Bitter with the Sweet

“Things just happen in the right way, at the right time. At least when you let them, when you work with circumstances instead of saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to be happening this way,’ and trying harder to make it happen some other way.” ― Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

I had all kinds of hopes when I moved here. I imagined hiking long mountain trails to pristine lakes and riding my bike on oh, wait, same thing. Even though I had to go thumbs down on two nice houses — one with stairs and another with a claw-footed bathtub I couldn’t climb into — I didn’t connect THOSE problems with the unlikelihood of my hiking long mountain trails to pristine lakes, etc.

It wasn’t long before those hopes shriveled. They grew again when I had my left hip replaced in 2018, but, they’ve retreated in the meantime. I was thinking yesterday how absurd it will be when I have two metal knees and two metal hips. I do not know if I will change my name to C3PO or not, but it’s something to think about.

Meanwhile I fight daily to keep moving. I was wondering yesterday as I rode the Sainted Bike To Nowhere where it gets me. Then my little brain said, “Where might you be WITHOUT it, Sweet Cheeks?” That was a good point. Where would I be? I’ve been fighting to sustain a life-long activity level. Humans can learn to like almost anything (as I’ve learned) and I actually LIKE riding the Sainted Bike to Nowhere. I wish I also had an elliptical, but I don’t have the money or the space.

I have no idea what the future holds, whether I’ll put my legs under some more knives and robots or what. I walk pretty well for now, and that’s the main point, for me anyway.

Last night I dreamed about the Big Empty, the surrounding fields flooded in the spring (irrigation) and the cranes and geese settling in for a while. I was standing on a road looking at it thinking how beautiful it was and how strange. It was — in the dream — as if I’d never seen it before. It was reminiscent of the first time I saw it. Then I thought, “If I could walk better, I probably would not have had any interest in this landscape or this place. Very likely, I would have missed it.”

The featured photo is the first photo on my phone. I took it the day I saw the Big Empty (Monte Vista Wildlife Refuge) for the first time, August 2, 2014.

Who Da F Are You?

en-theos — god inside. Enthusiasm is a beautiful word and a beautiful thing and something of which I am bereft at this moment in life. September is upon me and it’s bringing stuff that sucks the enthusiasm right out. Doctor visits and a big rock concert.

The rock concert? Sometime in the spring I saw The Who was coming to Denver and in a moment of irredeemable enthusiasm, and since I’ve never seen any of the giant bands from my generation perform live, I bought tickets. I like The Who very much, but I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t thinking that it will mean to drive to Denver, that whore, and then go up all those steps at the auditorium, so I’ll be taking my cane. There’s a certain poetry in that — a bunch of codgers on the stage will be making music and at least one codger (I suspect more than one) will be in the stands with a cane. My friend and I are making a “day of it” and meeting up with some of my old friends for lunch in Denver.

The day after the concert, since I’ll be up in the populated regions of Colorado, I’m going to see my orthopedic surgeon and have my bad (worse) knee looked at. He will give me advice about surgery. It’s the third time in more than 10 years I’ve had it X-rayed by some doc or another, so I know what he’s going to say. I’m ambivalent. It doesn’t hurt, but it also doesn’t work that well.

I will listen to this doc that I trust and then, I expect, spend the winter, if there’s snow, Langlaufing then, come the first of the two truly tedious seasons of the year (spring and summer), I’ll go get a knee replacement which, hopefully, will be recovered enough that I can Langlauf again in winter 2020/21.

A week before that, I get to go to another doc in a distant town to have a skin cancer dealt with. And NEXT week I get to find out about getting meds for high blood sugar.

Seriously, folks, the illusion I had that “things are going to get better” has been completely dispelled. They’re not going to get better. The best I can hope for is maintaining the current status quo. There’s nothing wrong with that and I’ll be happy to succeed. It’s a good status quo.

BUT this has been the story of my life since the mid-2000s, pretty much one thing after another. I’m not one of those people (and I had a friend who WAS one of those people) who like medical attention. I don’t. I have white-coat syndrome so strong that my BP, usually around 115/65 hits 180/120 at the doctor’s office.

I (and probably every other “senior”) just want to live my life without constantly dealing with broken down parts. It reminds me so much of driving my 1988 Ford Ranger when I KNEW his time had come. I didn’t WANT to drive anything else. I didn’t have money for a new car. Besides, I loved that truck. I felt loyal to the many adventures we’d had together, and I thought he was beautiful (he was red). Finally…

When my mom died in 1996, she left me enough money for a new used car. I should have been happy to have a Ford Escort Station wagon that was only two years old (it was red, too), but I was just sad to say good-bye to my truck.

Young folks will recognize this as the theme from CSI, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a question that we never answer in our whole lives and one I’m struggling with now.

Fear is Information

A few days ago a friend stopped by between here and there. When she got out of her car, I saw she was bent over by at least 30 degrees and walking stiff-legged. I hadn’t seen her in a few months and I was a little stunned. As it happened, she’s also the friend that argued with me about my hip surgery insisting that I hadn’t had my mobility restored but “augmented.” That made me furious and I don’t get angry all that easily. I was ready to set her straight on that when she arrived, but when I saw her I thought, “We have a bigger problem now.”

She’s a very controlling person with strong opinions. I don’t like confrontation (she does), but I have confronted her before back when I was negotiating for my house and she was my agent. I also, frankly, think she’s kind of an idiot. Many of her opinions about things have been refuted for once and for all by solid scientific research, but I just let it roll away into the twilight zone of illusion. I’m not a person who has to be right, even when I am.

So, instead of telling her not to argue with me about stuff I know (like my own hip surgery and repair) I talked to her about her mobility. She was very defensive and attempted denial. “It doesn’t matter what you think,” I said. “Just get X-rays so you know what you’re dealing with. If it’s something, you need to know.”

“So I know what my options are?”

“We don’t always have options,” I said. A person with bone-on-bone osteoarthritis has the option to have surgery or ride around in a wheelchair. I know she’s not a person who “believes” in objective reality, but it’s there, nonetheless.

Even then she’s (allegedly) going to get the X-rays and show them to her sister, a chiropractor, rather than let the doctor read them. I just figure “Whatever.” Then I tried to explain what long-term pain and challenged mobility do materially to our brain, the organ, not our mind the ephemeral entity.

Either that got her attention or she decided that agreeing with me would get me to shut up.

But, if you’re curious, what pain and being crippled do to our brain is this:

People with unrelenting pain are often depressed, anxious and have difficulty making simple decisions. Researchers have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger these other pain-related symptoms. Researchers found that in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex associated with emotion fails to deactivate when it should. It’s stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections.

What’s more, a person in this situation — because it evolves slowly — has a tendency to accept the unacceptable — like my friend walking like that, and excusing it by saying, “I just drove 3 hours.”


I said straight out, “That doesn’t wash in real life. These are not symptoms of driving. They’re symptoms of a physical problem.”

I think that whether she does anything or not (it’s her life, her body) she knows I care about her. There’s not much more I can do.

I’m still fighting the brain changes every day. I was essentially handicapped and in pain for a decade. Sometimes I’m amazed by what I’m able to do now that I couldn’t do for a long, long time, like figure out a solution so my back storm door doesn’t keep breaking, like cutting back an unwelcome elm tree, like basically figuring out anything.

Today I filled the tires on my real bike which I haven’t ridden in more than 2 years. I was determined to ride it. The whole scenario reminded me of taking out my new Cross Country skis the first, second, third, fourth, fifth times. I felt a nagging apprehension, fear, that threatened to hold me back from doing something I wanted to do. As with Cross Country skiing, I didn’t know if I could ride, but I have no rational reason not to.

My fears are about getting on and stopping at a stop sign. I have to figure out a way to get on when I’m afraid? unable? to lift my leg over the bike. For now I lay the bike on the ground, straddle it and pull it up, but that isn’t what I want to do. So, as I wheeled it out of my yard onto the driveway and laid it down to get on, I felt real terror. What if I fell? Could I get up? Would I be hurt? Then my X-country ski voice said, “Don’t fall. Just ride. Just try. See what it’s like. See what you remember. Stop while you’re still having fun. Get on. Who cares how?”

It was a fresh and lovely morning. I rode a couple of miles where I wouldn’t have to deal with stopping. I thought of how nice it would be ride where I walked Bear in winter. I appreciated how much faster and more exhilarating is than walking. I tested out the gears since it had been so long since I’ve shifted bike gears. I think the seat’s too low, but? I don’t know. I decided to take it to Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa and get it fitted to me. It’s a small bike for a small person — maybe too small? I don’t know. Then I turned into the alley and felt the clutch of fear at the rough curb, the rutted dirt and without thinking I was in a solid mountain biking position on my bike. I felt a little spring of joy in my heart.

I might get this. “Keep trying, every day,” said my Cross Country ski voice. “It’s almost as good as snow, remember? Remember how you rode on all those dirt trails in California imagining you were skiing? It will get you through the summer. Don’t give up.”

I came in the house and cried. Fighting fear is very emotional. You hold it back until you can release it. It’s a very good feeling.

“No Restrictions!!”

I’m in Colorado Springs. It’s my 3 month or something visit to my orthorpedic surgeon, Dr. Szuszczewiz. Maybe six month. Time has lost meaning.

Beautiful drive over La Veta Pass, uneventful drive the rest of the way, arrived at my friend’s house a little early, drove to the doc. On the way I heard my anthem, “Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush.

He took three X-rays, one in a position I thought I wasn’t supposed to take. I waited for him in a cold little room wearing a pair of PT shorts (PT — Physical Therapy). He arrived, came in, said, “Go run up that mountain. Go ski. Where are you going to ski?”

“Where there’s snow.”

Colorado girl.

I’m so happy. In my initial exam he said, “You might be able to run, I think so, but no skiing.” Today, “No restrictions. Maybe I’ll see you on the slopes.”

I don’t have words, I’m beyond happy.


My dog Lily is in her 16th year of life and I know that her days are numbered. Our days together are numbered. She’s weak in her hips. Sometimes she’s confused about where she is. This is compounded because she’s blind and deaf. Sometimes she falls and I have to help her up. She still likes her breakfast and dinner. She’s still happy when I find her and pet her. She likes to do yoga with me (I have to do yoga in my kitchen). She’s not in much pain (good meds) but she gets frustrated when she can’t get up from her bed. Normally all I have to do to make her fine is to stand beside her in those moments; then she gets up. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in her mind, but somehow my being near makes it better.

I’ve had old dogs before. I’ve had to help many of them find their way into the next world where, I hope to God they’re all waiting for me. I imagine this as a forest — a Swiss forest — with a little stone house and all my dogs. That’s Heaven.

I have much less equanimity about Lily’s approaching “transition” than I have had about any of my other dogs I’ve had to put to sleep. I’ve been trying to figure that out so that when the moment comes I’m up to the job. Today, I figured it out.

Lily knew me “when.” We hiked miles and miles together; ran on snowy trails and climbed mountains. When she came to live with me, my arthritis had not manifested symptoms. The first day I had Lily, she and Jasmine, whom I adopted with Lily, and I took a hike in the mountains. It was the dogs’ first mountain hike and they loved it.

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Jasmine and Lily soon after they came to live with me. Lily was 3; Jasmine was 8

Over the few years we could do this we tracked deer, chased ground squirrels, drank from a well, looked out at the Salton Sea and watched the sun set on the Pacific — all standing in one spot on a wonderful wild trail in the Lagunas that led to Hays Peak. Lily and I once tried a short cut and learned a lot about how mean a chaparral hillside can be — but we had fun.

Lily is the last “person” in my life who knew me when I was “real.” That’s what I thought today. Lily isn’t “real” any more, either. It’s been a while. I have photos of the last “real” hike of her life — and it was my last hike, too, in a way. A former student, friend, from Germany came to visit and he and I took Cody and Lily up Garnet Peak. It was very hard for me to climb down (up was fine) that mountain and when we all got home, I saw how terribly sore Lily was. That was it.

Lily Garnet Peak-1

Lily on Garnet Peak

Lily still loves snow, she just loves it more slowly.

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, 2/22/2015

Lily enjoying the snowstorm, ten years after, 2/22/2015

I realized today that the sadness, for me, won’t only be the loss of Lily, though that will be terrible, it will also be that she is the last link to my own lost joys.

All I can do is have faith that when the moment comes it will be all right as it has been for my other dogs. My job now is to make some peace with my future and develop a new sense of what it means to me to “be real” for myself, but also so that Lily’s last moments in my arms will be peaceful with no sad telepathic messages coming to her from me to disturb her passing.