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 diagnose
d 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 considera
tion 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 no
t 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.

Robert Duncan


  1. A Strong Post John.You Define "it" Rather than "it" defining You.Which is the correct Path to take.
    Happy Trails Sir.

  2. You have a good, and comendable attitude. I am familiar with this disease and its treatments, having been the caretaker for many years of my parents who both confronted advanced stages of COPD and emphysema. I learned, and watched them learn to their great satisfaction, that sometimes the limitations of any illness are nothing compared to the limitations we place on ourselves in an everyday life of regrets. There is a peculiar sense of freedom knowing one can endure the limitations.

    Looking forward to hearing more about the meadow. Especially the llama part.

  3. Thanks to you both Tony & Jacqueline:

    Tony: Yes, that's the way I try to go.

    Jacqueline: Yes, that's true. Hope to have more on meadows & llamas.

    Thanks again.

  4. I'm so glad you take those strolls and share photos with us, John. I once lived on a farm, and I still miss my walks across the fields. Your positive outlook on life and your love of the land are real blessings - both to you and to your readers. I wish you well.

  5. Sorry to hear about your condition, John. But what wonderful place to walk! The word "meadow" just equals loveliness to me.

  6. Hi John,
    Thanks for sharing with us. It is what we do with our challenges that matter, and you obviously have chosen the correct path.... nice photos, too.

  7. Hi John,
    My mother was diagnosed with COPD in the beginning of last year. She smoked for over 70 years and we thought she had this some years ago, but the doctor kept saying we were wrong, but when she almost died they said she had it. We think she had asked them not to tell us. She caught a cold about 4 weeks ago and is still recovering but it is difficult.

    You have such a great attitude about it and it is heartwarming to hear this. I think you are right about it being genetic because I have had pneumonia at least 10 times, almost died a few of those times. Many lung infections, and chronic bronchitis are other things I have suffered with. I have never smoked ciggarettes, but had to put up with second hand smoke. And my mom smoked when she was PG with us. I seem to be the only one who has problems out of the seven of us. But I always have been sick since a child. I can only say that I know a little what it is like to not be able to breath due to asthma attacks. I am not sure if I will get COPD but will not be surprised if it happens some day. After reading this I think that maybe I need to start exercising again.

    I love the poems and maybe can take quite a few lessons from what you write. I will try to improve with my poetry and rhymes, but will probably never even get close to what you do. So I hope you keep posting them when you want to. Thank you so much for sharing.

    God bless.

  8. Hi Willow, Sandra, Linda & Mrsupole:

    Thanks to all for your kind words-- Mrsupole: if you have "weak lungs" it is probably a good idea to exercise in a sensible but consistent way-- easier said than done, believe me, I know. & I like your poems! Thanks.

  9. my husabnd and i have strongly embraced our urban setting, but there is a meadow calling both of us every day, and hopefully, one day, we'll leave it behind and head rural.

    i've never followed a blog like yours before. i love the combination of your setting, your writing, your subject matter. it's always a treat.

  10. thanks for sharing the stroll, your meadow, and your personal story. deep deep hugs....I'm grateful that there is treatment and that you have embraced it!

    what a sweetie weenie is to accompany you on your walks.

    what a healing and restorative place in which you live....

    thanks again.....namaste!

  11. I am moved by your honesty and continued affirmations of all that is good in life. Onward!

  12. John, I'm sorry I missed this first time around. I think you have a good attitude with regard to your condition and life in general. I just hope you don't suffer with real discomfort or pain.
    You'll be in my prayers from now on.

    The meadow looks like a wonderful place!
    Weenie is 9, is she? Ours are 16, 15, 13 and 10. The oldest is a spirited, somewhat snarky cow (at least with the others). We love 'em all!


  13. Sorry to hear this, John. At least you have a pasture to tramp around in -- I have to think that that is good for just about anything that ails you!

    " Sure, I’d like to do some things I used to do,"

    Leonard Cohen has a great line referring to this condition: "I ache in the places where I used to play."

  14. Hi Jen, Kimy, T, Kat & K.

    Jen: Thanks again-- I appreciate your support a lot. There's a time for urban & a time for rural-- & maybe a time for something else, too. I loved my life in San Francisco but can't imagine going back to it now.

    Kimy: Yes, I'm fortunate about the treatment-- I think it's something that was developed in the last 20+ years, & without it I'd be a lot worse off. Thanks for that-- Weenie is a sweetie, tho she's kind of cranky & terrified of all humans except Eberle & me.

    T.: Thanks-- that's deeply appreciated.

    Kat: Thanks for that-- I do appreciate all the positive thoughts of so many folks. Weenie also might be described as a "snarky cow," at least with poor Manxine, our other & younger cat. Those are some old cats you have! There's not a great deal of actual pain associated with this condition; obviously, shortness of breath isn't ideal, but nothing like what I'd call pain. Thanks.

    K.: Thanks-- geez, I know that Cohen song, but I can't place it....

    Thanks to everyone who commented (or any who will comment down the line) on this post. Your support means a lot to me.

  15. Cohen song is "Tower of Song". We saw him live last May and it was the most amazing concert.


  16. Natural Health Remedies are great for health, specially for old guys, who have got many problems at a time. Because they have no side effects.


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