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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The healing power of canines and nature

It was a day when I desperately needed my time moving through the forest to try to make my spine feel better. It all started two days ago with worse-than-usual pinpoint pain in my neck vertebrae. Then, the muscles around my neck started clamping down to try to splint the angry joint. Finally, by last night, the neck muscle pain was radiating up into my head. I was beyond my threshold. I took my emergency medicines and went to bed.

That’s pretty rare for me these days. I have a finely tuned routine to keep the pain mentally manageable. Most days, it works.

I woke up this morning a little better but still grumpy about the piercing pain. Leading chronic pain researchers say that the most promising frontier in managing pain is the mind. I can attest to that statement – I believe that it’s not the pain itself that matters but rather how I react to it. So, against my instinct to curl up in a dark place, I trudged out into the world for my hike with K. I focused on my world – chocolate K, nature’s beauty, and the signs of animal activity rather than the physical sensation of pain.
About halfway through our walk as we wended through a labyrinth of boulders, I realized that I was loosening up. Pain’s assault had waned slightly. That was good.
Sometimes, it really does feel like pain has chosen me as its punching bag and is zeroing in on destroying my sanity. I know that’s not true but that thought gives me a battle to fight rather than an excuse to be a victim.

Today, part of fighting the battle was seeking out those sacred places where K and I love to hike together, on the edge of a ravine with stunning views of the mountains.
K is moving more gracefully each day, easily scaling the sculpted boulders left behind by retreating glaciers. Watching her makes me smile, especially when she's silhouetted against an infinitely deep blue sky.
Today, I dropped K off at home after she'd reached her walking quota, and I picked up R for a mountain bike ride. That boy can distract anyone from their pain. His energy is supersonic.

He leaped, tucking his paws up under his body.
And prepared for landing...
Despite his natural inclination for zoomies and comical antics, he’s still improving during our mini-training sessions that focus on calm behavior out on the trail. Here, he did a sit-stay next to my “ice” bike, equipped with studded tires.
At the end of my very short ride with R, I knew that I needed more movement to break apart the muscle spasms. I headed out for an exploratory ride, trying yet again to link together two disparate trails with miles of empty land between them. Today, I was successful. I found a faint trail built by a kindred spirit a long time ago and made the linkage!
I didn’t see another person during my entire ride although, at times, I felt like mountain lion eyes were boring into the back of my bike helmet. The terrain was a jumble of house-sized boulders, pine trees, and grass lands. As the feeling that I was being watched started dominating my mind, I spotted this territorial scrape left by the humongous hind paws of a mountain lion. My foot is oriented the same way as the lion's paws were when he made the scrape and gives a sense of scale.
A short time later, I spotted a pair of young mule deer bucks gazing steadily over their shoulders. Maybe they felt the lion eyes like I did.
It was another day when time with my dogs and out in nature helped my body and spirit immensely. My physical therapist recently asked me what advice I'd give her chronic pain patients to help them re-find their love of life. The best advice that I could summon on the spot was that they needed to identify what they love doing and somehow do it despite their ailments. For me, that’s being with my dogs and exploring nature.

Oh yes - I think that my inspirational bobcat who visited our clearing at 4 AM would agree.


  1. Sorry the pain has been invading your space so intensely -

    I love all the pics - especially the two with K and the shadows!

    As for R: :=)

    Here's to a better Friday!

  2. K against a blue sky makes me smile too!

    Feel better!


  3. I so admire you for finding what you needed in nature and your pups to releive your pain and lift your spirits--An example for many to follow!

  4. What a nice ride. You have nice neighbors with good manners, they leave "notes" along the trail for you.

    Mogley G. Retriever

  5. I love the picture of K, between the white trees. not birches though? What kind of trees are they?

    I wish you didn't have the pain to contend with but I am glad you know what to do to ease your way along.

    Thoughts and prayers are with you,

    Jo, and Stella

  6. My dogs and being with nature ease emotional pain, too.

    Keep moving! You've got great company!!

  7. Wowzers! Do you realize that on the right day, if you took a shot from the right angle, you could make K look like her head is levitating in front of that blue sky? That collar is perfect for her and she looks remarkably beautiful today!

    I am sorry your pain level has been so high lately. I always admire your attitude towards pain. Your words about it definitely ring true!

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  9. My neck pain and stiffness, though nowhere as severe as yours, flared up this week also, and was much better today. I've also found that getting absorbed in something is a tremendous help, like reading this and other dog blogs! YOur pictures are a daily tonic!

  10. I have a craving for your insite.
    no matter what kind,,,
    may not go away,,
    but to be able to deal with it,,,
    if only we could find the answers like you have-
    to rise above the obstacles in our path,,,...
    the answers are there,,,
    just as you said,,
    "find what you like to do,,,
    and do it."
    We loved the amazing photos,,,
    R reminds me of a graceful happy clown,,,, and K is the beautiful dreamer

  11. Hi Y'all,

    I hope this morning finds y'all feelin' much, much better.

    I hope y'alls weather is holding so you can continue to "limber up" doin' exactly what you love.

    Thanks so much for sharin',

    Hawk aka BrownDog

  12. Excellent adventures!

    Thumbs up for your persistence and optimism, its obviously working wonders!

    Love the leapy photos and K against the sky!

  13. you have always been an inspiration to me...thank god for nature and animals!!
    love the pic of K on the boulder and sweet R sitting so regally by your bike...
    hope your pain subsides...

  14. The pain sounds just awful. It was inspiring to read how your time with the dogs helped the pain recede. Yes, our furry friends do have restorative powers and they are able to get us up and moving when we just want to curl up and hide.

    mango momma

  15. KB, do you read Jill Homer's blog? It wasn't too long ago when she wrote a post that summed up her reasons for participating in crazy, out in weather, endurance events. She talked about how these events bottle up the experience of life in the course of hours/days (every emotional and physical high and low).

    Your post reminds me of Jill's. On one hand you are talking about different things but there's a sense of really being alive that I get from both of you. Like you said, it can be so easy to curl up in a corner...or you can get out there and live...pain, beauty and all. I'm so glad I get to be inspired by the stories of strong, defiant, nature exploring women.

  16. I'm so sorry to hear of your pain. And I'm so inspired by the wisdom you share. The photos of K and R lift my spirits... and I all ways love your wildlife tales!

    Feel better soon!

    wif love from the Luke

  17. KB,

    i'm sorry you've been experiencing such severe pain this week, and i hope it has subsided today. you have such a positive outlook on your circumstance -- thank you for the inspiration! i'm glad you have K and R and your beautiful scenery to help you manage how you feel.
    i saw 2 deer on my way home from work yesterday, which made me think of your adventures. of course, your sightings and pictures are much more amazing. :)

    the booker man and asa's mama

  18. So sorry for the increased pain. But we so admire you for your inner strength - you are amazing.

  19. I'm very much sorry abouts your pain but gosh! What a Most Inspirational post! I think that lots of people could learn a lot from you and your experiences. My mom always says that when she has a rotten day at work, there's nothing that makes her forgets her woes than taking me and Brudder Ranger for a walkie. I guess us dogs are pretty pawerful, huh? Too bad we can't bottle our healing properties and sell them.

    I sure hope you're feeling better!

    Wiggles & Wags,

  20. What a beautiful post! I agree with Mayzie, if only we could bottle doggie healing vibes!

    Your pal, Pip

  21. I marvel at your way of dealing with such severe chronic pain. The folks at most pain clinics would do well to follow your example. However few of them are willing to work with the pain. They want pills and sympathy.

    Loved all the photographs. It's so wonderful to see K looking better and better.

  22. I can only imagine the pain with which you deal, but I do really appreciate your attitude toward it. I'm sure you have good days and bad days, but I'm glad you find joy in exploring nature with those great-looking dogs of yours. Hope you all have a lovely weekend!!

  23. Your resolve when the pain is at its worst always inspires me. My husband is looking over my shoulder this post and admiring your Labraduo, your ice bike and all the mountain lion pics!

  24. Like the pic of the dog and bike. Nice Bike, and dog of course.

    Matt (mr. taleteller) and Morgan and the greyhounds of course.

  25. I'm sorry that the pain is so unrelenting. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be, and I hope my own resilience could be as strong as yours in the same situation.
    And yes, on a smaller scale, I agree that walking in nature with the pups is my best medicine. I suffer from back aches sporadically and sinus pain is something I battle very frequently. On walk mornings when these uglies rear their heads, I'm tempted to retreat to my bed and let sleep heal. The dogs and the outdoors always improve things where sleep is unreliable.
    Good luck with that enormous cat - an encounter might be very scary!

  26. I almost forgot to ask you - has K started physical therapy yet?


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