Tag Archives: Environment

Contrasts – ምዕራፍ 7 – Molecular Hysteria

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:

Contrasts – Kapitel 1

Contrasts – Hoofstuk 2: Which Animals Do You Watch?

Contrasts – κεφάλαιο 3 – Cabrillo National Monument

Contrasts – Chapitre 4 – Two Museums

Contrasts– 第5章 – Wild Spaces

Contrasts – Isahluko 6 – Southwest versus Midwest

Source Materials:

Case Definitions for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

A Report on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

How many toxins is your baby getting in the womb?

Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns: Detailed Findings

What is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity?

Amputated Lives: Coping with Chemical Sensitivity by Alison Johnson Chapter 2 The Elusive Search for a Place to Live

Chemical Sensitivity Foundation Research Bibliography

Seminar explores multiple chemical sensitivities topic

Fragrance-Free Workplaces

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

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.

If My Memory Serves Me

“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:

Move Your Body, Move Your Mind

Writing to Survive

Wired

Boring

and,

Bailer’s Point

 

Frog Pond Magic

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 🙂

 

 

Frog Pond Magic 1

***

Not-Doing

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?

Dragon Fly 1+SPFx2+c1+MC52

Transformation or Illness: How Would We Know?

I picked up a fun book tracing a historical perspective on the advancement of medicine, and it naturally included a section about the Hippocratic Oath (400 B.C.).  Hippocrates was the ancient Greek physician credited as being the father of Western Medicine.  He is famous for dismissing beliefs, more ancient than he was, that advocated the supernatural origin of disease.

The oath, which has frequently been summed up as “first do no harm” is actually quite lengthy.  It has been modified multiple times over the centuries and, as it turns out, was not, most probably, written by Hippocrates.

Another irony is that, while Hippocrates disavowed supernatural origins of disease, the original oath translated from Greek, begins by invoking supernatural beings: “I swear by Apollo the Healer, by Asclepius [God of Medicine], by Hygieia [Goddess of health and cleanliness], by Panacea [Goddess of remedies], and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.”

The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of texts associated with Hippocrates’ teachings, only part of which was authored by Hippocrates.  And perhaps in another irony, the Paneth Codex, another medical text that was completed long after Hippocrates had passed, contains some of his writings while using depictions of demons as metaphors for disease.

It seems that it was hard for even the most objective early practitioners of medicine to fully eliminate the supernatural from the corners of their medicine cabinets.  And maybe for good reason.  For the supernatural, once identified and defined, can become quite natural.

So just what is the supernatural and what is natural or normal when it comes to defining illness?

My background and careers are largely based upon science and logical reasoning.  Yet, I’m still willing to keep an open mind and recognize that science and human genius can’t always explain things.  As most people would attest, we’ve seen or experienced things that simply don’t fit neatly into the boxes and shelves of the “normal.”

To say it differently, I believe in the metaphysical realm.  I also believe in mind-body connections and what’s happening in the mind can find ways of manifesting itself in the body.

While I was working at a major research hospital, the doctors and nurses frequently described and linked personality types with specific diseases.  And not always in the most positive terms.  A more neutral example might be that “Type A” personalities were more likely to have heart attacks than “Type B” personalities.

Which brings me to today’s pondering.

Is every so called “unnatural” or “abnormal” condition truly an “illness?”  What’s the interplay between mental and physical illness?”  And what if instead of an illness that required treatment, people were really, in some instances, going through an evolution that should be allowed to progress?

And I guess before I dive in too deeply here, I should clarify that I’m not a mental health professional, nor am I a medical doctor.  If you’re needing a medical opinion, consult your primary care physician, and if you wish to learn more about mental health from a real professional, check out the site of my blogging friend Dr. Perry.

That disclaimer aside, most illnesses would fall outside the definition of normal and some seem relatively simple to diagnose and identify their causes.  Some are genetically related and some follow the pathogen-induced pathway.  Sounds simple, you’re born with the genetic makeup that can be expressed as a physical ailment or you encounter a virus or bacterium and you contract a disease.

But many people have “bad genes” or have close encounters with pathogens and they don’t become ill.  Why?  They are usually said to have healthier immune systems.  What makes a healthy immune system?  Besides good nutrition and exercise there are plenty of correlations to good mental health, positive thinking, and being happy to having a healthy immune system and healthy body.

The idea of illness originating in the mind, or from a body being out of balance might coincide more with some Eastern medical practices, while germ theory most follows Western medicine.  Although I will give Western medicine credit for having researched some things like meditation and meridians and finding scientific bases to support traditional Eastern or more holistic approaches to treatment.  And many Western pharmaceutical treatments come directly from old-fashioned herbal remedies from the Shamans of old.

So if one is encountering an illness, or deviation from normal physical or mental health, something not occurring naturally, then, despite Hippocrates’ claims, could there be a “supernatural” cause, and just what would that mean?

The definition of “supernatural” doesn’t only include references to spiritual entities, but it more basically means transcending the laws of nature or being attributable to an invisible agent.  So, before the advent of the microscope, a simple bacterium or a virus would not have been visible in the observable universe and an illness caused by such would have been a supernatural occurrence.  Consequently, depending on the limits of scientific measurement at any point in time, many causes of diseases could, by simple definition, be supernaturally caused.

And when referring to the supernatural, does it have to be an external source?  What about the person’s own spirit?  Can’t a damaged soul be expressed as a physical ailment?

Or maybe an enlightened soul is causing a physical evolution?

My daughter sent me an interesting article the other day called,  “Shamans Believe Mental Illness Is Something Else Entirely.”  The article focused on a West African Shaman of the Dagara people who proposes that some mental ailments, like depression and schizophrenia may actually be a step towards transformation – even meaning the birth of a healer.

The Dagara believe that some of what we in the West call mental illness is really what happens when people encounter, and don’t how to deal with, psychic phenomena and the spiritual world.  In their tradition, these individuals are seen as a bridge between physical and spiritual worlds.

This Shaman is said to have taken an 18-year-old suffering from hallucinations and depression back to his village.  After 8 months of healing rituals this person was acting quite “normal” and returned to U.S. society to earn a degree in Psychology at Harvard.

While this may be an isolated example, it’s an amazing concept to contemplate.  And I’m not saying that such non-traditional approaches would be a panacea for mental health treatments.  I’m just saying there is still more unknown than there is known.

Given our acculturation, if we were undergoing a positive physical, mental, or spiritual transition we might very well be totally confused as to what was happening and think we were ill.  Our doctors might be unable to come up with a definitive diagnosis and resort to traditional treatments or try to repress the evolution.  You might be labeled as being mentally ill, which could, in turn, send you down medical corridors forever obscuring the inner butterfly emerging from the cocoon.

As more advances are made, and as more ways to measure the currently unmeasurable become available, finer distinctions may emerge as to what constitutes good or “normal” health.  For the supernatural may be commonplace and just another source for healthy growth and development.

***

Photo: The book I picked up is titled: “The Medical Book” and it was written by Clifford A. Pickover.  This picture is a portion of a photo used in the book and comes from the Paneth Codex, completed in Bologna in 1326 A.D.   The book begins in the time frame of 10,000 B.C. moving through medical advances until 2008.  Medicine, indeed, has come a long way from bloodletting starting in 1500 B.C., and I believe it still has a long way to go.

I can personally attest to the advances made in the treatment of asthma since the 1960s when many doctors believed that asthma was a mental illness.  I had many a scary trip to the emergency room as a child, and when in full respiratory distress was even administered Thorazine, an antipsychotic medication, and knocked unconscious.  Oh, the many things we’ve been fortunate enough to survive:-)

Hypocrite: I feel compelled to mention that the word “hypocrite” does not originate from “Hippocrates,” even though it sort of sounds like it does.  Hypocrite comes from the Greek word hypokrites, meaning “an actor,” and translating more literally to “an interpreter from underneath” because actors at the time traditionally wore masks.  Figuratively, it meant someone who wears a mask to pretend to be someone they are not.  In early religious texts, its appears as “ypocrite” referring to those acting like they are morally good to deceive others.  Today, of course, we accept the meaning that it’s a person acting contrary to their stated beliefs.  In a loose sense, that could apply to Hippocrates – denouncing supernatural causes of disease while swearing to supernatural beings to practice good medicine 🙂

Update December 1, 2018: I stumbled upon another article today about this same subject and the Dagara. “A Mental Disease by Any Other Name.”

 
Link Rot Warning: No one can guarantee how long a link on the Net will last.  The US Supreme Court got into trouble over this.  One of the judges quoted from an Internet site, but after a couple of months the site was no longer there for reference.  I also once went to check out a link promoted on our local TV weather channel only to discover it had been hijacked by a porn site – Yikes!

Brain Fog

Brain Fog

I had but seconds to make a decision.  Hold the present course, slow down, and hope.  Maybe pray.  Uncertainty.  Or ditch it and destroy the car and face certain injury.  I held tight to the wheel and figured if this guy was going to take me out, well . . .

*****

I was on my way to an early morning college course.  Zoology.  Great professor at this small community college.  That place seemed to attract them.  Ph.D.’s who were tired of playing the game of publish or perish.  Who just wanted to teach.  And teach smaller numbers of students so they actually had access to them.  Real office hours.  Real time to sit down and answer questions.  Discuss life.  Academic dreams.

One professor, noted for addressing controversial issues head-on and not putting up with bureaucratic BS put it this way, “I taught at the Mecca, the University of —-, until they found out I was there.”  His classes were always full.  Semesters backlogged with lists of eager students.  History taught from a world-view, not the ethnocentric versions taught where institutional and community pressures dictated thought.

I was just trying to get there on this sleepy November morning.  Making the eighteen-mile drive down the back roads.

A country setting had been picked for the construction of this junior college.  A prominent family had donated the land, and their adjoining thoroughbred ranch wrapped around three sides of the campus.  A bucolic scene.  Majestic horses dotting the pastures.  A turn-of-the-century mansion.  Separate quarters, once for slaves, now served as bunkhouses for the farmhands.

Later, a nearby river would be dammed and water recreation would be added to the list of two-year degrees you could earn here.  Seemed odd being so close to the city, but this is the Midwest and cities, even big cities, only spread so far.  Only consumed so much earth before the industrialization bordered open fields.

All I was doing was trying to get there.  No hurry.  No worries.

Those back-country roads traversed rolling hills.  Peak and valley.  Peak and valley.  Traveling west took you to a minor spur of the “big city.”  A transportation hub.  Trucking companies and railroad junctions.  A centralized shipping center to support the major businesses downtown.

Going east, the direction I was driving, was sort of no-man’s land.  Corn fields, soybeans, sorghum, a Christmas Tree farm, road-side vegetable stands.  All skirting the southeastern quadrant, with capillaries of roads leading into the pumping heart of the megalopolis.

It was a common pathway for a lot of us.  Hit the country campus in the morning, left turn into the city for work in the afternoon.  Loop back south for the drive home.

The temperatures had been steadily dropping and precipitation was coming down in its various frozen forms.  Frost blanketing the low-lying fields one morning.  Freezing rain the next – clear coating the barb-wired fences and trees, but still melting on the roads under the pressure of passing cars and trucks.  For now.  Snow was just a week or two away.

But a slight warmup the day before supersaturated the air, and the nightly cool-down had stretched out through the early hours.  The day’s high temperature occurred around 2:00 a.m. and it had slowly been dropping since.  The result – fog.

Thick, dense fog.

It filled those valleys between the hills.  Steady, cloying, impenetrable.  If you were standing on one of those hilltops, you might get the notion that you could simply walk across to the next.  Solid terra firma.  Not.

The distance between these hilltops varied, and I had just crested one, the distance to the next being the shortest in the chain, spanned by this two-lane, undivided highway.  And like eyes penetrating the night and the milky-haze before me, there they were.  Headlights.

But not two — four.

It seems that someone westbound, in their haste, decided to pass the vehicle in front of them and made their break to the opposite lane, my lane, at the top of the hill opposite the one I had just surmounted.  All I could see in the fog were four headlights, two cars nearly side-by-side, racing straight towards me.

I already had one impatient driver tailgating me, unsatisfied with driving the speed limit even in these dangerous conditions, so hitting the brakes was not an option.  There were no shoulders on these roads.  No budget for that, and the surrounding farmers felt they’d already had enough land consumed by imminent domain to lay down these ribbons of gray.

There was no way the person speeding towards me had enough road to clear the distance between the car he was attempting to pass and my car coming from the opposite direction.  And now, my seventeen-year-old, not fully developed brain, had to make a decision or two.

Of course, I immediately slowed, but not so fast as to be rear-ended by the person traveling too close behind me.  And the driver being passed was alert enough to also slow down to try to widen the gap between us.  The idiot trying to pass floored it, engine whining, so now his or her headlights were propelled even faster toward my front bumper.

What to do?

A hard stop equaled a collision from behind, and I still might not avoid the head-on crash.  Swerving left meant a skid in front of two vehicles clogging both lanes, with a third barreling in from behind.  Swerving right, in any degree, meant plunging into a deep ditch.  Certain to destroy my already beat-up Olds, and send me to the hospital or ziploc me in a body bag.  And why?  Because some fool in a hurry didn’t care about anyone else’s safety that’s why.

No, I wasn’t going to ditch it for this guy.  Take the hit so he or she had no consequences.  And even if I ditched it, the other three cars might still merge into a mangled heap.  I kept slowing down, even though the person behind didn’t seem to notice the burning eyes of the car before me bearing down upon us.  The gap ever closing.  The impending explosion of steel against steel.  The shattering of windshields.   I could hear it all in my mind.  Could visualize it.

I waited for it.  Oddly calmly.

It’s a funny thing about time.  How it seems to stretch out in moments like these.  It was like an entire discussion played out in my head figuring out what to do.  A corporate board meeting.  As if I sat down with all of the department heads.  They all gave me their feedback.  Pointed to the graphs and charts.  Drew it out with colored markers on the white board.

I hoped my decision wouldn’t jeopardize anyone else as I laid on the horn.  Everyone involved was surely awake now, as my mind drifted back over this short lifetime of mine.  What had it been worth?

But this heavy situation suddenly became ethereal.  Time slowed to a standstill.  Outside forces seemed to intervene.  As if protective bubbles inflated around all four cars.  The fool somehow threaded the eye of the needle left open by myself and the other oncoming car.  Barely.

A split second.  A flash in time.  Brains in a fog – literally and figuratively.  Preoccupied by frenzied thoughts of work deadlines.  “Got to get there!”  “Got to get the job done!”  A moment where lives could have ended.  Needlessly.  But they didn’t.

Did I make the right decision?  Was there time to do anything else?  I assume we all went our separate directions.  As if nothing had happened.

Ironically, in Zoology, we were studying life cycles.  Eat, sleep, mate and defend.  Predictable unless outside forces act.  Of course, there is more to life than that.  Much more.  Philosophical aspirations.  Collective consciousness.  Spiritual evolution.

Maybe the power of four minds came together to alter the inevitable.  Bending time and physical objects.  A collective manifestation of a new pathway exceeding the laws of physics.

Who can say?

*****

Strange how the mind works.  I remembered this little flash from the past today because I’ve been experiencing “brain fog.”  Transforming figurative fog into physical fog 🙂  That’s why my mind couldn’t get it together to compose a post for the past few days.  It’s a symptom of a syndrome I’m fighting.  Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  I will undoubtedly write a piece on it someday.  Imagine it this way.  You find yourself exposed to insecticide and you’re dizzy, with a crushing headache, brain clouded, nauseated and with abdominal pain, you lose the ability to reason and your short-term memory vanishes, fatigue bears down on you.  But you come back to normal once the neurotoxin wears off – your body disarms it through its normal processes, chemical, mechanical, liver, kidneys, etc.  Now imagine that your normal detoxification process is overwhelmed and your body can’t detoxify from the poisons anymore.  And the environment you live in is full of an increasing amount of poisons . . .

Photo: No, I didn’t have a picture of headlights approaching on a foggy morning, but I did have this one of a car approaching at dawn driving through the mountains.  Don’t worry, I was safe.  There was no one else on the road and I actually stopped the car to take this pic.  Although, I have at times been guilty of the one-handed, over-the-shoulder, while driving, cell-phone pics 🙂

“Ws” – If you happen to notice any missing Ws in my posts, please feel free to let me know.  I recently picked up a new keyboard and it seems that I am just not striking it hard enough in the left-hand corner.  Missing letters in my writings include Ws, As, Rs, and Es, but Ws seem to be the worst.  I try to catch them when editing, but sometimes I miss a few – thanks 🙂

 

 

Fire and Air – Part 3

This will be the final part of my Yellowstone travelog.  The Upper Geyser Basin.

I think the most popular image of Yellowstone that comes to mind is that of Old Faithful.  Because of this, I know I was quite astounded to see all of the other features of the park, each with their own unique beauty.  Some of the other hydrothermal features are so much more colorful.  Just check out the pics of Morning Glory Pond.

I’ll start with a small gallery covering Old Faithful and then have a bit larger one of the remaining features of the Upper Geyser Basin.  Old Faithful is so popular they have built bleachers around it that are packed with people from all over the world for those intervals of 90 to 120 minutes to watch it go off.  Apparently, the geyser’s eruption-timing has become less predictable over the years and the boiling water spout is not as high as it once was – still spectacular nonetheless.

Old Faithful is apparently a juvenile.  It takes a 100 years for a cinder cone to grow by an inch, so some of the geysers are thousands of years older than Old Faithful.

I didn’t record the name of every hot spring, chromatic pool, and geyser, but I did for some of the main ones.  And I included some pics of the Firehole River that runs right through the middle of this geyser basin.  The combination of water, geothermal heat, minerals, sunlight, and bacteria is amazing 🙂

Old Faithful

Remainder of the Upper Geyser Basin

There were other parts of the park that I visited that I didn’t include in this travelog and other parts I still haven’t seen.  Just hitting the main features was a lot.  I’ll have to go back again 🙂

I still have at least one more chapter to write in the “Contrasts” series, but we’ll be in a different location for Chapter 6.

***

 

Fire and Air – Part 1

We had Earth and Water yesterday, so it’s on to Fire and Air – Yellowstone’s geyser basins.  Or at least a couple of them.  Today I’m posting pics from the Norris Geyser Basin, which has, to my understanding, just recently fired back up to full power.  It’s divided into two areas and the boardwalks will keep you moving.

It’s amazing when geothermal energy collides with water and minerals 🙂

Porcelain Basin

Black Basin

***

Earth and Water

As I mentioned yesterday in Contrasts, Chapter 5, I would have to post some additional photo galleries of Yellowstone.  I decided to break them up a bit because I took so many photos and there are just so many diverse areas to see in this park.

Today’s theme is Earth and Water.

Contrasts – 第5章 – Wild Spaces

Lodgepole pine forests, alpine meadows, sagebrush steppe, rolling grasslands, massive watersheds and wetlands, 2500 miles of rivers and streams, 600 lakes and ponds, majestic canyons and waterfalls, geyser basins scattered about a giant volcanic caldera, the Continental Divide, and home to a wide diversity of wildlife including endangered species.  Ready?

I’m finally getting to the contrast that inspired this series of blog posts.  Yellowstone.

Why?  The San Diego Zoo, at the start of the series, represented the epitome of a zoo’s potential.  Beautiful grounds.  Botanical paradise.  Humane habitats constructed to be as natural as they could be, considering they are still prisons for the wildlife residing there.

Asphalt pathways.  Directional signs.  Herds of people grazing on hot dogs, candy, and sodas.  The animals scarcely move, except to pace the perimeter of their enclosures.  The mammals lose the luster to their fur.  The color fades from the birds’ plumage.

Depressed.  Spirits broken.  Many lose the ability to reproduce.  Many die early deaths.

Contrast Yellowstone.  It is zoo-like in the number and diversity of wild species, but there are no cages.  People and animals can mingle with no bars, no fences, no nets, no plexiglass, no moats, no enclosure of any type between them.  Nature trails through the middle of it all if you want to hike.

And there is no urban jungle surrounding this pristine landscape.  No smog, no freeways, no towering buildings, no two million human residents.  Although archeological evidence shows people have inhabited this area as long as 11,000 years ago and 26 Native American Tribes have connections with the park.  And there are those four million tourists of modernity that can come and go in a year.

What behavior could we observe there?

I have to tell you it’s a bit strange.  For one, I understand the dilemma that park rangers face.  A lot of people just don’t get it.  These are wild animals.  Beautiful and magnificent.  In the wild.  And the people are in their territory and seem to be unconscious to the fact that they are in the wilderness, the real world.  It’s not a human-made park, and you just can’t walk up to a Grizzly Bear and expect not to be killed.

The animals, having become accustomed to large groups of people who are prohibited from killing them, are not fearful, do not take refuge, do not hide.  Of course, some, like the bear, never would have anyway.  This is their land.

They’re alive, vibrant, free.

They roam where they want.  Raise families.  And balance.  Yes balance.  If you’d like a good vision of that balance check out my post “Of Wolves and Hominids.”

The situation is bound to result in some collisions.  Bumbling people long removed from living in nature, believing food comes from grocery stores, now surrounded by nature. The source of all life.

You can get close, but not that close.

So, bring a camera where you don’t have to get too personal.  Your cell phone camera ain’t going to cut it, except for some landscape shots.   You’re not going to get a selfie with a Bull Elk or a Bison.  Because by the time you’re close enough with your phone to get that great profile shot, you’ll be on your way to the hospital or to your burial.

Next, slow the fuck down.  Please pardon my language.

This isn’t New York City, or any city for that matter.  You’re not driving to work.  There’s no trophy waiting for you when you reach your destination somewhere in the park.  You are surrounded by your destination.  You’re already there 🙂

If you try to hurry, you’re going to miss what’s around you.  And you’ll miss a lot.

If you try to hurry, you’ll find yourself stuck and angry, and you’re not going to enjoy the experience.

The park is huge – 2.2 million acres!  The speed limit is 45 mph at the fastest.  There is a lot of road construction as they try to upgrade to accommodate the crowds.  Tour buses drive 32 mph.  Bison, Bears, Elk and Pronghorns will cause traffic jams.

Chill.  Open your eyes.  Enjoy the beauty.

A great deal of what I witnessed it terms of human behavior was people trying to drive insanely fast just to get to the next pull out.  Then they would pop out of their cars – clown car images :-), snap a few pics, mostly selfies, although admittedly there was a great backdrop, and then pile back into their vehicles and speed to the next pull out and repeat.

Pull in.  Pull out.  Pedal to the floor.  Document.  Record.  But fail to actually see and experience.

Rather, one should breathe in, breathe out.  Stop and appreciate the beauty.  My god, it’s incredible.

Walk around a little and feel the earth beneath your feet.  Touch the tress and lichens.  Listen to the Ravens.  Smell the rivers and streams.  Taste a wild Thimbleberry.

A crowd of stopped vehicles could tip you off to a good wildlife spotting.  But remember the proximity rule.  I saw a crowd of fifty people surround a Grizzly Bear.  One step too close, or too much crowding could have provoked it.  And they can move fast.  I took a couple of shots from a safe distance and moved on.

The day after I left, a man was gored by a Bull Elk.  That’s not a good way to enjoy nature.

Plan enough days to see the many attractions.  I planned a week and I used every minute of it.  I had no idea just how many hydrothermal features there were to see – some 10,000 of them, including 500 geysers.  It would take months to see them all.

In addition to the familiar hot springs and geysers, there are mudpots (springs acidic enough to dissolve the surrounding rock), travertine terraces (hot springs boiling through limestone and depositing the calcite in layers), and fumaroles (steam vents).

Many of these features are rainbow colored by microorganisms called thermophiles.  Microscopic in size, trillions of them amass and produce the varying colors.  The temperature determines what organisms grow and those determine the pigments released.

One of the most spectacular features is the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin.  I did a separate post just on that one because of its intense beauty.

There are some great trails and day-hikes and you should check a couple of them out.  At least hike by the Falls at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  But also realize you can cover quite a distance just traversing the boardwalks weaving through the geyser basins.  I got in seven miles on one of those days.

And don’t stray off the boardwalk thinking you can sneak a little closer to that hot spring for a better shot.  There have been fatalities where that fragile crust of land gives way and swallows a person in 200 degree, plus or minus, earth, steam, and boiling acidic mud.

If you can, stay in a lodge in the park.  I was 30 miles outside the park and once getting to the entrance, there was another 25 to get to the center loop that links you all of the park’s quadrants.  I averaged driving 200 miles round trip each day I was there.  But it was worth it for all that I took in.

Get out early if you want to see Grizzlies and Elk.  That’s when they’re on the move, and with less people stirring, you have a better chance at getting that once-in-a-lifetime photo.

Accept the fact that you’re not always going to get a pic.  Yes, I saw wolves in the Lamar Valley – with the help of another visitor’s high-power spotting scope.  He was generous. Not everyone will be.

The wolves were way out of range for my 400 mm lens to capture more than a smudge of an imprint.  A few pixels in that high-resolution frame.  But I was thrilled to see them and that image will always remain in my mind.

Well, now I may be getting too touristy in my descriptions and tips, and be wheeling away from the theme of contrasts, but I think you get the idea.

This isn’t the city.  You can’t behave like it is.  This is the real world with a few paved roads running through it.  It’s spectacularly beautiful.  It can kill you if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Enjoy 🙂

***

Prior Chapters of Contrasts:

Contrasts – Kapitel 1

Contrasts – Hoofstuk 2: Which Animals Do You Watch?

Contrasts – κεφάλαιο 3 – Cabrillo National Monument

Contrasts – Chapitre 4 – Two Museums

As I’ve been going through my pics, I realized I have so many that I’ve decided to post a couple of different galleries.  Today, we’ll have a look at some of the wildlife.  Even an amateur like me can get some great shots at Yellowstone 🙂

 

A Few Seconds of Peace

I am currently working on a gallery for an upcoming post, and I didn’t realize just how many pictures I need to sort though.  Yes, one of the pitfalls of digital cameras, I push the button too often 🙂

So while I’m working on that, here are a few of short videos for peaceful reflection.

Something about water  . . .

 

 

 

Feature Photo:  Horseback riding in the Great Northwest.

Echoes of Home

As I’m trying to settle back in from my latest travels, I find myself growing restless.  Every chance to drive somewhere triggers that “highway call.”  That “road fever.”  And a simple trip to the grocery carries with the temptation to just keep on driving.  Doesn’t really matter where.  Just need to be in motion.

So, I headed out to the closest trail to take in some of the sunshine of these ever-shortening days.  Stretch my legs.  Moving meditation.  Mind a drift.  Day dreams of far away places.

There’s only one lengthy trail nearby and it sort of weaves in and out of the countryside while skirting this small Midwestern town.  And as I walk, it occurs to me that I’ve called this place “home” for four years now – to this date exactly.  I had never really intended to stay.

A temporary hold-over while I adjusted to the loss of my prior home.  A marriage destroyed by my partner’s alcoholism.  She refused all attempts at getting help.  It’s not easy watching someone you love self-destruct, but life does go on.  It has to.

In these past four years, I worked a little over a year and half before internal and external backstabbing saw my position handed off to someone else as a political favor. Age discrimination brought the career to an early demise.  All-in-all, though, it’s been ok.  Probably a blessing.

So, I loaded up the car and drove.  And I’ve been on the road now for at least a year of those remaining eighteen months.  Exploring, rediscovering, breathing again.  Stopping back here periodically to rest up, repack, and move on again.

Other places had that homey feeling.  Sort of like you grew up there and fit in.  Like you could stay and be content.  I never bothered to get to know this town.  I hadn’t planned on fitting in.  Still don’t care to.  But here I am.

Today, I diverged from the natural part of the trail that follows a stream through the woods and headed into the heart of this unknown downtown.  What is this place where I’m hanging my hat?  Where I know no one.

It strikes me that there are a number of features that are universal to the places I’ve been.  Of course, there’s a “Main Street.”  But there’s always a Broadway, Euclid, Park, Oak, Maple, Elm, and 1st through 10th streets.   There’s always a Memorial Park and a Veterans Park.  Plaques and signs from the local Chamber of Commerce.  Lion’s Club, VFW, JCs.  Sometimes a local chapter of the Confederate Sons or Daughters.

While there’s going to be a cemetery or two, I was surprised to the see that the street leading through the main cemetery was named “Dyer.”  Some weird twist to that one. Some cemeteries don’t even name the roads running through them.

There’s always a part of town that’s lined with restored Victorian homes, and a part where the same style homes are decaying.  Where you could drop a hammer on the roof and it would fall through every floor to the basement.

There are always some nice people sitting out on old porch swings that will wave and say hello.  And there are a few front porches and alleyways occupied by people who I wouldn’t want to run into at night.  Or maybe even right now in broad daylight.  They eye me as an invader of their turf.  A hush descends.  I keep moving.

Downtown businesses are mostly closed on a day you’d expect them to be open, except for the bars.  And there’s one of those on every corner.   All busy at 2:00 in the afternoon.  Not much else to do around here I guess.

Half of the shops are going out of business.  Booming economy is nowhere near here.  An old antique shop says it’s having a “retirement” sale.  Sixty to seventy percent off.  But it’s closed with no hours posted.

The streets closed for the farmer’s market open again as the last pickup drives off.  I think there will be some type of Halloween parade on these streets next weekend. Parades and high school bands always a staple.

I can always find the courthouse by looking for the flag.  Small town kingdoms where prosecutors and judges rule.

I head through one of the parks on my way back to where I parked the car.  I’ve always enjoyed hearing the happy voices of children playing.  Reminds me of simpler times when days stretched on forever.   When games had no rules.  We made things up as we went along.  Unbound imaginations.

Maybe that’s why I enjoying moving.  Stretching days down the length of the highways.  I guess it doesn’t matter what town I’m in.  Some things seem eternal.  Echoes of the last stop.

Maybe everywhere is home 🙂

***

 

Photo: This Victorian home was restored and converted into a Bed and Breakfast.  Another staple of small town America.