The Old Ones Built Wisely

equinox sunset

The Sun sets in Equinox Notch, one day before the actual spring equinox.

My house comes with its own solar calendar, sort of. I discovered when M. and I moved here in the 1990s that the equinoctial sunset occurs in a notch formed by the ridge to the west, as viewed from the front porch.

Surely the ancient builders planned this!

Actually, the “ancient builder” was Alan Cook, a minister in the “New Church  (General Convention),” one of the Swedenborgian denominations, who lived from 1893–1984.  He was active as a minister in the 1920s, then came to Colorado to manage a summer resort in Green Mountain Falls, west of Colorado Springs. No longer a minister with a congregation, he still held some Sunday services for the tourists and wrote in a typically Swedenborgian style, which is big on correspondences between the visible world and the Unseen World.

Mountains, as we know, signify exalted states of affection. And God’s love is the most high and exalted of which we know.

Pagan me says no, the natural world was not put here only to provide a moral lesson to us humans, although I can still feel some affinity with a man who wrote,

But the man of spiritual mind should discern the far greater wealth which lies beyond mere nature [sic] and the commercial worth of rock — he may know their soul, and, in a measure at least, he will be able to share that wealth.1)Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.

I found a photo of Alan Cook with some other books and materials stored in a crawlspace, and it hangs on the Wall of Ancestors in my study — which was his study too. We do not share theologies, but I like to think he approves the room being filled with a desk and bookcases once again.

Happy Ostara!

Notes   [ + ]

1. Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.

Celebrating Spring, Red Rocks, and Wine

Bennett Price

Bennett Price, founder of DeBeque Canyon winery in Palisade, Colo,, samples a cask with a wine thief.

I look outside today and see a white landscape, with light snow falling and a couple of hungry humingbirds huddled on the sugar-water feeder like barflies staring into their whiskey glasses.

Yes, it’s a typical May Day in the Colorado foothills. Is any surprise that Colorado’s biggest public Beltane festival does not occur until the 19th–22nd of May? They tried at first to do it on the “correct” date, but they learned their lesson.

Next weekend is the 76th Music and Blossom Festival in the southern Colorado town of Cañon City, not too far from me. Everyone knows, as a friend said last week, that “Blossom Weekend will be either snowing or a hundred degrees.” He forgot to mention the time in the 1990s when a hailstorm hit the parade.

But attending would be a way to “let the polis support your Paganism,” a theme that I have played with here and here this year.

So I will back up to the spring equinox, whose theme is usually “Let’s thaw out a little before the snow returns.” Some years that means a run to the desert, such as Canyonlands National Park. This year, it was Colorado National Monument. Red rock and sunshine, that’s the thing. Yay, Wingate Formation!

And wine. The vineyards were leafing, barely, whenM. and I dropped in at a couple of favorite Western Slope wineries in early April, of which our most favorite is DeBeque Canyon. (Yes, like the organizers of Beltania, we postponed the date a little.)

The trend today is for wineries to become venues. I think of one winery in Sonoma that I visited as a hitchhiking college student in the 1970s, on my way from Portland to San Francisco. I remembered it as a collection of sheds and little barefoot girls in cotton dresses running in the dust — my friend and I bought a jug of “Dago red” and took it up to the ruined hot springs that Lake Sonoma later drowned.

I returned to the same winery in 2007. Unrecognizable. There was an art gallery, meeting, space, an elegant tasting room that looked like a hotel bar . . . all glassed-in and air-conditioned. Other wineries compete with gardens and fountains and views — that is happening in Colorado too.

Not at DeBeque Canyon, not yet. You bump over the railroad tracks in Palisade to a collection of industrial metal buildings. There is Bennett Price, the owner, behind a simple counter pouring excellent wines for tasting, and telling stories of the industry’s beginnings in the 1970s. He seems to know everyone in the trade from Denver to San Francisco.

Slightly buzzed, we cross the parking lot in the strong spring sun, arms full of bottles. Yes, spring will be returning even to our foothills home. But first the spring snows will arrive to saturate the land.

It’s Mabon, so … canta y no llores

The Marquez Brothers of Pueblo, Colo., playing at the Harvest Festival at the Holy Cross Abbey in Cañon City.

My approach to the eight-festival Pagan calendar works like this: the cross-quarter days are for ritual—be that outdoor bonfires or black candles at midnight.

The quarter days—solstices and equinoxes—are for public and communal celebrations: with the whole public, not just with other Pagans.

The fall equinox offers choice of harvest festivals: the Chile & Frijoles (pinto beans) festival in Pueblo (bigger) or the Holy Cross Abbey Winery Harvest Festival in Cañon City—smaller but still crowded.

M. and I chose the latter this year, buying elderberry jam and garlicky goat cheese and drinking Abbey wines under the blazing sun.  Two guys in charro outfits up from Pueblo played a rancherarockbillysoft rock mix, which is exactly what you expect from a Pueblo band.

Vineyard at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City, Colorado

Now the Myth-Making Begins

That stuff on the winery home page about “simple Benedictine Fathers had a dream”—sounds good, right? Don’t the grape vines just look right next to the Gothic Revival abbey?

But the Holy Cross Benedictines were not “simple.”  They were school teachers for the most part, running a well-respected secondary school for boys (boarding and day students) from the 1920s until it closed in 1985. Like so much Catholic education, it was a victim of demographics: not enough new monks and priests coming up, not enough church financial support to afford to pay lay (non-monastic) teachers, so no way to keep the doors open and the lights on.

After that, the dwindling number of elderly monks rented out their buildings to the community college and other users.

The winery, meanwhile, did not open until 2002. It employs no monks in its day-to-day operations. The monks could not have made wine for sale in the 1920s anyway because of Prohibition. Their mission was educational.

But the idea of “monks making wine” is so appealing that in a generation people will be strolling the grounds of the abbey talking about how the Benedictines came to Cañon City “a hundred years ago” to plant vineyards and bottle  some good cabernet franc. I would bet money on it.

It is not unlike saying that the local morris dancers or village harvest festival represent an unbroken survival from ancient Paganism instead of—in either case—something (re)invented by an antiquarian-minded vicar.

Of course, that Chile & Frijoles Festival—great street festival that it is—is a relatively new creation too. This was its seventeenth year.

It represents a conscious attempt by Pueblo’s elite to re-cast the city’s image as a tourist-friendly sort of Santa Fe North, instead of the grimy steel mill town that it was for decades, dominated by union Democrats with Italian and Slavic surnames.

But Pueblo does have a good climate for growing peppers.

(As to the post’s title, the musicians played “Cielito Lindo,” of course.)

Feral Apples

Picking feral apples.The equinox is for apples. First M. and walk the small ravine that cuts through our land–that is where the feral apple trees grow.

I think of them as growing from apple cores tossed from someone’s pickup window 50 years ago, but really I have no idea.

As Sally the witch says of the magicians’ orchard in Robert Graves’ Watch the North Wind Rise, these trees have been left in peace.

Only one of the feral trees has borne really well, and I will need a longer pole than my garden cultivator to knock down the high apples. “Wait until after the first frost,” M. suggests.

And then we cross the road to a neighbor’s house where two planted trees are sagging dangerously with apples. Why haven’t the bears arrived? Maybe they will tonight. We fill our bucket in just a few minutes. Apples apples applesapplesapples.