a little snow

brackensnow

Everything is relative: I am sure that those of you in North America, who have been shovelling the white stuff for months, will not be in the least excited to hear that it actually snowed, but here, where winter has been horribly dank and soggy thus far, it is an exceedingly welcome change. It is the cold, crisp, crunchy days that get me through the Winter: there have been far too few of them and I confess that the sight of this in the morning made me foolishly happy.

snowfirs
snowonthecampsies
snowdumgoyne
snowgate

Bruce is also in a good mood.

flakybruce
bruce1
bruce2
bruce3
bruce4

I love to walk in the snow, and we spent a good couple of hours out there this morning in the silence, with no other folk in sight. Birds seemed everywhere, immediately spotted against the landscape’s white blanket. As well as the usual neighbourhood woodpecker and buzzards I saw an osprey by the loch and a hen harrier hovering above the snow-covered fields. The birds are pairing up: this cold snap has come late, and there are already signs of Spring.

snowgorse

I wonder how the bulbs I planted will fare.

Well, its back to my desk. I have my first post-stroke driving lesson tomorrow – wish me luck!

whwsnow

Up Dumgoyne

towardsdumgoyne

A gorgeous day! And a good one to climb Dumgoyne – the hill that dominates the landscape behind our new home. There’s been snow on the tops of the Munros for about a week now, and it seems to be rapidly creeping down to lower altitudes – so I wanted to get up there before the weather really turns.

The last Autumn colours seemed especially bright and saturated this morning.

blueandgold

lichenandhawthorn

Don’t worry, Bruce happily isn’t interested in sheep, and walks to heel when we are about them.

bucolic

A particularly incredible oak tree, in a landscape full of beautiful deciduous trees:

oakanddumgoyne

Climbing upwards, you get a great sense of the shape of the land. We live down there:

blanevalley

With Glasgow to the South and East . . .

glasgow

. . . and the snow-capped Highlands North and West.

westhighlandsfromdumgoyne

The water you can see in that photograph is Loch Lomond.

wazznbruce

A tough descent for my wonky leg – but the first of many fine walks, I’m sure, up and down our local hill.

snawheidupdumgoyne

out walking

dumgoyachbenlomond

One of the very great pleasures of living here is that the West Highland Way is on our doorstep. I walk out of our steading, and about a hundred yards up the way is a glorious landscape, at the far edges of which (on a really clear day) Ben Lomond and the Trossachs and the Arrochar Alps are all visible. I walk here every day, and enjoy these walks tremendously. Today I took my camera so you can see it too.

hawthorn

nosetotheground

bruceinthegrass

dumgoyachincolour

sheepbuddies

flare

g(love)

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. A while ago, we lived in a tall stone building in a city where there were lots of cars. Now we live here:

welivehere

Where there are lots of these:

trees

And a few of these:

cows

One of the many good things about it round here is that there are many Paths and I get to walk on these Paths with Kate and Tom. Sometimes I get to go swimming, and sometimes I leap about in the long grass, smelling interesting animal smells. But wherever we go, there is generally some water and mud for me to get myself nicely lathered up in. Hurrah!

puddle

This particular Path is known as West Highland Way and is frequented not only by dogs and cows and deer but by many human walkers. Human walkers can be forgetful, and occasionally they discard their belongings along Path. That is OK though, because I sniff out and find these belongings, and then I make them MINE. Without a doubt, the best of these found belongings is GLOVE.

vileobject

Now, I first found GLOVE about three weeks ago by Path. Since then I have played with it many times and it is now sodden and chewed and has a delicious bovine odour. GLOVE seems quite robust though: Kate tells me that it is fashioned from acrylic, and is therefore a sort of plastic which refuses to decay. But though GLOVE is indestructible, and now has a very strong smell about it, sometimes I play with it so hard that I actually manage to lose it in the grass. Tom or Kate will insist that GLOVE is finally lost forever, but then, O joy of joys, a few days later I will always find it again, usually in a completely different location. I suspect the cows to have a hand (or hoof) in its unaccountable movements.

bruceglovecow

Now, there are many fun things to do with GLOVE but probably the most fun to be had is when the humans throw it for you. Kate describes GLOVE as “a vile object” and is sometimes unwilling to join in the game. But, dear friends, let me tell you a good trick I have discovered: If you present Kate with GLOVE often enough, and stare at her for long enough with your most persuasive expression, she will eventually join in.

persuasion

Once Kate has capitulated, and throws GLOVE for you, you can retrieve and prance with GLOVE until you are exhausted.

prancing1

prancing2

prancing3

F U N!

But, eventually, it is time to leave and – sadly – to leave GLOVE beind, as for some unknown reason, Kate will not allow me to bring GLOVE home.

goodbyeglove

This is Gate which leads home off West Highland Way.

gate

Right by Gate there is Old Wall.

oldwall

Kate instructs me to LEAVEIT behind Old Wall. This makes me sad.

mustIdropit

But if I don’t LEAVEIT behind Old Wall we don’t go home.

Well, goodbye, fun GLOVE buddy.

leftbythewall

Probably the only good thing about leaving GLOVE behind Old Wall is that, unlike losing it in the grass, it is always there next time, and I am always surprised and happy to discover it once again!

path

See you soon, love Bruce xx

A walk to Dumgoyach

dumgoyneevening

West of Blanefield, off the West Highland Way . . .

whw

If you look North across the fields . . .

scabious

You’ll see a path through the grass and sheep’s-bit scabious . . .

path

. . . which leads to a field margin, marked by a line of blasted oaks.

fieldmargin

Adjacent, to the West, is the irregular wooded dome of Dumgoyach, and North is Dumgoyne, the volcanic mound that dominates the landscape of the Blane and Endrick valleys.

dumgoyne

And if you look down into the valley, you’ll see Duntreath Castle.

duntreath

Cross into the field and the ground rises and flattens to reveal . . .

stones

. . . these stones.

recumbent

lichen

Four of the five original stones are now recumbent, and the last one standing is a little shorter than me. Analyses of burnt flint and charcoal found at the site dates the structure to 3650 BC, in the middle Neolithic. Aligned with a notch in the hills to the North East, through which the sun rises at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, this structure is thought to be a short stone row (used to measure solar events), but it has also been suggested that the long cairns are what remains of the facade of a chambered tomb.* The early date, and the proximity of other chambered cairns in this area makes the latter argument reasonably likely, but I am rather tempted to get up to watch the sun rise at Dumgoyach on September 22nd to make my own astronomical observation.

bruceandstones

(what do you think, Bruce? Row or tomb? Tomb, or row?)

*The first interpretation belongs to E.W. Mackie who carbon-dated the site in 1972, and the latter to Aubrey Burl, From Carnac to Callanish: Prehistoric Stone Rows of Britain, Ireland and Brittany (1993). See also the RCAHMS site record.

Boiler suits
Thanks so much for all your wonderful boiler-suit / coverall / onesie-related comments on the last post. That kind of collective discussion is probably what I love most about blogging, and it makes me particularly excited when the discussion concerns the different meanings and usages of a garment. If you haven’t had a look at the comments already, I encourage you to go and read them.

Refurb update

Last week I finished decorating the bathroom, bedroom, and new studio. Yesterday I painted the downstairs chimney breast, and today we hung the over-mantle mirror. For weeks the house has felt like a sort of giant jigsaw puzzle and it is extremely exciting to see the bigger picture finally emerging. But, having been engaged upon this project for a couple of weeks now, I would say that it is without a doubt the most physically challenging thing I’ve done post-stroke. This is not only due to the relentlessness of the stretching, bending, and movement painting involves, but also to my poor balance and generally wonky left leg. I have to take a two hour snooze in the middle of the day to keep going, and there have been a few dicey moments as I teetered over the bath or tripped on a dust sheet. That said, happily, the closest I’ve got to disaster is getting paint in my mouth and hair. Ick. Anyway, I shall be painting downstairs on half-days only next week, and, now the studio is habitable I can at last get back to some knitting, designing, and email-answering.

Field Notes
Most of the swallows have gone, which is rather sad, but I recently put food in the hanging feeders on the porch and have been astounded by the variety of bird-buddies that are dropping by. More of them anon.

looking forward

halfway

Eight years ago, Tom and I walked the West Highland Way. We had a wonderful time.

conichill
(Tom, on Conic hill, looking over Loch Lomond)

I find that there is a singular sort of clarity about long distance walking. Time slows to the pace of your feet, and is measured in the distance you can cover over six or eight hours. There is nothing for your mind to focus on but the walk ahead, the landscape, and its details. At the end of the day you are exhausted, and, if there is a good meal on offer, food is appreciated in a way it rarely is. You sleep soundly, you get up, and start again. It is a fantastic way of clearing the head. I find that I can recall these walks in unusual detail, fixing particular experiences to specific moments and locales, remembering what the weather was like, what the state of my feet were, what we saw and spoke about. That was the place that you gave the horse the apple; there I devoured a full pack of liquorice allsorts; here, right here, at this curve in the path, was where we saw that incredible rainbow.

lochlomondleaping
(leaping a stream on the Eastern shore of Loch Lomond)

That walk along the West Highland Way was our first encounter with many amazing Highland places with which we have since become very familiar. Rannoch Moor, The Mamores, Glencoe.

beanz
(cooking an obligatory baked-bean supper in Glencoe. There were lots of deer around our tent that night.)

These happy photographs were taken with the disposable camera we took with us, and they make my heart sing. I am posting them here now because, in a couple of weeks time, we shall be moving to a wee house that sits just off the West Highland Way. I love our new home already, and am looking forward to living there immensely. There is a garden! And a loch! An actual studio with an actual window for me to work in! And somehow it is particularly nice to be moving to a spot which already carries some fond memories for the pair of us. I’ll be able to walk Bruce along a lovely stretch of the Way every day, and perhaps living there will inspire me to build up my stamina and ability to complete the full distance once again.

end
(The end of the West Highland Way in Fort William.)

Next week we sell our Edinburgh flat, and we move to our new home the following week. It is very exciting, but there is bound to be a certain amount of disruption. I will have to take a break from trade orders and answering email queries for the next few weeks, but will be sure to let you know how things are going as and when I can.

ONWARD!

different shoes

shoes

It is almost three and a half years since my stroke. Conventional wisdom about post-stroke recovery suggests that the first neurological adjustments and improvements after a brain injury are very rapid, and then tend to plateau off after the first six months. The importance of this “six month window” was often repeated to me by various medical practitioners, and I remember very clearly that one of my biggest fears in the weeks following my stroke was that, some point in the future, I was going to feel retrospectively guilty about not having done enough to maximise my recovery during that time. But every stroke is different, and looking back now, it seems to me that these arbitrary post-stroke “recovery windows” are really of most use to those involved in making ethical / financial decisions about resources and the provision of care. Telling someone who has just had a stroke that they have six months in which to complete the difficult work of neurological recovery to the best of their abilities is frankly not that helpful and can, as it did in me, heighten the general terror and desperation of what is already a pretty desperate time. Very little research exists into long-term post-stroke improvement, and, after the OTs and physios have done what they can, one is pretty much left to one’s own devices. But from my own entirely partial perspective I would say that, though the pace of recovery is certainly much slower long-term, one can still notice improvements two and even three years down the line. Though I am resigned to the fact that my damaged left leg is never going to enjoy running, and that my balance issues will probably always make riding a two-wheeled bicycle impossible, I still occasionally discover that I can do something now that I couldn’t say, six months or a year ago.

Footwear is incredibly important if you have a neurologically damaged leg and foot, and I have found that a really effective way of making improvements in my mobility is simply by changing shoes. A different pair of shoes can initially impede one’s mobility — the gait alters, the foot drags, the limb refuses to make the routine movements that it made just yesterday. But, although effectively heightening one’s own disabilites in this way can be both uncomfortable and annoying, walking in different shoes forces the damaged limb to adapt to different billateral rhythms and movements. The good limb also shows the bad how it has to deal with the minute alterations in weight and pressure forced upon it by its new environment. The good limb helps the bad one on its way.

I tend to walk around 4 miles a day, and until very recently, my choice of footwear was limited to sturdy boots with a lot of ankle support. I could certainly walk a little in flat shoes (with orthotics) but found it difficult and tiring. Often, after a mile or so in flats, my left leg would simply give up and revert to its dead, dropped state while the right one carried it hesitantly and judderingly along. Then, in February this year, I decided to try an experiment. I would alternate my footwear daily, completing my normal walking routes in several different pairs of shoes and boots, including flats. This wasn’t particularly easy, but I noticed that after just a couple of weeks that my left foot was adapting to the changes forced upon it more rapidly, and that I could walk further without problems in shoes I was unable to before. I also found that these continual changes and adaptations helped with other, non-walking activities, such as pointing my toes in order to put on a pair of socks or pants (a gesture I have found frustratingly impossible for the past three and a half years). Then I discovered that I was able to hop (albeit briefly and inelegantly) on my left leg for the first time since my stroke. I continued with the footwear changes: things continued to improve.

In March, I bought the pair of sandals that you see above (shamelessly copying Jen, who had recently acquired a pair). They are a great fit and very comfortable but when I first stuck my orthotics in and started to walk, my left foot flapped about, clown like, and after a mile or so I’d be limping and dragging the foot quite badly. But I gradually forced the unruly foot to adapt by including the sandals in my alternating-different-shoe routine. By April, they had become my go-to shoe, and since then, I’ve walked over 350 miles in them. Last week I encountered one of my good dog-walking buddies, an elderly gent, who I first met three years ago when I was still getting about with a leg brace. As we were passing the time of day, he remarked on how very much my walking seemed to have improved of late. I was aware of this, but it was nice to hear it. “I’ve just been wearing different shoes,” I said.

I am repeating this experience for those with brain injuries or other neurological impairments who have been told that their recovery period has a window, or that it is somehow at an end. I honestly don’t think that the work of neurological recovery or adaptation will ever be over for me. I will certainly keep forcing the parts of my body and brain that were damaged by the stroke to make whatever small improvements they can. I’ll keep on wearing different shoes.

Because I know you will ask, the sandals are made by Red or Dead, and are a style called “Jade”. The socks are a pair I knitted from Rowan Fine Art sock yarn, and are holding up remarkably well to their daily mileage.

A Walk with Felix

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. I am here to tell you about a Fun Walk I had yesterday at Braid Hill with Kate and my buddy, Felix. This walk (which is one of my favourites) begins by Golf Course. Golf Courses are very mysterious human spaces: men walk purposefully about them with large bags and sticks, and occasionally a ball flies by which I am not allowed to chase. Also, Golf Courses are composed of large flat, inviting lawns which clearly say “gambol upon me.” Oddly, though, whenever we encounter one, I am not allowed to gambol but am sternly told to walk to heel. Yesterday, though, I was so happy to be engaged upon the business of Walking with Felix that I got away, and gambolled happily about the Golf Course. Then I did something in the middle of the big green lawn which made Kate shout “Oh No! Bruce!” in that way she often does. So I thought I’d cheer her up by rolling in something a horse had left nearby . . . sadly this did not seem to do the trick.

Felix remained in good spirits, however, and, fully fired up with eau de cheval, we ascended Hill. At the top of Hill it was clearly time for a game, and, after rummaging in the bushes I presented Felix with Old Ball.

plinth

Come down from there, Felix, it is time to throw Old Ball.

brucefelix2

Look at me prance with Old Ball, Felix.

brucefelix3

Time to throw Old Ball again, Felix.

brucefelix1

What do you mean, its the end of the game?

ballface1

Please throw Old Ball again, Felix.

ballface2

Sadly, there was no more Old Ball fun for me as Kate decided it was time to take some pictures of her new sweater.

blurry

Such is life.

See you soon, love Bruce xxx

New Lanark, the egg, and the naming of things

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about the place called New Lanark.

newlanark

Tom and Kate have been to this place many times, and are fond of it for many reasons. Kate particularly likes New Lanark because
1) it is the birthplace of Utopian Socialism and
2) it makes yarn.

yarn

As well as being an important World Heritage Site, New Lanark is a place where you can enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Falls of Clyde.

fallsofclyde

This was definitely the bit that interested me.

followme

Up along the river banks and woods, there is much fun walking to be had. I smelt many interesting smells and went for a swim . . .

retrieval

. . .I looked after the humans, hurrying them along the paths, and posing obligingly for photographs.

wazznbruce

. . . I also heard some sounds that were new to me. For example, these icicles on the opposite bank made an interesting crrrrrrack and crrrrrash sound as they broke and fell into the river.

icicles

Then we came to a place called The Hide.

hide

There was much excitement around The Hide because The Egg had just appeared in the nest of a Peregrine. The humans at The Hide had equipment through which Tom and Kate could look and see the Peregrine sitting on The Egg. Kate seemed quite interested in The Egg, but was perhaps even more animated by the colour of the Peregrine’s eyelids, which were apparently a very very very bright yellow. I was not allowed to look through the equipment, but I was very good on my lead and did not snaffle any of the Hide humans’ tasty meat-filled sandwiches while they were being distracted by the excitement of The Egg.

confusion

Now, I know and understand many human words — egg and chicken, for example, are two words that make a lot of sense to me. But two words that do not make sense are the words called Monkey Walking, which is what the humans shout at me with glee when I do this on a path with gaps in it:

monkeywalking

The naming of things is perhaps the deepest of all human mysteries. For example, why is this crunchy, tasteless, pointless thing called Lichen when there is nothing to like about it at all?

lichen

Why is this piece of Scottish hydroelectrical equipment called YORKSHIRE?

yorkshire

Who named this bench BROWN LONG EARED BAT?

brownlongearedbat

And which daft human decided that this fence should be called DONKEY?

donkey

Answers on a postcard, please . . .

seeya

See you soon, Love Bruce

Kate adds: A shout-out to Laura, the New Lanark ranger, who reads this blog and who we met on our walk today. Thanks so much to Laura and all her colleagues for their hard work maintaining this wonderful landscape for everyone to walk in and enjoy! xx

the highlands and the hunky bunk

greetings

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am pleased, because, after a long break for the Winter, the walking and camping times have begun again! This particular walking and camping time was a surprise, because the weather is good, and Tom has not yet begun New Job. We packed up the van, and set off for West Highlands, a place in which Tom and Kate always seem very happy.

highlandwazz

In West Highlands there is excellent walking to be had, and many interesting smells that I do not smell in other places. These smells are because of the big deer buddies, with whom I am not allowed to play. Indeed, an interesting feature of West Highlands is the prevalence of fences and gates, which are there to keep the buddies IN and me OUT. As you can see, however, the buddies sometimes get OUT . . .

stag

. . . and (with human assistance) I can get IN.

closethegate

These gates are mystifying machines. Try as I might, I cannot operate them.

The best thing about West Highlands is that we go for lovely long walks. This time we walked up hills and through woods. . .

walkingbuddies

and then we walked along the side of the water. All of this was fun.

water

Afterwards, we went to camp in the place that is called Bridge of Orchy.

Boo

The place is called Bridge of Orchy because of this:

bridge

The Bridge. Of Orchy.

At Bridge of Orchy it became very cold. I am often told that I have a nice thick coat, but although this is true, I do not have extra woolly clothes and fluffy bags to keep me warm in Extreme Highland Conditions. The humans have these things, and though they were cold, they were not as cold as I. Then a very exciting thing happened. Because I was cold, I was allowed to get on the hunky bunk with the humans for the first time ever! It was cold on the floor, but it was warm on the hunky bunk with three of us, and so we all slept there together! This was very good. All I can say is, now I know just how good it is on the hunky bunk, I shall definitely expect to sleep there at all times. I shall ignore all human mutterings of “this is not a precedent” and suchlike — YES! ITS THE HUNKY BUNK FOR ME!!

In the morning, there was ice all over the van, and the water had frozen in the pipes. And then we discovered that the van had run out of cooking gas. Kate was extremely worried that she would not be able to have her requisite Giant Cup of Tea, but disaster was averted by Tom, who is the keeper of all equipment, and who had the forethought to bring the spare camping stove.

disasteraverted

Giant cups of tea were drunk, I snaffled half a hot cross bun, and everyone was happy.

highlandbruce

See you soon, love Bruce xxx

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