Brush cutting

Chrissy jokes that I talk so much about my brush cutter that I like it better than I like her. Of course, that sure is not true. You can see all the pictures of Chrissy that I proudly post on Facebook.
However … the cutter is looking good and I did take it down to the farms, bought it several drinks, gas not beer, as you see in the first two pictures.
I spent the day cutting paths and cutting around the longleaf that I could find on Brodnax. There are lots of them on the slopes facing north and east, likely because the dirt there did not dry out as much, but there are not many in some sections. Besides the drier conditions, I think that the bramble over topped some.
As I wrote elsewhere, I learned a few things from this experience and will apply them on Freeman. On the other hand, I cannot go back in time, so I have to adapt from now. I plan to fill in with loblolly and oak.
As I wrote, first two pictures are cutter related. Next is the 2016 loblolly at end of the day, followed by the scene of the longleaf field. I took both from the ten foot tower that the hunt club put there. Last is some of the places were there are lots of longleaf. If only it was like that more generally.
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Origins of Internet

Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, and Radia Perlman were pioneers of the Internet. Vint Cerf is recognized as one of the “fathers or the Internet.” I can’t say I really knew how eminent they were, but the subject “Origins of the Internet” seemed interesting and it was.
It is almost the 50th birthday of the Internet. ARPANET made its first two connections on 29 October 1969. Cerf explained that it was just the start of a communication network. Nobody knew what it would become. They knew their limitations, however, and wisely played on that. They did not try to build a system but rather a process that others could build.
Radia Perlman said that her strength was that she knew less about computers than the average person. Her contribution was to make things so simple that a person like her could use it. She said at times she had to fight engineers, who like the complications. She said that there were complaints that some people enjoy the set up.
Perlman said that people need not understand all or most what they are doing. You can have competence w/o comprehension.
I am almost finished with a book called “The Code” that talks about this history of Internet, and I have read others. I did not learn many new facts from this lecture, but I got a more. Seeing the ease and comfort that these people had discussing the subject was worth the trip into town. The loved their work and they helped create great things.
My first picture is from the talk – “An evening of discussion and discovery with the creators and architects of the Internet. Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, and Radia Perlman, are set to speak at GWU about their lives and experiences that helped them to create one of the most revolutionary inventions in human history. These distinguished speakers will discuss how failure, collaboration, and inclusivity foster great science, and how science can continue to build on the great work they have begun.”
The other two pictures are Washington Monument at night. I rode my bike down to the talk, but I take the Metro back, both because it is dark and because it is all up hill on the way back. It was a very easy ride in because of a northwest wind that gusted up to 25 mph. Great tail wind was almost like using one of those electric bikes.
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2019 update on Brodnax plan

Keeping up with our plans for our forests.

Tract 1

Acres: 20

Forest Type: Longleaf pine

Species Present: Loblolly & longleaf pine, ailanthus, American sycamore, sweet gum, yellow poplar, eastern red cedar, hackberry, shortleaf pine, Virginia pine, mockernut hickory, white oak, chestnut oak, black oak, green ash, mulberry, sassafras, black cherry, persimmon, holly, black locust, blackgum, and red maple.

Age: Longleaf pine planted 2016. Volunteers of other species same time.

Size: Planted 2016. Currently small

Quality: good. IMO a little thin with longleaf.

Trees/acre: Thinly stocked for our management objectives, but enough, since we want to allow growth of grass and forbs.

Growth Rate: excellent.


The vegetative nature of this parcel provides benefits to wildlife due to the diversity of ground covers and understories. We plan to:

  • Do understory burns every 2-4 years. This will over time make the stand more exclusively longleaf
  • Create field borders on this parcel
  • Maintain and enhance diverse and native ground covers

2019 observations and actions

Tract became overgrown with brambles and hardwood brush, a lot of redbud very aggressive. I made paths with my cutter and looked for longleaf.  I found that the site is insufficiently stocked with longleaf. My guess is that it results from too low survival rate after planting and competition, even though we did release spray and burning in fall of 2017.  The task of trimming around the extant longleaf is labor intensive, but I had the tool and time, so I did it.  It is, however, clear that even if all the longleaf survive, there will never be enough of them to dominate the site.

My new plan is to diversify the tracts with oak and super loblolly.  The oaks will be a mix between natural regeneration and an experiment with 150 acorns I gathered under a magnificent bur oak near the Capitol. I have cleared brush and planted the acorns. See if they grow.  I am also letting the nearby oaks seed in.  I have ordered a thousand “super” loblolly and I will put them in the rows where longleaf woulda/shoulda been. I figure that the longleaf head start will make them about the same size at first thinning.

Tract 2

Acres: 30

Forest Type: Loblolly pine planted 2016

Species Present: Longleaf & loblolly pine, sumac, some oak, ailanthus, American sycamore, sweet gum, yellow poplar, eastern red cedar, hackberry, shortleaf pine, Virginia pine, mockernut hickory, white oak, chestnut oak, black oak, green ash, mulberry, sassafras, black cherry, persimmon, holly, black locust, black gum, and red maple.

Age: Planted in 2016

Size: Tallest around 8 feet high in 2018

Quality: Excellent

Trees/acre: Adequately stocked. Trees are widely spaced on purpose to allow wildlife and understory growth

Growth Rate: Excellent


Parcel will be burned o/a 2021, a cool season fire to clear hardwood and thin volunteer loblolly. Density will be maintained low enough to allow growth of forbs and grass for wildlife habitat.

2019 observations and actions

The trees are doing very well on most of the tract.  In some places, however, they are overgrown with hardwood competition, especially gum, poplar and redbud.  The redbud is a surprising competitor. I just never thought about it, but it has formed tight thickets that are shading out everything else.  I have been doing “touchup” with my cutter, knocking down the thickets.  I figure this will give the loblolly the advantage they need to get above the redbud, which can then form the pleasant understory.

Tract 3 a, b & c

Acres: 45

Forest Type: Loblolly & longleaf pine.

Species Present: Loblolly and longleaf pine, ailanthus, American sycamore, sweet gum, yellow poplar, eastern red cedar, hackberry, shortleaf pine, Virginia pine, mockernut hickory, white oak, chestnut oak, black oak, green ash, mulberry, sassafras, black cherry, persimmon, holly, black locust, blackgum, and red maple.

Age: Loblolly planted 1992. Longleaf pine planted 2018/19

Size: chip and saw to sawtimber, loblolly; longleaf are seedlings

Quality: excellent

Trees/acre: Adequately stocked, although purposely thinner than standard management due to our desire to maintain wildlife habitat.

Growth Rate: Excellent


Tract a, b & c will be burned in alternatively to create and maintain wildlife habitat and maintain a fire regime more like pre-settlement patterns in Virginia. This tract also includes pollinator habitat planted in 2018 along the edges. We hope and expect this to seed into the sunny forest.

2019 observations & actions

The growing season fire of May 2018 on tract 3a killed about two dozen trees.  I left them as snags for wildlife and planted some longleaf underneath. I have also been in with my cutter, knocking down hardwood except for oak.  The fire did a good job of cleaning up the understory.

The dormant season fire on February 2019 on 3c was nearly perfect.  I have some oak regeneration in the understory and will be on the look out to protect them, but I have done nothing besides observe.

Mixed results with pollinator habitat.  We planted around five acres along the edges in 2018. Some came back in 2019, but not as profusely as I would like.  I will plant in some patches in spring 2020

 Tract 4 a, b & c

Acres: 24

Forest Type: Loblolly pine.

Species Present: Loblolly and longleaf pine, ailanthus, American sycamore, sweet gum, yellow poplar, eastern red cedar, hackberry, shortleaf pine, Virginia pine, mockernut hickory, white oak, chestnut oak, black oak, green ash, mulberry, sassafras, black cherry, persimmon, holly, black locust, blackgum, and red maple.

Age: Loblolly planted 2007

Size: mostly pulp; some chip and saw

Quality: excellent

Trees/acre: Adequately stocked, maybe even a bit too tight. Shade does not allow much to grow on the ground under the trees.

Growth Rate: Excellent


Tract a, & c will be burned in alternatively to thin in lieu of pre-commercial thinning. Track 4b will be left unburned as a control plot

2019 observations and actions

I walked around the tract but saw nothing useful to do.  There are some vines growing into the trees and if I have extra time (unlikely) I can do in and knock some of them down, but the site is well stocked, and the canopy has closed.  Wait for first thinning.


Acres: 18

Forest Type: Mixed hardwoods and pine.

Species Present: Loblolly pine, ailanthus, American beech, American sycamore, sweet gum, yellow poplar, eastern red cedar, hackberry, shortleaf pine, Virginia pine, mockernut hickory, white oak, chestnut oak, black oak, green ash, mulberry, sassafras, black cherry, persimmon, holly, black locust, blackgum, and red maple.

Age: 40 to 80+ years

Size: Various sizes including significant saw timber. (10 to 18 inches in diameter)

Quality: Good to excellent

Trees/acre: Adequately stocked

Growth Rate: Good to excellent


This parcel is in place to protect water quality and to provide wildlife corridors. We will periodically examine the SMZs for invasive species and treat as appropriate. Beyond that, this area will be generally left to natural processes, with interventions only in the case of some sort of disaster, such as fire or particularly violent storms.

2019 observations and actions

I walked through the stands several times. The forests look healthy.  Our February 2019 dormant season prescribed fire backed down through the adjacent SMZ, cleaning up some of the brush and litter and resulting in a little “thinning from below.” We plan to back fire down the other side of the SMZ in winter of 2020.  Periodic burns should have beneficial effects over time.


Prepared by: _John Matel____________________________




Year Tract Activity


3a Growing season burn – Done

–3a Understory plant longleaf – Done


–3c dormant season burn – Done


–3b & 4a Winter burn

2021 or 2022 depending on conditions

–1 & 2 Winter burn, maybe whole property


–SMZ Remove invasive species


–3b & c Clear cut harvest

–3a Harvest leaving 8 seed trees per acre

–4a, b & c First thinning to 80 BA

–3 & 4 Spray


–3b & c Plant with Longleaf pine 400/acre

–3a Seed tree regeneration


–1 Winter burn


–1 & 3b & c Winter burn


–4a, b & c Thinning to 50 BA

–3a Harvest seed trees

–1, 2, 3b & c Winter burn


This schedule may need to be adjusted depending on financial needs, timber markets, timing of actual harvest, and availability of contractors.

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What TV programs did you watch as a kid

What television programs did you watch when you were growing up? My Story Worth for this week.

The ubiquity of television

We were lucky to have two televisions when I was growing up, and one of them lodged in my room. On the downside, both were black and white and neither got good reception. If you have seen video of the moon landing you know what it looked like on our TV most of the time. My father did not watch TV much but when he did watch “Mannix” or “The Untouchables,” it was my task to stand near the TV and move the antenna as appropriate. It never really worked. I also functioned as remote control.

We got the big three networks, plus a local channel and PBS. I was always glad if a favorite program was on NBC-4, because that channel got the best reception.


The TV was on almost all the time when I was home. Let me be clear, I turned my TV on. It was my own doing. I just like to have something. Still do, although now it can be computer screen. Usually it was just on and I was not paying much attention. I liked westerns, most of which I saw in reruns. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all and that is what I liked about them. The only way I can differentiate them is when I recall the theme songs. I remember “Bonanza,” “Rawhide,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Bat Masterson” & “Wyatt Earp.” My parents told me that I used to sing the theme song from “Wyatt Earp.” The chorus repeated, “Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp, brave, contagious & old.” I learned later that Wyatt was brave, courageous & bold.

The “Rifleman” body count

The basis of many of these shows was absurd. Consider “The Rifleman,” staring the fierce Chuck Connors. The story is that he is an ordinary rancher who lives near a small town on the prairie. For such a small place, it attracts more than its share of bad guys who need killin’. By the end of most shows, the Rifleman has reluctantly dispatched these bad guys to the promised land – bad guys, plural. Besides the mystery as to why bad guys would come to that small town in general, is the specific mystery about why any of them would make trouble. The murderous alacrity of the rifleman surely would discourage them. Somebody on Internet counted and found that the Rifleman shot 114 men, or an average of 2 1/2 per show.

Star Trek

Better than westerns, however, I liked science fiction, but there were only three that I recall – “Twilight Zone,” “Outer Limits” & “Star Trek.” I got to know these mostly in reruns and I still watch “Twilight Zone” marathons. I was one of the few original “Star Trek” fans. I watched its prime time three years, their five-year mission to explore strange new worlds cut short by bad ratings. “Star Trek” found its audience – college kids – only when they started to do reruns in the early evenings.

Another Internet truth, so it must be true, debunks the myth that the guys on Star Trek with the red shirts always get killed. Of course, when Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the guy with the red shirt beam down to the planet, you know who ain’t coming back.

Risky red shirts

But there are evidently more red shirts than any other type. Some nerd has done the math. More red shirts died on-screen than any other kind of member of the crew (10 gold-shirted, which are command personnel; eight blue-shirted, who are scientists; and 25 red-shirted). However, those calculations do not take into account that there are apparently way more red shirts on the Enterprise to start with than any other crew type.

Out of 239 red shirts, 25 died, about 10%. Out of 55 gold shirts, 10 died, 18%. So you are more likely to die as a gold-shirted command officer. Only 6% of the blue shirted scientists didn’t make it back. So the gold shirted command types are the most at risk. Generally, working on the Enterprise is very dangerous, sure not as bad as making trouble in the Rifleman town, but worse than being in most modern war zones.

TV babes

I must add a special section on teenage TV crushes. Some TV shows I watched mostly because of the pretty women stars. My favorite was Dianne Rigg on “The Avengers.” Others included Samantha on “Bewitched,” Jeanie on “I Dream of Jennie” and Maryanne on “Gilligan’s Island.” These were objectively horrible shows, but I bet lots of boys 13-15 watched them anyway.

Here’s Johnny

I joined the swim team in HS and that changed my television habits, among other things. The workouts started right after school and we finished about 5:30. We used goggles, but the chlorine in the pool still irritated our eyes and swim workouts are physically tough. I used to lift weights too, and that was hard to do right after a swim workout. My adaptation was to come home, eat a fast supper and then take a nap for a couple hours to rest my body and let my eyes clear. I would wake up around 9 and do a little homework and then lift weights during Johnny Carson. I thought Johnny Carson was so cool. I especially liked guests like Rodney Dangerfield & Don Rickles.

The wonders of cable TV and the Internet mean that I can watch all those old programs just about on demand. My memory of them is better than they really were.

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More From Less

The free market system works & all successful societies today are free market democracies. Free market democracies vary from the social democracies like Denmark and the less government involved democracies like the USA or Australia, but they are of the same species.

The bright line is between social democracy and socialism. It is unfortunate that they share the same root word, since it causes confusion. The difference is that in socialism government owns or controls major means of production.

Andrew McAfee is not a stickler for what people call themselves, but whether or not the systems feature what he calls the four horsemen of optimism – tech progress and capitalism combined with public awareness and responsive governments. The first two created and continue to advance the prosperity that they started around 300 years ago. The other two introduce values of the societies.

A way to look at tech & capitalism is that they are tools and methods. Just as you cannot build a house, a bridge or car w/o tools, you cannot build a prosperous society w/o tech and capitalism. They are necessary to a good society but not sufficient. To extend the tools analogy, we can use tools to build a home or a prison. Those are choices.

The tools of tech and capitalism have done so much good that we sometimes do not notice. The book goes into history of how we cured diseases, created widespread prosperity, greatly reduced deep poverty and enabled accelerated scientific advances. I fast-forwarded through this section, but I am aware that most people are unaware of the history so it must be included.

All of the above is common knowledge, if not always widely appreciate. The thrust of the book, implied by the title “More from less” is that market democracies have turned the corner in using less resources despite growing populations and more consumption.

Capitalists are always seeking to cut costs. This means they have the incentive to use less. Tech progress working in this incentive system gives the choices. A simple example is aluminum cans. An aluminum can today used only a fraction of the aluminum a can used decades ago. Even a greater example is what you & I are doing here. I wrote this and you are reading this with no need to print or distribute. We can all have a library of thousands of books with no need to for the resources to make and hold them.

Capitalism and tech progress do an outstanding job making new products. They do not do well with “externalities”. This is where the public awareness & responsive governments come into play. They are the democracy part of market democracy.

The obvious example of this is pollution. We need regulation and public awareness to identify and remedy externalities. There is a constant dynamic in this, but experience here is clear. Market democracies enjoy much healthier environments than others. If you look at the Index of Economic Freedom, you see that economic freedom is clearly related to better environments.

The big challenge today is climate change. Many people think that meeting the challenge will require radical changes. History is not on the side of this interpretation. Puritanical austerity will not do the job. The tools of tech and capitalism can be directed to address this problem too.

Let me give an example of how this worked earlier in my lifetime. I graduated HS into the “energy & resource crisis”. This was called an existential threat and experts told us that our way of life would need to change radically. They made dire prediction of famine, pestilence, deprivation. We were supposed to run out of oil, metals, wood … Scared the crap out of me when I was young. We adapted and overcame so well that it has become easy to dismiss those concerns as baseless. While there was exaggeration and hysteria, most concerns were real and overcome.

The system works. We can and often do change course, but there are no viable alternatives.

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The Invention of Nature

Humboldt is the most “famous” guy you have never heard of. His influence is big. Alexander von Humboldt influenced Thoreau, Darwin & environmentalists generally in the most recent centuries. More thing are named for Humboldt than probably for anybody else. There is the Humboldt current off the west coast of South America. Mountains, a species of willow, counties in the USA, even one of the seas on the moon. My neighborhood park in Milwaukee was named for Humboldt, although I didn’t know anything beyond the name when I was a kid

So … who was Alexander von Humboldt? He was a great naturalist in the era just before specialization dominated the sciences. His monumental work was called “Cosmos” where he describe everything, the last person ever to credibly do undertake such an endeavor.

Humboldt explored lots of the world, but mostly he is known for his exploration of South America, where he mapped the land and documented thousands of new species.

The book I just finished was called “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World.” It might seem strange that nature needed inventing. Isn’t it just there? Not really. Sure, something is there, but it is just chaotic, so much beyond human understanding that it is as meaningless to humans as the compete works of Shakespeare might be to your cat.

Humboldt’s contribution was to see nature as a whole, greater than the sum of the parts, as a complex of relationships. Our whole science of ecology comes from this understanding.

I bought this book because of this promise. I am interested in concept like this – the invention of nature, the creation of wilderness, do historians report or create history? This book was a bit of disappointment in this respect. It was a good biography of this extraordinary individual, but not so much a discussion of the invention of nature or to what extent we can call nature an invention.
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most…
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Possessed by Memory


About this website
In arguably his most personal and lasting work, America’s most daringly…


The Closing of the American Mind” was a great book that correctly called out identity politics and the tension between excellence and inclusion, so I thought I would look at his newest book called “Possessed by Memory.” I did not looks closely at the description. I should have done.

His last book is a work of fantastic erudition. He refers to works and thoughts that are just way beyond my comprehension.

I stuck with it for about an hour on the audio book while Bloom talked about the mysticism of the Kabbalah, what it means and its origins. It was interesting to learn that Kabbalah may be based on Gnosticism and hear about the discussion about whether Gnosticism is based on older Judaic tradition so that Gnosticism is based on the ancestor of Kabbalah.

But the details of this do not interest me. I was listening to the audio book while cutting brush. When I brush cutter ran out of gas, I gave up on the book. Maybe it gets way better, but I will never know. The first hour or so is okay, but not worth the trouble. I cannot recommend this book unless you are deep into theology.


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Oak, longleaf and loblolly

I had not planned to stay overnight, but I felt too tired to drive home, so I stayed at Fairfield in Emporia. Not planning to stay, I didn’t have my computer, my phone was almost out of power & I didn’t bring a book, so I just went to sleep at 9pm and got a good night’s sleep.

Early today, I could go out to the farm and work all day w/o getting very tired. I got a lot done, but there is a lot to do.

I looked for and cut around the longleaf on Brodnax. Chrissy says I am praising my cutter too much, but it is great. Unfortunately, there are large areas where the longleaf are just absent.

Too few longleaf

As I have written before, I think they were planted too late in the year, so survival was not great. I think others were killed by the brambles. Anyway, I learned a few things I should have done. Not able to go back in time, however, I have two options and I will exercise both in part.

Oaks fill in

First is to allow oaks to fill in and then favor oaks. I want to have more oaks on the land, so I am cutting around the oaks where there are not many longleaf.

Super trees

The second option is to fill in with “super” longleaf. I ordered 1000 Varietal Loblolly Pine from Arborgen. These are supposed to be the best genetics. I figure that the longleaf have a three-year head start. If these loblolly grow as they say they should, they should end up at about the same in ten years. No matter what, I can see how well they grow.

First picture shows some of the longleaf where there are enough to them. Net is a little longleaf near a burned stump. I just though it was a good picture. Also indicates that the longleaf survived the fire. Picture # 3 is one of the oaks I found and trimmed around. Next is the 2016 loblolly on one side and the 2016 LL on the other. Longleaf are harder to grow. Last are tracks I made w/o noticing on the way to Burger King. I noticed only when I got inside. I guess the clay was on the bottom on my boots and it got loose when I walked across the wet parking lot.

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The Washington War

ust lucky they did not have Twitter in those days. We think of Roosevelt time and just after World War II as a golden age of American diplomacy and cooperation, and it really was probably the best time ever, but like most good times, it is a better story today than it was lived.

The “Washington War” covers the rivalries and sometimes the outright hatred among the men we nevertheless cooperated enough to win the greatest war in human history.

I have read dozens of books about this period. Most of them are Roosevelt-centric. It is hard not to be. He is the sun around which all the others orbit. But others also had agency. Roosevelt was the decider, but others set up his choices. This book does an excellent job of talking about the complexities of the relationships.

Another think the author does well is to convey the contingency of history. We won the war and now it seems inevitable. In 1942, however, is sure was not a done deal. Things could have happened to produce a different result.

The thing that struck me most, however, was his discussion of the Morgenthau Plan. Of course, I studied it in history classes, but I thought of it mostly as a plan to partition Germany. I was only vaguely aware of its harsher aspects. It was a fatalistically cruel proposal, that would have resulted in the starvation or forced removal of tens of thousands of civilians. It is good to be reminded of the great hatreds that war engenders.

What saved Germany, and probably Europe was, maybe ironically, the Soviet threat. Decision-makers understood that destroying all German power would essentially invite Stalin into the middle of Europe. Stalin was ostensibly an ally, but most informed people understood already that he was a bloodthirsty tyrant on par with Hitler. It would not do to destroy one horrible totalitarian only to strengthen another.

“The Washington War” complemented the biography of George C Marshall that I finished a couple weeks ago. In fact, I got this book because it was recommended by Amazon as “readers also liked”. It is an interesting time to study.

As I said up top, it is lucky they did not have Twitter. FDR and lots of these great men had lots of hare-brained ideas. Fortunately, they floated them among themselves and they never got into the general circulation. Today’s leaders rarely have an unexpressed thought. Not good.

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Running, being and artery disease

Running was a big part of my life.  I ran for the usual reason like fitness & weight control, but I mostly ran for what I can only call spiritual reasons.  Running was how I felt in touch with myself and the world.  The rhythm of my breathing & the sounds of my footfalls, especially on gravel, combined with the more acute consciousness of my surroundings enhanced by the exercise made the whole thing a kind of meditation in motion.

Running away or running to

I started to run earnestly in the late 1970s.  There were reasons in my personal life.  I broke up with a long-term girlfriend.  I was becoming disenchanted with grad-school.  It was just a time of uncertainty and running seemed to fill in.  I cannot discount societal factors, however.  Running was in style. Whole books were written about it.  But maybe the biggest factor was the invention of good running shoes. Nike came out with their “waffle trainers.”  Until that time, running was too destructive on your knees and feet to be practical for anybody over the age of twenty-five.  There was a kind of folk wisdom, “the legs go first,” and it was true.

The 30+ years run

For the next thirty-some years, I ran regularly.  I started on the lake trails in Madison and Milwaukee, along Mendota and Michigan respectively.  I started to push longer and longer, eventually joyfully going on twelve-mile runs.  When I got the job in the FS, I took my running international.  I don’t like eucalyptus plantations because they support little wildlife because nothing much eats the leaves, even bugs, but eucalyptus plantations in Brazil were wonderful places to run because precisely because there are not many bugs.  My favorite trail in Norway went through the King’s farm, open to all but with perfectly maintained gravel trails and ideal Nordic farm scenery.  They said that old King Olaf sometimes walked around those trails, but I never saw him.  Krakow featured trails through a beautiful beech forest culminating at a big mound dedicated to national hero Josef Pilsudski.  But probably my favorite trail was closer to home. I used to call it my “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” run.  A long run could encompass the Capitol, Jefferson & Lincoln Memorials, and the various wonders of the Smithsonian. Besides the area around Capitol Hill, it was mostly flat and over well-maintained gravel paths.  I much prefer to run on gravel over concrete or asphalt.  I could list dozens of other favorite trails, but I am likely already being tedious.

A really debilitating injury

I found a nice running trail in Brasília along Lake Paranoá, and it was there that my decades-long running adventure ended abruptly.  It was on February 2, 2012 – Groundhog Day.  I was accustomed to pulls and pains associated with running.  I usually could just ignore them, maybe limp a little, but no injury stopped me from running for more than a few days.

A new kind of pain 

This time was different.  I thought it was just a shin splint.  I stopped running and in a very short time the pain stopped. That was easy.  I started running again and the pain came right back.  It was feeling different from any I felt before.  It was not so much a pain as an extreme fatigue.  I decided to give up the run for the day and walk home. But walking was not less painful.  I could go only about 100 yards before the pain got acute. But it went away almost immediately when I stopped, only to come right back when I moved.  It took me a long time to get home.

Walking hurt so much that I started riding my bike even the short distances to the restaurants and grocery stores nearby.  It hurt to ride the bike too, but not nearly as much. It was bearable.

This injury scared me.  Aspirin had no effect on the pain. Not being able to run was bad.  Not being able to walk was terrible.  But I still figured it was some kind of pull or tear.  It gradually got better, but I did not try to run again for fear of repeating.

Happened again

Then it happened in the other leg.  I was not running this time.  In fact, I notice it while driving. I was headed to Georgia for a conference on longleaf pine.  I was looking forward to exploring Savannah on foot.  This was less enjoyable with the pain.  I had trouble on the field trips.  I felt embarrassed as people older and apparently more infirm were easily able to do what I had trouble. I limped along.

This time, I figured I should see a doctor

Turns out that I had an aneurysm knee behind my knee.  They did some ultrasound and found I had peripheral artery disease (PAD).  This seemed very unfair to me, not that nature is fair.  This is the kind of thing common in people who do not exercise much, often those who smoke or have high blood pressure.  I had none of the usual markers.  The doctor gave me a long explanation, which boiled down to a simple, “shit happens.”   I don’t think he believed me when I told him that I exercised all the time.

There were two options.  You can get surgery to bypass the problem and put in stents.  In time, this would restore much of the mobility and it would relieve the pain almost immediately.  The other option was to exercise enough to mitigate the condition.   My explanation is simplistic and no doubt wrong in detail, but as I understand it the exercise creates new channels for the blood, expanding arteries.

Surgery or not

The doctors told me that the choice was mine, although they seemed to favor the surgical option, since it would relieve the immediate pain.  I don’t think they had confidence that I would exercise enough to fix the problem.  I chose the non-surgical option.  They gave me some blood thinning medication and told me to come right back if the acute pain returned, warning me that ignoring the condition was very dumb.  The condition could result in amputation or death if left untreated. I had been twice lucky, but maybe three strikes and I would be out.  They also wanted to do another ultrasound in six months.

Painful progress

Progress was painful, as the doctors warned.  I developed a kind of a system. I would walk as far as I could tolerate and then rest for 30 seconds.  I timed it.  It was remarkable how much it hurt and how fast the pain stopped when I stopped.  The muscle was starved for oxygen. That is why it hurt.  The pipeline was just too narrow.  When it got a chance to catch up, the pain was done.

I walked every day using this system.  I am not sure exactly when it got better.  One day I just noticed that I was not stopping for those “blood breaks.”   My legs still were not as good as before, but they were functional.

The hiking challenge

Alex wanted to go hiking in Utah, but the friend he had planned to accompany him dropped out. I was second choice.  I was happy to go, but still afraid of my legs not working well enough. I had the hiking poles, so I figured that I would be okay.  Even if my legs had been perfect, I cannot keep up with Alex. Age does that.  With that caveat, I went.  I did not always feel great, but I did manage all the hikes, albeit not so fast.

Next time I went in for the ultra-sound, they told me that my legs were better, not great but better.   They said that I could go to a year between appointments.  Last year (2018), I was lucky enough to get a WAE assignment to São Paulo.  I walked every day to and from the Consulate. It took about an hour each way and sometimes I would have to let my legs rest, but generally it got better and better.

When I came back, I felt that there was a quantum change.  My now annual ultra-sound confirmed it. The doctors were surprised.  It was as good as surgery would have done, maybe better.  I just got a letter from the doctor asking me to make an appointment for this year’s tests.

Back to old habits

Returning to running, I am going to try to return to running.  October 15-November 15 is the best running season in Virginia, so I am resolved to restart my running program next Tuesday.  I don’t think I will take my watch, so as not to be too discouraged by the slow time.  I will never get back to what I was, but even absent the PAD problem my 64-year-old self would not be as fast as my 56-year-old self.  At least now I have an excuse.

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