Adventure on a Mountain Toll Road

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I had an experience a couple of days ago that is really hard to describe. I did something that I have wanted to do for a very long time, and we were in a position to let me do it. I wasn’t quite sure how the experience would be, but I am so glad that I got to do this, and it will be something that I won’t forget for a long time to come.

Martha and I, along with her sister and fiance, spent a couple of days over in Bennington, Vermont. It was some long-awaited and needed down time that we had been trying to plan for quite some time. While we were there, everyone else wanted to tour around the town of Manchester, which they did. Manchester is a fairly affluent community with lots of high-end real estate including the home of Robert Todd Lincoln (son of our beloved sixteenth President), marble sidewalks, and a shop that specializes in upscale men’s clothing and highly-priced firearms. I thought this was a strange combination, but the theme of the store is hunting. A story for another day, I’m sure…

Anyway, while everyone was in Manchester, I drove to the nearby town of Arlington, approximately 10 miles away. I did this because I wanted to drive to the summit of Mount Equinox, which is the highest point in that area as well as the eastern Taconic mountain range. It’s kind of a strange place to go, but I had my reasons for wanting to have done this.

The road starts at the base of the mountain, right off of Vermont Route 7A. From bottom to top, the road is just over five miles long. The elevation at the time is 3,848 feet above sea level. It is the oldest privately owned paved toll road in the United States. Originally, the property of the mountain was owned by Dr. Joseph Davidson, an engineer who specialized in designing hydro-electric power plants, among other things. Apparently he was a high-level executive at Union Carbide for years prior to his retirement. Plus, he was involved in the development of a number of systems and devices used during both world wars. He and his wife, Madeleine, made their home there until his death in 1969. On the road there are two privately owned homes. I don’t know if either one of them belonged to the Davidsons, but it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of them belonged to them at one point. The other, this monstrous brown house, sits on a relatively small parcel of well-maintained property. It is gorgeous.

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When I drove by it on the way up, there was a sign that pointed cars up the mountain and away from the driveway.

IMG_0844 In itself, I didn’t think that was unusual. But I spotted something that I couldn’t quite make out on the back of the property out of the corner of my eye. I thought it was worth checking out. So I did on the way back. There is a turnout in front of the house, which I parked in (it is on the other side of the sign I mentioned), took my camera, and walked along what I thought was the driveway, but it is actually a road. The driveway is off to the left in the photo. When I got around to the back side of the house, I found a simple but rather formidable looking gate.IMG_0845 Needless to say, it got my attention. And I didn’t want to go any further, because I knew where it led, and I didn’t want to be having to explain to local law enforcement why I was trespassing on property that has a history of belonging to a rather austere monastic order that has been part of the Catholic Church for over 1,000 years. The road, incidentally, goes back to their monastery. From where I took this photo, the road, as can be seen, forks left and right. To the left it is paved. To the right is dirt. The fork to the right leads to the monastery. The distance from here to the monastery itself is approximately three miles down that dirt path.

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As I said, the monastic community that lives beyond that gate is part of an order that has been in existence for over 1,000 years. They are known as Carthusians. And the word “Carthusian” is thought to be a corruption of the French word “Chartreuse.”

For lack of a better way of describing them, they are hermits who live in a community. I have a friend (a Trappist monk; incidentally, Trappists are nearly as tough as Carthusians, in terms of the rule they live by) who described the order as “the Marine Corps of monasticism” because of the austerity of their lifestyle. Their founder was Bruno of Cologne, a German who was raised in and lived in France during the eleventh century. The rule of life Carthusians live by, known as “Statutes”, are attributed to him. While they are not the same as the Rule of St. Benedict, developed approximately 500 years earlier, they are similar in many ways.They live in solitary cells and pray most of the Liturgy of the Hours on their own. They study, do manual labor, and eat – one substantial meal and one light meal each day, when they are not fasting, that is – on their own. They do come together three times each day to pray, however, one of those for the celebration of Mass, the other two for Vespers (evening prayer) and Matins or Vigils and Lauds (nocturnal prayer, from Midnight until 2:30-3:00am). They do not see each other except for these times, the one day a week they eat together and go for a community walk, which is the only time they really speak, also. They only see their families maybe once or twice a year at the most. Otherwise, they are solitary and silent.

It’s a tough life. Not one that I could live, even if I were so inclined. But the people that choose, or more accurately, are called to do this, have my respect and admiration. I highly recommend the movie “Into Great Silence.” Regardless on one’s views on religion, or faith, or spirituality, or Catholicism in particular, it is a highly fascinating insight into the sort of life these monks lead. The monastery in the movie is La Grande Chartreuse, located in the Grenoble region of France. When this monastery was founded, it was by monks from La Grande Chartreuse.

I got up to the summit, and I discovered two things. It was cold, and it was windy. But I got some incredible photographs of the view.

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This is Lake Madeleine. It was named for Madeleine, Dr. Davidson’s wife. It is man-made, damming the outflow from the nearby Battenkill River to produce electric power. I believe the capacity of this dam approaches 200,000,000 gallons. It produces power for the mountain, the monastery, and the residents in the area. I’m not sure what the actual area is that is covered, but I do know that it is not just this area in Vermont but also some to the west in New York, as well.

This is a view of Mt. Greylock, located in western Massachusetts. IMG_0788 (2)

I’m not sure of the distance, but I know it is a decent drive. Greylock is supposed to be a decent hike, and like any other mountain, you have to be prepared for what can happen. That is true anywhere where there is altitude, but it seems to be especially true in the Northeastern United States.

These two sets of antenna arrays were a surprise. One of them belongs to the Vermont State Police as a part of the agency’s microwave relay network. IMG_0790

The other is the transmitter antenna for a local radio station. IMG_0833I don’t know the call letters of the station, but I don’t think it matters much.

This is the visitor’s center on the summit. It is an interesting place. Nobody was there; no staff, no other people, nothing. I had the summit to myself for quite a while. Truthfully, I expected the building to be locked up tight. But it was wide open. Apparently it is from May 1 to October 31 every year. And inside I discovered all kinds of information about the mountain, the Davidsons, the dams (there is a second one in addition to Lake Madeleine that I didn’t get photos of), and the monastery.

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When I left the mountain, I felt a little different. About myself, and about a lot of other things. But it was different in a good way. It was as though I had checked an item off of a bucket list. And if I ever have an opportunity, I may go back, if for no other reason, to take more photographs in a different season.

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Adventure on a Mountain Toll Road

A Day Makes All The Difference

Today is a better day.

I can honestly say that I feel better than I did. For whatever reason, I needed time to work through that which caused the problems I was dealing with. And the time made a great deal of difference.

I spent most of it just being. Weezy, my new best buddy, went for a ride in the car with me. I think it is really funny that she loves riding in the car. But then most dogs do, I think. When we got back home, she wanted to stay outside. So we did. For about four hours.

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She has become a real part of the family since she has been with us. It’s understandable that she would have her moments; there are still times when she will shy away from either of us. But then she bounces back. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that she is comfortable in our house. She has no problem sleeping on our bed, like she probably is doing now as I write this. She also has multiple places where she can hole up if she needs to; she has a crate in our office – her “safe place” for when she gets stressed. And we got a bed for her to sleep in that is in our bedroom as well. She seems to like both quite a bit.

This is what it looked like here today.IMG_0746 The fall colors are really starting to pop. It’s only a matter of time before they peak, I think, and it won’t be too long before that happens. This fall has been unusual in that it stayed warm really late. Even today wasn’t horrible; I was able to be outside with a sweat shirt on and be comfortable. Looking at this weekend’s weather forecast says that temperatures will likely drop to levels that are usually expected sometime in mid-November. But next week is supposed to warm back up to more seasonable levels again.

Tomorrow will be a totally new day. What will happen then is unknown at best. And nobody can predict what each day will bring. Two things I know, though: life is fragile, and each day is a gift. While these two facts would seem to be a paradox, they both remain. And there is nothing anyone can do to change it.

At least right now, I’m okay with that.

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A Day Makes All The Difference

Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack

Wow.

I am not sure what to write about. But this is not a first. At times when I know I want to write about something, I’m purely and completely blocked. And I am sort of stuck. Plus, for reasons I don’t know and can’t really understand I am having an anxiety attack.

Trying to describe what an anxiety attack feels like, on one hand, is easy. On the other, it can be tricky, because anxiety attacks look like many things. Many people who have them curl up into a ball and don’t want to be talked to, touched, or disturbed in anyway by anyone. Others have symptoms that mimic a heart attack: chest pain, shortness of breath, cool, clammy skin, nausea, etc. Mine don’t look like either of those. And I haven’t had one for a long time, so this is like a visit from an unwelcome acquaintance.

My initial sign of an impending attack is the feeling that best can be described as having the wind knocked out of me by a kick in the stomach followed by having acid poured down my throat. That is usually followed by nausea with these sensation of big, nasty birds flying around and crashing into the walls of my abdomen. And unless it can be somehow controlled, the sensation generally won’t go away quietly. It sticks around and will either fester or get bigger. Like it did today.

One of the other things that happens, and it is usually something that I can never shake when it does, is a huge dose of fatigue. I am experiencing that as I write this. Being tired is part of my life most of the time anyway, but when I’m dealing with the issues surrounding this, I deal with what is essentially a force multiplier. That makes the overall experience so much worse. And it is just plain unpleasant when it occurs.

I currently take medication to manage this. Buproprion XL, more commonly known as Wellbutrin. 300 milligrams each day. Most of the time it works. But there are those rare times when it doesn’t. It’s on those days, which I can in no way predict, that I have a hard time. And I have been dealing with this for the better part of the past two days.

One of the things that I personally don’t experience, mainly because I don’t share this about myself, is the stigma that many people experience as a result of being diagnosed with a mental illness. I have been dealing with it for nearly 16 years. Most of the time I’m successful. And I have help if I need it for those prolonged periods of trouble. I am not suicidal. I don’t self-medicate. And I find ways to work through the times I have difficulty. Mostly I read, and I write, and I pray. Sometimes I work out extra hard. All of those activities really help. But sometimes I have a harder time coping than others. And for some reason this has been one of those times.

I had to think about what could have triggered this episode, and I have an idea what the trigger was. Yesterday I watched an episode of the PBS series “Frontline” originally broadcast a little over a year ago that centered around the changes in the Catholic Church when Pope Benedict resigned and Pope Francis was elected. Many of the problems surrounding the church were discussed, like the issues surrounding the Vatican Bank and money laundering, the Legionaries of Christ and their founder, and the ultimate issues surrounding the sex abuse scandal. I have to suspect that it played a part in this episode occurring. I don’t know how else it could have been launched simply because I was okay the day before.

Talking about this is risky; it is a side of myself that I don’t generally share. But doing so was worth the risk because it was somewhat therapeutic. Now all I need to do is survive the overnight.

Anatomy of an Anxiety Attack

A Seemingly Little Thing

Yesterday was a tough day.

When I got up I discovered I was in considerable discomfort from what I suspect is a muscle spasm in my lower back. It was severe enough that I considered not going to work. I decided that I would ride it out and see if things got better. They appeared to as the day went on, so I stuck it out.

One of the calls we did yesterday afternoon was for a patient who was being sent from a rehab hospital we deal with daily to one of the skilled nursing facilities that we also deal with regularly. Both facilities have questionable reputations, but under the circumstances we were stuck with them. When we arrived to pick our patient up it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a tough call. Not because the patient needed interventions from us; the opposite, in fact, was true. The nature of this patient’s circumstances were going to make it this difficult for everyone involved.

The patient, a 19 year-old male, was a mess. He was a student at one of the better-known colleges in northern New England. Apparently he had a significant fall – the report I received was that he had fallen five stories. Whether or not it was accidental or intentional is unknown. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter. The injuries he sustained were quite significant; basically, he had what amounted to multi-system trauma as well as multiple organ injuries. He also had a traumatic brain injury, but not for the reasons you would suspect. As it happened, he did not land on his head. But he had reportedly had significant internal blood loss which caused anoxia/hypoxia, which led to injury to his brain. I don’t know any details beyond that, with respect to this particular insult. He also had a broken neck as well as multiple broken bones.

Mentally, he was compromised. He was awake but not alert and non-verbal. He didn’t respond to his name, couldn’t follow commands, and from what I could see, was unable to comprehend what was going on around him. Plus, there were no family members present that could give us more information. And the facility was of minimal help; the best assistance I received while we were there preparing to transport him was from the respiratory therapist I needed information from. The nurses who were working were either unable to or uninterested in giving us a report on what was going on with this poor kid. It fell on to the documentation they sent along with him to tell the story. And just by reading the discharge summary, it was pretty clear that this young man had a very, very long road ahead of him.

As we were packaging him for transport, I noticed that on the IV pole next to his bed a rosary was hanging. When I spotted it, I pointed it out to my partner and suggested that perhaps this did not belong to the facility; it was very likely his or it belonged to a member of his family. So we packed it along with the airway care supplies being sent along with him.

When we arrived at the receiving facility, we got to the room where he was to be placed. It was then that we found the family members who were waiting for him to arrive. We transferred him onto the bed, got him situated, and got out of the room; it was a small room and there were already four people there. Two more and an ambulance stretcher was just a little too tight.

As we were leaving, his mother and brother stopped us and thanked us for bringing their family member to them safely. We replied that it was what we do and were prepared to leave it at that. My partner, however, went to the bag where the airway supplies were and pulled the rosary out of the box it was in. He handed it to our patient’s mother, explaining to her that we didn’t want it to be left behind. Both mother and brother’s eyes filled with tears; the mother thanked us profusely, and the brother said to me, “we really appreciate you making sure this came with him. It means a lot.” I totally understood.

It is very likely that this young man will never go home. And it was made clear to me, yet again, that my issues are nothing in comparison. Plus, situations like this remind me why I do my job. It is not for me; it is for them.

A Seemingly Little Thing