neighborhood/lake street bridge/river road trail
Wonderful fall weather! Sun, crisp air, changing leaves, uncrowded sidewalks/roads/paths! I ran over the lake street bridge again. A bit windy; I could feel one chunk of my hair coming out of my pony tail and flopping around just above my visor. How funny did it look to the drivers passing me? The river was a beautiful blue. No rowers on the water. No canoes or motor boats either. I don’t remember seeing any leaves changing on the tree-line along the river’s edge. Still all green. Soon, red, orange, yellow. Then my view comes back. Coming off the lake street bridge and heading south on the trail, I overheard some bikers talking about today’s stage of the Tour de France. Nice! Heard some geese honking overhead–high in the clean blue air.
I love this idea of yielding to a poem or an idea…or the gorge. I think of it in relation to being open and generous and willing to listen (and to hear and to notice).
Another day of working on my writing project on vision loss and mood. This morning, while watching the Tour de France, I noticed a sign with an exclamation mark on it quickly flash across the screen and pointed it out to Scott who hadn’t noticed it. I wondered, how is it that I could see this sign (and while Scott couldn’t) but miss so much else when I’m watching tv? How does my vision work and not work?
I bring this up in the current draft of my wonder poem in 2 ways.
To witness the spot of my unseeing usually concealed behind the smoke and mirrors of softened forms and filled-in gaps is astonishing. What impossible magic enables me to see anything with this ring obscuring my view? I like staring at it until my eyes ache, my head hurts. Observing how it moves slightly when I shift my gaze. How it grows bigger when I cover my left eye, smaller when I cover my right. How it begins to pulse, then fade, then flare, a fiery black hoop burning through my thinning retina. What a strange feeling to watch this show and suddenly know it is more real than the illusions my brain offers as sight.
1. impossible magic
How can I still see as well as I can with so many of my cone cells gone? How does my brain make sense of the limited information it’s receiving from the few remaining cells? Most of the time when I am curious about this, it is with awe and astonishment. What an amazing organ the brain is! It’s fascinating to learn about how the brain/mind compensates for lack of information, how it guesses, how it fills in the gaps.
Last week, I learned about Charles Bonnet Syndrome which is a phenomenon that can happen to around 15% of people with macular degeneration. It’s named after the man who first described it, having noticed it in his aging grandfather. When the brain doesn’t receive visual data from the eyes it provides its own images, either making them up or recalling stored ones. This causes visual hallucinations. People with CBS usually experience these hallucinations when they wake up and they don’t last long. The favorite hallucinations I read about in this article were
- people dressed in costume from an earlier time
- imaginary creatures, like dragons
What? Somewhere else I read about how the hallucinations are smaller, so you see tiny people dressed up in costumes. Nice! Thankfully, when you experience this, you know it’s a hallucination. I don’t have this syndrome. Instead, my brain likes to fill in the gap with a background that matches the area surrounding the missing image. So, while someone with CBS has hallucinations and sees something that isn’t there, I have a different problem: what is there is hidden behind a background (like a blank, blue sky or more green trees or endless waving water–all 3 of these have happened to me) with no indication of its presence or my inability to see it. Is there an antonym for hallucination? It is not that I see things that aren’t there; it is that I don’t see things that are there and I have no idea that I’m not seeing them–until suddenly, without warning, I do, like a bike that wasn’t there appearing beside me in my peripheral vision. I think this happened to me a lot more right after my vision declined in 2016. Has my brain figured out how to compensate for it?
2. optical illusions
Much of the time, even for me with my increasingly bad vision, the brain’s tricks for filling in gaps and working with incomplete visual data are hidden. I might see things a little fuzzier but I still see them. Unless I concentrate, I can’t see the ring scotoma in my central vision. There is no dark black ring on the page when I’m reading. But it’s there and when I found it by staring intently at a blank wall, I was astonished and fascinated. I was also relieved. Here, with this ring, was evidence that my vision is declining, that I’m not making this bad vision thing up. Because my brain is so good at compensating and performing magic tricks, it can be easy for me to think my eyes are better than they are, that I’m seeing more than I am.