Pt.lll: Notes from a Surprising Knee Sugery (Slipping Away, Heading Back)

The appointment was just a check-in regarding the blood clot and attendant ER visit. The atmosphere became easier, calmer when Dr. S. entered the chilly room. He asked specific questions about all post-surgery events, listened closely and checked my electronic medical file. His accented warm voice gave me pause a few times so I leaned in to better understand him. He seemed to possess two sought-after qualities: compassion and investigative skills. As a consequence, I felt safe sharing authentic experiences.

He was openly irritated that I’d been unable to meet with my primary care doctor after surgery, considering the crises. He spoke of the great responsibility to patients and how that can be misplaced amid hectic days and administrative work. But he and a few other like-minded doctors in the clinics kept open appointments for patients unable to see their own doctors, those who needed help sooner not later. I thanked him for this viewpoint and his availability but he demurred; it was his life work, what was necessary. He looked away a moment.

As the time came to an end Dr. S. asked me to remove my mask. He edged his stool closer, studied my face.

“You are much too pale, Mrs. Richardson. Your eyes do not look good. You look quite anemic. Please go to the lab immediately to get blood work done. I will let you know the results today.”

His adamance gave rise to anxiety that I set aside. It was a blood draw. I had had many recently. He might find I was a bit anemic; it had shown up sporadically over the years. And I had lost weight after surgery though was doing better with food.

At dinner time, Marc and I were chatting when I noticed there were two voice messages on my phone from 2-3 hours earlier. I’d forgotten to turn the sound on following my appointment.

The message shook me. Marc watched my face and put down his fork.

“Mrs. Richardson, I have been trying to get in touch with you. Your blood work indicates you have seriously low hemoglobin. You are in danger. You must go to the ER immediately to get blood transfusions. Please do this now; you could pass out or far worse.”

I played the message for Marc. We abandoned dinner, put on shoes and coats and left for another ER visit. I was, this time, frightened; we didn’t speak much on the way. I had told him Dr. S. was special. Now I sensed it was no mistake I saw him and no one else, and also when I did. I prayed for strength as my body trembled. I insisted Marc take me to the very best hospital, though it was 10 minutes farther and the highway was busy.

Inside, the numbers of people waiting to be seen was overwhelming. They stood in clumps; they lined the hall in various states of dress and degrees of composure. I couldn’t think of how long we’d wait. After I checked in and gave the details, I had more blood drawn. Then we were directed to an area to wait to be called. We passed large groups and lonely individuals in cordoned-off areas, many coughing or moaning, leaning against each other, some lying on gurneys shielding their eyes from the flourescent glare. I wondered how many had Covid or worse. Heart-rending children’s cries pierced me. As minutes ticked by, I was starting to feel more light-headed, oddly out-of-body. I leaned my forehead on a chair’s back as Marc held on to my shoulders. My operative knee complained much more; there was nowhere to prop it comfortably.

In an hour a nurse came for me, and in the ER room action was immediate. The lab results were in. My hemoglobin was noted after Dr. S’s initial lab visit as being 6.5. At the ER it was at 6.2. The standard range for this is 11.2-15.7. A doctor said I was bleeding internally. There were too few red blood cells to carry oxygen from lungs to my other organs, then the carbon dioxide back to the lungs to be exhaled. Hence, my sense that I’d fall down. But I was in a bed; I was hooked up to fluids and the nurse was calling for two bags of blood from the blood bank. Transfusions ASAP.

A blood bank… I mused. Where people’s donated/deposited blood is kept safe for withdrawal for the next patient in need. A precious commidity. A treasure to protect. A crucial lifeline, yes? I fell into a dreamy state punctuated by spikes of alarm.

I have rarely been so worried in an ER. I wasn’t sure about getting someone else’s blood; it was foreign to my body, a desperate act. I signed papers agreeing to it as well as a consenting to intervention for cardiac arrest if needed. The dimmed lights added to the sense of being captive in between states yet soothed my body. My mind drifted. Marc stood by; we had run out of talk. But I chatted with the nurses, joked sardonically–“Third time in an ER in just over 4 weeks, I’m setting my new record!” They were calmly focused, repeated it was a critical situation. I would, however, feel better in a few hours, they insisted. If all went well.

I was in that cave of a room for about 24 hours. I was taken off aspirin and Eliquis, a blood thinner for the blood clot in my calf. Another ultrasound showed the clot was no bigger and hadn’t moved. Within a couple hours a donor’s hearty blood was mixed with my unwell blood. I was informed that some people cannot tolerate other blood, had allergic reactions. A nurse had to wait with me for fifteen muntes to ensure my safety. I sighed–I so often had reactioons…but waited to feel it enter my arm and bloodstream. There was a burning sensation, then a coldness that eased as it mingled and coursed through me. It would be okay. I began to doze. More doctors and nurses came and went. I woke up when at one point there were 8 physicians and medical residents crowded in the room. St. Vincent’s is a teaching hospital. I don’t recall what they said. I was floating; words sounded empty of value. I was at last transferred to an intermediary care unit until it was determined if I needed full admittance. The hope was that I’d be treated in a more limited capacity. It turned into 4 days.

A private room; a shadowy, clean, quiet room. Safety of a sort. A nice recliner for Marc to doze in. The nurse assigned was soft spoken, moving gracefully about. I was told I could not eat or drink anything as next on the agenda was an endoscopy to view my stomach, and after that, if no bleeding site was found, a colonoscopy would be scheduled. I have had both several times in my life due to digestion illness since my teens, so this was not unnerving. It was imperative to find and repair the bleed–but it was more to cope with and I wondered how I could manage it. I could sleep a month. Of course, in a hospital nobody really sleeps.

That same day I went admitted to the Clinical Decision Unit was, coincidentally, was the very day my oldest daughter, Naomi, flew in from the East coast for a planned week’s visit. And so, her first sight of me after 9 months was in a hospital bed with IV lines, disheleveled, wane and yes, likely frail-looking. It was not a joyous occasion as had been expected with a giant hug proffered and returned. She gently placed her arms about me. I wondered if she thought: well, mom is really old now, isn’t she?…

I wanted to pull the covers over my head. One of the hardest things about the post surgical complications was that my children and grandchildren might think me terribly diminished. It wasn’t vanity but a fear that they’d iamgine me less than before, as not the same woman/mother/grandmother. Weaker, less able-bodied and mentally and spiritually capable.

She said, in keeping with her ways, “Sprang a leak, huh, mom?” Her bleary eyes and soft voice betrayed worry and sadness. One of her four sisters accompanied her; they provided support to each other. It was Naomi and Aimee, then Naomi and Alexandra. They kept Marc company, took him to the cafeteria for a lunch break. They chatted with me, hands laid upon my foot, arm. I was getting frequent texts from the rest of my big family and good friends. My son texted a drawing depicting healing paths for my body: me, being filled with light and love. I appreciated everyone reaching out. But tossed, turned and dozed, trying to mentally prepare for the early morning endoscopy.

Which, when it was done, showed no sign of bleeding.

My stomach even looked surprisingly good; an earlier diagnosis from years ago was no longer substantiated. I should have been more pleased. But it meant the problem was intestinal. Already depleted, with a throbbing surgical knee, the colonoscopy prep was rough but manageable.

And if the second procedure didn’t illuminate the issue, I would swallow a capsule with a camera in it so a view of the small intestine could be gotten. The very thought flummoxed me.

I prayed with and without words for clarity and safe treatment, smart doctors and any one else who held my life into their hands. We needed an answer. Two transfusions might not be enough; maybe I’d not be discharged soon. A bright spot was that within 48 hours I was feeling more energy–my hands and feet warmed up, my brain was clicking away. The nurses had said those additional red blood cells infused one with new life and enouraged me with words and gentle touch.

Blood–a miracle elixer that mainatains and saves our lives every day.

I’d had little idea until I felt better how perilously ill I had become, saomething every one must experience. When you are at low ebb so long, it is strange to move past that state, like moving from shadow to light.

I’d sensed things were not right but should have known that faintness when walking across a room or even rising from a chair were bad signs. I might have admitted the increasing exhaustion with higher heart rates, unusually cold hands and feet were were clanging alarms. The oxygenated blood wasn’t reaching my extremities; it was feeding vital organs first and foremost, as it always will do. I didn’t see convincing evidence of bleeding that I was told to be watchful of while using the blood thinner. I had questions and once called the surgeon’s office; he said “Not sure this is alarming but stay aware.” Later I learned that older blood appears black or n early so. I felt as though I’d failed to be smart enough. I’d failed to face a possbility of more harm occurring, to take charge when all was starting to unravel. Perhaps I was just too tired.

How much can the body take? Much, much more than one thinks possible. Much more than I was prepared to believe or accept. When I wanted to yell “Enough!”, I instead daily learned more patience. Even when difficulty is gnawing at your last nerve, patience holds you steadier: wait until this passes, endure then wait to see what comes.

The procedure successfully located an AVM, ateriovenus malformation, a significant cause of colon bleeds. The blood thinners (I was still on aspirin until then) triggered faster blood loss. The spot was cauterized and bleeding stopped. I wept in the recovery room. More doctors, blood tests. Instructions, opinions, prognoses (AVMS can bleed more than once; stay cognizant of signs). I drank tumblers of water and paper cups of tepid tea, ate the hospital food hungrily. Communicated with family and friends with happy words.

The next day, a Sunday, I was discharged. My very relieved husband and I were practically singing “Hallelujah!” on the way out. My knee even seemed to celebrate; it hurt less than it had in awhile.

And Providence St. Vincent’s Medical Center would keep humming along, busier than ever repairing and saving others–and caring for those who did not survive. I was one of the very fortunate ones. Rescued from crisis, provided a useful solution and hope. But, too, what was next? Life had come to feel more and more perilous. I hadn’t felt that in decades, since my heart attack at 51 as I hiked blithely along a familiar path. Peril arrives on a ghost horse; you often do not hear it coming.

But then I recalled how God shows up in the smile, hands, in the basic or brilliant acts of humans. How we have such power to help or hinder, love or deny, accept or defy. Those few days at the hospital restored a part of my missing faith in our species. In the medical system.

I had learned even as a child that life held signature characteristics like inconsistency and mystery– and trouble. But tamping down a frisson of anxiety that underlay relief, I opened a car window. Encouraged a damp rush of air to sweep through my hair. Took restorative breaths of nature’s array of perfumes. I was going home, my body salvaged again.

***Next week, the conclusion of Notes from a Surprisng Knee Surgery.***

Pt.II: Tales from a Surprising Knee Surgery (Into a Land of Unreality)

The fourth night home from the surgical center, my heart went into A-fibrillation, the arrythmia that can be an aggravation or a deadly event. I was exhausted, felt ill and my chest hurt so I called 911. Breathless as the heart rapped out its syncopated, galloping beats, and pain radiating everywhere from the knee. The medics couldn’t get me downstairs from the second floor with a gurney and so carried me to outdoor steps, whereupon they asked if I could get down them if they held me under my armpits. I half-walked to the ambulance. Marc followed us in his car.

The hospital ER was quiet, oddly; I was seen quickly. The staff seemed almost listless. But the ER doctor gave me the correct medicines for both nausea and A-fib; things got manageable. I felt more safe to return home after four hours. However, the last moments left a sour taste.

The RN said there were no wheelchairs with feet rests that could be lifted so my legs– the operative one being stiff– could be held straight up. He said in an offhand manner, “We can improvise with a broom on the wheelchair I have, like this”–he showed me how he’d try to rig it, absurdly– “and you can put your leg on top of the broom that you sit on. Or walk to your car.”

I was shocked. My knee stabbed with pain as I walked down the corridors and to Marc in the car. I grumbled about such inefficiency in the ER. Shortly, the RN opened the car door for me, slammed it shut and left without another word.

I was to call 911 two more times in the first 6 weeks due to A-fib. Luckily, things settled before greater intervention was required. My thudding heart went awry in response to pain, nausea, new medicine and lack of sleep.

That night in emergency I had also presented a newly sore, strange looking interior of my mouth, thinking it might be thrush. I had had thrush decades prior after taking three antibiotics for a resistant dental infection, so I knew antibiotics are a common cause. My ER doctor, though, had thought not. But I had been given an infusion of strong antibiotics during knee surgery and again the day afterwards. Antibiotics can wipe out good bacteria, and the effects include fungal infections. I spoke with my dentist. Amazingly, though she was on a CO. ski trip, she concurred with me. She prescribed a strong anti-fungal…though it would likely cause more nausea with GI disturbances.

In the end I declined to take it–enough stomach troubles!– but worried. I could taste nothing, my tongue was so tender that drinking water felt wrong. This was more reason to eat little to nothing. Applesauce. A piece of banana. I lost 6 pounds in 10 days. How was I to start healing if I felt badly every minute? Not to say weaker.

I have a friend, a retired medical professional; she offered a suggestion. She said to try steeping black tea bags several minutes, soaking a cloth in the tea, then wiping my mouth and tongue gently. Black tea, I learned, is anti-fungal and antiseptic. I gave it a try 3-5 times a day. In four days the thrush was gone. I tried to eat, my tastebuds still off. But matters improved each day.

I took anti-nausea medicine longer. The pain from the surgical site robbed me not only of energy and much coherent thought, but my appetite. It was an act of will to drink fruit smoothies, eat more solid food. I had begun to stop the tramadol, the moderate pain killer. (It had created intestinal blockage as noted before; my gastroentrologist helped me get through that.) So, Tylenol was the best I could do. It barely alleviated discomfort. I was becoming slightly accustomed to the deep burn of hurt in knee and leg. But I learned to use a walker when I had to get up.

My life was literally rearranged during this time. I now slept in the living room on a twin bed we moved there. There was no way I could daily get to the second floor and primary bedroom, or back down those stairs. So Marc slept nearby in a recliner. Every night. If I awakened, he heard me stir and was at my side. If I needed to use the bathroom, he was up and at my elbow. If I bolted up in bed at four a.m. racked with tears of agony and despair, he held me. If I began to protest, told him to get needed rest, I was just a mess but I’d be ok, he did not move. He knew I wasn’t going to be okay. Not like before all this had transpired. Not for a long time, perhaps.

It was disorienting at first lying in that bed in the main room, watching night cloak the space in soft shadow and then rays of sunlight seep and spread. And watching juncoes, wrens and sparrows pecking at the suet block under the balcony roof. It was the thing I waited for each day: to observe nature at work. I was thrilled when I got a close up view of a flicker. I gazed through dark emerald pines and bare maples, glimpsed purplish mountains beyond– if it didn’t rain. It nearly always rained part of the day. It even snowed a few days, transforming the view with radiant white. It all comforted me, especially the watery drumming on all like a lullaby.

It seemed like a movie set, the whole thing. I was… myself yet not myself, at all, wandering through a spiral of time beyond time, but captive by my howling body. I drowsed, half-dreamed, twitched and turned with each stimulus of myriad reminders: cut tissue; rearranged muscle, tendons and ligaments; the hammered bones, the titanium objects that made a new and improved knee. Was it? How could all this fall out convince me? My flesh felt heavier at night. Confounding. Something I wished to cast off even as I felt compassion for the animal it was. I was.

But then, hummingbirds– Anna’s hummingbird, the only one remaining through Oregon winters. They hovered at the sliding glass door, peering in while I looked out from bed or recliner. Tears filled my tired eyes when I first saw them come to their feeder. They were used to me sitting or standing outdoors near them. They usually came to greet me and hover before my face , gape at me as I gaped back: gorgeous black shining eyes, surprising plummage. They seemed a good omen. That they’d look inside and see me waving was a joy. Maybe I’d manage to heal, stand on the balcony as they came to vibrate bright air between us. Some day.

In the midst of this, half-helpless the moment my knee was ransacked and replaced, there was physical therapy. No excuses; I had to go even though I didn;t sleep or eat well. Within a week post-surgery, I attended my first session. I had no idea what was going to occur in that tidy room or I might have left.

The PT studied my leg, then grasped it carefully but firmly, saying, “This will be hard; you’ll hate me now but love me later. Your leg looks pretty good but it can’t stay straight, it must bend.”

I have known several hard times medically and violent assaults in the long ago past–but never before have I known that new level of misery. K. slowly but with considerable might began to bend my intensely resistant knee. Ot felt like it screemed. Or it was me as tears flooded my cheeks. I clamped my mouth shut. She paused and handed me a tissue box and said, “It’s ok, cry it out. You will get through it…. it’s just the beginning. “

That would become thefirst thing to get beyond three then two times a week. And the knee with swollen tissue and shocked bones began to relent under her calm extertions. There were degrees of flex we needed to reach each week, before scar tissue built up and impeded range of motion. Not a good thing to allow, sometimes requiring more surgery. She was right; I very much disliked seeing her and was relieved when assistants took her place and I could move onto the next thing. But the worst was not going to happen if I could help it. Some sessions I came close to the degrees we needed; other times I lost ground.

At almost five weeks my bent knee reached the 120 degrees angle K. expected to occur, and it was like winning a grueling event. I’d done it; we’d succeeded. I texted my family and groups of friends. I was fianlly able to see progress.

Meanwhile, there are other exercises to get done. At home I pushed myself hard and learned that taking many deep breaths helped with a prayer. But in time the therapy imbued me with not only soreness but relief and gratitude. I was getting stronger. I was no longer utterly helpless; each action tackled gave me hope. I found unexpected sources of energy and endurance. When I was depleted, it was just there more often than not. I did my exercises every day. Every single thing that hurt so much informed me: do not look back, keep going. Every momentary failure addressed me: just keep going. Each morning I awakened with greater tender swelling so I applied ice packs several times a day. And it concentrated my mind set: don’t you give up; work; recover; be brave–find the courage despite pain and uncertainty. Marc held his breath when I cried out but I shook my head at him: no comfort neeeded now, I was going to be alright.

Pray. That’s what I did every day, too. Sometimes prayers don’t manifest in words. They are formed by soul sounds uttered softly. Or in echoing depths of silence. And I talked to my knee: oh my beautiful, beautiful, blessed knee, may you be brave with me. Does it seem strange to do this? It was necessary. My hands soothed it tenderly after staples were removed and the long wound closed. I let warm water fall over it, a tiny tropical river from the shower as I sat bent over on a shower chair. I felt so old. Frail at those moments. Small, humbled, to be brought to this. But it is not true that one is stripped of dignity when challenged much. Things change and then survival reigns. Dignity is the soul coming forward and embracing the sharp brokeness until it all yields, mends, and one finds a way to become a resilient whole again. No matter what that may look like, at first. There is a complicated harmony within the body’s own mastery and the greater mind that is forgotten in darkest times. More potent than malaise, that sacred symmetry can be restored, secretly, in minute ways. And that is a wonder.

But it was a place I never thought to be. I mean, small, weak and exposed as my husband waited to aid me with every basic need. When did I ever lean on him or anyone else to such an extent? I had to surrender. It was important to have routines. Each morning, afternoon or night, the flow of warm water seemed an annointing. Putting on fresh clothing eased discomfort. It would have been easier to give and an lay in bed, not try harder. But I’d get through the movements and then, eyes closed, I held tight the threads of hope God and I had spun. The ruined knee was learning to bend, the joint and sinew had to resurrect at an invisible cellular level to regenerate stamina. Power. Gratitude mixed with common exhaustion shaped my hours more often.

Without progress I would not make it in this world. I must be able to be outside any time I can choose. To walk and breathe freely. I had to hike again. I had to absorb, face to face, flowers’ breath, run my fingers over sponge of mosses, gaze at the pines swaying in gusts, my long grey hair tossed and tangled: God lived out there as well as within. So I had to move past previously unfathomable hardships. Just deal with a new clumsiness. How strange that one leg would not do what its encouraging twin did with ease.

I placed my healthy leg against the wounded one and instructed: “Heal.” I touched my lips and cheek atop offended knee and felt its heat, which told me that though it was still dealing with invasions from surgeon and the sci-fi-like robotic assists, it was rebuilding.

And my body did its work despite worry or resignation. I felt a stirring of optimism. I told everyone I felt better, smiled more–because I really did.

Then, at not quite three weeks, I felt a more tender, oddly swollen spot on my operative leg’s lower calf and thought: I have a blood clot.

I was right. After an ultrasound I was whisked to ER once more and treated for the small blood clot with a potent blood thinner. I had hoped for a magic shot of a clot buster and then out the door. I was told I was lucky to have a clot in the calf, not above the knee, where it more easily moved up, up, to the lungd, heart or brain. I wondered about the strong blood thinner. I was already taking aspirin for a twenty year diagnosis of coronary artery disease. I’d also had a very bad experience with a previous RX blood thinner. But no one wants a blood clot to migrate upwards. The new medication would help stabilize the clot and keep more from forming. Hopefully. The only thing I had to keep an eye on was any sign of internal bleeding. Otherwise, in a few months the clot would be reabsorbed and no longer deemed any threat.

Does one feel grateful about such pronuncements? I was. I was no longer very shocked by every surprise. Given pause, sure–really, how much more? But I accepted it for what it was: another hurdle now better surmounted.

I went home feeling reassurred. I could keep up my exercises. Time slipped by as I continued on the daily work, as well, of mental well-being–reading, meditating to music, getting outside as the weather allowed, even to stand in the open air. I was busy visualizing healing and wholeness. I was open to all prayers offered. I had visits from friends and family. There were times I felt a sweep of great love fill me.

Marc was less anxious about me as progress was noted. However, I still felt wiped out every day. I often was overcome with a bone-deep weariness accompanied by breathlessness and a cold sensation of sudden weakening as I leaned against the dining room table or sat down on the steps leading to my bedroom. Why was I not feeling more energetic yet? I was sleeping and eating better. My digestion seemed ok with no apparent bleeding–I watched for it. My hands and feet got way too cold, fingertips and toes could go white and numb. I at times felt light headed, almost empty in a physical and mental way. But I was managing alright, otherwise. I checked in with my surgeon’s team regularly and spoke as needed with the GI team. (I could not talk to my primary care provider because she was too busy, no appointments open for weeks, which angered me.)

But something important wasn’t right. I needed more help. The realization filled me with a creeping anxiety. But I did not fully realize what the odd symptoms signalled. Maybe I had to believe that I was going to be well and was in denial. But the next event would be beyond anything the knee replacement experience had presented: a life threatening state.

It was fate– or more likely a bona fide miracle– that a soft spoken, attentive doctor I had never met happened to have an immediate time slot available for a follow-up of the last ER visit. And what he said and did changed everything.

(Next time, Part III of this tale)

Monday’s Meander: High Desert Museum

A major observation that one makes about high desert– besides hopscotch carpets of sagebrush and such pungent scents– is the sharp dryness of things. All seems to crackle underfoot; air is stripped of moisture for the most part. In a short time, my skin and hair feel the effects—skin parchment-like, hair becoming flyaway. Brittleness reigns. Yet, there is something attractive about this landscape. It’s aridity and semi- monochromatic austerity lend a spareness best seen in open range, but also is notable where the western juniper, ponderosa pine, larch grow. But as small things are discovered, another world is revealed.

The High Desert Museum is a good place to experience this. Opened in 1982, it exits to encourage people to consider the history of this high desert area–part of the Columbia Plateau– and how people have interacted with it.

We hurried through indoor exhibits– we’d visited before and had limited time. The outdoor exhibits have been improved and I had to be outdoors–it was a lovely day.

Follow in my footsteps as we head outdoors during a slideshow, below. You’ll note there is evidence of a riparian part of high desert–so crucial to this land– with small creeks. (There’s an exhibit with deeper water for two river otters, not an uncommon critter in Oregon.) But everywhere are reminders of high fire danger–it was well posted–and I thought how those trees and shrubs could be immediate fire timber and kindling. Evidence of fire as we crossed the Cascade Range came to mind, as well as wildfires near our home once.

You’ll note, at the end of the slideshow, a replica of a sheepherder’s wagon in the 1880s; it is reminsicent of wagons in which pioneers crossed the continent to settle the West. Or, rather, resettle, since Native Americans lived and worked here for so very long….

The draw for us this visit was the Miller Family Ranch and Sawmill. Though a fictional family, the reconstructed settlement is typical of a ranch for white homesteaders who claimed and worked land in Central Oregon in the1880s. The climate is not very hospitable; life was difficult. We moved between a barn, cabin, corral, bunkhouse, root cellar, and sawmill. There would have been cattle tended and horses on open range; we noted chickens and a chicken house. During summer months there are reenactments of the lives lived in such a homestead then.

For current residents of this part of Oregon, ranching is still a primary part of the culture and economy.

By this time, indigenous land had already been explored and occupied by people such as trappers, missionaries, and surveyors. Native people were forced to sign treaties or removed– or dealt with violently. Native rights retained did allow descendants to still hunt, gather and fish in areas they used to inhabit so freely. Visiting the ranch reconsturction brought up conflicting issues and feelings, with much to consider, as usual, when I revisit American history. (Every country has its painful history but it doesn’t help much to think on that, either–especially these days.)

It was a good day well used and we were ready for a meal and a restful evening. For next week’s blog I’ll take you to Smith Rock, one of the more impressive sights I’ve seen in Central Oregon. The land opens up as you drive from Bend, and mountain vistas are clear on a sunny day. Then jagged and often reddish rocks and pinnacles of the State Park are revealed. A very small teaser is below.

Monday’s Meander: Bend, Central Oregon Gem

We left quaint Sisters and moved further into high desert country, east of the beautiful Cascade Range. We arrived at Bend in late afternoon, happy with our views from the hotel on the Deschutes River, alongside which Bend, population of about 100,000, sprang up. It was one of the few crossing points along the river and was established as a logging town in early 1900s. Later it became a gateway for many year- around outdoor sports. The weather, typical of this elevation of 3623 ft. and semi-arid climate, tends towards cool nights and sunshine-filled days. Winter brings some snow; summer averages 65 degrees F. It was perfect when we were there, in the upper 50s to upper 60s.

Part of a view from our room.

It is easy to see why the population has increased the past 20 years and why a main business is tourism. Also, folks with some money can retire well here–we’d thought of it, but it got pricier. We got to know this area better 15 years ago when my son and his then-wife moved their family to La Pine, a smaller more rural town 30 minutes away. I liked the climate and different nature offerings. The clarity and freshness of air is, for one, pretty phenomenal; junipers, lodgepole pine, and sagebrush lend a pungent fragrance. And the mountains offer a view that never tire me. Mt. Bachelor is a favorite for skiing and more but there are several snow-capped peaks. Black Butte (noted last week, not well seen here) is another interesting peak. (I’d like to spend time at Black Butte Ranch.)

Below, views as evening fell around the Hilton Garden Inn in the Old Mill District. The stacks you see rising into the lovely sky are attached to a building that was originally the power station for the mill at this site. (It is now an REI outdoor store.) They nudged my eyes upward even in day, but then back to open sky and mountains.

The next day we walked along the winding and excellent waterfront path, noting birds and scenery. There is a somewhat upscale shopping district here, so I also browsed and purchased a few things. Marc found a local coffee shop that sold the Sisters Coffee brand and said it was great.

It was a good day out and about the area as well as meeting our 20 y.o. granddaughter, enjoying a a fish and chips lunch at her work place, basking in hot sunshine at a table outside. (It always feels hotter when the sun is out in high desert…) Avery has lived there with her mother and our 15 y.o. grandson for many years, and it’s a pleasure to visit with them whenever we can, in Bend or here.

I should note that the Hilton Garden Inn served a very good breakfast. Later we’d hoped to eat outdoors at an Italian restaurant by the water–but when night arrived it was quite cold for us. High desert temperatures change a great deal at night and again in the day. We got a few microwaveable items and “roughed it” in our cozy room, a fire going in the fireplace. But that’s skipping ahead!

A few of the day’s views below.

Above, in a shot from the hotel balcony: I watched marathon runners crossing a bridge and rushing down the paths. Mt. Bachelor is in the distance. You might note the two colors of the many bridge flags are in support of war-ravaged Ukraine. The wind at this spot is, incidentally, very strong at times.

We soon were off to explore the High Desert Museum for the afternoon. It has excellent informative indoor exhibits but we looked forward to seeing new developments outdoors. We last visited perhaps 10 years ago, during which time we saw rescued (from those who had caught and caged them) wolves up close. I also spotted a cougar paw print on a hike and have to admit I was not at ease tha rest of that trail…they are so sly.

It was an educational, pleasant meander there. A quick peek into a scene from museum grounds, below–I’ll post many more shots next Monday, so see you then!

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Library Week! The Countless Words To Guide Us

Photo by Rafael Cosquiere on

To imagine a world without books is impossibly hard. As I look around my home I can see I never intend to do so. I haven’t once bothered–or dared–to count them. I have sorted, passed on and re-sold physical books numerous times, have bought new volumes (and read a few online). I often buy books for gifts and rarely turn down a good freebie in a streetside Little Free Library or languishing in a cardboard box by trash receptacles. It’s not that I will read anything at all…we do have our preferences…but, then again, if there was nothing at hand but an ancient census report, I would gladly read that. And read it again. I am definitely one of those who reads fine print on packaging, randomly peruses dictionaries and reads every sign that catches my fancy on a road trip. So one might conclude it is the basic act of noting letters, then reading them that “rings my bell”. Perhaps that’s partly true–it lights up that language portion of human brain instantly–but only a small part of the story.

I like to learn about almost anything. To be gathered into another’s life or informed of another culture or to ride the wave of an epic tale. I like to find the path in storyland and follow it with mind and arms open, whether fact or fiction. Books, books, books. They are friends and teachers, distractors and challengers, quiet partners in my life.

And I write of this as it is National Library Week in the USA; School Librarian Day was April 4th. And April 16 is National Librarian Day. A time to consider how fortunate we are to have books at our fingertips–or not far away. Library books are a blessing shared by the community with ever changing and diverse residents. Hopefully, this week even more people, young and older, will take advantage of it.

I have much to consider when I consider how books have helped shape and even transform my life. Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, R.N. kept me up late with my flashlight as a 9 year old. I devoured books for fun, but I was also reading because I also was writing my own stories and plays and poems by then…I was learning by osmosis, perhaps. But later I read a variety of works by poets Denise Levertov, ee cummings, Theodore Roethke, William Wordsworth and Kahlil Gibran– as well as wide ranging writers as Hermann Hesse, Dag Hammarskjold, or Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck, for a few examples. They each strongly impacted me both as a young writer and spiritual seeeker. Books and their libraries were good escapes, yet also a deeper balm for the troubled youth I was. Reading provided me with greater perspective and stimulated more hope. More than a few times, what I sought and discovered helped me keep my head above water. They still can have the same power for children and youth.

I read as a hungry creature grazes in a field of delectable offerings, often and with excitement. I most often read not what any class reading lists recommended… and have not ever been in a book club. But I’ve made it a weekly, even daily, habit to study multiple book reviews or simply wandered through libraries and bookstores, on the lookout for the next fitting volume.

Recommendations, anyone? Let’s talk it over–I’d give it good thought. I do enjoy swapping personal preferences, such as with my neighbor today.

Public and school libraries have been particularly important because they require only a library card and my time and respect. They are ubiquitous in this country–and free! I like them so much that when we travel, Marc and I often seek out local libraries. And any ole bokstore, of course. To see what there is on offer, to experience the electric yet cocooning, amiable energy the presence of books in hands perpetuates. I’ve visited tiny, dusty libraries that have perhaps not purchased new books for years yet offer many gems. And light-dappled, multi-storied, shiny buildings I could move into with sleeping bag to spend a year or more. (The stalled novel I wrote features a country library in several scenes, so that tells me something.)

In elementary school I anticipated library hour as much or more than most other things in the school week. I lingered as long as feasible, content with browsing then slipping a book from its cozy place within the company of like-minded books. The librarians–rarely stern ones, the mythical library policers of the stacks– were eager to help aid me. And they seemed to know everything, or could find out in a flash. Best yet, I was often pointed toward resources to find out my own answers. Patient and appreciative of young, inquisitive minds, librarians were congenial and supportive watchers over children as we strove to enlargen our minds, stoke imaginations. On the way home, I hugged my “find” close, eager to get reading if only between other activites until bedtime. –It is this way even now.

I grew up in a city that was fortunate to have wonderful arts, sciences and other educational facilities. Our public library was one designed by Alden B. Dow, a protege of Frank Loyd Wright. It opened in 1955 and was contemporary by common standards, with its angularity and stark elegance and turquoise trim (or perhaps a wide flashing) right below the roof edge. It had floor to ceiling windows that overlooked lush landscaping. It had a big study space that was open to a second floor mezzanine with more rooms: more books. The smells and colors and shapes… I was transported being there.

As a kid, I made myself comfortable in the children’s ample room with a pile at my feet. Later on, I sat huddled over books read for academic needs or pleasure, soaking up the hush of a place that harbored readers and those who researched. The wooden drawers of card catalogs held more than I could begin to think of; I took my time thumbing through them, as one thing led to another. Among the aisles between tall shelving I found nonfiction sections as fascinating as fiction or poetry sections. How could there be that much to investigate? Awe, perplexity, and pleasure flooded my being.

It was a pleasure to enter the high-ceilinged two-story building and so difficult to leave. Time evaprotated. A visit might also be a ruse for meeting friends (or a boyfriend), during which we’d surround oursleves with tomes then whisper intently back and forth or write furious notes. But more often visiting the library meant a treasure trove to delve into, plus a pause from life’s ordeals and uncertainties. I felt at home in the grand but often undefined scheme of things more than in most places. The library: sanctuary, a repository of wide-ranging wisdom, a safe place for bookish entertainment, a haven for those who thirsted after curious places and peoples which lay beyond those sturdy walls.

Of course, there were magazines as well, and music, then movies and over the years surprising things (we can check out all sorts of odd and useful items at our present library). Most of which I don’t utilize, I’m afraid. My priority has remained simple book hunting.

The greatest feature: all the public is welcome. Everyone can be sparked by the thrill of learning, nourished by engaging or challenging tales. Or a quiet nook with a comfy chair within which one may doze, reading material in hand. The word library means simply a collection of books or bookshop; in Old English etymology it is a “book hoard.” Makes sense to me.

One view of part of my childhood’s Grace A. Dow Memorial Library, Midland, MI-in this shot, magazines take front and center, as does the view. Ahhh…

When Covid-19 roared into our lives and many public places became inacessible, I turned to online offerings of local libraries (and virtual bookstores). Though I greatly missed prowling the stacks of our smaller city branch, I was glad to browse and put “on hold” many titles to later pick up. In fact, I chose more books than I might have otherwise; it became a meditative experience to search and find. I read a wider variety as there was more time than ever. (I also read more and differently to further inspire my own writing; the more I read the more I always learn.) But I also enjoyed lining up with other people to get the choices in hand. We began to converse as we waited for the librarian to bring out our orders to an outdoor shelving unit. It was a pleasant ritual in otherwise worrisome months… then more months.

When our actual library doors opened again, only 5 people were allowed in fifteen minutes at a time. But what surprising happiness! I could see it in everyone as they browsed and fingered books and other items: a sense of contented relief, just for a brief spell. I am certain that those who visited libraries online or in person have felt that this has been a favored event. Perhaps it was even a lifesaver, emotionally. When all else was fraught with fear or loneliness, health issues–that loss of bearings in society at large–we could still, thank goodness, generously welcome books into our ives.

I recall once during that time that I searched for a certain novel, reportedly available, within my fifteen minutes. To no avail. So I asked a librarian if she knew the author and if the book was misplaced. She did; the author was a respected, long deceased one not often checked out, anymore. She searched further. Failing to locate the one I wanted, she announced she’d purchase the book–and two more by that author–so that I and others could have access to his work. This was said with a triumphant smile. I was flabberghasted. She was, as she noted, “here to support our patrons and provide great materials whenever I can.” And she did, and she always has done so.

So, here is to libraries and librarians. Here’s to the hours of work put in for us (work we often do not see or think about), and to their patient, knowledgeable and kindly assistance. The countless books and other materials kept track of and then offed to us have given me, for one, more freedom to roam far reaches of mind, heart and soul, to critically consider diverse notions and gather quite useful information. Books give good medicine as well as good direction more often than not.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on