Brain Recovery and Birthday Presents

It’s been a rocky week, but Richard and I are settling into a work and life routine that accommodates his thrice-daily infusions and my new role as she-who-administers-the-IV. I can’t say coming home was as easy as we’d hoped it would be, or that I’ve fully found my writing rhythm. I have managed to write two newspaper columns, and to think about the research I need to do for an article on home solar power systems I’ve been assigned by Audubon Magazine.

Richard’s almost back to his usual self–certainly more than 98 percent–but that last bit involves some subtle and complex brain functions that I’m not sure anyone but me would notice. The biggest change I see is in his equilibrium. He’s always been someone whose mental and emotional steadiness and balance I have leaned on and learned from. (In my experience, most people who are as smart and intellectual as he is aren’t usually so well grounded.) Now his metaphorical balance isn’t always so good.

Some days things go smoothly, some days they don’t. He has no problem walking, talking, recognizing faces, balancing a checkbook, or paddling a kayak (about which more in a moment). But sometimes it seems like too much information stalls him. It’s not like he sits there drooling, just like the little things going wrong accumulate until nothing goes right. That’s frustrating to him, and if I don’t stay mindful, frustrating to me too. So I’m working on my patience–never one of my strongest talents, but I love the guy, and that helps!


Yesterday was a good day, in part because it was my birthday and Richard was determined to celebrate. He was my main present–having him home and recovering is really all I need. But he had also bought me a beautiful bunch of fragrant oriental lilies several days before. (That’s a close-up above: for lily fans, that’s Stargazer on the lower left, with La Claridad above it.) And Molly, back home now in San Francisco, sent a beautiful fall bouquet including goldenrod, delphiniums and ruby-red miniature chrysanthemums. (Thank you, sweetie! You’re in our hearts–always.) First thing after breakfast, Richard put our spiffy new inflatable tandem kayak in the back of the Subaru, and reminded me that we were going to take it out for its inaugural paddle after work. That kayak, which isn’t actually new–we bought it last April at the REI sale–is part of our intention to find more time for what we most want to do, which for me includes quiet paddles on area lakes and rivers. The fact that it’s taken us until now to make that time says how much we need the practice.

The promise of kayaking gave me something to aim for as I whaled away at correspondence, researched and wrote a newspaper column on the health effects of everyday noise, and answered a query from my book packager/designer buddy for the sample page layouts she’s working on for our proposed new book. It was three-thirty in the afternoon by the time I finished, but we decided to set out for a quick paddle anyway.

We drove over to a spring-fed lake next to a state fish hatchery on the northwest edge of town. We carried the kayak in its huge duffel bag over to a bit of sandy bank, and then went back for paddles, PFDs (what we used to call life-jackets before they got so fancy and expensive), and pump. Then Richard wrestled the kayak out of its duffel and unfolded it. (It’s
a very cool design with an internal aluminum frame that makes it
a pleasure to paddle, unlike most inflatables, which tend to flex from end to end and thus waddle about in the water.)


There he is beginning to pump it into shape. I fitted the paddles together, put in the thwart and seats, and strapped a water bottle and my fanny pack on the bow deck. Then we put on our PFDs (if he’s looking confused below, it’s because I caught him about to zip up his PFD, with one hand in the air).


He slid into the stern seat, I pushed us off and plopped into the bow seat, and we were away, paddling across the lake. (That’s Mts Shavano and Antero in the Sawatch Range in the distance over my right paddle. I have my eye on the thunderstorm building over their 14,000-plus-foot summits.)


We kept an eye on the weather and didn’t stay out long. But we did paddle long enough to get our rhythm back, practice our turns, test how the kayak behaved in in a strong cross-wind with a bit of chop, and to get a feel for what it’s like to paddle this boat straight into the wind. The kayak handled beautifully–it’s a sweet boat! (For touring kayak geeks, it’s an Advanced Elements Advancedframe convertible.) We watched a grebe diving for fish, a flight of migrating swallows swooping to catch aerial insects, and that thundercloud building over the distant peaks. When the latter began to grumble, we turned around and paddled to the beach, deflated the kayak, and stowed it plus our paddles and PFDs back in the Subaru.

Total time on the water: less than an hour. Inflating and deflating the kayak: less than 15 minutes altogether. Joy gained in that short paddle: Immeasurable, as you can see by the happy paddler below.


Those are my real birthday gifts: the guy in the photo, looking healthy and happy and strong, and the reminder that life is really what you make of it. I intend to make more time for joy.

On a strictly personal note, a shout-out to all who have sent love and well-wishes, and gifted us with your company while Richard was in the hospital. The mail boxes–both virtual and real–are overflowing with cards and messages and sweet things, including the gorgeous wildflower bouquet that appeared in Richard’s hospital room (thank you Katherine and Don), a jar of peach jam to replace that box of peaches that molded while we were away (thank you, Laura and Sarah, and thank you to the kind folks in the VA Hospital mail room for forwarding Richard’s mail), thoughtfully offered books and magazines, and a quart of honey from Lisa’s wonderful bees. You’ve buoyed us up in this scary and challenging and fascinating paddle. Bless you all!