Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Cremation of Sam McGee

For reading around a campfire:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee,
Where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam
'Round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold
Seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he'd often say in his homely way
That he'd "sooner live in hell".

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way
Over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold
It stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze
Till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one
To whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight
In our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead
Were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and "Cap," says he,
"I'll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you
Won't refuse my last request.

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no;
Then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold
Till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'tain't being dead -- it's my awful dread
Of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
You'll cremate my last remains.

A pal's last need is a thing to heed,
So I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn;
But God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day
Of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all
That was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death,
And I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid,
Because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say:
"You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you
To cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
And the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb,
In my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight,
While the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows --
O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay
Seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent
And the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
But I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing,
And it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge,
And a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice
It was called the "Alice May".
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
And I looked at my frozen chum;
Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry,
"Is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor,
And I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
And I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared --
Such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
And I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like
To hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled,
And the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
Down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
Went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow
I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about
Ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said:
"I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked
"; . . .
Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
In the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
And he said: "Please close that door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear
You'll let in the cold and storm --
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
It's the first time I've been warm.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Utah Places: Santaquin Peak and Loafer Mountain

Santaquin Peak and Loafer Mountain form the northern end of the Mount Nebo massif. Nebo summits are a long series of weathered rocky ridge, and these two peaks form the north end, before it drops off into Spanish Fork Canyon.

There are a number of ways to approach. The easiest climb is from the road just above Payson, where it turns south to jaunt toward Payson Lakes and Blackhawk Campground. There is a sign at the trailhead marking the departure. The two peaks are only about half-mile apart, so might as well bag them both, while you're there.

There is a trail coming south from Spanish Fork Canyon, just east of the big red barn, but I have never hiked it.

The peaks can also be hiked following trails from Birdsdeye on the east, and this is the route I have followed. Amble up the Bennie Creek trail till it intersects, then turn north to the summit of choice. Santaquin Peak overlooks Utah Valley to the west, and Loafer Mountain dominates the upper Sanpete Valley on the east. Both peaks offer a hiking challenge, especially in winter, and dramatic views all around.

If you enjoy boots-on-the-ground, this is a great hike. Much easier than some of the other Wasatch peaks, with a similar exposure and dramatic views. Overall, an under appreciated and relatively unrecognized hike.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Utah Places: Maple Canyon

Maple Canyon is in the Sanpitch Mountains southwest of Moroni City. More rock climbers from outside of Utah come here than locals. It has a unique feature of deep narrow canyons eroded in a conglomerate rock formation that affords many ideal climbing holds and footrests. Even if you have little interest in rock climbing, it is a spectacular canyon. If you are into this kind of rock climbing, it is Mecca.

The surrounding mountains are worth exploring. There are other excellent places for rock climbing in the nearby canyons. The Maple Canyon area hosts a gem of a public campground that is a nice place to camp. Towering rocks make a dramatic background.

Lots of places to hike and play.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Utah Places: Bear River Bird Refuge

The Great Salt Lake basin forms a drainage for the Bear River as it flows down fom the mountains, and with over 70,000 acres of wetland and marsh area, the Migratory Bird Refuge sees millions of waterfowl passing through or nesting within the boundaries. Bird lovers can watch their favorites, birds of every plumage and hue, passerby or resident. One of the largest refuges of its kind in the country. Worth seeing.

Administered by US Fish and Wildlife.

Bring field glasses.

April 2009 General Conference: Come unto Him

Elder Neil L. Andersen, newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, took the occasion as a newly called member of the quorum to bear witness of Jesus Christ, and share the roots of his testimony.

Elder Anderson testified that these are days long foretold by prophets. Regardless of the difficult challenges we face...
...Yet we must not shrink from what is uniquely and singularly found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only here is the priesthood of God, restored to earth by heavenly messengers. Only here does the Book of Mormon stand with the Bible in revealing and declaring the full divinity and gospel of Christ. Only here are there prophets of God, bringing guidance from heaven and holding the keys that bind in heaven what is bound on earth.
Elder Anderson shared the promise of the Savior's witness:

“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Body Movement: Voluntary vs. Involuntary

Not quite that simple, it turns out...

Some body movements have both a reflex component and a voluntary component. Many of them are rhythmic movements such as breathing, chewing, and walking. These movements are produced by neural circuits called central pattern generators. When activated, the neurons in these circuits generate a certain pattern of predetermined neural activity that smoothly co-ordinates the contraction of the many muscles involved in rhythmic activities.

These pattern generators free up the conscious mind so that I don't have to send down a voluntary command every time I want to put one foot in front of the other. In this respect, walking resembles a reflex activity. But I do have to issue voluntary commands when I want to start or stop walking, just as I do to pick up my pace to get across the street when the light turns yellow, or to make that little jump up to the curb on the opposite side, or a small sidestep to avoid a puddle along the way. Thus voluntary commands can also modulate certain reflex movements.

This is the effective compromise between the need to free my overworked and already frenzied mind from repetitive movements, and the need to retain some ability to adjust to changes and obstacles in the environment. Or, allow me to walk and chew gum at the same time.

An intriguing question: What actions are thoughtful, and which are mere reflex? Does my conscious know the reality and can I even tell the difference? How much of my day-to-day is really just pre-programmed knee-jerks, going through the motions?

What do YOU think?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tendon Reflex

Tendon reflex, like the patella reflex so often checked by doctors, tapping with the little rubber hammer, is an involuntary response to stimulus that prompts automatic reaction of a limb or body part. Some reflex actions like the patellar reflex operate in a closed neural circuit, called a "reflex arc", that saves time and thought, bypassing the conscious and immediately eliciting a quick response.

The relative health status of some individuals is also reflected in involuntary responses. When the doctor checks my patellar reflexes, watch out!, because some of them are hyperactive. Especially the right leg, which exhibits what is called "tonic" reflex, or just "tone" for short. Too much "tone" means that flexors and extensors are opposing each other too much to allow freedom of voluntary movement. When the doctor taps lightly on the ligament below the patella, my leg responds in a fairly dramatic way.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Babinsky's sign

Babinsky's sign:
A -- normal reflex
B -- pathological response

One of the "stupid pet tricks" my doctors have me perform, again and again, is the positive Babinsky reflex that proves I am brain damaged. It sounds vaguely pejorative, but is actually also known as "plantar reflex", and is commonly used as a diagnostic to indicate neurological compromise. Babinski is the name of the famed French neurologist from whom the technique takes its name.

One of the most amusing things about being tested for a positive Babinsky is that the doctor asks you to take off your shoes and socks -- to determine the status of your brain!

Then they scrape something along the bottom of the bare foot, and watch which way your toes curl. If something is wrong, the big toe and other toes flex upward and outward. The normal reflex is for the toes to curl downward, like the clenching fist.

Some doctors use a tongue depressor or some the blunt little hammer doctors use for testing reflexes. Dr. Brin, my neurologist at the U, preferred to use a key from her key ring.

I can perform this trick on request at any time. Any number of doctors have watched and nodded wisely at the uneducated and uncouth response of my big toe. It seems like a silly thing for learned doctors to be studying on, playing with their patients feet.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Living Notes 2

It is getting more difficult to find something interesting to say.

Not that I find my life boring. I do, sometimes--but that is beside the point. The point being that we have something of mutual interest to share. I take upon myself the obligation to find that something, that particular something, and to write about it. My writing is somewhat of a cathartic remedy--it affords an opportunity for me to express myself, and perhaps to even whine a little. Oh, but not too much. Too much whining is boring to you and depressing to me. So I refrain.
Sufficient to say, I am in a holding pattern -- I am handicapped from stroke damage and shark attacks, but the treatment is keeping these under control. For now.

I am dealing with the mentally unstable condition. Other things are bothersome but not fatal. COME WHAT MAY!

It is worth mentioning that last night, we had a visit from my bishop and stake president. It turned out to be more than a social call. They want me to do a job for the stake. I accepted the invitation to serve, with gladness. I have missed the job of working as the assistant clerk, because I could rub shoulders with some fine people in the ward. Anyway, at least they didn't ask me to be a new bishop or something. More on this later...

I have been performing adequately at PT workouts, but improvements are difficult to assess. Near as I can judge, I am about at the halfway mark as far as fitness and agility are concerned. It is tough to keep on going, three times per week, but I try not to miss...

I am measuring slight changes in sensory capacity, but whether these are real or imagined, the difference is too subtle to measure objectively. One thing I can tell is that I have more sensory definition in feeling my face and forehead. There may be slightly more sensitivity in my abdomen, but the skin still has some areas of numbness, so it is hard to tell. Legs are like posts still. Right foot has lost some ground in the sensory map--there are new areas of dead-feeling skin on the toes not noticed before. Oh, well. Gain some, lose some...

Next instalment:  Living the Life 5

Sunday, August 02, 2009

April 2009 General Conference: The Way of the Disciple

In his Sunday morning conference address, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf; Second Counselor in the First Presidency, describes the way of disciples of Jesus Christ.

Christ brought to us the pathway of discipleship -- the gospel. As we walk in that way, we can experience confidence and joy—even during times of peril, sorrow, and uncertainty.

Many in the world hunger for meaning and purpose to life. We struggle for a livelihood. The world offers all kinds of answers to life's problems, but few of them satisfy. The gospel is the divine formula for joy and happiness.

We become disciples by faith in the gospel. As we extend faith, we repent and receive the saving ordinances, and are accepted as members of the Lord's kingdom here on earth. We continue to gain in faith and testimony as the gift of the Holy Spirit whispers truths to our soul, and we are inspired to greater things. These are the first steps along the true way of life and fulfillment. This is the peaceable way of the follower of Jesus Christ.

This is a pathway of patience, requiring long application to win success.

Discipleship is a journey. We need the refining lessons of the journey to craft our character and purify our hearts. By patiently walking in the path of discipleship, we demonstrate to ourselves the measure of our faith and our willingness to accept God’s will rather than ours.
It is not enough merely to speak of Jesus Christ or proclaim that we are His disciples. It is not enough to surround ourselves with symbols of our religion. Discipleship is not a spectator sport. We cannot expect to experience the blessings of faith by standing inactive on the sidelines any more than we can experience the benefits of health by sitting on a sofa watching sporting events on television and giving advice to the athletes. And yet for some, “spectator discipleship” is a preferred if not a primary way of worshipping.
Ours is not a secondhand religion. We cannot receive the blessings of the gospel merely by observing the good that others do. We need to get off the sidelines and practice what we preach

We start here, take that first step. There is no requirement to be educated, eloquent, or intellectual. We do not have to be perfect or well-spoken or even well-mannered.
You and I can walk in the path of discipleship today. Let us be humble; let us pray to our Father in Heaven with all our heart and express our desire to draw close to Him and learn of Him.
Have faith.
Seek, and you will find.
Knock, and the door will be opened.

Serve the Lord by serving others.
Become an active participant in your ward or branch.
Strengthen your family by committing to live the principles of the gospel.
Be of one heart and of one mind in your marriage and in your family.
Have a temple recommend and use it.
Now is the time to have meaningful family home evenings.
Read the word of God.
Speak to our Heavenly Father in earnest prayer.
Express gratitude for the Restoration of His Church.
For living prophets, the Book of Mormon, and the priesthood power.
Embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, become His disciples, and walk in His way.
There are some who believe that because they have made mistakes, they can no longer fully partake of the blessings of the gospel. How little they understand the purposes of the Lord. One of the great blessings of living the gospel is that it refines us and helps us learn from our mistakes. We “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” yet the Atonement of Jesus Christ has the power to make us whole when we repent.
Our Heavenly Father loves us—even with all our flaws! His love is such that even should we give up on ourselves, He never will.
“We see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever. . . .
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of transformation. It takes us as men and women of the earth and refines us into men and women for the eternities.”
To those who have left the path of discipleship for whatever reason, I invite you to start where you are and come to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Walk again in the way of the Lord. I testify that the Lord will bless your life, endow you with knowledge and joy beyond comprehension, and distill upon you the supernal gifts of the Spirit. It is always the right time to walk in His way. It is never too late.
To those who feel inadequate because they have not been members of the Church all their lives, to those who feel that they can never make up for the time they have lost, I testify that the Lord needs your specific abilities, talents, and skills. The Church needs you; we need you. It is always the right time to walk in His way. It is never too late.