Chill out

December 6, 2017

This 62 seconds of peace and tranquility brought to you by yours truly. Relax, breathe, and turn up the wintry sounds of North Taylor Creek. Feel free to share.

A perfect season

December 2, 2017

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It was one of those awkward encounters. A casual acquaintance threw out a random statement and it made me think.

In this case it was in a grocery store and the statement was essentially that there’s such a gap in this country, everything from homeless people “doing nothing” begging in the streets and living under bridges, all the way up to Bill Gates.

This seemed interesting to me because it is believed that a high percentage of homeless people may be autistic, and it’s also been speculated that Bill Gates may be on the spectrum.

My answer to this was that yes, we sure do have a gap and I’m not sure people at one end are doing more than people at the other. This brought a look of total surprise, and the response that “I think Bill Gates does a lot” and that he does so much philanthropy.

I said Bill Gates probably does appear to do a lot because he is wealthy enough to have people do a lot of things for him. In fact a close friend received her Masters in Library Science from Denver University through a scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, though I‘m fairly certain the benefactors did not personally sign the check.

But homeless people do a lot, too – they have to scrounge for food, and yes, often alcohol and drugs, find places to sleep, worry about their safety and try to stay warm in the winter.

This exchange stuck with me for some time. Does anyone really do a great deal more or less than anyone else? Or is there a value system we place on certain activities? Especially those things we call “work.”

What is work, anyway? We typically equate it to generating income. The implication is that with an income we can contribute to the “economy.” We suck on the jugular and the blood keeps flowing. While this is actually the same ideology as a tick or a leech, we somehow buy into the myth that, in my case editing, or for other such things as pushing papers around a desk at an insurance agency or real estate office is somehow more honorable than standing by the roadside with fiction written on a sign and holding out your hand.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I do a lot. Aside from writing this column, I edit a website and also caretake a small ranch. Compensation for the former is so much less than the latter that it actually costs me to write. I do it anyway because I feel that I have something worthwhile to say. Yet, somehow it does not make me feel exactly like Bill Gates.

Aside from the work for hire, I am the primary caregiver for my autistic son Harrison, another job that comes with certain costs. For when the school calls, or even when I help out with his cross-country team, the time is not billable. It has, however, given me a greater appreciation for the plight of panhandlers and those who live under bridges, as it has completely changed my perspective on everything.

A health-care professional I see recently told me, “War changes people. You are in a war.” I’d never really thought of it that way until then.

I wonder what wars some of these homeless people have fought, and I wonder what wars Bill Gates has fought too. We’re all fighting some war.

For about the past year I’ve been working toward getting Harrison designated as “disabled” and qualified for Medicaid through a Children’s Extensive Support waiver. This would allow us to pursue some much-needed behavioral therapies. Private insurance of course does not pay for such things. And we can’t afford it out-of-pocket. Just an assessment, for example, can run upwards of $1,500.

After being denied once based on an IQ test, we recently resubmitted our application and were granted the disability designation. Now we are in the process of applying for the actual Medicaid waiver. It feels a little like they’ve only opened the door to the maze.

Meanwhile, some work is play. Perhaps the best therapy – both mental and physical – we can afford has been Harrison’s participation on the middle school cross-country team. I have often joked that we could not have gotten away with such an likely scenario anywhere but here in Custer County.

This season was his third and final before entering high school next year. Over the past two years I can’t describe in this space the roller coaster of outright failure, challenges, disappointments and breakthroughs that we’ve experienced through his participation in sports. All the while, he’s wanted to run. We’ve not given up even when other people thought we were nuts because I’ve always believed in his capabilities. I also believe that sports are a metaphor for life, and that “winning” often means something quite different than first place. Perhaps Harrison’s experiences on the cross-country team will set the stage for success in other areas of life down the road.

As part of the deal with the school and athletics staff, I attend all practices and meets as a volunteer parent coach. And this has been the real gift for me. For not only have I had the opportunity to be a co-creator and witness to my own son’s progress, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with the other kids and to see Harrison’s success through the eyes of his teammates and coaches. He’s literally worked his way past the “Will he finish?” question to running third man on his team.

Thus in his final year I watched as he ran well in one meet after another in Avon, Westcliffe, Gunnison . . . and I began to wonder if a perfect season was possible. We went on to Pueblo, Salida and finally the last meet of the year in Monte Vista, tackling what some would have said impossible and what was at the very least improbable, often running with a smile on his face.

As I looked back on this amazing three-year project, I found myself grateful for all those who supported us along the way, and equally as well to those who thought we were crazy. Because what more important lesson is there for all of us than that of overcoming adversity?

The bittersweet finish to his middle-school cross-country career also brought another jolt to my system as suddenly the workouts and meets were over. I decided we should stay as active as possible after school, running, biking, hiking or whatever, until track season starts in spring.

We had already done a lot but we could still do more.

On one such workout, we turned our bikes around in the fading evening light. I asked Harrison to be still and listen. Against the background of quiet there were ravens croaking and nutcrackers calling out as they flew to their roosts. I asked if he heard them and he said he did. I asked if he could hear the creek trickling faintly in the background and he said he could. Then he simply asked, “Why?” I said because it is important to listen to Nature. He said okay. Then we pointed the wheels downhill toward home.

There is no end to the perfect season and the work has only just begun.

What if Wildflowers Could Sing?

September 11, 2017

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Peter May has been a musician for most of his life, and even co-produced and played on a Grammy Award-winning album, but he never dreamed he’d be the composer for one of the greatest symphonies in the universe – nature.

The 52-year-old Michigan native and longtime Crestone resident recently released his new CD, Spreading Like Wildflowers – A Sonic Bouquet from Colorado.

The music falls under the new genre called Nature Fusion, and among the musicians are Colorado wildflowers, including fireweed, scarlet gilia, columbine, arnica, Woods’ rose, purple penstemon, lupine and others.

Yes, you read that correctly. Peter has produced an album of flower music.

Also making guest appearances with backup lyrics on some of the tracks are bluebird, hummingbird, owl, red-winged blackbird and Western tanager, and Abert’s squirrel.

Peter’s mother sent him to Michigan’s Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp every summer when he was a kid. He learned to play the trumpet at a young age, and later participated in concert and jazz bands.

A skier since early in life, the University of Michigan  grad moved to Crestone in 1993, drawn by the Colorado powder, cheap land, a place to build a solar home, and his interest in spiritual diversity. Peter recounts climbing up into the Sangre de Cristo range early in the Crestone experience, skiing in the deep snow and playing his trumpet. “I played and played with my dogs sleeping next to me in several feet of snow,” he says.

“I decided to listen before I went home, and as I listened, there was absolutely nothing, no sound at all,” he recalls. “Then from around the mountain came this amazing sound.”

He describes this sound as the mountain singing back, and apparently he’s not the only person who has heard it – he notes the legend of Music Pass in the Sangres is based on people hearing music up there.

He says he once took his conch shell horn to the top of Music Pass and played it. The sound of the horn would disappear for exactly eight seconds, he says, then return.

In 2007 he co-produced Crestone by the Paul Winter Consort. He also played conch shells, recorded bison and led the expedition for the record. The album won a Grammy Award for New Age music the following year.

“We heard the music many times when we were producing the album,” he says.

All of this was serving as a base of knowledge for when he later learned that plants – including trees and flowers – have their own music as well. The tricky part is how to capture these sounds and convert them into something humans can process and relate to.

A visitor to Crestone obtained Peter’s contact information from a friend and asked him to tea. She told him that she had a machine that plays sounds from plants. He was skeptical but agreed to the meeting.

The device was a synthesizer known as a Damanhur Music of the Plants device. It works by detecting bio-electric current variations and converting them to sounds audible and recognizable to the human ear. The machine is connected to the plants by means of alligator clips.

Before you dismiss this as some sort of New Age craziness, consider that there are TED talks on the subject of vibrational frequencies, and it’s also the focus of studies by physics departments at major universities, and even been featured on the television series “Planet Earth.”

“We plugged it in and it played one note,” he said. The plant was a piñon pine and Peter began playing bells and a digeridoo (a long tubular horn).

During the next few hours the plant began to respond. “It was actually playing back what I played to it,” he says.

Peter was astounded.

“The kind of music was the music that I had heard up in the mountains, the kind of quality and the sequencing,” he says. “Basically it wasn’t human.”

The woman ended up lending him the machine because he was so interested in it, he says. He now owns two of these devices and has rigged a way to operate them off batteries for extended use recording plants in the backcountry. He’s also developed a way to plug a recording device into the machine.

He continued studying the “music” of trees, and then became interested in the sounds of other plants, especially wildflowers native to Colorado.

I really started recording Colorado wildflowers for fun,” he says. “I was more intrigued by the fact there were all these flowers and they were accessible.”

At some point he discovered that each plant played back differently. Essentially, each had its own song. After a trip to the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival piqued his interest even further, he began to make recordings of wildflowers throughout the central and southern mountain region, resulting in hours upon hours of recordings.

What struck him most was the relationships between the measurable vibrational frequencies of plants, humans and Earth. While his explanation is quite technical – plants and humans seem to like to sing in 528 hertz, while the Earth resonates several octaves lower, which is known as the Schumann Resonance – the short version is that there is a resonance amongst the three.

“I believe the plants’ language is in this resonance, because they are tuned in to the Earth,” Peter says. “Science has already shown that plants not only make sounds but also respond to sounds.”

In other words, not only do plants give off frequencies, they also seem to be able to process the frequencies of other entities. For example, in the track “Fairy Trumpets and Shakers” on his new album, Peter has documented scarlet gilia reacting to thunder. When the thunder sounds, the plants stop singing for a few seconds – then answer back at the same frequency as the thunder.

In addition, he has documented that wildflowers of the same species from different regions of the state sing very similar tunes. For example, fireweed he recorded near Breckenridge sounds nearly identical to fireweed recorded near his home in the Sangre de Cristos.

Peter became so intrigued with the music of plants that he decided to make Spreading Like Wildflowers in order to share this experience with others. He says it’s just another way of enjoying nature, by connecting with the life force of the plants through music. He says while working on the album some of the flower music literally brought him to tears.

“Is it possible to get to know the plants in another way? We see the flowers visually. We all know not to pick them and we may take pictures, but now there’s another way to enjoy them, and that’s sonically.”

Peter also has developed a line of plant-based formulas available through his Endurance Alchemy Lab to help people with health, deep relaxation and fitness. He and his Sonic Apothecary band offer plant concerts in Colorado and New Mexico, and also mediative “journeys” which he describes as a multi-realm experience utilizing sound, mineral and plant alchemies.

He realizes there will be skeptics, just as he first was skeptical, but says plant music represents a new paradigm in communicating with nature. The CD is available in local shops throughout the region.

“Nature is alive in more ways than we can fathom,” he says. “This music is for people who have the capacity and who are interested in exploring and expanding their relationship with nature, especially with plants.”

Visit May’s website for a sample of singing wildflowers: http://www.thesonicapothecary.com

The Zen of Standing Around

September 10, 2017

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The wheel goes round,

whether you’re pushing

uphill or coasting down

“I wanta bicycle in hot afternoon heat, wear Pakistan leather sandals, shout in high voice at Zen monk buddies standing in thin hemp summer robes and stubble heads. …” —Japhy Ryder in “The Dharma Bums,” by Jack Kerouac

By Patrick O’Grady

Special to the Hardscrabble Times

“The Zen of Standing Around,” he called it.

Nobody would describe the Tour de France like that. But my friend Hal Walter wasn’t talking about the Tour, which isn’t even a blip on his sporting radar screen. He was talking about a stop-and-go mountain-bike ride with his son, Harrison.

“An hour and 45 minutes for four miles,” he noted. “About an hour slower than I usually run it.”

A short, slow ride with your kid probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to you. And strictly speaking it wouldn’t be one to Hal, either. His idea of a good time is the annual World Championship Pack-Burro Race out of Fairplay, Colo, a 29-mile run to the summit of 13,185-foot Mosquito Pass and back. He’s won it seven times.

Hal has some experience racing the bike, too, most of it from the Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon in Grants, N.M. The 43-mile Quad starts and ends on the bike, but in between competitors run, ski and snowshoe up and down 11,301-foot Mount Taylor.

So, yeah. Four-mile mountain-bike ride with your kid. No big deal.

Unless your kid is autistic — or as Hal prefers to say, “neurodiverse.”

Then every mile deserves its own milestone.

Saddling up. Hal came late to the bike. He was about 7 when he taught himself to ride a three-speed step-through, which was too big for him but fit his single-mom’s budget.

Hal recounted the experience a couple years ago in his column for Colorado Central magazine.

“I remember one day taking this hulking steel steed out to the sloped driveway behind the duplex where we lived, determined to learn to ride it. I started at the top with my feet to either side and shuffled along astride the bike while coasting down the short drive. Then I pushed it back up and tried again. Over and over.

“Each time I was able to coast a little farther between steps. It seemed like hours went by, and then suddenly I coasted the entire driveway.”

Rock and roll. Pushing it back up. Trying again. Over and over. Welcome to Team Sisyphus.

I learned how to ride early, with my dad’s help, in Canada. After the old man got transferred to Texas in 1962 we went for regular evening rides around officers’ country on Randolph AFB. It was a nice slice of family time, and remains a fond memory.

Here in Albuquerque a neighbor would like to get in on a little of that. After asking me for advice she and her husband have been bike-shopping, hoping to squeeze in some rides with their daughter before she goes back to college.

I can recommend it. And so can Hal.

Sport as medicine. I expect Hal wondered whether he’d ever be able to share his love of a good sweat with Harrison, who was late to a lot of things, not just cycling.

He’s had at least four speech therapists, but still has trouble with communication and comprehension. This frustrates him, and he lashes out, sometimes physically.

But with a little assistance, and a lot of patience, Harrison has been able to attend school like all the other kids — it helps that the Walters live in rural Custer County, Colo., near a very small town with an equally small school — and he’s inherited enough of his parents’ aptitude and appreciation for running to participate in the track and cross-country teams.

Spinning your wheels. The cycling is mostly recreational. Hal rides as a respite from the pounding of long-distance running, and he thought he might share this activity with Harrison, too.

But like his old man, Harrison took a while to master the technique, enduring failure after failure, until one day the nickel finally dropped and the music started playing.

He quickly progressed from a BMX bike to a Diamondback mountain bike, and got to where he was comfortable logging some serious gravel mileage alongside Hal as he ran one of his burros around and about.

Harrison raced the school triathlon, and started exploring the neighborhood single-track. And this summer dad gave him a nice attaboy, trading in the old Diamondback at Absolute Bikes in Salida for a used yellow Specialized Hardrock.

The truth(s) of the matter. None of this means Harrison will be chasing a famous jersey to match his new-used yellow bike.

He’s a skinny 13-year-old who’s been known to stop on training runs to call an imaginary friend on an imaginary phone. He can be loud, and occasionally, violent. Your finish line may not be his.

The kid is doing his own race, at his own pace. Hal’s along for the ride, and if it takes nearly two hours to cover four miles, well, that’s how long it takes.

While Harrison fusses over the stickers in his socks, Hal practices the Zen of Standing Around, like Kerouac’s Ray Smith contemplating the Buddha’s first Noble Truth (all life is suffering) and the third (the suppression of suffering can be achieved).

“The funny thing is he seems to have no problem pushing that thing,” says Hal. “Like it’s just part of the deal. You push the steep stuff and ride the downhills.”

This column was originally published in the August edition of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

The principal’s gift

May 26, 2017

Last week I decided I probably should break the news to Harrison that his principal would be retiring at the end of the school year. We were driving when I told him this and there was some thoughtful silence in the back seat.

After a while, he asked, “Who will take her place?”

Without going into detail about changing job descriptions at the school, I told him that Mrs. Camper would be in Mrs. Anderson’s office next year.

More thoughtful silence . . .

“But will she be as nice as Mrs. Anderson?”

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Harrison and Principal Holly Anderson

I assured him that she would be, but this exchange suddenly brought another reality into focus. As Harrison’s dad I’ve probably had more interaction with Holly Anderson than most other parents during her years at the school. She arrived right as we were beginning to see some heightened behavioral issues due to Harrison’s autism. Early on he would spend time in her office to chill out when he was having problems, when he was feeling overwhelmed, or needed a quiet place to focus on his work. As time went by Holly also called me several times to bring him home due to extreme misconduct.

I can tell you there’s nothing quite like being called to the school and the principal’s office because your child has, for example, struck out at a teacher. It’s a feeling of despair combined with the effect of someone driving the Indy 500 on your nervous system. It was during these times that I really learned to appreciate Holly for her skills and abilities.

She was always naturally calm regardless what had happened. She seemed to have a way of projecting this calmness to Harrison, and also to me.

Then, when we sat down to discuss whatever had happened, she spoke to Harrison with an astonishing clarity, using language that was on his level but without speaking down to him. In this way she could encourage him to accept and take responsibility for his actions without instilling any hint of guilt or humiliation for what he had done.

The next day when I brought him back to school she would welcome him with a smile and the opportunity for a fresh start. Whatever had happened was not simply swept under the rug. Instead it was used as an opportunity for growth and learning.

I don’t know Holly outside of the school setting at all. But it is my sense she operates from a foundation of hope, kindness and compassion. As such she has been not only an important influence for our kids, but also for parents such as myself and her fellow educators. Her work carries on as a lasting gift to the school, the larger community and beyond.

I know Harrison is going to miss her, and I am grateful to have learned so much from her as well.

A bear chewed up my Internet

May 17, 2017
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A Secom tech works on the electronics as Laredo looks on after packing new marine batteries up the hill.

You’ve heard the old “My dog chewed up my homework” excuse. How about a bear chewed up my Internet?

That’s exactly what I had to tell one of my employers during a deadline crunch on Monday.

We get Internet service from an outfit called Secom through a radio-relay system. The tower is located on a high ridge about a mile from here. I packed in a lot of the original equipment for this tower on burros a few years ago.

The station is powered by solar panels. The batteries and electronics for this system are housed in large ice chests.

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Yogi’s teeth marks on one corner of cooler.

Apparently before the big storm last Wednesday a bear bit two corners of one of these ice chests. Clearly this bear had seen an ice chest somewhere before, but must have sensed the contents were more like a Snap Circuits Set than a ham-and-cheese sandwich.

Still, the punctures were enough to allow water inside the coolers, shorting out the solar system. Within a few days the batteries were drained and several households including mine were suddenly without Internet service.

The Secom tech guys called for help getting new batteries up there, and so instead of sitting in front of my desk Monday, I rounded up Laredo and we packed a couple 50-pound marine batteries up to the tower and the old ones back down.

While I enjoyed the blue-sky afternoon outside, I paid for it after the service was restored by staying up late that night to finish my work on time.

The knower of nothing

April 11, 2017

It’s autism awareness month. Are you aware of that?

To build awareness we’ll be fed an endless stream of stereotypes and the myth of a linear autism spectrum by healthcare professionals who should know better and by the media which is clueless. In fact the autism spectrum is much more complicated than can be depicted by a bar chart.

20170314170918129Social media is all lit up with the usual memes and inspiring stories about exceptional autistic kids who are piano prodigies or math geniuses or incredible artists. The key word here is “exceptional,” which does not mean better than the others but is more accurately defined as not typical. One brave mom, so annoyed by all this, was inspired to write a piece called, “My son has the kind of autism no one talks about.”

I get this — we hear too much about the rare kids who are gifted and not nearly enough about the real challenges most autistic kids and parents face. The truth is that most autistic kids, including mine, aren’t exceptional — a high percentage are actually non-verbal. Consider that 70 percent of them will never be able to care for themselves as adults.

In my own writings and talks I have tried my best to maintain a positive outlook while also giving people some eye-openers to reality, and recognizing that my son who turns 13 next week is not like any other autistic child. Yes, he sings with perfect pitch, is a Minecraft genius and runs on the school track and cross-country teams, but he also often has severe behavioral issues.

For example, after causing a major disruption at school during standardized testing recently Harrison acted out violently toward one of the school staff and was escorted to my car by two sheriff’s deputies. I was alarmed and appalled by how out of control his behavior was at school that day, but it is really no different than what I often experience at home.

For autism awareness month, I wrote a cover article for Colorado Country Life magazine about our adventures and challenges on the school running teams. The magazine mails out 227,000 copies throughout the state. In this piece I attempt to balance the realities of failures vs. triumphs. I think both are equally important. In this realm of what I call “Deep Sport” the real victory is in the alchemy of lessons of resilience, patience, humility and empathy into something greater and lasting.

Also this month I was invited by the Raton New Mexico school district to speak at an autism awareness event at the high school there. It was attended by about 60 educators, therapists, parents, students and the school’s baseball team.

One of the messages I tried to convey was that all people, including autistic people, are unique individuals. One person in the audience who read about us in The New York Times asked if I provided some sort of animal therapy here at the ranch. She was not the first person who had this misconception from the article.

I told her no, that I had no answers to anything beyond my own experience with one autistic kid, my own son. I said what I have said about this before — if I had any sort of answers to the autism question there would be a line of parents at my ranch gate and in fact there is nobody there. In my experience this is also true of professionals. If any doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, educator, nutritionist or exorcist had a cure, there would be a long line of people at their office.

To borrow from my friend the mountain yogi Steve Ilg: “I am the knower of nothing.”

Yes, I go to great lengths to involve Harrison in outdoor activities, animals and sports. As much as I would like to believe these experiences are helping him, I have no way of knowing if this is actually true. This isn’t exactly a double-blind study. It’s just what I do. What we do.

This is all I have to share.

After the talk, one of the therapists thanked me, and said that she appreciated my input that there is no concrete solution or specific correct response for any given child in any given situation. “People are always looking to us for the answers, and we don’t really have them.”

Apparently she is doing as a professional what I do as an autism parent — making it up as I go along.

On the way home from Raton we stopped at a store in Trinidad to pick up a few grocery items. During this short shopping excursion I had several problems with Harrison inside the store as he demanded I purchase various junk-food items, clocks, paper plates, a fan, an Amazon gift card. Each time I told him no it was greeted with an outburst and argument.

At the checkout the couple ahead of us kept looking our way as I tried to manage Harrison, a shopping cart and getting the items onto the conveyor. Finally the woman turned and said, “Excuse me, but could you answer a question?”

I said sure, wondering what I was getting myself into.

“Are you the two who were in the San Isabel electric co-op magazine this month?”

Surprised by this seemingly meaningful coincidence, I told her, yes, that’s us.

“I thought so,” she said. “Thank you for writing that. It was very inspiring.”

A matter of control

March 9, 2017

 

Sometimes we try very hard to control things and it only makes matters worse. This is particularly true when working with beings who have a streak of wildness running through them, like myself for example.

This has recently been drawn more tightly into focus with three wild souls I am working with — Zip, Jimi and my son Harrison.

Zip is an Australian Cattle Dog. These dogs are descendant from wild dingos from Down Under that were bred with English herding dogs to become what we know today as “heelers.” We typically keep Zip on a leash because he tends to run wild when off it. However, the more we keep him leashed, the more he wants to run free.

Then there’s Jimi, a burro foaled in captivity from a wild Bureau of Land Management jenny. He’s larger than most burros and spent a lot of his early existence in the open at a mustang sanctuary, and was initially “handied” in a round pen. Now he views any open range as an opportunity to bolt.

And then there is my son Harrison, The Blur. He’s my son, so the wildness is built-in. But since he’s neurodiverse — he has autism — we’ve had to keep a very close eye on him since he was very young. Since his behaviors can be quite random and range wildly, and it’s difficult to know what’s going to happen next in any given situation, we tend to hover over him, and also help him maybe too much with simple tasks.

With all three we’ve set up situations in which we’ve taught them what they can do by showing them what they can’t do. In our minds, it’s all about safety, but it’s also about control, which is really an illusion — we really don’t have as much control over things as we think we do, if any at all, and eventually the dog is going to get loose, you need the burro to be dependable out in the open, the Blur is going to be in social situations on his own, or need to complete his school work.

Here are some tips that I’ve learned from others and from my own experiences. They may be helpful in working with dogs, burros and people:

  • You need to have more time than they do. Get yourself in a hurry or a frantic rush and you are setting yourself up for disastrous results. Plan ahead and start early if you absolutely have to be somewhere on time (I’ve been known to start the night before). Or be prepared to be late — I often stop, take a deep breath, and drive Harrison in to school late if I feel his getting ready on his own is more important than being there on time. Is that time on the clock just another illusion
  • Make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. For example, in the video above you can see Jimi trotting along a road with no fenceline on the right. The rope is clipped to the halter not the bridle and he’s traveling in a straight line. However, to get this to happen, he is pointed toward home, it’s on an uphill where he can’t easily get away, and there is a very steep sidehill on the right. It’s easier for him to just run home in a straight line at my pace than it is to turn and bolt up that hill.
  • Find some way to make them think the correct behavior was their own idea. It’s difficult to get Harrison to do his school work, but he is very much fascinated with clocks these days. The other night he came home with a writing assignment about clocks, a stroke of genius on behalf of the staff at school. He did this work without any encouragement — even his handwriting was neat.
  • Positive reinforcement goes a long way. I’ve been “rewiring” Zip to run off-leash. For this, I take him over on the trails on nearby Bear Basin Ranch which is a safe environment.When I let him off the leash, I keep him in “referencing distance by sometimes whistling. Occasionally, I stop and call him. When he returns I pat his head and scratch behind the ears and praise him. This way he gets the idea that coming when called does not mean he is automatically back on the leash. He’s still a long way from running off-leash out on the county road but this goes back to the long-term version of our first point about having more time than they do. I’ve also been experimenting with taking him along with one of the burros. Having a burro along appeals to his stock dog instinct and makes him want to stay close. 

In fact, yesterday when returning from the ranch I removed the lead rope from another donkey I’m training, Teddy, and used it as a leash for Zip. Then I let Teddy run free back here while Zip herded him along on the line. Advanced animal training — they both seemed to think it was their idea.

For more insights about the parallels between helping animals and autistic people achieve triumph in life, check out my book, Full Tilt Boogie.

 

‘What kind of autism do I have?’

March 6, 2017

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Recently while we were out on a run, Harrison asked me, “Hey, what kind of autism do I have?”

I tend to zero in on questions like this as I find his developing self-awareness and the perception of his own neurodiversity fascinating. It was like a few months ago when he asked, “At what age is autism put into the brain?” (Think about that one.)

I was pretty sure what he meant by asking what kind of autism he has, but just to be sure I quizzed him about what he meant by that. He clarified by asking if his autism is mild, moderate or severe.

I then explained as best as I could that it’s really not that simple. While we tend to think of the autism spectrum as a linear shaded bar chart with mild on one end, moderate in the middle, and severe on the other end, that’s a really overly simplistic view.

Truly the autism spectrum is not linear but more accurately depicted as circular. On the outside of this circle are certain characteristics like language and motor skills, sensory perception, and executive function. Social skills and awareness are other variables with autistic people. All people are more or less functional in each of these traits. The best diagram I’ve seen is cartoonist Rebecca Burgess’ illustration.

And here’s the really complicated part — all of these traits affect each other and are dynamic, changing from moment to moment.

So I explained to Harrison that in some ways and at some times he can be mildly autistic and at some times and in some situations he can seem severely autistic. For example, his executive cognitive function, which governs impulse control, sometimes is severely lacking.

More complex, and difficult to understand, is how deficits in one area can produce deficits in others short-term. For example, impulse control issues that lead to a tantrum can directly affect motor skills. A good example of this occurred this past weekend when we participated in a two-part photo shoot for a magazine cover to accompany an article I’ve written about his participation in cross-country and track.

The first sequence of photos was an evening shoot. Harrison was thrilled to participate, was joyful and ran beautifully for the photographer, back and forth with great form for about an hour.

He set his alarm for the next morning’s session but when it went off it was louder than he expected (perception) and this startled him (sensory) which sparked an epic tantrum (executive function and impulse control) which ultimately resulted in poor running form for the photo shoot (motor skills).

That’s the type of autism Harrison had that morning. A totally different “spectrum” from what he and I experienced the previous evening.

Lems Boulder Boots rock

March 1, 2017

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I used to write outdoor gear and clothing reviews for fancy magazines like Outside, Snow Country and Rocky Mountain Sports. I’m no longer in the business of reviewing outdoor products and clothes even though it was fun and somewhat lucrative in terms of cash and swag, but I recently made a purchase that inspired a few words.

The purchase was a pair of Lems Boulder Boots. I chose the Timber color (green).

Until now I have been unable to find any sort of casual shoe that is comfortable, health-promoting and suits my lifestyle. I have weird feet. I’ve always had weird feet. What I found with the Boulder Boot is they let my feet do what they are designed to do, almost like being barefoot. This builds foot and ankle strength and promotes health throughout the body.

These boots are made with a big toebox that accommodates my wide forefoot and spread-out toes. They are also “zero-drop” which means there is no difference in height from the heel to the front of the shoe. However, they have enough outsole protection that rocks don’t poke through to the bottoms of my feet. They also are very flexible and in fact are advertised as “packable.”

My size is 47 (U.S. 13) yet they don’t appear huge when I wear them with jeans.

I live in the mountains, manage livestock, have a neurodiverse kid in school (which means I spend a lot of time in the school). I often find myself in situations not quite right for my Muck boots and not quite right for leather or dress shoes either. For example, I might meet with staff at the school, go to guitar lessons with my son, take a short hike, then tiptoe through manure to turn a horse out on the way home and wade through snow to throw hay to my burros.

I’ve worn the Boulder Boots hiking on the trails around here. I’ve worn them to business meetings. I even wore them while speaking about autism and endurance for life to a casual audience of about 50 people at The Back Room in Westcliffe recently.

These shoes are right in step with all that. You won’t likely see these boots reviewed in any fancy magazines which is why I mentioned them here. The only issue I have with the Boulder Boot is I now want a second pair. Maybe blue this time . . . Or black . . . Or maybe the leather model.