In My Mind I’m Goin’ To ……

For most of my adult life I pursued my love of outdoor activities. I was a licensed New Your Guide spending many summers as part of SUNY Cortland’s Recreation and Leisure Studies Department’s Outdoor Education Practicum leading small groups of college students on wilderness trips. An accident in 1999 left me with quadriplegia and confined to a power wheelchair. The traditional wheelchair is not designed to leave pavement. Even the new all-terrain chairs, while a great improvement for off road travel, are not designed for true back-country. Years ago I saw an episode of NYPD Blue where the police were questioning a former drug dealer who was confined to a wheelchair as the result of a drive-by shooting. They were threatening to put him in jail and he told the officers you can lock up my body but you can’t imprison my mind. I realized the relevancy of that statement to my situation. If we choose to accept that premise, then we empower ourselves to use the freedom that exists in our minds. I’m sure most of you have heard James Taylor sing:
“In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine
Can’t you just feel the moonshine”

As the population ages more and more people will find their interaction with the out-of-doors curtailed, so this will be relevant to more than just the disabled community. You can use your mind and senses to help you relive past experiences. If there are activities that you once enjoyed which you are unable to participate in now, try revisiting them again with mental imaging. While this may seem a little offbeat in the beginning, remember practice makes perfect. You can use your mind to free yourself of the constraints placed on you by your age or disability. Use your senses to help. Use the smell of a Balsam pillow to remember a hike you took years ago. Listen to the rain on a roof to return to a moment when you were trapped in your tent during a downpour. To change a very common phrase just a little bit, “Your mind will set you free”.

A rainy day on Grass Pond in 1989

A rainy day on Grass Pond in 1989

One imaging activity I enjoy is to put on my poncho and sit outside in the rain with my eyes closed. The sound of the raindrops on the nylon almost immediately takes me back to my wilderness trips when the rain would confine me to my tent or to waking in the middle of the night to the sound of the rain on my tent. Nestled in a warm sleeping bag or in this case my poncho listening to the rain brings on a feeling of serenity and that all is right in the world. I am treated to a “memory flood” of some of the best times of my life.

I was kayaking one day in a neighbor’s pond. Because of my lack of grip my hands must be strapped to the kayak paddle. When I finished, friends removed the special gloves and my hands dropped into the cold water. Instantly I was transported to the confluence of the Cold and Raquette Rivers north of Long Lake, New York. I reveled in the moment. As we get older there are many situations we can no longer experience. Or can we?

Returning to a place deep in my mind

Returning to a place deep in my mind

2 responses to “In My Mind I’m Goin’ To ……

  1. Good blog, as a quadriplegic I agree completely

  2. My mother in law was an outdoors woman. She grew up moving from farm to farm in the triad region of North Carolina. Throughout her life she loved plants, trees, vegetables, fruits, flowers, all grown fresh. Her final yard, the one I knew, was cram packed with 40+ years of pass-a-longs from family and friends and strangers. She always had a veggie garden, aided by a neighbor with a tractor who would turn it for her every Fall and Spring, with dirt that was incredibly rich from years worth of thrown out scraps, leaves and yard waste that was burned, tilled in. As her Alzheimer’s progressed she blamed her cluttered house on the fact that she “spent all day outside”, which was partly true. We found that more often she stood at the kitchen window looking out, apparently because she was afraid she’d get lost if she left the carport. The neighbor with the tractor stopped turning the garden, instead bringing us vegs from his, and fresh fruit from their travels. He thought it was too much for us to keep up with her garden, her yard and her. Her daughter planted a beautiful flowerbed she could see from the kitchen. When she lost her leg to a blood clot and had to go to a nursing facility we were pleased there was a window with a view to the courtyard with plants. Ot was late Fall, and all the windows were covered by hedges over 5′ tall. What were they thinking? Every day, hundreds of times she asked, “When will they cut those bushes?” I asked them too. Will they? We don’t know. Why not? The maintenance is done by the hospital. Will you ask them? We did. Have you heard anything? Not yet. Spring. Bushes covered everyone’s windows. I wrote the public affairs officer of the hospital, citing studies on the health benefits of being able to see nature, the sky, birds, outside on people in care facilities. In their brochures. Showed that the administrators of the facility had bushless windows. Could my mother in law? She was going to die there and all we wanted was for her to have a chance to see outside that room she was in, a place she didn’t understand why she had to stay, with bushes she didn’t know why they wouldn’t cut. Hooray. He sent down word, “Cut the bushes in front of her window.” We waited for the people to come, and waited. And then one evening I brought my killing tools (those were the yard tools I keep in the trunk of my car, never leaving at her home because they’d disappear), and big black bags, and a wheelbarrow, and i began to cut. “what if someone sees you?” I don’t care, they don’t have to listen to Mamaw ask time after time every day, “When are they going to cut down the bushes.” So I cut a little, then her daughter, the flower bed one said that looks ugly, how will I plant anything? So I cut them down, all the way. The next day there was a flower scene that Martha Stewart would have loved, urns, pots, bird feeder. Happiness! BUT WAIT. The lady next door said to me, “Will you cut MY bushes?” OH YES! And her daughter planted. And the next window, some all the way down, some shaped in forms, working around bird nests. People began opening their windows into the courtyard, an aide donated a hose and nozzle, other people brought bird feeders, we cleaned up the cement and benches, people came out to help by giving their opinion on where to cut, one short time stroke rehaber started helping me with the cutting and they made that part of his workout. Evening waterings were a special time when people would come out to talk about joys, sorrows, share scripture and prayer. We’d created a village. It was beautiful. And the courtyard on the other side wanted it so an aide and helpers began planting there as I whacked away. They planted veggies, roses, it was truly amazing. In july they had their first outdoor cook out under the trees, and began yard sales to raise money for special events. We worked on the plantings in the front so the place looked friendlier. Now years later, after were gone, once in awhile we see someone who is still there and they tell us the yards are still nice and being used.

    One afternoon in the long days of winter, before the bushes were cut, a dear relative of my mother in law’s wrote her a letter. She knew about the situation, the confusion, the confinement. She wrote a three page letter that began with her sitting down for her morning cup of coffee looking out her kitchen window. Then she described everything she saw, heard, smelled outside in detail, the birds, the trees, the flowers of winter, the sky and clouds, the reminders of childhood together. We were both crying through the letter, but we read that letter over and over for the next two years. It allowed Mamaw to escape the bounds of her body and the limits of Alzheimer’s, and go back to the Carolina she remembered as a child, the place she wanted to be.

    Thank you for helping me remember.

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