A New Sort Of Walking Adventure

Last week the physical therapist at Virginia Mason asked the date of my surgery, and then said: “Oh just three months? Bones can heal in that time, but then they must “remodel.” Using the image of extra mortar oozing out during construction of a brick wall, she explained that bones make extra material when repairing, and then need to smooth things out and shape the bone to meet particular needs, which requires more time.

At my low point, the surgeon told me that if he had to go through this, he’d need cheerleaders – and the physical therapists have been that. Yes, they force the bend, but they also encourage. A week ago, the therapist here asked me to walk with her – without any of my aides. I crossed a vast and empty space (or so it seemed to me), with no support except her confidence that I was ready for baby steps.

In the last three months I forgot a great deal about regular walking. The therapists encourage me to eschew the safety shuffle, stand up straight, look ahead instead of down, lift my toes, and engage the muscles of my leg. All those instructions, and my atrophied muscles and sense of balance, made me awkward and tenuous. But a couple of days later another therapist had me walk and swing my arms, humming “Tea For Two,” while she walked along with me. Steps to lift spirits.

And, as instructed, I weaned myself from wearing the brace in the house – and now in a giant step – no walker indoors either (small house, lots of walls and countertops)! Outdoors – albeit with brace, walker, and an element of pegleg – I can walk to town and back – steps to a real destination.

Blogs seem to fade away nowadays – and this one has come close – but in these months when the world has narrowed, work – being accountable to writing and image and reader – meant much to me. I often wish I had more energy to think up a project or to have some richer experience to write about. One step at a time, I tell myself.

It’s another three weeks till I can even hope to ditch the walker and brace outdoors – that will truly be a walking adventure. Not the Via Francigena or the Dingle Way – but a meaningful step all the same!

Zimmer Tales

My neighbor tells me the Brits call a walker a Zimmer – that sounds so speedy – skimming along on my Zimmer. Not. But, along with a leg brace when upright, it is my constant companion.

At first I bore all weight on my arms, at three weeks I could toe down for balance when not moving, then (if locked into my brace and holding the walker), I could stand still with weight on both legs. Now, at seven weeks, my brace is unlocked 10°, but my arms support most weight. In three weeks the plan calls for all weight on “lower extremities,” as the pros say, and none on arms – just holding the walker “for guidance.” Progress – but weeks left of Zimmer support.

Everything takes a long time. Never before did I realize how many things we carry all day long. Pockets prove invaluable – now I can often walk to physical therapy (just 162 steps each way), phone in one pocket and garage door opener in the other. To move my computer it goes in a tote bag, along with needed papers or books. To move objects from one side of our small kitchen to the other or from kitchen counter to table, requires sliding dishes or pans along the counter till I can make the reach to the landing spot.

Outdoors the Zimmer gets stripped down for speed, but indoors I tip ridiculously large things into a little basket velcroed on the handle. I can balance a glass of water for drinking or painting, a heavy book, charger, ibuprofen, a bag of popcorn (all at once would be pushing it). I chuck things a lot – tossing balled-up socks toward the laundry basket.

But now we have a spring week here – welcome sunshine and warmth. Birds sing, bulbs stand tall with buds, and rose bushes and trees sprout tiny leaves. The other day I clumped around the little patio trying to clean up winter debris. Grateful to be outside and for healing, but all the while wishing I’d stopped in the past to appreciate wholeness – using hands and legs at the same time – a Zimmer-free life!

Kinds of Courage

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage. So I noticed when Bill Nighy, a character in the movie made from Penelope Fitzgerald’s book, “The Bookshop,” told the heroine, the young widow Florence: “You possess the trait I admire above all in a person – courage.”

Florence has a courage born of her essential goodness, her tolerant nature, her assumption that others are as kind and accepting, as she is. But the residents of the village where she sets up her new bookshop in an old house are not, and she faces petty-minded meanness meant to defeat her. The movie tries for a little redemption lacking in the book, but this is Penelope Fitzgerald, and the story captures a moment, a place, and particular people.

To me, this movie was perfect, but I am in a distinct minority. A friend thought it wasn’t good, another said the reviews were terrible. (I’d be so curious what you thought if anyone watched, it’s streaming on Amazon.) The cast is stellar – in addition to Nighy, Patricia Clarkson is the softest-spoken evildoer ever, nearly whispering her potent threats. And Emily Mortimer as Florence, wounded by the death of her beloved husband, brims with the courage and enthusiasm of a new venture. Courage calls to mind wonderful words – pluck, mettle, spunk, spirit – those are Florence.

So one can have courage in the face of emotional or physical pain or in the case of Raynor Winn and her husband, Moth, as told in her memoir, “The Salt Path” – in the face of both. The Winns are an ordinary couple in their 50s with children in college, living in a house they’ve restored in Wales with rental cottages providing their income. And then, in nearly unimaginable circumstances, through a bad investment and a failed legal case, they find themselves losing the property. Hoping the marshal come to evict them will leave, they huddle in a closet under the stairs, and Raynor’s eyes fall on a book at the top of a box – Paddy Dillon’s guide to the South West Coast Path around Cornwall.

Their next blow comes just days later when Moth receives a terminal diagnosis of corticobasal degeneration. And so, why not, they embark to walk the coastal path (it makes a sort of desperate sense) – a 630-mile trail stretching over headlands rising above the Atlantic, dropping to sandy coves, and repeating – again and again and again. They walk through blistering heat and rain, “shards, thundering against waterproofs,” heavy pounding rain, a drumroll without conclusion,” rain – furious and horizontal,” “sheets of grey falling from cloud to sea, a visible cycle of water.” Campgrounds being out of financial reach, they sleep “rough,” surviving on noodles and rice, and the occasional kindness of strangers.

The book is a meditation on homelessness (they learn to not reveal that fact to people), and fine writing about their experiences and about the natural world – dolphins, sea birds, and seals, cliffs, hedgerows, and weather – in this most beautiful area (Poldark country). I loved this hard-to-put-down memoir of courageous survival and growth.

Recap About A Kneecap

My best laid plans for the January break got upsot – as did I. Foolishly rushing down our driveway, my foot slipped back, and my knee crashed straight down on asphalt, causing my femur to split my patella in two. Repair surgery was a week later on the 17th, and I’m no weight bearing on that leg for at least six weeks. I asked the physical therapist this morning about my knee bending, he said yes, but it will be a six-month project.

So with a walker I clump around on my good leg with my injured leg in a full length leg immobilizing brace, gratefully accepting a lot of help from my good-natured husband (who in the last three weeks has learned much about household matters and care giving), the Trail Boss who came for surgery and aftermath, and Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, who came separately more recently, and friends – all of them bringing good humor, kindness, and competence.

And now it’s February, the little paintings I’d been working on still sit on my table, and the Photoshop for Illustration class I began online in early January paused at Week Two. The assignment that week provided dummy magazine articles, which we were to illustrate after making little drawings and chunks of handwritten text to manipulate and move by the instructions. We had a list of subjects to choose from – kitchen madness, studio madness etc. Now the title of my attempt seems appropriate.

Bainbridge Island Coast-to-Coast

 **(To Alaska readers, please know I send my best wishes – may you have suffered little damage and recover quickly. The quake and afterquakes seem terrifying and exhausting, and I’ve been thinking about all of you, sure you carry on bravely, like the Downtown Abbey crew, enduring what my old neighbor called the “new normal.” xo)**

My young friend’s parents once walked across the north of England on a 10-day trip – from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay. I’ve envied that ever since because islands captivate me – all that water, all that coastline with indents and outjuts of land, and the possibility of a point-to-point walk from one coast to the other!

And Bainbridge, a little wider, but shorter than Manhattan Island, can be crossed on foot via a five-mile linking of trails, heading northwest from the east side. So on a miraculously sunny Sunday in November, Sweet Baby, her dad, our young friend’s dad (who made a previous crossing), Papa Jim, and I set out.

I made a handful of the little watercolors from the trip – added here to tell the tale. The route offers interesting sights along the way: a miniature pony and little goats (with a jar of pellets, so passersby could feed them), a derelict high-up treehouse, tall conifers, trees dropping orange-brown leaves, sunshiny meadow, views, and opportunities for lots of laughing!

November Thoughts

It’s Election Day – but you know that and you will vote or already have – now we just cross our fingers and hope that things will change for the better. Writing about the good, drawing pictures about the colorful can seem trivial in the face of political gloom. But the wordsmith told me that the last post, with all the fall imagery, helped to “ease her mind” – so I’ll take that to heart and just keep going.

I associate November – darkening days, blustery weather, our turning inward – with drawing some series in the early mornings. Thinking I like book suggestions this time of year (as I stockpile my favorite gift-giving solution), I’m torn between wanting to revisit books I’ve read (since last I wrote about books), and wanting to make little watercolors to keep me looking around.

So I begin with the last of the autumn color on my morning walk – always such a lovely walk – a privilege – even on this worried morning!

 

Ireland Part Two – The Epic Bit

The morning brought gray skies, and we tucked rain gear and lunches into our packs – hopeful we wouldn’t need the former and sure we’d find a lovely setting for the latter.

The day’s route wasn’t long – by the end we’d walked just under eight miles – but the first hill was described as “steepy.” Steepy indeed! Straight up for an hour or so along a little used, narrow road, bordered by hedgerows full of crocosmia and tall shrubs of fuchsia. Blackberries slowed Sweet Baby, as she stopped to pick and eat. Beyond the hedgerows, dotted with grazing sheep, lay fields divided by stone fences.

Scattered raindrops and strengthening wind, beginning to shake the fuchsia blossoms, should have been a warning, but focused on the rigors of uphill, we reached the top before realizing the weather had turned.

Exposed, no longer protected by the hedgerows, rain and wind hit us. With a broad open valley ahead, lunch turned into a sandwich gobbled while donning extra layers. Trying to wrap plastic bags around packs, my hands quickly grew stiff with cold. Baby Brother and Sweet Baby loaded up into their packs, and to buffer the wind, their moms tucked blankets behind the dads’ heads.

One step in front of another, heads down, we spread out in smaller groups along the valley road, ruts rapidly turning to puddles. Bedraggled sheep regarded us stoically.

Water ran down our faces, as fat, soaking raindrops borne on a lashing wind drenched us. The Alaskans, Lady B in the Bob, soon pulled ahead, tiny dots disappearing into the distance. The Sweet Bride and I trudged along together. When I fretted about the trail boss bringing up the rear with his dad and Sweet Baby (long out of sight), she assured me, “don’t worry, he can handle it.”

The thin wool hiking skirt I wore above soggy leggings was soaked but still warm to my knees. But a layer of nylon pants added when we stopped, now funneled rain directly into my boots. Pushed by my hood and drenched, my hat kept rolling down and covering my eyes. None of our rain jackets provided any barrier to this deluge.

At first we skirted puddles, then just plowed through, stopping no option. (It must be so beautiful in that valley on a clear day, but now mist muffled the mountains to either side. I’d imagined a walk where I thought about my ancestors tending sheep or farms along this way long ago – instead I thought about their endurance!) Pages from the route booklet, quickly turning to pulp in my pocket, indicated a “forest” a little more than a mile ahead.

At the forest – just a small plantation of conifers – not the sheltering stand of trees we’d hoped for, we caught up with the Lady B and her family, brought to a stop after the Bob’s front tire exploded. Lady B allowed as how she could walk, and her dad could push the Bob on its back wheels.

And so she did. The wind lessened a little as we headed down, but the rain still poured. At a bend in the road, we crossed a river on a little bridge by a farm and headed up a narrow trail (tough going for the Bob), and suddenly we could make out the coastline of Dingle Bay!

But we rounded a bend and found the trail become a watercourse, rushing with strong current steeply downhill. Always intrepid, the Sweet Bride, plunged right through, and Mrs. Hughes as well – while lifting Lady B across. Mr. Carson came back to guide me.

And then we were down! The wind picked up again by the sea, and rain teemed as we crossed a road to see waves crashing on the sandy expanse of Inch Beach – and the welcome shelter of Sammy’s Pub and Restaurant.

Mr. Carson unloaded Baby Brother, stuffed a bar in his pocket, and ran back up the mountain to help the others (arriving just as they reached the washed out trail). The rest of us, thrilled to be out of the storm, commiserated about our new understanding of “soaked to the skin,” ate chocolate chip cookies and carrot cake from Sammy’s large pastry case, drank hot chocolate and pots of tea – and dripped. Mrs. Hughes discovered her waterproof backpack nicely held a puddle of water at the bottom. My cell phone in a small plastic bag stayed dry, but the big garbage bags on the packs proved worthless.

Unexpectedly, Peter Galvin showed up with a pile of dry towels – soon followed by the van for our ride to Dingle. It must be a spectacular drive from Inch to Dingle – wild ocean and layers of mountains in the distance – but invisible this day as the van’s windows fogged from our damp.

The landlady of the guesthouse in Dingle greeted me, disheveled guest, with understandable irritation, “One really shouldn’t be about in this weather,” but her showers were lovely and hot.

At dinner, out of the Dingle rain and warm in a busy pub, revisiting the day (the coldest he’d ever been according to the trail boss who broke mountain rules with a cotton shirt), I learned that Sweet Baby and Baby Brother, cozy in their packs, slept nearly all the way through the tempest. His mom told us Baby Brother sighed and said: “This is nice!” as she placed the protecting blanket. Sweet Baby, when she woke, chatted, made numerous unfillable requests to see her mom or to get down and walk, and cautioned Papa Jim on the steep downhills. Lady B slogged through puddles and mud – resolute.

It was a memorable day!