The last few days… First I didn’t feel like posting. Then I didn’t have time to post. Then I was all over the board about what I wanted to post. And in between, I had the keen desire to go for a long, head-clearing run – but that didn’t fit into the last several days, either.
However, it did help me decide what to feature today.
I suppose I should first ‘fess up. Most of the projects/programs/groups I’m featuring in this Advent giving “calendar” (I know… it’s a bit random and unreliable for a calendar) are personal favorites – groups for which I would love to volunteer or fundraise. That’s my rigorous selection criterion. Yes, I’ve also been checking to make sure they don’t have embarrassing reports on charity rating sites, but I’m putting them up here because I wish I could personally give them sackfuls of money or my own time. And today’s choice is a group I’ve wanted to volunteer-coach for, for several years. Maybe this is finally my year?
Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham (Update: for those of you in the San Francisco area, Sakyong Mipham will be giving a short clinic/talk on Saturday, May 19 at 10 AM, at See Jane Run, 3910 24th Street, San Francisco.) (Post-weekend update to the update: turns out my source was incorrect, and the clinic was given by a student of Sakyong Mipham’s! Glad no one came on the basis of it being the author himself! It was still an excellent presentation…)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
Tread Lightly by Peter Larson and Bill Katovsky
(Click on Peter’s name to be magically transported to his excellent blog, where he introduces the book, and provides his own Amazon link.)
(*Unless I couldn’t find a copy on Powell’s site, in which case I link to the author’s site. By the way, this blog “partners” with Powell’s, which means I get a teeny little fraction of book-buying credit if you purchase the book through this link.) (Late update: apologies to you email subscribers who may have received two extra notices of this post today; a little update glitch on my part.)
And now I can’t get Ella out of my head… But there are worse problems to have.
My running efforts these days are not pretty. Have you ever seen the 1932 Tarzan movie? The one where Jane is kidnapped and Cheeta seemingly meets a horrific demise in a deep pit at the monstrous hands of a killer gorilla (killer gorillas were still roaming the planet in the early 30s), and the jungle is terrorized until the gorilla and his evil minions are killed in an epic battle, and Tarzan and his animal friends rescue Jane, and finally – FINALLY – as the sun sets, Tarzan and Jane stand on the edge of a cliff with their arms around each other, overlooking the newly peacable kingdom, and you get teary-eyed and think “this would be just perfect if only…*sniff*… if only Cheeta had survived…” and then the music swells and the camera pans back and there is Cheeta!, alive!, limping dramatically (Cheeta was by far the best actor in any of those old Tarzan movies) – dragging his broken leg behind him, staggering out onto the cliff and into the arms of Tarzan and Jane?
That Cheeta scene is pretty much how I walk at the end of a workout these days. And sometimes for a couple days after.
I’ve had a dodgy left knee since I was 13, but I tried to be a distance runner, anyway. In recent years, I was getting away with some modest trail running and even did a half marathon a year-and-a-half ago. Then I pulled a hamstring when I tried to leap a surprise hole on a trail. I mismanaged that recovery and ended up with pes anserinus bursitis. By then totally unable to run, I worked out on our rowing machine for awhile, but my physical therapist told me that was worsening the bursitis. So I went for a hike, tripped, and slightly tore the meniscus in the star-crossed knee. I considered an exorcism to purge the left leg of whatever demons had clearly taken up residence. I grudgingly climbed aboard a stationary bicycle (so boring!). Then a friend took me to a spinning class (so cool! where has that been all my life?!). The revelation allowed me to make a bit of peace with the stationary bike and start working out again.
Slowly, the left leg started to feel a little bit stronger, so recently I crept back out to the trail to see how far I could run without pain… About 25 feet. Then 50. Now on level and uphill segments, I can jog almost 100 teeny steps; but I walk the downhills. Jog, walk, jog, walk, AARGH!
Did I mention that I’m not very patient?
So today I decided to multi-task. I’ve been trying to improve my birding skills, and my favorite running trail – in the early morning and early evening – is a great place to go bird watching. Usually I wear my big Nikon binoculars on one of those nifty harnesses that takes the bino strap weight off your neck AND leaves your hands free for catching yourself when you trip over a vine or fall over a cliff. But they’re a bit cumbersome for what I had in mind. Instead, I carried my $20 compact Konus 10X25 binoculars. These things are surprisingly good (although they mess with colors a bit, especially at sunset), and so lightweight and tiny I hardly notice I’m carrying them. My iPhone probably weighs more. I clutched the Konus binos in my left hand, and my pepper spray in my right, and trotted off for my first 100 steps. Then I walked, stopped and scanned the shrubs, and jogged the next 100 steps. Walked, checked the eucalyptus branches, and jogged again. Repeat until the sun goes down. I’m calling this Interval Birding, and I expect to launch the web site, book, and coast-to-coast workshops as soon as I finish my dissertation.
No, this is not the way to an effective aerobic workout – for now, that’s what my bicycle is for. This is just to get ambulatory again, while honing my ID skills. If it weren’t so crass, insensitive and inappropriate, I would say this is like killing briefly and humanely immobilizing two birds with one stone.
Some of you dear readers recall that we adopted a rescued doberman a few years ago, summer of 2007. I found her through a favorite bird blog; where else would you expect to find information about adopting dobermans? 🙂 The blogger posted a sweet picture of the doberman his family had taken in, and linked to a favorite rescue group, Special Needs Dobermans. Powerless to resist, I clicked through. I ended up writing to the group to ask if they had any senior dogs they were trying to place – someone who could be a nice companion for Baxter.
Longtime readers might remember Baxter. He was a “NYC street dog” who attached himself to me and my other dog, Bear, one evening in 1994 as Bear and I walked to Fort Tryon Park. He was malnourished, banged up from a fight, and dragging a dislocated leg (yes, his own). He was about 1 year old, and was gracious enough to hang around with us for another 15 years. Baxter seemed quite lonely after Bear died in 2005, and eventually we thought it might cheer him up to have another companion. But since he was getting on in years, we wondered if he would prefer someone close to his age and temperament. Hence my inquiry about senior rescue dogs.
Special Needs Dobermans put me in touch with another rescue group, Doberman Pinscher SOS here in California. We didn’t start this process thinking, “we’re going to adopt a doberman.” Never really crossed our minds. But the photos I saw, and the profiles I was reading, and the information both rescue groups provided about how hard it is to find homes for adult dobermans, were sucking me in. I wandered around the Dobie SOS web site, still intending to look for an older dog. But suddenly I saw “Tia’s” picture and was captivated. I called the Better Half over to look, and we decided we had
to meet her. Eventually, we learned Tia’s story: an LA county shelter called Doberman SOS to alert them that a doberman had been turned in. That dog was not Tia, but the rescuer took a quick walk through the shelter while she was there, spotted Tia, and decided to take her, too. Just like that, Tia’s luck changed: she went from almost-certainly-doomed, into the safety of an amazing rescue group that will take care of its charges all their lives if they never find a permanent home. Would that millions of other dogs a year get this lucky. We drove 3 hours to meet Tia, fell in love with her, made sure Baxter approved, and adopted her.
She instantly bonded with Baxter. But when Baxter died in 2009, Tia had to get used to being an only dog. We fostered a rescued hound for several months last year, but he couldn’t stop chasing the cats. With the help of Beagles and Buddies, Cooper found a more appropriate home. And Tia was alone again.
Then last summer, the Better Half read a story about Muttville, a Bay Area-based group that specializes in rescuing and placing senior dogs. Once again, I scoured the web site reading sad stories and looking for cat-friendly dogs. I spotted this wonderful guy – a (then) 10-year old miniature poodle, “Sheppy,” who needed a new home. We met for a play date, Tia seemed to like
him, and we adopted him.
All’s well that ends well… except for one weird complication. Tia is a worrier by nature – a “stressbot,” as her vet says. She needs lots of exercise to burn off the energy that she would otherwise devote to worrying. Before Sheppy moved in, Tia and I had developed a pretty good running routine in McLaren Park. Sheppy is in great shape, but he has to do a lot of work to keep up with a human and a doberman, so he couldn’t run with us. But if he’s not coming, Tia won’t go! I leash her up, take her outside, and as soon as she figures out that I’m actually thinking of leaving without Sheppy, she sets her parking brake and refuses to budge. If I get too insistent about it, she will actually collapse to the ground – dead weight.
Lots of it. As a result of her firm “I won’t go anywhere without Sheppy” stance, Tia has put on at least 5 pounds in the last year. That’s a lot of poundage for a dog, the equivalent of a nearly 30-pound weight gain for you or me. I was desperate to figure out a way to get her running again. “What about a jogging stroller?” I asked the Better Half, who looked at me like maybe I wasn’t quite grasping the connection between running and weight loss: how would a jogging stroller help Tia lose weight? “To put Sheppy in! We could strap him in, and Tia can run alongside!” We both know it won’t be THAT easy; Tia – who is near-phobic about novel objects – will need to be introduced and then gradually habituated to the stroller before team-running is possible. But it seemed worth a try. Now… to find a stroller.
Enter Freecycle. Last night, a Freecycler posted an offer for an 8-year old, well-loved jogging stroller! I wrote and told her my plan, and she gave it to me.
Now I just have to fix the brake (although, at 20 pounds, Sheppy won’t exactly turn this buggy into a runaway train) and make certain that Sheppy can be securely strapped in. Then we begin habituating Tia to her big blue running companion. THEN we’ll make our maiden voyage. I’ll keep you posted.
Each of the rescue groups I mentioned here is doing amazing work in very trying economic times, and can really use your support:
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