Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sometimes, the world just needs to stop

"The ER"

After six hours in the hallway of a packed emergency room, I simply started bawling when the ER doc said the words.

"The C T scan showed several abscesses at the surgical site," he said, his big brown eyes looking intently into mine.

I spiked another 100 degree temperature last night. Despite being on a fairly high dose of antibiotics for five days, my infection continues. A CAT scan revealed several pockets of infection, or abscesses, within my womb/surgical site. There is talk of doing an additional surgery if my body doesn't respond to yet another very potent antibiotic in the next couple days.

I don't know how to react to this at all. I've never had surgery, much less the post-op complications I've encountered in the last 12 days. I have realized I have been trying to get back on the runners way too soon, doing too much, and am afraid I am going to cause permanent damage to my body if I don't start taking this seriously. Then I will never be back on the runners, literally.

During the last week of my recovery, Yeti developed a huge lump under his left cheek. I hadn't seen him in a few days while I was recovering from surgery, and when I finally went out in the kennel, I was shocked to find Yeti in this condition. I thought the worst: a tumor. But he is only a year and a half old. Turned out he had a large abscess that had developed from a scrap with Jack over a girl - Big Brown - who had been in heat.

So, one week after surgery, and nursing a fever myself, I had to take Yeti in for surgery to open and clean this large abscess.

Yeti after surgery. That thing that looks like a piece of penne pasta is a drain tube from the incision

Sometimes, the world just needs to stop.

Hopefully now we - Yeti and me - are both on the mend.

Here are some more pleasing pictures taken recently when I actually did get out of the house, one day, with the girls:

Wild-growing sweet pea along a dirt road in rural NE Ohio. Sweet pea is one of my favorite flowers.

The colorful, lavender spores from a thistle growing along the same rural road

Another pretty

What I call a Maxfield Parrish sky. Maxfield Parrish is a New Hampshire-born painter who used dazzlingly luminous colors in his paintings which almost always focused on a subject in front of an amazing sky. He is one of my favorite painters. For more information about Maxfield Parrish, click here.

Getting ice cream with sprinkles in your night gown. What could be better?

The sprinkles

Here's to ice cream with sprinkles, pretty flowers and better times.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reminiscence of a winter's heart

I had a fairly major surgery a week ago tomorrow, and have spent the better part of the last week sleeping. Yesterday was the first day I felt fairly normal in a week. I made it out to the kennel to see my four-legged kids, who seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them. It was a good day until, quite suddenly last night, I spiked a 101.3 temperature and was, literally, quaking with chills under several layers of clothes and blankets. Run-of-the-mill, post-op infection. I am back in bed, taking antibiotics and waiting for life to begin again.

In moments like these, it is sometimes difficult to remember that age-old adage: "This, too, shall pass."

Perhaps it was my febrile state that led me to reminiscing of things that bring me most joy in this world, trying to remind myself that this, too, shall pass. I know there are many who don't understand the love of this expensive sport. In my reminiscing, I stumbled on several videos I'd taken last season while running the trails surrounding Jim Warren's Sleddog Lodge.

The dogs are so much a part of my life and my joy. I feel so helpless this last week being cooped up inside, not spending time with them.

Funny, I wrote to my friend Jason: even in the heat of July, we reminisce about winter, training practically all the rest of the year for one or two or three big races. Ever wonder why we put so much stock in these relatively short claims of glory?

Because we have a winter's heart, and a love for the simple joys being behind a team of well-toned athletes cooking down a pristine hardwood trail covered in nature's glory.

Take a peek: click on the video below to see my six-dog team cooking down a beautiful, sunlit trail on a perfect winter day in the U.P.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A video montage of Holleroo fest 2009

To get a nice feel for the weekend in Kentucky last weekend, please click on the video above. Music is by various members of the Heartland Songwriters' Association performing a cover of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds"; all photos are by me. Special thanks to Kim and Mark Swickard for having such a wonderful party for a beautiful collection of talented individuals.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"Y'know, there's a lot to see in the middle of nowhere"; a road trip to central Kentucky

"Hi, my name is OTR (otter); what's yours?"

"Sophie, huh? Well, Sophie, you smell good!"

"Sure, you can rub my head! I get awful itchy...

We knew we were in for something special when we hit the rolling blue-green hills of the heartland. Kentucky. Horse country. Home of the Kentucky Derby, many a thoroughbred, and home to my best friend since I was 17, Kim.

Kim moved to a 150 year old farm house in Kentucky with her husband, Mark, about six years ago. My dream was always dogs; Kim's was always horses. We worked together as counselors at an equestrian camp near where I live, giving 10 year olds riding lessons during the hot sweltering summer.

Now, it's my own 10 year old who I'm showing the ropes to.

Kim is also pursuing her dreams of being a musician. And she has blossomed down there in horse country, as a musician, a middle school science teacher, and as someone who I admire for pursuing her dreams.

As we drove toward Louisville, I plugged Kim's address into my GPS. "No known address." She is, literally, off the grid. On one of our classic road trips, Sophie and I followed the winding, wildflower-covered road toward Kim's house, walls of sweet corn paving our way. Summer's love.

Nature's bounty was everywhere. Along the way, Sophie said, "y'know, there's a lot to see in the middle of nowhere." And she's right.

these pretty blue flowers line the road leading to Kim's farm

A little bit of southern work ethic...

...a little bit of southern hospitality

I went to Kentucky to shoot my best friend's birthday party and musical line up of the Heartland Songwriters' Association. And despite the 88 degree temps and 94% humidity, it was an absolutely beautiful day. I met so many wonderful people, and spent the day with the unique and beautiful woman I am honored to call my best friend for nearly 20 years. She's been there for me through so many things: chemistry, my first broken bone from breaking a wild Arabian stallion, marriage, divorce, marriage again. She and I were zoo keepers together, partners in crime, best friends always.

I shot over 400 photos - clearly far too many to upload here. But, here's some of my favorites.

Virginia Napier playing mandolin

Of course, there had to be dogs:

"Tommy" the dog

"Buddy" the spaniel, begging me for a rib

And my own Gracie dog, who joined us on our trek southward

And then, there's Kim and her awesome five-person band. I am in the process of uploading videos of their performance to youtube and will post when available.

Vocalist/guitarist/harmonica extraordinaire, Mark Dewitt

Thank you, Kim, for a wonderful weekend. And for your friendship.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gwennie's first trip to the park in images

For a sleddog, Gwennie sure could pass for a pet. She walks excellently on a leash, stays right with me, doesn't pull, is cuddly and smiles a lot.

Sophie and I took Gwennie on her first trip to the park last night. She (and we) had a great time. I think these images speak for themselves. Enjoy!

And now in color:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Life's not a paragraph And death i think is no parenthesis"

It’s breezy and bright, the kind of day that makes me happy to be alive and free. Puffy white clouds float across an azure sky, making curly Q’s and beckoning even adults to eye them with a child’s whimsy.

That one looks like a goldfish, another, ocean waves. They hang in the air like a backdrop to this beautiful stage – God’s playthings.

I walk feeling the contact of my feet with the earth.

For this moment, I am all I need. I am this breeze, these clouds, this moment. "I am nothing; I see all," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. How could I be anything less or more? Want less or more?

And yet, we pay so little attention to this moment and the simple realities around us. We fill our lives with a multitude of ways to block out this reality, take ourselves out of this moment: cell phones, ipods, the intra-web. With all of this technology aimed at connection, we have to wonder are we more – or less – connected?

Tonight, I attended the memorial service for an amazing little family. My friend Stephanie, her significant other Eric, and their tiny month old baby, Kaia. Kaia was born on May 30 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome; you can read about their beautiful and courageous journey here. After a month-long struggle that can only be described as gallant, Kaia's little body could take no more and let go.

Kaia Belle and her parents are courageous and beautiful.

They have helped me remember today to forgive the little trespasses of people and things that may irk me and be thankful, mindful to the little things. Thank you Steph (Sparky), Eric, and Kaia for demonstrating the grace that comes from true love and letting go. I cry for you tonight.

* * * * * * * *
A mother and four tiny mallards swim down a canal that runs through the center of town, nibbling on a scrap of bread. A man runs by wearing only running shorts, tennis shoes and a pair of bulky headphones. People walk by. And then, up ahead, I see them: a tall, thin man about my age with longish brown shaggy hair and a tiny black puppy bounding along beside him. He calls her Moonbeam. She follows him loyally, her floppy big feet bounding merrily along. I stop to pet her, and she bounds to me merrily too, smiling up at me with jovial little brown eyes. I thank her as we part.

For more information about Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, click this link.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Break on through

Early last season while training, Jim and I left Sleddog Lodge one morning with two teams in a veritable blizzard. It was just before Thanksgiving, and snow dumped on the U.P. in massive amounts.

Even lifelong Yoopers were dumbfounded with the weather patterns. With a total of 14 dogs lined out between the two of us – me with six and Jim with eight – we slogged through a tough 28 mile run, breaking trail the whole time. I was glad I had my ski goggles and my coyote-fur lined hooded parka; otherwise, I would have been blinded by the snowfall.

Sweaty and struggling at often a snail’s pace, running up hills through the knee-deep snow, there were moments when I thought of giving up. Then I looked at the dogs and felt guilty for my own lack of stamina.

A training run - on route 414 outside of Newberry, MI

We should all aspire to a sleddog’s work ethic. Regardless of the depth of snow, the blowing wind, or the flakes falling in a blinding sheet, they put their heads down, focus and keep on running. They do not question it. They just do it, like the best Nike athletes.

We can learn a lot from dogs. The do not falter when faced with adversity; it isn’t in their vocabulary.

Two of Jim's dogs who exemplify an iron will and fierce determination are Cocoa and Eric.

Cocoa, only a yearling in this photo, but running up front on a training run. Jennifer Warren praised Cocoa for her willingness to keep on going when the going got tough last year. "She just puts her little head down and goes," Jennifer said of Cocoa.

Eric the dog. Also a super strong leader who will break trail for hours, Eric is a linebacker on the line

Rachel - probably the dog in Jim's kennel I identify most with. Fiesty and scrappy, Rachel can dish it out and take it too

Life is often like breaking trail: disoriented and blind, we slog through and hope the path we take is the right path. No matter what your passion, regardless of the challenges that you face, never give up. Keep slogging.