Cramming for my Hiking Exam

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I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am, I think as I study my map, which is tattered from sweat and refolding.

The problem is blue and white.

Why are so many stretches of Sugarloaf Mountain trails blazed blue or white? There are way too many trees painted blue.

The other problem is that I’m stuffing 3 months of training into 2 weeks. I’m cramming for an exam — a 26.9-mile hike — by hitting the gym, and bolting up and down Sugarloaf Mountain.

This is not an optimum conditioning plan. But it’s all I’ve got.

I hike at day’s end when the sun is setting. I speed-walk up and down the mountain, propelled by fear, since the trails are virtually impossible to navigate in the dark. (Ear buds and music blot out my irksome panting and gasping.)

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Well-timed hikes yield this view

Under normal hiking situations, Maisie acts as personal trainer, circling and barking. But on these evening marches, she just trots ahead. I imagine her thinking, It’s dark, let’s get the hell out of here.

I’ve gotten lost on the mountain. The great thing is that other people get lost, too. And they ask me for directions.

Getting lost has advantages. It guarantees extra mileage. And last Sunday afternoon, the fact that I spent hours pondering my possible location, distracted me from my swollen, itchy foot.

Sidebar here: European hornets are the largest vespine [that’s “wasp”] in North America. They are attracted to light at night — porch lights, for example…. or indoor lights… accessible through a broken screen door.

Sidebar to that sidebar: European hornets camouflage quite well against an Oriental rug. And the pain from a sting –hypothetically speaking — lasts for hours; the swelling…about three days.

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But enough about that.

Last Sunday I eventually found my way off Sugarloaf.

I hope the same for all those people who asked me, “Is this the right way to the parking lot?”

My frantic, torturous mountain marches are winding down as exam day nears: Xtreme Hike, our annual fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, is Saturday. I’ve blogged about this before, like last year. And I’ve accosted many of you, via email or in-person, to donate. My deepest thanks for every contribution. You will get your money’s worth: I’ll tackle 26.9 miles in a day, and these funds help Brynn and others with CF.

If you’ve been spared my pitch and you’d like to contribute to this GREAT cause, it’s not to late to donate. Feel free to check out my page for Brynn.

That’s it, I’m hitting the “publish” button. I’m late for my Sugarloaf sunset dash.

Unicorn wannabes and other equine oddities

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A vet once told me, “Sheep are looking for a place to die.” The meaning: by the time one seems sick, it is probably a goner.

Apparently our sheep’s sludgy, algae-covered water trough is a fountain of youth, because our crew refuse to the kick the bucket. (Check Funny Farm next week, to see if I jinxed them with that statement.)

Setting sheep aside, I can attest to this fact: if you own a horse, he will get hurt or sick. Remember, Benjamin Franklin famously said: “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, and that your horse will get injured or ill.”

The last part is often omitted.

Fortunately, most ailments are recognizable to owners: colic, hoof injuries, skin lacerations — routine stuff that may or may not need the vet.

But every so often, a horse will throw you a curve ball.

Like Chance, my older Thoroughbred. I rarely ride him so he receives minimal attention — a cursory glance to make sure nothing’s broken or bleeding, and that his 4 legs aren’t sticking straight up in the air.

But earlier this summer, it was impossible to miss the lump protruding from his forehead. It was rock-hard and didn’t appear to be injury related.

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This particular condition has a name… which I’ve presently forgotten. But my vet assured me that it isn’t causing him discomfort and it should go away. So far, it hasn’t receded much. He appears to be sprouting a unicorn horn.

Jazz, my other horse, has his own facial imperfection. It also appeared without provocation: a trail of distended veins on his right cheek.

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This is a permanent development but it is benign. Really, no big deal. (I texted my vet for the medical terminology for this veiny disorder and Chance’s unicorn head, but apparently she’s too busy working — stitching wounds, saving horses and such — to field my random blog questions.)

Not all of our weird equine ailments have been harmless. In my last post I mentioned Rocky’s eye. (And kudos to Brynn for noticing, “something’s wrong with Rocky’s eye.) Ultimately, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a tumorous growth on his eyelid. The tumor was surgically removed (a more conservative option than taking the entire eye). But with this approach, we decided to follow up with chemotherapy, which may reduce the chance of recurrence. It comes in the form of a topical gel, applied inside the eyelid, three times a day, for several staggered weeks.

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Ironically, on Monday — the same day that Rocky received his first dose of chemo ointment — Brynn also began a new course of meds: a foul-tasting antibiotic, also three times daily. It’s thick and gloppy, and according to Brynn, “tastes like rotten peppermint and salt.”

Brynn isn’t thrilled but accepts her meds as long as we provide strawberry milk or a candy chaser.

Rocky, however, is a noncompliant patient. Very noncompliant.

Treating him is a two-person circus three times a day: Martin physically, forcibly, wrangles Rocky into submission so that the pony’s head is still, while I try to pry open his tightly clasped eye, and deposit a 1/4 inch dab of Mitomycin-C inside the lid.

I’d like to say that it’s getting easier over time, but it ain’t. And safe to say, Rocky hates the sight of us.

If nothing else, these thrice daily episodes enforce the mantra that Rocky and other ponies believe: Kids are generally kind and less troublesome. Those big humans are not to be trusted.

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The Scoop

It’s been a month since my last confession… or my last post.

I don’t know the proper penance for blog neglect, so I’ll just say “sorry” and move along.

Here’s a book report on my absence.

I tackled the Vineyard in a prior post, but this is my photo book report. I’m kick-starting it with a sunrise shot from the island.

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photo by Mike Johnson

 

Things are pretty loosey-goosey during beach week. We sneak the dog along; everyone eats junk food; the grown-ups booze it up; the kids stretch their artistic wings.

And any canvas is fair game.

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Sadly, all vacations must come to an end.

Back home and a week later, a stranger deposited a car on the farm. Unfortunately, the delivery method obliterated two sizable sections of our pasture fence. Wood shards, mangled wire, and vehicle shrapnel laid in the car’s wake.

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Said vehicle did not fare well, either.

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The driver was not present when Martin discovered the car “parked” in our pasture. Thankfully, the horses were not in that field that night. The sheep were, but they avoided impact and didn’t have the sense to capitalize on their nocturnal freedom.

The police documented the scene and the tow-truck driver removed the car and gathered most of the mangled, scattered car parts.

Let’s see…what else happened?

Well, I tried to make sense of our cluttered kitchen. It wasn’t as disastrous as the vehicular damage above. But the outcome was lackluster.

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Foxhunting kicked off a little early this season. (The first weeks are focused on legging up horses and hounds). Brynn and Hadley made it out a few times — of course, with me in tow.

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I rode Jazz in a horse show at the Maryland State Fair at the Timonium fairgrounds. Jazzy was surprisingly tolerant of the carnival rides and the fair’s freakshow environment.

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Tempting and allegedly famous, but no pork sundae for me.

 

Amidst all these events — right when the kids went back to school — my mom decided to downsize her living arrangements. And when she makes a decision, she’s off to the races. In an instant, I was catapulted into 4 days of sorting through 150 years of family records, photos, documents and momentos from my father’s side of the family — in preparation to show the house and move on. (No time to shop for school supplies; the kids went to class with pencils in sandwich baggies and IOU notes for supplies later.)

Much of what I’ve earthed is boxed and stored. I’ve had scant time to review anything but here’s a sampling. This photo dates back to 1877 and the faint scrawl on the back is in Hungarian.

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Other photos are well marked, like this one of my father and grandparents after the war. Their years of DP camp living were history; in 1951 they were happily living outside Philadelphia.

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There’s lots to peruse, catalogue and label, when time allows.

Back to daily farm life.

Frog the cat disappeared in late-July. Although I hoped she’d found better digs, after a five-week absence, I feared the worst. But then she reappeared — dirty and scrawny but alive. I rehabbed her in Martin’s office. (“Why is Frog living in my office?” he asked as I set up a litter box. “Because she’s filthy and might have fleas or something else,” I said. “I’m not putting her in the house, for Pete’s sake!”)

Fortunately for Martin, Frog recovered quickly. Now we feed her far from the barn bullies.

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There’s more I could add to my book report. For example, Rocky, our beloved pony, had eye surgery last week. But it’s late and that story can wait.

And I’m not closing with a picture of a cancerous tumor bobbing in formaldehyde.

I began with sunrise and I’ll close with sunset. We have some fabulous ones here. My photos sell them short, but this one will have to do.

 

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Sorry, one closing journalistic sidebar: I planned to call this post “The Down-Low.” (Later, I realized that I confused “down-low” with “low-down.” But you get the idea… I wanted to give readers “the scoop” or “what’s new.”)

Anyway, I checked “down-low” to confirm that it’s hyphenated, and I spied the definition: down-low: pertaining to men who secretly have sex with other men. “What?” I thought. “WTF?”

So I looked up contemporary definitions and the results weren’t much better: a discreet activity or relationship, or men who identify as heterosexual but secretly have sex with men, particularly African American men who want to avoid the stigma in their community.

Wow, well there you go. You learn something new everyday!

Now that I’ve got the low-down on the down-low, I’ll just dish dirt, share the latest, or tell it like it is.