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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Not Missing What I'm Not Seeing

For the past 2-1/2 weeks, I have had extremely limited vision with both eyes.

The only reason I am able to type this blog post is that I took a touch-typing class one summer while in high school some 50 years ago. Little did I know how well that brief summer school class would serve me later in life.

Since having surgery to reattach one retina and repair the tears in the other retina, I have been unable to read except for very brief periods and while using a magnifying glass. This means I haven't been able to enjoy my morning newspaper, nor have I been able to read books on my Kindle. Using the computer has likewise been off limits. I also was told not to watch television for a while, and to sit for hours on end with my head down, looking at the floor. I was given a special foam pillow that sits on a small table.The pillow has cutouts for my face. Pillow or no pillow, this is a very uncomfortable position to hold for very long.

This has made for a very boring life. But one good thing to come out of this is the lack of exposure to the daily drivel about the goings on of the Trump administration and its  regressive colleagues in Congress. I haven't been able to remain totally free of politics. But not being able to read the newspaper or online stories certainly has limited my exposure to the threats this administration poses to our nation. I laughed when I heard of the Republicans' ill-fated efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something that costs more, provides less coverage and would result in some 24 million Americans losing their health care coverage. Way to "make America great again."

I also haven't missed seeing all the posts in my Facebook news feed about cruelty to animals. I know the cruelty is there and that it occurs far too often, but I don't miss the constant reminders of how heartless some people are. Unfortunately, I did hear about the Republicans' support (by all 52 Republican senators) to allow killing wolves and hibernating bears in their dens in Alaska. This just shows how heartless and depraved the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt has become.

My satellite television programming supposedly offers some 175 programs. In reality, well over half of these 'channels' are nothing more than infomercials touring everything from copper pans to the world's best vacuum cleaner to sex aids and wrinkle removers. So the field of available programs that are actually programs for me to listen to as I recover my vision is pretty small.

My vision is improving slowly, and I know that it won't be too long before I once again will be immersed in the world of inane politics and animal cruelty. Until then, I will look forward to regaining my eyesight and enjoy this break from the world. 



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Bird in the Tree

Do wild birds have a sense of humor?

Some believe that crows and ravens, as well as parrots, do in fact have a sense of humor. But the bird in question is a Cooper's hawk (formerly known as a chicken hawk) that seems to delight in setting my dogs off.

This bird has taken up residence in the trees on my property for the past several years. It seems to prefer the cottonwoods, although recently I heard the flap-flap-flap of its wings through a row of pine trees that line one side of my driveway. Cooper's hawks hunt by flying through dense forests, so hearing one in the pine trees didn't surprise me.

This hawk has a distinctive call, more commonly heard during the spring mating season. The mere sound of the bird sends two of my dogs into a frenzy. They demand to be let outside, and as soon as the door is opened, they tear into the yard in search of the offending creature. Bailey and Benny seem to detest this bird, while Layla couldn't care less. The bird, for its part, sits safely out of reach in a tree.

Last year a Cooper's hawk couple built a large nest in one of the cottonwood trees. I hope they do so again this year and successfully raise another clutch of young hawks. 

I was able to get this photograph of the hawk in a cottonwood tree one recent evening. It's rare to get a good look at the feathered guest, since it is usually obscured by leaves. I dashed inside to get my telephoto lens for a closer shot, but the bid was gone by the time I got back outside. Despite my limited eyesight, I could see well enough with one eye to use the autofocus function on the camera.

I don't see a lot of birds here in central New Mexico -- usually just quail and the occasional road runner. Bald eagles are sometimes spotted near the Rio Grande River during the winter, and I often hear the distinctive sounds of sandhill cranes flying overhead or looking for food in the nearby fields. A neighbor one street over warned me last year about a great horned owl that had attacked her small dog in the pre-dawn darkness in her yard (the dog was scratched and scared, but otherwise OK). And one morning just before 5 a.m. I heard the who-who-who of a hoot owl, the first time I have heard this visitor to the neighborhood.

I'm sure my dogs would love to have this hawk take up residence elsewhere, but having a raptor, even a small one, living on my property is a real treat for me.It's a little touch of nature in an urban area, and just one more reason why I like to live on my 1/2-acre lot on the edge of town.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Twenty Years from Now

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

-- Mark Twain

For the past few years, I have taken between eight and 10 trips each year, many to international destinations. I have been asked many times why I travel so much.

I usually respond with a comment about not knowing how much longer I will be able to travel, so I want to do as much of it as possible while I still can. The future is guaranteed to no one. An illness, an accident, a life-threatening disease can strike any of us at any time. Life can change in the blink of an eye.

This hit home for me recently when I suddenly developed serious problems in both eyes. The retina in my left eye was completely detached, requiring emergency surgery to reattach it. A week after surgery, vision in that eye is still severely compromised, but improving. The retina in the right eye was detached in places, and the surgeon used an ultra-cold substance to try and 'stick' the retina back in place. All of this resulted in my having to cancel a photographic safari to Tanzania. With a gas bubble in the left eye pressing the retina into place, flying on an airplane is not possible. I wear a bright green wrist band to alert medical personnel and first responders of the presence of the gas bubble.

So when I ran across the above quote from Mark Twain on a Facebook friend's timeline, it really struck a chord with me. As a senior citizen who is experiencing some of the effects of aging (arthritis, osteoporosis, cataracts), I don't really need to be reminded that life is short and guaranteed to no one. But sometimes an extra kick in the pants is a good thing. Once my vision is back to normal (and I am confident it will be), I plan to continue my travels. I already have signed up for the same Tanzania photo safari next April. And I have booked trips to Yellowstone, Alaska, Brazil and Ethiopia for 2018. I recently bought a new lens for my camera after thinking about it for a long time. Regret is something I don't want to be part of my future.

Photography and travel are my favorite pasttimes, and I intend to engage in both for as long as I am physically able. My advice, although I'm far from as famous as Mark Twain: Don't let life or fear keep you from following your passion, whether it is travel or writing, cooking or starting a business, or anything else. Find your passion and find a way to make it part of your life. 

My list of places I hope to visit is long, and I keep hoping that my photography will someday be more popular. And I hope I have another 20 years of pursuing my passions. I want to never have to regret the things I didn't do.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A New Photo Blog

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new photo blog called Through the Lens Weekly.

Every week, on Monday morning, I post a photograph and a brief description of the story behind it.

That's it. I was inspired to do this by a German woman I met on a winter photo trip to Yellowstone National Park. She is much more ambitious, however, and posts a photo every day on her Facebook page.

I plan to post photographs I haven't posted previously, and to vary the subject matter. So far I have posted a photograph of a classic Chevrolet in Cuba, and a picture of Monument Valley. I had a couple of posts ready to go before my recent eye surgery, so I hope to be able to continue to post an image each week as my eyes heal.

Please check it out at  If you're so inclined, you can sign up to receive an e-mail alert each week when a new image is posted.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Question of Vision

This post is a difficult one to write. No, I mean it really is difficult.

Why is writing a blog post so difficult, you may ask. It's because I have severely limited vision. 

Less than a week ago, I had emergency surgery on both eyes. My left eye had a detached retina; my right eye had a torn and partially detached retina. My daughter took me to the local emergency room, where the physician called the on-call ophthalmologist. My son-in-law drove me to meet her and another ophthalmologist. She initially planned to treat the tear with a laser then and there, but she soon realized there was too much blood in the right eye for that to be successful. Then I mentioned the blurriness in my left eye, which started about three weeks previously, just two day before my trip to Cuba. That comment changed everything, as the ophthalmologist quickly realized that the left retina was completely detached. I was scheduled for surgery on both eyes on Sunday morning.

Surgery on the left eye, during which a gas buble was inserted to press the retina against the back of the eye, took an hour under a local anesthetic. Surgery on the right eye, which involved the use of ultra-cold to 'stick' the torn parts of the retina against the eye, took 30 minutes. There was some discomfort in the right eye, which quickly went away with the addition of some pain medication to the IV line.

Since then, I have had to sit with my head down, staring at my feet, for as many hours each day as I can stand. When I walk, I have to keep looking down. This apparently helps the detached retina reattach itself. A follow-up appointment three days after surgery showed the left eye doing well, but there is an area of concern in the right eye. I will find out on Monday afternoon whether I will need gas bubble surgery on Thursday. If that happens, I will essentially be blind until the initial gas bubble in the left eye dissipates over time. It is a 'two-week' bubble, so I am hopeful that it will be gone in another week or so.

As a writer and photographer, and as someone who loves to read and who values her independence, this has been a very humbling experience. I was advised not to read, as the movements of the eyes during the process of reading could interfere with the reattachment process. But I am writing this blog with my eyes closed (most of the time) and my head down. I limit my reading to just a couple of minutes at a time, and I use a magnifying glass. 

I was told that retina detachment is not uncommon following cataract surgery (which I had 12 and 14 months ago), but I had not heard this until my problems suddenly developed. It also is more common in people who are very near-sighted, which I was. So if you suddenly get blurred vision in one or both eyes, and if you see thousands of tiny spots (I describe them as looking like bits of pepper), and if you feel as if you are trying to see through an opaque shower curtain, seek immediate medical treatment. Left untreated, this condition can result in blindness.

I am lucky that several people urged me to seek emergency medical care. The prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. Be willing to ask for assistance. My daughter, son-in-aw and a local friend have been wonderful in driving me to appointments, grocery shopping, etc. I can get around pretty well at the moment, although it isn't yet safe for me to drive. If I have to have surgery on the right eye, I will be extremely reliant on others. This is a very humbling experience, but it has made me appreciate those who are helping me, as well as the amazing medical advances that make it possible to lead a normal life after this unexpected chain of events. 

Although I had to cancel a planned photography trip to Tanzania because I am unable to fly until the gas bubble is gone, I am signed up for the same trip a year from now. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth the risk to my eyesight. So please, get a regular eye exam, and if you have had cataract surgery or if you are very near-sighted, ask your ophthalmologist about the risk of retinal detachment and tearing.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cuba: Close, But a World Away

After recently spending eight days in Cuba, I came away somewhat confused about this island nation just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

I didn't have a lot of expectations going into the trip, but I had high hopes of getting some great photographs. And of course I was looking forward to seeing the old (late 1940s and 1950s) American cars that have been lovingly restored by Cubans. Little did I know just how
many of these beauties there are in Havana and elsewhere on the island.

I expected to see lots of images of the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro. I saw very few. But there were many images of Che Guevara, Castro's fellow revolutionary leader. I expected poverty, but rather than poverty, what I saw was a simple way of life. The people live in humble homes and eat simple foods. Rural areas, as is often the case, are more likely to live in poverty. We visited just one rural family home. It was recently built, and the family was very proud of their new, dirt-floor, one-room house.

I expected to see people oppressed by their government, but what I found were happy people despite their lack of material goods. Cuban people love to laugh, dance and drink. They are willing to share whatever they have with family and neighbors. If they are unhappy, they hide it well.

I saw magnificent old homes. Some have been converted into offices or embassies, while others are derelict. I saw a multi-grave burial site with marble headstones that remains unused because the owners fled to the United States when the 1959 revolution occurred and never returned. 

I saw no separation of the races in Cuba, with the descendants of Spanish conquerors mingling effortlessly with the descendants of African slaves

Cuba is changing little by little, but the pace of change is slow. Cell phones are not commonplace, and there are only four government-run television stations. The Internet is illegal in private homes, although Cubans do have Internet access in government-owned Internet cafes. Cubans cannot read books, magazines or newspapers not published by or approved by the government. So the flow of information is tightly controlled by the government, as is nearly everything else.

Cuba is an interesting blend of communism/socialism and capitalism. Families are now allowed to operate paladares, or state-sanctioned restaurants, in their private homes. We ate at several paladares. Menu choices were usually limited to three or four entrees, such as fish or lobster, chicken, pork or lamb. Similarly, families can operate state-sanctioned boarding houses, or casa particulares, by renting a room or two in their homes. I stayed in a casa run by a woman and her adult daughter. There were two rooms available, a double just off the living room and a single off the courtyard. My room was small and simple, but it had everything I needed, including a wall-mounted air conditioner. And the hostesses couldn't have been nicer or more accommodating. Best of all, I got to spend time with their 3-month old Pekinese puppy, Carly.

We stayed four nights in Havana and three nights in Trinidad. Havana is a typical, bustling capital city. Trinidad is smaller and has a more tropical feel. Streets are mostly cobblestone, and sidewalks are quite narrow. I watched my feet often as I walked along to avoid tripping on cobblestones or stepping into potholes.

Although Cuba isn't a free society, Castro's legacy includes things not available to the populace before the 1959 revolution: free education, including college, for everyone, as well as free healthcare and food subsidies. Each Cuban receives a monthly booklet listing a variety of food items available; the amount depends on the size of the household. These items are obtained from a market, with each quantity carefully recorded in the booklet. Each food ration is designed to last three weeks. For the fourth week, citizens either purchase food with their own money, or they rely on the generosity of family, friends and neighbors. As a result, it is very rare to see fat Cubans. 

Cubans pay personal income taxes if they engage in economic activities outside government employment. I expected that crime in Cuba would be a problem, given the low wages of its people. But Cuba is, in fact, a very safe place to live and visit. I was told by our Cuban guide -- a true child of the revolution -- that the biggest crime is people stealing from the government. Corruption is a moderate problem since few citizens are reluctant to steal from the government, which controls most resources. Bribery also reportedly is widespread, even in medical care. Musicians are reported to regularly pay bribes to perform in tourist areas, where they can earn convertible currency. A bicycle taxi license is reported to cost $150 in bribes. But such crimes aren't apparent to visitors to the island.There are no official crime statistics released by the government, so the crime rate is unknown.

I got up early and went exploring several mornings in both Havana and in Trinidad and I was impressed by how many people wished me a "Buenos dias." I was asked for money (usually 1 peso, or about a dollar) a few times, but it was nothing like what I experienced in Zimbabwe, where the hounding for money was so bad I retreated to my hotel. A couple of people asked for bath or laundry soap, and a couple claimed to need "One peso for baby." My group took a large variety of personal care items and school supplies that were given to deserving families and schools, so I was not inclined to give anything to street beggars.

Transportation is available by a variety of means: Taxi (classic cars), modern taxis, three-wheeled taxis, pedi-cabs, horse-drawn wagons, public buses, horseback, and tractor-drawn
wagons. It is a legal requirement for buses to pick up and transport anybody needing a ride, at no charge. So the bus that dropped my group off at the airport in Cienfuegos was required to transport anybody needing a lift to Havana.

There appears to be no animosity toward Americans, as there was no animosity toward Cubans from the Americans in my group. I enjoyed the required 'people to people' component of the trip, which saw us engaging with professional dancers, women in an embroidery shop, a local artist and employees of a family-owned pottery business. I was happy to share digital photos of my daughter and my dogs with the hostess of the casa where I stayed. Because Cuba is cut off from the outside world's television, Internet, books and magazines, it seems relatively easy to control the flow of information and ideas that might make the Cuban people yearn for more freedom and for more consumer goods. Whether that remains the case is to be determined. 

I really enjoyed my time in Cuba. The weather was wonderful, the people friendly and helpful, and the photographic opportunities different from any experienced in other countries I have visited. I will return to Cuba if the opportunity presents itself. We owe it to ourselves to learn more about our colorful, energetic neighbor so close yet a world away.