Friday, March 25, 2011

John Muir Trail (part 1)

Sage at the beginning trailhead

 I promised Randall Sherman a year or so ago that I'd write up my account of hiking the John Muir Trail.  Here is my first installment.  These hikes occured in 1995-1997.

I woke up to a call for passengers for Los Angeles to begin boarding. It was still dark and not yet 6 AM and it took a few minutes for me to gather my bearings. I was sleeping on the ground, next to my car, on the far end of the parking lot at the Inyokern airport. It had been Eric’s suggestion that we bivouac in the parking lot of an airport. We’d been looking for a cheap hotel with vacancy and none had been found since leaving I-15. It was well after 1 AM when Eric spotted the airport search light. As a pilot, he assured me he’d slept many times under his plane and no one would have a problem with us sleeping there. I agreed; I was exhausted. I didn’t even know Inyokern had commercial flights. The call for the LAX came in again as a few cars pulled up and guys with briefcases and carry-ons rushed toward the small terminal. The small airport was coming to life. As it had been the night before, here in the low desert, the air was still warm. A light breeze was blowing, but that would be soon gone and as the sun rose, the day would quickly heat up. I wasn’t going back to sleep. I got up and stuffed my sleeping bag (which I’d slept on top of, and rolled up my pad and stowed it all in the back of the car. Eric, who’d been sleeping on the shotgun side of the car, was complaining about the noise. I told him to get up, that I was ready to get on the road and find some coffee.

Although we were planning on hiking together for a week, I barely knew Eric. An unemployed aviation engineer, he was feeding himself by teaching aviation and doing aircraft maintenance, along with the occasional gig with the forest service. Driving down I-15, Eric took it upon himself to redesign my car. Long before we got to the Mojave Desert, he had it all worked out. I told him I wasn’t interested and suggested that he send his recommendations for Ford Motor Company. I was unsure if I could spend a week hiking with him without strangling him or giving him a push from a mountaintop.

By 6 AM, we were on the road. We stopped at a small store where we picked up juice and donuts for breakfast. I got coffee, but Eric didn’t touch the stuff. We got back on the road, heading north on US 395 toward Independence, California, munching donuts along the way. It was still early in the morning when we got to Independence. We set talking to people, trying to find someone heading into the mountains that might help us shuttle us. At a gas station, we found a guy who, for forty bucks, agreed. He’d pick us up at the Kearsarge Pass trailhead and to drive us south to the Cottonwood Trailhead, located above Lone Pine. Young and just out of high school, he was good natured and seemed envious on our plans. We drop my car off at the trailhead where we hope to end our journey a week later and pile into his car, with packs and all. That first day, we hike gradually upward, mostly paralleling Cottonwood Creek for seven miles. We stop to camp above Long Lake, at the edge of treeline and a mile below New Army Pass. We’re exhausted and both are in bed as darkness descends. Here, in the high Sierras, the temperature is much cooler than it was the night before and I find myself closed up in my bivy sack, my sleeping bag zipped up around me. Occasionally, throughout the night, I peek out at am amazed at how brilliant the stars are when there are no lights for miles.

 Our second day on the trail begins with the climb over New Army Pass. It’s July 25, 1995, an El Nino year with lots of snow in the Sierras. Even this late in July, there’s still plenty of snow. New Army Pass is completely covered. Although I’m wearing shorts, I have gaiters covering my boots and lower legs. I also have a pair of instep crampons, which I was glad that I decided to carry as they came in handy several places that second day. However, I’d left an ice ax in my truck and when we got to the final climb over New Army Pass, I question my wisdom of shedding the ax in order to lighten my load a bit. The East approach ends with a sheer, nearly vertical, cliff that’s close to 100 feet high. The trail, which Eric assures me had been chiseled into the rock, is completely covered. There’s another way up, but that would require a mile or so detour. Eric suggests tackle this straight on. To climb the cliff, we have to kick toe-holds into the snow. Then, when we get to the top, we have to make our way around a cornice. Eric climbs first and we doubled up our food bag ropes and, one at a time, he pulls up both of our packs. I followed nervous, especially climbing around the cornice. Once we are on top, we stop and enjoy the views before dropping down and following Rock Creek toward the Kern River. After a few miles, the trail intersects the Pacific Crest Trail and shortly thereafter the trail leaves the creek and climbs north over a ridge and then drops to Guyton Creek where we stop for the evening. Much of the day, after having descended below tree line, is spent swatting mosquitoes. I’m amazed at the beauty surrounding us. Our elevation at Guyton Creek is still 11,000 feet. At night, the temperature drops and I stay snuggled up in my sleeping bag.

Our third day on the trail is a leisure one, allowing my hips time to rest from the strain of the pack and giving my feet a break. We linger late in camp. Exploring the creek, I notice ice had formed along the edge at night. It had been that cold! Later, as the sun rises, the mosquitoes awake. I have never seen insects so pesky at this temperature. I build a fire to warm myself and to discourage them. When we begin hiking, we follow the PCT through meadows of wild flowers. In the marshy areas, purple irises bloom. In the dryer soil, there’s a carpet of a yellow alpine flower and another with purple pedals and a yellow stamens. The sun is intense and I notice that Eric’s neck is bright red and expect mine is the same. I put a bandana under my cap, allowing it to hangs down over the back of my neck to protect my skin. Occasionally I dip the bandana into creeks and allow the cool water to chill my neck and head. The water also gives it a little weight, keeping it from flapping in the wind.

Our camping spot for the next two nights is Crabtree Meadows, a broad open area on the west side of Mt. Whitney that is filled with lightning-struck trees. I hope we won’t have a storm while here. We plan to climb the mountain in the morning, getting up before first light in order to make it up to the top and partly down by early in the afternoon, before any storms will have a chance to build. But the weather looks promising and it doesn’t appear we’ll have anything to worry about.

Climbing Whitney

Camping near us is a couple from Southern California. We meet her first, as she packs up their gear as they’re planning on getting a head start toward home. The guy is a mountain climber and they both have incredibly heavy packs. During the day, he’s been “peak-bagging” several different peaks a day (one or two in the morning, another in the afternoon). Sometimes his wife joins him, other times she lounges in camp reading or exploring the meadows. At the end of the day, while he’s finishing his climb, she prepares dinner. As we talk, I learn the guy is a serious climber and considers this trip a part of his regular training. He tells us of having climbed Everest in 1992 and shows us his feet, with the tips of two toes missing. He’d lost them to frostbite. As they’re getting ready to hike out, she presents us a couple extra avocados she’d been packing and didn’t think they’d use. I have dried refried beans and rice for dinner and the avocadoes help spice up my dish.

Crabtree Meadows is lower than Guyton Creek by about a thousand feet and, the temperature is much warmer and mosquitoes more active. We both go to bed with the setting sun. We’re both up early, before the sun and in the early light I fix myself a cup of hot tea and oatmeal. In a stuff sack, I pack some supplies, food and water for the day’s hike. As the sky lightens, we head toward the top of the mountain, a little over 7 ½ miles and 4500 feet away. At first, the trail is gradual, as we circle around Guitar and Hitchcock Lakes, where have been carved out by glaciers. As we’re on the western slope, the sun is shaded and the pack snow is hard and slick. I put on in-step crampons and feel much more secure with each step as we make our way up the switchbacks. By late morning, we’re at the keyhole, where the trail from the east side joins up with the trail from the west. The air is thin and we have to stop often, but from here, it’s a short two mile hike across a ridge with a small 700 feet gain in elevation. There are many others coming up from the east (there has only been one other party that we’d seen from the west). As we traverse the ridge, I find myself having to stop more and more to catch my breath, but I’m not alone. We finally reach the summit a little after noon. It’d taken us just over five hours of hiking.

 We eat lunch, trying to protect our food from the rodents who are not afraid of us and seem to view us as we might a pizza delivery boy. It’s a perfect day. There are few clouds and a strong wind, but at this altitude, the wind is to be expected. There’s a large contingent on top, twenty or so of us. A guy name August proposes to his girlfriend, and we all cheer when she accepts and slides the ring on her finger. We watch a couple of technical climbers work their way up the nearly vertical northwest cliff. To the east, I look out across the Owen Valley and across the White Mountains, deep into Nevada. To the north and south, I see the steep ridges of the Sierras which drop off nearly 10,000 feet into the desert. At the bottom, there is a small black ribbon of highway: US 395. To the west, there are only mountains. It’s nearly 2:30 when we reluctantly begin to head down. I don’t want to leave, but also want to be back in time to fix dinner with daylight.  We're now officially on the John Muir Trail (one end of the trail is the summit of Whitney).  After a few hours of sun, the snow has softened and it’s easier to walk. At Guitar Lake, after finishing the steep descend, a guy sees my cap (Ellicottville Fire Department) and asks if I’d skied there. We talk about the community in New York State, where I’d once lived. We’re both now living in the West. He’s come up the same way as we have, from the south and plans to climb Whitney in the morning. After getting back to our camp, we both quickly fix dinner. At 8:45 PM, I’m exhausted and in bed. I realize that I’ve exceeded my fear level several times on this trip.

Eric hiking

On Friday, July 28, I wake up at 7 AM to the sound of mosquitoes that have darkened the netting over my head. The elevation is sapping my energy and I fall back asleep. The sun is up when I arise and there are fewer mosquitoes. We break camp and hike north along the combined Pacific Crest and John Muir Trails. It’s a tough hike and I’m coughing up junk, which isn’t a good sign as this elevation isn’t the place for a loss of lung capacity. Along the trail, we bump into a guy early in the morning. He’s not interested in talking and acts rather snobbish. Later in the day, when we’re stopped along the side of the trail for lunch, he comes by and stops and joins us. It’s as if he has a new demeanor, but as we get to talking to him, he tells us that he’d hiked up into the mountains to spread his father’s ashes at a special place in the Bighorn Plateau where they’d camped years earlier. We’d come upon him at the wrong time and he did seem as if he’d lightened his load greatly.

To our north is Forrester Pass, the highest along the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails. We ask the few south-bounders we see about its condition and learn that there is a couple of miles of snow on the approach. Some suggest taking Shepherd Pass to the east of Forrester’s, but Eric is unfazed. He said the other time he’d crossed Forester, there had been several four miles of snow on both the north and south sides. We continue one, hiking on snowfields above tree line. The snow-covered landscape is beautiful. Twice we can hear the sound of a rushing creek under our boots and tread carefully across the snow, making sure that it’ll hold our weight. We stop and camp by a frozen lake on Diamond Mesa, near the base of the final climb to the pass. We’re well above 12,000 feet, a ways above the trees. We find an area with little snow and large boulders to the south to reflect the wind and pitch our tents. This will be the first night of the trip that we won’t have to worry about mosquitoes, but we have a heck of a time getting our stoves protected enough to heat up water for dinner. It’s an early night and we’re in bed by 8 PM, enjoying the warm comfort of the sleeping bag as the strong wind from the south attempts to blow us off the mountain.

It was a long night sleeping near the top of the mountain. I’m a little congested and, with the lower oxygen in the air, often wake up gasping and fighting to get out of my sleeping bag. However, with the temperature well below freezing and the strong winds, it’s way too cold and as soon as I get my upper body free of the bag, I’m zipping it back up. For a little while, I opened the fly so that I can look at the stars and gaze at great scorpion just above the southern horizon. It’s brilliant! At one point in the night, I get up to urinate and see a meteor shoot across the sky. It’s so bright; the trail seems to hang in the sky for a second or two. I’m wide-awake by 6:30 AM and can’t go back to sleep even though there is no need for us to be in a hurry. All the hikers who’d come off of Forrester the day before suggested we wait till 11 AM to make our approach, so that the snow will be softer and not as icy on the steep switchbacks. I write in my journal and read a little and take catnaps till later in the morning when I finally decide to get up and struggle in this wind to boil enough water to make oatmeal and tea.

We break camp late in the morning and head toward the rock wall facing us. It looks impossible to climb, but Eric assures me that a trail of steep switchbacks had been dynamited into the face of the rock, giving access over the pass. The final climb itself isn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. The southerly wind pushes us into the wall and, once I strap on crampons to my boots, my feet are solidly planted in the icy parts of the trail. I feel safe despite the steep drop-off to the south and before I know it, we’re at the notch on the top. We move over to the north side of the mountain, out of the wind, and shed our packs. Collecting fresh snow, we mix in powdered Kool-Aid and enjoy a treat as we look out across the Sierras from the leeward side of the mountain.

The climb down from Forrester is steep and in many places snow covered. On one steep snowy switchback beside a frozen lake, where the trail comes back 200 feet or so below us, we put on raingear and slide down the hill, using the bottom of our packs as brakes. It’s fun and probably saves us a quarter mile of hiking over a steep snow-covered trail. As the trail descends, we begin to follow Bubbs Creek. Luckily, the wind is blowing which gives us a fighting chance against the mosquitoes. We stop to camp at Vidette Meadows, having hiked eight steep miles. As we’ve spotted many trout in the creek, Eric decides to try his hand at fishing with only a line and a hook and catches a fish! As the evening ensues, the wind dies down and the mosquitoes come out in full force and as soon as we eat and safely store our food (as this area is bear-prone), we both retreat to the safety of our tents. There, hiding behind the netting without the fly, I watch the new moon set off to our west and think about all the people we’ve meet along the trip. Although there has been more solitude than I’d thought there would be (especially on the west side of Whitney and coming over Forrester Pass), we’ve meet people from New Zealand, Scotland, England and across the States.
July 30th is our last day on the trail. We’d made it through the night without any bear encounters. It’s Sunday, the Lord’s Day and for devotions I read from the gospel of Luke, the 13th and 14th Chapters and find myself wondering if I shouldn’t be more concerned about judgment. Although we have a tough hike (11.5 miles) with a steep climb and even steeper descent to the trailhead, we linger in camp, not leaving until after 10 AM. The final day of hiking is always bittersweet. The trail follows Budd’s Creek for a ways, before climbing out of the meadow. We then leave the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trails, taking the Kearsarge Pass Trail which goes to the north of Bullfrog Lake and takes us back above tree line one final time as we climb to the pass. On the top, Eric and I talk about coming back the next year and continuing to hike on the John Muir Trail. Then we continue on, as the trail drops quickly on steep switchbacks. It’s 5 PM when we reach my car.

Stowing our packs in the trunk, we drive down from the mountain and turn north on US395, up through Bishop California, where we take US 6 over Montgomery Pass. Along the way, I spot several cuts in the side of the mountain where the old Carson and Colorado Railroad once ran. I tell Eric about this narrow gauge line that broke off the Virginia and Truckee at Moundhouse, Nevada and ran south with the hopes of one day making it to the Colorado River. It never made it that far. In the early 1940s, much of the was slated to be scrapped, but when Pearl Harbor was attacked, the government stepped in and halted the abandonment of the line, fearing that a Japanese attack on the West Coast might make a rail line east of the Sierras valuable. After the war, the steep section of the line, from Bishop, California to Mina Nevada, was abandoned. Today, the only part of the line still operational is that which serves the Navy’s depot (where they store torpedoes and such armaments) in Hawthorne Nevada. I’m sure that Eric got as tired of listening to me talk as I’d gotten of listening to him redesign my car on our journey out. We stopped for dinner at the Nevada state border, where there was a casino, then drove on to Tonopah where we checked into a small motel. After cleaning up, we went out to a bar for a beer and then slept in the next morning, before driving across Nevada and back to Cedar City.

Eric eating breakfast before our hike over Forrester

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tithing (A Book Review)

Douglas LeBlanc, Tithing (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 165 pages including a study guide and notes.

Talking about money in the context of faith is difficult for most of us, yet Jesus had so much to say about money.   We don’t like to talk about giving and most people are reluctant to consider tithing, yet, as one of the many individuals LeBlanc interviewed for this book points out, “If I’m not trusting God with my money, am I really trusting him with my eternal salvation?”   (147)

Tithing refers to the Old Testament demand that one give a tenth of their produce to God’s use.   As times and economies have changed, today it has come to mean giving a tenth of one’s income to God’s work in the world.  LaBlanc’s book is a part of the Ancient Christian Practices series published by Thomas Nelson Press.  The other six practices are prayer, Sabbath, fasting, the Sacred Meal (communion), the Liturgical Year and the Sacred Journey (pilgrimages).  Instead of writing from his own experiences and study, LaBlanc interviews a host of Christian leaders who have found tithing to be an important part of their Christian witness and journey.   LaBlanc interviewees are from all walks of American life.  He meets with liberals and conservatives from a number of Protestant Churches as well as a Catholic priest and even a Jewish Rabbi.   In these interviews, he explores why people began tithing and what it means for their lives.   One interviewee suggested that tithing is the training wheels of Christian giving. (64)  Many noted how they were once a “talker and not a giver,” (32) and they all seem to think that it is a shame that as wealthy as we are in America, that we give so little (in terms of a percentage of our income). 

Many of those interviewed talked about how they used their money and lived lives beyond giving ten percent or more of their income away.  Almost everyone in the book lives simply, way below where their income level.  But most are not wealthy.  One exception is Kevin Jones, who made a fortune when he sold his Silicon Valley business in 2000.  He is now a part of “Good Capital,” an organization that challenges the traditional thinking of philanthropy, which separates the “investment side of the house” from the mission side.  Instead of just looking at risk and return, he wants investment managers to also consider impact. (87)

For those interested in learning why people tithe and give sacrificially, this book can help.  It’s not a scientific study, but is a good source of anecdotes about giving that may challenge our own hesitations over letting go of that which God has entrusted to us.  However, I’d liked to have seen the author spend at least part of the book exploring Biblical text more deeply as well as looking at literature as to why and how Americans give.  Furthermore, all the examples in the book are Americans and although they may not be rich, most tend to be high profile individuals and couples.  Why not interview the man or woman in the pew who tithe?  Or perhaps spend some time looking at Christian giving by those in other countries who have fewer resources than an American who lives at the poverty level.  What might we learn from them?  

Disclosure:  Thomas Nelson Press through their "Booksneeze Program" provided this book in exchange for an "honest review."  The above thoughts are my own.     

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A walk in the woods two days before the solar equinox

A well worm path

Life under the snow

 Two days before the solar equinox, I went out for an afternoon walk around a pond and some preserved woods on the edge of town.  The air was cool, but not cold.  However, the wind was blowing making it feel colder than the actual temperature.  In these woods, the trees are overgrown and they creaked and groaned. It was the cry of a widow-maker as they branches and trunks rubbed together high above my head.  In some depressions, there is still snow, but even underneath the white blanket, life is returning. In the marsh below the pond, there is a healthy crop of skunk cabbage, a plant that’s the first to announce that spring is not far away, often popping up through the snow.  These plants have the capability to create their own heat, melting pockets of snow so that they can have room to unfurl and reach out above the marshy ground.  Spring is slow to come in these north woods.  There’s still a fair amount of ice on the pond; it’s only melting in the shallow areas. There’s still time for another snow or two.  But in a month, the may apples will pop up and the trilliums will bloom.  Then, slowly, the maples and oaks, the cherries and beech will unfurl their canopy, providing shade from the warm sun.  It could almost be paradise, but by then they'll be mosquitoes... 
snow in the depression

skunk cabbage
Ice on the pond

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nevada Jack's Job Offer

Yesterday, I got this email… The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Dear Nevada Jack,

My name is Sxyz from Article Writing Services. We have a client who would like to pay you for the opportunity to post some of their content on your website. All of the content is professionally produced and you can select from pieces relevant to your audience.

The result is you get some free, interesting content for your readers while getting paid.

In return our client is asking for one link that they specify at the bottom of the content (no porn or gambling). Feel free to contact me with any concerns or clarifications you may have.

If you would like to see some examples of our content, please email me at so we can begin.



I was aghast. How do I respond? Here is my first draft:

Dear Sxyz,

I’m writing on behalf of Nevada Jack, my little stuffed friend. What makes you think that he would want to pimp out my blog for a few shekels of silvers? Who are these folks who want to write for my blog? And why would my readers want to read them? I know I have been busy lately, but my readers want to read what I write (whenever I get around to it) and not what your writers might want to sell. At least I hope they want to read what I write. By the way, going around my back and trying to get the approval of my Teddy Bear in order to post on my blog is not only deceitful, it’s down-right tacky.


Nevada Jack
Now, for those of you who don’t know Nevada Jack, maybe I should properly introduce him. When I first moved west in 1988, some friends gave me this teddy bear to take with me. I started to call him Yukon Jack, after that sweet Canadian whiskey, but as I was working at a camp and using the bear in a children’s program, I decided that name wasn’t appropriate. So I came up with Nevada Jack, as I was going to be spending a year in Nevada. A few years later, I was living in Utah and for a short while I wrote some columns for an underground newspaper. The paper was an attempt to provide an alternative voice and as my satires often poked fun at the dominate culture and religion in the state that has been known for being less than tolerate toward dissent, I started writing under the name “Nevada Jack.” When I started the blog, I decided that sometimes I need a different voice for my satirical posts (which are nearly as frequent as they once were) so I resurrected Nevada Jack. He’s been a good friend. He doesn’t get mad and doesn’t talk back…. What more can I ask?

Friday, March 11, 2011

River Time

Those who know me are not surprised that I'd review such a book...  FYI, I've been feeling a lot better this week! 

Mary A. Hood, River Time: Ecotravel on the World’s Rivers (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2008), 276 pages including an index, bibliography and some photos.

“American literature is full of rivers. Indeed, the world’s literature is full of rivers, and rivers are more than just background; they are an essential element of our stories. Our most ancient stories are deeply entangled in rivers… That our earliest civilizations emerged on rivers reflects a broader truth: rives spawn civilization. Because of our deep roots in rives, because rivers provided sustenance and facilitated travel, they are one of our strongest connections to and precious elements of place.” (page 1-2)

The above is from the introduction to Mary Hood’s collection of essays centering on rivers of the world. In each essay, Mary explores a particular river, often examining something unique about it. On the Cumberland River, she explores the idea of “co-evolution” between beetles and magnolia trees and how, instead of being a “survival of the fittest,” the two species have grown together and depend on their relationship with the other. (43) In the Amazon, she discusses “green washings” and how tourism has grabbed a hold of the “green” concept as a marketing campaign.  “Ecotourism” is now big business. (138) However, as she later notes, tourism is the largest industry in the world, counting for over 700 million jobs. (227). A part of me questions this figure; it seems to be that if tourism is considered an industry, so is agriculture and it should be larger. Also, in the Amazon, she explores the healing properties of many plants native to the region, but then notes the irony of the high mortality rate among humans in such areas. (103) As she travels these rivers, she’s on the lookout for birds and unique trees and fish. In China, she looks at the nation attempting to meet the needs of its expanding population. 1/12th of the world’s people live along the Yangtze River. (192) Along the Ganges, she wrestles with the contradictions of India (225) and in Egypt, ponders the ancient civilization that grew up along the Nile and gave us the most ancient text in existence. (241)

I enjoyed these essays. About half of the book deals with smaller rivers in America such as the Conhocton where she questions the economics of windmill farms (58-9), the Alligator in Northeast North Carolina where she encounters wolves, owls and swans (81) or the Penobscot in Maine where she set out to learn about moose. (61f) In the second half of the book, she sets her sights on the mighty rivers of the world: the Mississippi, Danube, Yangtze, Ganges and the Nile. Most of the essays are short; many are half-dozen pages or so, allowing the reader to pick up and read an essay and sit it down and thereby savor the book. Hood’s essays combine the eyes of a scientist and artist and the mind of a philosopher and economist. I recommend this book, but wish more rivers had been explored. Missing was the mighty Congo, the Tigris and Euphrates, all mighty rivers in their own right, but also rivers that because of the political situation would have been more dangerous to explore. Also missing was the Mekong, a river that I’ve been reading a lot about lately.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

An Unfair Dream

“That’s not fair,” I shouted in my mind as my alarm when off this morning.

I’d been a party with a number of people that I don’t know.  My neighbor was there.  Caroline is a few years younger than my mother.  She is a very graceful: the wife of a smart-aleck/poetry-quoting attorney and the daughter of a former congressman and later an ambassador.   Wherever she is at, she brightens up the room, as you’d expect for someone with her background.  She delights in my daughter and my daughter adores her.  Anyway, back to the dream.  Caroline suggested a movie and she and another woman and I decided to bug out to see the flick.  She drove and the other woman rode shot-gun.  I was in the back of her husband's old and huge station wagon.  We were in an old city with lots of brick buildings and steep hills, someplace like Asheville, North Carolina, but in the dream, it was our town even though it didn’t look like it.  As we got closer to the theater, Caroline suggested we stop for ice cream as we had 20 minutes before the show was to begin.   The creamery was across the street from the theater and we drove up an alley, behind it.  They were closed for business, but they let us in the back way and we were in the work area where they make the ice cream.  Two employees were packing freshly churned ice cream into 3 gallon tubs.  Caroline, in her enthusiastic way, asked about the various flavors and the guy began to tell about each one and how special it was.  Then, the woman who worked behind the counter fixed me double cone, asking if butter pecan and French vanilla was okay.  She was handing me the cone as the alarm went off.  Never have I been so rudely awakened!

At first, I didn’t have any idea of where this dream came from, but then I remembered that last image of the woman’s hand holding the cone out for me to take.  I’d seen that picture yesterday, in a blog!  As for stopping with Caroline for ice cream, that’s not unusual, but it’s usually something her husband initiates.  A few times each summer, he’ll call over and ask if we want to go out for ice cream.  There are two good creameries in our area, one to our west and another to our east, both about a 25 minute drive away.  One even has their own cows!  They both make wonderful ice cream.  And of course, the news about my insulin dependency means that I can no longer pig out on ice cream.  In addition, we've not gone out as frequently the last two summers as my daughter has developed a dairy allergy.  It seems as if we're all falling apart!

Waking up from this dream, I was angry I didn’t get to enjoy the cone in my sleep.   

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A sign spring is on the way

It seems lots of folks are waiting for spring...  Yesterday, when driving down a back road, I came across a farm that had their maple syrup pails hanging from taps in maple trees along the road.  Spring must be getting closer (the sap runs best for Maple Syrup when it is cold at night and above freeing during the day, or so I'm told).

Friday, March 04, 2011

The New Normal (an update)

It has been two weeks, today, since my troubles starts and thankfully everything seems to be falling into a “new normal.” I check my blood sugar, count up my carbs and, like a junkie, shoot up. My blood sugar levels have dropped from the 300-400 range down to mostly being in the 100s (I’ve occasionally dropped into the double digits and on occasion, they’ve all been in evenings that I had not worked out, go into the high 200s. Three weeks ago, I couldn’t have even told you what the normal range for blood sugar was. I have learned a lot!

Having to be intentional about what you eat means that I have been measuring out serving sizes. It is amazing how much we eat. A cup of rice seems normal to me, but the “serving size” is only 1/3 of a cup. Five prunes make a serving! The list goes on. If you want to control what you eat, measure your food. It’s an eye-opening experience.

I eat a lot of fruit. In the past, I generally ate 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables, but most of them were in the form of fruit. Fruit has a lot of carbs. A cup of pineapple (which use to be a snack for me) has 19 grams of carbs. And banana, another snack food, has nearly 30; and a medium apple has 26. The carbs really add up when you eat fruit. I can take more insulin but when I think back to my trip to Costa Rica last October, when I pigged-out on fruit, I’m not so sure I could have taken that much medicine with me.

It is very humbling and a little scary to think of being “dependant” on something or someone else. But I am. I used to think I would do well surviving in the wilderness. But unless I learn how to manufacture my own insulin, being able to make a fire and construct a shelter and find food won’t do me much good in the long run. There will be no “Swiss Family Robinson” adventures for me. Like a regular junkie, I depend on my supply stream. Even though I have always felt (politically and theologically) that we are all dependent (on each other and on God), the realization of just how dependant I am is haunting. I pray those folks at Lilly down in Indianapolis keep pumping out the insulin.

I am again feeling better. I spent last week in shock. Then, as my blood sugar levels dropped, I started feeling weird. I was weak. I’m not sure how much of this was my body reacting on no longer running on high-octane blood and how much of it was due to some depression. But I felt well enough on Wednesday to play some basketball and today I’ll play pickleball. Unfortunately, the snow is no longer good for skiing. The other problem I’m having is with my eyes. The doctor assures me that they will return to a more normal state after a few weeks (at which time I need to get another eye exam), but right now my left eye is constantly blurry and to read or look at the computer more than 30 minutes or so at a time is difficult.

Personally, I’ve never cared to wear jewelry. I hate rings and necklaces and bracelets. Jewelry is fine on others and I don’t mind picking it out as a gift. But it’s not for me. Not wanting a chunky manly watch weighing down my arm, I even wear the smallest wristwatch I can find. I’m going to have to get over this. I haven’t yet broken down, but soon I will need to purchase a bracelet or necklace that shows I’m diabetic. This will be a necessity when traveling this summer.

For the past two weeks, I have felt alive and blessed. I have woken up in the morning truly thankful of having made it through the night. I am glad to have discovered my diabetes before being somewhere like Cambodia where medical care may be limited. Furthermore, it seems a bit irresponsible to have a Westerner consume what limited medical resources are available. I am still planning on taking a four month sabbatical this summer and am hopeful the doctors can get me regulated by then.

Yesterday morning, when I took the dog out at 6:30, I could hear the birds sing in the dogwood tree behind the house. It is always about this time of the year they begin to sing in the predawn hours, anticipating that spring is not far away. Soon, more birds will join them and the morning will begin with a chorus welcoming the sun.

As a matter of disclosure, the title "The New Normal" is from a book of which I recently read a review.  I have borrowed the term for it seems to describe my condition.