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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.