Thursday, August 27, 2009

interconnected webs

I am amused by the contrasting scopes of science vs cultural myths and beliefs discussed here by Wade Davis

Saturday, August 22, 2009


afterthought: at least I'm having fun peeling the sun-burn!

mishaps, perhaps

Challenges often present themselves to us in a sort of dragged out sequence that is as surreal as a nightmare. That has been the story of my running life for the last three months or more.

Running is challenging in itself. Any number of factors make it hard sometimes to remember the energizing and enjoyable aspects of running that make it so worthwhile!

So my personal litany of woes started about two weeks after the Mississauga Marathon in May. I developed sharp pain and swelling in my left knee. My chiropractor probably correctly suspected that it is a torn meniscus. Then began my journey through the medical system to get a definitive diagnosis and that is not yet complete!

In the meantime, I've been following a conservative path of treatment including lots of rest, ice and stretching all while trying to otherwise strengthen the knee joint and maintain my level of overall strength and endurance.

In the process, I've learned that although I love playing in the water, I don't enjoy the long solo aspect of swimming as an aerobic activity. Maybe if I could swim for longer sustained periods, I'd get into what some have told me is a great meditative opportunity. I will probably never know.

I've also learned that even though I don't always carry on a long conversation with fellow runners, I very much appreciate their companionship along the run, and even more, after. And I've learned that the best support system is my running gang who encourage my journey to find answers without discouraging me from running (unlike the supposedly "best experts" who usually believe running is probably a mental disorder and running marathons outright deranged!)

Gradually, as the swelling and pain have subsided, I've begun running shorter distances again. But I've struggled with feelings that I've lost ground, that I've gained weight, that my stamina is not what I imagine it was before all this and my ability to stay motivated is dwindling away.

Weather has been a factor. Summer's heat and mugginess is upon us, leaving me feeling lethargic anyway, much more prone to want to siesta instead of running!

Finally feeling like I might be up to a longer distance (ie 20 km or so), last Sunday, I made the decision to go out on one of my longest runs since all this started. A combination of drinking too much the day before, foolishly getting a blistering sunburn on my legs, getting up too late and so missing the coolest part of the day, meant that I ran in the muggiest weather of our whole summer feeling somewhat under the weather. I ended up walking at least half of my planned route.

Oh! I almost forgot! On that miserable Sunday run, I also got bitten by a dog. A mama beagle, to be exact. Other than this bruize, no harm done. At least I'm not foaming at the mouth any more than I usually do...

Some shorter runs this past week in the cooler hours of early morning had me feeling a little better, a bit more optimistic regarding my plans and preparations for my next marathon race.

But then, to add to this comedy of errors, on Thursday afternoon this past week, in my excitement at the plan our "gang" had made to do a trail-run along a route I had not done before, I stubbed my toe on my bed! The immediate result was great chagrin over very sharp pain in my left toe! However, being as eager as I was to head out for an exciting run in new territory, I did stuff the offending toe into my shoes and headed out for my run anyway.

It was hot and steamy. It was also a little buggy, mosquitoes displaying their usual preference for my blood as opposed to some others in my company! Footing was treacherous at times and a couple of people tripped or stumbled and took a fall. It was quite the adventure. But as a sure-fire distraction from all other aches, pains and hazards, I'd highly recommend stubbing your little toe as hard as possible before a trail-run on a summer afternoon!

Feeling our efforts deserved a sweet reward after our run, we watched musicians set up for Music in the Park, as we each enjoyed a double-scoop of Kawartha's finest ice cream at "Here's the Scoop" in Brooklin. The clouds rolled up from the west for one of the most boisterous stormy nights of our summer and as we headed home, it looked to be one of the worst storms to hit south-central Ontario all summer.

When I got home, I took off the shoes and discovered to my horror that the toe was looking a little black and the foot was somewhat swollen. Knowing that not much aggressive treatment is usually done for a broken toe, I nevertheless got curious as to whether I actually had a broken toe or not.

This involved a three-hour wait in the emergency department on Friday to be seen, have the toe x-rayed, then pulled back into alignment after the most excrutiating experience of all, that of having a local anaesthetic injected into the area.

So my next question is, how long will it take for my toe to heal?

The doctor in my local Emergency Department suggested I keep my toe buddy-taped for two weeks and strongly discouraged my running for 2 weeks at least! He also figured that it would take about 6 weeks for the toe to heal.

This, from the BWH Orthopedic Trauma Service is even less encouraging!

How do I handle that? Keeping in mind here, that I plan to run the New York City Marathon in November, this is all cutting deeply into my training plans! Obviously, I have to accept whatever happens now. My trip to New York City is booked. What I'll be doing there remains to be seen!

All I can do is laugh.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

it's a man's world still

why do I read these things when they only upset me??


trying to get the miles of training in

still crazy after all these years.....

(isn't that a song?)


country in the city

Last week's adventure was a kayaking "expedition" from Cherry Beach into the Toronto Islands' waterways.

view of the city sky-line from the water in the Eastern Gap

Headed toward the Toronto Islands in our two-man kayak, we round this breakwater and I'm amused by the orderly row of cormorants! Personal space seems to be quite a rigid idea among these water fowl.

Disturbed by our approach, the cormorants take flight.

The Toronto Islands are a pleasant surprise 20 minutes from the busy down-town. Easily accessible, one can get lost within their waterways and get a feeling not unlike being in the north country, only to catch a glimpse of the city again as one comes around one of the islands and looks northwards!

mute swans

storm clouds moving across the city

The edge of the storm catches us and we get a gentle lashing of warm rain before the sun comes out again.


icons & iconoclasts

On the last Friday of each month, a mass ride of cyclists gathers in Toronto to take back the streets, for a while at least, from cars and trucks.
While it may be a given that there are great benefits to riding a bicycle, there are precious few places in North American cities where it is safe or even enjoyable to do so. Most drivers of cars would even go so far as to say they hate cyclists, pedestrians and runners, seeming to feel that roads belong to the automobile -- and often, that does not mean automobiles in general either, but just theirs, the one they are personally driving!
However, I think roads belong to people. I'd even go so far as to say that the car is the icon of our culture and to question the way our roads are devoted to the automobile is to be quite the iconoclast!

And at first, this Critical Mass ride was about people, people enjoying a hassle-free ride through down-town Toronto, a ride to celebrate Friday, a ride to celebrate a great summer evening, and a ride to celebrate bicycles.

An amazing experience to ride down University Avenue amongst a mass of like-minded people without the overwhelming and often threatening presence of cars!

How is this accomplished? There are no leaders. The route evolves organically. The front of the pack stops for the lights at the intersections, but to get the group through the intersection together, some more experienced riders act as a cork to hold up the cars for a little while, if the light changes before every cyclist is through. Keeping the whole group of cyclists together is a safety net for all, as individual cyclists are very vulnerable and even small groups experience more dangerous situations when forced to mix it up with the automobile.

Drivers in Toronto are notorious for parking in cycling lanes, veering into cycling lanes to turn right at intersections, not "seeing" cyclists. For cyclists, "being doored" is a nasty event one watches for whenever passing parked cars. Proper signals and lane-changes not withstanding, a cyclists had better actually look an oncoming driver in the eye and get a wave to ensure safe passage!
As a runner, I have discovered that if you are not in a large motorized vehicle, you are invisible and therefore liable to be run over. Or if you are visible, you are yelled at, cursed at, and told to get off the f------ road!

About an hour into the ride the police arrived to "organize" things. As the police directed traffic and enforced the traffic laws, the peaceful, happy mood began to evaporate. The mass became fragmented and the situation became uncomfortable again as bicycles are really no match for cars, SUV's and trucks.
The police started targeting cyclists they perceived to be the "trouble makers", ticketing them for traffic violations.

Eventually, the groups were so fragmented that it was no longer the safe, happy ride through downtown Toronto, but the usual grim battle to negotiate through traffic that either doesn't see you or that believes you have no right to be on the road.
The fun went out of it for me by then and all I wanted was to get home safely.

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Monday, August 03, 2009


My wandering mind took me to this wonderful version of an old song that my Mom used to sing to me! In my head are the visuals of many paintings of a child, wandering a treacherous path through the wilderness, her hand in the hand of a benevolent angel.

Only, I often wondered, why didn't the angel just pick the child up? Some lesson there about self-actualization, probably unintended, because the legend is that the writer of the lyrics was dead drunk when he wrote the lines, having just been thrown in the drunk-tank by the police...

Take it for whatever you want, I love this version of a childhood favorite of mine!

Below is a more traditional version.

Maan korvessa kulkevi lapsosen tie
In the wilderness of earth goes a child's way
hänt' ihana enkeli kotiihin vie
A lovely angel takes her home
niin pitkä on matka ei kotia näy
The journey is so long, she can't see home
vaan ihana enkeli vieressä käy
But the lovely angel walks by her side
vaan ihana enkeli vieressä käy
But the lovely angel walks by her side

On pimeä korpi ja kivinen tie
It is dark wilderness and the way is rocky
Ja usein se käytävä liukaskin lie
And often this corridor may be also slippery
Oi pianhan se lapsonen langeta vois
Oh, soon could this child fall
Jos ei käsi enkelin kädessä ois
If she was not hand in hand with the angel
Jos ei käsi enkelin kädessä ois
If she was not hand in hand with the angel

Ja siltikin mustia verkkoja vaan
And still only black nets
On laajalle laskenut korpehen maan
Has widely fallen into the wilderness (of the land)
Niin pianhan niinkin tarttua vois
And soon could she stick to them
Jos ei käsi enkelin kädessä ois
If she was not hand in hand with the angel
Jos ei käsi enkelin kädessä ois
If she was not hand in hand with the angel

maan korvessa kulkevi lapsosen tie
In the wilderness of earth goes a child's way
hänt' ihana enkeli kotihin vie
A lovely angel takes her home
oi laps' ethän koskaan ottaakaan vois'
Oh child, you could not ever take
sä kättäsi enkelin kädestä pois
Your hand away from the angel's hand
sä kättäsi enkelin kädestä pois
Your hand away from the angel's hand

Composed by P.J. Hannikainen Lyrics by Immi Hellén

The second version, from a charity concert, reminds me of a conversation I had on Sunday morning with my running companions. It concerned the glimpses of a larger meaning that we sometimes are privileged to see in the mysterious turns that our lives can take.

As a health care worker, I often struggle with the strange notions people pick up from talking to neighbours and friends. But it seems most often that diseases, particularly cancer, are such taboo subject still, that it's amazing that any information of any kind is disseminated at all (no pun intended!!). Especially if that information concerns anything about the regions of the body below the waist!

So I found a great sense of beauty and symmetry in the story my friend told of how her father, a very athletic guy, faced a diagnosis of bowel cancer with great courage. As a result, his thirteen siblings were inspired to get checked out themselves, and in two of his sisters, polyps were found and removed. Medicine today has observed that polyps are often precursors to cancer. My friend's father believes he was meant to get cancer because he was "chosen" to save his sisters. Not that far-fetched.

It makes me wonder how often we are placed in a situation in which we can be "angels-unaware" to somebody in our lives. If we let go of the people in our lives, withdraw our hand, refuse to go through the trials that are before us, or refuse to allow people to share in our struggles, are we missing an opportunity to be something larger than our usual limited human selves?

Are you tired of this song yet?


mono no aware

My Mom often used to laugh that Finnish music is always in a minor key. That is probably an over-generalization, especially if you consider more modern Finnish music. That is my problem as an ex-pat, (a confused one at that, whose parents were wandering the world when I was born, but always spoke Finnish to each other at home and had sometimes ambiguous memories of home) cut off from what is current in the "old country", developing a nostalgic gap as wide as the ocean that separates one from the "mother country"!

However, I rarely heard my Mom sing anything but the saddest melodies! One of my fondest memories is of my Mom working away in the kitchen, singing this song or another traditional one, often wavering off key. She usually managed just a line or two as she couldn't remember all the words, so her voice would fade in and out over the sounds and clatter of pots and pans, the hissing of the pressure cooker. Soon wonderful aromas filled the house.

This version, with the particular qualities of Anna Mutanen's voice, the slow, lingering tempo, reminds me most of my Mom.

In my mind, the dark side of the Finnish nature is what I understand and recognize in my musical roots.

I couldn't help but associate the longing notes of this song today to the idea of mono no aware, a fundamental aspect of Japanese poetry, sometimes translated as the "pathos of things" or the "ah-ness" of things. It is that bitter-sweet evanescense of last night's sunset that disappears even as you look at it, the colours changing moment by moment, until light fades into darkness, like a kiss that must end.

It is also perhaps why I love gardens. If I were to compare, I'd say I liked perennial gardens vs gardens filled with bedding plants of annuals. But even that would not be precise. I just love gardens that manage to embrace the changing seasons, gardens that celebrate the ephemeral, often exuberant blossom, and have room to contemplate the shattered petals that have fallen, the dying colours of autumn, the ripening fruit on the vine, the bare branches of winter.

For it is always with a pang of sadness that I enter a beautiful garden. I long to hold on to the moment. Perhaps that is why I take so many photographs. But I know the moment will not last. The flowers fade. Seed heads form and are carried away. And even in the stillness of winter under the snow, life is renewing itself under the ground.