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Wakeup Call: Hitting the Wall

Sunday, May 20, 2018


I've been waking up early this spring. Like 4 AM early. So it was no biggie when I opened my eyes in my hotel room in Hendersonville, NC at 4:45 AM on Sunday, April 29. What was a big deal was seeing the ceiling moving.  It was disconcerting to have the room spinning crazily around me, and no fun alcohol overindulgence to explain it. I closed my eyes and somehow drifted back to sleep. Opened them again at 6 to find the room still spinning. I mean, spinning so hard I couldn't stand up. 

How inconvenient. I had been planning to drive the 8 hours home this morning. Wanted to get an early start.

I thought, lying flat with my eyes closed. I knew what had happened. I had overdone it yesterday, gotten dehydrated again. I'd hiked around in the mountains for most of the day. Capped it off with bending and stooping and lifting heavy boxes, giving a talk, then bending and stooping and lifting more heavy boxes, and I hadn't drunk nearly enough water to get me through it all. If water even could save me. This time of year I drink pediatric electrolyte by the quart. I dehydrate easily. I know this about myself.

I had been stricken, again, with BPPV (Benign  Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo). A little crystal, which naturally floats around in your inner ear fluid, had dislodged and gotten stuck in my cochlear canal, where it was affecting the normal flow of fluid in my inner ear. It's that fluid that tells your brain where you are in space. When the fluid doesn't move right, your brain responds by sending your eyes into uncontrolled motion.  Mine were darting rapidly all the way to the right over and over again.  I couldn't stop it.
This was bad. Because not only was I horribly dizzy, but I was nauseated, too. 

I crawled to the sink for an ice bucket, then crawled back to bed with the bucket on my chest. Why wouldn't it stop? 

I rested for awhile (being that dizzy is absolutely exhausting), then crawled to my laptop and Googled "Julie Zickefoose Vertigo." 

Not coincidentally, as explained in the link above,  I'd had this before, after a day in the hot sun bending and lifting muck buckets full of cow manure. But that vertigo, which went on for a couple of days, was nothing like this. This was incapacitating, devastating, violent beyond description. There was really no living with this. There was just surviving.

I found the link in the post to a very simple video that told me what to do--hang my head off a pillow and roll it around, then sit up quickly. This is supposed to move the crystal and dislodge it. Sitting up after the  maneuver would cause it to fall out of my cochlear canal. Easier said than done. 

I did the Epley Maneuver twice on each side, because I was so disoriented I couldn't even tell which ear was affected. 

It didn't work. 

It. Didn't. Work.

The maneuvers actually seemed to make the vertigo worse. Now I was retching regularly, as well as spinning. "Abject" is one word I'd use to describe my condition.

I sent an SOS text to Shila, who had turned me on to the Epley Maneuver in the first place. I can't tell you how comforting it is to have a friend answer your text at 6 something AM when you are nine hours from home, in a hotel room alone, on a Sunday, and the ceiling is spinning over you. And it's sinking in on you that the only way you have to get home is to drive your car. And you can't even make it to the bathroom, much less get behind the wheel. Oh man. I was really screwed.

I put my phone on speaker and Shila and I talked about what might be going on. It seemed that the Epley Maneuver had moved the crystal, all right, but now the vertigo was so bad I could neither stand up nor lie down. The only way I could get any relief was to sit bolt upright! Try doing that when you feel like collapsing.

Shila rooted around and found a vertigo clinic in Hendersonville! Makes sense, because BPPV and other types of vertigo affect older people more, and a lot of people are retiring to this part of NC. I called the number she sent, and left a message on their "hotline." I told them I was desperate and alone at the Mountain Lodge right there in their town. That I had severe vertigo and needed help, preferably NOW. I'm still waiting for that callback. It was Sunday morning,  yes, but you'd think they'd have called me back by now, just to see if I was still needing help, or was just a pile of dizzy bones in a hotel room with a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. Nope.

I'd hit a wall and was plastered flat against it.  This was about as bad as it gets. Shila kept me from freaking all the way out while she figured out what to have me do. She was working on a theory that the crystal was lodged in a posterior canal, and was about to take me through some different exercises to address that. I wasn't looking forward to that. I had barely pulled off the Epley maneuver. It took me about an hour and a half of sitting bolt upright to work up the strength to think about lying down. I know that sounds weird, but the vertigo was so bad, if I so much as leaned back against the pillows I started retching again. 

Finally I called Shila and told her I was ready for the test, which would involve lying back on a couple of pillows, letting my head hang down behind me, and turning my head to the right, and then to the left. If the vertigo came back on either turn, we'd know which ear was affected.

Terrified that the retching would start again, I started to lean back. I lay down. Shila told me to turn my head to the right. Nothing happened.

Then I turned my head left. Nothing happened. 

The vertigo was gone. The crystal must have finally dropped out of my ear canal during that hour and a half of sitting bolt upright. In the end, my body told me what I had to do: roll my head around some, then sit up, and stay sitting up. Anything else: violently contraindicated.

Here's a link to the best, simplest video on The Epley Maneuver. It has comforting music and no razzmatazz.

That was about the worst six hours of my life, but I got through it, with a lot of help from my friend. It was 11:30 AM before I could even think about getting behind the wheel. Eating? Forget it. I limped back home, taking about 10 hours for a 7.5 hour drive. I stopped every hour or two and rested, feeling weak and woozy but grateful that I was on the road at all. Finally ate breakfast at 4:30 PM at Tamarack: The Art of West Virginia, ever my favorite highway rest stop in the universe. They play homemade string music, show WV artists in a gallery, and sell glorious hand-made work from WV artists and writers. And the food is catered by The Greenbriar. So you must stop there.

When I was going through Bristol, Virginia, I saw a gigantic Confederate flag on a hilltop, stark red against a blazing blue sky. I didn't photograph that.

But soon after, in Abingdon, I saw a very large dogwood tree on the edge of a cow pasture that was as white as a thunderhead. Not a leaf on it--just snow-white flowers, piling up against the sky. It was so beautiful I wept. Granted, I was tired and shaky, but I think I would have anyway. That is something, to see something so beautiful you just break down. And a native tree at that.

I stopped to take a nap and appreciate the dogwoods at the rest stop, since I couldn't stop for that one. I thought of Xerxes, who is said to have halted his Greek army's march for several days so that he might admire the beauty of a sycamore tree they encountered along the way. I could have lain under that lovely dogwood tree, looking up at the sky through its bracts, all afternoon. But I had to get home.

I felt the same about this magnificent redbud, but it was a bit close to the highway for lounging while admiring. See, I'm full of excuses for not stopping. I will always be that way.

 The light coming through new spring leaves was dazzling.

I felt so very, very lucky to be coming home under my own power, and not lying in a Hendersonville ER full of anti-nausea medication, waiting in line for a bunch of hugely expensive and unnecessary tests, probably starting with an electroencephalogram.  I had narrowly avoided putting myself in the medical machine, the diagnostic sausage grinder that eats your time and money for all the world as if it were an industry designed to do just that. The simple, elegant Epley Maneuver had come through. I had, with Shila's help, fixed myself.

 It just took a few hours longer than I'd have liked.

 I wondered why my weekend of hard work, sharing with like-minded souls, and taking joy in nature had ended so badly. Shrugged and decided that it just did, that's all, and there was no preventing it and no feeling sorry for myself. There was only taking the message. And that message is to stop doing so much. I've gotten that hint a number of times, but there's nothing like being grabbed, shaken hard, whirled in circles and turned upside down to get one's attention. It was a cosmic smackdown.

It was time to pay attention.

To the afternoon light running down the flanks of the Appalachian foothills. 

To the familiar shapes of the Three Graces, waiting to leaf out still, at the end of April. 


To the Hereford, looking over at her new calf.

To the freshly-washed white of its face, and the slow drain of a long day into peach.

To the full moon rising, getting caught in the arms of an heirloom pear tree, home at last.

In My Car, I'm Gone to Carolina

Friday, May 18, 2018

A little rattled, but hugely grateful.

That pretty much describes how I feel about this spring. OK, I'll expand and say it's how I feel about my life lately. Some things have happened in the last three weeks that amount to an arm-grab from the Universe, letting me know that I'm not a superhero. Or even half of one.
A bit of magnetic removable Subaru decoration from my friend Valerie Sinex of Wild Birds Unlimited in Yorba Linda, CA. Best goodie bag I've ever gotten!

450 miles. I can drive that in a day. No problem. For whatever reason, I don’t get tired while driving like I used to. My eyes don’t slam shut or roll back. I just go, and go, and go. Good thing, because I really slammed my schedule full this spring. People kept making enticing offers for me to come speak in places I really wanted to go! So I went, winding through the southeast Ohio foothills and into the West Virginia mountains and then the Virginia ones and Tennesee’s and from there into the serious by God mountains of North Carolina. I was amazed to see spring being completely held off, even that far south. What a year, what a cold, stingy spring it’s been, everywhere I’ve gone. I-77 was a regular redbud gallery, though, and that, the spring leaves, and my little Talenti gelato jars full of nuts and twigs and berries got me there.

I was in for a treat with Hendersonville, NC, where the Carolina Bird Club was holding its spring meeting, where I’d been invited to present. Even though I was tired when I got there, I made myself go out and find dinner. Yelp is a beautiful thing; I found a yummy mom and pop Thai place only a half mile from my lodge, so I walked there, reveling in the warm air on my skin. 

The clouds and a farm field, across from the restaurant. The food was homemade and I got to sit outside. And walk back to the hotel. Perfect! Yay Yelp!


Then, unable to resist the changing sky and balmy air, I drove to the old downtown and spent the rest of the evening walking up and down Main Street, windowshopping and taking photos of a nearly full moon rising over a stunning cloudbanks. What a beautiful town! Plus there is an ice cream shop at the head of Main Street, a meet destination for a weary traveler.

Live music floated out of two establishments; there were hippie décor shops

and clothing shops and one consignment shop that has my noseprints all over the glass. I’d have to try to get back when it was open. 
 Spotted on Main: a Tibetan terrier I could easily have smuggled home. He had lovely manners and one blue eye. Needless to say his color scheme was appealing to me. I'd keep him cut short, too.

Wow. Great live music. I wished I weren't so tired from my drive; I'd have gone in and not had a beer.

As night fell I basked in the warmish spring air and the sight of a nearly full moon rising over Main Street. It was lovely to be among the people walking the sidewalks slowly, looking in the windows of darkened shops. That’s my kind of shopping. It’s much cheaper than doing it when stores are open. Snort!

 Thanks to loyal blogreader Sheila, I already haz one of these. It was sweet to see a hint of Bacon looking back at me from a deserted antique shop. I remembered when I first got the cast iron Boston terrier doorstop. I put it on the floor and Chet barked at it, then walked up and smelled its ears and bottom before deciding it was inanimate. He was never quite sure about the Pig of Good Fortune, though. He barked at that intermittently, and even sniffed its ears now and then, just to make sure it was still terra cotta and hadn't suddenly turned into pork. A gemmun can dream.

Just a year ago, spring all lit up, little inkdog dribbled on the lawn. But it seems like forever.

The next morning was just full of birds. Birds everywhere, and wonderful people to share them with.  I got my best-ever look at a mama wood duck and her babies. She was stuck--there was a 5K being run in the park where we were birding, and she was hiding out in a little swamp circumscribed by the paved course with runners streaming by. Relaxed enough to preen, though, while we watched her babies feed themselves--for a woodie, she was one cool cucumber!

I was charmed by the Carolina silverbells--a small tree that blooms with pendant snow-white bells.

Occasionally, a warbler would slip through.

 Fraser magnolias were abloom. A classic Southern mountain tree. We see them in WV too--silverbells as well.

A group of naturalist/birders I was supposed to be co-leading got fractured, and a little ragtag band of us decided to climb up to Hickory Nut Falls because we couldn't find the others, and we all had cars to get back to the conference center for my keynote that evening. It was a good call and a nice, flowery climb.

Fern-leaved Phacelia was blooming enthusiastically amongst large granite boulders. 
I think its color shines best in shadow.

Also wearing Paradise Purple to the ball were dwarf crested iris. I had to teeter on a mountainside for this shot, and I was hoping the rocks didn't roll under me. These are dwarf with a bullet--only about 6" tall!


 Hickory Nut Falls was worth the climb!

I got back in plenty of time to load in, then get cleaned up for my talk. Reception, schmoozing, dinner, talking, keynote, booksigning. Met the lovely Maryann Kolb and her daughter Linda, longtime Facebook friends who I knew would be wonderful. I love it when it works out like that!  Loaded in many book boxes, each weighing 36 lb. Lots of bending and carrying and stooping after a very long day. Then loaded them out again. I had almost 17,000 steps on my Fitbit by the time I turned in at 11:30 pm.

Little did I know that my real adventure was just beginning. 
Next: Things that go sideways in the night.

A Strong Wind's Gonna Blow

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Egad. It's been awhile. Three weeks feels like an eternity in the Zickiverse of sharing. Sharing beauty and all the good stuff makes me happy. Conversely, when I don't have time to sit down and edit (or even upload) my photos; when I don't have time to think about what it all means, because it's going by too fast, I get kind of unhappy, restless, blocked. So. Here I am. Had a really hideous derecho (the second this week) hit yesterday afternoon and we'll be out of power for a long time. For those unfamiliar with the word, a derecho is a powerful, fast-moving storm front that moves like an express train for hundreds of miles. It's organized. It means business, and its business is destruction. The same storm, which apparently originated here in central Ohio, made it all the way to Connecticut and south through New Jersey, wreaking havoc all the way.  Generally with a storm like this I figure on 3-5 days of outage, but who knows. Maybe we'll get lucky this time. But I'm settled in for a long haul. The rain cooled things off, thank goodness, so I'm not missing the AC.

photo from Washington Electric Cooperative

Broken pole on the line feeding the Rinard Mills substation, which is ours. It's gonna be awhile. Snapped like a matchstick, it was. The winds were in excess of 60 mph and possibly as high as 80. They were straight-line, not tornadic, but there are trees down everywhere; there is a layer of shredded leaves on everything, plastered all over the north side of the house and carpeting the grass. The roads from town are covered with a sticky, twiggy salad of macerated leaves, punctuated by limbs and trunks of trees, now being removed by township trustees. My bonsais blew off their bench; some pots broke; my giant 7' geranium toppled and got the drastic pruning it had been needing. I'll spare youa photo; it's too sad to see the rubble of a magnificent plant. But it's strong; it'll be fine in no time.

My planties are bruised and tattered but they're OK and so am I. My friends the Warren boys lost a new shed they'd built. Not nice. Amazingly, Bill was at the house around dinnertime when it blew in, trying to fix my unfixably busted rider mower deck, and he was able to move a lot of plants under an awning so there wasn't much damage. Not only that, but by the time I got back from errands in town (where it sprinkled a little), he had chainsawed a large dead tree that came down across the driveway and already had the generator up and running and a spaghetti tangle of extension cords running to key appliances. I would have been totally screwed without him. I wouldn't have even been able to get up the driveway to unload the groceries, into the fridge that had no power. Trainwreck. I can do a lot of things, but chainsawing isn't one of them (yet), and my conversance with balky gasoline engines is low. Sorry DOD, I should be better at all this by now.

 I was so thankful for Bill, and the way he threw himself into solving the problems the storm wrought. After we'd done all the stuff that has to be done to get power to two houses, we all had a cookout at 10 pm, with Zicklettuce picked before it was pulverized. It was nice. But country life ain't for sissies. You have to be ready to take care of stuff, and to be without power for days on end. And you have to be cool about it. You can't feel sorry for yourself. All you can do is deal with it. I finally broke down and bought a generator after a nine-day summer outage when temperatures were in the 90's. I remember emptying all the coin jars around the house, scraping up the $650 to buy it, used. And I've never felt helpless and cheated during a power outage since. Here I am, typing away on a powered laptop, with Internet, and the fridge is humming away and my food isn't rotting and needing to be cooked NOW or thrown out. Ugggh summer outages!! Nor did my greenhouse blow away this time. It's held together with two-year-old rotten Gorilla Tape, and I didn't lose a single pane. Go figure. I'm a little rattled, but hugely grateful, for it was a derecho in 2012 that took my Garden Pod away.

There are so many miracles here. I was already feeling particularly grateful yesterday afternoon (May 15) before I headed for town, because I'd seen a little place where dirt had been kicked out of a rotty place on our old garage. I mused that an animal of some size and strength had done that, because it was gravel, and there was a lot of it, and gravel is heavy. So I'd been thinking about that, and keeping an eye on this spot. And lo and behold as I was headed to my car, I spied a long thin blackish tail disappearing into the crevice. It could only have been a lizard, because it headed up into the rotted wood! (Snakes head down).  Lizards are scarce as hen's teeth around here; I feel lucky if I see one a summer.

As it happened, I was planning to put the cargo carrier on the back of Liam's old Subaru so I could grab some straw bales on my trip into town. I went into that corner of the garage (the one that's rotting out) to get the cargo carrier and in the doorway of his most excellent rotty home, where he'd kicked out all the gravel, I spied this little gent looking back at me:

 Easily eight inches of magnificent (probably broad-headed) skink!! (Though I'm not ruling out a mature five-lined skink). Only the third skink sp. I've seen, and always in our garage! I had an adult female two summers ago, and before the kids were born I saw a huge mature male with a girth like a kielbasa, and a brilliant orange head, just inside the west door. Last summer I had a tame northern fence lizard taking water and mealworms out of tiny dishes in my garden supplies area. Swoon! It pays to have a rotten garage. Fabulous tenants like skinks, snakes, bats and Carolina wrens can make their way in and out with ease. You can't see it here, but his head and jaws were bright orange, and he had the brightest little eye, looking right into mine. How lucky can you get??

The other miracle that happened yesterday is that my dwarf pomegranate, which had been on a ceramic pedestal over a cement sidewalk outdoors, had finally achieved such an apex of magnificence that I decided I had to try to get some decent photos of it. It's a very difficult subject to shoot, because any background interferes with its tiny leaves and brilliant flowers. I have never found a good place to shoot it outside, and inside isn't much better. I see by the clock it's 4 pm...the derecho hit at 6:30.

So I took it off its pedestal and into my bedroom, and I finally found a background befitting its beauty.

 Its leathery waxy calyxes, with their ballerina tutus protruding, are such an impossibly bright dark neon orange as to be unbelievable.

 I got the shots I was after, and without much thought I decided to leave it there in the bedroom, so I could enjoy it for awhile before putting it back out on its pedestal on the sidewalk. I left for town, did all my errands, and came back to find that the derecho had hurled all my bonsais off their bench to the ground. Bill had picked them up and put them under an awning for protection. But this one and its bowl and the little mudmen would certainly have been shattered, falling from a high pedestal onto cement. I would have been so sad.

To me, this was a message, not to tot up your losses, but to be thankful for what you still have. I'm thankful to still have this precious little tree, blooming away, back outside now, but under my ever-watchful eye. You never know when a strong wind is going to blow it all down.

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