Saturday, March 13, 2021

Texas notes: Still here

William Schadow (Met)
     Austin Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey had the good sense to use the Plague Year to get outside more.

     This time last year the rug was pulled out from under us. As we heard about a deadly virus already in our midst, our President told us that COVID was nothing to worry about. He’d close the borders to certain people and the “China Flu” would stay away. He swaggered and droned on (and on and on and, well, this is the most apropos use of ad nauseam I can think of). His swaggering, pompous tone spat out the farthest thing from reassuring that a sane and helpful leader might be counted on to provide.
     We quickly tuned him out and increased the volume of a the much more useful voice of Dr. Fauci. Just saying his name seems to activate my vagus nerve, which is often referred to as the wandering nerve. This little powerhouse releases “‘inhibitory neurotransmitters’ such as gamma-aminobutyric acid, norepinephrine, and serotonin” (https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7115576). 
     I am a big fan of serotonin, our natural mood regulator. If one’s vagus nerve is under- stimulated there are ways to get it going, and I suggest giving it a Google. Exercise can help.
     My COVID walkabouts commenced— upwards of 10, 12, 15 miles or more per day— always distanced and masked. I became immersed in the minutia of the world around me. I have always found solace in nature, and now it was amplified. I started living outside almost all day, every day. Each step brought me closer to a sense of feeling grounded and well. I could tune out the world and just be. I was not in denial of the situation; I was simply in training. It was time to get my body and mind strong and focused as I planned my entry back into the workforce after abruptly losing most of my employment due to virus restrictions.
     Over the past year I’ve come to feel closer to other women of the road. Mildred Norman finished the 2,000+ mile Appalachian Trail in one season. It is said that for the next 28 years she wore the same clothes every day and carried only a few possessions in her pockets as she traversed the United States. She was also know as the Peace Pilgrim (https://www.peacepilgrim.org/).
     “Grandma Gatewood” also hiked the Appalachian Trail alone in one season. This was back in 1955 and she was 67. I recall reading a quote of hers once, something to the effect “hey y’all, just do it. Grab some Keds and plastic bags to use as tarps and get out there.” She did not have expensive gear, she just set out and walked. I learned recently that her only training was walking 10 miles a day to build up her leg muscles (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/27/obituaries/grandma-emma-gatewood-overlooked.html). Perhaps I am on my way?
     Then there’s Sarah Marquis who walked from the American-Canadian border all the way south to Mexico, over 2500 miles. Several years later she trekked across the Andes mountains from Chile to Peru.
     There are too many of these women to name. I get it. Once my shoes hit the pavement and I decide to go left or right from my front door, the rest is a mystery and a journey ensues. I’ll look around sometimes and choose the path that seems the brightest and most inviting. This is how I happened upon the Elisabet Ney museum last year, and learning about Ms. Ney has made me feel stronger as a woman. In 1892 she build a castle-like home in Austin with money she earned creating sculptures. I am not sure how much time she had for walking, but I have a feeling Grandma Gatewood, the Peace Pilgrim, Sarah and I would have quite enough to talk about, or would enjoy silent company together for thousand mile treks, if such a thing were possible.
     Keeping active and finding beauty every day has taken the place of endless social interactions, movies, theatre, live music, coffee shops and near-constant stimulation. I don't think I’ll ever go back to that lifestyle of going going going, at least I hope not. Life seems shorter than ever and I feel that the past year has been a much needed reset. The tragedy of so many lives lost makes it feel like a battle unfairly won, though. It will be years before we truly grasp and start to recover from this tragic time, and I am well aware we are not out of the woods yet.

4 comments:

  1. Great piece. If you haven't read her already, Rosemary Mahoney has written numerous books on solo journeys. Singular Pilgrim is wonderful, as is Down the Nile.

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  2. Thank you! I will have plenty of time to read soon.

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  3. The piece about the Ney Museum was one of your best. By the way, an overstimulated Vagus nerve will cause you to pass out.

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    1. Thanks! I am quite taken by EN.

      Interesting fact about the vagus nerve, thanks. Also, there are many reasons to stimulate it, certainly not overstimulate though.

      https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vagus-nerve-stimulation/about/pac-20384565

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