Tales of the Kite — Six Weeks into the Herbs

For six weeks now, I’ve been gulping a pile of Chinese herbs from my potions master that look like this, dissolved in hot water, twice a day. Yum. (No, not yum. Gaghh.) So how’s it going? Is it working? I’m glad you asked. Reports from my crack team of observers say that I appear to have more energy, more focus, more life. Myself, I can’t tell! But I believe them, and I’ll take the win. Also, my years-long morning cough has largely gone away. I feel subjectively that I’m less short of breath when I exert myself. Does that mean it’s working? I hope so.

Empirical evidence is less clear. My O2 readings are about the same—dipping down when I exercise and coming back up, as always. I’m using the same amount of supplemental oxygen. I won’t have pulmonary function tests at the docs until August, and then we should know if this regimen is working in a measurable way. Fingers crossed.

Though I had high hopes for better on the O2 end of things, I am encouraged by the energy, and the other things. Keep on kiting!

Total Eclipse of the Sun

Magical. Almost supernatural, and yet Nature at its most astounding. In an instant, the world was turned inside out. The blazing corona around the darkened sun took my breath away. (And this was viewing through a thin layer of cloud. I can only imagine if the sky had been clear.) Just before totality, the horizon glowed with a 360-degree sunset. The air turned cold. Transcendent might not be too strong a word for the feeling when the sun winked out and the corona appeared.

This was my first-ever experience of a total eclipse. (Once, in the 70s, I was on the wrong side of a half-mile band of ocean separating me from the view of totality. Sorry, man, what a bummer.) It made totally worthwhile getting up at 3 a.m. to drive—ahead of the rush of thousands of others from Massachusetts—to Burlington, Vermont to watch the event. We arrived plenty early and found parking. We had the Mothership, and our dog McDuff, and we relaxed in comfort while we waited. Well, aside from shortness of sleep. But you can sleep when you’re dead, man.

The closest I have come to this in the past was our viewing in person of the launch of space shuttle Atlantis, in 2010, along with a group of fellow SF authors. In that event, the most memorable single element was the nova-like blaze of fire under the tail of the spaceship. That, like this, could not be conveyed by a photograph, much less my amateur video. In this case, I couldn’t even get a picture that registered what we were seeing at all.

Here’s a NASA photo from Dallas, TX, that did a better job (NASA/Keegan Barber):

When I watched the shuttle launch, I was in spine-tingling awe of the power of human striving against the bonds of the Earth. In this case, I was in transcendent awe of the majesty of our life-giving sun and our moon, and the stupendous coincidence or design of our Earth/Moon/Sun system boasting the perfect geometry of lunar size and distance such that the moon precisely covers the disk of the sun. What magnificent art is that astonishing corona, if art it is. Either way, it is breathtaking. And humbling.

I now understand why people say once you’ve seen a total eclipse, you want to keep on seeking them out. Even after surviving the two-hundred-mile traffic jam returning home (oh, for a flying car!). The next one on U.S. soil won’t be for twenty years, so maybe I have some international travel to look forward to! Zounds!

Ironically, this event was visible from my hometown of Huron, Ohio. If I’d been in the house I grew up in, I could have stepped out into the backyard. Same for my mom, God rest her soul, who grew up on a farm in Wooster, Ohio. Sometimes the spacetime continuum is in need of a little tweaking.


Tales of the Kite — A Calculated Vulcan Risk

Once there was a man who had pulmonary fibrosis, a disease of unknown cause and poor prognosis—and his very kind and very smart doctors who knew the disease well looked at him sympathetically, and with open hands said, “We’re really sorry, but we’ve got nothin’. This disease has no cure.” Well, short of opening him up like a clamshell and putting an even more unlucky person’s lungs into him—and then stitching him up and putting him on antirejection drugs for the rest of his life. If that were me, I would find the prospect both daunting and discouraging. Oh, wait. That is me.

Fast forward a little. One day he—okay, I—read a letter in the Pulmonary Fibrosis Newsletter from a patient who, more or less in desperation, had turned to Chinese herbal medicine—and after eight years of decline, is now improving. Not just feeling better, but showing better numbers in the pulmonologists’ tests. This person included the Chinese herbalist’s phone number; he’s in the Seattle area, but consults by phone. So I thought, what have I got to lose, I’ll give him a call.

Forward again. I’m just starting an intensive regimen of Chinese herbal medicine, while continuing all my other medications. Herbalist Bob says he is currently treating around five patients with PF, and all are improving. The treatment is expensive, and of course not covered by insurance. It’s accompanied by an alarmingly extreme high-meat-protein diet. The idea is to lose weight and improve the circulatory system. If I’m measurably better in four months, we’ll know it’s working. If not, it was worth a try. (While I have some doubts about the diet part, this guy is mostly about the herbs and the state of blood flow throughout the body, especially in the lungs. He doesn’t talk about chi, or energy flow, or meridians, or any of that stuff, which I find mildly reassuring.) All the herbs come from Taiwan and are tested at multiple points along the way. I’ve just had my first dose, and they don’t taste too bad.

I’m calling this story Tales of the Kite because kites make me think of Chinese lore, and also because I sometimes feel like a kite rising and dipping on the wind, anchored only by the most tenuous of threads of faith, hope, and really tiresome exercises.

Is this a risk? I suppose it is. But the alternative is certain slow decline. Herbalist Bob thinks he can get me off supplemental oxygen, and maybe fix my allergies, and wouldn’t that be great?

The journey begins with a risk. A calculated, Vulcan risk.

A Note to My Subscribers

If you subscribe to this blog, you might have missed notifications for the last umpty-ump posts. In which case, you might have missed a whole run of The Ponce Chronicles, which I know you don’t want to miss out on. (Something was broken, but now it’s fixed–I think.) Here’s a good place to come into the story, if you want to catch up:

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 1

In any case, I hope you’ll get the proper notification of all my future can’t-miss posts.

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 12 (Season Finale)

Crash. That’s what we did upon arriving home in Arlington this week. Despite our best efforts to get everything wrapped up, cleaned up, and tied up ahead of time this year, we were still up until 3 a.m. the night before our flight home, getting things squared away. But we got a ton done on the place, and left it in better shape than it’s been in many years. Here’s a shot of the ponds, partially filled with rocks.

Arriving home, we pretty much crashed and burned. Allysen got started on rabies shots, because of the dog bite, and I got started on an antibiotic because of a persistent ear infection. Even our daughter got to go to the docs for a toe infection. So for the last few days, a great deal of time has been spent with us apparently lifeless in front of the TV, staring unblinking at the flickering screen, empty pizza cartons strewn about the place. We are hoping someone will come along and water us and bring us back to life, like a house plant that’s been ignored for too many weeks.

We’ll leave you with this idyllic seashore memory, from Rincón.

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 11

I said I would not be doing major repair work on this trip. But that was then. The contractors who did some of the heavy work did a shoddy job, and there was no one else to finish the work, and it needed to be done. So a lot of things have been getting fixed, spaced out over time. By me, Allysen, and our friends.

The paneling in this bedroom used to be falling off the wall. It’s not anymore.

The deck! We got the deck painted, after some badly needed repairs! Mark helped me with this formidable job.

The koi ponds are getting filled in. It’s not something we wanted to do, because they are beautiful. But they were also a hazard to anyone here with small children. And they were breeding mosquitos. I tried to drain them on a previous trip, but failed. So we’re filling them in with rocks from the back forty, and hope in time to make the space a sunken garden. Allysen and Misty have been carrying buckets of rocks from the back forty, to fill in the ex-ponds.

The car! I backed the rental car over some rocks too high for its low-slung profile, and tore loose a panel underneath that covers the oil pan and other things. I was in the pits, because we’d declined the insurance coverage in favor of other coverage options, but it seemed unlikely they would cover this, at least not without enormous hassle. I was dreading the time lost, and the cost. Then a miracle occurred. The guy who came to fix the dryer told us about a body shop down near the port, where he was sure they would take care of us. I was skeptical, but we went anyway. The nicest mechanic in Ponce brought it in right away, jacked it up and crawled under it, and fixed it for us on the spot. No charge. Just a totally unexpected act of kindness from a complete stranger. And a big weight off my shoulders.

Another day found Mark up on the roof with me and some tubes of silicone, looking to plug leaks around various skylights. There was a lot of MacGyver’ing involved, especially around the creaky wooden structure of one big skylight. Did we succeed? Only a big rainstorm will tell us for sure!

Yesterday I painted the bridge over the ex-ponds.

Then I got on a rickety step ladder with a drill and a bunch of screws, and I set about to make these ancient sliding doors not feel as if they will fall down at the first gust of wind. Mostly screwing them in place, as the cost of proper replacement is prohibitive, and anyway, no one seems to want the job of doing it. Well, I have done it.

I concluded by resting on my laurels and waiting for Allysen to return from Home Depot, before going out for a hard-earned dinner of ceviche at Sabor y Rumba.


The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 10

This one is heartbreaking, and if you don’t want to read it, I won’t blame you. But it is a part of life here, and thus a part of the chronicles. I wrote about the street puppies earlier, which were already tearing at our heart strings. We buried one of them after returning from Rincón. It had been hit by a car right in front of our driveway—and just left there, probably by someone speeding up to the abandoned hotel lot above us. That was hard enough.

But two days ago, one of them got caught in our driveway gate while it was operating. We took it to the vet clinic at PetSmart, where x-rays showed a broken hip. Ultimately, we decided that the kindest thing we could do for her was to put her down. That doubly broke our hearts. She was a sweet little critter. The doctor was very kind, and we stayed with her to the end. She needed a name to be seen by the clinic, so Allysen called her Satita—little Sato (Puerto Rican mutt). After that, we took Allysen to the ER, to be seen for the bite that the terrified puppy had given her. What a lousy end to a good week.

Our hearts ache for both of them, but also for the lives of the rest as street dogs here on the hill, and indeed all over.

Edit: Report has it that a neighbor has adopted one of the puppies, so that’s good news.

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 9

Mark and Misty are friends from our church in Cambridge, whom we had not seen in at least 25 years, maybe 30, since they moved to Texas. They came to visit and help out. Man, did they help out! But more importantly, it was really good to reconnect with them and get to know them all over again. Misty was very fond of my rum punches. Here’s a picture of us at Vistas Restaurant, close to sunset.

They are super into birding, and they photographed (and showed us) lots of interesting birds right here, near and around our property. That bird that we thought was some kind of owl? A white-winged dove. (Wait, did I get that right? Mark, correct me if I got it wrong.)

Here we all are, at Casarboles.

They left today, headed to see some other friends on the island, and then to go spend several days at Vieques, which we have never been to and which sounds beautiful! We are envious.

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