Sunday, April 5, 2009
“Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow”
As spring has returned to our corner I’ve the world, I’ve started taking my “constitutionals” in our pasture; as regular readers know, we live on a “ranchette” that’s just a shade under 10 acres, & for the past several years our pasture has been home to various llamas—an interesting story, that, but for another time. Last week I mentioned these strolls in a comment on Reya Mellicker’s wonderful blog, The Gold Puppy (a daily must-read in my opinion), & Reya mentioned she’d like to see this meadow I was strolling in.
Thinking about this made me think about some other subjects—some relatively trivial, like the fact that walking is one type of exercise I generally like, especially if the walking involves some element of exploring. Others topics it raises are more important & possibly even somber in a way. I generally like blog writing that’s upbeat, & if you stick with me here, I think this topic also is upbeat: at least that’s the way I look at it. &, yes, it is directly connected to my walking in the pasture; & I should say it’s thanks to the wisdom of my dear wife Eberle—who always has great ideas for Robert Frost’s Banjo & has thought for some time I should write about this topic—that I’m sharing this (most willingly) with you folks. Some of what follows involves the dreaded “D” word—“disease”—but this is most definitely not looking for sympathy. It’s just a way of letting folks whose cyber company I very much enjoy know something fairly significant about me.
Just about 8 years ago, I was diagnosed with COPD (chronic pulmonary obstructive disorder)—it had become clear that my breathing wasn’t what it should be, tho I was quite active at the time. I’d quit smoking about 5 years before that (in 1996, when I stopped writing poetry—not coincidental), & for some time I just thought things would improve over time. But one blustery & unseasonably cool Sunday evening in the spring of 01, I was practicing with the town softball team, & while taking my batting hacks, I just couldn’t catch my breath. Now softball is a lot of fun, but unless you’re dashing across the outfield to make a play, it isn’t terrifically aerobic, & batting is one of its least aerobic aspects. This convinced me something was wrong, & I made an appointment with a nurse practitioner, who gave me the news.
I’ve learned a lot since then, thanks to some wonderful folks in the medical profession. It turns out that while my smoking history certainly didn’t help my situation (to say the least), it wasn’t the ultimate cause. I have an odd genetic quirk called Alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, which means I’m short on an enzyme controlling the lung tissue’s natural cleaning process; in essence my lungs wind up damaging themselves—sort of like using too much elbow grease with a Brillo pad. Since more damage is inflicted whenever the lungs need to clean themselves, smoking is highly unadvisable with this condition, & any kind of significant respiratory infection like a flu is also, in a word, bad. Of course, I didn’t know I had this condition until 01, & hadn’t even heard about it before that. The condition was first identified fairly recently—in 1963.
Fortunately, there is a treatment for this, but I'll spare the specific details in consideration for the medically squeamish (it’s actually not bad, but it does involve a weekly IV). The treatment isn’t restorative—once lung tissue is damaged, it’s damaged, period—but it does maintain a baseline level to minimize further damage. One of the more obscure links on the Other Places of Interest section here is AlphaNet. This is a great organization that performs outreach, helps to educate folks with the condition, & facilitates research.
But wait—weren’t we just taking a stroll in the pasture? Well, yes. For obvious reasons, exercise is important when you have any form of COPD or emphysema (to be more specific), because it helps to maintain a certain level of functionality. On the other hand, it can seem like a Catch-22, because there are added impediments to exercise in addition to “the long list of things I’d rather be doing.” But lately, walking in the pasture has really seemed right to me—it’s a lovely setting, & it’s seems filled with a kind of peace, even in its odd mix of rangeland & wetland—although Indian Valley is semi-arid, we live below a ridge that’s filled with springs, so we’re more or less the oasis; & we get much of the run-off from Mesa Hill.
It’s a place I just haven’t inhabited as much in the past few years—so the walks are a way of re-connecting with a landscape that had begun to seem alien; there was a time when I was out there a lot—fencing, building “cages” for young trees so the llamas wouldn’t strip them bare, & doing various ranchette activities involving the llamas & their loafing shed & corral. At a certain point the crucial work was done, & if there was something that needed to be mended, it was an event—not something that was encompassed by the normal flow of life.
But the pasture always seemed magical to me in many ways. Although 10 acres is nothing compared with the territory covered by a real ranch, it’s always seemed like a whole world to me—especially when I moved here from a studio apartment in San Francisco’s Western Addition. The snapshots accompanying this post were taken on Wednesday, & they concentrate on the area around the pond, to the west of our house. I’ve always had a special fondness for this area—it just seems so cool to live on property that has a pond.
It’s also quite fun that our old cat Weenie (she’s about 9-years-old, which is getting up there for a cat that’s half wild) seems to like to accompany me on these strolls. Of course, cats always have their own reality, & she invariably finds something in the pasture to keep her occupied as I’m heading for home.
But the real point of this is, simply: life overall is good. Sure, I’d like to do some things I used to do, but I’m not heartbroken about this—I’m lucky to have any number of pastimes that are feasible under the circumstances, & I really believe that life is something to be enjoyed & embraced for as long as we’re allotted to do so—am I perfect at living up to this? No; but I think I do a pretty fair job overall. Given my current state of affairs, & with a little bit of Irish luck, I should be able to enjoy life for a good long time to come, & there should be a lot more places (both exterior & interior) to explore.
I'll be around later today to respond to any comments. In the meantime, I was reminded of the following beautiful poem by Robert Duncan.
Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow
as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,
that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein
that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.
Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.
She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.
It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun's going down
whose secret we see in a children's game
of ring a round of roses told.
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,
that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.