Last Monday, my course veered undetectably by me. Until the moment my body slammed to the ground–rudely snapped against a boardwalk much like a rag doll without consideration of human bones, ligaments, tendons, organs, and blood–I thought I was simply out riding my bike.

A simple swerve to the right–or was it to the left?–over mist-covered algae growing on a wood boardwalk changed the course of my wheels, my day, and perhaps even my life. The loss of traction was immediate. There was no skid, no slow motion fall, no time to realize I was under attack by the forces of physics that remain as undeniable as death and taxes. I found myself on the ground, shocked.

A tiny version of myself stepped outside my body and tried to make a video of all it could see, but my tiny self’s view was obstructed by the giant helmet on my banged-up head, the bars and shafts that made up my bicycle, my Gulliver-sized legs, and the shadows cast by all. Yet my tiny self was amazed to watch my big self rise up to a seated position and do its best to be sociable with a woman who had stopped to help.

Smiling, making a joke even, denying any serious injury. Above all else, protecting self by refusing to admit any vulnerability to a stranger–even a lone mother walking her infant in a stroller.

All pain was pushed aside. The knot of confusion was barely hinted at in the statement, “I hit my head.” I stood. I walked. She rolled my bike along. I sat on a bench, she parked my bike next to me, assured me she would be back shortly to check on me and disappeared both visually and in my memory until hours later when I suspected I’d dreamt her. Then, later still, the video my tiny self made was unlocked from some deep archive and returned to my big self for viewing.

Yet, I remembered I had a phone. I remembered where it was. I remembered the password to unlock it. I remembered how to call my husband. I asked him to come and get me. My tiny self was fully back onboard with my big self at this point–there was no video for me to return to later.

I still cannot recall the conversation with my husband. Nor can I recall the quarter-mile walk I undertook to meet him at the nearest street–I had fallen on a pedestrian-only portion of the Tennessee Riverwalk.

What I do recall is a moment of utter panic. Of being uncertain that I was going in the right direction, uncertain of where I was, uncertain as to what was happening. I choked down an urge to sob. I gave up crying long ago, after my mother’s funeral. My mother was the only person I ever knew with a healthy respect for a stranger’s tears–the only person I knew who was comfortable to just allow them. For everyone else, they are at least a source of discomfort if not disgust.

I keep mine close. Occasionally, I allow moisture in deep empathy for someone else’s pain. But if you see a tear for my own pain, it’s either a once in a decade occurrence or you’re someone I trust with my life.

To be standing on a street corner lost and confused and blubbering would be the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt in my life. Standing on a street corner lost and confused was close enough. I swallowed hard, choked once, blinked away any tear that had dared to form, and recalled my phone.

I scoured my muddled mind for a memory of having spoken to my husband recently. A vague impression of having had a conversation formed much like a shape bubbling up briefly from under quicksand, then sinking and disappearing again. I wanted to reach for the memory, but feared grabbing it would mire me in muck so deep I might not surface again. I let it go.

I dialed my husband again. The words that came were, “Are you coming to get me? I’m so confused.” And I choked back a sob for a second time.

He talked to me from that moment until he arrived to pick me up. His voice my lifeline through the quicksand of my mind. Then, he scooped me safely into our van where a wet muzzle reached from behind my seat to check on me, reminding me my boys will protect me and care for me when I will let them. It’s the letting them that’s always the hardest part.

In the ER, I learned I had a concussion. Nothing dangerous or permanent, just scary. I was sent home to heal with instructions not to watch TV, use any electronic devices with a screen, or read any non-fiction. Thankfully, I was allowed to sleep.

I thought I would be fine in 2 days. I was not. The more I learn, the more I realize this isn’t something you recover from at the same rate as the 24-hour flu.

I’ve also learned that bike helmets don’t offer much protection against concussions. I’ve found one that promises a novel design technology called MIPS that’s supposed to have slightly better protection than traditional bike helmets against concussions. At $219, it seems pricey. When I get the ER bill, it will seem like a bargain if it works.

I will heal and I will ride again. But the experience of temporary dementia haunts me. I find myself wondering if more than my tires veered.



I wrote a really long, rambling post of over 800 words and decided it would be easier to just start over.
Here are the pertinent points: my staycation is ending. My 6-month leave is starting. So is my new role of working on my husband’s business and balancing that with my other pursuits like photography and getting myself from adequately healthy to ridiculously healthy.

I immediately feel the need to go on a rant about how long I’ve had a job, been self-supporting, yada yada yada. Basically, the need to justify slowing down, even if only temporarily, as if I have to prove I am deserving of this time.

I have suggested to friends that we should all stop cleaning our houses when we’re visiting each other. Then, we would all just be accepted as we are, clean house or dirty, and we wouldn’t drive each other to keep wasting time pretending that we’re neat nuts for people who are supposed to care more about us than about the cleanliness of our homes.

I suggest we do the same when it comes to using over-work as a way of saying we’re important. Let’s just drop the judgmental tones and patronizing comments about people doing things for fun. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s plenty of research that suggests people who play more are also more creative problem solvers and more effective and efficient at work (and healthier). So, let’s start bragging about making play a priority instead.

The next time someone says, “Oh, I don’t have time to do x,” let’s remind one another that we all have time to do what we choose. Sometimes we’re willing to make the choices to prioritize that time and sometimes we’re not.

In the end, we only get one lifetime (at least in this form, depending on what you believe) to create meaning. A universal truth I keep reminding myself of is that people never regret not spending more time at work at the end of their lives. People regret not laughing more, crying more, playing more, connecting with loved ones more.

So, here I go into the next stage of my journey. Perfectly timed with the spring equinox. What better metaphor than spring to begin anew? I might have liked having 13 weeks of winter to rest and recuperate from the past 30 years, but I suspect not. After all, it can be hard work getting rest.

See Rock City

Cody getting ready to fly

Cody getting ready to fly

(All photos in today’s post by my husband, Patrick Murray.)

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I have 3 parts to learn to take on the assistant’s role in the Rock City Raptors program.  In reality, the assistant normally has 5 parts.  However, to make it easier on a newbie like me, we will work around 2 of the parts when I’m subbing as the assistant.

One of the parts we’ll skip is with Cody, the Red-tailed Hawk.  Cody is even less reliable than Theo when it comes to flying.  Dale and John joke during the show that they have a radio transmitter on Cody in case he decides to go “See Rock City” when they fly him, but it’s not really a joke.  He’s been known to take off in the middle of a program and fly off into the trees if something has upset him.  Things that upset Cody can range from someone standing up unexpectedly in the audience to a wild hawk flying by to a sudden whim.

Cody makes the flight

Cody makes the flight

The odds that he might fly off are increased if Dale isn’t his target.  Dale seems to have a special bond with most of the birds.  Cody is no exception.

When it’s time for Cody to fly to Dale during the program, Dale takes a stance that communicates “Fly right here!” with every fiber of her body.  It seems to work most of the time–I have yet to witness Cody flying anywhere other than straight to Dale.

If determining where Cody will fly to is a problem, deciding whether he will fly at all is another.  The morning conversation goes something like this:

“Are we flying Cody today?”

“Well . . . we’ll see if he starts vocalizing.”

Then, as the first program starts, “Are we flying Cody?”

Dale makes the call based on whether Cody is exhibiting high energy behavior, I guess.  I haven’t asked her exactly what it means when Cody is making noises that makes it more likely that he will fly.

Cody looking like he's overcome his fear of hunting

Cody looking like he’s overcome his fear of hunting

There is a backup plan for when Cody isn’t going to fly.  On those days, Dale walks through the crowd with Cody on her glove while a video of flying Red-tailed hawks plays.  It’s not quite as exciting as seeing Cody fly in person, but it’s less stressful than trying to convince Cody he wants to fly in the middle of a program.

I will not be walking through the audience with Cody on my glove.  Cody baits even more than Theo.  And, Cody is a Red-tailed hawk with giant talons that would do much more damage if I put my bare arm in the wrong place trying to help him back on the glove as I did with Theo.

I appreciate Dale and John’s concern for my safety.  I also appreciate their willingness to let me practice during low-risk times like carrying Cody from his outdoor perch back to his enclosure before the audience shows up.  I just need to learn to watch out for the stairs!

Tisen relaxing on the couch after spending the morning at doggie daycare while I was playing with the birds

Tisen relaxing on the couch after spending the morning at doggie daycare while I was playing with the birds

That Hawk Don’t Hunt

Screeching to a mid-air halt, Cody prepares to land gently on the glove

Screeching to a mid-air halt, Cody prepares to land gently on the glove

While training Cody on Saturday, one of the things I realized was that I had lost my healthy respect for the fierceness of his talons.  I was holding Cody on my glove when it suddenly struck me, “Oh yeah!  He has incredibly strong grip strength and really sharp talons on those feet!”  It was as if I had completely forgotten that raptors can accidentally injure their handlers pretty easily if said handler isn’t paying attention.

Mid-air ascent--after riding the ground effect, Cody rises to the height of the glove

Mid-air ascent–after riding the ground effect, Cody rises to the height of the glove

Fortunately for me, Cody and the other raptors I get to work with are accommodating and don’t intentionally try to harm people.  Perhaps even more fortunately, the realization struck me as Cody was working his way up my arm, but in time for me to adjust so he headed back out toward my hand and away from the end of my glove.  I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have one stray talon sink into the soft part of my arm–I’d like to keep it that way.

Ground effect--Cody floats on the bubble of air close to the ground

Ground effect–Cody floats on the bubble of air close to the ground

Having recalled the inherent danger in handling raptors, I stayed a bit more on my toes as we flew Cody.  Cody is about as sweet as it gets for a Red-tailed Hawk.  He ended up in captivity after being found starving.  He was taken to a falconer for rehabilitation.  The falconer attempted to teach him to hunt, but no matter what prey he encountered, he wasn’t interested in hunting.

Coming in for a landing--Cody touches down

Coming in for a landing–Cody touches down

Cody’s story reminds me of a story from my childhood about a bull named Ferdinand.  Ferdinand wanted to sit in the pasture enjoying butterflies and flowers rather than fight with bull fighters.  I don’t remember how the story ended exactly, but given that it was a favorite of mine, I would guess Ferdinand ended up happily wiling away the days in a pasture where he could be his gentle self.

Another float into the finish--I love the way Cody flares to a stop before landing on the glove

Another float into the finish–I love the way Cody flares to a stop before landing on the glove

This also parallels Cody’s story.  While Cody may not be interested in killing rodents, he’s happy to hang with the people who care for him.  He watches attentively as we work with him.  He seems curious–he clearly knows his usual training routine has been changed.  I suspect he remembers me, but I can’t offer any evidence that this is true.  He looks at me like he finds me interesting, but he doesn’t seem upset by my participation in the training process.

This is a back-view of Cody flaring to a stop

This is a back-view of Cody flaring to a stop

We fly Cody for a while and then Dale flies him without me so I can see if I can get some good shots of Cody in flight.  Cody is naturally photogenic.  Of all the birds, he’s the one I always end up with a bunch of great shots each time I shoot the birds.  However, he’s looking slightly less well groomed on this particular day.  He seems to have molted one of his tail feathers.  Almost like a missing tooth in the middle of a bright white, well cared for smile, the gap is hard to miss.

After the flare, Cody uses any remaining momentum to float gently to the glove

After the flare, Cody uses any remaining momentum to float gently to the glove

We try not to stare–no point in making Cody feel self-conscious.

This is Tisen's idea of "flare"

This is Tisen’s idea of “flare”

Birding with Enthusiasm

Tuesday night, I set up the coffee maker and set the timer so it would start brewing at 5:15AM.  I put out the clothes I would wear for rowing.  Everything I needed was ready to go so that when the alarm went off at 5:30AM and I was stumbling around disoriented and wondering why in god’s name I continue to get up at 5:30AM, I wouldn’t have to think.

Wednesday morning, hot coffee in hand, I looked at my schedule for the day and there, low and behold, was a bird walk on my calendar for 7:00AM.  As in a bird walk I was leading!

Startled by my oversight in planning, I shifted gears, pulling together my bird walk backpack and gathering binoculars and my camera.  I pulled up the flashlight app on my iPhone and went searching in the darkness for a different outfit.

I admit I was feeling slightly resentful about giving up my rowing time as I imagined sitting alone in the park waiting for others who never show up.

At 6:50AM, it wasn’t even the crack of dawn yet.  I sat in darkness until I was surprised by a silhouette that turned out to be the Audubon property manager.  Next, a father with 4 enthusiastic children arrived.  Then, a regular from the condos arrived.  I stopped feeling bad about missing rowing.

I started my lesson about birding during fall migration.  I talked slowly and told more stories, hoping the sun would rise.  Every time a shadow went by, one of the children would turn, point, and shout, “What was that bird?”  I need to find out what kind of coffee they drink in the morning!

The amazing thing was how much the kids knew about birds.  They knew which birds were locals and which birds would not be found in Tennessee (even during migration).  The girl immediately recognized a Brown Thrasher she had barely seen for a split second.  Her older brother told me all about the birds he sees at his feeder at home.  Their father told me the interest in birds was the kids passion.  I thought that was pretty cool–also an advantage of home schooling.

I didn’t do so well on photography that morning.  First there wasn’t enough light.  Then I was just a bit flustered by all the questions and exclamations (LOOK!!!  THERE’S A CARDINAL!!!  LOOK!!! THERE’S A TURTLE!!!  LOOK THERE’S A BLUE HERON!!!  LOOK!!! THERE’S A SQUIRREL!!!).

As much fun as it is to be surrounded by little people who think everything is fascinating, it does make it a little more challenging to take a moment to shoot.  I’ve filled in the photos a bit with some leftovers from the previous walk and one shot of Cody, an unreleasable Red-tailed Hawk who has appeared in this blog several times as part of the S.O.A.R. raptor program.  I saw Cody again over the weekend, but that’s another blog post.

Training for the Birds

Over the weekend, I had my first lesson in bird handling.  While we previously met these birds of prey during a “Raptor Experience” a couple months ago, I am now learning how to handle them so I can assist during educational programs.

The first thing I learned was how to grab a handful of chopped mice and shove it into a training pouch.  This is one of those things that really makes you want to go “Ewww!” Especially when you get chunks with tails and faces attached.

First task accomplished, I now get to watch how to properly enter an enclosure.  First and foremost, there is a sort of foyer area enclosed in chicken wire that you must enter and close behind you before opening the door to the birds quarters.  Second, you don’t actually walk in with the bird in there.  Rather, you put a nice fresh chunk of mouse on your glove, stand behind the door, and hold your arm out for the bird to land on.  This way, you don’t have to worry about being “footed” in the face.  The bird lands nicely on the glove and starts eating, giving you time to secure its jesses.

The jesses are the equivalent of a collar for a dog.  They are leather thong things that go around each leg of the bird and hang down a couple inches, allowing a leash to be hooked to them that can then be secured to the glove.  They allow the handler to keep the bird from flying off, essentially.  I am warned that securing the jesses can be a vulnerable time and that Cody, the Red-tailed hawk, is known for footing people if they get their hand too close to the glove while securing the jesses.

I also learn that “footing” means talons seizing flesh.  Not a fun thing to experience, but something that happens to varying degrees of seriousness ranging from scratches to talons driven through cheeks.  None of which really sounds like something I want to try.

We fly Theo, a Barn Owl, and Kayse the Black Vulture in addition to Cody .  I practice holding my arm out to make an appropriate target, as well as securing the jesses when a bird lands on my glove.  It looks simple, but I am befuddled by how to wrap the jesses between my fingers without getting the bird’s foot caught.  Fortunately, they are patient with me.

Since I don’t have pictures of the birds, I decided to do some more night sky shooting tonight for my morning post.  I’m feeling a bit lazy after yoga class and just shoot from the balcony.  I kind of like the roof of the balcony I caught in the frame in the wide angle shots.  I also switch lenses and grab a few shots at 560mm.  I did a little more experimenting with HDR and was disappointed I couldn’t get a properly exposed moon into the shot.  I guess I will have to try again.

Double Play

I have come to realize I am down to three obsessions to write about:  Tisen, Photography, and Hang Gliding.  I was hoping to combine all three into a single post today, but hang gliding didn’t happen today due to weather.  Maybe tomorrow–my own little triple play (sorry, it’s a telecom joke from back when I worked in the telecom industry).

After driving to the training hills, getting about 10% into assembling a glider, and then having to put it away and drive home, I consider taking a nap.  However, I have volunteered to help organize a St. Patrick’s Day fund raiser for S.O.A.R., so I decide to do some work on that instead.  I have a photo that I want to use of Cody, a Red-Tail Hawk, but it had a noisy background.  It was also taken with my iPhone–what I can do with it is somewhat limited.  Nonetheless, I end up spending an hour figuring out how to cut the hawk out of the photo and put it in front of a different background.  No wonder I hate editing photos!


Cody Flaring for Landing - iPhone photo slightly retouched


Cody with New Background

I end up putting a different busy background behind Cody because there are so many places where I either erased something I didn’t mean to or didn’t erase something I should have.  I need the background to distract from my mistakes.  Regardless, I think it will work for a brochure and it turned out better than I thought it would.

After creating a draft poster and brochure, I take Tisen for a long walk.  There are tourists on the Walnut St Bridge taking pictures.  I have to smile to myself–I can’t count the number of times I’ve been up on that bridge shooting.  But, today is not a good day for shooting at all.  It’s gray and misting and I feel lucky I can pick the days I haul my equipment up to Walnut St Bridge.

I realize today that I’ve decided without actually deciding to include photos with each post, even if means grabbing a few shots with the iPhone.  After finishing the walk, I decide to get out my real-deal camera with the 100mm macro lens and start playing.

After seeing some shots on a real photographer’s blog that make me think maybe dog photos can be artistic, I decide to stick with Tisen as my model, but to try to use the macro lens to get something a little different.  Unfortunately, until I am going through the photos later, I don’t realize how much having a logo showing detracts from a picture.  It looks like I was hired to do a shoot for Kong dog toys.  That would have been nice!  While I’m doing an unpaid ad, Tisen does prefer Kong’s tennis balls–they squeak.

If I weren’t tired of photo editing, I would edit out the logos.  But now, I have the great joy of watching Tisen’s tail wag as we head out the door.

Sunrise Spectre

This morning, as I wait for Pat to get ready for our morning walk along the riverfront, I decide to take my camera.  After all, I missed some really great shots on our last walk and I hate that.  As I change the lens on my camera, I look out the window and see a large cloud hanging so low that it has to be fog rising off the river.

It’s lower than the roof of the 4-story building across the street and stretches in a long tube just over the trees along the river.  I call Pat to come look while I finish getting my camera ready.  Pat comes out and says, “It’s like the Smoke Monster!”  That is exactly what it looks like–the smoke monster in Lost.

By the time I can get a shot, it’s already shrinking.  I rush to get out the door hoping we can get down to the river and get another shot before it dissipates all together.  Pat is walking better today–his pulled hamstring is still somewhat touchy, but it’s healing.  We make it down to the river, but all that is left is a puff of cloud hanging over the water.

Although I’m disappointed that I missed the smoke monster at its peak, I’m happy that I’ve brought my camera with us this morning.  The sun is rising behind Veteran’s bridge and fog continues to swirl and rise off the surface of the water.  I play with getting different angles of the rising sun, but make a note to myself to do some reading on dealing with shooting directly into the sun–I can’t seem to avoid sun spots, even with my polarizer on.  But I love the effect of the sun backlighting the scenery anyway.

As we work our way along the riverfront with me shooting from various vantage points and Pat patiently waiting for me, we spot a hawk sitting on the paddle wheel of the Delta Queen.  The Delta Queen is an old riverboat that’s been converted into a permanently parked hotel.  It sits at anchor in front of Coolidge park and adds a nice touch to the riverfront scenery.

I, of course, did not bring a telephoto lens this morning, not wanting to have to do any lens changes while on a walk or have to carry my tripod.  I do not immediately recognize the hawk because it’s backlit.  I’m hoping to get a few shots good enough to blow up so I can identify it later.  With a 17-55mm lens and low light, that’s not going to be easy.  I snap as many shots as I can, trying to get as close as possible without spooking the hawk.

As we get closer and on the front-lit side of the bird, it appears to be a Red-tailed Hawk, but it doesn’t have a red tail.  Probably a young one, but I will double check when I get home.  Now that I am less worried about getting a shot good enough to ID the hawk, I go back to shooting landscape shots.  The hawk must like being the focus of my attention, because it flies up onto the Walnut St Bridge and perches in the sunlight for me.

About this time, a woman walks up and start asking me about my camera.  She is shooting with a point-and-shoot and carrying the smallest tripod I’ve ever seen that still has plenty of height.  She is a small person, so I suppose it might even be at eye level for her.  She also carries a larger tripod.  She tells me she’s shooting with her point and shoot this morning but that she has a Canon 7D in her bag.  She asks what I’m shooting with.  I feel embarrassed to tell her it’s a 40D for some reason.  She talks about the zoom in the point and shoot she’s using, which I guess is why she’s using it in lieu of carrying around multiple lenses, but I’m still confused as to why she would have a 7D and leave it in her bag.

This morning, I alternately yearn for a full size sensor that will allow me to include more of what I see before me and the full 400mm of my telephoto zoom lens on the smaller sensor of my current camera so I can shoot the hawk.

When I was at a photo workshop at the Tennessee Aquarium and asked one of the instructors for advice on selecting a focal length, she told me that it just depends on whether I like to be tight on my subjects or if I prefer a wider view.  She went on a bit of a diatribe about how some photographers preferred one look over the other.

I was completely perplexed by this.  In my mind, some scenes call for a wide angle and some call for a telephoto.  Isn’t that the whole point of having a selection of lenses in your bag?  Given that we were shooting wildlife in tanks, it seemed clear to me that getting up as close as possible on individuals would make the most dramatic images, but maybe that’s where others have a different opinion.

Another woman in the class started talking about how she never changes lenses and does’t even use a zoom lens.  She has one focal length and that’s what she works with.  I am reminded of a story I read where a photographer took a 35mm fixed focal length lens (on a 35mm film camera) on a trip and how it forced him to be very creative in his photography because the lens was so poorly suited for some of the things he wanted to shoot.

This is a constant battle for me–is the effort required to carry extra lenses and the risk of changing lenses worth the difference it makes in my shots?  Given that I tend to shoot very wide or very telephoto, I have to say yes.  After all, a shot of a hawk 100 yards away perched on the side of a bridge shot at 30mm makes the hawk a tiny surprise–the photo is all about the bridge.  A shot of a hawk 100 yards away at 400mm eliminates everything except the hawk–the photo is all about the hawk.  They aren’t comparable.

This morning, I point out the hawk to the lady with her point-and-shoot.  She doesn’t seem interested in the hawk.  This surprises me, too.  What kind of person isn’t interested in a hawk?  She tells me about going on some photography workshop with “real photographers” and how they are all using point-and-shoots, too.  Apparently justifying the use of a point-and-shoot is more important to her than shooting.  I am no longer following what she is saying.  The only parts I pick up are when she asks where we’re from two times and I tell her “just over there” with a vague gesture two times.  I gather she’s trying to identify our origin by our accent, but I’ve gotten to the point where I stop explaining that we recently moved here from Ohio.  We are, after all, from “just over there” now.

Eventually, she stops talking at me and goes off to shoot some more or leave, I’m not sure which having given up on our conversation about the time she took no interest in the hawk.  The peace of my morning was somehow disturbed by this strange little woman with her point-and-shoot.  I am left with the vague sensation of having been in a competition that I didn’t enter or participate in but somehow managed to lose anyway.  I find myself wondering if she is somehow related to the smoke monster.

I try to shake away the ghost of the little woman and return my focus to the rising sun, Pat, and our walk.  I set aside my camera for now, reach for Pat’s hand, take a deep breath, and just look.