Archive for July, 2005

Brain commands actions

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

When a person is dead it is difficult for survivors to believe it. Outsiders step back and give survivors space and time to grieve. Thoughtful grieving takes some solitude but the time allotted is not easy to measure. I cried for many miles while driving toward Camano Island when I heard that sister Ruth was taken to the hospital. At the time I thought I cried that she was in serious condition. The highway, the traffic, and road repair put that emotion on hold but that initial grieving helped to see me through the many hours at her bedside when it was obvious her brain – her command center – had not operated for hours and would be unable to operate ever again.

However my brain will act on my thoughts and I will grieve a little more each time I recall a moment of her life. And that grieving will not end. It will not be devastating as time goes by but there will be grieving. I know that because I still grieve over memories of my husband and he died quite suddenly seventeen years ago. He had been ill and experienced many days of distress so his death came as a relief to him. I mourned my loss. Still do. But most memories are good ones and often bring laughter.

Ruth’s life had been different but memories are many and will be welcome when I can accept she will not be around to share the laughter.

Brain dead is spirit lost.

Saturday, July 16th, 2005

My older sister, Ruth, is dead. A neurologist explained her skull filled with blood exerting pressure on the brain which then stopped sending directions to the body’s muscles and organs. Medics responded when Ruth first complained of a severe headache and later became less communicative and unable to command her muscles. Medics had marvelous technology on hand when they moved her to the ambulance and they immediately administered oxygen though her nose. Liquid and nutrients were put into her vein through a small tube in her arm.

Normally the logistics called for transport via helicopter to the nearest hospital which in this case was the Colby campus of Providence hospital in Everett, Washington. That was where I went only to discover she had not been admitted but instead was taken to Harborview hospital in Seattle. The extreme extent of her injury was apparent and different facilities were required. When I arrived at her bedside and heard the neurologist’s description of her condition, I knew she was dead. When the brain can no longer function, the spirit is gone, the body is dead.

Our medical advances in the last thirty years enabled care givers to sustain breathing which allows the heart to continue to function. Ruth’s heart was strong. Of that there was never any doubt but there are other factors that at the present time are too complex for reversing the process and too insidiously slow in the making over many years to understand.

Our older sister, June, died at age 86 in 2002. Her heart was also strong. That’s in our heritage so that was no surprise. I’m uncertain as to the recorded cause of her death. However, she never smoked – not even second hand but she was grossly overweight which contributed to her inactivity and subsequent loss of muscle tone.

James, our older brother, died in 1983 of lung cancer – so his certificate reads – having been seduced by the tobacco companies’ rhetoric during his service in the army in the 1940s. Smoking was a habit he never gave up, even in the last months of his advancing disease. His wife also smoked so the atmosphere was a constant blue gray. His lungs could not transfer enough oxygen to the heart which in turn, not matter how strong, could not feed the brain and death resulted.

Our younger brother, Emil, was slender and active until the day he died in 1992. One Sunday morning he complained of a headache and laid back on the couch to rest. His wife found him unresponsive when it was time to go to church. Called a stroke, or aneurysm, the skull was flooded with blood that could not get into the capillaries to feed the brain. He was 65 years old.

Not one of these bodies were sustained after the initial “heart attack” was diagnosed. Ruth’s body was sustained by artificial methods which I could have insisted continue and she would have remained in this so called “live” state for as long as I wanted. There were no reflexes, no indication she could think, hear or act. The pressure of the blood on the brain did not kill her. The blood was blocked from the tinier-than-hair capillaries which would have fed the brain. The long time-in-the-making blockage was the cause of death. The medical term, aneurysm, refers to the breach in the artery wall. She was already dead and I would have felt guilty to have pretended she was still with me just because the oxygen machine filled her lungs and visibly raised her diaphragm regularly. The doctor was directed to pull the life support systems. The heart took many minutes to run out of oxygen. She was legally pronounced dead by a physician somewhere in mid-afternoon. To be accurate, she died shortly after 0800 on July 14, 2005.

I am the last of the Hodak siblings. At age of 78, I bought a new car, a Hyundai Accent GLS model on which I am racking up the first thousand miles on a trek to Everett and Bellingham. My heart is strong and how many more years it can continue to supply oxygen to my brain is linked to the health of those capillaries that feed the commanding areas. My eating habits are similar to Ruth’s which were restricted to fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, vitamins and lots of water. So what affect has diet on strength of artery walls? I’ll have to wait and see.

Neighbors rate a law suite?

Tuesday, July 12th, 2005

What constitutes the level of yard neglect that sends a neighbor into court? Weeds? Uncut grass? Dying shrubs? I’d like to know because I have all of those conditions in my yard and I can’t risk a court case. The grasses are dead because I killed them to prevent their taking up the water needed for my glorious shade trees. There is always evidence that something is being done in some corner because of the location of the wheelbarrow or rake or shovel.

Is neglect measured by lack of action? I heard of a case where a neglected yard resulted in a law suite. All spring the owner worked in the yard, moving rocks, mowing or weeding. With little fanfare the level of action in the yard became less and finally fell to zero. If nearby neighbors paid any attention at all to the previous action of the owner and ensuing neglect I wonder why they didn’t go to the owner to find out what was going on?

The owner had fallen ill. Before or maybe because of the law suite, the owner died. Is this what our new age family values come to? Problems are obvious but instead of looking for a human resolution people stand back in judgement and make demands readily encouraged by law. I hesitate to come up with the old cliche “When I was a kid…” but think about it. In any neighborhood if people were in trouble others pitched in to help – not add to an already impossible problem. Well they did in my home town.

Maybe I shouldn’t rely on those old values any more. I will stand firmly with my shovel and rake in hand and hope to fend off disgruntled neighbors or any onlookers who judge the neglect (or not) of my back yard. It is my personal health club.

Screened from reality

Monday, July 11th, 2005

A long time ago screens were removed from my old house. They were perfectly good screens – just not usable on the newly installed windows. They became home for I don’t know how many or what kind of insects but they must have been tasty ones because spiders took over for pantries. I stirred and dislodged the spiders regularly when I cleaned up that portion of the yard. The screen looked like it would allow the wonderful sunny dry air to caress the water out of fruit. Each summer for years I propped the screens on saw horses and dried apricots with another screen on top to thwart the interest of flying feeders.

It’s been several years since I took the time to dry fruit so the screens just hung around acting like city workers leaning against their shovels. I decided to throw out some of my accumulations to make more space for relaxing in the back yard and my eyes narrowed as I contemplated those screens. The aluminum frames were warped and I could part with them so the screening was cut out and left to – you know what – accumulate dirt, leaves and more spiders.

I had better things to do than worry about overfed spiders. There were appearances to make on behalf of the McNary National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center where I am volunteer education director. One request came from Hermosa school library to encourage summer reading under the theme “Dragons, Dreams, and Daring Deeds” Intriguing don’t you think? A dragon ought to engage kids right up to their eyeballs. When I looked for material with which to make a frame I found the screen and envisioned the three dimensional figure of a dragon that kids could cover with paper mache. So that’s what is happening. A screen dragon will become a lovely addition to a school library while I tell the kids all about how dragons are not real but they look like vertebrates of which humans are another species. Oh I can fill them with little tidbits that will peak their curiosity and make them think about their own spines and a few other things.

It’s been many years since I’ve sculpted anything and never before in wire. I should play with a new concept every day!

Regular moons are one moon

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

There’s a new moon over my shoulder. Remember that song? Probably not – unless you are a country western music fan. The word and tune come to mind tonight as I note the passing of another new moon above a cover of high dense clouds. It couldn’t be seen anyway because it is at the point where it does not reflect the sunlight toward the earth.

Calling it a new moon doesn’t make sense to me. There is nothing new
about it. It’s as old as the earth and as regular in its orbits as anything
can be. It is visible in the daytime sky as a white orb at its newest.
It doesn’t follow the same path each month around the earth, though. Once
it might be visible above the treetops and another time hidden in them.
I’m not a Mayan astronomer so I don’t calculate the exact location nor
time of my observations, nor am I a voyager dependent for accuracy of
my route on the heavens. But I notice it where ever I am. There were no
treetops to obscure it from my balcony view on Culebra. In Costa Rica
the trees and backyard fence made me almost lean over backwards for a
view. In Kenya at 0200 hours it guided me to the pit toilet in Hippo camp.

These are not views of new moons but moons in various stages of reflecting
the sun in a night sky. Rolling up out of the Caribbean like an enormus
yellow glass fishing float, I saw it when its orbit brought it closer
to the earth than it had ever been in historic times and won’t be again
for centuries. Winding across Vancouver island on the highway the full
moon appeared to set and rise again from behind each mountain. It is a
beacon in the east when I drive home at sunset from the cabin on Tieton
Lake. Near midnight it hung near Venus and Mercury the time I drove back
from a stamp club rally in Ritzville. From a temporary bedroom on Camano
Island the moon defiantly comes up in the north – so what if I have a
skewed inner compass.

Mysterious as it is the moon is a part of the entire scheme of things of which I am a very tiny part. The reverence it held in the lives of ancients put it in legends and rituals and often governed annual activities. Just how far does its power reach? Our present science is more interested in exploring the body itself than the moon’s physical powers but still a great deal is known of its origin and its physics. Tourist trips would be a possiblity if a landing field and stopover station would be built.

If the opportunity offered itself, I would take the trip in a heartbeat.

Volcanoes come along

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

Nothing is more comforting than driving home with old friends. In this
case I am driving home from Everett at 0500 on July 3, 2005. And the old
friend is Mount Rainier, an inactive volcano. How can that be? A mountain
of all things! Well on a clear sunny day that mountain hovers on the horizon
for nearly the entire two hundred mile trip, a stalwart solid point in
the flashing scenery. Not constantly by any means. Today it is visible
from many vantage points – all via the freeways. Facing west ward I catch
glimpses of the snow covered crown of the fourteen thousand five hundred
foot landmark of Washington state. It directs water to aquafers in all
directions down its slopes.

At this time of day there is no problem glancing at the horizon when I know the mountain will peek out between forest covered hills where I saw it many times before. Now as a driver it is more critical that I know where to expect the vision which as a passenger years earlier I had excitedly pointed out to the driver, who in the midst of hustling cars and semi trucks, could only nod and say, “I can’t look now!”

The scant traffic is the key to enjoying the scenery and especially allowing me to scan the horizon for the peak mountai climbers long to conquer. Many notable people climbed the south slope and reached the summit. Thousands come to ski the slopes from October until March. Many more thousands hike the trails into the wilderness from April until October – some for the exercise and some to keep track of the wild flowers found only in alpine altitudes.

I simply like it being there as a point of reference. It appears again
after I pass Ellensburg and is joined by Mount Adams, an eleven thousand
foot mountain close to the notorious former eleven thousand foot Mount
St. Helens who blew three thousand feet off its top in 1980. These mountains
are visible from the highway between Prosser and Richland – on a clear
day of course.

And the their appearances help the miles go by more pleasantly. When the weather doesn’t cooperate I still know where they are. And I expect them to remain for a long time to come.

Tall ships at anchor

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

Sometimes I read magazines when they first arrive in my mail and I’m
glad I noticed an ad for the showing of tall ships in Tacoma, Washington.
Tall ships mean sail boats – ships with masts and the ones at harbor that
I wanted to see were ships with masts of fifty feet or more. Lady Washington
is a replica of a privateer during the American Revolution. She fought
to help the colonies gain their independence from England. I’m interested
in the history of that time so I thought how neat it would be to set foot
on her deck.

I wasn’t too anxious to make the 4 hour drive to Tacoma and not at all excited about driving about in the confusing city either so I thought I would skip the visit altogether. Well it so happened that I have a son closer to Tacoma who might be willing to make the trip from Everett to Tacoma with me. He did.

Throngs of people swarmed the docks creating long lines of waiting to
get on board Lady Washington or any other tall ship. We snaked around
the usual winding lines for an hour and finally boarded a Mexican vessel,
the Cuauhtemoc, a barque, whose homeport is Acapulco. We traisped up and
down the deck snapping photos of the intriguing ropes and rigging. The
sails were not up but it was interesting just the same. Then it was on
to the Russian vessel, Pallada, a full rigged ship, 356 feet long, built
in Poland in the 1980s.

These ships and several others had raced from Vancouver, Canada, to
Seattle before anchoring in Tacoma, making news and publicity along the
way. And drawing crowds because of the fascination of the sailing ships
of times past. I posted many of the pictures of masts and grandchildren
on www.sherer.org/tallshipsjuly.html

My family had been in San Diego in the 1970’s and saw the Star of India.
the flagship of the Maritime Museum there. Later I took a barefoot cruise
on a sailing vessel in the Caribbean where I was disappointed that I wasn’t
allowed to climb the rigging. Well I wasn’t allowed to climb anything
but steps in these ships either.

The fascination still lingers.

I have a plan

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

I had a plan – a plan to rest for two days away from the wildlife refuge where I volunteer as education director. The intense student visits ended with the school year therefore other tasks there could be set aside and done at my leisure. A plan for tomorrow at least and for the week ahead is important for me and I found out just how crucial it was when I “planned to rest” after a week in a foreign country.

I didn’t have to follow a schedule or do anything. And I didn’t. I read a book, several in fact, sat around in the backyard, and ate simple meals that required very little preparation and less clean up. By the end of the second day I realized what I had wasted. Maybe I rested and perhaps that was a good thing but absolutely nothing got done – none of the things I value as accomplishments.

Time is not to squander. I got busy – planned, not hard and fast items, but places to be and things to do or things to see. And acting on them I visited grandchildren, walked on decks of Tall Ships, cleaned out dead shrubs in the yard and marched in the Fourth of July parade.

For my old body, it is most important I plan what action to take upon rising. Sound silly? Well it isn’t. Exercise is needed to limber up my joints. So I water the lawn early. My list now is endless like the proverbial “honey do” jar because especially in my home, repairs and cleaning are ongoing. Tasks can be juggled to fit into the time I have between meetings and some are more necessary than others but even the most mundane will catch up with a homeowner and must be faced sooner or later.

That’s good. There is much in my future; a day at the public library to excite kids about the adventures of reading; months of special events on the Refuge Second Saturdays; library board meetings and associated plans for a bond; booths at the local and county fairs; Lewis & Clark Heritage day in October; two weeks in Jamaica in November; and just maybe another Earthwatch service in January. In the meantime my car needs service or I have to shop for a new one.

I have every expectation of being here tomorrow and a long time after that so the list of important chores to do and exciting places to go stretches on and on.

Pride in the making

Monday, July 4th, 2005

Now all that’s left to complete this Independence Day – the good old American Fourth of July – is the fireworks. I saw the tall ships reminiscent of the revolution of the colonies, then participated in an old fashioned picnic with outdoor grilled hamburgers, potato salad, watermelon, and home made ice cream, in an electric freezer no less. And today, on the actual July 4th, I helped decorate a float with all the red, white, and blue streamers, balloons, and bows we could tie, staple and tape together for the Benton/Franklin County Democrats in the Pasco City parade.

Large photographs of past and present notable democrats, presidents, senators, governors, and women were placed on long stakes to remind the people along the streets of who in which party really works for the American people. Many of the photos were carried as we walked along the two mile parade route. I carried Eleanor Roosevelt, well, you know – the photo. A red pickup pulled a trailer both with tall frames that bore text of the laws and courageous acts of those notables. You can view some of the scenes on www.fire.benton.wa.us of my July Fourth 2005.