Bad Habits

I don't know why, but big puffy clouds make me happy

I don’t know why, but big puffy clouds make me happy

I expect to collapse into a deep sleep from which I cannot be awakened at any moment.  Between long days for my day job and several personal projects, sleep seems to be the thing that’s not fitting into my schedule.  Oh, and healthy meals.  Oh, yeah, and working out.  How long can a human survive on limited sleep, limited nutrition, and way too much time sitting?

More importantly, how do bad health habits affect photographic skills?

This is my list of what I have observed in how my photography habits have changed:

  1. I have less time to shoot.  Therefore, I shoot what presents itself.  Sometimes what presents itself isn’t all that interesting.  I shoot it anyway because I don’t have time to go find something more interesting.
  2. I have less imagination.  There have been many times I have had a lot of fun shooting uninteresting subjects and made them more interesting by choosing to treat them differently.  With a muddled mind full of unfinished to-do’s, I seem to be stuck in landscape mode.  I guess when we are stressed, we tend to fall back to where we are most comfortable.

    The same clouds as above as they begin to break up

    The same clouds as above as they begin to break up

  3. I take fewer images.  Instead of shooting every possible angle with different exposures and trying different focal lengths, etc, I take a couple of angels less than a half dozen times and call it done.  This would be a good thing if it were because I was taking my time and carefully deciding what I wanted.  But it’s more like I am not seeing all the possibilities and don’t have the energy to create a bunch of shots I have to go through later.
  4. I minimize the time I spend on post-processing.  If I have 3 similar images, I spend less than 2 minutes adjusting the first and then I stamp the same settings on the rest.  Unless there is something really amiss, I call it done.
  5. I don’t plan my shoots or my shots.  When I am experiencing less stress, I think about images I’d like to get.  I think about where I can go to get them.  I think of techniques I’d like to improve and give myself assignments to work on them.  Now, I am grabbing what I can get.
  6. I don’t work on new skills.  Normally, I find at least a couple of hours a week to read about something related to improving my photos or go to a workshop or watch one online.  Those hours have been consumed.  Perhaps this is why I am having a shortage of ideas?

Now that I have enumerated the ways in which I am neglecting my development (that would be funnier if I were a film photographer), the only question is whether it’s better to keep shooting or whether I’m just picking up bad photography habits in addition to bad life habits.

I cannot recall having ever seen a cloud quite like this one

I cannot recall having ever seen a cloud quite like this one



Ready Rower

Waiting for me

Waiting for me

5:15AM seemed a little extra early this morning when the twittering of my iPhone interrupted my dream.  I awoke confused, unsure of whether it was really time to get up, having just fallen into a dream state a few minutes before the alarm went off.

I got up, turned off my annoying phone and then looked back over my shoulder at the warm bed I had just left behind.  My dog remained curled on his bed on the floor, snoring softly through slightly curled lips.  My husband seemed oblivious to the alarm, his own snores harmonizing with my dog’s–my husband forever the musician.

The rowing center bay glows like a fireplace

The rowing center bay glows like a fireplace

I slipped back under the covers for just a few minutes.  I thought about rolling over and falling back into whatever dream I had been pulled from.  But then, I remembered why I’d set the alarm for 5:15AM.  It was because I was going to row for the first time since last fall!

The thought of entering the river all by myself in the dark after not having rowed for months set off a new alarm, awakening the rabble of butterflies in my stomach.  With so much fluttering going on, there was no possibility of going back to sleep.  I decided coffee was in order.

I managed to get myself caffeinated, dressed, and assembled enough to take Tisen (who had managed to get out of bed) for a quick walk around the park.  Then, I was off.

A pedestrian bridge on the river walk reflected on the water

A pedestrian bridge on the river walk reflected on the water

I stuffed my rowing equipment into my saddle bags and rolled my bike out of the garage.  I carried it up the flight of steps to ground level, mounted, and rolled off into the dark feeling somewhat stoic, like I was about to face an enemy.

The quick 2 mile ride to the rowing center warmed up my legs and helped me relax.  The rabble in my belly died as I pumped my way up the slope of the Walnut Street Bridge looking over the stillness of the river below.  I reminded myself that it wasn’t that cold.  The worst thing that could happen is I could get wet.  I would make it back home slightly chilled, but no worse for wear.

Looking across the rests used for sculling boats to McClellan Island

Looking across the rests used for sculling boats to McClellan Island

I was the first rower of the morning.  I turned on the lights and tried to find my favorite boat to no avail.  I found another one and quickly learned I’d forgotten the art of carrying a rowing scull, but I managed to get it out safely.

I did everything out of order, but once I was seated in the scull and rowing, it was like I hadn’t missed a week.  The rhythm of legs pushing while arms pull oars through water, bending arms, straightening arms, sliding slowing back up to the catch, listening to the oars in the oarlocks and watching the Great Blue Heron soar a foot above the water all to a slow count of 4–it’s hard to imagine a better way to start a day.

One thing I forgot after a 5-month hiatus--what these things are called

One thing I forgot after a 5-month hiatus–what these things are called

Monkey Feet

It all started on the hike to Grinnell Glacier in Montanna.  Pat and I were working our way up the mountain trail with me in my hiking boots that felt like giant led-filled balloons when we passed a couple on their way back down.  They looked impossibly fresh.  They weren’t limping.  They looked relaxed and comfortable.  As I looked down to find footing, I noticed their feet.  Low and behold, they were wearing fivefingers shoes.  I had heard of fivefingers before, but it hadn’t occurred to me people would wear them on the trail.

After limping our way back at the end of the hike with me barely able to put weight on my knees and hips, I found myself wanting to try fivefinger shoes.

When we got home, I bought a pair like the ones we saw on the trail–black neoprene.  Although I didn’t give them a true trail test for many months, they turned out to be a miracle on the treadmill.  My knees and hips felt better than they’d felt in years after the initial adjustment period.

There definitely is an adjustment period!  A whole bunch of tiny muscles in my feet and ankles had to be reborn and developed before I could walk as fast or as far as I had been walking.  But, once I’d adjusted my stride and footfall and developed weakened muscles, I was pretty sure I could walk forever without getting the shooting pains I’d become accustomed to.

Alas, the neoprene was hot.  It was hot indoors and hot in the fall and spring, but not warm enough for the colder temperatures I’d hoped to wear them in.  That led to the trekking pair.  They have a mesh weave that breathes.  Unfortunately, they weren’t made to be drug across the ground on their tops, which is exactly what happens when one is learning to hang glide, resulting in excess wear and tear.  My feet also do not like the tread on those shoes.  If I walk on hard surfaces in them, I get blisters on my big toes.

This led to the much softer and cushier black and gray pair, which I love.  However, they are a little too soft for the trail, which brings us to the orange pair.  They are supposed to have some extra support to protect against rocks.  I’m testing them tomorrow for the first time on the trail.

There are definitely tradeoffs.  Kicking a rock or stepping on something sharp feels a lot different (and not good!) in fivefinger shoes than in hiking boots.   They are also not good in cold and/or wet conditions.  My feet turned to blocks of ice on a short 2 mile walk that started off slogging through mud last November.  I was glad I’d brought my boots for the longer hike we did right after that.  For this reason, I bought a new pair of boots, too, much lighter than my previous pair.  I wish I didn’t need them.

Why I Don’t Bake Christmas Cookies

Hello.  My name is Dianne and I’m a sugarholic.  I went for two years without sugar.  Then, a colleague showed up with a box of Thin Mints.  It was so humiliating.  I ate half the box in 15 minutes.  I had to ask her to lock her cookies in a drawer, all the while hoping she would just hand me the other half of the box.

I’ve since learned that total deprivation leads to massive binges.  I try to include healthier indulgences like super dark chocolate and fruit smoothies sweetened only with a little honey.  Occasionally, we buy ice cream, but I only trust myself with a pint at a time.

I once consulted with a nutritionist who had me do an experiment with “limited supply foods.”  She had me choose a snack and portion it into small servings that totaled the number of calories a day I was willing to spend on junk.  Then, I stocked a cabinet next to the fridge with about 2 weeks’ worth of baggies.  I could eat 2 baggies a day and no more, but I had to look at the baggies every time I got a craving and tell myself, “If I run out, I’ll buy more.”

The first day, it was torture.  All I could think about was that cabinet full of goodies calling my name.  By the second day, I was doing better between snacks and didn’t find it so difficult to concentrate on other things.  By the third day, I only remembered to eat 1 baggie.  By the fourth day, I forgot to eat them both.  Those baggies suddenly became a nice surprise when I remembered to open the cabinet instead of a looming fiend trying to corrupt my good intentions.

This was an important lesson that I have since failed to apply:  when I think something is a limited supply, I will eat every bite as fast as possible.  The nutritionist described this as a survivalist response and said it’s common among people who grew up in homes where a particular type of food was restricted.

But how to apply this to holidays and Girl Scouts?  These truly are limited supplies.  My mother-in-law sent Pat and me a box of goodies last week.  It was a large assortment of homemade and German imports.  My half lasted approximately 2 days.  My husband took pity and shared some of his half with me.

Similarly, if I make Christmas cookies, I have a problem with the dough.  Frequently, the dough never makes it into the oven.  And, realistically, me making cookies more than once a year is so far-fetched it’s comical.  So, how do I convince myself that I can get more?

The thing is, I really enjoy these things.  The tradition of celebrating friends and family through indulging in delicious food is one I don’t want to give up.  I just want to be able to enjoy them a little at a time.

Fall Fantasies

It’s Monday morning.  Thursday is Thanksgiving.  Many of my colleagues are taking the entire week off.  I’m saving what’s left of my vacation for the end of the year.  I expect to be able to get caught up at work before the holiday with so many people gone.

The morning starts rather abruptly with a 6:30AM call with a colleague in Great Britain.  It’s the only time one of our volunteer testers for a project I’m involved with is available to talk through what we need him to do.  It’s now 7:30AM and I’m already overwhelmed with how much I need to get done before Thursday.

Not only do we have this testing going on, but four of the other projects I’ve been working on are coming to a head and I’d like to get them all to the next major milestone before taking off for the long weekend.  What I really need is a walk, but it’s not happening today.  Having gotten started working, I’m on a roll and I’m not stopping now.

Now it’s Tuesday morning.  I’m up long before dawn now, the dawn coming so much later these days.  I am working out this morning.  It’s my last training session with Kory and then my package is done.  He’s offering a boot camp class in the mornings starting next week, so I’ll be doing that.  But, this morning, I have my final one-on-one workout.

Once I get out of the gym, I decide I need the walk I skipped yesterday even more today.  Pat is out of bed when I get home, so we get ready to go.  It’s been a week since we last walked by the riverfront.  The trees have dropped many more leaves; the crews are still out there blowing the leaves and hauling them to the compost piles.  It seems endless.  From the look of things, there will still be leaves to remove after Thanksgiving.  There are far more leaves still on the trees than there were in Columbus, but I don’t think fall is much more than a week behind.  I wonder if there will still be any leaves on the trees in the mountains this weekend.

I realize that I am wearing a T-shirt and a light sweater as we walk around the park.  Pat is wearing only a T-shirt.  It seems like a repeat of before we went up to Columbus–it’s in the 60’s and the sun is barely up.  I like this warm weather stuff, I have to admit.  I like changing seasons and cooler weather, too.  But there is a lot to be said for not being cold.

The river looks the same.  The sky is overcast, so there aren’t interesting reflections on the water this morning, but the blue heron like it just the same.  A pair of them flies over the water, rounding a corner and landing too close to the shore for us to see from where we stand.  We walk to an overlook and lean out over the rail, trying to spot them.  But, they have either flown on or parked somewhere hidden behind they honeysuckle taking over the space between the path and the shoreline.

As we look for the heron, a large shadow passes over our heads, catching our attention.  This often happens when a large bird flies between us and the sun when we’re out for walks.  Today, it turns out the sun has briefly appeared from behind a cloud long enough to cast a shadow from a car crossing over the bridge.  This phenomena shocks us every time.  The bridge is far enough away that it seems impossible that a car could cast a shadow over our heads, yet it happens on a regular basis.  There is something wrong about cars casting shadows that can be mistaken for airplanes.

We get to the far end of our walking route and head back towards home.  The leaves are piled in lines down the center of the sidewalks.  The crew is taking a break under the bridge.  We step carefully, trying not to displace any of the leaves waiting to be swept up and hauled away.  I think back to the falls of my childhood.  I have a generalized memory of my whole family being out in the front yard creating massive piles of leaves and taking turns running and jumping in them.  In my mind, that was what every fall was like.  Yet, when I actually remember specific times, I remember thinking piling up the leaves and jumping in them should be a lot of fun, but actually doing it turned out not to be all that exciting.

More clearly, and therefore, probably more recently, I remember raking and raking and being amazed by the amount of raking required to clear the yard of leaves.  I also remember enjoying mowing the last few times in the fall–I felt like I was vacuuming whoever’s lawn I was mowing, sucking up all the leaves and debris into the mower bag and leaving a trim, bright green stripe of lawn in my wake.  The difference between where I had yet to mow and where I had already mowed (mown?) was so striking.  I loved the unambiguousness of my accomplishment.  There are a lot of days I wish I’d stayed in the lawn mowing business.

When my neck aches, my head aches, and I can’t point to a single thing I’ve actually gotten done after a long day sitting at my computer, I start to long for a job that involves physical labor.  Recognizing that this probably sounds better than it would actually feel by the end of a long day of challenging physical work, I sometimes fantasize about being a park ranger.  I realize I don’t actually know what a park ranger does all day, but just the idea of hanging out in a park for a living seems very promising.

When the park ranger fantasy surfaces, this is usually when I decide I should clean off my desk.  That’s about as close to physical labor as my job gets these days.  Is it any wonder that I have to go to the gym when the best I can do for exercise on the job is throwing away scraps of paper and putting my pens back in the pen holder?

Returning from our walk in the park and settling myself at my desk, I realize that even the pens and papers are disappearing from my work life.  Soon, I will have to pop my laptop in and out of its docking station for physical activity on the job.  I promise myself I will stand up and pace while on calls today.  This, of course, doesn’t happen because while I am on calls, I am also doing at least 6 other things that all require sitting at my computer.  I am reminded of an idea I had many years ago for a line of office furniture that requires you to move while you work.  I find myself thinking maybe I should build some prototypes for myself.  If only I knew how to weld.

Back to the Gym

Collapsing on the couch after a long weekend at Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I think about tomorrow.  I’m supposed to meet my personal trainer at the gym at 6:00AM.  I wonder why I thought that would be a good idea?  My legs and shoulders are aching from hiking over the weekend and all I really want to do is sleep.  The gods must have heard my protest because I receive a text from my trainer that he’s had several cancellations and he’s able to reschedule for 7:30AM instead.  I think briefly about running out to buy a lottery ticket while my luck is hot, but decide not to push it.

I collapse into bed feeling wide awake and sleepy at the same time.  I download a new book to my iPad, having finished “The Help.”  I choose something light and fun and go with Kathy Reich’s newest novel.  I turn to the first page and get about a paragraph read before I’m nodding off.  I plug in my iPad, set it on the nightstand and roll over, falling fast asleep.

The next morning, I awake before my alarm goes off at 6:00AM, but not by much.  It’s nice to be sleeping in again–I’ve been waking up around 4:00AM for weeks and it’s gotten really old.  I go through my morning routine, making coffee, sitting on the balcony, writing my blog.  But the temperature has dropped about 30 degrees with all the rain.  I go back inside to grab a fleece and slippers before returning to the balcony.  It’s still raining and I wonder if the whether will clear in time for our upcoming trip to Germany.  My weather app tells me it’s going to rain for a week and I worry for a moment about our flight on Sunday, but then return to my blog.

Putting my computer away, I brush my teeth and head out the door, forgetting to bring a bottle of water.  Today, I am wearing long workout pants for the first time in months.  I zip up my rain jacket and pull up the hood before exiting the lobby.  It’s a short walk to the gym–it’s right across the street–but my feet get wet anyway.  I hang my jacket in the locker room and go back out to the treadmills.  The treadmill I pick has an error and won’t start–the dependency on a computer to go for a walk strikes me as strange.  I move over one machine and start walking.  I only have a few minutes before my training session starts, so my goal is just to warm up and stretch a little.  As I increase the speed, I notice that there are puddles sitting on the handrail around the control panel.  The entire handrail is splattered and I wonder what sweaty beast last used the machine.  I am already walking and not up for changing treadmills again, so I try not to touch anything.  I add a 2% incline and speed up to 4.2 miles per hour, about the fastest I can walk without breaking into a trot.  In my fivefingers shoes, my foot fall hits mid-sole and I keep my knees more bent so that I probably look like I think I’m running–I imagine what I look like to an observer, running in slow motion.  My feet make a funny “slap, slap” noise with each stride and I try to figure out how to walk more quietly.  I actually am walking more quietly than I do in regular shoes; when I wear running shoes, my feet go “thump, thump” instead.  I’ve often wondered why I am such a noisy walker, but I’ve never figured out how to walk silently.  I have no more success at quieting my stride today, but the other people in the gym are all wearing ear buds, so I hope that they can’t hear me.

After warming up for 5 minutes, I hop off the treadmill and grab a spray bottle and a cleaning towel.  I spray down the treadmill and wipe off the sweat left behind by some stranger, trying not to think about it too much.  Then, I stretch my calves against the wall.  Wow!  I didn’t know calves could be so tight, but I realize I didn’t stretch after doing many miles of steep hiking over the weekend.  I make a note mentally that getting into yoga class has to be a priority when we get back from Germany.

My trainer walks up and tells me he’s ready when I am and I follow him back into the small training room.  I don’t much like this room.  It’s tight for two people to be in and it heats up quickly, making me feel like I’m working much harder than I am.  He starts me off with 2 minutes of mountain climbers.  Mountain climbers are a deceptive exercise.  First, they are nothing like mountain climbing.  Second, they seem easy when I start, but after about a minute, I’m ready to get off the mountain!  With my arms extended and hands on the floor, I move my feet back and forth underneath me.  It’s like skipping in place while supporting your upper body with your hands.  As I slow my pace and shorten my stride, my trainer chuckles and comments that he really likes this exercise because it uses your whole body.  I would make a smart acre remark about how maybe he really likes this exercise because he’s not the one doing it, but I’m too out of breath to say anything.  Next come push-ups.

He tells me to do 30 full push-ups with a pause at the bottom.  I look at him skeptically and say, “Maybe 10.”  I’m not good at full push-ups–too many years of doing them off my knees, I guess.  I do get 10 on my toes, which is quite an accomplishment for me.  Then, I drop to my knees and do 20 more.  My trainer says encouraging things like, “Good job!  I’m proud of you!” when I’m done, but I suspect he picked up positive reinforcement from trainer school and that he’s really laughing at me.

Next I do jumping jacks with shoulder presses.  While the average person may find this to be an easy exercise, I lack the coordination to keep track of my feet and hands simultaneously.  I have a hard time keeping my shoulder press in time with my jumping jacks, and find myself nearly smashing my head between the weights when I get confused.  Fortunately, self-preservation kicks in just in time to prevent a concussion.  This time, my trainer does laugh at me.  I switch to concentrating on my arms instead of my feet and find myself jumping backwards until I almost collide with the massage table that sits against the wall.  My trainer covers his mouth with his hand, trying to hide his amusement.  I switch back to concentrating on my feet and then forget about my arms again.  All of this reminds me of when Pat got me a drum kit because I thought I wanted to learn how to play.  I had three problems in learning to play the drums:  1)  I can’t keep time, 2)  I could only get one foot or one hand going at a time, and 3) I kept missing the drum heads with my sticks.  Other than that, I was a natural.

Finishing up the shoulder press jumping jacks, my trainer has me do some exercise whose name I don’t know.  If you asked me to name it, I would call it “torture.”  This involves getting back into push-up position, but with each hand on a weight.  Then, while holding my body in a plank, I’m supposed to do a one-arm row with the weight, alternating sides without twisting.  By the time I finish, my shoulders are burning (not in a good way) and my fingers are going numb.  Sharing this with my trainer, he decides to give me a break and has me lay down on the massage table.  He takes out a foam roller and rolls it all over my sore muscles.  Now this I can do!  When he gets to my left calf, I practically jump off the table.  My right leg bends and I grunt.  He says, “Calves a little tight?” and I “ugh” back at him.  He moves to my right calf and it’s even worse.  He tells me, “If that’s too much pressure, let me know–sometimes I don’t know my own strength.”  The man resembles Michael Clarke Duncan in physique–I can only imagine what it’s like to be that strong.  Truthfully, he’s also a lot like many of Michael Clarke Duncan’s characters in that he’s sweet and soft-spoken in spite of his intimidating size.  For that reason, I trust him to roll this foam thing over my sore muscles.  When he’s done, I do feel better.  The knots in my shoulders have shrunk from walnuts to peas and my fingers have stopped tingling.  I wonder if I could just come in for a half hour of roller therapy instead of a workout?

On Visiting

After arriving in Columbus, I quickly realize several things about coming for a visit:

  1. Friends are more important than errands–scheduling tasks from getting my iPad fixed to getting my hair done leaves little time to see friends in the few waking hours left after work.
  2. Co-workers are more important than errands–missing happy hour with colleagues in favor of appointments wastes a rare opportunity to socialize with people I enjoy.
  3. Making a list of everyone I want to see and scheduling time with them before I leave and before I schedule any kind of mundane task should help make time to see everyone next trip.
  4. Spending time with people I care about is important because I don’t know how long it will be before I get to see them again, even if I just saw them 2 weeks ago.
  5. Having a mobile broadband connection that works makes like easier.
  6. When I pack, I need to count carefully and not get distracted in the middle of packing.

These lessons were, of course, learned the hard way.  Thinking I could take care of tasks in Columbus more easily than in Chattanooga because I knew where to go caused me to pack my schedule with stuff I really would have preferred not to do.  I missed out on the opportunity to spend time with people.  We ended up with only 3 evenings that we could schedule anything and one of them was shared with a 2-hour hair appointment, making for a late evening on a work night.  I mentally go through a list of the people we didn’t get to see and groan inwardly.

On the plus side, staying with friends worked out well–at least for us.  Sharing a cup of coffee in the wee hours of the morning with my fellow insomniac made a great way to start the day (although I suppose we both would have liked an extra hour or two of sleep).  And our schedules were offset just enough that we got to spend some quality time together without getting in each other’s way (I hope).

Driving was interesting.  I didn’t think about having only one car to share with Pat while in Columbus.  As it turned out, he did all the driving until we were on our way home again, so I went almost 3 weeks before I got behind the wheel again.  Not having a car also made it difficult to arrange time with friends at lunch.  I managed to have lunch with work friends, but missed the chance to get together with a friend who I could have seen if I’d had a car to meet her for lunch.

We left for Columbus on a Sunday with Pat doing the driving so I could get caught up on some work.  Unfortunately, my work laptop refused to play nicely with our USB broadband device and we found ourselves wardriving for a WiFi network so I could get a document emailed that needed to be in Hong Kong in time for the start of their Monday morning.  Worried that I would forget to send it when we got to Columbus, I wanted to make sure it went out while I was thinking about it.  Fortunately, McDonald’s now offers free WiFi, accessible from their parking lot.  But driving around looking for internet access does not make for an efficient car trip.

As for getting distracted while packing, once we are in Columbus, I discovered why my suitcase looked so empty.  I’d stopped packing before I’d finished gathering together everything I needed for working out (especially my workout bag) and I’d mis-counted the number of days I needed work clothes.  With no workout bag, I ended up packing my change of work clothes for after my workout into my laptop bag, which caused me to forget my lovely heels.  I ended up having to wear my fivefingers shoes all day the first day I went to the gym.  If you’ve never seen fivefingers shoes, check them out.  While they are the best shoes I’ve ever worked out in, they aren’t exactly complementary to work attire.  I comforted myself that not that many people would see me in my silly shoes, but, of course, we have a firedrill at the office that day and I ended up in the parking lot along with the entire population of our building.  As I walk across the parking lot, I count the number of times I hear, “Nice shoes!”  Oh well.

The Reflection Riding


Today, we want to go hiking, but we need to drop off our recycling and we get a late start, so we want a destination that is less than a 20-minute drive.  After a quick Google, the Reflection Riding jumps out as a place to explore.  I’m not sure how it got it’s name–I don’t know what a riding is exactly, but I imagine it has to do with horses.  Both a Nature Center and an Arboretum have found their homes there.  The Nature Center participates in the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan and breeds them in captivity.  Unfortunately, we arrived at noon and the Red Wolves were secluded in a shaded den where we didn’t get to see them.  We talk to the wildlife curator when we arrive and she recommends an easy hike for a hot day.

We start out on the gravel road that can also be driven.  We are not more than 5 minutes into our hike when a wild turkey appears in the woods.  I drop everything to pull out my big lens and set up for a shot.  Unfortunately, by the time I get my lens out, the turkey has disappeared into the brush.  We walk a ways looking for it, but no luck.  I give up before I get my gear set up completely and we keep walking.  Of course, we spot 2 does and a fawn minutes later, but by the time I get my monopod attached to the lens, they too have gone the way of the turkey.  I curse myself for missing a shot 2X in less than 5 minutes due to lack of preparedness–why would I take 20 pounds of gear on a hike and not be ready for wildlife to appear at any moment?

We walk on to a gazebo by a small pond and sit in the shade for a bit.  Pat spots a turtle poking its beak through the surface of the pond who immediately disappears when I set up my camera.  I spot a bird that I don’t recognize, excited that it might be a bird I’ve never seen before.  I dig the binoculars out of Pat’s day pack and wait for the bird to reappear.  When it finally does, it’s a Mourning Dove.  I am sorely disappointed.  I think I see another interesting bird by the far edge of the pond, but I can’t find it with the binoculars.  Several minutes later, it flies away and I realize it was a Green Heron–another shot missed.  At this point, I’m wishing I’d left all my camera gear at home!

We walk on, avoiding the poison ivy that grows abundantly by the side of the road, discovering a vegetable garden and grape arbor.  The tomatoes are small and green.  The grapes the same.  I am reminded of friends who have been complaining about a lack of tomatoes back in Columbus and wonder if the summer was just too hot for a productive garden?

Further down the road, we find a patch of bamboo.  I’m a bit shocked that an arboretum and nature center would have bamboo growing where it clearly doesn’t belong.  The bamboo surrounds one remaining native evergreen, crushing it with shade and crowding it for space; I feel like I’m witnessing a still-life of war.  We walk through the bamboo and experience the deep shade it provides.  I like bamboo, but having spent a lot of time removing invasive species in the Walhalla Ravine, I wonder if it’s a good idea to introduce plants that don’t belong here.

We wander on, back in the sun, with the heat growing more intense.  Small flying insects insist they must fly into my eyes.  I am reminded of horses at pasture wearing eye covers and wondering if they make such a thing for humans?  We reach the furthest point in the loop road and find a meadow with yellow wildflowers I don’t recognize.  The sky is intensely blue.  I switch lens and take a few shots even though the light is harsh, creating strong shadows and sharp contrasts.  We take a footpath back to another gazebo.  Pat finds shade on a rock wall while I climb some steps to sit in deeper shade and discover another wildflower I don’t recognize.  I switch lenses again and attempt to shoot the flower while it sways in the breeze, enjoying the cooler air, but wishing the flower would hold still.  I spot a Hairy Woodpecker (or maybe it’s a Downey–I can never tell how big a bird is unless I see it in comparison to another bird).  Secluded in the shadows, I am unable to get a shot.  Another bird sneaks behind a tree and I wonder what it could be.  I wait patiently for it to expose itself, but it’s well covered behind brush and shadows.  Eventually it perches in the open and I realize I’ve been tracking a robin.  The Carolina Chickadees and Wrens compete vocally for my attention.  They sing constantly, but I never seen a-one.

We walk on up the trail, climbing up the side of Lookout Mountain a bit.  The shade grows deeper–a welcome relief.  I make a mental note not to start a hike at noon in August in Chattanooga as we find some relief in the cooler shade only to be attacked by more eye-obsessed insects.  The forest floor is covered with myrtle or vinca (I never could tell them apart) in parts, but the poison ivy is so prevalent that I can’t imagine anyone wanting to undertake removing the invasive ground cover.  It’s beautiful none-the-less.  The advantage of being out on a hot afternoon is that no one else is there.  The birdsongs are disrupted only by the sounds of trains passing through the valley.  We hear rustling in the leaves and look around, me immediately getting my camera ready this time.  Eventually spotting the source of the noise, we are just in time to spot a gray squirrel jumping from the ground to the back of a tree, hidden from view.  I wonder again why I am carrying 20 pounds of equipment.  Then I remind myself that Pat is now carrying at least 10 of those pounds and probably wondering the same thing; I decide not to complain.

As we walk along, I suddenly experience a sharp, inexplicable pain in my big toe.  Having landed badly on my first hill flight at hang gliding school the week before, I’m worried that I’ve re-injured myself.  I stop, pull off my shoe, rub my toe trying to determine what’s wrong.  After a few minutes, I give up discovering the source of pain, put my shoe back on and we continue on our way, my toe feeling just fine.  I’m relieved but puzzled.  A short distance later, we approach a clearing that gives us a view of the foothills in the distance.  In the clearer part of the path, thick plants grow along the way.  When I shuffle my feet, one of the plants wedges its way between two of my toes (in my fivefingers shoes) and I experience the same pain I had in my big toe.  Mystery solved, I remove the debris, take a few shots of the scene, including a log cabin tucked between the trees below, and we move on.

We work our way further up the hill, the woods deepening and getting more quiet.  I wish that we would have chosen a higher route–the shade and solitude are more enjoyable than the hot hike along the road.  As we relax into the cooler, quieter setting, I experience a growing sense of peacefulness that reminds me why I hike and erases the irritations of heat and bugs.  However, it turns out that we are nearing the end of our hike.  The path turns downhill and we see the loop road ahead.  Just then, we spot three wild turkeys.  This time, I am ready.  I set up my camera and start shooting.  One of the turkeys seems curious about the sound of my camera.  It pauses behind thin cover and plays peek-a-boo as if it thinks it’s well hidden.  I congratulate myself for bringing my telephoto lens, thinking the weight was well worth it.

We return to our apartment hot and tired.  I ask Pat what stood out for him from our hike.  He says, “I don’t know . . . I just walked.  It was hot.  I walked and I sweated.”  But  I reflect upon the riding (yes, it’s a pun) and am glad that we went.  While our first experience may not have been under optimal conditions, I know we will return there.  But next time, we’ll pick a ridge trail.  There is something about the woods that draws me in.  Deep in the woods surrounded by the sounds of birdsongs and footsteps, the voice in my head goes silent.  The experience of inner silence brings me back to the woods time and time again–after all, not even I want to listen to me all the time.

Do Nomads Need Personal Trainers?


The Hill

I imagine trying to explain the concept of a personal trainer to a nomad. Where would I start? How would I explain that if I don’t make time for exercise, I don’t get any to someone who spends most of their day on their feet?  Then, how would I convince them that it makes perfect sense to pay someone to appoint a time and place for us to meet so s/he can tell me what to do? How crazy would it seem that I am so far removed from the physical activity of my ancestors that I have to learn how to stay fit? As crazy as it may seem to our ancestors, the reality of mainstream life is that many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting at a computer.  For me, while I manage to work walking, biking, and yoga into my routine, I have a harder time with strength training. So, I embrace my mainstream-self and sign up for a three month personal training package.

It’s a funny thing about working out. When I first worked out with a trainer, it was all about the weights. Then, circa 2002, more holistic body movements came into fashion, returning us to childhood gym classes with medicine balls, balancing balls, pulleys, and a wide assortment of other torture devices. Today, trainers seem to have shifted even more towards using your own body weight and have added bursts of cardio into each workout.

Here in Chattanooga, the trainer took me out to do hill runs between strength exercises. I’ve never actually done hill runs. Maybe because I grew up in Columbus, OH? Thankfully, it was a short hill. He prodded me to “sprint” up the hill. I was breathing too hard to explain that I was sprinting; I flashed back to playing co-rec softball and running for first base with my teammates yelling encouragements like, “Drop the piano!” And that was on a flat surface. I can run fast, actually. Even very fast for short distances. What I can’t do is accelerate from a stop. I’m a slow accelerator. This is a mystery to me. It’s like my legs are too long and my brain loses track of where they went. If I get into a rhythm for a while, something in my brain clicks and it knows where my feet are again and knows how to tell them to move faster. Of course, getting into a rhythm and running are not two things that occur in the same sentence for me very often–I would far rather get my cardio with a set of wheels taking all the abuse.

But, today, I run. The heat and gravity push against me like a wall. I keep pushing back, knowing the hill will end soon. My breath accelerates faster than my legs. I reach the top before I give out. I take a moment to breathe deeply, trying to restore my heart rate to something that simulates normal. I look at my trainer who laughs at me. I ponder briefly why I am spending money to have someone make me do things I don’t want to do. Then, I bounce awkwardly back down the hill backwards (another twist of modern training), giggling to myself as I experience a flash of the childhood silliness that goes with skipping backwards down a hill. I realize this is fun. Then I do push ups at the bottom and feel pride that I am strong enough to do them well.

Fitness is a funny thing. I’ve learned over many years of vacillating between couch-potatoeness and obsessive (if clumsy) althetic-ness that black-and-white thinking does not allow me to sustain fitness. Killing myself in the gym leads to pain and exhaustion, which leads to sitting on the couch for stretches that can reach months. Working exercise into my life sustainably has now given me a lot of years of moderate fitness. Realizing that I will never be a good athlete was a break-through moment for me. Accepting my limitations (which I am grateful are just a lack of coordination and desire) and allowing just a little regular exercise to be enough maintains my health. Ultimately, health is my goal–I accept that I will never again look like I did when I was 25 or 28 or 32 . . .

In moments (of which there were recently many) when I can do things like lift a heavy box and carry it confidently, I congratulate myself for finding this balance. There is something empowering about knowing I can do something. It opens doors to taking on tasks that would otherwise seem daunting. It allows for possibilities like hang gliding, bike tours, backpacking, and even just taking the stairs. This precarious balance between stressing myself and reducing stress creates a daily experience of can-do versus wish-I-could-do. I run that hill not because I want to but because I want to know that possibility is open to me, too.