Quicksand

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.

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Is it Sunday?

I am suffering from an interesting phenomenon. I don’t know if it has a name. It’s the inability to keep track of the days of the week. This has led to a second phenomenon: posting my Sunday blog posts late.

Seeking to get myself back on a slightly more planned schedule, I spent some time contemplating why keeping track of the days seems so difficult. Let’s review . . .

Until 3 months ago, I was working long weeks for a large corporation. Monday-Friday, my alarm went off, I picked up my iPhone and checked my email and calendar. I answered any urgent emails from parts of the world that would be leaving work soon and then checked my calendar again to see 1) what time I needed to be ready for my first conference call, and 2) if I had any open time during the day to get anything done or if there were any conference calls I could skip to make time. Then I got ready to start my day.

Saturday and Sunday were days I didn’t set my alarm, didn’t have any conference calls (usually), and could catch up a bit on work I didn’t have time to do during the week as well as fit in some fun time.

That has a pretty definitive rhythm. It forces you to know what day of the week it is because you’re always working against deadlines and constantly looking at your calendar trying to find time to work and/or meet with people.

In comparison, I have not been setting my alarm most days unless I really think I’m going to oversleep. Generally, I wake up an hour earlier than I would set my alarm for anyway, so it hasn’t been an issue.

I have started trying to use my calendar because I do have appointments from time to time–or at least social engagements. But rather than actually looking at my calendar and figuring out what my day looks like, I am ignoring my calendar until a notification pops up reminding me that I have to do something. This does not require knowing what day it is.

There is little motivation to actually know what day it is. First, the only time it’s inconvenient is if you, for example, go to a store on a Sunday that isn’t open on Sundays. This hasn’t happened to me yet. Second, it’s depressing to realize x more days have gone by and you still haven’t gotten the things done you meant to get done, so why remind yourself by constantly knowing what day of the week it is? Finally, knowing what day of the week it is would mean having no excuse for the appointments I have missed when I didn’t get them added to my calendar.

Not knowing what day it is has not deterred my photography any, either. In fact, it may contribute to me shooting more because I am more apt to lose track of time altogether.

Getting Out

With my husband out of town for the week, I was left to my own devices.  I took the opportunity to get out and shoot a bit further from home than usual.

First there was a road trip to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, tucked in the Cherokee National Forest. To get there, I had to first see to the completion of the repair of our second car, which was in the shop after not having been driven for over a year.

I quickly realized how spoiled I am–my husband normally attends to car maintenance and repair. First I had to arrange with the shop for them to pick me up when the car was “done.” Then I had to take the car to another shop to get the battery replaced, which undid all the settings, including the computer that controls the idle speed, which resulted in the car revving the engine every time I stopped. I’m surprised no one attempted to race me off the starting line at traffic lights!

Then there was the little complication that the fan wasn’t running and I was advised not to go less than 35 mph to avoid overheating. I had visions of driving on sidewalks to avoid red lights. That took a second trip to the shop when the part arrived so I could drive to the mountains without having to take the sidewalks.

By the time I got out of the shop Saturday afternoon and drove to Joyce Kilmer, which turned out to be a 3 hour drive, I had only a half an hour to battle the mosquitos and grab a few shots before Tisen and I had to get back on the road to head home.

On Monday I pulled out my bicycle and stopped at Amnicola Marsh to discover what might have been a Great Egret. Of course, I did not have my camera with me, so back I went the next morning, when, of course, the bird did not appear.

Since the car’s idle speed didn’t reset over the weekend, I returned to the mechanic on Monday. Fortunately, they were able to greatly improve things.

Next I made the drive to the Blythe Ferry Osprey nest with a couple from the photography club who allowed me to drive, in spite of Tisen crowding the lucky passenger who got to sit in back with him. But on the way home, the coolant light came on and we discovered I was losing coolant. Fortunately, we made it home without a problem, but that put an end to my driving career (at least for a few days).

I stuck to my bicycle and made one more trip to Amnicola and Curtain Pole Road Marshes. No Great Egret, but I did meet another photographer and stayed far longer than I intended shooting at Curtain Pole–it’s amazing how much more you see when there are two of you looking.

All in all, I’d say I’m pretty good at entertaining myself.

Snow Day

We had a snow storm in Chattanooga on Wednesday.  It started innocently enough–the occasional snow shower not resulting in any notable accumulation throughout the day.  The area had already closed schools the day before in preparation for the big storm.  Kids began showing up in Renaissance Park, attempting to sled on the thin dusting of snow on the grass hills by the time I walked Tisen in the afternoon.

From my office window, I watched traffic build up as cars climbed slowly up 27N over Stringer’s Ridge.  By late afternoon, the traffic thinned and the snow began to slowly accumulate.  We’ve seen plenty of snow having lived up North for many decades–it didn’t occur to us to prepare for the “storm.”

That evening, we realized we had no groceries.  This seemed like a small inconvenience since the grocery store is just a short walk away.  Alas, little did we know, the grocery store closed at 5PM and sent its employees home.  We drove to the next grocery store, several miles away.  There was less than an inch of snow on the ground and no traffic–we had no problems driving to the store.  But we were disheartened to notice that every place of business we passed sat darkly behind an empty parking lot.  When we arrived at Bi-Lo, one of the largest grocery chains in the area, it too was shutdown.

I flashed back to the late 70’s, when we had several feet of snow on the ground in Columbus, Ohio.  I believe it was after the Blizzard of ’78.  We were out of food in the house.  My mother got out one of our molded-plastic sleds to haul groceries in and we made our way through deep snow to the store a half mile away.

As a young child, it was exciting to be out “foraging” for food when it was, for the first and possibly only time in my life, entirely possible we might go hungry for more than a few hours.  I pretended we were pioneers crossing a tundra as I took slow steps, sinking into the snow up to my knees.

When we got to the store, it was open–but many of the shelves were bare.  The supply trucks hadn’t made it through in days.  I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized we might have to eat a kind of cereal we didn’t like.  Oh the horror!

Having grown up in a place where grocery stores remained open even when supply trucks weren’t arriving to restock, it didn’t occur to me that grocery stores in Chattanooga would close early because a few inches of snow had been predicted.  But, people live on hills and there is very little equipment to keep the roads clear, so I suppose it’s for the best.  Next time, we’ll be among the crowds who make a run on the store when bad weather is predicted.

Walkin’ in the Moonlight

At the end of the day, I find myself with no new photos, nothing to write about, and a dog that needs to go for a walk.

I decide it’s been too long since I shot down at the riverfront at night.  I have shot the riverfront from the roof and balcony many times, but I can’t remember the last time I actually carried my camera down to the river after dark.

Having gone small yesterday, it seemed reasonable that today I would go wide, so I put my 16-35mm lens on my camera, grabbed my loupe and tripod, and talked my husband into coming with me and bringing the dog.

Walking Renaissance Park at night is always an interesting experience.  The meadow voles who live on the hillside at the park entrance seem to be mostly daytime critters–no rustles are heard in the leaves as we walk by, unlike earlier in the day when something scurried away every few steps.  Ironically, if they would hold still, we would never know they were there.

But as we head down the walkway past the wetland, leaves crunch loudly in the woods to our right.  A little too loudly.  We glance at each other and then peer into the darkness of the woods wondering what might be lurking there big enough to make that much noise.  I remind myself how loud even a mouse can be in fall leaves and we keep moving without any boogie men jumping out at us.

I pause to shoot the reflected trees in the wetland water.  It’s not the most stunning reflection, but I like the bright trees at the top of the hill and the dark sky streaked with clouds.

Tisen drops Snake (one of his newest family members), leaving the red and green toy (doesn’t every family have a Christmas snake?) laying in the shadows along the sidewalk while he investigates a smell.  Whoever was here before him left behind an interesting story–I finish shooting long before he’s done sniffing.

The night is cool, but I am warm enough with a sweater and light jacket.  The frogs and cicadas have disappeared and the only noises we hear besides the occasional rustle of leaves is the voices of other couples walking in the moonlight.

I think how romantic this walk might be if I weren’t carrying a tripod and stopping to shoot for long intervals.  My husband patiently keeps Tisen entertained while I shoot.  Maybe that’s it’s own kind of romance?

As we work our way around the same path we have walked hundreds of times in the past 15 months, I look at the scene anew.  Shooting causes an interesting shift in perspective–I look at the moon, the clouds, the lights, the converging lines, and the sculptures from different angles and look for new ways to combine them in my frame.

I realize the same old scene is actually never the same twice.

Renaissance Rodents

Across the street, Renaissance Park beckons.  It calls to me with its manmade hills hiding secrets left behind by the manufacturers who occupied this park long ago.  And before that, the civil war soldiers who crossed the Tennessee here at Ross’ Landing.  And even before that, the Cherokee on their tragic walk on the Trail of Tears.

I don’t know what all was encapsulated in the mounds of Renaissance Park, but Renaissance is a good name for it.  Reborn from the pit of industrial waste it had become, it’s now a haven for birds, butterflies, the occasional deer, perhaps a fox family, and for sure coyote.

The thing is, you don’t get predators if you don’t have prey.  Fortunately, prey doesn’t care if the hills are manmade or if the wetland was created by a backhoe, or that the plants were carefully inserted into the earth by the hands of a human being.

The fact that the western hill in Renaissance is covered in native grasses and flowers means it’s a living feeder.  It feeds the American Goldfinches who love to cling to the stems of flowers that have gone to seed while they munch away.  And, underneath the foliage, it also feeds a more mysterious colony of life.

This colony becomes massive in the fall when the young have matured enough to rustle amongst the long grass on their own.  They scamper and disappear quickly enough that all I’d been able to determine is that they were rodents.  I’ve been afraid to consider the possibility that they’re rats.  Not because I’m afraid of rats but because I fear the reaction of the public to the notion of a large population of rats nesting in the park.

To me, this just makes the hillside a better feeder–it provides food for more than one link in the food chain.  But, for many, the word “rat” causes a different reaction.

When Tisen and I walked into the park a few evenings ago, these mystery creatures were showing themselves.  In fact, one sat on top of a clump of grass staring at me.  I was so caught off guard, having tried to see what they looked like for so long without success, that I barely had time to process what it looked like before it took a closer look at Tisen and decided to duck back under cover.  It looked a lot like a small brown rat.  I decided I’d better bring my camera over the next evening.

Back we went, me armed with my 70-200mm lens.  As Tisen’s tags jingled, the little critters scampered around, not holding still long enough for me to get a look, let alone a shot.  But, finally, I spotted one sitting still.  I am happy and relieved to report that it is not a rat; it’s a Meadow Vole (I think).  After all, no one ever got up in arms about exterminating a bunch of cute little voles, did they?  My favorite hawk feeder is safe.

Down Came the Rain

There’s been an interesting development in the weather of late.  We went from ridiculous heat and drought to rain, rain, rain.

When at last the rain came, I went from relief to disappointment to worry.  The first day, when the rain drops started, I felt myself exhale.  Finally, rain!  But, it lasted only a half an hour or so and rained so hard it seemed like of it bounced off the dry earth and rolled away in the gutters.  The steam rising off the asphalt left us in a steam bath and the temperature barely dropped.

The next day, it rained more.  The temperature dropped dramatically and the sky took on an ominous tone.  The 10-day forecast was predicting rain for all of the next 10 days.  The relief in the temperature was welcome, but when the skies unleashed a torrent of rain that caused our roof to leak and the streets to flood, I started to worry. Coincidentally, I had volunteered to lead a bird walk for beginning birders before work Wednesday morning.  I scheduled it “rain or shine”.

This meant taking Tisen for a walk before the bird walk.  I tried to get him out of bed at 6AM.  He heard the rain on the roof and just rolled his eyes at me and stuck his nose under his blanket.  Tisen is not fond of rain.  Fortunately, his dad was home and volunteered to take Tisen out later while I was on my walk.

It did rain during the walk.  In fact, it started raining about the time we started walking and then kept raining harder and harder.  No one seemed to mind except the birds–they were suspiciously absent.  Although, we did see a couple of Osprey soaring over the river.

It rained like it was never going to stop from then on out.

The following afternoon, I managed to take a break for lunch.  I looked out the window and saw it was only sprinkling, so I thought I’d better take Tisen out right away.  He grabbed Blue Dog and off we went.  By the time we got downstairs, it was pouring.  I figured we might as well go for our walk in the rain, but Tisen had to be convinced.  He took two steps out from under the overhang and turned back around and started running for the door.  I managed to get him headed back out with much coaxing.

When at last we returned home, all three of us were soaked.  As soon as I let Tisen off his leash, he went running into the house with Blue Dog in his mouth.  He carefully laid Blue Dog on a towel left on the floor from drying Tisen earlier.  I had to laugh.  Since Tisen gave the big towel to Blue Dog, I had to use the only dry dog towel left in the house, which was an old hand towel.  Poor Tisen was still wet hours later.