Saturday, August 23, 2008

Morning walks again!

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I'd set my alarm for 5:00am, throw on a pair of sweats and my Nikes, grab my Walkman, and set out to walk a mile around our development in New Jersey. We lived in one of the older developments, where the builders knew better than to level all of the glorious old trees, and I loved seeing beams of sun dancing among the branches and leaves of the huge pine trees and beautiful, mature rhododendrons. My regular walk was exactly one mile, and it took me somewhere between fifteen and twenty minutes to make that loop. Once home, I'd jump in the shower, get myself dressed, get Zack up (grumbling, 'cause he's NOT a morning person!), make his breakfast, feed the cats, drive him to before-school day care, and set off on my own hour-long commute to work. Oh, and then work a full day.

Life has changed a lot in many ways since then, but it occurred to me this morning, as I walked around our little neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, that I chose to live in an area not all that unlike the development in New Jersey, at least in terms of foliage. Of course, everything around the house in NJ was very, very flat (we could never figure out why they called our town "Cherry Hill" since we never really saw anything remotely resembling a hill nearby!). Now we live on a rise, near the West Hills, and it's impossible to reach our home without climbing a steep rise. So the view is markedly different, with the hills rising to the north, and all the dips and rises in the blocks surrounding our home. But many of the trees and bushes are very much the same. Huge conifers, every variety of Japanese maple you could imagine, banks of rhododendrons and azalea bushes -- the kinds of plants that can thrive in clay-y, acidic soil. It's funny how these decisions get made - somewhere in the lizard-brain, I guess, and suddenly I realize that I've managed to repeat a decision I'd made many years before (this time, however, with much better results).

So. Walks, you think? But you have MS, and haven't been able to walk much at all for years, right?


However, at my dear friend Elaine's urging, I made an appointment with an amazing woman, a hypno-therapist who (as far as I'm concerned) does miraculous work. I've seen her five times, and am now able to walk about a half mile every morning. I can even make it up the final hill to our street (which is NOT an insignificant accomplishment, believe me!). It's slow going at the end of the walk, and I need to stop and rest at times, but dammit, I'm WALKING!!

I know you're probably thinking something along the lines of "Big F***ing Deal", those of you who are able to stroll a mile to the nearest coffee shop and pick up a large latte without thinking twice. But lemme tell ya, this IS a BFD for me. I've missed walking more than any of the things I've lost due to MS, more than my work (which I loved), more than the seemingly boundless energy I used to have -- more than anything. And now, miraculously, I am able to step off our front porch, walk out into the street, and make a half-mile loop around our neighborhood. I encounter neighbors and chat with them, pet the dogs they're walking and move on. I notice tiny details about gardens and trees. I chatter to the squirrels and listen to birdsong. I breathe deeply, loving the smell of grasses and trees and flowers.

I think this was the best 60th birthday gift of all.

Friday, August 08, 2008


I am NOT good with details.

If you know anything about the Myers/Briggs Type Indication (MBTI), you'll understand when I say that I have zero preference for "Sensing". I've had to learn to pay attention to details (like when I'm trying to follow a recipe, or read instructions or drive somewhere I've never been before). I try to pay attention to one thing, to focus and concentrate, but inevitably I find my mind has flitted somewhere else (like just now, when I started to think about our cat Caruso, who isn't eating at the moment, rather than focusing on this post). We ENFPs aren't known for our ability to concentrate and pay attention to details (unless, of course, we're really, really interested in the task). When I try to look for something positive about being disabled, I often think about having the opportunity to slow down -- stop, even -- and pay attention to what's going on around me.

About a week ago, I turned to David and said something along the lines of "Well, the end of summer is coming". He responded "What?! It's just the beginning of August!" I'm sure he thought I was into one of my glass-half-empty, down-the-rat-hole things, but that wasn't it at all.

The thing is, I'm paying a lot more attention to the changes in the gardens that surround our home, and it's pretty damned clear that things are starting to wind down out there. Here are a few examples:

  • The hydrangea bushes are flowering. Hydrangeas flower towards the end of the growing season, into the fall, not in spring or early summer.
  • The dozens of volunteer columbines have produced hundreds of seed pods, all bursting and ready to inundate the surrounding area. Another end-of-summer activity.
  • The grape vine in the back yard is producing a prodigious amount of grapes.
  • All the tomato plants are covered with little tomatoes.
  • The pears on the pear tree in the back yard are getting bigger every day, and they're no longer bright green.

I have more examples, but you get the picture, I'm sure. I don't need a calendar to tell me that summer is on the wane. Just paying attention to the details that nature provides can do that for me now.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

On my walk this morning... I rounded the corner onto SW 47th Avenue, I stopped to look at the intricacy of the leaves on the conifers that border the home on the corner, and began to think about how much more I'm able to notice when I walk around the neighborhood.

The first house I pass as I walk south has a lovely collection of planters, all filled with a different variety of plants, from tall, waving grasses to brightly colored flowers. I noticed that the two big planters on each side of the driveway stand on several large, flat rocks - a little detail that somehow makes the arrangement much more interesting than if they sat flat on the ground or in a matching saucer. Little details, but boy, are they fun to encounter.

In the next driveway, I ran into my neighbor Barb, who was talking with the young woman who owns the house at the next corner. We were introduced, and I got to meet her three (absolutely beautiful) chickens. The hens were sitting close together, in the shade of a bush, rubbing against the cool soil - and obviously having a great time in the process. I complimented her on the garden they put in last year, which I love to see as I walk past, we talked a little about the raccoons that have appeared in the neighborhood (and at some point, in most of our yards), and I excused myself so I could finish the walk before it got too hot for me.

In contrast to yesterday, when the temps were in the low 50s as I walked, temps were nearing 70 and the sun was already feeling hot, so I knew I needed to finish my circuit and get back home as quickly as possible (heat and MS do not play well together).

I made it home just fine, decided to water the pots on the back deck to help the plants make it through the heat of the day, and wandered down to check on our little vegetable beds. Our tomatoes are going nuts and I had to scrounge a couple of sticks to support branches that had escaped from the cages and were threatening to climb the fence and attack the homes to our south. They're covered with green tomatoes, and I'm optimistic that we'll have a great harvest this fall! Still not sure about the zucchini or the pepper plants, but time will (as they say) tell.

So now I'm back in the house, where the indomitable heat pump will keep temps in the mid 70s, even though it will hit the 90s today outside.