Slowing Down = Seeing More

I’ve always feared the dreaded slowing down. Whether from injury, illness, or aging.

I know. Aging is inevitable. With aging comes aching muscles, stiffening joints, reduced muscle mass and loss of endurance. And, if we’re unlucky, injury or illness are added to the challenge.

Knowing all that doesn’t mean I have to welcome any of it.

Finn is now fourteen-and-a-half years old. He’s remarkably healthy and fit for his age, a loss of hearing his only real issue. He still enjoys almost daily walks of two to three miles. Lately, though, his pace has slowed a notch. Not a lot, but noticeable to me.

To his credit, Conall has slowed his own pace to match Finn’s. We’re a pack, and we move at the rate of the slowest member.

two dogs wading in a pond
Taking time to enjoy the pond, July 3, 2022.

My running pace has definitely slowed over time. Part of that is choice. On trails, I see so much more of what’s around me and how my dogs interact with the world when we dial it back a notch. Pace per mile? I have no clue and like it that way. Trail running teaches humility. No matter how strong or fast a person may be, the terrain will slow them down, and often, kick their butt.

Yet trail running, no matter how slowly, always leaves me feeling better than walking. For as long as I can manage it, I will run trails. Like Finn, I don’t care how slow I become. I’ll just keep moving, even if it’s a shuffle. With just my dogs for companionship on the trails, I can stop as much as I like for as long as I like without annoying anyone. On days I can’t or don’t want to run, I’ll walk. Until I can no longer do either.

This spring, I learned just how strong my resolve to keep running is.

There have been many days since February when I was the weak link in my pack of three. I’ve had odd nerve issues in one leg, impacting my ability to walk or run pain-free. Many weeks I didn’t attempt a run at all. And sleep? Forget about it. Between muscle aches in my hip, sharp shooting pains in my lower leg, tingling toes, and all-body jitters, there was no pain-free or restful position. I went for weeks without sleeping through the night. I’ve never been so frustrated or sleep-deprived in my life.

My leg is much better now, maybe 95% back to normal. In mid-June I started running again, slowly and cautiously. Conall’s happy because he loves it when we go for runs.

From February through May, though, there were many days I could barely walk a mile with the boys so they could get some exercise. In constant pain, I had to frequently stop, even during the shortest walks, to stretch, or lay on a rock so the pain in my hip and lower leg would calm down.

A dismal time for me, for sure. Humbling, too. Would I ever run again? I refused to believe this mystery ailment was the end of my running “career,” one I’ve maintained since I was 18 years old, the only breaks being for recovery from an overuse injury or surgery.

As trying as this running setback has been, there has been a benefit. By slowing down – because of my leg issue and Finn’s aging pace – I’ve been seeing and hearing more than I would have were we running or walking quickly through the environment.

Because we’re visiting the same general area most days (the neighbors’ acreage), I’ve learned what’s usual and what’s unusual in each season. There’s much to be said for becoming a naturalist of a small area, learning all the nuances and quirks of the flora and fauna that would be missed if one visited only occasionally or moved through too quickly.

Two cases in point, both happening this long holiday weekend: watching a rafter of wild turkeys – hens and chicks – taking flight, and seeing Ebony Jewelwing damselflies for the first time.

Wild Turkeys

Since first seeing and hearing the Ruffed Grouse hen and her chicks, especially the hen’s warning call that sounded like a scared puppy, the boys and I have startled them into flight several more times. It happens so fast I can’t pull my camera out of my pocket fast enough to capture it. My solution? When we walk through those areas, I set my camera to video and follow Conall, just in case. It’s easy to delete the video if nothing happens.

So far I’ve failed to get the grouse on video, but a couple days ago, I got something as exciting: a whole rafter of wild turkeys.

Actually, a couple days earlier, as we walked past the same field, wild turkeys erupted from the tall grass a few feet away. I happened to have my camera in hand but wasn’t taking video, so I only managed to capture the tail end (pun intended) of the group fleeing for the trees. I took screenshots from the video, showing some of the larger hens and their much smaller chicks.

wild turkey hens and chicks flying up from tall field grass
Wild turkey hens and chicks flying up from tall field grass, July 1, 2022.

The next day, heading out for a morning walk, the boys started sniffing the mowed path in that same area. I saw lots of turkey poop. Because the boys were intrigued with scents, I got several feet ahead of them. Looking up the slope, I saw the entire rafter of wild turkeys, huddled together on the path. I quickly grabbed my camera and set it to video. By this point Conall knew something was up but stayed by me when I asked him to. Knowing neither dog could harm the turkeys, as soon as my video was on, I said quietly to Conall, “Okay.”

A rafter of wild turkeys flies for the trees, July 2, 2022.

I love seeing Finn’s ears flapping as he “runs” up the slope toward the birds in that video. I’m sure in his mind he was four years old again and fast as lightning.

Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly

Later on that same morning, as I walked behind Conall, I ran video just in case we came upon the grouse family. As usual, Finn was bringing up the rear. We didn’t startle any grouse, but a large, black, flying insect startled me! And then another! I’d never seen them before, and thought they must be dragonflies. I followed the second one after it landed on a leaf.

I switched to camera mode and got some closeups so that I could try to identify them when I got home.

Turns out I saw a female Ebony Jewelwing damselfly. Damselflies and dragonflies are similar, with the latter being larger. The easiest way to tell them apart is when they’re not flying: a dragonfly’s wings stick straight out, perpendicular to their body like an airplane’s wings, while those of a damselfly fold back so they are in line with their body, as I saw with this Ebony Jewelwing. I also learned that the white dots on the wings signify the female. The males are even showier, apparently, their bodies iridescent green or blue, depending on the light.

Ebony Jewelwings are found in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada, ranging west to the Great Plains. Having lived my entire life in the western U.S. before moving to Vermont a year ago, I’d never seen one. They eat bugs – mosquitos, aphids, gnats, flies, water fleas. And they’re eaten by birds, reptiles, frogs, fish, and bats.

I resolved to return to the same spot and try to photograph a male Ebony Jewelwing. This morning, I did!

Unfortunately, he was the only one I saw and he was less cooperative about staying still than the female was two days ago. My photos don’t do justice to the stunning metallic green color of his body, which changed to blue when he moved and the sun hit him from a different angle. The male’s wings are more black than the female’s, as well. So beautiful! Nature never disappoints. I was being eaten alive by deer flies, though, so I didn’t linger.

Here’s a video of male Ebony Jewelwings. The videographer does a fabulous job capturing their mating ritual, the males entering duels of endurance to impress nearby females.

Slowing down. Not fun, for whatever reason, but not so bad, either, if the compensation is more time to see more of the wonders of nature.

Feature photo: screenshot of wild turkey hens and chicks taking flight, July 1, 2022.

8 thoughts on “Slowing Down = Seeing More”

  1. So glad you got to enjoy ebony jewelwings! And even though I’ve seen hundreds of them, I still struggle to get a good photo. I really enjoyed the video of the dogs walking with you. Thank you for sharing that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can run. I won’t. I want to, but I’d be an idiot to insist on it. You’re right that trail running is humbling. Over time, it flattened me — injuries and wear and tear, maybe I wasn’t born with ideal body mechanics. Who knows?

    Now? “Your new joints will last much longer — maybe forever — if you avoid high impact sports such as running and downhill skiing.” The thought of going back, having them dig out some titanium implants from bone that’s grabbed onto them, getting an 18 – 24 inch incision and at least 2 months of rehab? Nope nope nope nope nope. Occasionally I “run” just to do ti and never more than 50 feet? The exhilaration of running is now provided by the Bike to Nowhere and a video of glaciers in the Austrian Alps (for the moment).

    Bear taught me to slow down and be OK with it. I remember the day. I was in pain before my second hip surgery in 2017. I was frustrated and wanted to go faster, still not running, but pain adds to the feelings of failure. If you’re a runner and not running, that’s a factor. Failure and shame. Odd, but… She stopped and wouldn’t budge. I stopped and followed her gaze and there in the distance, in the trees, along the river on the other side were a hundred or more elk, well camouflaged. I wouldn’t have seen them It was an epiphany. Bear never hurries, anyway. “OK,” I said to whatever, “this is what I get if I slow down?” ‘Whatever” nodded. It’s an enormous reward and compensation but..

    I’d still like to run, dart around switch backs, jump over boulders, run up a steep, steep, trail following a road runner who keeps looking over his shoulder, climb a boulder on the top to watch the ravens play. “But you did that already,” says “Whatever.” “Do this now.”

    OK. 🥺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love this, Martha.

      Despite what an unimaginative PT thought, I knew/know in my marrow I’m not dealing with a joint issue. Time has proven me right. Thank goodness, too, because the route you took for busted joints is the only reasonable one available, and then, the decision whether to stress that new joint would be a difficult one. I hope I never have to make that choice.

      No, I know my running days aren’t over. I’m getting a real lesson in patience, though! As we ultra runners would mutter during a long race that went south: “One foot in front of the other. Just get to the finish.” For me, right not, that “finish line” is my return to regular running, no matter how slow. I’ve got a few more foot placements to go, but I’m getting there.

      In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying pain-free walks in the woods and fields with the boys, seeing what nature throws my way!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My right hip (I was 54) was misdiagnosed because the (lousy) doctor didn’t order any X-ray. I was treated for a nerve problem. Well THAT didn’t help! 🤣 I’m grateful to be me here now when these prostheses are available. I’d be in a wheelchair.

        Keep running! ❤️🐾

        Liked by 1 person

    1. No. But, after 48 years of running and endurance sports, I know my body pretty well. I’m certain it’s the sacroiliac joint, which the PT never even mentioned or considered. As I write this, I’m running without pain (but really slowly – so much conditioning lost) and about 99% healed. Whew!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great captures of winged creatures in your neighborhood, Becky! The small damselflies are just as impressive as the large turkeys. Sorry for the pain you have recently gone through. Glad you were able to see special elements of the natural world while traveling at a slower pace. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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