Category Archives: Nature

Simple Gifts*

The song Simple Gifts is a hymn written in the 1840s by a member of the Shaker Community. The Shakers were a religious sect that migrated to America from England in the late 1700s. Their religious principles focused around being satisfied with the simplistic existence and the natural environment. The community produced a lot of very simple items which they sold to maintain their existence. The items stressed simplicity and functionality. You may have even heard of Shaker furniture which is still prized today by many people.

Every season seems to bring with it particular “simple gifts”. This spring was no exception. I have been struggling with an extended period of depression, but with the arrival of spring came certain “gifts” that I always look forward to. One of the earliest is, after a long, cold winter, just sitting in the warmth of the sun and feeling my body warm. (Sitting In The Mornin’ Sun)

Another of nature’s simple gifts is the arrival of the birds which have migrated south for the winter. Many of those returning are notable because of their beautiful colors such as the Baltimore oriole, the Rose Breasted Grosbeak and the Indigo Bunting. Being confined to a wheelchair encourages one to spend more time bird watching than when able-bodied. Two of my favorite species to observe are not brilliantly colored, but are enjoyable to watch because of their fascinating behavior and their willingness to live close to man. Since my injury, we have done much to encourage birds to share our environment with us. Every year swallows, set up house in the same nesting box. I have written about them before too. I love to watch them in flight because of their ability to change direction instantly darting left and right as they pursue insects. It’s hard to watch them fly and not believe they are enjoying every second of their lives. While the female is sitting on the eggs the male, who I have named Captain America, sits on top of the eagle on the top of the flagpole and will defend the nest against all comers.

Baltimore oriole at our feeder

Baltimore oriole at our feeder

Captain American

Captain American

The birds, however, that I enjoy watching the most are the House Wrens. Last spring my wife went out to hang some clothes from a clothesline. She reached for a clothespin and realized there were a bunch of sticks protruding from the bag. She slowly opened it and saw it was a bird’s nest with three eggs nestled in the sticks. After some searching on the Internet we discovered it was the nest of house wrens and spent much of the summer observing their behavior. This year, being unable to find the clothespin bag we hung out a <a that I had made during the winter in the exact same spot and were not disappointed as the wrens quickly began building their nest in it.

A female house wren bringing in a sack of spider eggs into the nest. It’s believed that when the spiders hatch, they eat some of the mites that have been brought in by the adults and then when they get bigger they are eaten by the growing wrens.

With both the wrens and the swallows, the males participate in the raising of the young. Below is a video I took last year and last week, which looked like the final day of nest building. The female is now sitting on the eggs while the male spends much of his time sitting on the laundry line poles waiting for the eggs to hatch. Once hatched both the male swallow and wren are totally involved in feeding the chicks and protecting the nest. We have no way of knowing if these are the same birds from last year.

What I enjoy so much about watching these birds is their devotion to each other, raising the young and their seeming enjoyment of life itself even though it’s hard work and demanding. While we humans are ever striving to modernize our lives and gain more possessions, the habits and purposes of these birds have changed very little over time. I think we could all benefit by not being so quick to adopt change for change’s sake to improve our daily lives and be happier with the simple gifts. And, oh yes, the time spent observing and videotaping the birds goes a long way to improving my outlook on life.

*All of the pictures and videos contained in this blog were taken on our property

He Was A Son Of A Bitch

We can call him Tommy and he definitely was a son of a bitch. Even given that, everybody still like him and he was popular in the neighborhood until he was hit by a car. Unfortunately, Tommy’s back was broken and he was left paralyzed. After that people didn’t seem to care about him that much anymore.

Then Tommy met Susan Fulcher and she was ready to help Tommy just like she had helped dozens of other dogs who were paralyzed. Susan runs the Dharma Rescue Organization in Los Angeles California. As I watched the video and listened to the reporter on the CBS Evening News last night I knew this was something that I wanted to share. Each dog is fitted with a custom “doggie wheelchair” and then helped to adjust to their new lives helping others.
Rolling Along

What struck me about the report was the dogs’ ability to quickly overcome and adapt to their disability and new life. I started thinking they must have accepted what had happened to them, did little or no reflecting about the what ifs and so were ready to move on. While I was going through rehabilitation at Craig hospital, I was overcome by the thought that my new life would be unproductive and I would just exist until I passed away. After a while, I began to realize what happened to me in my new life was almost completely under my control. I made some mental (attitudinal) adjustments and began to move on with a more positive outlook. These dogs just move on approaching their new life with enthusiasm and thus have the ability to help others. It is absolutely critical, I believe, for an individual who has suffered a catastrophic life changing event to accept what has happened to them and move on. Little good can come from dwelling on what has happened and wondering about the what ifs.

It was years ago, after Christopher Reeve’s injury that his attitude of nothing was going to prevent him from walking again caused dissension in the disabled community. He finally realized and accepted the fact that he would be paralyzed for the rest of his life. I don’t think an individual can move forward with their life if they refuse, at least on a conscious level, to accept what has happened. Let these dogs serve as an example of what can be accomplished if we are willing to accept what has happened to us and move forward.

I’ll Try Again

Turkey season in upstate New York has been open for a week now. I’ve been able to get out five days and have probably averaged about 5 1/2 hours of hunting time each day. Since the season began I have seen only three hens and they were quite a ways away. It’s much more difficult to hunt turkeys during the fall season. In the spring, both the hens and gobblers are moving most of the day. Hens wander off each day to lay an egg in their secluded nest and then returned to the Toms. After they have a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs they begin nesting and the gobblers start moving around looking for a female to breed. This makes them very susceptible to calling.

In the fall turkeys follow eating habits and rarely call to each other. So, it is extremely difficult to call them into range. The technique, able-bodied hunters use, is to move quickly through the woods until signs are found that the turkeys are near and then try to call them in. This is so difficult that many able-bodied hunters don’t bother hunting turkeys in the fall.

Waiting

Waiting

My friend Andy likes to say we are going to be sitting in our chairs all day anyway, so we might as well enjoy what we’re doing. It is that philosophy that takes me to the blind most days in the fall. Today was an exceptionally special day and I would like to share some of the “events” that nature chose to share with me. The blind I went to today is on the west side of a field that runs north and south. It was unusual that I arrived there around 9 o’clock as that’s quite early for me. The sun was coming up directly in front of me and treated me to several special sights. A heavy dew was on the grass in the field and the sunlight reflected off it looking like 1000 little twinkles. I was also aware that more than half of the field was covered with shadows created by the trees in the hedgerow across from me. While I was watching the shadows slowly grew smaller, but what was really wild was watching them move to my left as the sun slowly arced to my right. Neither of these was a fast process and you could almost see the shadows move slowly.

By noon I was getting extremely warm and began to be concerned about overheating. This process can lead to autonomic dyslexia, which can be a life-threatening emergency. I decided to leave. When I got home it was 76° and I knew I had made the right choice. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but Sunday is forecast to be sunny and in the mid-50s. There’s still a week of the season left and because I love being out so much I’ll try again.

Young gobbler walked by this blind shortly before season

Young gobbler walked by this blind shortly before season

Andyticipation

Andy arrived on the 17th of August and left yesterday around noon to fly back to Salt Lake City. Our week together is very special to me. He is much more involved with the disabled community than I am. He is much more outgoing and gregarious than me. Many of those who know me would be surprised by the fact that basically I am quiet, shy and retiring. Having been an educator for over 34 years I am at ease speaking and interacting with groups, but on a personal level I tend to limit myself to a few close friends none of whom are disabled. Andy’s visit is much more unique for me than I believe it is for him. Since we share the same injury level, a very similar outlook on our situation and the love of all things outdoors we are closely bound together.

We always do some different things while Andy is here. This year he went with me to the Outdoor Adventure Day at Fort Drum (the home of the 10th Mountain division) where we manned a booth for Handihelp which displayed many of the adaptive equipment we have made and a lot of pictures of what those adaptions have allowed us to do. It’s always enjoyable to speak with the people who stop by and have questions about our lifestyle and things we’ve done.

With Smokey the Bear at Ft. Drum

With Smokey the Bear at Ft. Drum


One thing we do every year when Andy comes is participate in the Annual Quadriplegic Fishing Derby. In reality, it’s just Andy and me going fishing with our friend Dean of Dean Meckes Charters and my buddy Steve Robinson or my son Mark. We caught a few fish, but that’s not the real reason we go. The time spent on the beautiful St. Lawrence River and the solitude of being out there is irreplaceable. The other annual happening is our visit with our friends Maia, Maddy, and Tonya Chamberlain for ice cream. It’s a chance for Andy to spend some time with Maia.
Andy with a bass

Andy with a bass


The most meaningful part of Andy’s visit for me is not the activities that we do, but rather the downtime at home when we can just talk about our situation, lifestyle and the mental and physical challenges we must deal with. This is the only time that I get to talk with someone who truly understands the ramifications of the challenges I face. While I do talk to my friends and my wife Marge at times, no one understands all the nuances that go along with being a quadriplegic. So, the time Andy’s here is like no other.

Andy comes to northern New York because it is much “easier” for him to travel than it is for me. However, we have begun discussing the possibility of my going to Utah and spending a week with Andy and his friends. The idea of it is very seductive.

Finally, I would like to thank Marge for her role in making this week possible and the others who helped make this week so special.

Andy, Maia and me

Andy, Maia and me

The Rainbow Comes and Goes

This is the title of the new book written by Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper. This morning they were on Live with Kelly and Michael. I thought the book title was an amazing metaphor for life. Years ago I wrote a blog called Talks Cheap – Test Time, which was about my struggle between positive attitude and depression / suicide. At the time, my blog was being carried by a website in Australia. They refused to publish it because not only did it talk about suicide, but it also mentioned some ways I thought about doing it. They felt it was a bad idea to share this with their readers. I argued with them that it is important for others to know that they are not alone in their struggles for a meaningful life and that life is full of challenges. They still refused, so we parted company.

I believe it is difficult for most able-bodied people to understand the roller coaster of emotions many individuals with disabilities go through on a daily basis. When I am with others, regardless how bad I feel, I am always able to project the image of one who is in control and well-adjusted to my situation. But, like the rainbow that comes and goes, when I am alone, or just Marge, at times the frustrations just seem to be overwhelming. It’s difficult to reach out to others because of their lack of understanding or I don’t want to project the image of one who is struggling to cope.

The Rainbow

The Rainbow

Many factors prove to be a continuing struggle which is often difficult to handle. Some of the frustrations are the same that were present prior to my injury, but the coping mechanisms I used are no longer available. When I was younger and getting “hyper” my kids would say “Dad, you need a physical fix”. I could go jogging, biking, kayaking or hop in my truck and drive up into the state forest land by myself. None of those are options anymore. The spontaneity is almost completely absent from my life. Plus, there are now new factors that compound the old ones. Weather is one, health and fitness for a couple of others. Even though I was sequestered most of the winter and it’s now April I’m still housebound. Part of my frustration right now is that it’s sunny and absolutely beautiful out, but the wind chill the last few days has been in the middle teens and this pattern is supposed to continue. Add to this the almost constant nagging health issues that happens to be present most of the time or that I’m unable to get my weight under control and you end up with a situation that seems almost overwhelming. At times like this, it’s almost impossible for me to motivate myself to do anything. The thing I want to do the most is to be out in the natural environment and that’s almost impossible. People have suggested going shopping or out to eat or to the movies, but none of these are what I really want to be doing or need to do to quiet the demons.

This blog is one attempt to relieve some of my frustrations. Knowing that there are others who will read this and understand what I am saying is comforting. To know there are some who will read it and say, “Oh, I’m not the only one struggling with these issues” also makes me feel better. After all, we must remember that the rainbow comes and goes!

He’s Gone

In 1957 a Rock& Roll group named the Chantels had a hit called He’s Gone. Part of the lyrics are below:
“He’s gone (he’s gone)
I don’t know where
But he’s gone (he’s gone)
I must have done something wrong
He is gone (he’s gone)

I’m sorry (he’s gone)
For what I’ve done
To make you leave me…”

To hear the song, click He’s Gone.

Yesterday was Easter Sunday. Marge and I decided to go down to Lake Ontario. There is a beautiful wheelchair accessible trail not far from our home. It was sunny and around 640. Lake Ontario is quite large and the vista is similar to being at the ocean. It always reminds me of how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things and I love that. As I sat there looking out over the vastness of the water I had a strong reminder that he was gone. He’d been gone for some time, but the memory still engulfed me. Strangely enough, I can’t remember him anymore. I guess it’s a way to protect myself. In the beginning I missed him all the time and was very bitter he had left me. For years I had very vivid dreams of what it was like when he was around, but that has changed too. Like the song says, I’m sorry for what I’ve done to make you leave me, but I know it was nothing that I did that made him leave.

I realized yesterday he really had gone and that I can’t remember him anymore, his walking, jogging or spontaneous lifestyle, etcetera. As the Chantels’ sing “I don’t know where, but he’s gone” and don’t really care anymore. My life is very different without him and that’s okay. However, I now truly believe and that’s very reassuring that he left for a reason.

He's Gone

He’s Gone


He's Here

He’s Here

Chairbound Sportsman

For an outdoors-man who becomes disabled and ultimately wheelchair-bound the struggle to regain quality-of-life can be overwhelming. New skills must be developed, in spite of compromised abilities, in order to return to the lifestyle they love. But, while daunting, the development of new skills to replace the old ones lost is within their grasp if they persevere and refuse to accept failure as an outcome.

The higher the level of injury the greater the challenge. We are just beginning to see the development of new types of recreational wheelchairs, both manual and power, being developed for those who want to return to the outdoor life. Four-wheel-drive and track wheelchairs are becoming more widely available. However, in spite of these changes, especially with an activity like hunting, chances of returning to the solitary hunting lifestyle will be nearly impossible.

Even with these new, highly specialized chairs there is still the need for additional help from other able-bodied individuals. In order to hunt, an individual in a chair will also need some type of support system. For many individuals who become disabled the loss of self-sufficiency and self-reliance is one of the most difficult issues for them to face, which makes asking for help difficult.

Hunting requirements are very different depending on the region of the United States. Prior to my accident, I hunted in many states along the East Coast. Shots are rarely taken over 150 yards and in most areas you’re never far from civilization. While I have never hunted west of the Mississippi River I’ve received quite a bit of information from my friend Andy Dahmen, who lives in Utah, and has also hunted in Idaho and Wyoming. This fall he shot a bull elk that was over 560 yards away. The distance of the shots, the vast amounts of terrain that must be covered and the size of the animals harvested all demand a greater support system for a hunter out West. In the East you can usually get by with a friend or two, but out West is a different story.

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho

Russian Boar harvested in Idaho


Hunting out West for an individual who is in a wheelchair requires a number of able-bodied individuals to assist. Fortunately, there are people who understand and have formed volunteer organizations to assist the disabled. One of these groups the Utah chapter of Chairbound Hunters is titled Chairbound Sportsman. I have taken their Mission statement verbatim off their website so you can understand what these individuals are trying to do.

“We create hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities for wheelchair bound individuals and Disabled Veterans. Outdoor Activities are hard enough, but retrieving game, is next to impossible. With our volunteers, we can help with the hard stuff and make their outings a success. Our Goal is to offer experiences to those that thought they could never get into the outdoors again. Volunteers, Landowners and Sponsors are Critical to our success.”

Getting Ready to Roll

Getting Ready to Roll


It is difficult for many individuals to understand what their kindness and thoughtfulness means to the participant. Without the support from others, many in the disabled community would be unable to participate in the activities that provide for our quality of life. Handihelp does not accept advertisement on the website. I would, however, recommend either volunteering or make a donation to keep organizations like these functioning.