When I saw this elderly man hobbling up the beach, I raced for my camera. Here was determination exemplified. He and his wife, who only used one cane and was far ahead of him, couldn’t be more dedicated. There are beach walkers and then there are beach walkers. The man’s strident effort certainly inspired me. I hope it does you as well.
“Determination Exemplified” is my Photo of the Week.
I love yoga. I don’t know any other way to put it.
The regular exercises have transformed my life, body, mind, and soul. And that’s no exaggeration. The class is held weekly, but given my schedule, I can’t always make it. I miss the praxis when I don’t attend.
My wife and I go as often as we can. The routines invigorate these two aging baby boomers with creaky bones and achy muscles.
Though it’s not a religion, we discovered yoga at church. Sessions were open to all, no experience required.
For the longest time, I thought yoga was something to eat. That’s a different product. Yoga is an ascetic discipline practiced for health and relaxation.
Still, these first lessons whet my taste for this appetizing meditative practice. It’s a non-fattening addiction to have.
My sharp-eyed wife found the starter kits needed for every yoga geek. With a rolled up rubberized mat and yoga blanket, we head to class as faithfully as we can.
The instructor is a gentle woman with a pint-sized body and a super-sized heart. Alana knows what she is doing.
Her soothing voice softly commands your attention. Alana’s encouraging and complimentary instructions quietly and positively modify your posing when needed.
Alana’s patience is unending. Not that the small group, mostly boomers like Neva and I, are rowdy. We can just be a little slow and mulish.
But that’s one of the many pluses of doing yoga. Practice makes practice. There is no “perfect” in life unless you’re scoring a 10 in the Olympics. In yoga, a bow and a smile demonstrate reverent respect in mission accomplished.
In fact, yoga is not about competition. It’s about focusing, breathing, stretching, being, contemplating, living. By completing all those action verbs, the 75-minute sessions evaporate.
I love the slow, deliberate pace that stretches my body, clears my mind, and concentrates on my breathing, always through the nose. Given my schnozzle, I have no trouble getting plenty of air.
I will admit that I do have one goal, a simple curative that my saintly mother tried telling me over and over again. “Sit up straight,” she’d say. I’m still working on that.
As I sit cross-legged on my cushion or as we stand in tree pose focusing on a singular spot, concentrating on the calm, soft instructions, my entire being smiles. I am at peace with my world, my God, and myself.
Through the studio windows, I can see and hear birds calling and flitting about. I listen to the next instruction and redirect my thoughts. It’s a mindful process, a healing effort that comes from within and without.
What we do is hatha yoga. I call it kindergarten yoga, with no disrespect intended to our gracious mentor. We work hard, and I am always amazed at how much better I feel at the end of class.
The terms of yoga are as much fun as the various poses. Table, bridge, down dog, triangle, and warrior pose are just some of what unclutters our minds and exhorts our bodies. Balance is both a literal and figurative dynamic of yoga.
Always near the end of our workout, we turn to Shavasana, the death pose. It’s better than it sounds, an extended time for relaxation and reflection. We lie on our backs, arms and legs spread eagle, eyes closed, feeling head to toe the connection with the mat and the floor beneath, not a care in the world.
On my morning walk, my neighbor’s grandsons exited the house well before 9 a.m. They each had their necessary baseball gear in tow, gloves, bat, and ball.
I called out to them, “Baseball for breakfast, boys?”
They just smiled and ran to their imaginary Major League park, the grass groomed immaculately by their grandfather. I walked on, lifted by the sound of bat striking ball.
Because the local greenhouse was having a sale, more traffic than normal traveled the tiny rural road. Believe me, they were busy.
The chorus from the Song Sparrows, Eastern Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Red-headed Woodpeckers helped balance the roar of engines and jake brakes accelerating and descending hills on highways a mile away.
That’s one of the luxuries of living in the country. The sounds of life’s contrasts become all too obvious.
Young Amish girls, all three sisters that I knew, pulled an empty wagon toward the greenhouse.
“Going shopping this morning?” I asked them. A simple “Yes” and a few giggles was their retort. I silently lauded the mother for allowing the girls to pick out the desired plants.
This opportunity gave them responsibility, decision making, and experience in money exchanging, all valuable life skills. It was just one example of raising children in the way they should go.
As I reached Jonas’ farm, his wife walked down the sidewalk to the gravel driveway where her husband waited in the buggy. I waved, and Jonas returned the common greeting.
All the while I strolled and interacted with these good folks, I kept thinking of my friends far away in Syria, Iraq, Honduras, Texas, California, and other foreign countries.
How I wished they could be walking with me to experience this goodness that I take for granted far too often. Instead, some of them were just trying to stay alive, work diligently for peace, help the needy, and recover from massive flooding.
At that point, I embraced them and the day the only ways I knew how. I thought and prayed for them as I walked along on this lovely morning. I hoped it was as divine for them whatever their current situation.
When I passed by the greenhouse on the return trip, there was Jonas again. He was sitting in the buggy while his wife looked for flowers and plants.
I kiddingly cried out to him, too. “Don’t you like shopping, Jonas?”
“I trust my wife,” he said. I bet he helped her plant whatever she bought though. That’s the kind of betrothed devotion I admire.
Down the homestretch, where traffic gets busier and louder, an Indigo Bunting sang from deep within a woodlot. I stepped to the road’s side to let the vehicles zip by, and to listen to this magical sound. I wished the drivers could hear it as well.
When I reached our property, my heart sang in harmony with the birds. My energetic wife was watering a variety of colorful flowers, some she had purchased at the greenhouse sale earlier that morning.
The Eastern Bluebirds flew from the birdhouse I had put up for them. My heart rejoiced all the more. I was glad they had won out over the pesky House Sparrows. A House Wren chattered atop another birdhouse nearby.
I have a lot for which I am grateful. This walk reminded me that each morning I open my eyes I need to say a joy-filled thanks.
I have found walking soothes the soul. It’s my favorite form of exercise.
As I’ve shared before, I wander regularly on a nearby township road that runs east and west down into a wide, fertile valley. The majority of the land serves as pasture and cropland.
A few residences stand along its path, close to the frontage. Long gravel lanes grace a couple of the homesteads, one on a hill overlooking the splendor, the other where an unnamed creek lazily flows beneath the chip and seal roadway.
It’s there that Red-headed Woodpeckers squawk from an ancient sugar maple tree, and swoop across the road to groves of black locust and black walnut trees, locusts on one side, walnuts on the other, the curvy creek trickling in between. There, too, Holsteins often slurp the pooled water they have just muddied.
I usually keep to the center of the road where the footing is flatter. Even with my diminished hearing, I can detect motorized vehicles and horse-drawn carts and buggies long before I need to scoot to the side.
It’s the quarter mile from my house to my walking road that scares me, which is why I wear a bright yellow hat and a reflective armband, even in the daytime. Still, I step aside when cars and trucks whizz by.
I enjoy my walk for more than exercise. Melodious songbirds, dashing flycatchers and gregarious swallows seemed to have grown used to me. They seldom leave their perches on phone lines and tree snags as I pass. Even the horses and cows pay me little heed. I embrace their acceptance.
Given all that, I appreciated a challenging trek my son, Nathan, recently completed even more. I walk for personal, positive health. Nathan’s effort was for a regional charity, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of East Central Ohio. They connect volunteer mentors with children desiring proper adult guidance.
Nathan walked 100 holes of golf in one day. He wasn’t alone.
For the second year in a row, Nathan and another member of the charity’s board of overseers completed what is officially titled the Hundred Hole Hike. Each golfer recruited people and businesses to pledge money for the event to raise funds for this good cause.
If you’re familiar with the game, golfing 100 holes in a single day sounds insane. The sponsor organization’s rules required they walk the entire time.
The two had excellent assistance throughout the day. Caddies kept them hydrated in the hot August sun, and provided energy foods along the way. To save time, they also produced the right club to play each shot.
Even then, the entire effort took 13 hours, and for Nathan, 424 shots. They started before sunup in the fog, and finished in the twilight beneath the glow of a brilliant, ivory half-moon.
By then, Nathan and his partner were exhausted. Their feet were blistered and their muscles ached. They logged 33 miles each.
My wife and I, riding in a golf cart, joined them for the last 20 holes. The fairway gallery also included three deer, russet in the evening sun. At the last hole, we joined other supporters in congratulating Nathan and Josh as they concluded the humanitarian, fatiguing endeavor.
I’m grateful to live where I can walk regularly in a lovely rural setting. I’m even more grateful for a son who cares enough for others that he walked far beyond the second mile for them.
We live in a frazzled world, full of hustle and bustle and lots of noise. Even in the country, the noise of a busy world drowns out the normal peace and quiet.
Of course there are people that seem to prefer noise. They’re the ones that can’t stand a natural lull in a conversation, or dead silence in a room full of people, so they feel obliged to fill the air with idle chitchat. They’re happy as long as someone is talking, even if it’s them.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been a bit long winded at times myself. But having lived in rural America all these years, I’ll take peace and quiet every time.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I enjoy music, though I’m no musician. I enjoy cheering for my favorite sports teams. I enjoy lively table talk, especially around a meal.
But age has a way of shushing you, quietly encouraging you to embrace the silence. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in absolute quietness, whether I’m home alone or with a congregation of contemplators.
Silence is good. I was reminded of that recently. Since it was a Sunday morning, the traffic on our busy county highway was minimal. In fact, only one car and one horse and buggy passed me on my regular two-mile stroll.
Normally I dodge construction trucks, straight bed trucks, semis, cars, bicycles, and several horse and buggies. This day was astonishingly different.
Less traffic meant less noise. And less noise meant the few sounds that I did hear really, really stood out. I heard a motorcycle accelerating far off in the distance, and a horse clopping on the county road a half-mile from where I was walking.
It was at that point that I stopped and realized the full breadth and depth of the stillness around me. The compressor from the neighbor’s barn wasn’t running. No cows were mooing. Not even a bird so much as chirped.
For a minute I thought the rapture had come, and I figured I had indeed been left behind. I smiled at the idea, and continued my lonely, but not lonesome walk.
Walking affords me more than physical exercise. It clears my mind, fills my body with bountiful goodness, and sharpens my senses. Even my age-diminished hearing seemed more keen. I could hear crickets and the last of the season’s katydids singing in the tree-lined stream that meandered through the crops and pasturelands.
On the return trip home, I fully embraced the quietness. I felt richer, fuller, and more alive, all because of hearing nothing at all. I was reminded of the importance of listening, of paying attention, of appreciating the good earth of which we have been assigned to nurture.
Our world is filled with too much noise. Televisions and radios blast away with the talking heads, stirring up people when life’s recipe says to let the sauce simmer.
Even from my countryside home, I see too many people with cell phones pressed to their ears while driving their cars, or cords from ear buds leading to a denim pocket of a passing biker.
That Sunday morning walk instilled in me just how important a little quietness is in our clamorous world. That silent experience said stillness is more than golden. It is a priceless pearl to the soul.
I’m glad I’ve come to appreciate the quality and value of silence. Please kindly remind me of that next time I start to ramble.
Unlike their little sister, my grandsons, Evan, age nine, and Davis, now seven, wake early. No matter how late they stay up the previous night, they always rise with the cows.
On a recent visit from their city-situated home in Virginia to our Ohio rural one, I found the boys quietly playing in the living room as I prepared for my morning stroll.
I asked them if they wanted to walk with me. Davis said he would. Evan said not. So Davis changed his mind. As I headed for the front door, they both reevaluated the situation, likely based on previous walks with Poppy. They joined me after all.
Both are smart, observant boys, full of vim and vinegar. At their age, you never know what’s going to pop into their brains and tumble out of their mouths. They know that the saunter down the chip and sealed country road can resemble an amble in a zoo, with both domestic and wild animals appearing at various spots along the way.
Practicing good safety habits, we walked single file. I took the lead on the initial stretch of the stroll along our busy county road. Most motorized vehicles seem to seldom adhere to the posted 45 m.p.h. speed limit.
That is particularly true of cars, vans and trucks heading north toward us down what we affectionately call the Number Ten Hill ski slope. Fortunately, in the quiet countryside, you can generally hear the acceleration approaching well before you see it. We stepped to the side until the traffic passed.
As we did so, we discovered a dead Screech Owl in the neighbor’s grass. It most likely had been hit overnight as it hunted for food. On the way home, I picked up the bird, placed it in a plastic sack and put it in the freezer until delivery could be made to the Wilderness Center in Wilmot where it would be preserved as a hands on educational tool for children like my grandchildren.
We turned east on the township road and soon spied a family of Purple Martins perched high in the limbs of an old snag. Upon our arrival to their station, the gregarious birds greeted us by circling and chattering overhead.
Boys being boys, all things gross always intrigue them. The flattened brownish-green plops of horse manure left on the roadway drew their attention. Davis, the more scientific one of the two, wanted specific details of how it got there. I encouraged him to be patient, that maybe he would learn first-hand how that particular organic operation functioned.
At one homestead, I praised a meticulously manicured vegetable garden. Apparently too tame, the exploring boys barely gave it a glance.
Further down the road at our neighbor’s farm, I showed them the wagonload of chopped firewood that awaited delivery to our house. Their eyebrows shot up at the bulging cargo.
The mention of home seemed to trigger the fact that we had walked far enough, though we still had a quarter of a mile to go to complete my usual route. Not wanting to disturb the morning’s peacefulness, I relented. Knowing that breakfast awaited, the boys kept a steadier pace on the return trip, virtually ignoring the chestnut mares and Holstein heifers.
Though a horse drawn buggy did pass us, Davis must have forgotten his question, negating having to describe the unappetizing depositing process to their admiring sister. She’s a dainty enough eater as it is.
Nearly five years ago, I was forced to change diets. That’s right. Forced.
During my annual physical exam at the doctor’s office, I happened to mention that I had recently had a couple of dizzy spells. With a family history of strokes and heart issues, the doctor ordered some tests, including a MRI.
On the return visit, I was told that I had cerebral arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries of the brain. If I continued my regular lifestyle, including my normal, unrestricted diet, I would run a high risk of a stroke.
The doctor of course prescribed medication, encouraged me to increase my exercise routine, and to drastically change my diet. The “don’ts” of the new diet far out numbered the “dos.”
The orders were no beef or pork, no processed food, no fried food, and only no-fat dairy products. Instead, my choices were grilled, roasted, baked or broiled fish, chicken or turkey. In addition, I needed to eat at least five to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Basically, I could eat anything with two legs or no legs.
My head was spinning. The doctor must have sensed my tension because he did something rather unusual. He pulled up his own medical chart on his laptop and showed me his blood work scores. He, too, had the same disease, and had been on the same diet for more than a year.
“You can do it,” he said.
My doctor was right. I could do it because I did. I have been eating that way every since and enjoying it greatly. In fact within a month of going meatless and eating lots of fruits and veggies, I felt much better.
Of course I had increased my exercise, walking for 30 minutes at least three times per week. I rode the exercise bicycle if the weather was bad.
My wife, the chief cook in our empty nest home, was diligent about preparing food that I could eat. Together we followed the same diet.
My change in diet came right when our heirloom tomatoes came ripe. That was both good and bad. The tomatoes were great to eat fresh off the vine or in a salad or salsa or soup, but I missed one of my favorite foods, bacon, tomato and lettuce sandwiches. Having the latter two without the bacon hardly qualified as a sandwich.
At my three-month checkup, I told the doctor about my BLT cravings. He said that it was all right to eat some meat once a month or so. I looked forward to my BLTs the next year, but kept to my no meat diet as best I could.
If I was served meat as a guest in someone’s home, I politely ate it, but only a small portion. While working in Honduras on a mission project with a group from our church, we were sometimes served beef or fried fish. Not wanting to be insulting, I ate what was prepared for me or furtively shared with another person.
A year after first going on my new diet I received the best news possible. My homocysteine levels, the important blood work scores, were below the danger threshold. The diet, exercise and medication were working.
My doctor was as pleased as I was. I told him that to celebrate I was going out to eat and have a steak. I didn’t of course. By then, the desire for meat had long faded. In fact, the greasy smell exhausted by restaurants makes me nauseous.
Even though the dizziness about which I had originally complained was unrelated to my disease, I was ever thankful that I had mentioned it. I feel better, less lethargic, and more vibrant. I have lost a few pounds, and enjoy my regular walks, which have the added bonus of communing with God and nature as I stroll along our rural roads.
Best of all, I am able to maintain my regular routines and enjoy not only the food I eat, but the life that God has given me one day at a time.
Even though I am usually alone, I always have plenty of company on my regular morning walk on the township road near our home.
I walk for the exercise of course, but the benefits far exceed staying physically fit. On these hot and humid summer days, I like to get an early start if my schedule permits.
If I can survive the tricky first tenth of a mile on our busy county highway to get to the road less traveled, I can relish the rest of the walk. Common sense tells me to stay alert for oncoming traffic and dodge the fleet of various vehicles by stepping to the side.
Once I’ve completed the macadam gauntlet to the safety of the township road, I turn east into the morning sun. After a few steps uphill, the road unfolds before me, rolling gradually down into a low, sweeping valley formed by the Wisconsin Glacier 10,000 years ago. Farm fences on both sides squeeze against the chip and seal roadway, making it seem even narrower than it already is.
I fondly anticipate these next moments. It’s the same road, but never the same walk. My audience waits, and every crowd is different. It’s not the Olympics by any means. In fact, it more closely resembles a circus.
I especially enjoy the high wire acts. The Eastern Bluebirds, including the juveniles still testing their wings, play their own version of leapfrog with me from the roadside power lines. Greeting me with melodious songs, the furtive birds wait until I nearly reach them before they flutter a few yards down the lines and land again.
I walk some more. They fly some more. The pattern is repeated a quarter-mile until the power lines run out. At that point, the beautiful birds make an arch over the hayfield and light upon the wires behind me to await my return trip.
Once the road flattens out, a congregation of Holstein heifers crowded head to tail beneath a black walnut tree suspiciously eye me. As I stroll, their heads turn as one, ears twitching, tails swatting pesky flies. Sensing a potentially easier prey, a few of the flies follow me.
Thankfully, a flashy yellow ball cap saved my baldhead. Still, I flail away at the persistent insects. I’m glad no other humans are around to witness my comical machinations. By the time I reach the valley’s shallow brook, the flies relent.
Continuing east past the newly built Amish schoolhouse, the Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows and Purple Martins all start chattering to me at once, circling overhead as if they were asking me to follow.
At Jonas Yoder’s farm, I break the law. A U-turn begins my return trip. I usually walk down the center of the road until I hear a vehicle or buggy. On average, only one or the other passes me on the township road.
The American Robins and Song Sparrows are all used to me by now, and keep on singing in place. A young flicker, still with no brilliant red on the back of its head, flits from fence post to tree to utility pole. Poison ivy vines, leaves shiny as Christmas holly, have nearly over grown every locust post. A Green Heron escorts me back up the incline until it settles atop the tallest tree in a dense woodlot.
Down the arduous homestretch again, my next-door neighbor’s dogs unceremoniously announce my arrival. I hit the trifecta. I feel welcomed, renewed and refreshed.
There are lots of places I would love to visit in the world. But every Fourth of July, you can find me with my wife at Lakeside, Ohio.
Why do we keep going back? I’ll be a typical man and answer that question with another question. How can we not return?
We find the summer resort a respite from our busy schedule. A random survey of Lakesiders would likely reflect that common answer.
You could argue that respite can be found in plenty of other locales, too. But there is only one Lakeside, and the best way to appreciate it is to visit there.
The quaint town on the shores of Lake Erie mushrooms from 600 year-round residents to 3,000 summer vacationers. Gate fees are required from mid-June through Labor Day weekend.
I could list 100 reasons why we savor Lakeside each summer. But I’ll pare it down to a pertinent few pleasures we experienced during our latest stay.
First and foremost has to be the renewal of relationships with friends, some who we only see at Lakeside. Of course, we stay in touch via email or phone. But we only see most fellow Lakesiders while we are actually at the Chautauqua on Lake Erie
We enjoy where we stay, and we always board at the same hospitality house. We like our hosts and their guests, most of who return the same week annually. We have a lot in common, share food, stories and values.
We cherish the familiarity and ambiance that Lakeside affords. Doughnuts at The Patio Restaurant, ice cream from Coffee and Cream and pizza from Sloopy’s are all part of the Lakeside experience if we so choose
But we value the special surprises that always seem to plop in our laps. We run into friends from home or people we know that we had no idea even knew about Lakeside. It’s always fun to reconnect and discover how each found the resort town.
This year we had an extra special treat. A resident of Lakeside that we got to know through our hosts at Maxwell’s Hospitality House invited my wife and I for a ride on his restored 1968 Lyman inboard motorboat.
With the temperatures and humidity at the wilting stage, we leaped at the opportunity. The wooden boat, originally built in nearby Sandusky, glided through the slightly wavy water with ease. We cruised past Lakeside just beyond the dock.
During out week’s stay, we also took in some of the evening entertainment that comes with the price of admission. Workshops, museums, tours and worship are also available for children through adults
Each morning I stretched my legs by walking the two-mile parameter of the lovely village. Walkers, runners, bikers and dog-walkers alike bid each other a friendly Lakeside hello or a nod
Besides the exercise and human interaction, I got to absorb beautiful gardens, charming restored cottages from Lakeside’s beginning in 1873, watch night hawks glide, stroll along where old trolley tracks once ran and glimpse tennis matches on both asphalt and clay courts.
I enjoyed a personal Lakeside moment, too. I found a lakeside bench under the generous shade from the large stand of old growth trees and watched the ferries shuttle between Marblehead and Kelley’s Island.
In that Norman Rockwell setting, time seemed to simply stand still. That alone is reason enough to treasure our annual Lakeside vacation.
The scene seemed a little surreal if not downright incongruous. If it didn’t hurt so much, I might have been laughing. You can if you want.
Even though it was still early April, outside it was like summer, warm, sunny, and balmy. But I wasn’t able to enjoy it.
Instead, I was forced to remain inside. I sat in my favorite overstuffed chair, television remote control by my side, heating pad on my back, and chunk of ice on my left foot. As my friend Steve would say, “Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am not seeking sympathy for my ills, mostly because I probably wouldn’t deserve any. A little common sense might have prevented my mostly self-inflicted problems. But man that I am, I was either too stubborn or too proud or both to pay attention to the messages my body was sending me.
Maybe that was the real issue. The signals were just too simple to heed. Or perhaps I subconsciously heard them and tried to deny the obvious. My 20th century Baby Boomer brain was trapped inside my 21st century grandfatherly body.
Because I didn’t listen or didn’t believe what my body was telling me, I kept my usual pace when I shouldn’t have. I just wasn’t careful. I shoveled too much snow. I lifted too many heavy items too many times. I strayed from my exercise routine.
Finally, the consequences of my actions caught up to me. And there I sat warming my back, while freezing my foot, and surfing the channels like I was on a safari.
If there was an upside to this conundrum, it was that I had no choice but to come to terms with my physical situation. I realized that I simply had to accept the fact that I am aging, and that I must take better care of myself if I ever wanted to someday achieve my dream of driving the staff at the local nursing home absolutely crazy.
I recalled a conversation from Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith.” When quizzing his elderly rabbi about his advanced age, the rabbi wisely replied, “It’s not being old that is the problem. It’s getting old.”
I couldn’t agree more. If I want to get old, that is older than I am now, I have to take better care of myself daily. I also have to accept life’s realities and parcel out any physical work I do.
I have to look in the mirror and tell myself everyday that I need to get real if I want to enjoy whatever number of days I have left. I hope they are many, but there are no guarantees.
I don’t want to sound morbid about this. I just want to be honest with myself and with where I am at this point in my life.
Sitting there in the chair I also realized that it could be a whole lot worse. My situation pales in comparison to individuals and peoples in the world who suffer unimaginable hardships far beyond my temporary inconveniences.
Unlike my icy hot circumstance, no amount of rehab or exercise could rescue them from their agonizing plights. They could not extricate themselves from the inflictive pain of their illnesses or poverty or servitude. I could.
If I didn’t want to continue the folly of warming my back and icing my foot simultaneously, I had an easy out. I simply needed to slow down and listen to my body.
There is only one traffic cop that can make that happen. That’s me.