nov 4/RUN

4.75 miles
Veteran’s Home Loop*
35 degrees
humidity: 84%

*a new loop: south on the river road trail to Minnehaha Regional Park, up the steps and over the falls. Follow the trail along the fence, past the John Stevens House. Take the bridge to the grounds of the Veteran’s Home. Go through a parking lot, up some steps, to the trail near the edge that leads down to Locks and Dam Number One. Rejoin the river road trail heading north until you reach the parking lot with the entrance to the Winchell Trail. Take the Winchell trail north to the Oak Savanna.

A good run. Cold update: It lingers. Still stuffed up, but continuing to feel better. A little harder to run because of the crud in my throat + a few raggedy coughs. Another sunny day with not much wind. So humid. I want my cold, crisp air!

10 Things I Noticed

  1. A haze in the air from the sun illuminating the humidity. Running above the oak savanna, everything was even softer, out of focus than (my) usual, filtered through the damp air
  2. Still above the Oak Savanna: I can see more of the mesa now that more leaves have left
  3. The river was glowing white with sunlight
  4. Not too many people on the trails — hardly any walkers or runner or bikers. Just 2 roller skiers
  5. Stopped at the spot on the Winchell Trail where the man had been using a hacksaw last week to check what he had done. Nothing, as far as I could tell
  6. At its start, just after the slabbed steps, the Winchell Trail, which had been covered in leaves last week, was clear. Minneapolis Parks must have cleared out the leaves sometime this week
  7. The bridge over to the Veteran’s Home, high above the trail below — the trail that follows the creek after it has fallen all the way to the Mississippi River — has a chainlink fence that makes it difficult to see below, especially when the sun is shining directly on it
  8. Running on the edge of the bluff, I heard the roaring of the water as it rushed over the dam at Locks and Dam Number One, then I saw it: a wall of white water
  9. A turkey crossing! Near turkey hollow, I encountered at least 5 turkeys, almost all the way across the road
  10. At the end of my run in the Oak Savanna, I heard a bird crying out. I stopped to locate it: a white-ish bird in a small nest in a nearby tree. I can’t remember the sound it made and have no idea what kind of bird it is — was it the mother, protecting her young? Do any birds nest in the fall?

Just looked it up and yes, some birds do nest in the fall. I didn’t know that. I’m thinking it might have been a mourning dove. They nest in the spring, but can lay eggs as late as October. Wow.

Prints/Tracks/Traces

The poem of the day on poetry foundation reminded me of part of a poem I read last month and then wrote about in a document titled, “October’s Apparitions.” I like the multiple meanings of the title. Prints, as in photographs, but also fingerprints. I thought about prints as tracks too — not yet a trail, but evidence of someone or something else there before you.

Prints/ Joseph Bruchac

Seeing photos
of ancestors
a century past

is like looking
at your own
fingerprints—

circles 
and lines
you can’t 
recognize

until someone else
with a stranger’s eye
looks close and says
that’s you.

Here’s the part of the poem that I posted/wrote about in October:

from Seven Types of Shadow / U A Fanthorpe

We carry our human ghosts around with us.
As we grow we face the mirrors, and see
The specter of a great-aunt, a vague look
Known only from sepia snapshots. The hands we’re used to —
Yes, these — their contours came by way of a long retinue
Of dust. We are photofits of the past,
And the future eyes us sideways as we eye ourselves.
We are the ghosts of great-aunts and grand-nephews.
We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born. 

And here is what I wrote on oct 15th:

Who, from my family, do I look like? What characteristics of others do I have? Whose nose? I don’t know/remember too many of my relatives, so it’s difficult to imagine who I might look like…[pause to look at pictures of relatives] I couldn’t find much resemblance. I’m not sure who from the past is like me, but my daughter is like me in her posture — she swims like me, she walks like me, she has my shoulders and non-existent eyebrows. I like the idea of the traces of others within us — what we pass on, the gestures and the expressions — there is love in the passing on, even if or when there’s not much connection or love in the relationships. We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born. I like this idea of all these different times mingling together.

Interesting…reduced to body parts — ghosts as that which we inherited…makes me think of the cone dystrophy — whose bad vision did I inherit? How many others have had it? And which side of the family? My sister has mentioned a grandmother who was blind—did she have cone dystrophy, or was it something else? Thinking about first talking with the doctor and the idea of how it skips generations, jumping around in families so you don’t know where it came from — a ghost not attached to anyone, unknown. So much unknown…

The comfort of a known ghost. To look at someone and see yourself in them or them in you. To know they are the ghost you are passing on. What do you do with not knowing? Is it necessary to know? Do you want to find out? What do you do about you kids? 

pages document/ oct 15, 2021

Re-reading this, I’m thinking more about how invisible, or at least very difficult to see, cone dystrophy is. It’s rare and has such a wide range of symptoms, presenting differently even in the same families. And, it skips generations and moves around families: a great-aunt might have it, but not a grandparent or parent. I’m not sure when it was first discovered — even now in 2021, so much is not known about it and the diagnosis of it falls under the vague, blanket term, “cone dystrophy,” which stands in for all sorts of cone-related vision problems. If it existed in families a generation or two ago, it was very likely it was not discovered. No understanding or diagnosis. No treatment. No prints (no evidence revealed in photos or through a doctor’s diagnosis). Instead, only faint tracks or trails: a story about someone having bad vision when they got older, knitting even though they couldn’t see what they were doing. My dad’s family, poor and living in rural upper peninsula Michigan, and before that, rural Finland, most likely had very little or no access to an ophthalmologist that would look for or understand cone dystrophy.

Cone dystrophy is inherited, most likely an autosomal recessive inheritance (AR). If I understand it correctly, I have a 50% chance of passing it on to my kids, but they only carry it if both Scott and I have it, and they only have a 25% chance of being affected by it (and, even if they are affected by it, their symptoms might be very mild or hard to detect). [source: Cone/Cone-rod dystrophy for patients] My experience of it, with most of my cones in my central vision gone and a good chance of becoming legally blind, is rare. So, I’m not too worried about my kids. Instead, I am fascinated by where it came from and the strange, unlikely path it has taken to get to me. What ghosts have passed it on unknowingly? To this I’ll add: I’m not sure if I need to know who it is from, or get an accurate map of how it’s traveled; I am more interested in the idea that it’s hard to track and what it means to live with unknown/unnamed ghosts.

Taking this idea of what our ghosts pass on to us in a different direction, I’m reminded of something I read in Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth a few years ago about the diseases we carry in us unknowingly, maybe from birth, maybe not:

Franny’s father, Fix, says, “People are scared of the wrong things… We go around thinking that what’s going to get us is waiting on the other side of the door: it’s outside, it’s in the closet, but it isn’t like that. . . For the vast majority of the people on this planet, the thing that’s going to kill them is already on the inside.” 

Ann Patchett/ Commonwealth

Does this make sense? Will it be useful to future Sara?

I began working on the tracks/prints part of this entry before my run. The last thing I thought about before I left flowed from it: What are the connections between my vision loss and running by the gorge? Some of it is directly related; I’m gathering words, images, metaphors about my vision while I run. Some of it is more a matter of them happening at the same time.

oct 3/RUN

4 miles
minnehaha falls and back
58 degrees
dew point: 55

Ran with Scott to the falls before the marathoners raced on the river road. Not too warm, but humid. A mile in, I already felt like a damp sponge. A nice run with lots of fall color. Saw at least 2 turkeys chilling in the parking lot, the same spot they were at last week. Heard a bird calling out as we entered minnehaha park. Might have been a red-breasted nuthatch. The falls were rushing but not quite roaring, the creek was higher but not high. Listened to the leaves crunch as I ran over them. Saw at least one roller skier and lots of volunteers getting ready for the race — the twin cities marathon. Anything else? I’m sure I heard at least one goose, avoided more than one squirrel. I recall looking down at the river through the thinning leaves and hearing some rowers.

random thing for future Sara to remember: “Out of an abundance of caution” (as they like to say at RJP’s high school), we got covid tests last week. The spit test. I have a lot of trouble spitting and filling up the cup. That, combined with my inability to see signs or anything else well at the testing site, makes getting these tests incredibly difficult for me. Spitting into a cup seems like a basic thing that everyone can do without thinking. Not me. I’m actually going to have to practice before we take another test — whenever that will be. I’m trying to see this as funny, because it is, but it’s hard to laugh when it’s so upsetting. Not just because I can’t spit, but because I can’t see — it’s a reminder of how bad my vision is getting.

I love this October poem:

Neighbors in October/ DAVID BAKER

All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon
with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting
chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke.
Down the block we bend with the season:
shoes to polish for a big game,
storm windows to batten or patch.
And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers—stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.

september 4/RUN

4.1 miles
marshall loop
63 degrees
humidity: 89%

Cooler, but I could feel the humidity. Felt strong. I think all of the swimming this summer strengthened my legs and core, which is very helpful. I’d like to figure out how to keep it up this fall and winter. Heard the rowers as I ran down the east river road, then saw them lined up in the water, receiving instruction from the coxswain. Heard lots of other voices in the gorge, near the Monument and Shadow Falls. People hiking? exploring? checking out the falls, which only appear after it rains (which it did the past few days)? Encountered lots of runners and walkers. No roller skiers. I’m sure there were birds but I don’t remembering hearing them. I do remember looking at the river as I crossed the bridge–mostly, the rowers, but also that the river was calm and a blue gray. Not quite sunny yet, so no sparkling water. Anything else? No deep thoughts stayed with me, no fragments from a poem. I’m sure I thought about my son who Scott and I dropped off at college yesterday. Very excited for him.

As I write this entry a few hours after the run, I’m remembering that I thought briefly about the idea of approximate and a passage I read last night from Blind Man’s Bluff, a memoir by James Tate Hill about becoming legally blind at 16, and trying to hide it.

I can still see out of the corners of my eyes, but here’s the thing about peripheral vision: The quality of what you see isn’t the same as you see head-on. Imagine a movie filmed with only extras, a meal cooked using nothing but herbs and a dash of salt, a sentence constructed only of metaphors. To see something in your peripheral vision with any acuity, it has to be quite large.

Blind Man’s Bluff/ James Tate Hill

I thought about this passage when I was running because I’m bothered by his negative depiction of peripheral vision. Is the quality of vision solely based on clarity and sharpness? What value/quality of vision might we get from our side views and from images that are something less than 100% clear?

I find it helpful to read others’ descriptions of how and what they see. Hill’s vision is much worse than mine–even though the cones in my central vision are almost completely gone, my acuity in both eyes is surprisingly good and nowhere near legally blind. It seems as if the last few cones are doing all the work. Yet, even with my not-too-bad-yet vision, I struggle to see things like faces and eyes, read signs. Here’s an example from yesterday at the buffet lunch at my son’s college orientation: The food was put out on platters–watermelon, deli meat, cheese, bread, pasta salad–and you helped yourself. With my vision, I couldn’t tell what some of the food was–I had to ask Scott. I just couldn’t see it well enough. This often happens now when I’m eating a meal. I can’t quite (almost, but not enough) see what’s on the plate. I used to write about how I can’t tell if there’s mold on food, but now I can’t tell what the food is–unless I’ve prepared it myself. Not that big of a deal, but still frustrating.

Here’s another passage from the memoir that I appreciated:

The most frequent compliment heard by people with a disability is I could never do what you do, but everyone knows how to adapt. When it’s cold outside, we put on a coat. When it rains, we grab an umbrella. A road ends, so we turn left, turn right, turn around. We adapt because it’s all we can do when we cannot change our situation.

The other thing that I’ve already started to hear a lot as I lose my vision is: “you’re so brave!” I am not brave; I am good at adapting and learning to live with uncertainty. I am proud of how I’m handling my vision loss, but not because I’m being brave.

Returning to the theme of approximate, I’ve been trying to collect words, phrases that describe it: roughly, vague, almost, not quite, rough estimation, about, nearly, in the right zip or area code, in the ballpark, and the one that Scott mentioned the other day:

close enough for jazz

Had I ever heard this before Scott used it? He picked up the phrase from his jazz director in college, Dr. Steve Wright. Such a great phrase, one that I don’t see as criticizing jazz as sloppy, but celebrating it for its generosity.

august 26/RUNSWIM

4.15 miles
minehaha falls and back
65 degrees

Cooler this morning. Fall running is coming soon! Running south, I noticed lots of cars on the river road. None of them were going too fast but I could tell they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Summer seems over. I’m less sad, more wistful or already nostalgic for the water.

When I reached the falls, they were roaring again. It rained this week. More coming this afternoon and tomorrow. Will it be enough to end the drought? Not sure.

It’s a grayish white morning, quiet, calm. I smelled smoke near the double bridge. A campfire down in the gorge? I glanced at the river a few times when I was on the Winchell Trail. Today it looks blue. Heard a roller skier at the beginning of my run. Greeted a few runners and walkers. Successfully avoided rolling on a walnut–encased in its green shell, looking like a small tennis ball. Don’t remember seeing any squirrels or hearing any rower. Too early for kids on the playground. No music blasting from a bike speaker. I remember making note of a fragment of conversation, but I can’t remember what was said.

A good run. The upper half of my right side felt sore at the beginning of the run, but when I warmed up it was fine. I started to recite Auto-lullaby, but never quite finished. I guess I got distracted. I’d like to get back into combining poetry and running in September.

love, connection, and strangers

Yesterday, I discovered a great article by Elisa Gabbert about missing strangers during the pandemic: A Complicated Energy. It made me think about connection and love and how I miss being around other people–like walking on a busy city street or sitting on a bench in a park–when we are all strangers to each other.

To people-watch, says Baudelaire, is “to see the world, to be at the center of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world”—to become interchangeable, one of the strangers. For Virginia Woolf, a wander through the city at dusk was an escape from the trap of being “tethered to a single mind,” from the oppression of self: “The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow. We are no longer quite ourselves.” “Let us dally a little longer,” she writes, “be content still with surfaces only.” Strangers are all surface, and if we accessed their depths, they’d cease to be strangers. We’re all surface to them, too—all face. Strangers allow us to be mysterious in a way we can’t when we’re at home, or when alone. With strangers we’re unknown.

I like this idea of surfaces and the unknown, I’m less interested in the idea of people watching and seeing others, probably because I can’t see people very clearly. I do like hearing people’s stories and connecting with them on deeper levels sometimes, but it drains me. More often, I just like being in the midst of them–not too close, no need for talking or touching, being beside each other is enough. This is a meaningful form of connection to me, a form of love. Sometimes more than this is too much.

Woolf’s desire to not be “tethered to a single mind” resonates for me. This tethering and the idea of surfaces makes me think of sinking and floating, with sinking = tethered to the self-as-anchor and floating = being on the surface, unmoored, free to be unknown and unknowing. And then that connection makes me think of some great lines from a Maxine Kumin poem:

Where have I come from? Where am I going?
What do I translate, gliding back and forth
erasing my own stitch marks in this lane?
Christ on the lake was not thinking
where the next heel-toe went. 
God did him a dangerous favor
whereas Peter, the thinker, sank. 
The secret is in the relenting, 
the partnership. I let my body work
accepting the dangerous favor
from the king-size pool of waters. 

To Swim, To Believe/ Maxine Kumin

Love as relenting and letting go of self and ideas. To be tethered to the known (and to knowing) is to sink.

In the next part of the essay, Gabbert laments not being able to see more faces. She misses seeing faces, and she misses seeing faces see her. She is so bothered by this lack of face time that she experiences anxiety, insomnia, and symptoms similar to withdrawal from an anti-depressant. I was struck by discussion here for 2 reasons. First, it gave me more words (and someone else’s words, not just mine) for understanding what I’ve been feeling since 2016 when I stopped being able to see people’s faces clearly. The feelings of loneliness and disconnection, the need to see someone and to see them seeing me. Often I’ve convinced myself that I’m being overly dramatic, that it’s not that big of deal that I can’t see people’s faces, their features, their pupils when they’re talking to me or smiling at me or gesturing to me. But it is. In this essay, Gabbert argues that seeing and being seen are profoundly important–to be seen by others is to become real (and recognized as worthy/worthwhile).

This claim leads me to the second reason I was struck by Gabbert’s words: Why is connection, love, realness so often only (or primarily) understand as an act of sight? This question is not purely academic to me–I post it out of frustration about how the primacy of vision is taken-for-granted–in our everyday thinking and in essays lamenting the loss of connection during the pandemic. With my increasingly limited, unfocused vision, these expressions of recognition and connection are lost on me. Gabbert continues her essay with a discussion of the importance of touch–with a fascinating story about professional cuddlers–so she does offer alternatives to sight for connection. And she offers a broader discussion on the damaging effects of loneliness on our bodies and our mental health. Yet, it still feels like sight and seeing faces are the most important ways of connecting with others. I’d like to find more words about loss of connection that don’t center on faces or seeing. Maybe I’ll have to write them?

One more thing about love. I found this poem by Dorothy Wordsworth while searching for “loving eye” on the poetry foundation site. Her distinction between loving and liking made me curious:

Loving and Liking: Irregular Verses Addressed to a Child/ Dorothy Wordsworth

There’s more in words than I can teach: 
Yet listen, Child! — I would not preach; 
But only give some plain directions 
To guide your speech and your affections. 
Say not you love a roasted fowl 
But you may love a screaming owl, 
And, if you can, the unwieldy toad 
That crawls from his secure abode 
Within the mossy garden wall 
When evening dews begin to fall, 
Oh! mark the beauty of his eye: 
What wonders in that circle lie! 
So clear, so bright, our fathers said 
He wears a jewel in his head! 
And when, upon some showery day, 
Into a path or public way 
A frog leaps out from bordering grass, 
Startling the timid as they pass, 
Do you observe him, and endeavour 
To take the intruder into favour: 
Learning from him to find a reason 
For a light heart in a dull season. 
And you may love him in the pool, 
That is for him a happy school, 
In which he swims as taught by nature, 
Fit pattern for a human creature, 
Glancing amid the water bright, 
And sending upward sparkling light. 

   Nor blush if o’er your heart be stealing 
A love for things that have no feeling: 
The spring’s first rose by you espied, 
May fill your breast with joyful pride; 
And you may love the strawberry-flower, 
And love the strawberry in its bower; 
But when the fruit, so often praised 
For beauty, to your lip is raised, 
Say not you love the delicate treat, 
But like it, enjoy it, and thankfully eat. 

   Long may you love your pensioner mouse, 
Though one of a tribe that torment the house: 
Nor dislike for her cruel sport the cat 
Deadly foe both of mouse and rat; 
Remember she follows the law of her kind, 
And Instinct is neither wayward nor blind. 
Then think of her beautiful gliding form, 
Her tread that would scarcely crush a worm, 
And her soothing song by the winter fire, 
Soft as the dying throb of the lyre. 

   I would not circumscribe your love: 
It may soar with the Eagle and brood with the dove, 
May pierce the earth with the patient mole, 
Or track the hedgehog to his hole. 
Loving and liking are the solace of life, 
Rock the cradle of joy, smooth the death-bed of strife. 
You love your father and your mother, 
Your grown-up and your baby brother; 
You love your sister and your friends, 
And countless blessings which God sends; 
And while these right affections play, 
You live each moment of your day; 
They lead you on to full content, 
And likings fresh and innocent, 
That store the mind, the memory feed, 
And prompt to many a gentle deed: 
But likings come, and pass away; 
’Tis love that remains till our latest day: 
Our heavenward guide is holy love, 
And will be our bliss with saints above. 

swim: 1 mile / 1 loop
lake nokomis open swim
70 degrees

The thunderstorms held off so I could do a final loop in the lake! Now, as I write this at 7:15, it’s dark and raining and a loud clap of thunder just hit somewhere nearby. What joy to get one last loop! Such a strange swim. No one at the lake besides us swimmers–and not too many swimmers. Overcast, eerily quiet, and smoke from wildfires at the Boundary Waters. Another apocalyptic night. Only orange buoys, no green ones. I swam to the white buoy off of the little beach, treaded water for a minute or two, then swam back. What a great season! So happy to have taken full advantage of a great summer. So grateful for the amazing Minneapolis Parks department. STA and I met at Sandcastle for a beer after I finished.

august 5/RUN

run: 3.1 miles
2 trails the no-stress way
69 degrees
dew point: 64

Decided to try a variation on the 2 trails that would hopefully not be as stressful as the way I’ve been going this summer. Instead of heading south on the river road trail, which involves battling cars at the 4 way stop at 35th, and then avoiding pairs or packs of runners and speeding, crowding bikers, I ran on the grassy boulevard between Edmund and the River Road. I crossed over to the trail at 42nd and only had to run up above, on the more crowded trail, for 2 or 3 minutes. Much better! Love (for other runners and bikers + running by the gorge) restored, irritation avoided. Nice.

Shortly before starting my run, it had rained briefly. Not even enough to dampen all of the ground, everywhere patches of dry, parched dirt. Enough to make it all feel wet though, and to hear sprinkling coming out of the sewer instead of just trickling or dribbling.

Ran by the house on Edmund that posts poems in their front windows. No new poems today. Still 3 poems by June Jordan.

As I ran north on the lower trail, I started thinking about my vision. I imagined that I might need a white cane sometime in my 50s and I thought that it won’t bother me. Well, some parts of it will bother me, I’m sure, but I won’t worry about what other people think.

Yesterday at the eye doctor, during one of the tests the doctor said, “Now, this is the worst part.” It wasn’t bad at all for me, so I asked, “Why is this the worst part? It didn’t bother me at all.” He responded, “That’s because you don’t have any cone cells left.” He was shining a super bright light directly into the center of my eyes. For anyone with “normal” vision, the light would have been painfully bright. I’m glad I learned to ask. It’s helpful to know–a little disturbing too to think about how few cones I have left, and how dead the central vision in my eyes is.

It’s Thursday, so usually I’d be doing open swim too but the threat of a severe thunderstorm forced them to cancel. No storm. Bummer.

This month I’m thinking about love. In particular, I’m trying to think about love in new ways, beyond the clichés of what it means to love and how we represent that love. Here are 2 poems that complicate the ultimate symbol of love, the heart. Before posting them I just want to add, in my most grumpiest voice: I really don’t like the heart gesture that so many athletes are making with their hands at the Olympics as a way to signal their love to friends and family back home. Bring back Carol Burnett’s tug of the ear, I say! Much more personal and meaningful than the trendy, empty gesture of the hand-heart, popularized by Taylor Swift in the 2010s. I read that she tested out several different gestures on her audience and stuck with this one when it got the biggest response. Expression of love focus-grouped. I mentioned my complaint to my daughter and she showed me the heart hand signal that her favorite band, BTS, does. A fist with 2 fingers crossed. To me it looked like an actual heart with the fingers representing the aorta. Probably not, but I thought it was cooler.

Heart/ Maggie Smith

A child of, say, six knows you’re not the shape
she’s learned to make by drawing half along a fold,
cutting, then opening. Where do you open?

Where do you carry your dead? There’s no locket
for that–hinged, hanging on a chain that greens
your throat. And the dead inside you, don’t you
hear them breathing? You must have a hole
they can press their gray lips to. If you open–
when you open–will we find them folded inside?
In what shape? I mean what cut shape is made
whole by opening? I mean beside the heart.

Heart to Heart/ Rita Dove –

It’s neither red
nor sweet.
It doesn’t melt
or turn over,
break or harden,
so it can’t feel
pain,
yearning,
regret.

It doesn’t have
a tip to spin on,
it isn’t even
shapely—
just a thick clutch
of muscle,
lopsided,
mute. Still,
I feel it inside
its cage sounding
a dull tattoo:
I want, I want—

but I can’t open it:
there’s no key.
I can’t wear it
on my sleeve,
or tell you from
the bottom of it
how I feel. Here,
it’s all yours, now—
but you’ll have
to take me,
too.

Rita Dove and Maggie Smith are two of my favorite poets.

june 24/SWIM

3 miles/ 3 loops
lake nokomis open swim
83 degrees

The third day in a row of open swim. It was overcast, which I thought would make it easier for me to see all the buoys, but the lack of light drained their color. Hardly any smudges of orange, and only when I twisted my neck so I could see the buoy through my peripheral. Strangely, I saw the green buoys more often, which was not a lot. Will it ever stop being amazing to me that I can swim across the lake without panicking when all I can see is endless water? Heading back from the little beach, where the path between buoys is wider and less direct, I had a moment of feeling like I was swimming off the edge of the earth. Alone, off course. Then I saw an elbow and knew I was fine, heading toward the big beach. As I swam, I remembered a poem I wrote for my chapbook on swimming about my feelings of love and annoyance for other swimmers as we swim in the lake. I tried to love the other swimmers more than be irritated by them as they unintentionally routed me. I really tried; sometimes it worked.

i feel 
a deep love
for these other half fish half humans
who seem to love deeply what i love
all of us sharing a lake a moment 
a joy for the generosity of water

and i feel
continued annoyance
at their cluelessness 
on how to swim straight 
and their inability to wrangle 
jutting elbows and flailing frog-like legs

i try to remember my love and forget my irritation
but when the lake water sloshes over my head gently
it washes away everything

I like the idea of this poem, and many of the lines, but I think I can make it much better. I’d like to work on it, and some others from the collection, and maybe try to get them published. What if I turned by various verses about the lake and swimming into one long poem? How would that work? How does a long poem work?

Other Things I Remember

  • Choppy water, none of it washing over my head, but tugging at the safety buoy I have tethered to my waist. Makes swimming more difficult–the buoy around my waist, acting like Coleridge’s albatross around the Ancient Mariner’s neck
  • Once I mistook a fish for a wave and when I stopped suddenly my buoy bumped into me, which felt like a fish, and for a flash, I freaked out
  • I noticed several swimmers stopping briefly to try and find the buoy. One guy stopped several times. He was slightly faster than me, but was working much harder, churning up water with his big kicks
  • I didn’t think a sailboat was the buoy tonight
  • I was swimming faster than 2 breaststrokers ahead of me, but as I approached they sped up–on purpose or without realizing it, I’m not sure–and wouldn’t let me pass
  • It is harder to see through my central vision, I think, and I feel even more cut off from the world when I swim than I used to. Mostly, this does not bother me; I like the dream world that lake swimming creates
  • Right before starting, a woman called out, “Wow, the number on your cap is over 1000!” And I said, “Is that how many swimmers there are in open swim club?” And, she said, “Well, my cap is 13!” If there are over 1000 swimmers signed up for open swim, they are not all in the water with me tonight. Maybe 100 are here

june 17/SWIM

2 miles/2 loops
lake nokomis open swim
82 degrees

Another great open swim. So far, I’m enjoying this new course. It’s longer and more forgiving, I think. Swimmers are spread out wider so you don’t have to worry about running into anyone going the opposite direction. It helps that more people are doing open swim too. More limbs to sight when I can’t see the buoys. I felt strong when I was swimming, and stronger when I was done. I love the feeling of my arm muscles after swimming. A warm glow, slightly sore, physical evidence of effort.

Not sure if or when I’ll get used to how strange and remarkable it is to be able to swim this course when I can hardly see the buoys–just a quick flash of orange green or the idea of it bobbing in front of me. Could it be that my brain “sees” the buoy even when I don’t consciously see it with my eyes? From the research I’ve done on vision, I think it’s possible. The body is remarkable. Swimming is remarkable. I love how confident I feel when I swim. Probably the most confident I ever feel doing anything. I never doubt or second-guess myself in the water. I just swim. I wish more things in life could feel this easy—well, not easy, but right or natural.

I did a lot of breathing every five strokes. Sometimes every six or every three or every three then four. Saw some ducks, was rocked by some waves, saw some flashes that might have been fish.

For much of the day, I was reading/reviewing the history of the Mississippi Gorge, starting with the occupation and renaming of Owámniyomni to St. Anthony Falls by Father Hennepin in 1680. Much of my focus today, without entirely intending it to be, was the tracing of commerce and capital, from furs to timber to flour to hydroelectric power. Learned about Franklin Steele and his tactics for grabbing land and making money. (Why Nobody Wants to Talk About Franklin Steele) What a terrible person, yet he did so much to make Minneapolis what it is today. Difficult to figure out how to reconcile the benefits of progress with the terrible damage it causes. Maybe they can’t be reconciled.

june 16/RUN

4.3 miles
the falls + winchell trail
65 degrees

A beautiful yet difficult run. Not sure why it was so hard. Maybe because I swam last night and didn’t eat enough breakfast before I ran this morning? Or maybe because of allergies from lake water? Still, it was great to be outside early (but not that early, already 7:20) in the morning. The sun was warm, the river was sparkling, the falls were flowing. I don’t remember hearing them gushing. Must be all the heat and the lack of rain. I wonder how full the creek is right now?

Heading back from the falls, I turned down by the overlook at 44th and entered the Winchell Trail. I walked for the first stretch, where the asphalt has surrendered to the dirt and the trail sits steeply above the river. Not even a dribble of water at the 44th street sewer pipe by the curved retaining wall. Encountered a few more people than I normally do on the trail, but I didn’t care or worry about how close I was to them. It’s fascinating (and a little unsettling) how quickly and easily you forget hyper-vigilance.

As I write this, someone is weed-whacking their lawn with an old, barely working weed-whacker. Sometimes its whine sounds like a person, weakened by age or pain or both, moaning. “Ooooooooooooooo.” Sometimes it sounds like a tiny mosquito buzzing around my ear, hovering too close. This is to say, it’s annoying!

Thought about stopping at the falls and checking out the different signs–with brief history blurbs or poems or names–but I didn’t. I think I’ll bike over there one day for a field trip. Maybe I can convince Scott and then we’ll get a beer at Sea Salt?! Speaking of signs, I just re-read this in Waterlog by Roger Deakin:

Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this is that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming [and running] will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things (4).

Waterlog: A Swimming Journey Through Britain/ Roger Deakin

As much as I agree with this idea of wandering away from official versions and ready-made interpretations, I also see the value of some of the historic signs that help us to get a deeper sense of the history of the land, how it has been shaped, and how we are connected to it. These signs need to be read critically and put in the larger context of who is telling the story and how. Sometimes these signs need to be updated or rewritten.

Found this poem via Maggie Smith (the poet, not the actor) on twitter. Like most great poems, after reading it a few times, there’s a lot I still don’t get.

The Blind Leading The Blind/ Lisel Mueller

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of our throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from the palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for occasional bits and bubbles of light—
birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

I love the lines about water and rock: “The sound you hear is water” and “The ground you walk on is rock.” I also like the double meaning of turnoffs, both things you don’t like, and alternate paths and ways to travel.

Thinking about the title, The Blind Leading The Blind. According to Merriam-Webster it is “used informally to describe a situation in which someone who is not sure about how to do something is helping another person who also is not sure about how to do it.” Often this is interpreted as a useless, pointless, clueless thing. But, in a dark cave, where seeing is impossible, a blind person would be better equipped to lead than a normally sighted person. Also, why should being unsure about something mean that you can’t do it, or that you’ll bad at it? How can we ever really be sure about anything? I imagine Mueller’s two “blind” people (you and I) as not helpless from lack of sight, but connected and hopeful through touch.

june 9/RUN

4 miles
marshall hill
74 degrees
dew point: 66

Delia the dog woke me up and forced me out of bed at 5:45, yesterday it was 5:55. I suppose I should be grateful; I like early mornings in the summer. If she wakes me up at 5:30 tomorrow, we’re taking a walk. Mornings are magical. Getting up so early, I was able to sit, drink my coffee, and still get out for my run before 7. Very nice.

I ran the marshall hill route for the first time since november 24, 2019, just near the end of the before times. Running north on the river road trail, I greeted the Welcoming Oaks. So wonderful to run by them on this sunny morning! And, to run by the sprawling oak that shades the ancient boulder with the stacked stones–2 today. Heading down into the thickening tunnel of trees, I heard the clickity-clack of a lone roller skier and then the coxswain’s bullhorn. Rowers! Later, running over the lake street bridge, I managed to spot the rowers on the smooth, glassy river. Running up marshall hill was tough, but I convinced myself not to stop for a break until I was at the top. Reaching the east river road and running down the hill right above Shadow Falls was fun. Near the end of the run, I could hear the buzz of the cicadas. I liked the noise even though it sounded like heat.

My focus on water and stone this month has led me to Lorine Niedecker and I am excited. Her work is opening many doors for me. I bought Niedecker’s Lake Superior a few years ago, but never really looked at it. Now, I am, and I’m amazed. The book begins with her poem “Lake Superior” and then an excerpt of her notes for the poem. She took 300 single-spaced, type-written notes for a poem that is less than 400 words. Wow! At the end of the notes, the editor of this book mentions that all 300 pages of Niedecker’s notes are available online through the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection. Nice!

side note: Reading an article about Niedecker, I discovered that her name is pronounced nee-decker, and that it had originally been spelled Neidecker but she changed it to make the pronunciation less confusing. Really? When I see Nie I think nye, and when I see Nei, I think neigh or nye, not nee. But maybe that’s just me?

Here’s a poem of hers that I imagine is one of her more well-known:

Poet’s work/ LORINE NIEDECKER

Grandfather   
   advised me:
         Learn a trade

I learned
   to sit at desk
         and condense

No layoff
   from this
         condensery

I love this poem–the idea of condensing as a trade, the valuing of condensing, the exemplification of it in the poem, “Lake Superior”–300 pages of notes condensed down to 300+ words!

Here are a few reasons I’m excited about Niedecker now, at the beginning of my encounters with her:

  • She writes about the lake I was born on, Lake Superior, and geology and geography that resonates with me
  • Her process: all the notes condensed down to a pithy, beautiful poem + the type of notes: history mixed with her travel stories, critical commentary on land and language and globalization
  • The forms of her poems and how the later ones might be influenced by her vision diagnosis when she was 46–she had nystagmic (your eyes constantly move, struggle to focus)
  • Her attention to and writing about rocks and water
  • The impact of her work through the WPA Writers program on the guide for Wisconsin + her work with Aldo Leopold
  • This brief essay, Switchboard Girl, in which she writes about her struggle to find work with her eye condition. I’m planning to read this closely; it might give me some useful language for understanding and communicating my own struggles with work after my diagnosis

It’s exciting to me how, slowly–4+ years of writing, reading, studying, listening to, memorizing poetry–I’m finding more ways into beautiful, useful, powerful, better words.

water and stone, another perspective

After posting this entry, I read some more of Tom Weber’s Minneapolis: An Urban Biography–specifically about the Dakota people, the settler colonizing of the area, and how Ramsey (gov. of Minnesota when it became a state + responsible for the Dakota Exclusion Act, making all Dakota people illegal in Mn + namesake of the county in which St. Paul resides) and Pike (responsible for the shady illegal treaties that led to Dakota people ceding all of their land to the US) were awful. Then I googled some more about St. Anthony Falls and found this interesting bit of information:

Owamni-yomni is ‘whirlpool’ in the Dakota language.
Gakaabika is ‘severed rock’ in the Ojibwe language. 

Water and rock. I want to read more about this naming and why the Dakota chose to emphasize water and the Ojibwe rock. Both viewed the place as sacred–I know a little more about the Dakota and how importance this water was for them, but not as much about Ojibwe and sandstone/limestone.

april 13/RUN

3.4 miles
edmund, heading north loop
35 degrees/ 15 mph wind
snow flurries

O, cruel April with your warm sun, blooming flowers, then snow flurries and mornings where it feels like 25 degrees. Even so, it was a good run. Bundled up, with the pink hood of my jacket up and my gloves on, I didn’t feel the wind. A benefit of colder, windier weather: no one on the trail! I ran through the tunnel of trees and was able to attend to its slow and gradual greening. The trees are coming into leaf/like something almost being said/the recent buds relax and spread/their greenness is a kind of grief (Phillip Larkin). I memorized that poem last year in May and it has stuck.

Ran past the ancient boulder with a few stones stacked on top, past the welcoming oaks, above the ravine and the oak savanna and the muddy trail that climbs up near the tree stump with chain link limbs. Looked down at the Winchell Trail and thought about taking it, but I didn’t. At 42nd, I heard a bird that almost sounded like a black-capped chickadee, but not quite. 3 notes instead of 2, and no rising up or down the scale. What was it? Also heard the drumming and calling of some woodpeckers.

Even though this is not a Mary Oliver poem, I had to post it–because I’d like it and because it gave me an opportunity to reflect more on my vision loss:

Pastoral/ Forest Gander

Together,
you
standing
before me before
the picture
window, my arms
around you, our
eyes pitched
beyond our
reflections into—

(“into,” I’d
written, as
though there
swung at the end
of a tunnel,
a passage dotted
with endless
points of
arrival, as
though our gaze
started just outside
our faces and
corkscrewed its way
toward the horizon,
processual,
as if looking
took time to happen
and weren’t
instantaneous,
offered whole in
one gesture
before we
ask, before our
will, as if the far
Sonoma mountains
weren’t equally ready
to be beheld as
the dead
fly on the sill)—

the distance, a
broad hill of
bright mustard flowers
the morning light
coaxes open.

I really like this poem and Gander’s reading of it. I was struck by his explanation of it, especially the idea that we see all instantly, that seeing, as a process, happens without effort, is immediate, and whole/complete. Occasionally seeing is not like this for many people–they experience visual errors, their brains receive conflicting data from their photoreceptor cells and generates confusing, ambiguous images. More frequently, seeing is like this for me. It is work, and sometimes, I can almost feel my brain trying to make sense of an image or a landscape. I witness them changing shape until they settle into what my brain decides they are. But, unlike Gander suggests in his recorded explanation of the poem, I can’t just “look once and find the near and far equally accessible” and the world doesn’t just present itself to me.

I like how Naomi Cohn describes it in her essay, “In Light of a White Cane.”

What I remember of better eyesight is how the world assembled all at once, an effortless gestalt—the light, the distance, the dappled detail of shade, exact crinkles of a facial expression through a car windshield, the lift of a single finger from a steering wheel, sunlight bouncing off a waxed hood.

Naomi Cohn

more mary oliver

So far, I’ve read through Devotions and Swan. Now I’m reading Evidence and Dream Work and then New and Selected Poems, Volumes I and II. I’ve read her collection of essays, Upstream too. And, I’m planning an extended study of her book length poem, The Leaf and the Cloud. I’m reading through it several times, along with the article, “‘An Attitude of Noticing’: Mary Oliver’s Ecological Ethic” by Kirstin Hotelling Zona. It sounds like a lot, but I’m not doing a close reading of every poem in every book. Just reading through, letting the words wash over me, and picking out a few things I want to remember.

more Evidence

Deep Summer

The mockingbird
opens his throat
among the thorns
for his own reasons
but doesn’t mind
if we pause
to listen
and learn something
for ourselves;
he doesn’t stop,
he nods
his gray head
with the frightfully bright eyes,
he flirts
his supple tail,
he says:
listen, if you would listen.
There’s no end
to good talk,
to passion songs,
to the melodies
that say
this branch,
this tree is mine,
to the wholesome
happiness
of being alive
on a patch
of this green earth
in the deep
pleasures of summer.
What a bird!
Your clocks, he says plainly,
which are always ticking,
do not have to be listened to.
The spirit of his every word.

I Want to Write Something So Simple

“And this is good for us.”
I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.