may 26/RUNBIKE

2.4 miles
43rd ave, north/31st st, east/river road trail, south/edmund, north
55 degrees

Decided to run a little less distance today to make sure my knee was doing okay. It is. Cooler and windy this morning. Crowded with cars, but not people. Sunny. What do I remember from my run? Not much. Avoiding the uneven, cracked up sidewalk on 31st, looking carefully for cars as I crossed the street, noticing there were no stones stacked on the boulder, hearing voices at the overlook. I forgot to glance down at the river when I had a chance. I don’t remember hearing any woodpeckers or black-capped chickadees or red-breasted nuthatches. I’m sure I heard many cardinals and robins. No geese or ducks or hawks circling the sky. No rowers on the river. Maybe I didn’t notice much because I was worrying about my knee and listening to the rushing wind?

bike: 4 miles
to the falls and back
62 degrees

Biked with RJP in the afternoon. Wasn’t too worried about my vision, more about my left knee, which started to hurt a few minutes into the ride. When I was done, my quad–or the IT band?–felt strange and tight. Should I keep up my goal of biking every day, or take a break from it too? It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so the weather will probably decide for me. Aside from the knee pain, I’m liking the biking. It’s a little scary, but not anything I can’t handle. Yes! I hope I can bike a lot this summer.

Before I went out for my run, I started thinking about birds in songs. It started with Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird,” which I remember liking back in the day (2001). Wow, 2001. I was living in Atlanta, working on my Ph.D.

I’m Like a Bird/ Nelly Furtado

I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away
I don’t know where my soul is (Soul is)
I don’t know where my home is
And baby, all I need for you to know is
I’m like a bird, I’ll only fly away

Looking up the song, I also watched the video. I’m impressed that the clothes don’t seem too dated; I’d love to have those jeans and orange shirt! Anyway, I’m not digging her simile of a bird here. The part about flying away makes sense, but “I’m like a bird…because I don’t have a soul…because I don’t know where my home is?” When I think of birds, one of the fundamental characteristics of most (all?) birds is their amazing navigation skills, their ability to find home as they migrate. I started to wonder about birds who are bad navigators–do they exist?–and then found this source about 7 Birds Who Will Never Leave You and 1 That Really Ought To (tl;dr: mallards, ravens, black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, great horned owl are the 7; european starling is the 1). When I told Scott about my search for bad navigating birds and birds who don’t migrate, he said something about flightless birds which got me wondering what characteristics define a bird, and also about what a major bummer it would be to be a bird that couldn’t fly. Then we started talking about how costly (energy zapping) it is for bird’s to fly and I thought about how many poets go on and on about birds and the freedom of flight and wanting to be as free as a bird without mentioning the immense cost of that freedom. In the process of thinking about this and searching more online, I found the article, Big Birds Don’t Fly:

Many will cite a bird’s ability to fly, sing and use its feathered wings to take flight. So it may seem a bit strange that included in the more than 10,000 species of birds in the world today is a group that literally cannot fly or sing, and whose wings are more fluff than feather. 

These are the ratites: the ostrich, emu, rhea, kiwi and cassowary.

I wonder what are the defining characteristics for birds that poets use? Is it: feathers, flight, birdsong. Anything else? Eating worms? Getting up early? Migration? I think I could follow this rabbit hole a lot deeper if I didn’t stop myself. I loved to read about the physics of flight, and search for references to birds in poems that didn’t involve flying or plumage or song, and keep trying to find out about birds that get lost, but I need to stop myself.

But of course, stopping is hard, and so I didn’t and found an article–Why do birds get lost?–that mentions new research that suggests birds use quantum mechanics to navigate–something about how cryptochromes (blue light sensitive proteins found in the retina of birds and some other animals) respond to magnetic field to create an inner compass. Wow. Is it just me or does using quantum in a phrase instantly make it seem smarter and fancier and less intelligible. Also in that article: birds are good navigators and when they get lost, it’s because something has malfunctioned–their ability to make a compass, bad weather. And: scientists discovered that some birds have magnetic particles in their ear hairs(!) so they believed that they used those particles to navigate. But, those particles are in non-sensory cells so they can’t function as compasses. Woah.

And, just one more article…In this one–Why don’t birds get lost?–I found this very exciting passage, which made me call out, “Oh my god!”:

It’s thought that light-sensitive proteins called cryptochromes — which have been found in the retinas of birds, butterflies, fruit flies, frogs and humans, among others — are at the center of the mystery. When light strikes the proteins, it creates radical pairs that begin to spin in synchrony; they’re entangled.

Ever since I listened to a podcast with Ross Gay (VS) and heard him discussing entanglement, I’ve been fascinated by that word and concept. What does it mean in the context of cryptochromes, birds, and navigation? I will stop myself from looking now.

Whew. As I mentioned before falling down this rabbit hole, I was thinking about birds in songs before my run, earlier in the morning. I had already typed up a few notes:

Don’t Worry/ Bob Marley

Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, (“This is my message to you-ou-ou: “)

What kind of bird are these 3 little birds? Googling it, I found a source that suggests 2 answers: 1. the 3 canaries that Marley would see every morning and 2. his 3 back-up singers

Edge of Seventeen/ Stevie Nicks

Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh, ooh, ooh
Just like the white winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
Ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh

Here’s some more information about the white-winged dove, which resides in the southwest in desert thickets. It does make an “ooh ooh” call. This song is about the death of Nick’s uncle and the white-winged dove represents his soul leaving the body. The idea of the bird being the soul reminds me of ED and her poem, “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers.” It also makes me think about Furtados line about being like a bird who doesn’t know where her soul is.

In another lyric from this song, Nicks sings about the night bird telling her to “come away.” I thought the night bird might be a blackbird, which made me think of The Beatles song “Blackbird.” Bird is slang for girl in England and Paul McCartney wrote the song after reading an article about Little Rock, Ruby Bridges, and desegregation. Ruby Bridges is the black bird he’s singing about. Speaking of McCartney, he’s big into birds. He has another great bird song: “Bluebird” with his band, Wings. And he wrote a poetry collection, released in 2001, called Blackbird.

may 25/BIKE!
to the falls and back
77 degrees

Today I rode my bike outside on the trail for the first time since September 28, 2019. A few days shy of 20 months. The absence of outdoor biking is because of the pandemic–mostly because I didn’t want to get too close to others who might have covid, but also because more people were biking last summer and it was too difficult for me, with my bad vision, to feel safe navigating the trails.

Since my last bike ride, I have learned more about my vision and how my brain, specifically my visual cortex, adjusts to the quantity and quality of data it receives from my cone cells. As I understand it, the brain is constantly adjusting and adapting to incomplete, insufficient data. For me, this adjustment is not immediate; it requires practice and repetition. My brain slowly and gradually learns how to see something even when the data is fuzzy or blurry or too bright or barely registering a fast-moving form approaching. It’s not perfect or precise, and I definitely need to travel at a slower pace and use my brakes, but I can see enough to bike. As I write this, I’m realizing that just as my visual cortex learns to do more with less data, other parts of my brain learn to live with more discomfort and uncertainty. I stop being so afraid of my unfocused view and start using my other senses to help me navigate.

The bottom line: if I keep practicing–pushing through the panic, traveling on the trails, being careful and trusting in my ability to notice and navigate and not bike into anything–it will become easier, less scary, enjoyable, manageable. And I should get better at it–unless I go through another burst of rapid deterioration of cone cells (I wanted a phrase that means the opposite of a growth spurt, but I couldn’t find it, so I went with “burst of rapid deterioration” but I’ll keep looking because I don’t quite like this phrase).

Today was my first day of trying to do this. It went well. I was scared, especially before I started, but also as other bikers approached and I tried to make sure I wasn’t missing a walker or a runner. Today’s ride involved a lot of faith and hope and willingness to trust my abilities. It didn’t involve trusting other people to see me or make room for me. I am trying to work on this lack of trust because I am sure there are many people who pay attention and share the trail and don’t expect/demand that everyone else look out for them, but they hardly ever seem to be on the trail when I am. It helps tremendously that I have memorized this trail. I know all the curves, and when it narrows or joins the walking trail or dips down or veers toward the road. And I know most of the bumps and cracks and fissures and splits.

One thing I was reminded of that I really need to remember: When a person is walking a dog I rarely can see the leash or the dog, especially when they’re small and/or not right next to their human. I have never run into a leash or a dog, but it could happen if I don’t give a wide berth to anyone I’m passing–which can be difficult when the path is crowded. Of course, if walkers kept their dogs on a tighter leash, this also wouldn’t be a problem.

Other than feeling scared about what I could and could not see, the bike ride was good. No-shift-Sara is back (I wrote about her 2 summers ago); I need to practice shifting my gears more, I think. When I got to the falls, I stopped by the Longfellow fountain–an elaborate fountain that no longer holds water but plants and that has “The Song of Hiawatha” etched on a small retaining wall that creates a rectangular perimeter around the fountain. I walked my bike to the overlook. There was someone playing the accordion and some people sitting on benches while others peered over the retaining wall admiring the view. Very nice. As I headed back, I passed a small flock of black birs, some on the grass, some in the sky, and I wondered if they were crows or ravens or rooks or what.

Googled, “birds bike poem” and found this one:

Going Down Hill on a Bicycle/ Henry Charles Beeching

A Boy’s Song

With lifted feet, hands still,
I am poised, and down the hill
Dart, with heedful mind;
The air goes by in a wind.

Swifter and yet more swift,
Till the heart with a mighty lift
Makes the lungs laugh, the throat cry:—
“O bird, see; see, bird, I fly.

“Is this, is this your joy?
O bird, then I, though a boy,
For a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!”

Say, heart, is there aught like this
In a world that is full of bliss?
‘Tis more than skating, bound
Steel-shod to the level ground.

Speed slackens now, I float
Awhile in my airy boat;
Till, when the wheels scarce crawl,
My feet to the treadles fall.

Alas, that the longest hill
Must end in a vale; but still,
Who climbs with toil, wheresoe’er,
Shall find wings waiting there.