Monthly Archives: April 2016

Caregiving the Hard Way

mental healthCarol and I attend a support group meeting for caregivers of mentally ill loved ones.  It meets at the Mental Health Center of Denver and is sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).Carol attends regularly, but I stopped for a while because the stories are just too heart rending.  One person has been a caregiver for various family members since she was seven.  She did take a break for a while, serving as an Army nurse in Vietnam.   

Many attendees have more than one family member they are caring for.  The hard part for them is there is probably no end.  Most mentally ill people stay that way.  There is no stability.  Sometimes the loved one is doing OK for a long time, working or going to school, and then, bang, a psychotic break and repeated hospitalizations.  There is often financial instability, the loved one experiencing extended periods of unemployment, and being repeatedly denied disability benefits. 

In addition, the mental health system is broken.  Years ago, if a person was severely mentally ill, there was an extensive mental hospital system.  No longer.  The development of psychiatric medications and attempts to treat the mentally ill in the community ended the hospital system.  Today there is a host of agencies, some nonprofit, some for profit, and some governmental.  At least veterans have the VA, which does a fairly good job despite the overload.  There is never enough money, and too many people in need. 

Here in Denver, there are the Mental Health Corporation of Denver, Denver Health, several private agencies, the police, Social Services, halfway houses, Vocational Rehabilitation, detox, and others.  Navigating the system is time consuming, frustrating, confusing, and often a failure.  People have spent many thousands of dollars at private mental health facilities with no discernible effect.  All it has done is get the person out of the house for a while. 

A big one is the uncertainty.  If the loved one is doing well, it’s waiting for the next episode.  The person may just disappear for a while, only making contact when at rock bottom.  Some caregivers are relieved when their person is incarcerated.  At least they are relatively safe.  Safety, how can one insure that with a suicidal person?  There is a crisis system, offering telephone support, referrals, and sending a trained person with the police to the loved one’s home.    Sometimes it works.

There are tragedies.  One person was the high school valedictorian, then Cum Laude in college, then experienced a schizophrenic breakdown, and is gone with a shotgun barrel in her mouth.  I haven’t even touched on the alcohol and drug abuse problems, which are also mental health issues. 

Why do the caregivers do it?  They sacrifice huge chunks of their own lives, living with anxiety and uncertainty, for no financial reward.  They are caregiving for a loved one.  Love carries them through almost unimaginable adversity, and most caregivers still display love not only for their loved one, but also maintain a positive outlook on life.  There are those caregivers who flee, just not able to meet the challenge of a seemingly unending task.   

It is said that love knows no bounds.  For the caregivers in the support group, that is true.  We don’t see those who just lack enough love to stay involved for so long.  There are lots of heroes out there, you just don’t see them, for they are too busy to be visible.  I am able to hang in there for the loved one, but I can’t attend the support group every time; I just can’t deal with all the pain.

 

 

It’s Spring!

Spring Renewal

Spring Renewal

Spring is a sometime thing here in Colorado.  We have years where it goes directly from winter to summer.  That is not the case this year.  Spring started showing up in February, and it seems to be stretching until late April at least.  It is mid-month, and a spring storm is on the way.  We are supposed to get lots of rain and snow in the next few days.  March and April are supposed to be our big moisture months.  It looks like this year will hold true.   

We have planted carrots, beets, tomatoes, chard, and shallots.  Then the moisture started.  Perfect.  Usually Carol starts lots of stuff indoors starting in January.  Due to a couple of surgeries that didn’t happen this year.  We will probably be buying more nursery starts than normal.   

I turned the sprinkler system on and watered, but I will drain the above ground copper and brass so it won’t freeze with a storm.  It won’t get cold enough to hurt the buried stuff.  It is always a bit of an adventure getting the sprinkling system going, fixing the winter damage.  It was easy this year, only three sprinkler heads needed work.  I got lucky, usually I have to splice the underground piping I chop through doing the spring digging. 

We have been steadily reducing the amount of lawn we have, replacing grass with patio space and Xeric planting.  The law is supposed to be fescue, but much of it is crabgrass.  I had the pre-emergent crabgrass killer, but as in every previous year, I didn’t get it down in time.  Oh well, at least it is green.  

It looks like at least one more snow shoveling session.  I have to be careful with the shoveling, my back doesn’t like much heavy work.  We don’t have a lot of walk, so the job is not too big.  There is one fun part, however.  We have solar panels on the garage roof that are over the walk to the alley.  The snow slides off the panels onto the walk as it warms up after a storm, leaving a good-sized windrow on the walk.  Last year I didn’t get it shoveled soon enough and I had an ice drift to chop out.  Now I get my lazy butt out there and move it out of the way effort it freezes to ice.  It is heavy, and there is a limited space to put it.  I haven’t had to move the snow with the wheelbarrow yet, but the time is coming, maybe this weekend.  

Some of my Facebook Friends are positively rapturous during this annual miracle of renewal.  I usually have a sarcastic remark to make about their posts, but in truth I an just as much a romantic as they are.  I first appreciated the miracle of spring when I was cooped up with the measles when I was in grade school.  When I was finally able to go out in the bright daylight, the trees had leafed out.  From bare limps to glorious green in the time I was confined to the house.  Now I always make a point of watching the changes, usually when I am sweeping up all the trash the maples drop.

The Green River Formation

The World Famous Green River Formation, for oil shale, not beauty

The World Famous Green River Formation, for oil shale, not beauty

About fifty million years ago the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River did not exist.  The area was surrounded by the Wind River Mountains, the Uintah Mountains, the San Juans, the Uncompahgre Plateau, and the newly formed Rocky Mountains.  This huge area had no outlet to the sea.  The climate was similar to our current Gulf Coast, warm and moist.  During the six million years we are exploring, things changed.  Lakes formed and receded, land rose and subsided, and through all this the surrounding highlands were sending their sediment into the lakes.   

The Green River Formation is the result of all the sedimentation.  It is up to ten kilometers in depth, thinner at the margins.  At first the lakes were fresh water, but later became saline, leaving large deposits of carbonate rocks.  The trona deposits at Green River, Wyoming are some of the richest in the world.  The margins are sandstone and conglomerate interlaced with the fine silt that filled most of the basin.  The formation is rich in the fossils of the abundant life in the lakes.  They are world famous for their variety and abundance.   

There was an anoxic layer at the bottom that preserved the organisms settling there.  The lakes were abundant in blue-green algae.  The remains of the algae are the source of the oil shale deposits the region is known for.  The oil shale is there in millions of barrels, but it is expensive to extract the petroleum from the rock.  It may never be commercially viable, but the formation has been extensively studied as a result.  

Green River Formation Map

Green River Formation Map

Standing in my home town of Fruita looking north, the white cliffs behind the Book Cliffs are the Green River Formation.  The Roan Plateau is huge, but does not attract visitors like the red rock country to the south.  A huge exposure is the highlands west of I-70 from Rifle to DeBeque Canyon. 

My interest is from visiting ranchers and hunting in the Douglas Pass area in my youth.  Most of our visits were to ranches in the Green River Formation.  The elevations varied greatly.  The ranches were along West Salt Creek, but there were back country roads that went from sagebrush desert to piñon-juniper to oak brush shaly hillsides with sandstone rims to high country timber with world class mud.  In fact, the mud is world class everywhere in the region. 

Back before four wheel drive became common, there was a pile of rocks at the bottom of every big hill.  Load them in the back of your pickup, go where you planned, and unload them on the way home.  There is a network of canyons with side canyons branching off.  All of it is fine deer habitat.  My favorite places were at the head of a canyon with the wind in my face and a view of the LaSal Mountains and the Uncompahgre Plateau in the distance.  Flat, wooded country gives me the creeps. 

Access to a lot of the country is difficult.  Most of the land is BLM land, but the early ranchers homesteaded the choice land that had water.  The private land meant locked gates.  We knew some of the ranchers, family friends.  Hunting season was a big deal.  There were maybe a dozen or more people, hunting during the day and drinking and playing poker at night.  The big ranch house had a big kitchen with a wood burning stove along with the stove in the big main room.  There was a light plant in the shed next to the house.  It looked like no generator you see these days.  There were also lots of Coleman lanterns when the light plant failed.  Good times and lots of venison.  The unheated bunkhouse was upstairs. 

Douglas pass was up the main road, gravel in those days.  It isn’t that high by Colorado standards, but made up for it with the switchbacks up the head of the canyon to the summit up through that shale.  When the shale is wet, it moves.  The road trapped the runoff, wetting the soft shale, and most every spring one or more places slid.  The mountainside now is braided with old road cuts.  It wasn’t much of a main road in the 1950’s, but now there is so much oil and gas development that the road is a paved state highway that the highway department spends money on. 

The road crosses the desert above the Highline irrigation canal before it goes into the canyon.  It is on the Mancos shale, responsible for all that flat desert in Colorado and Utah that turns to grease when it is wet.  There was one hill the road went over then descended into the wash on the north side.  That meant the road was on a north facing slope for a distance.  That hill was named Coyote, because it could bite and gnaw on you if it was wet.  A bit farther north was a ten or twelve foot high rock on the side of the road, all by itself.  

The county employee maintaining the road in those days had his grader blade scrape on that rock every time he bladed the road.  It would leave a bump, so he would have to drag dirt over to level things out.  One day he got fed up and dug that rock up and moved it off the road.  It was probably a two day project, but he never had to fight that damn rock again. 

After I could drive, I ran around that desert quite a bit.  I learned how to drive a two wheel drive pickup in that greasy stuff from my father.  He was the telephone man in Fruita, responsible for maintaining the toll line as far as Cisco, Utah.  That meant navigating two ruts through the cheat grass and sagebrush.  He could put a two wheel drive pickup into places that were a challenge for a Jeep.  Rocks in the back, chains if needed, put it in second gear and putt along.  He seldom used the granny gear or used the gas pedal.  Those old Chevy sixes would just lug their way along.   

I am as guilty as any back country explorer for spending most of my time in the Rocky Mountains or the Utah red rock country, but the Mancos Shale and the Green River formation are calling me.  I just need to see if my tire chains are in good shape.  I think I will go over Douglas Pass, loop around and look the Piceance Basin over. From Rifle I will go down to Plateau Creek (my father and grandfather said platoo crick) and up to Collbran to look at the big slide.

Meditation

Meditation

Meditation

Humans have been meditating ever since our brains got big.  There are seekers who look around the world for answers to what is essentially unknowable, but we still wonder.  There are always people who will tell you they have the answer, and most people are willing to accept what they say.  I am one of the exceptions.  I am one of the seekers, always have been.   

I looked for the answers with the organizations that say they know.  I was never quite satisfied.  I was raised a nominal Methodist, but it never resonated with me.  For many years I was a rabid agnostic, challenging every belief.  It worked, too, except with those persons grounded in their faith.  I looked into lots of beliefs.  I investigated various flavors of Christianity, existential philosophy (the ultimate refuge of the sceptic), the power ideologies, Zen, radical politics, straight humanism, and scientific atheism.  Nothing worked, and I plunged into some of them fairly deeply. 

I attended college during the turbulent late 1960’s.  Parallel with politics were the drugs. I smoked lots of dope, and it helped me to get more in touch with my feelings.  Paradoxically, marijuana is useful if you just want to numb out while feeling good.  I did that a lot.  Then there was LSD.  Lots of people used acid to have fun and maybe explore a changed way of perceiving reality.  Others, myself included, attempted to use acid in the Quest.   

My friends would take one hit of acid, I tended to take three.  By lying down at night and looking straight up I saw the matrix of universal existence, how the entire universe is interconnected.  The problem is that I always came down, and a lot of what I had seen retreated.  I finally gave acid  and pot up. 

I continued to seek, but I also despaired of finding any answers for the Question.  I did the regular stuff, got married, had a career, and engaged in lots of activities.  I explored the wilderness, bred and showed dogs, hunted, drank quite a bit, and had most of it fall apart. 

I was divorced, lonely, depressed, and starting a new career that was technical rather than person-oriented.  I was in the dark night of the soul.  I fell into Pentecostal Christianity, which puts a lot of emphasis on experiential activities.  In other words, I was a Tongue-Talking Holy Roller.  I experienced the divine.  I literally felt the love of Christ.  I plunged in all the way for a couple of years, but the fundamentalism and the underlying Calvinism did me in. 

I went from the Pentecostals to Charismatic Episcopalian churches.  The evangelicalism pushed me out again.  I ended up a mainstream Episcopalian.  I love the liturgy, the ceremony, the openness to religious exploration.  I had trouble with the Church.  The only time the Church contacted me directly  was to ask for money, and I had been steadily giving.  I had to write the Bishop to get accommodations to my shift worker schedule in order to take the course leading to confirmation. 

I left.  I still think of myself as an Episcopalian, but my churchgoing has lapsed.  During my time as an Episcopalian, I began doing Christian Contemplative prayer.  For most of my life, meditation was almost impossible because my ADD-addled brain would never quiet down. I was finally able to meditate.  

I stayed with the contemplatives for quite a while, going to a weekly group, going on retreat, and reading widely.  The Christian mystical tradition is as ancient as Christianity.  In the west, it survived mostly in a monastic setting.  The Carmelites, the Trappists, and a number of other orders have kept the tradition alive.  Today it is moving out of the cloister into the lay community.  It is still mostly Roman Catholic.  The Roman church has always tolerated the Mystics, as they are vital to the Christian tradition, but they have never very good at following all the rules.  That divine spark within all of us have grows in a mystic.  The presence of God within, and following His will is not always compatible with the Church’s teachings. 

My dissatisfaction with the institutional church eventually drove me away.  I am still a Christian, but not able to belong to anything but the Body of Christ.  I need a spiritual community, however, so I began a search into Buddhism.  Why Buddhism?  Buddhism is grounded in meditation and the search for enlightenment.  It is also essentially atheistic.  All those Buddha statues you see in Buddhist places of gathering and meditation are of a man, not some deity.  The Buddha was simply a man who entered into extensive study and meditation and began to teach.  His teachings were extensive and are expanded into a huge literature.   

The Buddha, one hand touching the earth - staying grounded

The Buddha, one hand touching the earth – staying grounded

There are many strains of Buddhism, not just Zen and Tibetan, although those are biggest here in the U.S.  They all share the same goal, which is identifying suffering and seeking the end of suffering.   There are many practices and beliefs, but they all share the goal of ending suffering. 

My first attempt to find a teacher and sangha was in Zen.  Must of what I had read was in that tradition so to The Denver Zen Temple I went.  There is a strong tradition in Zen to continue almost all the practices followed in Japan.  That means robes, chants, a hierarchy of spiritual attainment and ordination into the hierarchy.  There are also lots of rules, as Japan is also full of rules.  The place where people sit zazen (meditate) is called the zendo.  I could not walk into the zendo without getting into trouble.  I just could not remember all the things I was supposed to do.   

I loved sitting zazen.  It is an excellent form of meditation.  The literature here in the west skips over all the other stuff.  The practices are intended to instill discipline which is fine but they come directly from a monastic tradition where monks devote their lives to Zen.  In addition, the liturgy is in Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali, and English.  It was all too much for me and I didn’t especially like the teacher. 

I find Tibetan Buddhism appealing, and the Dalai Lama is a world treasure.  I have trouble with Tibetan Buddhism’s involvement with the spirit world.  The spirit world is all around us, but my belief is that we’re in the physical world to accomplish tasks here, not with spirits.  I have seen the price paid by those who follow that path, whether with benign or malevolent spirits.  The spirits are just that, spirits, non-corporeal. In order to manifest they need energy from us, and losing that energy takes its toll, physically and often mentally.  

Now I belong to the Denver Insight Meditation community.  It is part of the Theravada Buddhist tradition, and is found in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and some other places in Asia.  Theravada is one of the two main traditions in Buddhism, Mahayana being the other. There are differences, the main one is that the Mahayana tradition uses Sanskrit, while Theravada uses Pali, a language contemporary with Sanskrit.   It has a large following here in the U.S. with a good and growing literature.   

The primary teacher in our sangha is Lloyd Burton, a wonderful teacher with a wide knowledge of Theravada Buddhism.  We meet weekly for two hours, spending forty minutes in meditation, a break, then a Dharma talk by Lloyd or another teacher.  The Dharma is the body of Buddhist teachings used as a guide to end suffering.   

Carol and I recently attended a small meditation group close to where we live.  It lasts one hour, thirty minutes of meditation and a thirty minute dharma talk every Monday evening. I think we will be regulars.  Every morning we do a ten minute brain brushing (quick meditation) with our tea.  It is also insight meditation and is a good way to start the day.   

I have found that the more meditating I do the more I want to do.  All the teachers say that a regular meditation practice is the key, just as in prayer.  I fact, my meditation is prayer.  Most of the Buddhist meditations are silent, with the focus on breath.  When other thoughts arise, as the will, one gently returns to focusing on the breath.  With my ADD, emptying my mind is mostly impossible.  I close my eyes and my mind goes into high gear.   

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Jesus

Eastern Orthodox Icon of Jesus

I use a mantra to repeat throughout my session.  This is another ancient practice.  I use the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  This is an ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer, going back to the desert monks in the early days of Christianity.  I match the words to my breathing, and when I drift away, I gently return to the prayer. 

What? A Christian prayer in Buddhist meditation?  Well, yes.  Buddhism is essentially atheistic, and the whole karma/reincarnation thing I just view as a mystery.  Whatever works.  I recommend a strong spiritual practice.  I don’t think it is necessary to follow one specific path.  All the world faiths contain the same basic truths.  One should choose the path that feels right.   

Don’t follow any one person or group who say their path is the only way, give yourself to us.  Anyone who says that is a liar and a fraud, interested mostly in control.  I don’t care if it is one leader with just a few followers or a huge organization with millions of followers, if they say their way is the only way, they lie or are deluded.  The paradox is that many in those faiths do find the way.  It is their individual practice and relationship with the universe that matters, not the framework.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weather

Climate Change

Climate Change

2013 Flood

There is currently a lot of controversy about climate change and whether humankind has a role in the warming trend.  While I think it is true that pouring huge amounts of sequestered carbon is the culprit, I don’t think it matters much for us here in Colorado and much of the west. 

We live in a land of extremes except for the rainy Pacific Northwest, but, they have their earthquakes and volcanos.  Here in Colorado, we dwell in a land of extremes.  The west is dry, it snows in the mountains, the Front Range is kind of a mix, and it is pretty dry in the east.  That varies from year to year.  It varies a lot.   

In the late nineteenth century it was a wet cycle in the eastern prairie, and the railroads made millions enticing settlers to buy their land and get rich farming.  The population in eastern Colorado peaked then and has been declining ever since.  The mountain ski areas have lots of snow some years and almost no snow other years.  The western desert country looks dry and desolate most of the time, but I have seen it bloom in a stunning variety of color.   

Then there are the floods, blizzards, and tornados, often followed by drought.  The one thing we can count on is change.  There are long term trends.  Most archeologists think one reason the ancestral Pueblo Indians left southwestern Colorado was a prolonged drought cycle.  Anyone who tries to raise dry land beans in that country can tell you not much has changed. 

2013 Flood

2013 Flood

Here along the base of the mountains we have the extremes as well. There was the drought of 2002, and the floods of 2013.  The mountains create an unusual weather pattern that stalls along the mountain front, bringing more moisture than the land can handle.  That is when lots of the mountains wash out into the flat country.  It has been going on for more than sixty million years.  The gravel in the Platte River in Nebraska is Rocky Mountain gravel.  Some of the Louisiana mud is Long’s peak mud.   

Some climate models say climate change is going to dry Colorado out, other models say it will be wetter.  My money is on more extreme weather.  Longer, more violent wet periods and long droughts.  Look for more frequent floods, not the thirty or forty year cycle we have had since the first European-American settlers and miners arrived.  Think about the tornados and hailstorms recently.   

I like the extremes.  We have our regular four seasons here but the winters are milder than in Iowa.  It can get hot but there are few days over one hundred degrees, but not like southeastern Utah.  I think that may change, hotter in the summer.  I don’t think the winters will be colder.  I can remember forty below in Boulder when I was flunking out of CU.  Twenty below seems to be more the cold winter norm now.  What I do not like is the hailstorms.  I don’t think the insurance companies like them much either.  Homeowners insurance costs keep rising.  That hail is hard on the garden as well. We had only one tomato plant survive last year. 

One of the big impacts of climate change will be on water supplies.  The amount of precipitation may not change, but if it is warmer, the snowpacks will not last as long in the spring.  That means more spring floods and a shorter runoff period, which will impact water storage.  That could be bad news for the populated Front Range.  People keep coming, but there will not be more water, and a lot of the big spring runoff will go out of the state.  That will be good for the Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska, but bad for Parker and Highlands ranch. 

I spent a long time in the water business, and it always disturbed me watching all that high quality drinking water being used to attempt to replicate Surrey or Connecticut foliage in the Great American Desert.   All that bluegrass will have to go. The urban forest will have more drought-hardy trees.  Denver Water’s customers have done a good job of conserving since the big drought of 2002, but the bluegrass model of landscaping continues.  In Denver, daily water consumption is about 110 million gallons per day in winter.  I the hot part of summer, it’s over 400 million gallons per day, most of it run out onto the ground. 

At our house, we have significantly reduced the size of our lawn, but we still have a lot of crabgrass.  It should be buffalo grass and blue grama, both native drought-resistant grasses.  They don’t stay green all summer, so we are stalling and paying the water bill.  Marijuana legalization is bringing lots of people to Colorado, and the economy is booming.  Those people use water, and lots of water is used growing the stuff.  One of the unintended consequences of legalizing pot is increased water consumption. 

Myself, I am not too concerned about climate change for myself.  After all I am 73 years old and don’t live on the coast.  Long term change is a reality, but as John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long range we are all dead”.