From the archives, a funny little post from nearly two years ago. Enjoy!
As I step over the stone wall the leg of my coveralls gets caught on an old piece of rusty barbed wire that is draped across a lichen covered rock. The snag nearly trips me but my body responds by dredging up a counter action from some deep recess of my brain where information is stored from long ago. The leg of my coveralls is slightly torn in a perfect corner pattern. Had I fallen the results could have been much more serious. There is a very steep grade on the downhill side of this stone wall covered with large boulders and icy slopes. Sometimes life’s simplest pleasures include avoiding simple disasters; a thought that will get tucked away for the time being.
This is the fifth stonewall that I have traversed on this January morning: each one marking the boundary of an old pasture and some even marking the edge of a property boundary. This stone wall does delineated ownership, at least as it is recorded in the Registry of Deeds. The property I have just crossed belongs to my neighbor. This parcel belongs to someone whose name I cannot recall.
Not remembering names these days is a daily occurrence. Between my advancing years and a long bout with Lyme disease it is evident that I am not sharp as I once was, not that this is saying much. No, the days of a picture in my head accompanied by an exact name, title, or other identifying moniker are slipping away. It’s no wonder that I can’t ever remember a particular item, it’s just that I often can’t bring it to memory on demand. I try to approach this deficiency with grace, but even that is not always at hand.
Just a few weeks ago I was at a training about fluvial geomorphology (it is a miracle that I remember the name of the workshop) and when making a statement in front of all the attendees about some important fact I totally lost my train of thought. Here I was making a cogent point about something, I still can’t remember what it was, and nothing came out of my mouth. I had a complete and total disconnect; suddenly there were no pictures, words, or thoughts in my head. I paused. After about 20 seconds I realized that the thought would not be returning, in fact I could not remember what I was talking about. Slight panic set in. Sweat formed on my forehead. A slight quiver came to my lip, fortunately it could not be detected under my mustache. After more that a few moments I excused myself stating that I had just witnessed my age running in front of me. It got a good laugh from the other participants.
My wife and I joke about this quite a bit. Here is a typical morning conversation as we drink coffee to get our minds working.
“I saw what’s-her-face yesterday” I say with a aura of exaction.
“Who?” retorts my wife.
“You know, what’s her face, she lives down there on whata-ya-callit street!” I respond with conviction.
“Oh, do you mean the woman that wear’s the black beret?” responds my wife somehow guessing who I was talking about.
“Yes, that’s her”, I respond enthusiastically, “only she wasn’t wearing the beret, but she did have a thing-a-ma-jig tied over her hair!”
“A bandana?” asks my wife.
“Sort of, only it’s not a large handkerchief, you know, a thing-a-ma-jig!” I state with authority.
“Do you mean a scarf?”
“Yes, that’s it, a scarf! We had a talk about her two kids, you know the young one and older one, and her husband, Who-ja-ma-call-it.” I respond.
“Oh”, says my wife as she stares off into space, “he works down by the river at the sawmill that is owned by that guy!”
“What guy?” I ask.
“You know, the guy, the one that is married to the woman who owns the beauty shop!”,states my wife.
“Oh yeah, they are the parents of what’s-her-face!” I say knowing I still can’t remember the name.
“ You mean the woman you ran into down on whata-ya-call-it street?” asks my wife.
“Yes!” I reply knowing that we will never know the exact name of anything we are talking about.
Now, I will be the first to admit that these coded messages are not unique to my wife and me. I’d be willing to bet that a large percentage of us approaching the golden years have at least some of these difficulties. I’d give you the exact percentage of senior people that have memory problems that I read in AARP magazine but I can’t remember any of the particulars of the article.
Wandering about these deep woods does not require deep recall. My legs simply carry me from place to place. I wish I could tell you that as a professional ecologist I could remember the common name and scientific name of all the plants I see. Although that was true ten years ago that is not the case anymore. Digging under the snow I see a small three leaved evergreen vine. Surprisingly I can’t remember the name. I know the name of this plant as well as my own name (which I haven’t forgotten yet) but somehow it’s just not coming to mind. Let’s see, it is found it moist soils, had three leaves, is an evergreen, and has a gold colored root. Nope, no idea what it is called. However, I do remember that it is good for canker sores when you make a pumice and put it directly over the blister in your mouth.
I reach into the outside pocket on my pack and dig out a Newcomb’s Guide to Flowering Plants. I use the key (thank God I still remember how to read) and locate the plant. Oh yeah, Goldthread, Coptis trifolia! That’s right, the goldthread name comes from the golden root, and the trifolia is related to the three leaves. I won’t forget that one again.
My mind wanders about and I finally remember that I was trying to remember whose woods these are. It reminds my of the Robert Frost poem Stopping by the Woods on Snowy Evening , you know the one that begins with “Whose woods these are, I think I know, his house is in the village though”. Now why can I remember this and not the name of that plant, you know, the one with the gold root! And why can’t I remember the name of the family who owns this land? Robert Frost remembered the name of the guy who owned the land he wrote about and he was about 100 years old when he composed the poem! EGADS!
I take a minute to calm myself and collect my thoughts. I sit down on the stone wall. Too bad I sit directly on the barbed wire that just tore the leg of my coveralls. Yikes, that smarts! I stand quickly again, holding my rear end at the approximate location of the new wound. Jumpin’ gee hosifer! My short term memory isn’t much better. I look and the barbed wire is just as rusty as it was five minutes ago when I snagged by coveralls. I might need one of those Whata-ya-call-it shots, you know the one that prevents you from getting that disease when your jaw freezes up! I’ll have to call Doctor Whats-her-name when I get home and see if I need a booster.
I look again at the stone wall and move the barbed wire aside. This time I rest my fanny in a safe location free from sharp objects. I decide that if I let my mind relax this fellow’s name might come to mind. Then again it might not. I’m in no hurry. If I don’t remember in the next few minutes I’ll go onto the next thought that I can’t recall.
I take off a glove and place my hand on the cold stone that I sit on. The name of the gent who owns this property is on the tip of my tongue. It is trying to force its way from the locker that is my brain to my voice box. It simply cannot seem to quite find its way to my lips. And then, without warning, there it is! Stone! Just like the rock wall I am sitting on!
Now if I could only remember that name of that plant with three leaves and the golden thread-like root.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in January 2010.