from the old orchard and the original ranch house is still here, though significantly upgraded. Trees were practically non-existent 100 years ago; now there are towering pines everywhere. The Dining Hall is now a fancy restaurant instead of a cafeteria where the whole community ate three meals a day together. The programming in the Auditorium is not constant nor attended by the whole community on a daily basis. The park is lived in year-round instead of from July 4th to mid-September. The University of Colorado now handles continuing education for school teachers instead of the courses that were taught in the Academic Hall. The Community House is no longer for the community to use at will but rather is a high-priced rental for wedding, Bar Mitzvahs and smaller programs, like author talks. No one cares who uses the tennis court these days.

Much has changed since this old house was brought up from downtown Boulder somewhere around 1901 and the house undergoing renovation was brand new. As with most changes, some are good and necessary. The people who come here 116 years after the founding fathers and mothers arrived have very different needs and requirements. Lots of organized social activities and entertainment aren’t necessary any more as people don’t associate in groups as they used to and there is plenty of entertainment to be found elsewhere. In fact, many who come here use it simply as a “motel” and never really engage with nor care about the history and traditions. Quiet Hours in the summer absolutely baffle many people who come from a 24/7 world.

It is good that the cottages have been upgraded and the streets paved. I am thankful there is electricity and other city services that tie this old house into the grid of modern conveniences. But I do think something has been lost. When people who have no idea of what community really means are in charge of making decisions about a community, efficiency and bottom lines usually win the day. People are simply a nuisance on the road to “progress.” People who are invested in a place ask questions, point out faulty thinking, push back on plans that seem short-sighted. People coming for a night or two don’t care about the larger history of a place. As long as the bed is comfortable and the place clean, they don’t care about long-term strategies that weaken community.

In fact, long-term communities that go back for multiple generations are not often seen as assets in the historic preservation equation. That is a shame as it was the historic community that rose up in the 1970s and saved the Boulder Chautauqua from demolition. If it wasn’t for those people who pushed back against short-sighted policies and general neglect, I probably wouldn’t be sitting in this old house writing this.

And what applies to a small scale community also applies to larger entities: municipalities, counties, states, this nation. Please don’t be apathetic. Please make sure you vote in as informed a manner as you can. Believe me, it doesn’t take much to destroy a community or a democracy if people aren’t paying attention.

The mama bear and two cubs have been hanging around this old house this week. I haven’t seen them myself but John, walking home late at night, discovered the cubs playing in the neighbor’s yard. That meant mama was nearby but since there was a lot of banging going on at the dumpster at the other end of the alley, he assumed that is where she was and skedaddled past the two cubs. Several years ago, he had tried to photograph a mama and two cubs at the neighbor’s bird feeder. Quietly slipping out to the end of our front porch, he went to snap the picture of the happy family about 40 feet away when mama bear charged. By the time John made it back in the house, a distance of about six feet, mama had covered the forty feet. Bears may look lumbering and slow but they can move very fast!

Up on the mesa, where I do my morning walk, I have spent several mornings singing as I went along this week. It felt like I was the only up there, or at least on that section of the path at that moment, and I didn’t want to surprise mama bear or worse, get between her and the cubs. Fortunately, I have only seen their “calling card,” huge piles that evidence their diet of apples and other berries this time of year. They are busy packing on every pound they can before their winter’s hibernation begins around late November.

I have been focused on food myself this week. The first Thanksgiving food magazine came in the mail and I devoured it in one sitting! The Thanksgiving food magazines are my favorite of the whole year, more so than even the Christmas ones. The idea of cooking a turkey with all the fixings energizes me. I almost like cooking the meal more than eating it. The stuffing/dressing is my favorite. In fact, I joke they are the only reason I make a turkey! A slight exaggeration but I am not a huge turkey fan so I eat mostly stuffing/dressing and just enough meat to give me protein. Many of the various businesses I patronize regularly give me some kind of small gift or coupon during my birthday month, which is the end of October. This week, at the local spice shop, I got a free spice mix of my choosing and I chose a turkey rub in anticipation of Thanksgiving dinner.

The kitchen in this old house is quite small. We call it “a one butt kitchen” as it is more like a boat galley than a normal house kitchen. Yet, with John’s creative use of every square inch of space and my love of cooking, we have had some nice meals in the years that we have lived here. I have also managed to stuff a kitchen store’s worth of pans and gadgets into it! We are not restaurant people, preferring instead to put money toward “good” groceries, such as organic meat and unusual spices as well as equipment to cook with.

And don’t get me started on my cookbooks! I have literally run out of room for any more in the cupboard. Yet, I just saw a new one on Jewish and Arab cooking in Jerusalem that may have to become part of the collection…I read them like non-fiction travel logs. Food is such a cultural statement, as well as a political and theological one. What we eat, how we prepare it, where we obtain it: all aspects of food production and consumption speak to what we as a society and as individuals believe about ourselves, God, nature, and life itself. In our book, “The Life of the Body: Physical Well-Being and Spiritual Formation,” my co-author and I put a chapter in on the theology of food, which I spear-headed. It is an important topic to me politically and theologically as well as the sheer enjoyment of it. Grocery stores are part of every trip, especially when we are traveling internationally.

Unlike mama bear and her cubs, who are focused on eating enough to sustain a fast for several months, we, as a culture, are heading into a major non-stop eating frenzy. I invite all of us to enjoy and give thanks for each mouthful we consume in the days ahead.

 

 

Life in this old house has been interesting lately. In the past few days, people whom I have not heard from in a long time have reappeared. The other night, in the middle of making dinner, old neighbors, in town for the football game, appeared unexpectedly at the door. We knew them as college kids living across the street. John performed their wedding and here they are, back at their alma mater with two elementary age children in tow! At times like that, so many memories come flooding in. Suddenly, we were transported back 13 years to a very different time in all of our lives. They claimed we hadn’t changed a bit but, oh, we have! Physically, we may look similar to what we did 13 years ago but life has taken us for a full ride in the intervening years and we are definitely changed because of it.

As if this wasn’t enough, three other people from past working situations appeared out-of-the-blue as well. It started to become almost funny even as it felt odd.

The Celts believed that at this time of the year, as they moved closer to their new year, which began on November 1st, the veil between the spirit world and this world thinned. They believed that the spirits of the dead would rise on their new year’s eve (now our Halloween) and so all sorts of customs were developed to protect them from those spirits. Dressing in costume, trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins all come out of the pre-Christian Celtic worldview and have been morphed into American Halloween.

With the convergence of all these people from the past, I began to wonder this week if somehow the Celtic new year had arrived early! People, spirits, from the past suddenly appearing in person or over the phone, seeking to reconnect in some way: it felt like I was close to another world.

Re-connecting with someone after a long period of no contact can be tricky. They are not the same; I am not the same. Life has been moving on and events have been shaping both of us in ways that the other has not been a part of. The cliche example here is children you see again after a long absence. The essence of who they are is more developed but so much has changed about them. Not being there through those changes leaves one struggling to catch up, to connect with who that child is today and not with a remembered child from days gone by. Children pick up very quickly on whether or not we adults are dealing with them in the present or in the past.

With long-absent adults, the first encounter can be tricky, especially if the last meeting was not a good one. If the visit is one of seeking reconciliation, it can be difficult to leap-frog over a number of years to the present reality. I find that I go right back to where I was with that person at the last encounter. To overcome that and take the person as they are now, in the present, takes real maturity, a trait I struggle to manifest many times.

This is why forgiveness can be so difficult.  Much healing may have happened in your life and in theirs but that hasn’t been shared. Unless both parties are leaning into the conversation, those positive changes can be missed as we talk to each other out of the past. Adult children going home to visit can find themselves in this trap, re-inserted by parents or siblings into the role the family traditionally assigned to them. Even if they no longer fit that role, other family members assume they are still the “clown” or the “fixer.” This is why successful therapy always has to deal with the whole family system and not just the individual.

Throughout the years, this old house has witnessed a lot of life, up and down, good and bad, reconciliations and disintegrating relationships. I was reminded again this week of so much of the life I have lived in these four walls. Some of it has been difficult; much of it has been very good. Many of the people who have crossed the threshold have brought treasured memories. Some have brought suffering and sorrow. They would say the same about me, I am sure. I am thankful that all of us are part of a much larger Story and that all the mysteries we live in now will be solved eventually. The passing years have given me a taste of that reality.

 

We are definitely back in Indian summer here at this old house. After we installed all the permanent storm windows two weeks ago during a cold spell, temperatures soared to and stayed in the 80s. While it does cool down at night, we are back to turning on the fans in the afternoons due to the warmth with only a few windows able to be opened for ventilation. The front door must be shut at night; there was a bear cub in the stream bed behind us yesterday. With the bears feeding up to 20 hours a day, getting ready for hibernation, no smell is safe from their searching noses, including household kitchen scents. Having one stroll in through the screen door on a hot night is one story I don’t want in my repertoire.

It has also been quite dry and we are back to watering grass and outside plants. A cooler, wetter weather pattern is due in starting tomorrow night; it is late September in the Rocky Mountains, after all. The leaves are turning, albeit slowly, and fall flowers are making their appearance. I learned the hard way that sage, when it is in bloom in the fall, is highly allergenic and even toxic. I have been fighting a nasty outbreak on my arms, legs and neck from blooming sage that I bundled for smudging while in New Mexico the week before. Normally, sage is not something that bothers me but a wonderful herbalist in Taos told me that that she never harvests sage or juniper when it is in bloom. Who knew?!

It reminds me of the rhubarb we grow down the hill behind this old house. The stalks are edible but the leaves are poisonous. I find it interesting that something can be both nourishing and toxic. The word “home” can evoke both feelings of comfort and of terror. Home is familiar but, in some cases, only because the terror that manifests itself there and how to navigate it is understood, a known quality. That is what drives abused children to defend the abusing adult when interventions are staged. Better to stick with the misery one knows than risk tackling something unknown, even if that unknown leads to a better situation.

Fear has become a major focus of my thinking lately because I am coming to realize how much fear drives our reactions to life, in families, or between nations and religions. What we don’t know, we fear. What we imagine might happen, we fear. Even though we are offered something potentially good, something even better than what we have now, fear can keep us in miserable, joyless, life-draining situations for a very long time. How many of us now regret not taking an opportunity that seemed wild and risky at the time even though it made our hearts leap in excitement thinking about it? How many of us took the “safe” route in something not realizing that “life is fraught with dangers, safety among them” [source unknown]?  When we are playing it “safe,” we may be in danger of losing our creative selves in the process. By not leaping up into life, we may be missing out on the very life we were put here on earth to live. We each have to determine for ourselves what is the “nourishing” and what is the “toxic” in a given situation. Not everyone suffered an outbreak from the sage blossoms as I did!

Does that mean I will fear sage now? No but I will certainly seek to be wise about it. Sometimes, we mistake “fear” for “wisdom.” It helps us feel virtuous in saying no to something we maybe were really meant to have said yes to. It is in living fully and in community that we mature into understanding the difference between being prudent and being afraid. So enjoy that rhubarb pie but pass on a salad made with the leaves.

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