Category Archives: Nature

SEARCHING FOR SIMPLICITY

It was already a little after 10 AM when I rolled out on our deck. I follow a similar ritual almost every morning. It begins by my trying to warm my body. Direct sunlight in good weather and the fireplace in winter. Next is my intake of caffeine, a bottle of diet Mountain Dew and a cup of coffee to get my body working for the day. It is also a time when I muse about what is going on in my life, the world, our country or whatever. It was immediately obvious that this was going to be the nicest day of 2018 so far. Bright sunshine, no wind and the temperature that was predicted to climb to around 80. My eyes wandered to the nesting boxes not far from the deck and I noticed a swallow sitting on one of them. In the next instant another one came darting out of one of the box and landed in the flat area around my garden boxes which was closer to me. Watching I realized it was the female and she was gathering material to build her nest. She’d pick up some dead grass or weed, fly back to the box and repeat the process over and over again. While she was doing this the male sat on a nearby box seemingly aloof to the whole process. Typical my wife would say. Occasionally, she would fly up and perch next to him seemingly to confirm their relationship, then they would take off into the air darting to and fro seeming to celebrate their existence.

Male Swallow

Male Swallow

I began wondering what it would be like to live a life that was that simple. Fly north in the spring, build a nest, raise your young, raise a second batch if there were time, then fly south as the cold weather returned. Swallows must’ve been doing this for thousands of years with little deviation.

At 75 you would think that one’s life would be getting simpler. However, the exact opposite seems to be true for me. It’s not like my thoughts are complicated by the fact that I’m in the twilight years of my life because death does not weigh on my mind. I have no idea what will happen to me when I die, but the one thing I know is that I’ll be out of this damn wheelchair. Living seems to be complicated by many factors for me. The thousands of daily frustrations that come along with spinal cord injury. They don’t seem to be getting better. My desire to enjoy as many of the activities that provide me quality of life. The ebb and flow of relationships in my life seems to be a constant strain lately. Sitting on the deck in the warm sun I’m jealous of the swallows for their seemingly simplistic existence and their love of life.

Fly By

Fly By

Life As An Iguana

If you’ve been watching the news during the recent invasion of arctic air deep into the United States, you’ve probably seen or heard of iguanas in Florida falling out of the trees seemingly frozen to death. However, wildlife experts cautioned against making the mistaken assumption that these animals are dead. While there seems to be no respiration or heartbeat they are alive and if the weather warms up in a few days they will come back to life and resume their normal activities. What is causing this phenomenon is a condition known as poikilothermic. Poikilotherm is a characteristic among most reptiles in which their body temperature is determined by their environment rather than by their body’s ability to produce heat. They are cold blooded. When the iguana’s temperature drops below 30 degrees they can no longer carry on normal activities including holding on to a branch. We, on the other hand, are members of a group of animals who are known as homeotherms (warm blooded) meaning our body temperature is controlled by the body itself regardless of the environment we happen to be in. Being able to regulate body temperature is a major reason humans are found all over the world regardless of climate type.

Frozen Iguana in Florida

Frozen Iguana in Florida

Iguana fallen out of tree

Iguana fallen out of tree

Quadriplegia brings many changes to the body most of which able-bodied people are totally unaware of. One of the most serious is that our body loses the ability to control its temperature. This can lead to an extremely serious condition known as Autonomic Dysreflexia which can be life-threatening very quickly. The body of someone who has become severely paralyzed loses the ability to sweat or shiver. Each of these body functions is critical in helping to regulate body temperature. For a person with quadriplegia on a warm day their body cannot prevent its temperature from rising. Worse than that is the individual has no idea that his temperature is reaching a critical point. This threat forces many of us to spend much of a beautiful sunny day indoors. A cold environment causes a lowering of body temperature which is just as serious. Unfortunately, the temperatures do not even have to be extreme for these conditions to occur.

Another effect of this phenomena is that a person with quadriplegia is almost always cold. Even on relatively warm days unless they are in direct sunlight their bodies give them the sense of being cold. Probably 360 days a year I can be found with a knit hat on my head and at night when I go to sleep, I always have a small hand towel draped over my head. It’s hard to understand how a body which is supposed to have little actual feeling can have the sense of so much phantom feeling and pain.

Soaking Up The Sun

Soaking Up The Sun

Normally when iguanas wake up in the morning they make their way to a spot that has direct sunlight and remain there until their body temperature rises high enough for them to pursue their effort to secure food. Just like iguanas when I first get up on a warm day I go out and sit in the sun and rejoice as my body warms up. While you will not find quadriplegics dropping out of the trees on a cold day you can bet they are always struggling to stay warm.

Life As An Iguana

Life As An Iguana

Dreams Really Can Come True

The light, from the full moon, was twinkling off the water as we slid our kayaks into the lake. We had paddled here many times before, but there was always something special when paddling under a full moon. The small little lake hidden off an old road in Jefferson County, was absolutely beautiful. It was probably close to midnight when we loaded the kayaks back on the truck and headed for home. Little did I realize that the time it would be many years before I would return.

Marge

Marge

After my accident in 1999 I wondered if I would ever go back and paddle on this lake again. In my mind, I set it as a goal not knowing if it was even realistic. In the rehabilitation hospital in 1999 I read a quote in a book written by Christopher Reeve. It had a tremendous impact on my attitude toward my own rehabilitation. Reeve said:

“I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I will live my life. I don’t mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery.”

I began kayaking again in 2003. We had to start from scratch. No information was available on quadriplegics kayaking. Progress was slow. It took a group of people for me to go at all; as a result, I only got out a couple times a year. So improvements and adaptions were slow. Once I even tipped the kayak over and since I was completely strapped in and my hands strapped on the paddle would have drowned if it wasn’t for the quick thinking of two members of my “entourage”. Despite all of that, progress moved ahead, first pontoons, next a stadium seat whose back was raised by a local machinist, chest laterals were added and after much additional tweaking during my one paddle last year I decided everything was stable enough to go for my goal. Through all these years I was paddling on a large pond owned by good friends of ours. But in the back of my mind always was the dream to return to Payne Lake.

Steve fishing for bass

Steve fishing for bass

Yesterday, I awoke from the dream, many times in our lives, we imagine certain events happening and when they do they fall far short of the scenario that had been created in our mind. Yesterday the experience exceeded everything that I had hoped for. We paddled for several hours. My wife and I together on the water for the first time in over 18 years. The lake whose aesthetics I could only dream of were more imposing in person. By sheer accident, I paddled up on a heron, which I was unaware of, until I was almost on top of her. We watched her fly from spot to spot and even saw her catch a small fish. My friend Steve, without whose help I would not do half of the things I do, had a bass launch out of the lily pads to take his lure, but it slipped the hook during some aerial acrobatics. I live for opportunities like this.

What a special day.

What a special day.


The moral of the story is don’t stop dreaming. Dreams really can come true if you continue to work on them and refuse to give up.

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