Saturday, July 29, 2017

My favorite book about running

I own a little book by John Jerome called The Elements of Effort.  Not only is it my favorite book about running, it has a whole lot to say about life in general. Sub-titled “reflections on the art and science of running,” Jerome has organized it by the seasons as he reflects on his favorite sport.

Of it he says in the introduction: “Running is the most elemental sport there is. We are genetically programmed to do it. One might even say that we are the free-ranging, curious, restless creatures that we are because of running. Surely our instinct for freedom is a legacy of this essential mobility.

“I think freedom itself is the source of running’s great appeal. Slip on a pair of shoes, slip out the door, and you’re there: free…..Try though the gimmick-sellers have to complicate the sport, nothing has compromised running’s essential simplicity.”

Jerome dedicates his book to the memory of Jim Fixx, the author of the Complete Book of Running, who he credits with getting so many runners started.

I’d like to share with you a few of Jerome’s words of wisdom:

“Running—or any other effortful gross-motor activity, extended over time—is a powerful tool for keeping ourselves in the present tense, and the present tense is always a vacation.”

I’ve noticed that when a run gets tough I say to myself: “Just be in the present moment and place, right here and now. Don’t look ahead. Don’t anticipate being finished. Just keep running.

“I’m happy using running for purposes other than longevity. I use it to set my body whirling, and thereby still my head.”

Seems to me, longevity is not the issue, maintaining a life that is satisfying useful is the whole point. And who is not interested in stilling their incessant thinking machine and setting their body whirling—slow as it might be?

“In masters athletics what most people master first is the art of ignoring the obvious: how old they are. (We’re not going to let that stop us.) We become masters at carrying on, at persevering, at getting in our mileage and getting through our races, come hell or high water.  To do so, we’ve had to build up a fairly heavy coating on our pain sensors. It’s not easy to catch your body’s subtle signals when you are essentially a callus from head to foot.”

Amen to this one. After a few weeks of walking instead of running because my body was complaining, this morning I told it to shut up. I was going to run—at least down to that blue car. And when I got there, I kept going until I had circled the cemetery a mile from my house and run back home. Yep. It hurt. Yep. It felt wonderful!

“Aging is a disease of hypokinesis, literally not enough movement.”

I believe it.  It doesn’t matter much what you do, as long as you get up and do it. And with consistency. The older we get, the harder it is to get back to working out if you lay off for more than a couple of days.

“Breathing is life’s single most sustainable activity. And it is breath itself that is so enhanced by running.”

Breathe deep. Stay in the moment. Walk or run or bike or swim every day that you can manage it.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The bestist little beetles

Dung beetles are my favorite insects. Perhaps it is because I have always had issues with getting rid of unwanted items from garbage to broken, useless, outdated and unwanted stuff of all sorts. I’m a big fan of recycling and that’s what dung beetles are the very best at. Not only that, these little garbage guys are industrious and appealing.

They are specialists, it is true. They only get rid of dung—all sorts of it including cat, cow sheep, horse and elephant dung, but they are so good at it! And they turn smelly unwanted refuse into homes and food for themselves and their offspring. And, they turn manure into soil nutrients that have no odor and that does not attract flies. They were imported to Australia specifically to alleviate an overwhelming problem with cow dung.

They have been around forever. Fossilized balls of dung created by beetles have been found from 40 million years ago. Small and nocturnal, they are among the insect world’s busiest workers and the only insects that care for their offspring by creating nests of dung to nurture and feed them. Some dung beetles mate for life and work together to raise their young grubs.

Dung beetles are incredibly strong. They can move a dung ball they have created that is 50 times their own weight. A six-pound pile of elephant dung attracted 16,000 beetles within 15 minutes after it was dropped and within a two-hour period, the pile had disappeared.

There are about 8,000 species and three different kinds of dung beetles. Rollers make a burrow away from the source of the dung and then roll balls of dung to their burrows. Tunnellers burrow under piles of dung and make their homes there. Dwellers simply live in piles of dung. One species rides around on the backs of snails and feeds on snail dung.

Human beings, especially young ones, have a strange fascination with fecal matter. The subject is slightly risqué, subject to all kinds of “dirty” jokes and a never-ending source of harmless amusement for certain of us regardless of age. Maybe that is part of the reason dung beetles are endearing.

They make us laugh. They don’t take up much space in the world. As long as there’s some popp around, they will never suffer from starvation. They don’t make noise. They don’t bite or sting. They don’t carry diseases. They don’t eat anything that’s alive. They are not interested in moving into human habitations. In fact, they ask nothing of us humans. All they want to do is use and consume what we consider the unusable and the unconsumable.

What’s not to like about dung beetles?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Bindweed Blog

The Bindweed Blog-Clog-Bog

I am continually amazed by the unending persistence of nature. I love it. And I hate it.

This time of year 100 percent of my hatred is directed to ever-spreading, startlingly hardy and prolific bindweed, named for its propensity for climbing up and twisting itself around anything in its vicinity. When its little pink and white blooms emerge across my property, silly as it is, I feel as if I have lost a battle.

I know quite a bit about bindweed by now. I know that more you pull it, (which is easy and kind of fun) the more vigorously it will return. I know that it adores the moisture held in the ground by a heavy layer of wood mulch. If I’d only been less lazy and a bit smarter, I would have placed a layer of plastic or newspapers on the ground before I unloaded a four-inch layer of mulch all over my yard. But no.

I’ve become obsessed with pulling out the stuff, untwisting it from around my squash, carrots, raspberries, strawberries and various bushes, hedges and flowers. I know it is useless, but I can’t stop. I have attacked an especially prolific area by covering it with a tarp, weighted down on all four corners, hoping maybe denying it light and moisture will kill it. Somehow, I have a feeling it will survive.

As I pull the weeds, I sometimes envision a team of grandkids spending, say, 30 minutes having some fun pulling long strings of bindweed from my garden. But somehow it never happens. It’s just not as appealing as I imagine it. I was thinking that they might like to compete with each other for creating the biggest pile of bindweed in a limited time. I guess that was faulty thinking.

There are times when I want to get hold of at least a gallon of Round Up and spray it all over the place with abandon, but I know how damaging and also how temporary that solution would be. I’ve been told that it is possible to kill a plant by painting each leaf with a Round Up solution, maybe so, but that would take a lifetime.
Solution? Learn to live with the stuff. I’m trying.

I’m working toward resigning myself to the fact that until the cold weather arrives, my yard will be choking.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A World of Ideas

The other day I needed something to read. I glanced through my bookshelf and randomly picked up Bill Moyers’ book, A World of Ideas: Conversations with Thoughtful Men and Women About American Life and the Ideas Shaping Our Future. Publication date: 1989. It’s a big fat book, so heavy that I think I was avoiding it all these years as unsuitable for reading in bed.

Turns out that this book is exactly what I need right now. It is giving me a whole new perspective on what is happening in our country today and what the future may hold. Moyers’ book grew out of a series of conversations he taped across the country for a PBS television special, “ Six Great Ideas.”

He explains that he had been discouraged by a feeling that the people in the United States were locked away in their separate realities, their fixed ways of seeing themselves and strangers. He believed that depending on television to connect to the outside world was only fortifying peoples’ walls and withering their intellects.

Through conversations he engaged in with scientists, poets, historians, writers and teachers, he found “a kingdom of thought, rich insights into our times.” He was reminded that it is ideas that serve to open our cells.

I was struck by the parallels with what is going on in our nation, and also the world, today.

Moyers noted that running through all the conversations he had was the notion that change was happening so rapidly and globally that our institutions were not able to keep up. He concluded that there is no grand solution to this predicament. Instead he suggests that we can best negotiate the future through, in his words, “a multitude of shared acts in science, education, government, politics and local civic life.”

He interviewed the following people:

Barbara Tuchman, historian
Michael Josephson, ethicist
Joseph Heller, novelist
Noam Chomsky, linguist
Tom Wolfe, writer
William Julius Wilson, sociologist
E.L. Doctorow, novelist
Sheldon Wolin, political philosopher
Forrest McDonald, historian
Willard Gaylin, bioethicist
Anne Wortham, sociologist
T. Berry Brazelton, pediatrician
Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, educator
August Wilson, playwright
Vartan Gregorian, educator
James MacGregor Burns, historian
John Searle, philosopher
Arturo Madrid, educator
Henry Steele Commager, historian
Sissela Bok, ethicist
Steven Weinberg, physicist
Issac Asimov, writer
Robert Bellah, sociologist
Jessica Tuchman Mathews, environmental scientist
Chen Ning Yang, physicist
David Putnam, filmmaker
Chinua Achebe, Nigerian novelist
Mary Catherine Bateson, anthropologist
Leon R. Kass, biologist and philosopher
Elaine Pagels, historian of religion
Maxine Singer, geneticist
Peter Drucker, management professor
F. Forrester Church, pastor
Derek Walcott, poet
John Lukas, historian
Martha Nussbaum, classicist and philosopher
Louise Erdich and Michael Dorris, writers
Mary Ann Glendon, law professor
Peter Berger, sociologist
Northrop Frye, Canadian literary critic
Carlos Fuentes, Mexican novelist

It’s quite a list. I’m finding this book eye-opening and sometimes heartening. It will soon be 30 years old but it contains endless wisdom applicable to the present.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

And what a walk it was...

I could have marked off a 108-mile path starting from home. I could have walked to Estes Park and home again. It would have been: very convenient, easy to plan and pay for, and would have involved absolutely no hassle on busses trains and planes to arrive at the starting point. And the exercise/fresh air component would have been similar.

But no. It would never have measured up to our 108-mile jaunt through Yorkshire on the Coast-to-Coast path in northern England, and here’s my attempt to explain why.

The scenery—green, green, green; the farm fields dotted with grazing cows and baaing, shaggy sheep giving you the eye as you make your way through a never-ending series of gates, stiles and fences. The stone walls that have been standing for eons with no mortar to hold them together, just the ingenuity of those who had to do something with the endless rocks that had to be removed before these fields could be farmed. The walls delineate oddly-shaped fields and seem to have no rhyme or reason as they line the hillsides. Then there are the crumbling edifices of the past such as the enormous remains of Eastby Abbey in Richmond, a bustling market town of 8,400. It was there that we rendezvoused with special relatives and enjoyed a dizzying array of dishes at an Indian restaurant.

About the food. One of our group gained almost five pounds, only partially the result of “full English breakfasts” that started with your choice of fruit, yogurt, granola or cold cereal and progressed to eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, tomatoes, toast and blood pudding (which we all passed on). You could choose to try a kipper for breakfast, for some variety. Pub dinner favorites were fish and chips and steak and ale or chicken pie. And then there was the beer, which became a necessity at the end of each day. The English do an amazing job of food presentation—it always looks so very good—so beautifully arranged on the plate.

This second part of the path, (We did the first 85 miles two years ago.) is a bit less rocky, steep and wild than the first half from St. Bees to Kirkby Stephen, but it has its own challenges. There’s a 23-mile day, mostly flat, and a 13-mile day where you climb up and down on narrow, rocky paths at least four times, always thinking that this hill will surely be the last one. Knees and toes object to the steep downs. The Brits tend to stepping stones rather than switchbacks. They are just so tough. The peat bogs were a challenge, making for wet, muddy e, but not as bad as they might have been in wet weather. We experienced only a single hour of rain on the entire trip. Hours after we finished the skies clouded up and the rain began.

And the people: A highlight for me was walking for a whole day with Mark and his wife, Debbie. Mark is a Yorkshire lad who lived with our family in 1976 and attended high school with the James kids. We’ve been friends ever since, and we always will be. It goes back to a chance meeting in the rain in a campsite in Germany when Mark was 11. His mother, Pat, joined the group for dinner and the evening and gave a little talk about this long-time friendship that brought a tear to my eye.

These are a few of the things I would not have experienced walking close to home. I don’t mind putting up with crowded airports, delayed planes, luggage hauling,  security lines and sleepless hours in the air. While it is always good to be home, I’d go again, even tomorrow. I hope that I never forget the exhilaration of getting away, being in a new place, meeting interesting people, and realizing that there’s more than one way to do things.