The Tragic Irony of Roger Bannister’s Death

Roger Bannister

Last month I posted a piece on the death of the great Sir Roger Bannister. I also shared some personal observations regarding how his example affected my life. His athletic accomplishments and lifelong efforts to cure chronic neurological diseases ended with the tragic irony of his own death due to one of those, Parkinson’s disease.

In his youth he broke the four minute mile- a feat previously thought impossible. Bannister had great flexibility of his arms and legs, possessed a long and graceful stride, and demonstrated amazing endurance. He also displayed profound determination. Despite these youthful gifts he ultimately died of a disease that stiffens the muscles, reduces the speed of movement, creates noxious tremor, and gives rise to balance and walking problems. Such a sad travesty to bear for a world class athlete.

The irony is doubly so when we consider how he spent his professional lifetime researching, writing, and lecturing on the nature of neurological disorders, among which was Parkinson’s disease.

Knowledge that Bannister suffered Parkinson’s disease came to me only after posting my earlier piece. This added dimension on his death required this additional retrospective.

One suspects Bannister recognized early on that he suffered Parkinson’s disease. Whether it began with the telltale slow hand tremor, lack of arm swing when walking, or some other feature of Parkinson’s disease, we may never know. Familiar as he was with the disorder, he almost certainly recognized not only what was insidiously happening to him, but also what was sure to come.

Sketch of a man with PD with the typical features

None of us can predict the future. Because of this we need live each day to its fullest, as we never know whether a serious disease or even death may overtake us and minimize or negate our previous skills.

Sir Roger we bid you a fond adieu for the way you lived your life, for your athletic prowess that showed us to never accept current accepted limitations, and for the grace with which you dealt with your terminal illness.

Depictions at the various stages of life

 

Are Race Relations a Verbal Agnosia?

The celebration of Martin Luther King Day along with several reader posts on my earlier blog piece, Greenville, Texas: The Blackest Land and the Whitest People, have made me think more deeply about race relations. Let me share a definition and then coin a new term that hopefully will contribute to racial understanding.

Agnosia: Loosely defined, it’s a perceptual state of looking but not seeing, or hearing the sounds but not hearing the meaning.

   Prosopagnosia, for example, is a neurological condition in which a person looks at a face but is unable to recognize the person, even when it is a close friend or relative.

Let me introduce a new phrase, verbal agnosia.

(What did you expect with a neurologist writing this blog. Hang in there, I’ll get around to making my point.)

From comments made regarding my earlier blog piece, the same word “whitest” from the famous sign in Greenville has different perceived meanings from either black or some white commentators.

Now, I realize some folks are unalterably racist and beyond redemption.  Some other folks, no matter how much progress toward racial harmony has been made, will always feel aggrieved. These are not the people about whom I use my recently minted term, verbal agnosia.

I instead refer to people who are simply unable to perceive the term “whitest” has any racial overtones whatsoever and who fail to see how it might offend others black members of their community. Alternatively others are unable to appreciate that some folks use the term in a non-racial, highly regional form. I know some who are not racist but merely verbally agnostic to the negative perception of this term. I suspect the black residents of Greenville have all heard the benign interpretation of the sign but may remain unconvinced. Might honest communication fix this state of affairs and enhance understanding?

A number of comments from white Greenville residents exist on my blog. I believe they honestly believe “whitest” refers to honest, true, or best. Indeed, growing up in Texas, I heard this word used in this very way. But one only has to research the development of the usage of “whitest” before coming across its origin in a very racist society where white clad Ku Klux Klan rode unhindered and lynchings of black men occurred.

Outside of Greenville, Texas my brother-in-law, a native to Greenville, discovered he could not find a person of either race who thought the term anything but offensive. So too thought the then Governor of Texas, John Connally, when he asked the City Fathers of Greenville to remove the famous (infamous) banner that hung across Main Street. It was taken down “for repair” and never put back up. This “for repairs”, I suppose, was a necessary euphemism as many white Greenville citizens were verbally agnostic to the offensive way the sign was perceived by many others.

Only through communication can we become aware of the verbal sensitivities of others. We simply may not recognize what we say or how we say it, may be offensive to others.

Simply waiting and hoping that things will eventually get better, merely delays the understanding necessary to reduce racial prejudices and delays getting over our miscommunications. I have been criticized for writing about the banner, an old and negative aspect of Greenville (an adopted city I love), that some would choose to keep buried. The Chamber of Commerce undoubtedly would not be keen on resurrecting remembrance of the banner., yet it needs the sanitizing effect of daylight.

Good folks who hold different perspectives on this famous sign or on other flashpoints of race relations need to communicate in calm, rational voices. Might discussions over civil war statues fall into this category? Let’s have interracial discussions. Hopefully my blog pieces on this topic have offered an opportunity to do just this.

Through our improved understanding we can begin to make the progress called for by the great Martin Luther King, Jr. I remain inspired by so many of his appeals to our better natures including the following which is one of my personal favorites:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Buddy- The Slacker

Authors Note: In my last blog piece (A Sense Of Place), I referenced an old story. Slacker, that on reflection I might not have ever posted. My apologies, if I am repeating. The piece is a bit long especially the lead in. but I encourage you to stick with it. A very young Buddy surprised both Trudy and me with the greatest feat of herding I have personally ever witnessed. This is where in “gangsta” terms, he “made his bones.”

Buddy’s potential for becoming a phenomenal herding dog suddenly becomes evident. Now that Buddy has become an old dog and a risk adverse dog and with his best herding days far behind him, recollection of his early herding prowess fills me with pride. I hope you enjoy this reflection.- JTH

A young Buddy posing

Wire mesh panels hung askew from the thick steel cable. What had breached this water gap was immediately evident to me, as our bull had proved to be a breakout artist and an all-too-frequent explorer of Live Oak Valley. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed, reluctantly. “Guess what? Bull’s missing.”

“Oh shit, not again?” my wife shouted into the phone.

I flinched. Then I heard a long sigh followed by a pause before Trudy responded, “Be there in a few.”

Fifteen minutes later Trudy and I hiked the dank creek bottom at our Texas ranch. It smelled of decaying vegetation and heady juniper. I also had a sense of my own building desperation. Trudy’s glare described her lack of enthusiasm for another bull chase. She hesitated near the destroyed blowout fence, shook her head and pivoted to face me.

“Can’t believe the damned bull’s out again.” Her eyes were slit-like, her arms crossed, and her lips held tightly together. “What’s it Francisco calls him?” By reminding me, she had already inflicted a verbal wound.

Hamburguesa,” I whispered, careful to avoid locking gazes.

“Ah yes, Hamburguesa,” she boomed. “And why, pray tell, why did he call him that?”

I gave a mental shrug. “Well, Francisco grumped that the next time he met the bull, he wanted him between two buns at McDonald’s.”

Trudy’s hand shot up, jabbing the air emphatically, “Yeah, sounds good to me too, make mine a double bull burger and hold the cheese! After all, I’m watching my calories, you know.”

She gave a brief, tension mitigating smile. I nodded and bent low beneath the creek-spanning steel cable. When a flash flood occurs—a fairly regular occurrence in the Texas Hill Country, the incredible force of the raging water tears the wire panels away from their metal fence posts. This allows the panels to swing back and under the cable so that limbs, trees, and other flood-related detritus can flow under the panels rather than rip out the entire fence line. As useful as these water gaps are, they are  the weakest point in the fence line and where lusty bulls typically break out.

With careful steps Trudy and I trudged along the creek bank as my gaze glanced into the stream, unable to resist the urge. Growing up in Texas, I’d heard many stories about poisonous snakes. Standard fare at Boy Scout campfires, almost as common as consuming s’mores, had been stories of wriggling water moccasins boiling up from the depths of a creek and pulling down an unfortunate person to a slithering, agonizing death. While no real proof existed for this often-repeated tale of woe, we Scouts were convinced such horrible occurrences must have happened.

Trudy’s pace hesitated, distracting me from my obsessive serpentine thoughts. She turned toward me. “Why is it, COW-BOY, after countless breakouts, you haven’t sold that roaming ruminant and bought a bull with instincts more akin to a homesick prairie dog?”
Ouch, I recognized a practiced soliloquy when I heard one. She must be seething.

Charolois bull in a less distracted state


I felt Trudy’s frustration as fully as did she. In the past we’d scoured the hills and valleys of neighboring ranches, searching for our missing bull. We’d navigated treacherous arroyos, advanced through nearly impenetrable stands of juniper, and skittered down rocky embankments on our pained backsides, all of which had inevitably left us sore, scraped, frustrated, and barely speaking.

I had not missed her enunciation of “COW-BOY” and her sharpness of tone. While stinging, I was relieved my lawyer/wife had used it, rather than one of her scatological, so-called “legal terms of art.”

“Well Trudy, he was expensive, out of a champion line. And he throws great calves.” This is your final foray, big guy. It’s a one-way trip for you to the auction barn.

She paused to speak but before she could argue further, her foot slipped off a wet rock and she splashed into the shallow creek bottom. I heard her emit a grunt and saw her face develop a scowl worthy of Ivan the Terrible during a bad toothache.

“Yikes, this water’s arctic!“

“You okay?”

“You ask me, this freakin’ bull’s got the lineage of a bulldozer crossed with a race horse!” Frustration basted her voice, as she scrambled out of the icy, spring-fed creek.
This isn’t going to be fun.

Desperate for Trudy’s help, I felt mollifying her was a must, as teamwork would determine our already limited chances for success. “Well, we may need to sell the big guy. His episodes are getting more frequent and he’s learned to outsmart us.”

My good friend and neighbor, Tom, his three young grandchildren, Trudy, Francisco, and I had chased the bull on multiple occasions. Tom’s grandchildren, careening about the neighboring ranches in Tom’s four-wheel ranch utility vehicle, had relished the pursuits to a much greater extent than had we. Tom’s grandchildren once had even pleaded, “Grandpa, next time we’re at the ranch can we pleeeease chase the bull again?”

But in this instance “Colonel Tom,” as we called him, and his young charges were unavailable and Francisco was away from the ranch for the weekend. The task of rounding up our wayward bull fell solely to Trudy and me. We were feeling clearly over-matched. But we had little choice but immediately to take action, as the bull had escaped in the direction of a ranch known for its prize-winning Angus. A white calf amid a herd of Black Angus stood out like a beacon, as with great embarrassment I had once before experienced.

While all marriages have disagreements, often over money, sex, or how best to raise children, our marriage had matured to the banal stage where these bull chases represented the principal challenge to our marital bliss. Okay bull, this time it’s gonna be you or me.

I had left Buddy, our nine-month old Border collie back inside the pickup with the windows partially down for ventilation. Before heading down the creek, my parting glimpse of the young dog was of him perched in the back seat with his left ear standing up and his right ear flopped over. Buddy had never been able to elevate his right ear, a maturational quirk I assumed, but one that imparted a comical and eternally youthful appearance.

Buddy when a little older and after bringing his ear under control

Trudy and I continued down the creek bank. Here we are busting our butts, chasing the bull while our lazy dog snatches a snooze in the pickup. What good is a working dog that just sleeps in the pickup? What a worthless slacker he is! Maybe I should get rid of him at the same time I get rid of the bull?

Trudy and I rock-hopped our way down the shaded creek bottom where slivers of sunlight created silvery streaks in the rolling creek water. We ducked beneath bowing branches of live oaks, dodged flickering cottonwoods, and pushed through pungent juniper whose needles clawed at our exposed skin.

Trudy’s hair became disheveled with twigs tangled within her neck length, curly russet locks. The burbling creek and rustling leaves of the cottonwood trees seemed to hint at what an impossible challenge lay ahead for us.

A quarter of a mile into the adjacent ranch, in an area overgrown with clinging brush and waist high native grasses, we discovered the neighbor’s cattle. This occasion also revealed the location of our bull. Cool Spirit, our peripatetic bull, stood in the middle of a scraggly herd of mixed breed cattle, languidly licking the neck of an old, skinny cow whose bones bulged out under her hide like a hastily built stork’s nest. The old saw came to mind how women in the bar get better looking after midnight, and I wondered if a similar sentiment might also hold true for horny bulls.

Of all the forms of love, lust seems the easiest to dispense with as it simply defies logic. Hillary Clinton once described her husband, Bill- America’s best-known philanderer, as too often thinking solely with his little head. This implies the sexual urge is a strong, an even overpowering one at times. After all our bull had charged through seven-stranded barbed wire fences, accepting untold cuts to be with an intoxicating, pheromone-secreting cow. Bill Clinton also had paid his public penance as a result of his libidinous escapes.

Just then something jarred my thoughts back to reality.
“You see that big bull over there?” Trudy said.

I shifted my gaze. “Good Lord,” I croaked, my voice cracking like a teenager. Apprehension shot through me like a jolt of electricity. By then the red bull before me had lowered its head and was advancing in the direction of our Charolais bull. Our bull had already spotted him, and had shifted his attention from the homely target of his desire toward the threat of the approaching bull. Our bull in turn lowered his white, curly topped head. The two bulls glared, snorted, and scraped hooves at each other from a distance of less than thirty yards.

Each bull weighed well over a ton. I felt my worry rocketing higher. Oh my god, we sure ‘nuf don’t need a bullfight.

Unfortunately our approach seemed to act like a starter’s pistol. Just as Trudy and I crept forward, both bulls became determined to establish their dominion over the scraggly herd. They began pawing in earnest at the ground with their huge cloven hooves, throwing sprays of brown dirt under their massive, bulging bellies.

Their aggressive displays, fearful as they were to us, deterred neither bull and soon gave way to full, all out combat. The bulls, like two race cars off the starting line, ran at each other, crashing head on. Locked head to head with  their muscles rippling, they strained to drive the other into a compromised position. The bulls continually emitted loud and fearsome sounds like preternatural beasts from Hades. Their ruckus kicked up a thin cloud of dust that carried on it their rank aroma.

Locked in combat their heated battle raged back and forth across the shallow creek bed. The bulls’ massive blows caused the very ground under my feet to shudder. Their enormous bodies knocked over small trees, as if broomsticks, and they splashed through the rocky creek bottom with a dull clattering of their hooves.

Appalled by this brawl, Trudy and I scrambled to find safety behind a large Live Oak tree. We cautiously peered around its trunk and observed the ongoing fight. I felt powerless to intervene, having by then lost any hope of driving our bull back to our ranch.

I felt thoroughly dejected. The escalating circumstances had outstripped my limited capacity for retrieving our bull. Just on reaching this emotional low point, a flicker of movement caught my attention. I swiveled my head and caught sight of a black and white form flash by.

Recognition set in a second later, as both Trudy and I gasped in unison. Young Buddy, ignoring our shouted, desperate entreaties, raced headlong into the midst of the horrific bullfight.

“God, he’s going to be killed,” yelled Trudy, her cry barely rising above the din of the mêlée. Trudy turned and slumped down next to the tree, no doubt fearful for what was likely to follow- the killing of our half grown dog.

The bulls, focusing fully on their fight, paid no heed to the yapping dog. With the bulls locked in a violent head-to-head embrace, Buddy circled behind our Charolais. Relinquishing further attempts to intimidate with his high-pitched barking, Buddy instead gave the Charolais’ tail a vicious chomp. Startled by the attack and from an unanticipated direction, our white bull momentarily broke off the fight and took a hesitant step backward.

Our neophyte herder, sensing an opportunity, then circled and sped between the narrowly separated bulls. He charged maniacally at the red Shorthorn bull with his teeth bared. With a bite, as quick as a mongoose, Buddy gashed the red bull’s broad, dark nose. Blood flowed.

By biting him, Buddy had startled him and backed him off. Feigning a direct charge, Buddy was able to turn the Shorthorn slightly away from the Charolais. Then to my amazement, our young Border collie began to arc back and forth behind the Shorthorn moving him up a nearby hill.  At the same time, Buddy was able to gather the remainder of the herd and drive the lot of them out of the creek bed and up the hill.

I whispered to Trudy, “Oh my god! Would never have ever believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”

“Is that vicious animal the same sweet puppy that licks my face first thing in the morning?”

When seemingly satisfied by the degree of separation between the two warring bulls, Buddy turned and loped back down the hill. He then made a kamikaze-like assault on our somewhat bewildered appearing Charolais, breaking it off at the last instant. This forced the bull to retreat several steps. Then after a series of charges, nips, and barks Buddy succeeded in turning him away from the retreating Shorthorn bull and ran the white leviathan along the winding creek bottom in the direction of our ranch.

“Come on, let’s trail him,” I urged, pulling Trudy from her sitting position to her feet.

Trudy and I scrambled out of our protected site and followed at a safe distance. We saw Buddy expertly drive the Charolais along the creek and into a copse of trees. When lost to sight, the ripping sound of breaking limbs along with Buddy’s urgent barks identified their location. Soon the bull emerged from the trees, hurried on by our overachieving, young canine. Buddy stayed after him providing constant herding pressure, hastening his always forward movement and in the direction of our ranch. The pair, bull and herder, soon passed through the broken fence line and back into our pasture.

I yelled to Trudy who trotted along creek bank, “How can a barely forty pound dog, too young to train, manage to break up a bullfight?” She shrugged her shoulders and turned her palms upward. I wondered where within Buddy’s DNA resided the knack for such shepherding? To this day, I stand in awe of the nascent abilities of Border collies.

Trudy approached me, her head down as if penitent. On nearing me she raised her head and flashed a warm smile and a coy head tilt. I noticed she now moved with greater fluidity and in a more relaxed, willow-like manner.

We did not know it then, but never again when the bull would break out of our ranch, would we encounter difficulty returning him- thanks to Buddy. On spotting our oncoming Border collie, our wayward bull would immediately reverse course and beeline it back toward our ranch— such was the respect the Charolais had for Buddy.

With newfound spring in my step, I headed for my pickup parked near the water gap. Nearby I spotted Buddy sitting on his haunches, intently staring in the direction of our grazing bull.

“Just look, that dog’s grinning like a fat man at a smorgasbord,” said Trudy.

Buddy bore an unmistakable snout-wrinkling doggie smile. She reached for my hand and gave it a warm, gentle squeeze. We stood hand-in-hand for several minutes, gazing upon our cattle and admiring our collie.

I would soon make the necessary repairs to the blowout fence, but first I wanted to savor the success of Buddy’s achievement along soaking up my wife’s affection. With my idle hand I leaned down and stroked Buddy’s soft, furry head. He was panting, his tongue bobbing up and down like a pink yo-yo. His amber eyes sparkled with excitement.

Over the next several minutes I sensed his adrenaline rush ebb away. As I stroked his silky fur, he laid back his ears, turned his head, and evidenced a satisfied gaze.

The bond between man and dog is like no other between animal and man. The empathy and understanding of a dog can slow the anxious human heart. The love of a dog remains steadfast, providing affectionate licks to the hand that may lack food to offer. That day I felt the loving bond between man and dog like I had never felt it before.

“Now that looks like one happy dog,” said Trudy. She moved closer, and we hugged.
“I’m sorry for being so cross earlier. You know I love you.”

Author with Buddy who was born to herd

“Forget it, perfectly understandable. You know, this dog of ours might just work out.”

Trudy’s face split in an endearing smile and I heard her emit a giggle, as warm as a toasted bun.

Buddy had not only herded massive animals that day, but also my lop-eared canine had herded my wife’s disposition from sour to mellow. I couldn’t decide which feat was the more impressive.

I did realize that love, like good wine and I Love Lucy reruns, only improves with time.
That memorable day left me with two thoughts that still resonate. The first is that love presents itself in unique ways be it intoxicating lust, the security of mature love, or the incredible and unique bond between man and dog. Love of many kinds empowers the soul and warms the heart.

The second consideration is that help can arrive, when least expected, and charge in on four paws and have a wet nose.

The Importance Of Place

Have you ever noticed how comfortable you feel at home?  Each of us has a certain comfort zone and a sense of place. I’ve often wondered about this?

Buddy as a puppy. “Say this lap feels pretty natural”

This feeling of belonging, belonging to a certain geographical place affects us all- a place that feels right, looks right, smells right and provides comfort and mitigates the travails of the world. Whether it’s early imprinting, as occurs with baby chicks, or some combination of the sounds, smells, sights, and memories (an overall gestalt for an area), I am not entirely sure. Nevertheless, for many who have lived away from their special places know the strength and durability of the homeward draw. It’s like a magnetic force and can be almost overpowering.

Buddy:Being in this pickup truck just feels right

Trudy and I lived for ten years in Minnesota while I trained in Neurology. Our two children were born there and we have wonderful memories of Minnesota. We met some lovely, lifelong friends, enjoyed the incredible 10,000 pristine lakes, and delighted in many novel experiences (have you ever tried lefsa or lutefisk?).

Nevertheless, both Trudy and I felt a nascent longing to return to Texas, our native home. When offered the opportunity to join the faculty of the new Texas Tech School of Medicine in Lubbock, Texas, we quickly determined to leave our adopted State of Minnesota and head homeward.

What is it that makes a place comfortable for us? I’d lived in Texas during my formative years. Trudy had always lived in Texas. We both missed the gratuitous friendliness and expansiveness of spirit that is Texas.

Minnesotans were in no way unfriendly but seemed not as overtly warm and forthcoming as we’d come to expect from growing up in Texas. Plus we admittedly missed the Mexican food and Bar-B-Que along with the independent mindedness and largeness of spirit in Texas.

A friend of mine in Fredericksburg, Texas recently told me of having his grandchildren visit from New York City. Wishing to introduce his grandchildren to the wide, open spaces of Texas, he drove his grandchildren to The Big Bend Area. There with their recently purchased packs, canteens, and hiking boots, they set off on a well marked park trail to explore the grandeur of the Big Bend National Park.

After some time had passed, one grandchild developed a quizzical look on his face, looked around with an expression of perplexity, and said in a panicky voice, “Grandfather, we are lost!”

The grandfather asked in a calm voice, “what makes you think we are lost?”

The grandson replied, “Well, there are no people here, we must be lost!”

“I feel right at home in my pack.”
Buddy stands tall above Mollie and Bandit

 

The lack of people, the lack of built environments, and absent din of traffic noise was not “home” for the grandson. It was clearly different from New York City. No doubt the solitude struck the boy as unnerving and frightening. The grandfather shared that he strove to introduce an alternative sense of place to his grandchildren, one closer to nature than is New York City.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve learned a lot about animal and human behavior by simply watching our furry, four-footed friends. This includes the importance of a sense of place.

Buddy, our now senior Border collie, was born in my bedroom closet.

Daughter-in-law Alissa holding Buddy shortly after his birth

With rare exception Buddy has never ventured much beyond the outer fence of our ranch. Oh he frequently rides along on trips to the feed store and has on occasion gone on a wild bull chase throughout neighboring, overgrown ranches (see an earlier post, Slacker), but he is most definitely a home dog.

Buddy crouched and ready to herd

Once and only once, Trudy and I drove him to our daughter’s home in central Dallas. Buddy absolutely hated it. The loud sounds and strange smells were, I suppose, not what he was used to. He let his displeasure known by wetting on the floor, whining, pacing, scratching at the door, and at the end of the visit most eager to jump into the car and return to the ranch. We’ll never make that mistake again. Buddy is not and never will be a city dog.

Once when our ranch house was undergoing remodeling, we had to move about an eighth of a mile and live for several days in our guest house. Buddy, despite the short distance from our home, absolutely hated it.

We had packed a few things and loaded up the dogs for our stay at the guest house (The Yellow Rose). When the sun began to set, Buddy began scratching at the door of the Yellow Rose to go out. When later I went to call him in, I couldn’t find him. Buddy had gone home. I had to return to our main house, gather him from the back porch, and haul him back to the guest house.

Buddy: “Just thought I’d wait for you here on the porch at home while you dawdled  at that other place”

This sequence  of futility repeated several times before I wised up and closed the yard gate to the guest house so that Buddy could not leave. Needless to say, our dog spent a few restless nights at the guest house while the remodeling proceeded.

I learned from Buddy’s escapes that a sense of place proved more important than for him than did human companionship. His preference for place over person proved a little humbling but informative as to what was most important in Buddy’s canine world.

Like Buddy we all share a feeling of comfort when at home and mild discomfort when away from home.  A sense of place may go a long way to explaining homesickness, an emotion we have all felt.

While we may not understand why others feel comfortable in radically different places than our own and with different looks, smells, and accents than what we are used to, we can perhaps understand the comfort that comes to others with residing in their own familiar places.

“Why look elsewhere when I am already home”

A final thought regarding a sense of place deals with the impact of age. As Buddy gets older, he’s developing an even stronger love of home and dislike of travel. He is the first  to return to the pickup when we work on the ranch. Buddy is the first dog to want to go inside when spending time on the patio or in the yard. He is the least likely of the dogs now to participate in a deer chase or challenge a cow.

Perhaps as an older dog, Buddy feels more vulnerable. Home is comforting for him. Are there parallels in humans? As humans age, it strikes me we also develop an increased awareness of our frailties and have an increased love of home place. Don’t many older people, like Buddy, appear less willing to travel, explore, and seek out new adventures?

Our sense of place seems as important for humans, as it is for our canine companions. Perhaps our sense of place which is lifelong may even strengthen with age as it does for my four-footed friend.

The Great Roger Bannister Has Died

A lifelong hero of mine, Roger Bannister, recently passed away at Oxford, England. This prompted me to mull the impact he has had on my life.

When I was barely eight years old, I recall his signature athletic accomplishment- breaking the four minute mile. At the time this feat was believed humanly impossible, simply beyond the level of human endurance.

Bannister breaking the four minute mile

I was stunned by the magnitude of his phenomenal and near mystical accomplishment. Humans can push themselves beyond expected limitations.

Bella: Hey Dad I can run a four minute mile too and even jump cattle guards

In 1954 Roger Bannister worked as  a medical student in London. On May 6, 1954 after putting in his usual shift at St. Mary’s Hospital, he caught an early train to Oxford, had lunch with friends, and met up with two trackmates: Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher. Chataway and Brasher had been recruited as pacers to assist him in breaking the four minute mile. The day was damp and blustery, not conducive to be sure for going after a world record. Only about 1200 people showed up at Oxford’s Iffley track to watch Bannister’s effort, but an effort that soon would be heralded world-wide.

The gun went off and his valiant, gutsy attempt began. At one early point in the race, Roger Bannister tried to speed up Brasher’s pace but Brasher kept his head, maintaining the steady pace needed to achieve the ultimate goal. One lap, two laps, three laps passed.

Bannister was known for his great finishing kick so that when his pace man finally spun off at the beginning of the final lap, Bannister threw back his head, pumped his arms furiously, and ate up the remaining distance with his long strides. His finishing time turned out to be an astounding 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. He had done it! Following his incredible exertion Bannister collapsed into the arms of his teammates.

As a youth I loved to run and in fact had a habit of running everywhere. Bannister’s achievements later inspired my own less impressive track efforts. But I found after an active early youth, a strange thing happening.

Following an unusual illness rather than being able to run long distances any longer, I found myself running out of breath much too early. I had speed but no endurance. Oftentimes as a young boy, I would register a fit of coughing so severe as to collapse me to my knees. There I would stay until able to stabilize my heavy breathing and be able to regain my feet.

I didn’t understand why my stamina, particularly my respiratory function, was less than others and me previously. (Parenthetically I never was able to explain my lack of endurance to my college track coach who determined at the beginning of every track season to have me run a quarter of a mile. This always ended with me becoming sick following the ill conceived attempt.)

Years later when in medical school, I was skin tested and found to have suffered a Battey bacillus infection, an infection similar to pulmonary tuberculosis but not so infectious. I can only assume this sneaky little mycobacterium led to my lack of lung endurance.

It became clear early on that if I was to be a runner, it would not be at distance. I suppose that’s why I became a sprinter and a broad jumper, knowing that anything beyond an eighth of a mile simply wasn’t possible for me.

To the surprise of the world, shortly after setting the world record at the mile, Roger Bannister retired from the sport of track. I found his stepping away from track quite shocking. In retrospect he did so, I presume, to focus on what he valued more greatly than track, that is becoming a clinical and research neurologist. He simply walked away from distance running after having accomplished what he had set out to do. His willingness to focus on what he saw as most important in his life made a lasting impression on me.

Buddy: Looks to me as if all that running isn’t as nice as a good nap

I attended university and began my own premedical training. Although I had been recruited out of high school to run track in college, I had made the decision to focus my efforts entirely on my dream of becoming a doctor. A visit from the track coach at Texas Tech and his substantial urging along with the offer of a much needed athletic scholarship soon saw me back wearing track shoes. For the next two years I was fortunate to letter in track and field and help the Texas Tech team win some meets including second in the southwest conference meet. It was then I had to face a serious decision of my own.

During my junior year my premedical studies would require five afternoon science laboratories that didn’t even let out till past 5:00 pm. If I were to practice track, it would be on my own in the evenings working out when I needed to be studying for the following day’s classes. I faced a decision as to whether to change my curriculum or else give up track.

The decision was an easy one for me to make although not without causing a sense of loss for my lost sport and my teammates. In the same way that Roger Bannister had exemplified, I gave up track and plowed my efforts full on into becoming a physician, and yes, like Bannister a neurologist.

It was years later during several training stints at the National Hospital (Queen Square) in London that I came across Roger Bannister again and this time in person. He would occasionally provide a lecture in the musty old lecture halls of Queen Square on a neurological topic- various aspects of Multiple Sclerosis, as I recall. He came across as tall, austere, and frankly rather humorless individual. I later learned he was actually painfully shy. Little did he know that one of the nameless faces in that auditorium had admired him for so long and from so far away.

The National Hospital (Queen Square), London

My own career paralleled Bannister’s but in a less storied fashion. I too became a clinical and research neurologist. Like Bannister I was seduced by the mysteries of the brain and what all it was capable of performing. My special interests rather than relating to Multiple Sclerosis centered on Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

The direct approach to understanding the mysteries of the brain

Perhaps the commonalities we shared with both track and neurology explain my sense of personal loss over Roger Bannister’s death. He provided for me inspiration in athletics and blazed a pathway into Neurology.

In your life Roger Bannister, you raced to the adulation of an entire world. You then performed the intellectual work of research into the mysteries of brain illnesses. You have now run your race and you ran it ever so well. It was at times a sprint and at others a distance run but always with good humor and respect for others. Thank you Sir Roger. God speed!

Roger Bannister

Of Buddy and Back Injuries

I don’t know if my absence from the blog has been noticed, but ‘I’ve been MIA for awhile, suffering from a slipped disc. Besides sapping any creativity, it is darned hard to write when lying on your belly in bed.

The offending item that resulted in my most recent aggravation of my back injury

My infirmity did cause me to think back 10 years when I first injured my back. For the six weeks during my recovery, my young Border collie, Buddy, stayed as if glued to my side. I knew he would have preferred to be out on the ranch herding or exploring, but stay with me he did. Because of his loyalty and devotion, his name became uncannily appropriate.

Buddy has of course, like me, aged in the last 10 years. He injured his own back years ago while jumping over a cattle guard, causing a thoracic disc to project out, contuse his spinal cord, and bring about a prolonged weakness of his hind legs. He is probably 70% recovered now and has continued to perform his ranch duties with a fierce determination.

Buddy when younger

Buddy is now an old dog. Of late when we’ve gone on a walk (always an activity he enjoyed immensely), he has tended to stay behind at the house while Bella and Little Jack walk off with me.

Seems to me Buddy is smart enough to know that the exertion will only aggravate his discomfort and we will, after all, return in short order.

Buddy sleeps more now following his injury

Since most of my time has been spent in my position of relative comfort, that is on my belly in bed, Little Jack and Bella have taken over Buddy’s prior close association. They bookend me on the bed while Buddy lays across the room on his dog bed or underneath my bed. He simply doesn’t have the oomph to jump up on the bed any longer. Instead he seems to delegate this position of responsibility.

Bella on the left and Little Jack on the right

Buddy seems able to accept  changes required by his age and back condition. This lesson is not lost on his pained human companion.

Injuries, such as mine, provide lots of time to think. My friends and family have been wonderfully supportive. This provides more solace than I ever would have imagined.

My dogs also provide wonderful companionship and are rooting for my recovery. While I await a visit with the neurosurgeon, I am closer than ever to achieving recovery from my injury. Loyalty is never sweeter than when it arrives at a time of special need- and on four paws with a wet nose.

In The Deep Freeze

Frozen Waterfall at Hidden Falls Ranch

Like most of our nation, Medicine Spirit Ranch has been really cold this past week. We have been  in the upper teens at night (I know this is nothing compared to the northern climes but cold for here). Whereas many folks around the country are tasked with shoveling snow, scraping windshields, and avoiding snowdrifts, at MSR the tasks that cold weather provokes differ.

My biggest challenge during a prolonged freeze is supplying water for the cattle and horse.  The lines taking water to the troughs soon froze. The cattle drank the available water. At this point I began hauling water and filled two water troughs.

Managed to fill two troughs with contents of this 210 water container

I then needed to chop ice on the water troughs twice a day to make the water available for the stock. I quickly realized as the ice got thicker that a better plan was needed. Pecan Creek flowed for several days providing water for the stock before it froze over. Fortunately our largest creek (Live Oak) continued to flow well.  I only needed to open certain gates to allow access for the stock, a strategy that seemingly always takes me awhile to figure out.

Our pool became a giant birdbath

My other need was to supply sufficient hay and protein supplementation for the animals. This requires moving 1000 pound round bales with the tractor and placing a bale in multiple hay rings. I also supply the cattle with range cubes (20% protein) and the horse with her high protein feed.

Trudy was feeling sorry for Fancy, our horse, as Fancy gazed longingly over the fence at the cattle. She has appeared lonely ever since Doc, our gelding, died months back. I opened the gate and allowed Fancy to herd up with the cattle. This works well with the exception that she likes to eat the cattle’s range cubes and the cattle like to eat her feed. Looks pretty comical to see half a dozen cows, head to head, eating out of a horse trough.

Fountain froze as well

I also opened up the barn for Fancy to go in at night. She hates to be locked up in a stall and would kick her way out so this option was out. Nevertheless, she leaves evidence that she goes into the open barn during the night and fortunately I’ve not found evidence that the cattle do.

Naturally during the coldest night of the year, two of our mama cows gave birth to two bull calves. How they survived being dropped wet during such freezing cold, I do not know. Nevertheless, both calves are doing well and scampering about. I think of the two calves as “Frosty” and “Ice Cube.”

So times have been challenging this week at Medicine Spirit Ranch. Am glad the temperatures have warmed. Fortunately we have made it through at least this cold spell with the animals surviving just fine and their rancher hoping for warmer weather.