Photo: Hiking in Grand Teton National Park 🙂
Photo: Hiking in Grand Teton National Park 🙂
Picture yourself unfolding some paper. Perhaps opening a letter you just received from a great friend. Or maybe it was scribblings from a time past that you crumpled up, cast aside, and you had forgotten what you had written. Or maybe you’re opening a package. It is Christmas time after all.
You’re not sure what you’ll find.
Now use that as a metaphor for today. You are just beginning to discover what’s on the page of what will become another chapter in your memory. You might think you have a plan for today, or for your life for that matter, but you don’t really know what you’re going to discover or what will really happen.
It’s unfolding. In its own time and its own way.
That’s the way my day is starting. Really, that’s the way all days start. But I am truly amazed at how what appears to be a scattering of random things or events seems to coalesce into something that seems fateful. Like something that was supposed to happen. Set in motion by the Universe some time before, it keeps building into something more. Something of real value. A chain of events comes to fruition. Physically or mentally or spiritually.
Insight. Wisdom. Compassion. Forgiveness. Love.
I paused for a few moments to take in the panorama. Absolutely beautiful.
I was sitting on top of a mountain pass looking down through the outstretching valley below. Mountain ridges rose parabolically, expanding outward and then opening up to a gorgeous vista. More mountains in the distance shrouded in a light bluish haze. The product of wind-blown dust and the sun’s rays bending around all of those tiny particles. Photons bouncing through a prism, the colors and shadows changing constantly with Sol’s rotation.
The undulating hills bore the tracks of water courses, washes that were bone-dry now but would rapidly fill in the monsoon rains. Rains that would carve. The softness of water overpowering the hardness of basalt, granite, and rhyolite. Like a sculptor of the landscape etching images that can best be scene from this bird’s-eye view.
Volcanic remains from a once violent explosion. The center of the caldera sinking as millions of tons of smoke, ash, and debris filled the sky, blotting out the sun until the jet stream cleared the airways. Once molten rock now overgrown with sagebrush, Mexican feather grass, manzanita, brittle brush, turpentine brush, prickly pears, mesquite, pinyon pine, alligator juniper, and scrub oak.
A light, warm wind blows as black hawks sore at dazzling heights – eye-level now that I’m at the peak. I speak to them and offer thanks for their company. A roadrunner scurries across the path in front of me carrying a freshly caught spiny lizard. Life. Predator and prey. A continuous cycle.
There’s no other human soul around me and I’m basking in eternal peace. Yet there is another battle silently raging in the recesses of my mind and body. Ever pressing its way into the forefront of my consciousness. An insidious illness that many doctors refuse to acknowledge even though some seven million Americans are afflicted. Symptoms growing from minute exposures. Triggering a cascade of molecular hysteria. The body unable to compensate.
I found myself rapidly getting dizzy. My brain was becoming foggy and then the headache came. I noticed my heart beat was irregular, sometimes slowing down, and other times speeding up. Skipping beats. And there was the abdominal pain and nausea. It was difficult to navigate to find a place to rest. My voice cracked, became hoarse, it was difficult to speak. There was short-term memory loss, the immediate short-term, making small instant decisions difficult.
You might think I had been poisoned. Inhaled some insecticide by accident. Perhaps a farmer spraying crops in the distance.
Or maybe I could have spilled some rat poison or gasoline on my hands. Drank some polluted water. Walked through the thick smoke of a brush fire. Breathed paint fumes in a freshly painted house or from a recently stain deck. Or maybe it was formaldehyde or ethylene. Gassing-off of furniture or from the upholstery and plastic dashboard of the car.
All of these factors, and more, can be triggers. But all I had done was get dressed.
You see, clothing manufactures are spraying all types of noxious chemicals on clothes now. To make them last longer, wear better, not catch on fire, and not smell when we sweat. Or to kill bugs when they’re shipped. No different than the farmer spraying the crops.
Then there are the chemical detergents the clothes were washed in. Or the washing machine and dryer themselves. Now contaminated with chemical residues from past loads.
Chemicals that are truly poisonous, but which most people, at least for the moment, can tolerate in small amounts. Some of us aren’t so fortunate. Our bodies have become overwhelmed by all the toxins and we can’t clear our systems of them any longer. Smaller amounts begin producing bigger reactions all the time. It’s called toxicant-induced loss of intolerance.
And there’s no escape.
It began with a reaction to chemicals used to tan and waterproof leather. A new pair of hiking boots. And then exploded to any clothing, soaps and detergents, sunscreens, shaving creams, etc. Anything that may contain any type of rubber accelerator, biocidic agent, or chromate. Foods, now saturated with pesticides and herbicides and preservatives, can trigger it. Molds, that produce endotoxins that gas-off or are carried by their microscopic spores, once inhaled, can debilitate.
This condition goes by various names. Multiple chemical sensitivity, environmental illness, sick building syndrome, idiopathic environmental intolerance, ecologic illness, total allergy syndrome, and the 20th Century disease. In terms of our military veterans, this can manifest as Gulf War Syndrome or Agent Orange disability.
One of the hindrances for doctors accepting the existence of the disease is their disagreement on how to define and name it. It also doesn’t quite fit the traditional allergen-antibody reaction. Instead of having hives, or a runny nose, watering eyes and difficulty breathing, the reaction is nuerotoxic, like a poisoning.
Despite the AMA’s denial, there is so much information about this disease and its various manifestations that I won’t attempt to try to cover it all. Treatment is extremely limited and primarily consists of avoidance and boosting the body’s natural ability to detoxify. Kind of hard to avoid clothing 🙂
Some medications can lessen symptoms but there is no treatment to my knowledge that is getting to the root cause – an increasingly toxic planet caused by human occupation and alleged progress.
If you find this concept hard to wrap your mind around consider this, there are some 85,000 chemical compounds licensed by the FDA for commercial use in America. And very few have been tested for safety. The umbilical cord blood of infants in this country, just prior to their birth, before they have even taken their first breath, test positive for up to 287 industrial chemicals with an average of 200 per baby. These chemicals include: polyaromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, furans, pesticides, flame retardants, industrial lubricants, plastics, consumer product ingredients, wastes from burning coal, gasoline and garbage, lead, mercury, methylmercury, perfluorochemicals (PFCs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to name but a few.
So, as I hike through this paradise of nature my mind grows cloudy and my body becomes weary. A contrast of pristine beauty flooding my senses with intoxicating images, forms and scents. A vision that is totally energizing and invigorating, while the body betrays and is overwhelmed with fatigue. Predator and prey . . . the continuing cycle that none of us can escape. But perhaps our predator has become ourselves.
Postscript: Sometimes I believe that the Source strips away many of the material distractions in our lives to get us to focus on spiritual development. You are compelled to pay attention to those matters of soul growth. Our mission in life is not to work and pay bills and engage in immediate sense gratification. There is so much more about getting to and experiencing our true essence. I believe that this is one of those times.
Photo: Sitting on top of a mountain in the southwestern desert, gazing though the valley formed by an old volcanic caldera.
Language for “Chapter 7” in the title: I know you’ve all noticed that I’ve been using different languages in the titles of these chapters I’ve themed as “Contrasts.” Today’s choice was Amharic the Semitic language descended from Ge’ez that is the official language of Ethiopia. I enjoy marveling at different languages as I explained in my post “Like.”
Prior Chapters of Contrasts:
Link Rot: As always, I cannot predict how long a hyperlink on the Net will hang around. They tend to disappear over time or be hijacked to other sites, but they were current at the time I referenced them.
They used to make fun of him. Said he was always afraid. He would flinch if you stomped your foot or waved your hand in his face.
He steered clear of crowds in the hallways. Always alone.
Some said he was abused by his parents. Others believed it was because of a girl. A broken heart. Some internal embarrassment.
As time passed, he couldn’t escape it. The taunting. The name-calling. The notes he found in his locker telling him he might as well just kill himself.
He was beaten in the gym’s locker room. Repeatedly thrown to the floor by a grab of his hair.
But he never fought back. Never spoke a word in protest.
But the day the knife came out, something changed. A glaze covered his eyes. Peering into the distance. Like he was in a trance.
Being held from behind, the shiny blade pressed against his throat.
He didn’t flinch. He didn’t bat an eye. He scarcely breathed.
“So what is it then,” he asked? “Scared of your own shadow.”
It was a hunting knife. Called a “skinner.”
Bone handle, slightly curved blade, guthook at the tip. The heel and choil were serrated. The guard in a decorative “S” shape. The pommel had a lanyard hole, where a short leather lace was attached. It had dressed down many a deer for its wielder’s age.
A small crowd had gathered. Waiting.
“You afraid of knives, then? Afraid of me?”
It happened so fast that no one could exactly describe it. Somehow, he had pushed the arm holding the knife up and out, and then down and inward. A deep thrust through fascia, tendon and bone. Left center chest. Then an “L” shape cut with surgical precision. A flap of tissue pealed back. A grasp and a pull.
Before his assailant’s body could drop, he had handed him back his still beating heart.
“I’m not afraid of you!” he yelled. Now facing the horrified crowd. “Not afraid of any of you!” “Or what you might think and say and do.”
“I’m afraid of myself. What I might do. And you should be too.”
So today I took a stab at Victoria Ray’s writing challenge – Fear the Fear. Yes, I know, bad pun. 🙂
The Rules Are:
So I chose the fear Autophobia, which is the fear of being alone or the fear of oneself. And I chose the song title, you guessed it, “Cut Out My Heart” by the band White Town. If I’d started off by telling you my choices I would have given the whole story away. I’m not a big fan of the song, and truth be told, I chose the phobia, wrote the story in my head, and then found the song that fit 🙂
I won’t nominate specific blogs for the challenge, but invite all my blogging friends to give this one, or any other writing challenge, a try. It’s a good way to stretch your writing skills.
I don’t know that I’ll routinely write works of fiction, but it is fun to explore. And I didn’t pull this theme solely from my fantasy mind. When I was in high school, there was this guy, I’m not sure I should call him a friend, but he would frequently come up to me from behind and hold this gigantic hunting knife to my throat. He told me, while laughing, that I as the only person he could do this to, because he knew I’d remain calm and not move – if you moved, you’d get cut.
I had also been thrown to the floor by someone grabbing my ponytail. You see, my brother and myself were the first guys to grow their hair long in this redneck town and we were frequently harassed, thrown out of businesses, illegally search by police, had bugs put in the food we ordered at restaurants, etc., etc., etc. . . .
Ah, such a pleasant memories – LOL !
I hope you’re all having a wonderful, and blade-free, Friday 🙂
Photo: I found this image on the Internet in the public domain. It tracked back to the website for Fort Henry Custom Knives. I as unable to find an image of a knife with all of the features I described, but this one had a nice bone handle and that “S” shaped guard 🙂
“White Crane Spreads Its Wings.” “Repulsing the Monkey.” “Grasping the Bird’s Tale.”
These phrases, in isolation, might give you a laugh, but if you’re familiar with Tai Chi, you’ll recognize these names right off as they refer to particular forms or moments that can be part of several different Tai Chi routines. The words help construct an image of the movement that is not only descriptive but that helps you to memorize the parts of the form for practice.
In a multi-form routine, these word images help my poor brain remember what it’s supposed to do, and after a while, since this memory involves movement it can be incorporated into what’s called “non-declarative memory,” which requires no conscious awareness.
And thus, we have moving meditation 🙂
So, I’m back to studying about how our brains work and this time I’m reading about short-term memory. Memory is kind of important for without it we might have died off as a species.
We learned that fire was great for preventing us from freezing to death and wonderful for cooking our food, but not so great if directly applied to our bodies. We learned which berries were and weren’t poisonous, and how to hunt bison and mammoths without getting killed – probably by watching someone else die. But then we remembered, passed the information on, and managed to propagate the species.
Although we might wonder a bit about the new wave of “flat-earthers.”
And I know the scientific community goes a little overboard with dissecting and labeling everything but here goes.
It seems we have two types of short-term memory, declarative, like being able to regurgitate specific facts like “sharks swim in the ocean,” and non-declarative, which is like the motor skills we use to ride a bike. Declarative memory involves “effortful processing” or a lot of repetition. Non-declarative memory does not require conscious awareness and is sort of automatic. If we were asked, we probably wouldn’t list out every detailed step that goes along with riding a bike. We just go through those motions once the brain locks on and our feet are on the pedals, and we use a simple phrase to embody all of those movements.
There are four steps involved in short term memory. Encoding, storage, retrieval, and forgetting. Encoding is defined as the conversion of external sources of energy into electrical patterns the brain can understand. There are three types of encoding:
Semantic encoding – definitions,
Phonemic encoding – comparison of sounds – rhyming, and
Structural encoding – visual inspection of shapes.
The myriad of signals we receive from different sensory sources are registered in separate brain areas. It’s a fragmented experience, called the “blender effect.” There is no central storage or hard drive. Parts of a single event are scattered and stored all over the cerebral cortex. And a memory trace will lead you to the same parts of the brain where we originally processed the information.
The total number of brain changes to record an event or information is called an engram, and then comes the “binding problem” – how do we bring all of that sensory data back together from the various spots on the cerebral cortex where they were stashed to compose a complete memory?
While it’s counter-intuitive, it turns out, the more elaborately we encode, the more details and complexity surrounding the event, the better our retrieval of that memory.
Retrieval is also enhanced if we replicate the conditions where we experienced the event or came upon the data. So, if I learned that sharks swim in the ocean while I’m swimming in the ocean, I will remember this bit of information best when I’m back swimming in the ocean. How convenient.
It also seems that regardless of the setting where we encounter information, the majority of our forgetting will occur within the fist couple of hours that follows. People usually forget 90% of what they’ve learned within 30 days of the learning experience. Apparently, we discard what we don’t use quite quickly.
I know, I’ve forgotten much more over the years than I know right now 🙂
Spaced learning is more effective than massed learning and the more repetition cycles we have, the greater chance we’ll convert something to long-term memory. Tai Chi again provides a great example because we are taught each form separately and then add that to the entire routine, which we then repeat and continually refine.
And something I mentioned before in the post Boring, teaching is more effective if it includes meaningful examples and experiences and emotion. Real world situations familiar to the learner. The more personal the example, the better the encoding because we are adapted to “pattern matching” the new information with what we’ve learned before.
So why am I writing about this today? Because of the fascinating way we’re able to communicate and tell stories, of course. When I tell a story I want to transmit my memory to you, the reader. I use as many descriptive terms as I can think of to relay an experience – what I saw and heard, how something smelled, felt and tasted. How objects sat in space in relation to where I stood or traveled.
We’re able to communicate because of that pattern matching principle. I relate an experience to you and hope you’ve had enough similar experiences and gathered enough sensory data to “get it.”
Such is the challenge and art of writing. If we can paint an image that others can see, detail the scent of a flower that the reader can smell, have someone salivating over a recipe or bracing for an explosive sound, or transmit the feel of the smooth, silky skin of another as we describe caressing their face, then we’ve succeeded.
A lofty goal.
And hopefully the experiences we relate will be as memorable to our readers as they were to us.
Photo: This is one of my daughter’s dogs, Harper. He was over for a visit when I snapped this pic. I etched out the bare patterns with the photo editor creating what I call the “Ghost Dog.” Its an image descriptive of short-term memories. We can hold onto basic concepts and sensations, but over time they may fade into the less distinct and more nebulous 🙂
Source: I used the book Brain Rules by John Medina as my source for this post. Other posts of mine discussing the workings of our brains include:
I have to say, I really appreciate the WordPress community. I learned about WordPress when I was looking at job postings for writers and started noticing that a number of them required WordPress experience. So, I Googled it to find out what it was.
Then I met Laleh Chini on Twitter and was introduced to her blog, “A Voice from Iran.”
After checking out a few more blogs and seeing their beautiful formats, I decided to take the plunge.
One of the things that really amazes me it that we can meet people from all over the world. And even if their blogs are written in different languages, it’s not much trouble to copy and paste something into Google Translate and read it.
I like looking at other languages and seeing how others compose their ideas. I think the text is beautiful and I am awed about the whole concept of learning a language. How do we master such a thing? Other languages look so foreign to me, it’s hard for me to imagine how children in those countries grow up learning them. And multilingual people fascinate me even more.
It is such a human trait. Language. It’s taken for granted. And just look how much communication has evolved and the technology that we use now to share our stories all over the world.
I know we all love it when others in our community like our posts. So here are a few examples of beautiful language from around the world from some of my blogging friends just using the word “like.”
Italian Mi piace
German Gefällt mir
Spanish Me Gusta
Swedish Tycka om
Pakistan (Urdu) کی طرح
Nigeria (Yoruba) Bi
Phillipines (Filipino) Katulad
I’m sure you can all add to this list.
Another reason I like it when my blogging friends like my posts is that it reminds me to go check out their pages. It’s hard to keep up with all of the good writing out there so that serves as a nice prompt.
Looking forward to liking more of your posts 🙂
Photo: A closeup of a cactus in bloom at a botanical garden in the southwest. The feature image zooming-in is sort of other-worldly. A friend described it as looking like an underwater organism – a sea creature. An it does sort of look like a Sea Anemone. The full view is below. Amazing to see that flower with such exploding beauty thriving in desert conditions. This is my analogy to the beauty of language in all it’s forms, unexpectedly breathtaking 🙂
Back in June, I hit my 100th post. And yesterday, with the posting of “Deployment Day,” I’ve made my 200th! I think I’ll make a tradition of marking these milestones. It’s good to take a few moments to reflect.
I enjoy writing about multiple topics but probably enjoy storytelling the most – telling stories of life. And I’m happy to be getting some of these down on paper, well digitally. You know what I mean. Although they might seem rather random or scattered because they will involve both current and past experiences. My mind constantly bounces around. Nothing chronologically sequenced here.
I hope my daughter will be reading them and learning more about me too. That was one of my regrets when my father passed away. I would have liked to have heard more of his stories. The ones he did share were quite amazing and I learned so much from him.
As you can see, on my Home page, I have a number of “pinned” articles at the top. I rotate these periodically, usually highlighting articles that are the most popular. Ones that received the most hits or most likes. But that becomes sort of self-fulfilling. By having them pinned to the opening page, they continue to get more reads. So, I think I’ll start rotating other articles more frequently. After all, we keep picking up followers and new followers might not have seen our earlier posts.
Writing is always fun and a challenge. It’s kind of like a mental workout. Like going to the gym. The more you write, the stronger your writing becomes. And over time, you start learning what your audience likes too. It’s an experimental process.
I also find it challenging to pick photos for my stories. I try to choose images that relate to the story itself. A story within the story. A symbolic representation.
There are things I’ve written that I think are ok, and others that I’m really happy with. I’ll highlight some of my own favs 🙂
A big thank you to all of my followers. I appreciate your visits and your insights. I also appreciate your writing and continually enjoy discovering your wonderful posts.
I hope you all have a wonderful and peaceful day.
Photo: So I was struggling today to come up with an image representative of “200.” Have to say I was at a bit of a loss. Must be having a low creative energy day. I settled on this crazy pic of a wine bottle label that I took at a rather unique shop in Oregon. Sort of goes with the idea of something “vintage” or “aged.” I didn’t sample the “Wild Squirrel Wine” while I was there, though 🙂
Updates: I do update articles occasionally, but I don’t think that necessarily pops them up in the WordPress Reader again so that anyone would know about them. I last updated the article Balance on August 19th, but I just added an update to A Return to Tribalism today 🙂
“Sorry Dad, I’ve got to go. The alarms are going off again.”
All of our few chat sessions had ended the same way. Since we were instant messaging, she couldn’t see my tears. Have to stay strong.
“Love you, Kiddo.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
Time was passing slowly since that day back in January. When hopes and dreams seemed to fade into darkness. Way too slowly.
My daughter was seventeen when she joined the army. I gave my consent. That seemed to be the best decision at the time. She was headstrong like me and had made up her mind. I could sign the papers now or she could just wait a few more months and my approval wouldn’t have been necessary.
This would represent the fourth generation of the family to have served.*
At the time, it seemed there were few worries. She sailed through boot camp at Fort Jackson and was off for advanced infantry training at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
My little girl was becoming a diesel mechanic. Working on the big stuff. Heavy wheeled vehicles – HMMWVs, MRAPs, RTCHs, HETs, HEMTTs, LMTVs, fork lifts and cranes too – basically anything that would be transporting troops or supplies or be used in construction.* Drive shafts and transmissions were her specialty.
Her duty assignment came later than some of her fellow soldiers and she was wondering what was up. But when it turned out to be Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, we thought WOW! Hawaii! I remember telling her that maybe they rewarded the best with the best places. The azure blue waters of the Pacific. Endless sand beaches. Palm trees and tropical fruit. Sunsets over the water.
25th Infantry Division, “Tropic Lightning”; 84th Engineer Battalion, “Never Daunted”; 45th Corps Support; Alpha Company.
It didn’t sink in that Hawaii was where the major Asian-Pacific theater operations were staged. And it should have. My Dad was stationed at Hickam Field and was set for deployment to fight in Japan in WWII, but the A-Bomb interceded and bought that war to an earlier end.
So when her orders came for her to deploy to Iraq, Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was stunned silent. All I could see was my little girl. Playing. Flying kites with her. Taking her to the water park. She used to hook her hands together behind my neck and I would stand up and let her hang there – called her my little necklace.
And now she was going to a war zone.
The date was set and I flew in for a two-week stay so I could spend some time with her. But the day I arrived, they advanced her ship-out date and we were only going to have two days. And time would be limited as she had duties to perform.
That time evaporated and for being in such a sunny place, it sure felt dark and heavy. Before I knew it, I found myself at her deployment ceremony.
The ceremony wasn’t held on an elaborate parade ground. There were no podiums for speakers. No gaggle of offices. No dress uniforms. This was much less formal and only for her company. I image similar ceremonies were happening all over the base.
The sun set early, around 6:30 pm, after the various family members had gathered on a basketball court.
I remember seeing children. A lot of children. Running, playing, and laughing, for the moment, and being picked up and held by their parents. Parents who were mere children themselves. Children dressed in desert camo. Gear assembled. M-16s and SAW Rifles issued. Serial numbers recorded. Three MREs passed out to each soldier.
My daughter, all 100 pounds of her, had a 110-pound rucksack on her back, a second pack around her shoulders, backwards, so it rested on her chest balancing out the weight. A separate carry-on, and the MREs stuffed in the pockets of her camo pants. I couldn’t have carried so much weight. Not even close. Plus, a rifle that looked bigger than she was.
The Captain gave a brief speech and buses began arriving to take her company to the airfield. I held my daughter tight. Other children clung on to their fathers or mothers crying don’t go, don’t go . . .
At the last moment possible all of us visitors released our grips and watched them board the buses. Once they were out of sight, and as we turned to walk away, it began to rain. The heavens opened and the sky was crying with us.
Rain drops mixing with our tears. Disappearing into porous volcanic soil . . .
My daughter completed her year’s tour over there on an airbase located near the center of the country. A base that received some 20 rocket attacks daily. One was even launched from inside the base. The locals had planned for their insurgency and had buried weapons before the invasion.
Their food was poisoned by Iraqi civilian workers in the mess hall. Bombs were set inside living quarters for the many foreign workers that were imported. An outdoor movie theater was rarely attended. It was too easy a target. The Base Exchange hit, as soldiers were exiting – having bought packaged food to avoid the mess hall.
While my daughter was on-base most of the time, they all had to “volunteer” for at least two convoys. Two of her platoon members died on one of those.
News was sketchy, but I found the BBC to have more honest and timely coverage. The generals didn’t want the public to know that they couldn’t secure their own base perimeters.
She sent me pictures of the graveyard for vehicles destroyed by IEDs. The remains of which they stripped to place armor on the vehicles that were lacking it.
Probably the most disturbing image came from her staging area in Kuwait. There she was in her desert camos with a bright swath of olive-green around her chest. They had run out of desert camo flak jackets and given them woodland green. And if that wasn’t making them stand out as a target enough, they had also run out of the protective plates that slide into and reinforce those jackets, so she had limited body armor covering her back.
Yes, I’m grateful she made it back without any physical injuries. But I don’t know what she still has to experience in her mind from those days.
I hold her tight whenever I see her.
*Sorry for all of the abbreviations, but that was better than slowing the readers down with this list 🙂
Mine Resistance Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicle series; High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) series; Rough Terrain Container Handler (RTCH); 6K Variable Reach Fork Lift; Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) series with semi-trailers; Heavy Expandable Mobile Tactical Truck (HEMTT) series; Truck Cargo 5Ton series; Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV); and 10 Ton Cranes.
Thanks: I wish to extend my sincere thanks to all of those who serve, and have served, and to their parents, spouses and other family members for having known what they endure with their loved ones are deployed.
*And I must add a footnote: For clarity, in my generation, it was not I who served in the military. One of my brothers was in the Marines – Vietnam era vet. I tried to join but was unable due to having asthma. We do have an interesting family history. My Great, Great, Great Paternal Grandfather, and his two brothers, fled Germany in 1852 to escape being drafted into the German military. They were farmers. They immigrated to America, and the generations that followed began the tradition of serving in the US military. Ironically, we may have had family members shooting at each other in both World Wars.
Photo: My daughter, with her fellow company members, listen to the send-off speech from their Captain.
Who knew what a journey a chance meeting would spur. And perhaps it’s still only beginning.
It wasn’t long ago that I was forced into early retirement. So I gave myself a couple of years to find a new home. I wanted a fresh start. A clean slate. A new beginning where I had no personal history. No evil employers. No ex-wives. No pain of remembrance.
I was very methodical. I searched locations, climates, recreation, proximity to my bucket list of national parks, housing markets, and state and federal tax implications. Yes, believe it or not, if you move to a state other than the one paying your pension, you can be double taxed on your same income.
It was a lot to consider.
And I finally hit upon an area where I thought could pull all of those factors together. So, I contacted various realtors, complied a list of properties on the market, jumped on a plane and spent a week touring homes and the surrounding area.
It was an area sort of familiar to me. I had been there 40 years earlier when I was a young pup bumming around the country and living in my car and out in the wilderness. Of course, the once sleepy little city had grown. And I discovered I didn’t like the housing prospects. It didn’t feel like home.
But while I was there, I would make a connection. A beautiful soul that burned bright. A golden flame.
A chance meeting in a chance location. A moment in time, but at that moment it was time to fly that 1400 miles back home.
Conversations ensued, and she told me of an amazing world not that far from those first explorations. I traveled again and found that magical oasis. But I couldn’t stay. At least not at this juncture in time.
This has been the beginning of a new chapter in life. That meeting brought me out from behind the barriers I had surrounded myself with. Broken down the walls of despair. Set me on a new path.
A journey to recapture the heart and spirit of life. Who knows where it may lead?
Photo: I took this photo of these lonely railroad tracks out in a remote area in the Southwest. I was playing with it in the photo editor and suddenly it came to life. What made this image possible was dust. There were high winds that day sweeping dust across the desert floor and scattering into the atmosphere. That added a blur factor you can see at the base of the distant mountains. It also added a medium to refract light adding varying hues to the sky and clouds. A slight enhancement turned a drab photo into art. A friend described it as looking like an Albert Bierstadt painting.
And that photo’s story parallels my journey. A chance number of elements came together to produce a never-seen-before beauty. And the image itself is one of travel across great distances. Who knows where these tracks may lead? Where that train might take us?
A while back, while hiking, I stumbled upon a small frog pond. It was early afternoon and the angle of the sun, lighting, and nature itself came together in a very magical way.
There was an electric green moss growing in that crystal clear pond and the surface of the water reflected the surrounding trees. The sky was a magnificent deep hue of blue. As you can see, I captured several shots with my cell phone camera.
I visited this pond several times thereafter and the conditions for these images never repeated themselves. Amazing, even the same places, events, and times can never be experienced twice the same 🙂
I had just finished putting the finishing touches to an article I was writing. Word choice, tempo, spacing. It all felt good. I glanced over at the clock and it was a little past noon. Noon!! Holy crap! How did it get to be noon? The last time I looked at the clock it was around 8:30. What had happened to the time?
I had been totally immersed in my writing. So much so that I don’t even have a memory of the words being formulated in my brain. They had just flowed onto the paper. More like being channeled from an exterior source. Me just being the conduit.
At that moment, I knew that whatever I had gotten down on paper was going to be good. And when I go back and re-read pieces like this, it feels like I’m reading them for the first time.
I call that frame of mind “being in the zone.”
That place where the task is pure task. It’s taken on a life of its own. Independent from my rational machinations. It’s sort of like highway hypnosis. Where you find yourself arriving at your destination but you have no recall of driving the last 20 miles. Somehow you got there. And you managed not to get in an accident. Autopilot.
Being in the zone is something that can’t be forced. I can’t sit down and consciously tell my mind to get into that space in order to produce. It just seems to happen spontaneously. Especially when I don’t try to make it happen.
Another example might be when we consciously try to remember something. Whatever the event or person or detail it is that has momentarily escaped our grasp, if we actively try to recall it, force it into our consciousness, we can’t. But once we stop that forced effort, or have moved onto somethings else, the detail immediately pops into mind.*
I actually used to enjoy my commute to and from work when I was practicing law. Why? Because I let my mind drift during this time. Tuned out. Disengaged from my work. And it was when I disengaged that my mind worked best. Suddenly that legal theory or a key element of what I was needing to complete some analysis just magically appeared. I used to carry a pen and paper, and then later a voice recorder, so I could be sure and get it down. Because if I kept on drifting, that momentary flash would be gone and difficult to recall, once again.
Just what’s going on here? What is this phenomena of the mind? Or is it a state of being?
I remember, without effort :-), when I was a teenager and I first encountered the works of Carlos Castaneda. Castaneda became pretty famous for writing a series of books about time he had supposedly spent in the Sonoran Desert with a Yaqui Indian sorcerer. Castaneda, an anthropologist, had met this gentleman while he was working on his PH.D. and exploring the cultural uses of hallucinogenic plants. He found himself an apprentice to this mystical realm.
Throughout his writings, Castaneda talks about various ways or techniques to “see” the world as it really is. His books were considered pretty controversial and there is some criticism, that may be valid, as to whether Castaneda just made the whole thing up.
Or, it could be arguable that the Yaqui Indian was used as the face or metaphor for presenting Far Eastern philosophy. Whether you want to call this mysticism, or nagualism, or brujoism or anything else, I think there are still some valuable lessons to be learned from these writings.
One of those concepts was that of “not-doing.” As explained by the sorcerer, “doing” is the way we construct the world. So a rock is a rock because of how we apply our knowledge of a rock to the rock – doing. To really see what a rock is, to see its essence, we must observe it without “doing” or by “not-doing.” This may sound a bit obscure or esoteric. And I think the way Castaneda presented it was designed to keep it as such. To retain a mystical quality.
In another way, this is a form of meditation. Of clearing the mind. Ceasing the internal dialog, which has now been coined “self-talk.” And “stopping the World.” You have to see the rock, or more importantly the whole Universe, without all of the blinders and descriptors that have been programed into our heads. And once we learn to stop the World, everything flows and reveals its true nature.
And it’s not just a manner of observing the Universe, it is a way of acting, without intention, as we navigate the Universe.
It was later in my life that I came upon the Tao Te Ching. And again, arguably, Castaneda may very well have stolen this concept from the Tao. Except that the translation of the Tao better describes it.
In the Tao, the term is “Wei Wu Wei” or “doing not-doing.” Other interpretations are “without action” or “without control” or “without effort” or “action without action” or “effortless doing.” Another is “diminishing will.” And the notion is that non-action, or unwillful action, is the purest form of action because the doer has vanished completely into the deed. “. . . the fuel has been completely transformed into flame.”
If one surrenders to the Tao (the Way) they will align in perfect harmony with Nature, with the way things really are. They will have mastered Nature, not conquered it, by becoming one with it.
One of the underlying concepts here is trust. We must trust the intelligence of the Universe, continually acting effortlessly and without conscious will, knowing it will be the right action. “The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can’t tell the dancer from the dance.”
In my case, the story wrote the story.
And when that happens is when I discover that the words truly resonate with other readers. I, or maybe better said, the Universe by channeling though me, has stuck a universal cord. I’d call that magic 🙂 And I know, because I feel it, that many of you experience this same phenomenon and we share a common bond.
To all my blogging friends out there that don’t always know where the words come from, but we feel them in our hearts, I’ll leave you with some more words from the Tao:
Therefore, the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
* I’ve read that functional MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scanning have confirmed that different parts of our brain light up when we try to force memories to the surface. And they’re not the regions in the brain where we store information. We can’t force memories, they just rise on their own 🙂
Photo: The dragonfly represents the power of light. They inhabit two realms of the Universe, water and air, and the stages of their lives are just as dramatic of a transition as that of the butterfly. From a water-dwelling nymph to airborne dragon.
As light strikes their wings at various times of the sun’s circle, they can refract vast differences in color and hue. So like life, things may never quite be the way they appear, but it is still full of beautiful color and light. The dragonfly as a totem is said to help one see through illusions and provide new vision – a good symbol for the concept of not-doing so that one may see the true essence of the Universe.
I took this shot along a lake in Az. I shot different pictures of these same dragonflies throughout the day, and indeed they all look different. I enhanced the color of the feature pic a bit and faded out the background revealing an incredibly vibrant transformation. And here is another shot – same type of Dragonfly, but different angle in the sun. What a difference. Can we see their true essence?
This is an old expression and it has a lot of merit. The words flow much easier and you can fill in the details of your own personal experiences. That’s one of the reasons I give fiction writers a lot of credit – they not only create characters, they create new worlds.
For me, I’ve pretty much been writing non-fiction. I might have to give fiction a try sometime 🙂
You may have noticed that I’ve hit on certain themes. Travel, nature, a touch of wisdom earned, and a few life and death stories. At times, I think I might be over-killing that theme. And at times I think, why not, that’s what it’s all about – living and appreciating it.
So, you’ll have to tell me if I’m overdoing it, or straying into the land of the mundane.
Sometimes we have such intimate knowledge of an event that it seems trite. Or if we try to communicate how great we thought a moment was, we forget to put in all the details. It’s like we assume everyone will know what we’re talking about.
I’m posting a short piece today about one of my many experiences in the hospital when I was a kid. I’m not sure if those stories hold real interest for people or just how big of a dose of that I should dispense. But it does fit the season. It’s Thanksgiving time, and I have a lot to be thankful for. Living and breathing and my daughter are at the top of the list, as well as having a bit of excitement along this winding road.
I appreciate your feedback. It helps to keep me on track. So feel free to critique away.
I hope you have a wonderful time with your families the next few days. Hold tight. Nothing is permanent.
Photo: One thing that we all know well is change. Transition. And the butterfly amply serves as a symbol of this transformation. Changes can be big and small. I’ve come out of cocoons at least three times in this lifetime. Completely shedding all of the past and reinventing myself. Not always planned either. I’m sure if you think back, you can recall the many revisions to the chapters of your own book of life.
A faint sound pierced the cloudy haze. An echo through a long corridor.
Darkness, but light sort of on the periphery. A greenish glow that grew brighter at regular intervals. I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I didn’t know where I was.
I smell antiseptics. Hear voices growing louder. Shouting!!
Sort of floating. I wasn’t walking. I was being dragged. My legs outstretched behind me. Feet limp. I had no control of them. There was pressure under both of my arms. I slowly opened my eyes and recognized the green tile floors and walls. I was in the emergency room at the air base hospital.
Two airmen in uniform each had an arm under one of mine as we burst through the double swinging doors into the treatment area.
I heard the doctor asking what was going on and one of the airmen yelled, “He passed out in the waiting room!”
The familiar face of the doctor said, “Oh, he’s ok, he just needs some rest.”
The airman protested, “Well, he doesn’t look so good me. We picked him up off the floor out there.”
Doctor, “I gave him some medicine. That’s to be expected.”
The next voice I heard was my mother’s frantically asking what was happening. She had gone out to the parking lot to bring the car up to the door.
After we were all dismissed by the doctor, the airmen carried me to the car and put me in the back seat. A fog enveloped me and I was out.
I woke up eight hours later in my bed at home. I struggled for breath, coughed, stumbled to the floor and called out for my parents. I was a nice shade of purple. Cyanosis. Not enough oxygen. Thirty minutes later I as back in the ER, only this time I was being given epinephrine.
My heart rate picked up. Lungs cleared. I could breath after getting the third dose of .3cc. They followed that with a shot of susphrine, a long-acting form of epinephrine.
These were the meds I should have received on my first visit to the ER, standard treatment for an asthma attack at that time. But I had unluckily come in when a certain doctor was on duty. One that believed asthma was a mental illness so he had given me a shot of 50 mg of thorazine, a powerful antipsychotic medication. A big dose for a 50-pound kid. And this was exactly the wrong medication to give to a person in respiratory distress because it depresses respirations further. I would learn later that it was amazing I even woke up after that.
It was time to package me off to home again. But I’d be back.
1965. This was a rough year. Almost 80 trips to the ER – that was one to three times a week, depending on the week. I knew all of the ER staff by name. The medical knowledge was limited and the treatments were primitive. I used to say that if the disease doesn’t kill you, the medicine will.
There were so many things the docs didn’t know or understand about the disease back then. And they were not of the mindset to listen to their patients either. Especially a child patient. No, these docs were educated old-school that they were the keepers of all of the knowledge. It was a dictatorial approach, not a collaborative one.
A couple of very simple things really threw these guys off balance. If I had been in respiratory distress for a while and finally got relief from the epi, I would go to sleep. My body was totally exhausted from having struggled so hard to breathe. You use all of your chest muscles fighting to inhale and you can’t seem to be able to exhale. It’s like lifting weights and running at the same time while you’re really just lying in bed.
They didn’t get it. Epinephrine doesn’t only dilate your bronchioles, it really kicks up your heart rate. It’s a stimulant so they expected you to be bouncing off the walls after getting a shot. More than once, I woke up on an ER gurney being slapped around by doctor screaming “WAKE UP” after the epi finally broke the attack. A look of panic and fear filled their faces.
Another thing they couldn’t grasp was what absence of wheezing meant. Wheezing, or air whistling through a constricted airway, was a hallmark symptom of an asthma attack. But you reach a point where your airway is so constricted that you can’t exchange enough air to produce a wheeze. The docs know now that this is an ominous sign. You’re near death. But back in the day, if they didn’t hear a wheeze, they’d send you home and try to tell you that you weren’t having trouble breathing.
They could have drawn arterial blood gases to measure the oxygen content of your blood, but even that was a new technology at the time, people weren’t skilled with drawing blood from arteries, and most hospitals didn’t have the equipment to analyze such a blood sample.
Now they have pulse oximeters that give you an instantaneous oxygen saturation reading. Just clip it on your finger and it compares infrared to red wavelengths of light to tell you how much oxygen is in your blood. I even have my own at home. If they had had those then, I’m sure they would have been shocked to see how low your oxygen sat was.
In those days, it was sort of off-the-cuff, hit-or-miss treatment. So, I was frequently misdiagnosed, given the wrong medication, or overdosed on the right medication. You name it. You could die with or without the treatment. Take your pick.
An upper respiratory infection could quickly turn to pneumonia, trigger the asthma, and I’d be spending the week in the hospital. A scary place for a little kid. Once, when I as in an oxygen tent, a technician walked into the room smoking a cigarette. Hospitals weren’t smoke-free then. Patients and staff smoked all the time.
Of course, oxygen is not explosive, but it will rapidly feed a fire. You don’t bring fire, in any form, near an oxygen tank or tent or mask. That’s just asking for trouble. Not to mention that cigarette smoke can cause an asthma attack. Stupid. Even as a little kid I knew better.
For maintenance treatment, they prescribed theophylline-based drugs. I would use a liquid form of this to swallow the other pills ordered. But theophylline wasn’t cutting it, and good inhalant meds didn’t exist yet. So when an allergy specialist rotated into that hospital, he started me on steroids.
It took high daily doses of prednisone to bring my asthma under control, and the docs weren’t aware of the long-term side effects. They controlled the asthma but they stunted my growth. Big time. A bone age study when I was thirteen put my bones at an eight-year-old developmental level.
The docs told me I’d never get off the steroids, but I weaned myself off and proudly handed a bottle full of pills back to the doctor. I thought he’d be happy. Instead he berated me, “I can’t be your mother and make sure you take your medication!”
Once off those meds, I grew a foot in height in just one year and normalized my weight a bit. I never approached my father’s or my brother’s heights, but hey, there are advantages to being short 🙂
While I had gotten off the steroids, and as time progressed, the docs kept increasing the dosage of theophylline and added terbutaline, another bronchodilator. On these meds, my resting heart rate was 120 beats per minute and my hands would shake so violently that I couldn’t even write my own name. So the wise doctors added three doses of valium a day to take the edge off. What a mix.
I could tell you a lot of crazy near-death stories from back then, but it might get boring after a while and I don’t want you think I’m whining or feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. It’s all just experience. I have a great appreciation for life.
And it’s important to realize that healthcare practitioners aren’t gods. They don’t know it all. You need to be an active participant in your own healthcare.
I will end with another brief tale, though. When inhalant drugs were first introduced, there were no hand-held, pocket-sized devices. You had to own an air compressor and hook that to a plastic or glass nebulizer attachment, mix the solutions for the nebulizer, and then fire up the machine and breath in the mist.
One of the first inhalant meds they tried in the early 60s was Isoproterenol (Isoprel). (An incredibly potent heart medication I would be administering to my patients in the ICU as a critical care nurse years later.) But the cardiac effects were way too strong and they were giving little kids heart attacks. I remember two different times showing up for the allergy clinic where we got our twice-weekly allergy shots only to find a face missing from the group.
Two kids I knew died from this medication at an age when I really didn’t have a full concept of what death was yet. I just knew I never saw them again . . .
Postscript: The inhalant drugs would continue their evolution through Isoetharine (Bronkosol), to Metaproterenol (Alupent), to Salbutamol (Albuterol or Ventolin), and with the addition of Beclometasone (Vanceril or Q-Var), a steroid inhaler, things really improved. My condition stabilized in 1982 with the addition of Beclometasone, and that was the last year, so far, that I’ve been hospitalized with asthma being the cause. Of course, now we’ve gone even generations further and have such products as Fluticason (Flovent), a long-acting steroid, and Formoterol (Foradil), a long-acting beta-2 agonist that targets the lung more and the heart less. Progress.
Photo: The big skies of Montana. No better representation for the air we breathe. The oxygen were crave. The ease of living.