On being a polio survivor finding new ways to travel, and live

Bald_Eagle
No photo possible as we whizzed along the road, so here is my rendition of the slightly tattered Bald Eagle who flew straight at us across golden hills.  This is, a long time area birder friend told me, an unusual place for this bird to appear.  We were a bit south of Stanford.  Drawing by Emily A. Lee

 

A reason exists behind each thing that happens, though two people seeing the same event side by side may have two very different ideas about the reason.  At the moment I’m talking about subjective interpretations of natural events.

Perhaps half buried associations trigger such interpretations?

Like my father I tend to react in certain ways when seeing particular birds and animals.  Bobwhite quail meant things were okay when he was worried about someone.  Blue herons flying close by suggest the same thing to me.  Bears convey the sense of earth based strength, and so on.

But eagles?  In the places I’ve lived they have never been common enough to bring a strong intuitive sense apart from amazement.  Thus when a gorgeous, if slightly tattered, Bald Eagle suddenly flew from golden hills towards our car on the highway I was stunned.  In a good way.

For nearly three months now the peninsula south of San Francisco has been home.  Time for exploration is limited since my chauffeur — my daughter — works during the week and has frequent obligations on weekends and evenings.

Which doesn’t prevent me from longing to get out and discover what kinds of things the now wheelchair-bound me can expect to do:

In case I either do or do not get another vehicle to carry a power chair around in.

In case the decision is that I can or cannot afford a wheelchair van.

In case the part of me that wants to reduce my carbon footprint determines that I will live with no van or car at all.  Whatever the wheelchair situation.

The oddball thought — I feel so incomplete without a set of car keys to carry around that I don’t know what to do with my the two building keys.

Visits to the theatre in San Jose, with friends, to Baha’i events in several of the city’s wonderful parks — full of huge, glorious trees and lots of grey squirrels — began the exploration.  Easy enough to get to such places with a manual wheelchair tossed in the back of Jericha’s little Mazda, and her pushing me around much of the time.

Tall regal palms lining streets once again take my breath away.  What fun it would be to spend days on end just driving around.

But…  This section of California is replete with magnificent places to explore, many of which need better mobility than a manual wheelchair provides.  It seemed wise to check out a few spots for wheelchair friendliness.  A way to focus down on what to do about all these glorious things around that I cannot get to alone, any more.

There is, after all, so very much of California, could it be possible to content myself with seeing small bits of it here and there, as another person’s schedule allows?

Lesser experiences have been conducive to creativity for some people.  Creativity is at the heart of life, to me.

The fact is that my introspections the last couple of months have been stale due to so much time at home, awaiting power wheelchair repairs.  Elf and Opus are dogs who love their outside activities dearly, but who are old enough to also enjoy snoozing gently alongside me.  We get along well.

I’ve been realizing what a major driver of my life’s big changes the accidental encounter with the polio virus at the age of five — at exactly this time of year, back in 1953 — has been.

It’s not easy to look back over the years, the stages of life, when this thing has pushed my earthly life in a direction that otherwise would not have been my choice.  But, I remind myself, there is probably no other person of my age — 68 — who can say much different about their own lives, although the drivers may be dissimilar.

Now there’s no reason to fool myself, it’s important to be clear on how I’ve ended up as I am.   Not to explore excuses or shuffle perceived failures off as though they’d happened to me, rather than me being involved in causing them to begin with.  At least partly.  One can bring failures  (and, happily, good things) on oneself by merely thinking a bit more about them than the opposite set of possibilities. In assessing what happened, later, allow that not every intention you set is going to work out.  This is how we learn…  Failures needn’t go down as such when reviewed.

Meanwhile — off we drove, pottering around the Googleplex, a city in itself.   Also endowed with abundant magnificent trees.  Building after building, in glass with concrete or stone.  The style tells you they’re together despite how far-flung they are, how separated by wooded swaths.

It’s the empire that search built, the urge to discover things comfortably at the kitchen table or in an office, minus the need to haul heavy books around.  In the mid-1990s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who met while at Stanford, teased out a particular binary method of fulfilling that drive for faster information. In 1999 they plunked their fledgling operation down in Mountain View, a little city that has been going out of its way to welcome silicon semiconductor technology  (and its many offshoots) since the 1950s.

The very name of Google is a tribute to the mathematics that contributes to refined searches.  (A googol is the number 1 followed by a hundred zeros.  Binary.)

Colorful bicycles sit in racks every couple of blocks, waiting for employees or visitors to grab one and tour the area.  Google — or is it Alphabet?  owns much of the land between US 101 and San Francisco Bay in Mountain View.  Lots of sidewalks to roll around in any kind of wheelchair — though Google’s far-flung headquarters are readily explored by car until one has reason to lunch with a friend who works in one of those buildings.

Google is friendly towards its neighbors.  My daughter and others were able to gather a Baha’i youth group in one of its buildings regularly for evenings of music making — instruments were already there.

Curious  about how the company/ies will handle the name change?  We rolled around the campus without ever seeing an Alphabet sign.  The familiar Google logo is everywhere, in the trademark colors.

Next to Google is Shoreline Park,  700 acres along the southern San Francisco Bay. It’s built on a former landfill for that city’s rubbish.  At present sailboats ply the bay while scores of visitors  bring gear for windsurfing or kayaking.  For me the primo attraction is birdwatching.  We didn’t do any of that during our short time there, but I discovered that there are lots of paved paths along the shore, accessible to either manual chair — with a robust person to do some of the pushing — or the power chair, which would get me  further.  Without a workout for my companion.

Another time we toured Stanford’s campus and downtown Palo Alto.  Stanford for its history and current status as one of the world’s great universities, the downtown for its peculiar style that ranges between eclectic and fusty.  A famous ice cream sandwich shop that serves up products out sizing than the biggest burger I could think of.  There’s  an art museum at Stanford for a later visit with either type of wheelchair.  The place is pleasant…  Amongst all those  big trees.

Though by choice I now live in a city, I’m an outdoor person at heart, so it’s taking a while to feel grounded in this new place.  Getting out to study birds and other wildlife, the golden hills, mountains and native trees is important to my psyche.

All the more in this period of strident national divisions, and an election that is like a carnival of meanness.

A full complement of raucous crows and  bright hummingbirds flit around these condos.  Crows wake me up at dawn, hollering their opinions from a roof across the way.  Feisty hummingbirds challenge one another ferociously for balcony feeders.

Touching on the matter of California’s magnificent array of trees, the fearful drought that’s gripped the state for a few years now is affecting them.  Frightful wildfires go on in other parts of the state with the big Grizzly Bear on its flag.

None here, which is a very good thing, if you study the trees, with their die offs.  We spot stands of pines — different varieties , but each dying groups seem to be of the same species amongst others— either yellowing or bare down to pitiful skeletons.  Some of these tower so high and spread out so far that I wonder how they can be removed without harm to nearby homes, businesses and power lines.

So yes, the big drought is affecting this area, right in my face.  A sobering observation during our tours.

Bringing these various thoughts into coherence for me was that one bird, the large and unmistakeable one, who flew straight at us over richly gold colored hills — the Bald Eagle.

Right at that moment I knew that I am in the right place.  Eagle is a spirit between the heavens and humans on earth, amongst some Native Americans.  To nearly anyone Eagle seems the symbol of avian power.

To me the startling appearance just then meant “You make what you will of this thing, your life, in your own different way.  You are not alone.”

I’d like to share with you couple of wise quotations helping my thinking along at present:

“O SON OF MAN! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it.”

~The Hidden Words

Question. — Is man a free agent in all his actions, or is he compelled and constrained?

Answer. — This question is one of the most important and abstruse of divine problems. If God wills, another day,…. we will undertake the explanation of this subject in detail; now we will explain it briefly, in a few words, as follows. Some things are subject to the free will of man, such as justice, equity, tyranny and injustice, in other words, good and evil actions; it is evident and clear that these actions are, for the most part, left to the will of man. But there are certain things to which man is forced and compelled, such as sleep, death, sickness, decline of power, injuries and misfortunes; these are not subject to the will of man, and he is not responsible for them, for he is compelled to endure them. But in the choice of good and bad actions he is free, and he commits them according to his own will.

Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1987 Edition). p. 248. E-text from Ocean Library, http://www.bahai-education.org

Summer Roadrunners

It is evident that days grow shorter now it’s August, even cooped up in a second floor apartment while wheelchair repairs are awaited.  It’s downright cool between mountain ranges here in the peninsula between San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

This slow reduction in the sun’s daily rays brings strong thoughts about a creature who shared my land for fifteen years.  A bird so odd, intelligent, adaptable and predictable mainly for its unpredictability that it has long been the darling of nature writers in the western USA.

Geococcyx californianus.  The Roadrunner.  A creature whose doings brought out the scientific side of my donkey, Jasper, while I observed interactions from a distance.  All the while the Roadrunners were practicing their own surveys of humans sharing their ancestral land. Certainly I, the one most often at home, was under observation just about any time I was outdoors for more than a few minutes.

Evidently their conclusions edgily accepted me.  They became quite cozy over the years.

It will be fun, I think, to share a few memories of these old friends, as the seasons pass.   Here’s the first installment:

Summer

Roadrunner with snake sm
Roadrunners catch — and eat — full grown rattlesnakes.  Sketch by Emily Lee.

While summer temperatures hovered above the 100-degree mark for days, I worked on woodcarving projects in the garage, door open to catch breezes. Hummingbirds buzzed though, hanging in air like sparkling ornaments as they inspected the truck’s tail lights, then myself when I wore a red t-shirt.

Roadrunners occasionally strolled about as I carved.  Curious, one bird found it necessary to climb up and down every shelf, pile of boxes, table, dolly, stack of wood.   He even rested on the truck tires.  More than once, while my ears heard little beyond power tools, he startled me out of my wits by stealthily ascending metal utility shelves, then sending paint cans or flower pots cascading down beside me.  I returned the favor one day when I glanced from my work to spot him snoozing peacefully atop the shelves.  My own version of his rattling “ZZZZTTTT!” caused his tail to disappear around the corner in no time flat.  Soon he was back, scurrying up onto some cardboard boxes to continue his rest.

One mid-July day I glanced out to see what the donkeys were up to and spotted two roadrunners dancing through their mating ritual.  The pair ran towards each other from opposite sides of the paddock, one bearing a bobtailed lizard in his beak.  Twice in his twirling dashes towards his mate, the  bird stopped to bow his head, raising crest and tail high.  The female also paused in her rush towards the rendezvous, as her mate performed the bow.  It was fast, flamenco style, elegant.  The abrupt pauses emphasized the speed of the rest of the performance.

As the two came together, the male leaped onto the female’s back without missing a beat — and stood there like a feathered bull rider as the female fluttered her wings and hopped about.   During a still moment the birds mated, and while doing so, the lizard was passed from the male’s beak to the female’s.  The tender interlude lasted about forty-five seconds before the male leaped away to race straight towards the door where I stood.  Under a gate he shot, crest held high.  His vivid red-and-blue skin patch — present only at this time of year — shone behind his pale eye before he veered away, disappearing around the building.

The female hop-glided atop the fence, where she paused long enough to half-swallow the lizard, then down she drifted, into a thicket of Siberian elms, part of her meal still protruding from her beak.

Throughout this mating, Jasper, the black donkey, stood ten feet from the couple, nose poking from his shed, silently watching.  The moment the female hopped onto the fence he began examining the vacated area.  No telling what he was looking for, but he worked with enough method to please Hercule Poirot.

Sometime during that evening on the front lawn, the nearly grown roadrunner chick I had seen one of the parents feeding shortly before their mating ritual was attacked.  Seven brand new quills from the left wing were found, together with a handful of body feathers.  Broken off rather than pulled out, the primary feathers suggested that a hard blow had been dealt by something.  Cat?  Hawk?

There were other losses of young Roadies over the years, including one that fell into the donkeys’ tank.  I felt so badly after finding the lifeless body one morning that I constructed a sort of ladder up the side of the thirty gallon metal container, from welded wire fencing.

Still, there were enough nesting successes and surviving teenage Roadrunners to keep our area well covered and ourselves well entertained.