Category Archives: Pain

Dukkha

Dukkha is the Pali word originally translated as suffering.  Pali is the ancient Indian language, along with Sanskrit, used to write down the discourses of the Buddha.  Usage of Pali tended to move south to Sri Lanka and South Asia, while Sanskrit was incorporated in the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism.

The Buddhist group I attend is  part of the Theravada tradition, most of those bringing it to the west studied in Sri Lanka or Thailand.  There are differences, but to me the differences can be compared to Lutherans and Baptists.  The essential message is the same.

Dukkha is central to Buddhism.  It can’t be precisely translated.  Discontent, craving, anxiety, dissatisfaction, suffering, and hopelessness are typical translations.  I’m sure you get the idea, we all experience dukkha.  The goal of Buddhism is the end of dukkha.  Without dukkha, a person is totally in the moment, seeing life as it is, not how our egos want it to be.   All our lives, we are attempting to shape our world into what we have decided it should be.  Ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Therefore we live lives of striving or despair because things aren’t what we think they should be.  Well, things are what they are.  That’s all.  I want comfort, security, love, time for adventure, and no Japanese Beetles.  I have love, but the other things seem to be lacking somewhere.  Perhaps the best illustration is the difference between pain and suffering.  My knee hurts, my fingers are getting stiff, and I itch.  I’m human, that stuff is inevitable.  I don’t want it to be true.  I get upset when I itch, and the damn Japanese Beetles won’t go away.  I feel discontent.

Insight Meditation is the practice of sitting and following the breath.  Just the breath.  Not thinking about ice cream, the breath.  When thoughts about ice cream or anything else arise, simply return to the breath.  Later, when thoughts arise, observe them without engaging them and watch them pass away.  That itch in the left ear canal, observe it and note it goes away.  Or not.

The key is not getting involved with the itch.  It is an itch over which I have no control.  I want to stick a Q-tip in there, but it won’t help.  The itch does what it will.  Let it be.  Chill, dude.  Am I good at this?  Not so much.  That’s why it is called a practice.  I have noticed some progress, but it is slow.  I don’t get as irritated in traffic.  I am a bit better at putting up with Carol’s Hallmark Channel movies (not really), and I am a complete failure at accepting the beetles.

I have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  There is an ongoing, futile attempt to control one’s environment, so strong it becomes ritualized.  For me, the coffee maker has to be in it’s exact place WITHOUT ANYTHING IN FRONT OF IT.  When a cup is sitting there, my neck and shoulder muscles tense, and I utter a quiet oath.  So what’s the big deal anyway?  Nada.  That’s dukkha.  My day will go just fine if the cup stays there.  Surprisingly, it will probably get moved, and there was no need to get all uptight.

Breathe in, breathe out, watch the reaction, watch it pass away.  The world is as it is.

Insects

Japanese Beetle

Insects are part of life.  I mostly ignore them unless they are deer flies or horseflies.  I get swollen welts the size of a cupcake when they sneak up and get me.  Denver is pretty dry, so mosquitos aren’t much of a problem.  Bees and wasps won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.  Flies in the house are a nuisance but they are easy to control.   

Insects in the garden can be a problem, but they can be controlled as well.  There is one huge exception, however.  Japanese beetles are evil, vile, nasty creatures masterminded by Darth Vader, the Empire, and the Borg.  They eat, kill, and destroy.   

Four years ago Denver had no Japanese beetles.  Then, someone in one of the upscale neighborhoods brought in some plantings with beetle larvae in the soil.  They are rapidly spreading northward.  Two years we had a few, last year they were a plague.   

Damage

What do they do?  The beetles themselves eat leaves.  They love rose blossoms, but leave those leaves alone.  They like linden tree leaves, grape leaves, raspberry leaves, and peach tree leaves.  A rosebud opens in the morning and by noon the flower is gone.  They work on grape leaves to the extent that any new growth stops.  That is no good when you are trying to grow a grape arbor.  Lots of linden leaves get honeycombed, but the tree seems to be able to cope.  Our peach tree and the raspberries get attacked, but so far, not a lot of damage.   

In Palisade, over on the Western Slope, peaches and vineyards are the mainstay of the economy.  Unchecked, the beetles would have wiped them out, so they took the nuclear option.  They sprayed.  Spraying stopped the beetles, but it killed the beneficial insects as well.   

Japanese Beetle Grubs in a Lawn

The other part of the Japanese beetle life cycle is when the beetles fly down and lay their eggs in the lawn.  The eggs hatch, and the grubs start eating the grass roots.   Lots of eggs, lots of grubs.  They can be so dense as to form a living mat of grubs.  The lawn develops spreading dead spots.  Uncontrolled, no lawn. 

What to do?  In the morning go out and flick the beetles into soapy water.  Nematodes and milky  spore help with the grubs.  There is a grub poison called GrubEx, but it isn’t selective in what it poisons.   

Trap

A popular control is traps.  The kind where the beetles fly into the jug, attracted by some bait.  They drown, and give off a scent that attracts more beetles.  Soon, it is a beetle feeding frenzy with beetles coming from the entire neighborhood.  They look around for another snack and eat all your plants.  You can’t have the trap near your vulnerable plants, not easy on a small urban lot.  I think I will do it anyway, just to watch the evil creatures die. 

I don’t think we will have a grape arbor.  The linden, peach tree, and the raspberries will cope.  We will cut off all the rose buds in June and July.  We may have to eliminate what lawn we have left after years of reducing its size.  

My task is to give up on my beetle obsession.

 Japanese Beetle

Getting Older

Really Old

I am 74.  I retired in 2011 at age 68 when I started noticing I wasn’t as sharp in responding to problems.  I also noticed my co-workers giving me the easier jobs when on a project,I was used to wading right in, sometimes literally.  It was a water plant, after all.

Now, other things have manifested. If it doesn’t hurt, it itches. I have arthritis and allergies.  My balance problems keep me off the third step of the ladder.  I was falling off.  I fell on the stairs, broke two ribs.  I gave up motorcycling, given my desire to stay alive (Just go to motorcycle crashes on YouTube.).

People are dying.  Yes, they have  doing it all my life, but now it’s old friends, classmates, a guy I was Best Man for.  Not people I viewed as Old People, but my contemporaries.  Does that mean I am an Old Person?  Yep.  Old people see their friends dying.  You can also tell if you are old by falling down in a public place.  People laugh if you are young.  You are old if they rush over to help.

Then there is CRS.  I have always had a poor memory, but this is getting ridiculous.  When I hear someone’s name on meeting them I tell them I will forget it.  I head downstairs to get something, do two or three things I see need doing, and go up without I went after.  Also, people my age tend to be terrified when they start forgetting.  Is it Alzheimer’s?  Am I going to be a drooling vegetable?  I try to stick to my rule about not worrying about things I have no control over, but it doesn’t always work.

A good thing: after my ADD diagnosis at age 59 with the therapy and medication I have more focus.  I can even manage to focus on stuff I don’t like to do.  I used to put off paying bills until my anxiety level forces me to sit down.  Now, I can plan the time and actually follow the plan some of the time.  I can write.  I don’t have to go to work.  I just spend my four pensions and watch our investments slowly diminish.

Writing is a good thing for an old dude to do.  I can do it most any time, usually mornings.  I go to a coffee shop where I am something of a regular and do some extroverting along with the writing.  I always wanted to write, but could not maintain the focus to write for myself.  With a deadline, the anxiety level activated my prefrontal cortex enough to allow me to get the words down.  In college I wrote papers for Forestry majors and the like for $10.00 per page (long time ago).

Now I write for myself.  I almost always write nonfiction, like most of my reading.  As you can see from this website, I have a wide range of interests.  That’s  probably a function of an ADD shifting his attention all the time.  I need to know.  They say ADD’s occupy an evolutionary niche because their shifting attention enabled them to spot those brutes from the neighboring tribe or the saber-toothed tiger.  Sentinels.  Of course, we are also smart and charming.  Someone has to keep the place stirred up.

I have written a little fiction, some very short stories and a longer short story when taking a class at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop here in Denver.   Good people there, students and faculty.  Naturally, some English majors, more interesting than engineers, although impoverished.

For me fiction is hard work. You have to create the world of the story and invent the characters.  Good fiction also uses lots of metaphor.  I am not very good in that area, mostly because it takes lots of practice.  I usually write about shifting tectonic plates; not so much need for metaphor there.

I have taken to reading novels aloud to Carol just before bedtime.  She likes mysteries written by women, she calls them novels of manners.  Much of their focus is on character development and scene setting, so they are a good light reading genre.  The reading is fostering an interest in fiction again.  Can I produce a story about geologists?  Maybe a story about 19th Century naturalists and biblical literalists.  Have I mentioned I like history?

I will have to work on producing pieces longer than 550 words, however. I can do the short essays in one coffee shop session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hurt, The Itch, and The Joke

It’s raining today, which means it is time for miscellany.  I always have a few short ideas rattling around in my head, and these days writing about them is the best way to get them out of there.  First, the itch. 

For years now, if it doesn’t hurt, it itches.  I have arthritis in several places and it bothers me from time to time.  Currently it is my left knee and my left wrist.  The knee hurts and is weak for the first few steps when I get out of the chair.  I get shots in the knee from time to time, usually good for six months or so.  I am left handed and the wrist is intermittently a real pain, usually when gardening.  I notice that my left hand is weaker than the other one (I won’t say right.)  as I am the official opener and fixer around the house, this is not good.   

Itch

Itch

The itch is the biggie.  I itch every morning until the Allegra kicks in, and every evening until the Benadryl kicks in.  I don’t know what the allergen is, and it is year around.  The worst spots are on my back over my kidneys.  Right now, the inside of my forearm and calf are itching.  The itch doesn’t drive me nuts, I was already there.   

I tried the allergy specialist with no luck.  The only things that help are the antihistamines.  There is a possibility the allergen is one of the medications I take.  Next time I see my doctor I will talk to her about doing an allergy elimination protocol.  I won’t do it myself, I take that stuff for a reason.  I don’t want to have a stroke while tracking the source of the itch. 

I didn’t itch when I was younger.  I even felt a bit smug when others complained about their allergies.  Maybe the whole thing is karma.   

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Now, the joke, my favorite of all time.  I see a person wearing a college t-shirt or sweatshirt and ask them if they know why graduates of the school’s big rival keep a copy of their diploma on the dash of their car.  They do it so they can park in the handicapped spot.  Here in Denver it is usually Colorado-Nebraska or Denver University-Colorado College.  Nebraska, of course, is the most appropriate.  That N on their football player’s helmets stands for nowledge.  Most Coloradoans know that joke, but it is fun to see the reaction when in Nebraska. 

I have used it for schools all over the country.  Michigan-Ohio State, Purdue-Indiana, Notre Dame-Penn State, Duke-North Carolina, Auburn-Alabama, USC-UCLA, and especially Texas-Texas A&M, as Aggies are right in there with Nebraska.  I have told this to dozens of people, and only one didn’t like the joke.

Knees and Such

Arthritis

Arthritis

Old age happens if things go as planned.  Inside, I feel like the Bill I always have, but the case is starting to wear out.  I get together with my buddy Dan, and we always devote some time to catching up with our health care issues.  I went to the Orthopod this week, got a cortisone shot in my left knee (the other knee is Titanium).  Didn’t do much good.   

Every time Dan plays pickleball (I know, just look it up.), he limps.  He has a bad ticker, I have a bad brain.  I spend time at the VA audiology clinic dealing with hearing aids.  I saw the ENT specialist there about my balance problem that may be from damage to the vestibular nerve that was damaged from the loud noises responsible for my hearing loss.   

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

Vestibulocochlear Nerve Anatomy

I itch.  For most of my life I was allergy free.  No more.  There is always something setting my eczema off along with the stuffy nose.  I have almost no sense of smell left.  Springtime is wonderful except for the pollen.  Fall is wonderful except for the pollen.   

I ache.  The knee, my wrist, both shoulders, and my back.  I think all this is a sign of old age.  Most of the time all these symptoms don’t interfere with my life.  I just soldier along not letting all the stuff get to me.  After all, it is just pain and will change tomorrow.  I can usually let it all go.  Yesterday, however, my knee hurt when it was straight.  It also hurt when it was bent.  Today it just barely hurts. 

The trick for me is to not let the pain go to suffering.  After all, we can’t do much about the pain, but suffering about it is a choice.  All this stuff is a reminder about death.  It’s clear by no that I am in the last third of my life, sitting in a coffee shop full of people in the first third of their lives. 

The good thing about getting older is that I know a lot of stuff.  I like thinking and writing about all that stuff.  For example, I am about to make you yawn as you read about the Golden Fault.  There is something for you to look forward to.  In the meantime, health issues. 

Carol has a chronic illness that limits her life, but the last year has been a bad one.  Late last spring she had cataract surgery that went bad.  The little sac the lens lives in tore, so the new lens had to go between her iris and cornea.  She got a little hole poked in her iris to let fluid move around.  The hole is too big, letting in too much light where it doesn’t belong, leading to lots of vision problems.   

Cataract Surgery

Cataract Surgery

She also had five stitches in her cornea, which meant pain for weeks.  Now, with a new Ophthalmologist, she is wearing a tinted contact lens to confirm the hole in her iris is too large.  The lens works, but she is not a contact lens candidate.  More discomfort.  The next step is a minor surgical! procedure to make the hole smaller. 

In the middle of all this, with all the multiple visits to eye doctors, she had hemorrhoid surgery.  It was her last resort and believe me, it should be a last resort.  Pain, lots of it, and a major restriction on activity.  What a year. 

But, through it all, life is good.  We have fun, cooking, snuggling, reading aloud, gardening, fixing the garage where I drove into it (I am always  on her case about her driving.).  And, we are watching NCIS from the first season on.  There is something about murder mysteries that pulls us, and the character development is as good as it was in Seinfeld.  We still call Mark Harmon Dickie, from a role he had as a detective years ago.  The name seems to fit him. 

Aging, health issues, losing old friends, all this comes when you are in your seventies, but life goes,on, and we are wise and skilled at enjoying life.  In addition, we just found out that Carol’s sister, diagnosed with stage four cancer, is now cancer free after an ordeal with treatment.  She had multiple tumors, and they are gone.

My Meditation Practice

The Buddha

The Buddha

As I mentioned in the last post, for years I was unable to meditate.  I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and as soon as my eyes closed my brain would go into high gear.  The idea of meditation is to let those thoughts go so you can be aware in the moment.  For ADD’s, the moment is often chaos, with thoughts leaping from subject to another, or hyper focus, with the thoughts totally engaged on one topic or task. 

After a diagnosis and treatment, I can meditate.  Now meditation is not spending all one’s time in the moment.  At first and often those thoughts arise and with my addictions, they can be compelling.  So, sit, watch my breath, the thoughts arise, I let them go, and they arise again.  It can be excruciating, dealing with all that meaningless thought.  I find a prayer helps me instead of just focusing on the breath.   

Paradoxically, my prayer is Christian.  At its core, Buddhism is essentially atheistic and in my view a psychology, not a religion,  being 2500 years old from a culture soaked in religion, it adopted all the trappings.  I grew up nominally Christian and became a toung-talking holy roller Christian in my forties.  I don’t do that so much any more, but Jesus is in my life to stay. 

I use the Jesus Prayer, an ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer dating back to the desert fathers.  “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The most famous book about the prayer, “The Way of a Pilgrim“, suggests starting with 3000 repetitions per day.  I recite the prayer a lot, but never 3000 times.  I sit, start praying, and time the words with my breath.   When those thoughts rise, as they always will, I return to the prayer.  Those times of being in the moment come, and I drop into watching my breath.  Thoughts arise and I gently return to the prayer. 

I find the moments of stillness are slowly growing.  I also find the poisonous thoughts are diminishing.  When poisonous thoughts about pretty girls arise, I pray for them.  “May she be happy, may she be free, may she be safe”.  Then back to the Jesus Prayer until more thoughts arise. 

The thoughts aren’t just about pretty girls, I find myself planning, plotting, reviewing past mistakes, feeling guilt or shame; being angry, sad, sick, hurting, happy, horny, old, tired, loving, lonely, excited, the entire range of feeling and thought.  All that stuff comes from my past or is about the future.  Thus, they are all meaningless.  The past is gone, and the future is unknown.   

All there really is is the moment.  My brain tends to disagree.  I experience all those thoughts and feelings as real because they are wired neural connections.  The task of meditation is to rewrite those connections so I can spend more time in the moment. 

Now, lots of those connections are important.  I need food, shelter, my long baths, some rags on my back, all the stuff of daily living.  I don’t need Donald Trump or the Kardashians.  I mention those because I was in the  doctor’s office yesterday reading those stupid magazines.  Why didn’t I have my book or just pray? 

I find myself wanting to meditate more.  The toxic thinking is diminishing, although lots of people continue to be prayed for.  I have purged the computers, my library, don’t watch the wrong television or movies, and am able to spend more time in the moment (still not much time, alas). 

Next is some retreats.  Retreats last from one day up.  I have done them in a Christian context and found them useful.  I am looking at attending a four day retreat in the mountains.  There are lots of retreats available, mostly led by Dharma teachers who are therapists or in other helping professions.  Retreats allow intensive meditation with little interruption from the outside world.  I need that.

 

Insight Meditation

Meditation

Meditation

I recently wrote about my struggle with addictions.  Yes, multiple addictions.  It is just now coming out that the root cause of addiction is abuse at some time in the addict’s life.  It is true for me.  I turned to addictive behavior to get a feel good in a life that incorporated pain or suffering stemming from the abuse.  

The mental pain or suffering arises, and I seek to eliminate or blunt the pain with the feel good.  It can be alcohol, food, exercise, sex, tobacco, work, drugs, shopping, gambling, music, or other obsessive behaviors.  I tried most of them, and they worked-briefly.  The pain returns.  Another round starts, but it takes a bit more to drive the pain away as the guilt and shame grow.  The wheel turns. 

The result? I have had a lifetime of suffering with futile attempts to escape.  The addictions have not been all-consuming.  I have a good marriage, a comfortable retirement, many interests to keep me occupied and engaged, and a family I am close with.  I have had years of therapy that helped in some areas, but the addictions remained.  The addictions have consumed a tremendous amount of time and energy.  All this stems from events in my childhood continuing to haunt me. 

Well, that was then, and it is now.  So, why addictive behavior when the abuse happened so long ago?  We store the feelings from abuse in our minds.  Those feelings and sensations stay with us and arise later as suffering.  They exist as neural connections in our brains.  Those connections and stored memories and feelings are not permanent or hard wired.  The brain is plastic and those old demons can be dealt with, the connections altered or eliminated.  

There are a number of techniques, including 12 step programs, cognitive therapy, psychoanalysis, immersion in a religious organization, and other therapies.  Some work, some don’t or are just mental band-aids.

Recent neuroscience research indicates that insight meditation is an effective means of altering or eliminating those old neural pathways.  In many cases, ten or fifteen minutes per day seem to be effective.  In deeply entrenched addictions, fifteen minutes is not enough.  I try to do a forty minute meditation along with the morning fifteen minute session every day.  I also attend two formal insight meditation meetings per week. 

Insight meditation is fairly simple.  Find a comfortable position where you are not likely to fall asleep.  Observe your breath.  It may be your nostrils or your abdomen or chest rising and falling. Just focus on the breath.  Thoughts will arise.  Just note and name them.  Hungry, hungry.  You will find the thought changes or fades, leaving you a moment without thoughts arising.  When they do, note them name them, and observe them changing.     

You will find yourself drifting away, planning, worrying, most anything.  When you notice this, gently return to the breath.  I find it useful to say a short prayer several times until I am able to return to the breath.  At times, it seems like all I am doing is praying, with no stillness.  Other times I can return to the breath right away. 

The process is frustrating at first, because it seems like there is almost no time just watching the breath.  No big. Deal, just keep it up.  You will find those thoughts arising with less frequency and intensity.  You are reprogramming your brain. 

Insight meditation is used in schools, some workplaces, in prisons, and in psychotherapy.  It sometime seems it is the next big thing.  Well, no.  It is a Buddhist practice in use for twenty five hundred years.  It is not really a religious practice.  It is a practice used to get rid of all the mental clutter so one can lead a life free of the suffering all that clutter causes. 

Next time I will illustrate the process with my own experience.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Addiction

addictI have an addictive personality.  My first addiction was to chocolate.  In grade school, Teddy and I found a box of Hershey chocolate bars lying in the street.  Not realizing this was a true case of finders keepers, we hid in some bushes and ate the whole thing.  No, I didn’t get sick. 

I remember sitting in a twelve step meeting when one of the guys said he had to have his “feel good”.  He nailed it for me as well.  I am not sure I have more unrest and pain than others, but I have always sought the “feel good”.  

For the most part I can overcome the addictions.  I quit a three pack a day cigarette habit after five years.  I have quit drinking several times and started again, convincing myself I can control it.  Later I realize I have gradually ramped up into excessive drinking and quit.  I have probably done this seven or eight times, starting in high school.  This time I have been sober for a year.  I’m pretty sure I am done with booze forever.   

I have smoked a haystack of pot.  At one point In the late 1970’s I was buying a quarter pound at a time.  I would go to work, go out on my rounds and light up.  Parties were lots of booze and weed for a lot of years.  One day at work I realized I couldn’t remember things I had done the day before.  I have had about two tokes since.   

Food is another matter.  I am something of a binge eater.  My main weakness is ice cream, chocolate, of course.  My pattern is much the same as with alcohol.  I will eat too much, scare myself, lose some weight, than ramp up again.  I weigh about 215 pounds now.  At one point I was up to 260.  The problem is that I can’t give up eating altogether.  So, I struggle.  And then there is caffeine.  AA meetings always have coffee. 

I think you can see the pattern.  I probably won’t kill myself with my addictions, but they have consumed vast amounts of time and energy I could have used productively.  The addictions are accompanied by a lot of obsessing and compulsive behavior.  I have repetitive thoughts and rituals around the behaviors, from rolling the joint, lighting a cigarette at every change, such as standing up, or sneaking ice cream out of the downstairs freezer.   

I am currently engaged in the spiritual practice of letting go.  This means letting go of everything keeping me from staying in touch with my true self.  This is not an easy process, and I am sure I will be engaged in it for the rest of my life.  “Trapped on the wheel of desire.”  The problem with desire is that it cannot be satisfied.  The new BMW, the Bud Lite, the new clothing style, cool Adidas sneakers, whatever.  The proper number of bicycles to own?  N+1; N being the number of bicycles you currently have.  

Addictions are just the most pathological of this phenomenon.  Our consumer society is driven by desire.  Chasing money, chasing stuff, chasing the latest hit, it all pulls us away from our true selves.  I want to get in touch with my true self, which means letting go.

Caregiving the Hard Way

mental healthCarol and I attend a support group meeting for caregivers of mentally ill loved ones.  It meets at the Mental Health Center of Denver and is sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).Carol attends regularly, but I stopped for a while because the stories are just too heart rending.  One person has been a caregiver for various family members since she was seven.  She did take a break for a while, serving as an Army nurse in Vietnam.   

Many attendees have more than one family member they are caring for.  The hard part for them is there is probably no end.  Most mentally ill people stay that way.  There is no stability.  Sometimes the loved one is doing OK for a long time, working or going to school, and then, bang, a psychotic break and repeated hospitalizations.  There is often financial instability, the loved one experiencing extended periods of unemployment, and being repeatedly denied disability benefits. 

In addition, the mental health system is broken.  Years ago, if a person was severely mentally ill, there was an extensive mental hospital system.  No longer.  The development of psychiatric medications and attempts to treat the mentally ill in the community ended the hospital system.  Today there is a host of agencies, some nonprofit, some for profit, and some governmental.  At least veterans have the VA, which does a fairly good job despite the overload.  There is never enough money, and too many people in need. 

Here in Denver, there are the Mental Health Corporation of Denver, Denver Health, several private agencies, the police, Social Services, halfway houses, Vocational Rehabilitation, detox, and others.  Navigating the system is time consuming, frustrating, confusing, and often a failure.  People have spent many thousands of dollars at private mental health facilities with no discernible effect.  All it has done is get the person out of the house for a while. 

A big one is the uncertainty.  If the loved one is doing well, it’s waiting for the next episode.  The person may just disappear for a while, only making contact when at rock bottom.  Some caregivers are relieved when their person is incarcerated.  At least they are relatively safe.  Safety, how can one insure that with a suicidal person?  There is a crisis system, offering telephone support, referrals, and sending a trained person with the police to the loved one’s home.    Sometimes it works.

There are tragedies.  One person was the high school valedictorian, then Cum Laude in college, then experienced a schizophrenic breakdown, and is gone with a shotgun barrel in her mouth.  I haven’t even touched on the alcohol and drug abuse problems, which are also mental health issues. 

Why do the caregivers do it?  They sacrifice huge chunks of their own lives, living with anxiety and uncertainty, for no financial reward.  They are caregiving for a loved one.  Love carries them through almost unimaginable adversity, and most caregivers still display love not only for their loved one, but also maintain a positive outlook on life.  There are those caregivers who flee, just not able to meet the challenge of a seemingly unending task.   

It is said that love knows no bounds.  For the caregivers in the support group, that is true.  We don’t see those who just lack enough love to stay involved for so long.  There are lots of heroes out there, you just don’t see them, for they are too busy to be visible.  I am able to hang in there for the loved one, but I can’t attend the support group every time; I just can’t deal with all the pain.

 

 

Rattlesnake Canyon

Dramatic

Dramatic

Rattlesnake Canyon is near Fruita, Colorado, where I grew up.  My friends and I  ran all over the hills north and west of the Colorado National Monument, but I had never been to

Rattlesnake Canyon.  It is a bit too far for kids on foot.  We got into the canyons just east of the canyon, now part of the Black Ridge Wilderness, but I did not know about the arches in Rattlesnake Canyon.

Close to town, the canyon is a bit tough to get to.  The Pollock Canyon trailhead near the river means an overnight backpack to do justice to the country.  The other route follows Black Ridge west from the Glade Park Store, and is for 4×4 vehicles or Subarus you are willing to bash around.  From the trailhead it is about four miles on the trail if you take the shortcut.

I have rambled around the Colorado Plateau off and on all my life.  From the Grand Canyon to Dinosaur and from the Grand Hogback to the Wasatch, the plateau offers some

Rattlesnake Canyon

Rattlesnake Canyon

of the most magnificent country anywhere.  Rattlesnake Canyon is up there with the best.  Arches has more arches, and there are bigger canyons (not that many), but Rattlesnake has it all.  The real bonuses are that it is close and not cluttered up with people.  With the exception of Grand Canyon, most anywhere else offered some solitude at one ime.  No longer.  Thirty miles from Grand Junction, with a competent high clearance vehicle you can be in wilderness in view of Fruita.

Ah, the sense of space.  I live in the city and it is impossible to have a sense of space, even with Mt. Evans looking down at you.  From those canyon rims the expanse opens my mind.  Grand Mesa, the Bookcliffs, and the Roan Cliffs rim the Grand Valley, quite a scene by itself.

The canyon walls are Wingate sandstone capped by harder Kayenta sandstone.  That cap rock forms a bench with the Entrada sandstone (slickrock) set back from the rim.  Rim Rock Drive in the Monument is mostly on that bench, and the trail to Rattlesnake drops down on the bench and curves around the canyon rim to the arches.  The arches are in the slickrock, ancient sand dunes turned to stone.  It is easy to see the rounded dunes in the rock.  Erosion works its way into the cliffs following the curve of the dunes, forming alcoves.  As the alcoves erode farther, sometimes the back of the alcove drops out, leaving an arch.  I saw six of them. Arches in Colorado, the second largest concentration in the country, maybe the world.

About that trail.  I got away from Denver at 6:00 AM, not my best time of day.  I filled my water bottle and left it on the kitchen counter.  I didn’t realize it until I was at the trailhead at about 1:30 PM.  I am also out of shape, my exercise restricted by a couple of broken ribs for five weeks.  Have I mentioned that I am 72 years old and impulsive?  I looked at the sign, 3 1/2 miles.  It was only 90 degrees or so, a piece of cake.

First Arch. Where I climbed up the rock through the arch.

First Arch. Where I climbed up the rock through the arch.

I covered about half of the trail when I realized I was getting a bit dry.  “Keep going, I can drink later”.  The arches were a progression along the bench and close to the trail.  With that row of arches on one side and that magnificent canyon with 400 foot sheer walls branching into side canyons on the other side, I was literally staggered by the beauty.   Well maybe the stagger was because I was tired and thirsty.  I caught up to a party of six people at the last arch, known as First Arch.  At First Arch was the sign saying End of Trail.  I didn’t know that, and by that time I was stopping to rest fairly often, so while resting I watched the party climb up the slickrock through the arch.  I knew the trailhead was only about 1/2 mile from the arch.  So, it was climb up the rock through that impressive arch or backtrack 3 1/2 miles.  I climbed.

I have done a lot of sandstone climbing, and used to be pretty good at it.  That was when I wasn’t 72, tired, getting sore, and thirsty.  I climbed anyway.  I would do about 20 feet, catch my breath, figure out my next moves, and climb again.  The proper way to climb that stuff is on your feet even if it is steep.  Feet have more traction than denim, and the work is easier than trying to slither up.  I slithered.  I was too weak to trust myself trying to walk up those steep slopes.

The rock has curves, little depressions, some tiny ridges, notches, and hollows to give one a way up.  I tried to pick the easiest route, but it was still pretty steep.  My knees paid the price, getting some good scrapes.  Up on the rim, that last half mile was tough.  It was uphill, but not too bad.  I stopped twice and flopped down in the shade for a few minutes while walking slowly back to the truck.

There was about 1/4 of a cup of coffee in the truck that sure tasted good.  I was lightheaded and pretty wobbly during the drive out.  I stopped at the Visitor Center in the Park and drank water for a while.  I got a motel room in Fruita about 6:00 PM, didn’t eat dinner, and drank water until lights out about 9:30.

Sunday morning I had breakfast, drank water, and took the scenic route back to Denver.  I drank water and went up Plateau Creek to Collbran, went over Grand Mesa to Paonia where I had lunch and drank water, then over McClure Pass to Glenwood and home on I-70.  I was fully rehydrated by Monday.

I didn't see a rattlesnake in Rattlesnake Canyon

I didn’t see a rattlesnake in Rattlesnake Canyon

After a few minor incidents in the backcountry over the years, I have developed several rules to follow when Out There.  Take water.  Take enough water for the other persons you come across who didn’t bring enough water.  Be in shape.  Research where you are going so you know what to expect.  Have a map. Carry the ten essentials in case you get into trouble.  Tell people where you are going.  You really should not go alone.  I broke every rule.

What the fuck is wrong with me?  I know.  I am an impulsive ADD.  When I got to the trailhead and saw I had no water I should have driven out.  But, I wouldn’t have this story to tell.  What I did do right was pace myself, not panic, and take my time getting out.  It is just that my brain didn’t kick in until three hours too late.

 

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