Gramps Gets Night Cramps

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I not uncommonly fall asleep on the love seat in the front room at bedtime, especially if the wood stove is glowing and radiating sleepiness into the darkness.

As usual, last night I woke up after an hour or so, and proceeded to head off to bed, after undressing. I was down to my Carhartt work pants, and do not remember doing anything particularly unusual, movement-wise.

And at once my left leg locked in the most violent and unrelenting cramp I have ever had. The inability to break this spasm was due to two reasons: it was in a muscle that never in my life had cramped before, and worse, I was trapped with my pants around my ankles.

Vastus Medialis Muscle: How to do vastus medialis exercises
Yes, these are my legs! The vastus is the “teardrop” shaped muscle near the knee.

The cramp was in my medial adductor—not in the rectus femoris of the quadriceps femoris that runs straight down the front of the leg to the knee. The rectus femoris is not an uncommon site for leg cramps—that and the gastric-soleus “calf muscle”. I think most everybody has these muscles seize up on them at least once in a lifetime—some of us more frequently than that, unfortunately, because the pain is like no other.

And so in the first seconds of the sudden out-of-the-blue cramp, even in my groggy state, it occurred to me that I should do a quad stretch for the rectus femoris. Since if lifts the knee, the stretch is to the opposite—to straighten the knee and move forward with the foot on the involved side firmly on the floor, putting tension across the front of the thigh. Or if possible, do the runner’s stretch by bending the knee and pulling the heel towards your butt.

Vastus Medialis Stretches. Approved use hep2go.com

But the vastus (sometimes referred to as the VMO–vastus medialis obliqus) works to adduct (pull the leg toward the midline) and flex (bend) the thigh. To stretch it requires the opposite motions: abduction and extension. Move the leg out away from the body and back.

That is very helpful knowledge, but worthless is you have pants around your ankles. I would have certainly tried the runner’s stretch, but was miserably hobbled, wanting to scream, with Ann sleeping blissfully unaware in the next room.

I braced myself on two pieces of furniture in the dark room. Nothing I could do would stop the agony. It seemed to last for 15 minutes, but might have been 10. Even so, the pain over this vast eternity of suffering was sufficient to make me diaphoretic—breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling like I might pass out.

The spasm cascade finally burned itself out and I finally was able to wobble into bed, and lie there for an hour, in fear of more spasms. I shook uncontrollably, as if I had the chills—which I think was a kind of mild shock, that at last abated and I slept through the night.

In the midst of this torture I tried to explain why such spasms, and came up with the first conclusion that I had come down with Lyme disease, sure enough, from the recently embedded tick I’d found a few days earlier. Now, I think it was due to dehydration from spending four hours with the surveyors walking hard terrain and not drinking the water I took with me.

So, given the extreme unpleasantness of my experience, I truly hope than no one I know ever has a severe, sustained cramp in their vastus medialis muscle. But if you’re going to do this anyway, take off your pants first.

Butt wait: There’s More!

Seems I am not the only one in the world to experience what is described universally by my fellow sufferers as “almost unbearable pain that made me scream and think I was going to pass out.”

You can read the testimonials here:

Inner thigh cramps that make me pass out | Undiagnosed Abdominal Pain discussions | Body & Health Conditions center | SteadyHealth.com

And so in addition to getting your pants off before cramping, according to these victims:

1) chew an aspirin
2) use moist heat (hot bath)
3) take a potassium pill
4) drink tonic water (that contains quinine)
5) drink pickle juice
6) and don’t eat gummy bears

Diaspora: The Next Place

Morning detail, late April, late life on Goose Creek. You never know, when you give it a puff, where the winged seeds will find fertile soil.

 In the spring of 2019, we acknowledged that the time had come to relocate us from the wild to the tame. Or at least tamer—closer to town, less mowing and weed whacking and firewood toting and…

That we would reach such a Draconian view of What Comes Next is testimony to the common conclusion between the two of us that we are not, after all, going to live forever. 

But to not see the barn-roof frost going up in steam on a cold October morning; to leave in the rear view mirror this refugium of human neighbors, birds, bears and other familiars; then to hear road noise and be in a fishbowl settled and busy place: this is not an easy thing to consider.

And yet, even before we have any solid notion of where or when, we have already subliminally started saying goodbye to the most rooted existence of our lives and the blessing and comforts of belonging in place that many seek but few find. I wonder what the past twenty years will look and feel like in hindsight when we can not look out any window and see the known trees waving to the thrush and thrum of the sparkling creeks. Will all of this vanish into a fog of forgotten decades as we learn to wear a less comfortable new reality in town?

We need to move forward with caution, because we don’t know how either one of us (or the two of us together) will adapt anyplace that will inevitably be so different, so lacking of creek noises and valley echoes in our new self-inflicted captivity in a tamer place, wherever (in Floyd County) that turns out to be. This is risky business.

An animal extracted from its native habitat is subject to failure-to-thrive. A zookeeper doesn’t always know what elements from the native wilds might be missing to account for the downward slide towards disease or disorder for caged Orangs or Lemurs. There are subjective nutrients and essences in native habitat, likely not apparent to an objective Spockian observer, without which the resident pair may suffer emotional, physical and spiritual damage. Relocating highly-specialized species to more controlled enclosures needs to be studied wide and deep before bringing in the nets.

We are hoping that won’t be necessary. 

As movers we will be a realtor’s nightmare. We are looking for those subjective must-have conditions and know it when they are lacking, even while our friends will scratch their heads and wonder what could possibly be missing with this or that seemingly “perfect” place for us. And in this, we envy many of our less-persnickety friends who happily seek out, find and adapt to life in a suburb or brick rancher on two acres in or near Floyd, and contented to be in spitting distance from a busy road. We have certain needs for our downsized captivity, and must keep in mind our odd personal ecologies as they have grown since we were married in 1970. 

At the same time, the challenge of What Comes Next must not approach anywhere near the Matterhorn we faced in 1999, when we saw HeresHome for the first time. There was no indoor plumbing or wiring; no paint in or out for decades; and who knows what behind the hundred and twenty year old walls and under the floors that would need fixing.

The land that is now pasture had been planted in white pines, less than six feet apart and by then almost 20 feet tall, edge to edge and front to back between the ridges that form Nameless Creek valley. There were no trails. Logging leavings from the early nineties blocked the way in all directions, and blackberry ruled the landscape. This was a wild and untamed place.

Our friends and family were terror-stricken for what we had taken on. We knew then that it would take, and that we would gladly give five or more years to turn the house and land into our own. The neighbors at the time expected us to last exactly one winter, as I’ve mentioned before. And here we are, perhaps in place until our twenty-year anniversary in late November of this year. 

Or maybe not.

And so I wonder about the natural history of this place against whatever Next Place we might find around us and under our feet for however-many years ahead we are aware, are truly alive and in any meaningful sense, living, and capable to navigate within our new habitat–with or without assistance. 

The odd nature of this unknown block of years, of opportunities, of experiences, hopes, successes and disappointments came into a kind of bitter-sweet clarity last month when both our “children” visited–for the first time without their own families in tow. Our son, especially, is in the midst of a major life transition–to a new state, new house, new job, new biosphere on the coast of Maine. It will be a time of almost daily AHAs, of discovery and growth, challenge and opportunities grasped and nourished and nuanced into who he will yet become. 

We are happy for him, as we are for our daughter’s potential, to extend their abilities into new realms–personal and professional. That is where our children are in their middle-aged place in life. This is the life we have lived ourselves, until not so many years back. This has been, for the bulk of our adult years, the leading edge of every new year–to expand the reach of our voices, the scope of our understanding, the stride of our hillside climbs, and add to the things we could become a part of; to do more and more, in a wider and wider world. We were the Invincible.

But that was then. This is now. Is there such a word as vincible?

And yet, all is not lost. And as I consider the event horizon, the pressure is gone, the monkey of ladder-climbing off our backs–though in all honesty, that upwardly-mobile mind-worm never drove us forward. 

It has always been our roots that nourished us, not the tendrils reaching towards constantly-larger houses or salaries or cars. And we can be grounded some new place, and settle in. I’ll let you know how all that works out–but only as long as I am granted keystrokes, synapsing synapses and moment. Until then, we live in a white, two-story house with double porches, on Goose Creek. And it is springtime of the year out there, even if it is late autumn for the two lives inside.

NOTE: If you’ve managed to read this far, then maybe it will be of interest that this post in some more polished and substantial form will likely come towards the end of One Place Understood: Field Notes from HeresHome (or some such title) — a book I will likely be working on before and after our zookeepers find us suitable habitat elsewhere.

SomeWhere

From Bethlehem Church Road, Floyd County Virginia. Click image to enlarge.

And SomeWhen.

Finding the pot of gold means a bit of good luck. And keeping your eyes open. And having a camera in your pocket 24/7. And stopping in the rain to step out of your car in the middle of a county road to save the moment.

I once reflected on the place of photographs in my life:

“Film became a way to preserve present moments in a clear resin of recall. Every photograph set a benchmark in time, held a unique instant in the emulsion of memory, captured in perfect synchrony that vertical line of precise moment that intersects the coordinates of particular place.”

It may be maudlin and saccharine, but Kodak moments anchor us in person, place, space and time. And I am thankful to have had more than my share of them.

And a bit more of the reflection on time (from What We Hold in Our Hands):

“No two photographic markers were the same, and there was no going back. With my lens, I fished from the moving stream of time as days flowed through the faces I knew, past the places I loved, leaving the lived, the known moments bobbing on its glassy surfaceÑdeeper down, farther back, receding Doppler-like across a realm that I could photograph, could know just once, just now.

I have spent decades more behind the camera, no longer wishing I were older, happy for the past, but savoring photographic instants in the present when one face or one flower, one sunset, yet another family pet or one more grandchild’s candle-covered birthday cake fills the viewfinder and moves on downstream.”

 

Reprise: Of Memories and Hopes and Golden Dreams

Once upon a time, there was a strange farmer of Erehwon. He gathered his curiosities, his precious things–momentary objects that held his attention and delight–and hoped others might wander down his lonesome road and share his fascination with the ordinary.

Click to enlarge

They came at random, sometimes rather sizable crowds of them, and a few exclaimed and were delighted, and some returned often and regularly. Some where changed by having seen up close the myriad works of nature and light, of clouds, of storms and seasons that the farmer set before them.

He laid these things out expectantly-mere things, some onlookers imagined–but each was a story, and each story was a memory and a meaning to the foolish man.

And so, over the years, when fewer came, and then none, it was not the same of a morning. He still wandered among his amazements but he did not often gather them, and of those, he almost never laid them out for others to see. For there were so few that he felt alone, and his stories and meanings for him only. Life was good, but it was diminished, because he still remembered the gifts he once gave, so appreciated and approved, once upon a time. He thought of the friends he had made, whose names he could barely now remember.

And yet, now and then even today,  some pattern in tree bark or glint off moving waters or bird call or memory of the smell of earth will urge him to lay out his boards again along the creek road. And has done so this morning.

He had come upon a wonderful village of threaded webs, separate but close, isolated but connected by the thinnest of dew-beaded tightropes. In the wet grass, as he so often did, he imagined. He saw in these tattered webs tight aggregates of neurons, each synapsing cluster a concept, a siloed understanding, an aggregate idea or realization. He so often searched for those almost invisible threads that, discovered, would make him shout AHA! in the thrill of creative connection.

It was the possibility of sharing creative connection between disparate things on his roadside bench that woke him up each morning, expectant and hopeful of the alchemy of object and language, searching among his curios to find what he called the “so what” in everyday things like spider webs and blossoms and one more picture of a familiar light-and-shadow turn of his road or creek.

And so life goes on, the buzz of conversation barely audible to him in some distant tavern in an altogether different kind of stopping place for travelers along the loud and hurried webs of surface travel and talk.

Winter is coming. It is the time for the old farmer to draw the curtains on the chaos and confusion beyond Middle Earth and to go back over all his  klediments and commonplace jottings and scraps of wonder, revisiting like old friends the emulsions of light and memory he has stored and saved, stories unspoken.

He lives on. And with what is left of his bones and his wits, he will weave what he might from the webs of wonder his eyes and his ears and his heart have laid out for him, even so, on his slow road. And we shall see what lies around the bend.

Strange Farmer of Erewhon— a blogger’s Allegory from the early years of Fragments (original version 2005.)

Facing Downstream

At the Threshold
At the Threshold

One of the things I hope to reflect on in this would-be third book (that I sometimes think about and less often actually add material to) is the topic of aging, from a personal point of view of course.

I took this image yesterday of Ann at the crossing, following the waters of Nameless Creek as it flows away towards an unseen destination. This might become a possible image for use if one of those passages on growing old and moving on would benefit from a symbolic visual.

You can’t really tell it very well in the small image here, but there is a dividing line between sharp and clear in the foreground and wavy-diffuse, not-quite-real and flowing (via Photoshop edits) seen in the early morning foliage and the water downstream beyond Ann’s boots. Hence, the “threshold.”