Tag Archives: time

Cows Come Home

Kids and cows are subject to the charms of soft summer days, the seduction of lush green pastures, the hypnosis of eternal rhythms, and the freedom of room to roam. It grieves me to know that few men remember this and fewer boys ever learn it; and it grieves me that we eat cheese from cows never privileged to share the experiences with barefoot boys.

NOTE: This blog series is dedicated to the quest for understanding who I am and how I came to be me.

Cows are creatures of herd habit, products of millions of years of evolution that cannot be erased by thousands of years of genetic modification of domestication. But, domesticated they are, and milking cows have the need to be milked routinely, which means that by late afternoon, it is time for the cows to come home.

On hot, dry summer days, they may come home early for water. Cows cannot make milk without lots of water. Our pasture was the part of the farm unsuitable to plow, the hill too steep and the marsh too soft, but it contained no stream or pond of water, so they had to come home to the barnyard tank.

On the soft summer days, though, when the grass was lush with moisture, the sun not too hot, and the air not too dry, time slipped away from us. The rhythms of the day were conducted by the buzzing of working bees, the frequency of butterfly wings, and the stirring of leaves in gentle breezes. Only the fences kept us from getting lost in time. Funny how fences can grant us the mental freedom to roam within reason.

And so it was that one of my earliest responsibilities as a boy was to go get the cows on days such as this, on days when the herd got lost in the natural rhythms. I miss the feel of bare feet on soft dust of well trod cow paths passing flat cow pies raisining in the sun. I miss the adventure of stalking a Tiger Swallowtail or evading bad guys hiding behind rocks and trees. I miss the freedom of time and space within protective fences. I miss the relevance of having an important job, a job I understood even at the age of four years.

It wasn’t that hard. Rawhide and Rowdy Yates notwithstanding, all that is necessary to get cows to head to a barn is to circle around behind them. A lead cow will head for home and the others will follow. Then I really had the freedom to wander in my mind because all I had to do was follow them and we all knew where we were going.

Most days it was even easier than that. When the lead cows saw me coming, they knew what to do and started for the barn. I didn’t even have to work my way behind them. My very presence commanded the herd to move as one. What a palpable feeling of power for a small boy. Yes, I looked forward to the days when the cows failed to come home in time for milking.

Sometimes adventure came my way when the cows came home on their own. We let them into the barn for milking and one was missing, one that had not been milking for a couple of months. Dad would say, go find her. I loved it, perhaps because of the uncertainty and element of danger—but mostly because it meant there was a new calf and another of my jobs as I got a bit older was to teach the calves how to drink from a pail.

When cows had their calves in the summer pasture, they often went a bit feral and stayed with them at the far reaches of the domain where the calf could be hidden. It was a hunt, and I have always loved a good hunt.

I learned early not to crowd a cow with a new calf. They can get very protective, even mean, so the method was to get behind them, talk to them, and persuade movement. Sometimes I failed and had to get my big brother with more persuasive skills.

I also loved finding the new calves. There is something about the miracle of birth, of new life where there had not been life, that still fascinates me. I wouldn’t doubt but this kind of experience contributed to my interest in Biology.

And I loved teaching them to drink by allowing them to suck milk off my fingers, gently lowering their noses into the pail of milk and slowly removing my fingers. There is great accomplishment in teaching and I still thrill at my hand in the learning. We can lead the calf to water but we can’t make her drink. Ah, but I can entice her to learn. Yes, some learn much quicker than others, some are more stubborn than others, but sooner or later they all learn to drink.

Sometimes there was a medical reason a cow was missing. On one occasion, I found the new mother lying flat on her side, holding her head up as though looking back at her udder. The veterinarian came and gave her a bottle of intravenous calcium solution after which she stood up and walked home as though nothing was wrong. “Milk Fever” he called it, a sudden drain of calcium from the body to make milk which resulted in a life threatening condition. I saved her life by finding her. Yay for me.

The University of Wisconsin did not have a Veterinary School in my time or I very likely would have gone. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like. Mostly, now, I am comfortable with my place in time and the life I have experienced. I guess I am glad UW did not get the vet school in time for me or I might not have been a teacher. I was a lucky boy.

Core Choice

Every moment of every day there is precisely one choice to make, the Core Choice. All other choices serve this one.

NOTE: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD and other past stress. We have looked at ten and leave one more for August. July is devoted to Discipline.

Light invaded as neurons transmitted perceptions to my mind and consciousness emerged from wherever it sleeps.

“Morning,” I affirmed. My bedroom in the north woods RV is less than 8 ft wide with a window on each side. Judging sunlit treetops out the south window, I concluded it was about 7am.

It does not take long for our minds to attach and reattach to man-made constructs like time.

“What do I have to do today? What day is it? Wednesday.” I looked out the north window at my garden that needs to be put to bed before Monday. “I have to do my blog!”

What to do first? That is the question easily answered by discipline.

For much of my life, personal discipline was replaced by obligation, by rules and rote behavior, on most Wednesdays. On others, when I was not working, the burden of choosing was mine.

Hobbies replace work for structuring time. We have created this advanced technology of time, the invention of tiny parcels of life, and this creation becomes our master. We fritter away our lives on meer man-made minutia of rules and rote lest we face…what?

The Great Reality. We structure our lives with addictions of habits that fill our time, distractions from The Great Reality.

You do not want me to tell you about The Great Reality. Do you?

“And I disagree with the way I’ve been living
But I can’t hold myself in line…” (Merle Haggard)

I wasted much of my life disagreeing with the way I was living. I lacked discipline, organization, and attention to detail. And in my disillusionment with myself, I became willing to face My Great Reality. So, this morning after most parts of my mind, body, and spirit seemed awake, I made my Core Choice. I dressed my body for the cool morning and my mind with disciplined willingness, and I followed my spirit outside. I mentally turned to feel the call to one of my small special places. I walked down to the edge of the stream valley where the sun kisses the shore and stood. There, The Great Reality is perceivable by mind, body, and spirit.

I witness Creation. It is happening. The stream valley I walked yesterday is changing, growing shrubs and trees, becoming an alder swamp, a swamp forest, a bottomland, and a fertile valley. My view where I saw the cougar is gone. My deer hunting firing lanes are gone. My world is changing and soon I will be gone. But the land will still be changing. The best I can do is to bequeath claim to this land to one who will belong to the land.

My choice this morning, my Core Choice, is to touch The Great Reality. I cannot tell you how that feels. Oh, I can say it is joy and sorrow, strength and weakness, brief and eternal, warm and cool, pleasure and pain. I can tell you it is the most important thing I can do, today, that I will endeavor to do it more than once today, that everything else I will do today will follow. I can share with you that my goal is to take every breath and step within The Great Reality…someday. I can report that days when I dwell within my Core Choice are good beyond comprehension–and that other days are wasted.

Deep, deep down inside you, do you feel a longing and a willingness to touch your Great Reality? The choice is yours.

Happy Tracking!

Desperate Dates

Note: This blog series investigates twelve attributes I see as conducive to recovery from PTSD (and other past stress) which has become part of our ethos or basic belief system. November investigates gratitude.

One of the happiest anniversary dates of my life is DEROS, my Date Eligible to Return from Over Seas. I left Vietnam on 1 November 1970. It has been on my mind, especially since I planned this blog series and I have been helping organize Military and Veteran Appreciation Week on campus. This should be a joyous time, right?

“Some of the reactions those affected may experience as the anniversary date nears include difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, irritable outbursts, nightmares, difficulty falling or staying asleep, and feeling detachment from others.” (APA)

Except for the loss of appetite, I have had all of those symptoms the past couple of weeks, including this morning. First, I looked for physical causes such as a virus, heart problems, or worse. Then, I blamed it on work.

I had been confused.

Time generates anxiety. All I had to do in Vietnam was stay alive for 362 days and I could go home. The closer I came to that date, the more I worried about getting shot down as I visited A-Team camps by helicopter, or a rocket attack on our compound (one hit my building about three weeks after I left). I was holding my breath. Maybe that was what I was feeling on my DEROS anniversary.

Sunday, November 2nd, after I expressed gratitude for getting home forty four years earlier, I had an epiphany. Since my deployment had been for one calendar year, this was also the anniversary of the day I patted my baby in her crib, hugged my wife, said goodbye to my parents, and went to war. The dual nature of this anniversary date had eluded me all these years.

I am grateful that my baby did not have to grow up without her dad. I am grateful that my second daughter was conceived almost a year after I got home. After decades of guilt, remorse, and anger, I am grateful to be alive.

“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude.” (Thornton Wilder)

Perhaps there is no more compelling feeling among survivors than a need to make something of the life spared, a life of gratitude, as expressed at the end of the movie, Saving Private Ryan.

My first visit to “The Wall” was an unplanned escape from pain. I came away knowing that it was okay that my name was not there. Knowing it deep down, inside. I had been told.

When my friend went to Vietnam to be an airborne brigade recon patrol team member, he was still a teenager. He has never been to the Vietnam War Memorial. I suggested, once, that he should go, but he told me that he couldn’t until he had made something of his life.

It can be difficult to feel grateful for something we do not believe we deserve, something we have not earned.

The bad news is that like other PTSD symptoms, date reactions will never go away. The good news is that as long as we are still alive, we have opportunities to turn from habits of grief to practice of gratitude.

May you find the embers of gratitude in your heart, and may humility fan them into flames. Gratitude is in you—you just have to find it.

Happy Tracking.

Dark Adventure

In America’s pre-dawn darkness on Friday, December 21st, 2012, our sun will reach its extreme southern position on our horizon—and people will die.
They will die because they are afraid.
They will die to avoid adventure.
For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this is our longest night, our longest wait for the light of our sun. It is a dark season for us. For Christians, it is Advent. We wait.
This year we wait for the unknown. We wait for the change—maybe the end of the world as we know it—and we are afraid.
If the world does not immediately end on that day, we will face the cold. As my dad used to say, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.”
But, the sun is coming back. The days are getting longer. Shouldn’t it be getting warmer?
All seasons lag. There is a delay as the long nights continue to take their toll. Winter follows the solstice,
February was always, ironically, my longest month. Spring still seemed so far away.
But it is coming, which is the meaning of advent, and our time between now and then is always an adventure. Because we do not know what comes, exactly, and we do not know what awaits us between now and then, between pain and salvation, between birth and death.
That is precisely what makes life an adventure.
In many ways, 2012 is no different from any other Advent season. We never know what the season brings or the new year (or, the new century, millennium, or age). Life is always adventure.
Earth will turn on Friday and the sun will rise over America as all other lands. The old adage, “It is always darkest before the dawn,” is figurative only. This year, our moon is in first quarter on Winter Solstice, so it will light our sky before sunrise, reflecting the sun’s light, foretelling its coming.
If we can but read the signs.
Pessimists among us decry change and adventure. They claim the world is ending, and fearing change, take their own lives. Sometimes they take the lives of others. Because they are afraid.
I watched a movie recently in which a young couple was stranded in the Grand Canyon. The husband lost his leg and suffered fever. As he lay near death, wolves approached. To save him from the wolves, his bride took his life—only moments before the sound of the approaching rescue helicopter.
Optimists see a Mayan prophecy of changing worlds, a grand spiritual shift from selfishness to cooperation among people. They see hope in adventure where others see despair.
Who is right?
Both. Seasons always lag. There will be more darkness. But seasons will change, light will return, Spring will come, and humans will evolve.
It will not be easy. It will be adventure.

Power of Piddling

“As a combat veteran, perhaps the healthiest psychological defense is sublimation.” (Hart, 2000, p. 127) Sublimation in psychological terms refers to turning my psychological energy to some useful (or, not destructive) activity. I remember it from UW Psych 201 as the most socially acceptable of Sigmund Freud’s ego defense mechanisms.

Reminder: For the past few months, this blog has been dedicated to my reflections on a book by Ashley B. Hart II, PhD, called An Operators Manual for Combat PTSD: Essays for Coping.

One of the VA’s psychologists told me that intelligence is a defense against PTSD. Yes and no. I believe she was half right—potentially. Intelligence applied to a problem can help to solve it. Turned inward, intelligence fuels dysfunction. Dang, another dilemma.

To piddle is to do something trivial or insignificant. Dr. Hart says that is good for us. In his experience, investing our time and energy in doing relatively unimportant things somehow helps us to channel our angst, dread, fear, and rage. Yeah, that sounds pretty good.

You sense a but, don’t you?

I have problems piddling, and no, it is not an Agent Orange symptom—at least, not as I mean it here. Maybe it is about survivor guilt; my time is too important to piddle. After all, I was one of the lucky ones. Don’t I owe it to my less lucky brothers to do something meaningful with my life? My life is made of time. Piddling just seems like a waste of life.

Then there is the other problem. I never learned how to piddle very well. I have a 1982 Honda CX 500 Custom motorcycle in my garage. My intention was to restore it to youth. Not happening. I’m not much of a fixer-upper guy.

Gardening is something I know how to do, and I can get into it. There have been many seasons where I managed a tidy and productive garden in Wisconsin. Things are different in the desert and I haven’t learned how, yet. I also have some back problems that make gardening a bit less fun. Poor me.

I think. Somewhere along the way I determined that thinking is something I am pretty good at doing. So, I do it almost all the time. Mm, mm, mm. Not good.

Dr. Hart simply says, “…too much introspection or rather self examination is not healthy.” (p. 127). Mulling over problems leads to stinkin’ thinkin’.

The question I must answer for myself is, “How do I use my aptitudes and attitudes to solve my problems rather than exacerbate them?” Okay, I think I am pretty smart and I have spent a lifetime studying all sorts of stuff. How can I use that for piddling?

Please, do not throw something at me. I like story problems. I love to solve problems (and I know some of my former students will not be surprised). Actually, I love to apply my talents to solving your problems.

That’s it. Helping others. That’s what I need to do.

Some years ago I completed a talent survey at church. Found out I’m a pastor more than a teacher. Yeah, it’s that missionary kind of attitude I have of trying to fix your problems. I call it coaching.

People scare me and I am shy, but teaching provides a way for me to help. I am a very lucky boy. I still have opportunities to teach, both professionally and socially.

If you know me, you may not be surprised by my next statement. More than caring for people through teaching and coaching, I love to care for land. In Wisconsin, I have twenty-seven acres to tend. That’s just about the right amount, but I still find ways to point out some things to my neighbors about their rocks, trees, flowers, and animals.

In Arizona, I own a city lot; however, I still have a volunteer affiliation with Yuma Conservation Garden where my efforts are appreciated. Yes, I can piddle at the Garden as much as I want. I just have to get over the notion that everything I do is of great importance.

I take myself too seriously. That is an obstacle to piddling. Yes. I believe I am getting it. I’m glad we had this little chat. Thanks for listening.

Oh, how can you help? Simple. Tolerate and encourage piddling.

B.R.E.A.T.H.E.

Pain and damage from the Wild Ride (or, Dinosaur Dump) of combat PTSD can be averted. Responses of our primitive brain to some triggers of stimuli can be stopped. The physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes caused by adrenalin can be mitigated.  If action is taken in the first twenty seconds, there is no response. If action is effective in the first twenty minutes, the prolonged pain of 3-4 days can be avoided. All you have to do is breathe.

Caution: I invented this acronym as a way of remembering some of the necessary tools. You will probably need more research and some guidance to learn these techniques well.

Breathing – Take a deep breath, inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling even more slowly through your mouth. Repeat once or twice. The process helps you to relax and remember your other tools. Oxygen also helps your smart brain to process information rather than surrendering to the primitive brain.

Relaxation – With cleansing breaths bringing oxygen to you brain and muscles, you can begin to relax. Concentrate on the positions of your body parts and think about relaxing each one of them. Visualize your position and environment.

EMDR – This stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, and much has been written about it. I simply concentrate on peripheral vision and notice (with eyes straight ahead) movement to my right and left. If there is none, I extend my hands to my sides and wiggle my fingers. One theory is that this requires both sides of our smart brains because the right hand vision is processed only in the left hemisphere and vice versa. It seems to help the language hemisphere and the emotion hemisphere to communicate with each other.

Awareness – Expand your awareness from your breathing to your body position, your peripheral vision, and your surroundings. Accept awareness of this moment—that in this moment, there is no threat like those you faced in the past or fear in the future. See and feel that you are safe.

Thought stopping – Left brain, talk to right brain. Sometimes, a simple command can help your emotional hemisphere to believe that the threat is not real. The poor right hemisphere (in most people) seems to have difficulty recognizing time—even past, present, and future. Talking to yourself, telling yourself that all is well, can help.

Hope – The feeling of dread triggered by all sorts of stimuli (including dreams or intrusive thoughts) is depressing. Remembering that Dinosaur Dumps can be prevented is important. The more it works for you, the more hope you have for next time; but, it does take practice remembering to breathe.

Escape – When all else fails, get the hell out of there—if only in your mind. Go to your clear space. That is, find some place inside your mind where you can go in meditation, a place where you are powerful and free, where you feel like god (with a little “g”). I am very fortunate to have found mine many years ago with the help of Tom Brown, Jr. and The Tracker School.

There you have it. These simple techniques can prevent three or four days of pain. More than that, they can prevent trouble and tragedy. One question a psychologist asked me in an interview was, “Have you assaulted anyone in the past year?” Wild Rides are always uncomfortable, but sometimes they cost jobs, marriages, friendships, or lives. It is not necessary if you remember to breathe.

Feel better? Welcome to Recovery.

Next week we will take a deeper look at thoughts and awareness.

Mind Wind: Courageous Choices

News in requiem for Steve Jobs this week included stories about some of his decisions and his approach to making choices. He was a man capable of making tough decisions, and many of them seemed to be good choices, at least economically. How did he do that?

Well, first of all, he did it. He chose. For some of us, choosing is often difficult and sometimes almost impossible. We get tangled up in fears of consequences. Will I lose money? Status? Face?

One story claims to reveal how Apple came to be a household computer term. Steve and his partner were working on their project in a garage. They decided it was time to name their company but struggled with the choices available. Steve was eating an apple, so they decided that if they could not come up with a name by some time (maybe, 5?), they would just call it Apple. Done. Choice made.

Another story in video reveals Steve’s approach to making decisions after his diagnosis. He said that making choices became easier as he remembered that he was going to die, soon. I guess it sort of puts things into perspective. How important could this decision be compared to the grand scheme?

I marvel at the ability some people have to make decisions that affect lives and property. I watch our presidents face crises and stand up to make these decisions. Without prejudice of politics, they put me in awe. President Bush (W) faced the world after 911 and made decisions with faith, and America stood with him. I believe he put those huge decisions into perspective. President Obama faced decisions of economic and natural disasters; an oil spill, wars, secret missions, and citizen discontent. Any one of them would have made me physically ill. I’m glad some people volunteer to serve in such capacity. Decisiveness, as I recall from 1969, was one of the fourteen leadership traits of the U.S. Army Leadership Manual.

There have been some claims about how many decisions a teacher makes in one day. I don’t know the number, but I recall being required to make several before every class. “Can I go to my locker? Can I go to the bathroom? Can I go to the office? Can I sit back there, today? Can we have work day? What are we doing today? Can we have the test tomorrow?”  Then class starts, and while I am directing students’ attention to some important topic, I am making decisions
about how to deal with somebody talking, somebody else wandering around, one student poking somebody, and/or another sleeping. Maybe one of the students is crying or just very sad, today. Maybe one has fresh cut marks on her arm or bruises on his face.

Decisions are difficult for me. Sometimes they are overwhelming. I have chosen to put my writing into print for all the world (okay, a few people) to see. Will they approve? Will they like it? I know it’s a good story, and I also know that it is not crafted with the mastery of literary greats. A friend asked me this week, “Do you feel naked?” Yes, I do.

There have been many very big decisions in my life. Each has affected my whole life. Here are a few: Go to the University of Wisconsin. Get married. Major in Genetics. Join the Army. Go to Infantry OCS. Become a Green Beret. Serve with Special Forces in Vietnam. Go back to college. Stop with a Masters Degree. Take a job in Agronomy at UW. Get divorced. Go back to school for teacher certification. Take a job in Beaver Dam. Get married, again. Okay, that’s enough, and we only got to 1980.

I formed a couple of rules about choice early in life and have tried to follow them. First, don’t choose until necessary so I can gather adequate information. Second, try to make choices that open doors rather than closing them (but, it’s relative). Third, work the problem to make a rational choice. Fourth, ask advice (but make my own choice). Much later in life, I decided on another rule, and I was happy to hear something similar from Steve Jobs: Follow my heart. Yeah, that one is really difficult, sometimes. It takes discipline and practice—and, in my case, a special kind of prayer. I guess there is one more rule I use: Accept the gifts. Sometimes one choice seems to be placed right before me, rather like a sign.

I could not choose to not teach. I kept getting teaching opportunities—laboratory teaching aid as an undergrad, teaching assistant as a graduate student, and Academic Staff teaching in Agronomy. I could not deny that I enjoyed the learning I experienced as a teacher.

I don’t believe I could choose not to write. When feelings build, I have to do something, and I never learned any other art form. Writing is therapeutic as well as educational and fun. I have to do it. I don’t know if I have to share it, but that is my choice.

Usually, my angst over a choice is inflated beyond reason. At my age, I know I am going to die relatively soon, maybe ten or twenty years, and most of my choices won’t matter much. Besides, I am not nearly smart enough to anticipate all the consequences of any choice. But, some choices do matter very much. I always worried about the effect some stupid thing I might say or do (inside or outside a classroom) might have on others. That’s how I came up with my class rules, Care, Think, and Be. They were for me as much as for the students, reminding me to care, to think, and to be as nice as I knew how to be.

I guess there is one more rule for my choices. They are mine. I am responsible for making them, and I am responsible for the consequences. I own them, and that is real freedom, perhaps the only freedom.