A year ago, I received the official explanation for the lower back pain I’ve experienced most of my adult life. I was diagnosed with having degenerative disc disease between L5 and S1. As terminal as the name sounds, the problem is technically not degenerative nor is it an actual disease. The term is simply a general description for when a disc in the spine becomes compromised or damaged in a way in which it’s not as “full” as it should be. This generic name doesn’t make it any less of a painful or inconvenient condition to deal with, however. But through targeted exercises (not medication or surgery!), I can decrease the symptoms and mitigate the pain. This back pain and its associated referral pain, however, is the main reason I’ve taken an indefinite break from martial arts training and have focused on hiking and cross-country skiing. Both activities enable me to maintain an upright posture and neither places much stress on my back.
Last year I also began to experience presbyopia, which is the age-related process of losing near vision. So, now I wear reader glasses when checking my text messages or reading a book. Although presbyopia is normal with age, it’s frustrating because I’ve always had exceptional sight and many of my passions, such as art and photography, are visually-oriented.
Alas, no person, place, or thing escapes the ravages of time or the universal scales of balance. There’s a call and response inherent to life or, put another way, there’s a cost to everything we do. The flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long comes to mind. And I have put my body through the ringer over the years.
Last week I watched the documentary titled The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man. In the show, one of the persons interviewed told the Taoist tale of the farmer with the prize winning horse. It goes something like this …
One day the farmer’s prized horse ran away, prompting his neighbor to stop by and console the farmer. Instead of placing judgement on the event, however, the farmer just shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It just is.” The next day the horse returned with a dozen similarly majestic horses. The neighbor paid another visit to the farmer to congratulate him on his good fortune. But the farmer maintained the same disposition he held the previous day, saying, “I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It just is.” Soon after, one of the new horses kicked the farmer’s son breaking the boy’s leg. The neighbor returned to console the farmer, to which he again replied, “I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It just is.” Then the following week, the military came through the village conscripting every able bodied young man. Since the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he was given a pass. The neighbor raced over to the farmer’s house to express his relief that the son hadn’t been taken. But the farmer simply repeated himself, “I don’t know if it’s good or bad. It just is.”
The parable could clearly continue indefinitely. However, the point of it isn’t about becoming apathetic or indifferent toward life or denying our emotions. Rather, it’s about understanding that life will always challenge us with “good” and “bad” circumstances, and that it’s ok to acknowledge our emotions but not become attached to them. We can’t know for how long a thing will last, or to what length it will stretch. But we do know that life is forever in a state of change.
So, it’s with this mindset that I’ve embraced my ever changing body and stopped asking whether or not it’s bad that I haven’t, for example, been to the dojo to train for a long time. This attitude is also how I’ve been dealing with my feast or famine style of living while working in the outdoor recreation industry at Lake Tahoe.
You see, last winter at this time the region was bone dry and I was barely scraping by with work. In fact, the only real winter we experienced during 2017-18 was a couple of weeks of snowstorms in March. On the other hand, Lake Tahoe is experiencing an absolute feast of snow right now. Most area ski resorts have already recorded at least 400 inches of snow, while a handful of them have received well over 500 inches to-date.
More snow equals more work … financially, physically, and mentally. It means a steady paycheck, but it also means more shoveling, more time being stuck on the roads during hazardous conditions trying to get to and from work or just to buy groceries, and generally less time actually playing in the snow. Although I’ve done my fair share of complaining, I’ve tried to keep it in check and make peace with all of the snow this winter.
I’m grateful that I’ve had consistent and abundant work all winter long. And, as of yesterday, I logged my 76th day and 340th mile on cross-country skis for the season. So, I don’t know if it’s good or bad that I’ve had to modify my physical endeavors or deal with excessive amounts of snow. I think it just is.
I didn’t have time to write a full article about snowshoeing (yet!), but I did squeeze in the time to film and edit a video about getting around on snowshoes. I admit it’s a bit long, but it is thorough and shows a handful of examples of the techniques in really deep snow (including getting up when you fall).
Due to snow management, I only had time to write a couple of Tahoe Trail Guide articles in February. They essentially wrap up the core concepts of classic cross-country skiing for my series titled Cross-Country Skiing Explained.
Click an image to read its article.
Thanks for being a part of my life. Until next time…
Tahoe Trail Guide is an online magazine for sharing my knowledge about hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing, as well as information about traveling to (and through) the Lake Tahoe region. I refine that information for a younger audience and produce it in a printed format under the title Wilderness Activity Books. Lastly, Tahoe Swag is a collection of art and design products I create based on my love of the outdoors and appreciation for Lake Tahoe.
Thank You Jared for helping me keep all of our snow in check and to realize that “it just is” . I would not change for anything how I feel when I see the beauty of Winter. It’s something my family and friends do not have in Florida AND something I find hard at times to put into words. Photographs fill that void and thank you always for yours. Peace my friend.
Thanks, Teresa! And sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been busy, busy, busy lately. I’ve always enjoyed the winter, but it’s only been in the last half dozen years that I’ve truly embraced it by getting out and playing in it as often as I can. I also really appreciate how it causes me to live a bit more consciously and in-tune with nature. I tend to get a bit complacent when it’s a given that I could just drive to the store, or wherever/whatever, in a place where the climate is always predictable.