Tag Archives: natural environment

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

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 Times They Are A-Changin’

Those words are the title of the Bob Dylan song written in 1964 which has become a classic. The song discusses societal changes that were taking place. It covers a variety of new attitudes that were going to happen, Dylan believed, regardless of résistance. While the song says nothing about disability or the disabled community I would imagine it would be fairly easy for Dylan to add a verse today discussing societal changes happening towards individuals with disabilities.

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Peta-Murgatroyd & Niles DiMarco

Just this month (May 2016) we have seen three sign posts that I would present as examples of what is happening in our society today. The most recent would be the presenting of the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing with the Stars to Niles DiMarco, who won the championship despite the fact that he never heard a note of music the entire time. Niles was born deaf, but refused to allow that to stop him from obtaining goals that many would believe were impossible. In my opinion the most poignant part of all the season was when they stopped all music while he was dancing so the audience could see the challenge he was dealing with.

Charlie Linville

Charlie Linville


The second event occurred May 19 when 30 year old Charlie Linville, an Afghan war veteran and amputee, summited Mount Everest. As if to remind us how difficult, dangerous and demanding this still is, within a couple days of his accomplishment three climbers died while trying to summit.

The final event occurred earlier in May as the Invictus (which means unconquered) Games the place for three days in Orlando Florida. The concept of the games was the brainchild of Prince Harry of the United Kingdom. Knowing firsthand the sacrifices the men and women of the armed forces make to defend our freedom and way of life he decided to begin the games as a tribute to those who had made personal and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Invictus Games featured 500 competitors from 15 nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America. We have reached a point where our society is so interested in happenings like these that the games were televised on ESPNU. The courage and strength of these individuals were on display for the entire world to see.

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

The entire United States team of athletes gather on stage during the closing ceremony at the Invictus Games, Thursday, May 12, 2016, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

It is my feelings that these and other events in our society show that The Times Are A-Changin’ and most people are becoming more receptive to those with differences regardless of how they present themselves.

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.