Walking Man Update

Sunday, 1 May 2016, 10:28 | Category : Life, Walks
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An update to an earlier post from September, 2014: I’ve continued to walk. Since August 2014, I’ve walked 3,146 miles – 6,768,965 steps; I’ve worn out 4 pairs of shoes; and I’ve seen lots of things and thought about many more. It’s still the best part of the day.

About 9 years ago, I started walking in the morning before work. I hadn’t exactly been slothful before that, but I hadn’t approached walking as a regular form of exercise. For several years, I was pretty consistent, walking 2-3 miles a day; then a series of injuries, minor and less minor, began to interrupt my schedule, and consistency became less so. I still walked, but instead of every day, or 6 days a week, it might be 4 days a week, or 3, or 2. And I might only walk for 30 minutes or so.

Fast forward to last winter. For years, I’d been having occasional episodes of atrial fibrillation. The episodes would typically last for less than a day, I would convert back to normal rhythm on my own, and move on. At some point, my cardiologist put me on an anti-arrhythmic drug, which worked well for about 4 years; then I had a episode that didn’t convert back for several weeks, and he changed me to another drug, which worked for a while. Last January, I had another episode, short-lived again. But at that time, he said it was time to consider cardiac ablation surgery. The drug I was on wasn’t working like it had, and the drugs beyond that had more and nastier side effects. We decided to to discuss it again after my vacation to Greece in March; when I got back, we scheduled the surgery for July 1. In May, I had another episode; I didn’t convert back, so they started me on a blood thinner until the surgery. Once again, my walking got interrupted, because in a state of constant atrial fibrillation, I really didn’t have energy for long walks. On July 1, I underwent cardiac ablation surgery. It went fine, I was in the hospital overnight, and went home the next day to recover. After a few days of a very sore chest and throat (from the things they had shoved down my throat during the surgery), I was getting better rapidly, until my left leg began hurting. No blood clot, but the cardiologist wasn’t sure what was going on. Additional CT scans and ultrasounds didn’t reveal the cause; finally he said I should maybe go see my orthopedic surgeon (which I had wanted to do days earlier). When I was finally able to get in to see him, he diagnosed the problem in 5 minutes – bleeding into the quad muscles, which caused my left leg and knee to be very swollen and stiff, and very painful. He prescribed a month of physical therapy, which worked wonders in fairly short order. And while I was going through the weeks of PT, I started really wanting to be walking again. By early August, I was pretty much back to normal, and decided to start getting out of bed and getting out the door again. Since retiring from my state government job last year (I now work as a consultant part-time) I have a very flexible schedule, so I can get a good walk in and still have a leisurely morning most days before going to work.

So, I started walking again. At first I took walks like I used to take – 30-45 minutes. But I soon realized that (a) that wasn’t really long enough, and (b) I had time for a longer walk. So I began adding time and distance, and finding new walking routes. Some days I walk in the neighborhoods near my house. Other days, I’ll go to the multi-use trail along the Natchez Trace. That’s where I can get some really good, long walks in. My Fitbit measures the distance and number of steps, and I’ve found that the Fitbit’s distance measurement is pretty accurate. Now, most days I walk at least 4 miles, and I often get 5 miles in, all before breakfast. I take my Walkman radio and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, and walk, and walk. It’s often the best part of my day. And my reward is scenes like this:

or this:

or, at this time of year:

And most days, when I’m walking along the Natchez Trace trail, I have the trail to myself:

Right now, I’m averaging about 25 miles a week on my morning walks. According to Fitbit, if you include all the steps I take during the day, I average about 40 miles a week. I guess when winter sets in I’ll see how dedicated I really am. For now, it’s just one foot in front of the other.

Time

Sunday, 24 January 2016, 20:07 | Category : Life, Mississippi, Nature, Philosophy
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greenwood_arches1

There’s an old cemetery that I’ve walked through on occasion – a couple of times when I was helping to clean up and plant some antique roses among the headstones, a couple of times when I was just walking around. The cemetery dates back to the 1820s, and holds the remains of several Mississippi governors and other notables, including those of Eudora Welty. There’s also a section of unknown Confederate soldiers. The cemetery lies in sight of Mississippi’s State Capitol building and other state office buildings, but it’s surprisingly unknown to many people. One gray January afternoon a few years ago I was wandering through some of the older parts of the cemetery and happened to notice something at the base of a large tree. When I looked closer, I saw that it was an old headstone.

tree_and_headstonegray

I’ve thought about that headstone many times since. It’s almost a parable about our relationship to the world in which we live. Or at least, a reference to Ecclesiastes Chapter 1:

What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
but the earth remains forever.
.
.
.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

In the end, the trees win. Time wins. Time always wins.

Hello, World, And Thoughts About Mars

Wednesday, 18 March 2015, 21:56 | Category : BlogStuff, Life, Science
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Periodically, I sit down with myself and think about what I really want to do. And one of the things I invariably say to myself is, I would like to blog regularly again. Even though blogging as we knew it is 5-6 years (or more) gone, and my old blogroll is mostly just a historical document, I still like the idea of blogging. Because I like the idea of writing. So every few weeks (months), I come back here and post something. Just enough to make me think I can justify paying my web host when renewal comes around again. And it always has that “Hello, World” feel to it, especially when the time between posts is really extended. A while back I decided to walk down my blogroll and see if any were still active. A few were, but most had either sat idle for a long, long time, with a last post hanging out there for several years, or were completely gone, drowned in the increasingly shallow pool that is Facebook/Twitter/Tumbler/whatever.

So why suddenly show up and post something again? Well – Mars. I was listening to a program about Mars, private spaceflight, and one-way missions. Especially one-way missions. They were discussing the many and varied problems that will have to solved for a successful Mars mission to happen, the personality profiles, all the supplies that will have to be taken along, the fact that in the entire history of space travel, while we’ve launched things of many sizes and configurations, we’ve never landed anything of the size that will be required to carry all that stuff. We’ve never even thought about how to land something like that. I thought about the medical issues that might come up, that there will need to be someone who can handle medical emergencies like broken bones and joint injuries, not to mention heart attacks. And then I thought about something that I’ve never seen or heard discussed. At some point, you’re going to have someone develop a condition, like cancer, that won’t be treatable with whatever medical facility and supplies there will be on Mars, but will be painful and debilitating. In other words, something that will be fatal, but will also be too much to live with. And somewhere in the medical supplies, there will have to be a planned method of suicide. As a society, we will have to embrace the notion that officially-assisted suicide is acceptable. It may well be that the plans for this are already in place. It’s not so different from the idea of a mission during he Apollo days going bad and marooning astronauts in space. But in some ways it is different. There would be no compromised facility, no dwindling air supply. Just someone who has no hope of a cure, and a remaining lifetime of pain or severe, deteriorating disability. And we’ll have to allow, and assist, that person to end their life, on whatever terms they think best.

Crayons And Cakes

Friday, 24 October 2014, 14:37 | Category : Life
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The things you remember from childhood are probably not the things your parents would expect you to have remembered. It’s often little things that stick with you – not that they’re the only things, or even the most significant things, but they’re sitting there on your memory shelf alongside the big stuff. For me, from my elementary school days in the early 1960s, it’s crayons and cakes. And let me say at the outset that I’m not complaining that I was made to do without. I had three older sisters and a younger brother, and a mother who stayed home to take care of us, so money, while never absent, wasn’t flowing in abundance. Every year, when it came time to buy school supplies, I wanted one thing – one of those big, genuine Crayola 64-crayon boxes with the sharpener in back and the unbelievably cool gold, silver, and copper crayons.

What I got was the smaller box, no sharpener, no gold, silver, and copper crayons. I do think maybe one year I got the big box, maybe 5th grade. Or maybe a friend gave me the cool crayons, I just know that one year I did have gold, silver, and copper. But I always felt just a little less worthy, only having the 24- or 48-count box (whatever was the minimum required, probably 24).

And then there’s cake. My memory is a little hazy, but what I remember is that our weekly lunch tickets came in two variants: basic and deluxe. I’m sure they weren’t called that, but that’s that they were, I think. The basic ticket got you lunch, but no dessert. The advanced got you dessert. And dessert was often either square yellow cake with chocolate icing, or chocolate cake with chocolate icing. And I almost never got dessert. As I said, my memory is a little hazy, and it’s barely possible that rather than having two levels of lunch ticket, dessert just cost extra and you had to clean your plate first, and I almost never cleaned my plate, because English peas were often on the menu and I’ve always hated English peas. And I’m sure much of the rest of the menu was nasty by my elementary school definition. Anyway, for whatever reason, I rarely got the cake. I wanted the cake, especially when it was chocolate on chocolate. Somehow I survived and grew to be a mostly-responsible citizen of these United States, but imagine how much further I might have gone if I’d had 64 crayons and cake?

What I’m Reading Now…

Thursday, 23 October 2014, 20:26 | Category : Books, History, Life
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is a lot of Cold War spy stuff. Novels – The Spy Who Came In From The Cold; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Non-fiction – Legacy Of Ashes (not just Cold War, but that was the driving force behind my picking it up), The Art Of Betrayal. It’s not coincidence. After reading several books about the period leading up to World War I, and the war itself, I was looking for a new genre. And despite all the books I’ve read through the years, spy fiction and non-fiction was something I rarely delved into, unless you count some Tom Clancy novels during the 80s and 90s. But while I liked Clancy’s stuff early on, there came a point, I think probably with Debt Of Honor, when it felt like Clancy would get two-thirds of the way through a book, get bored, and decide to just wrap it up. But I digress….

I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. As an elementary school student in the early-mid 1960s, I lived in a world of atomic-bomb tests (we, students and teachers alike, still called them atomic bombs then, although I’m pretty sure everything was thermo-nuclear by then) and Civil Defense signs, and fallout shelters. A family up the street from us had a fallout shelter in their back yard. I never saw the inside – I never knew the family – but you could see the entrance to the shelter through their carport. All of those things were constant reminders that the Godless Russians might very well one day decide to blow us all to Kingdom Come. It was a strange time, I guess. We were not far removed from World War II, although at the time that seemed like ancient history. But we were only 20 years beyond that catastrophic struggle. Now I look back on things 20 years past, and I wonder about all the men and women – our fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles – who served or just lived through it, and I think about things that are now only 20 years in my past, and I think how strange it must have been for them. Maybe strange isn’t the right word, but there they were, just two decades past an event that dwarfs anything I’ve experienced in my life, and yet the world they made for us was so normal, so seemingly free of problems. Except that atomic bomb thing. And then Vietnam, which was piped into our living rooms every evening at 5:30. My idyllic existence began to crumble a bit then, as I approached the teenage years, then the later teenage years, then draft eligibility. Vietnam was winding down by the time I was actually eligible, in 1972, but it was a cloud hanging in the distance during my high-school years. It was the Cold War turned hot, on the other side of the world.

So the Cold War has always held a certain fascination for me. What would have happened if it had ever really turned hot? What if Soviet armor had come pouring through Fulda Gap? I’ve read many books about what might have happened in a World War III. But the actual conflict was played out in the shadow world of espionage and counter-espionage. And so, when I went looking for a new subject area for reading, Cold War spies were waiting. And there’s something else at play here, I think. The conflict between the West and the Communist Bloc, frightening though it was, seems so much simpler and more understandable than the world we’re in today, with religious fanaticism and Third-World nationalism fueling an ever-changing set of enemies that don’t match up well with our traditional means of applying resolutive force. It’s almost a sense of nostalgia for a conflict that made more sense, even if the potential for national destruction was much, much higher. So, for now, I’m reading about Cold War spies. Duck, and cover.