What Happens if you “Die” in a Dream?

There is an old canard that if you die in a dream, you die in real life, too. This I can now say with certainty is not true. Because last night I “died” in a dream, and I’m here to write about it.

I don’t usually to remember dreams for more than a few minutes, but this one stuck because only a couple days earlier I’d been involved in a discussion on exactly this question. So when it happened, I woke up and thought about it enough to fix the memory of the dream in my mind before I went back to sleep.

In the dream, I was competing in a weird event in which I had to push something akin to a shopping cart up an increasingly steep hill, kind of like the runout at the base of a ski jump, in reverse. There was a blue line near the top, shortly before it got super steep, and it was critical to still be running by the time you got to it in order not to stall out on the final pitch and have to try again.

In the dream I had multiple failures before I finally put everything I had into it, passed the line, and looked like I was about to finally make it…only to lose control, veer, and fall of the side of the ramp, nearly at the top.  

In the first attempt, it was me, pushing the cart and trying to run uphill. But with each successive attempt I became more and more detached from myself until there was a “me me” who was competing in the event and an “observer me” watching from the base, like a sports commentator. It was observer me who saw me me fall.

Observer me then climbed to the top and cautiously peered over the side, where I saw “me me” spreadeagled on a concrete slab 100 feet below. I knew it was me because I recognized my hair, and I knew I was dead because there was no way anyone could survive a fall like that. I then wondered a bit about what I’d done wrong to lose control that way, then calmly woke up.

So, I can assure you that if you die in your dream, you don’t die in reality.

I wasn’t even particularly disconcerted and, as I noted above, I only remember it because of the recent discussion. So if you’ve ever wondered about that old canard, forget it. “Me me” is still alive and functioning.

THE CAT WHO THOUGHT HE WAS SAINT NICK

We called him GM because generally his motor was running. He was a big cat, pun’kin and white (the image above isn’t him, but it’s not super far off), and an outdoor cat because my brother, his nominal master, didn’t clean the litter box as often as our mother’s nose preferred. She gave up asking, discarded the litter box, and decreed that the cat, now an adolescent kitten, be ousted at night and whenever the house was unattended.

Some cats wouldn’t have taken kindly to such treatment. GM thrived on it. Although he ultimately died young, he lived with flair and packed more adventure into a half dozen years than other cats manage in two decades. He became a hunter so self-sufficient that grocery-store cat food nearly followed the litter box into the trash. We kept a dish of dry food in the kitchen, but he seldom touched it.

Much to my relief, he showed little interest in killing birds. Nor was he much of a mouser, preferring bigger game. One morning when he was only six months old, he was waiting beside a partially-eaten squirrel, which he’d placed on the welcome mat beside the newspaper.

Whatever reward he was expecting, he didn’t get, and that was the last time he did that. But we could tell he’d had a successful evening if his belly was distended and he was unusually lazy in the morning.

His favorite prey seemed to be rabbits, which he ate in their entirety except for the big bones of the thigh and the fur-ball of the cottontail. My brother and I would tally the kills when we mowed the lawn: clunk from something hidden in the grass, an explosion of fur, and we’d chalk another up to GM. In the summer, he averaged about four a week.

My mother was delighted. The daughter of a farmer, she had no sympathy for rabbits. And in the years we had GM, she had the best gardens of her life. Long before, she’d given up hope that our dog, a 20-pound poodle named Suzy, would rid the garden of rabbits. Suzy was eager to make the attempt, but her methods, although spectacular, did more damage to the garden than to the rabbits.

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Lessons from Patience

For most of my life, horses have played little if any role, so my first experiences with my friend Vera’s 12-year-old gelding, Patience, were a bit intimidating. Patience, you see, was half-Percheron, and he was big. He’d also once been a wild mustang—something that raised thoughts of bucking broncos and undomesticated beasts with a penchant for kicking through walls.

Actually, he was quite gentle—a relief, since he weighed in at a lean 1,300 pounds. Vera acquired him through the federal government’s adopt-a-horse program, training him herself and choosing his name because, she declared, “that horse is going to teach me patience.” 

It was a lesson that came to include me one Fourth of July weekend when the three of us—Vera, Patience, and myself—attempted a 50-mile packing trip.

Like all really good camping disasters, it started out with a fine idea. Vera loves to hike, but isn’t so keen about carrying a backpack, especially since we’re both photographers and have been known to march off into the wilderness with multiple lenses, tripods, and camera bodies, plus enough film to keep Kodak in business for a month.

The plan was for Patience to carry the weight while we walked unencumbered. At first, I had dreams of 20-mile days, but as the trip took shape, it settled into something more reasonable in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness, a wonderland of lava flows and cinder cones beneath a trio of 10,000-foot volcanoes.

But rigging a packsaddle, I discovered, is more complex than loading a backpack. For starters, I never plan on trying to ram my backpack into anything, so I don’t have to be overly cautious about padding fragile equipment. A horse has no such scruples. We had to think about the fact that half ton of muscle might attempt to squeeze the panniers between trees that aren’t quite far enough apart.

Then, there was the issue of lashing it all down, using a knot called a “One-Person (Two is Better) Diamond Hitch,” based on a drawing that looked more like a bowl of spaghetti than anything I would intentionally do with a rope.

Our first attempt, done at Vera’s stable while various onlookers unhelpfully kibitzed, took an hour. The resulting shape was at best a diamond in the rough, and the whole process was an exercise in such conversations as: “We need to take up some slack,” “No, not that rope, the other one!” “Who’s ‘left’ side? Yours, mine, or his?” 

The horse lived up to his name. We didn’t.

Re-tying the One-Person (Two Is Better) Diamond Hitch at the trailhead was a repeat of the first experience, compounded by a fearsome cloud of mosquitoes that seemed immune to bug repellent, even when we practically drowned them in it. Their favorite landing spot was Patience’s belly, where he couldn’t reach them with his tail. They carpeted it so densely that like airplanes circling a major airport they had to wait their turns to find open landing spots. Patience was stoical. Vera and I did a little dance, and again yanked on the wrong pieces of rope.

Above treeline, mosquitoes were no problem but we began to run into snow. Vera and I could walk over the top of it, but Patience randomly plunged through. On one occasion, we watched with our hearts in our throats as he sank belly deep into a snowfield we knew was underlain by jagged, volcanic rocks.

We’d planned to camp by a creek where we hoped to find forage for Patience. But we ran out of daylight in a lava field, two miles shy of our goal.

We spent the night practically in the middle of the trail, surrounded by sharp, angular rocks, without a sprig of vegetation except a scattering of weather-beaten pines. It was cold and breezy, and the air was damp with the threat of rain. 

Vera and I could huddle out of the wind in the lee of a big rock. Patience couldn’t. Vera and I could light a stove and cook dinner. Patience had nothing to eat but a limited supply of grain. Vera and I could pitch a tent and stretch out in our sleeping bags in semi-comfort. Patience spent the night tethered in the middle of the trail.

Vera suffered on behalf of her horse. I suffered on behalf of Vera. Every time Patience moved, Vera woke up, wondering if anything was amiss. It was a long night.

The next morning, it was time to reassess. We decided there was no choice but to hike out and try again some other month, when the snow would be long gone.

“Well,” said Vera, a few hours later, as we drove out of the mountains in a pouring rain, “that was a learning experience.”

I thought of diamond hitches and horseshoes, mosquitoes and snowfields. Patience, I thought. Patience.

50 Years Ago on a Beach in Oregon…

Today’s big news was the apparent success of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. That was fun and exciting. But, this week is also the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s most famous news story.

What’s that, you say? The passage of the nation’s first bottle bill? The beach bill? Any of the other things that put Oregon on the map in the 1970s?

Nope. And beware, this one might cause you to you laugh hard enough to make you blubber.

It’s the story of a good idea that went a bit off the rails. Enjoy.

BTW, the newscaster is still on the air.


The Race I Never Dreamed I’d Run

Ten years ago, I had knee surgery.

I will never forget what the doctor told me when I woke up. “It’s worse than we thought.” He then added that the drugs from the surgery would mean that I wouldn’t remember those words, but he was wrong. Running as I knew it ended that day.

Seven years later, I had a hip replacement. Arthritis is the family bane. But this time, I wasn’t even thinking about running. Not only had I gained dozens of pounds, but the hip was so bad that the surgeon took one look at the X-ray and said, “That’s a bad hip. Let me check my schedule to see if we can move up your surgery.”

She did, for which I was grateful. I’d reached the point where the 150 meters from the nearest parking spot to the track where I was then coaching had become the longest walk I could manage without a break, and I took it for granted that there would be a time or two each day when the pain would be enough to make me nauseous.

But this is not that kind of story.

Because earlier this month, I rediscovered racing.

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Masks: the Golden Rule is not a sign of weakness.

I’ve said this before (in fact, I’m using the same photo as last time), but it’s worth repeating. The latest run of the University of Washington’s coronavirus model shows 363,000 deaths by the end of December, with the death rate hitting 2,900 a day by then–a horrible projection for what might happen in January.

But if we can raise the rate of mask-wearing, especially indoors, that number of deaths falls by 86,000. Given that more than 200,000 people have already died, that means the number of new deaths is cut in half. Simply by biting the bullet and wearing masks. (Note, I may not have these figures exactly correct; this was breaking news on TV a few minutes ago, and I didn’t have time to grab a pen. But I’m close enough.)

Mask wearing is not a sign of weakness. It’s not even something you do for yourself. It protects you some, but it works best if the people around you are also doing it.

Mask wearing is something you do primarily for others.

If they reciprocate, THAT protects you. But even if they don’t, it sends a signal of strength. “I care.” Why is that so controversial?

It’s the Golden Rule in action.

It’s that simple.

My 2016 Book…and the London Marathon

Back in 2016, I coauthored a short book (more a novella than a novel) with Phil Maffetone about a hypothetical “Million Dollar Marathon,” in which runners competed on a one-mile track, with the giant prize to anyone who could break 2 hours.

It’s fiction—I thought of it as near-future science fiction, since that is part of what I write—focused on a Tibetan refugee whose background gives him all the tools needed to make this quest possible.

Now, this weekend, the London Marathon—thanks to COVID-19—will be conducted under a protocol amazingly similar to that in our book. The best in the world, male and female will duel on ~20 laps of a 1.34-mile loop.  Not a track, but not all that different from Phil’s and my setup.

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Quick high-veggie hot dish

With all the political news raging this week, I figured it was time to do something different. Here’s a quick recipe of my mother’s, adapted to my tastes. It makes a very good potluck dish (it always gets raves), a side dish for dinner, or a great lunch. (I used it on my diet.)

Basic ingredients:

  • 1 can corn (or fresh corn, but that takes longer)
  • mushrooms (1 small can or fresh; fresh is better)
  • half a large onion
  • 1 ounce mozzarella cheese
  • Small sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange)
  • Jalapeño
  • Roasted cashews
  • Salt (if desired)
  • Pepper
  • Garlic powder (minimal)
  • Parsley flakes
  • Paprika
  • Cumin

Drain canned veggies and put them plus chopped fresh veggies in a microwave-safe casserole dish. Add spices to taste. Place sliced cheese and cashews on top. Heat on high until cheese melts and everything else is sufficiently hot. (If preferred, you can give the chopped onion a head start, but I generally find that unnecessary.)

Serves 4 as side dish; or one as lunch. (Total calories about 450, depending on how many cashews you use.) For heartier version, use more cheese.

Super-spreaders, COVID-19, and the rural/urban divide

Nobody wants to be in a state with a lot of COVID-19 cases. Nobody except perhaps an epidemiologist trying to study how the disease spreads.

In a paper in today’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team from Emory University (in Atlanta) and the Georgia Department of Public Health, took advantage of the fact that their state ranks 6th in the U.S. in per capita cases to hone in on just how the disease spreads.

They looked at data from the five counties in the state with the most cases, looking for, among other things, superspreader events.

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Remembering Pat Lovett (1923-2020): Remarks from her Memorial Service

Who was Pat Lovett?

That was the question I thought I’d be answering here today. But how can you define a person who graced the earth for nearly 97 years?

When she was born, commercial radio was a new thing. Movies were jerky, silent affairs.

She lived to collect movies on CDs and record them off an invention called TV, using something that wasn’t even imagined when she was a child: satellite broadcasts beamed straight to her backyard.

Which means there’s a lot about her I don’t know. Not that she was a closed book. It’s just that she was a book with many chapters, interconnecting in the unexpected literary tapestry of a long life, well lived.

If any of you have ever read a John McPhee book, you know what I’m talking about. He wrote in tapestries, with threads appearing and reappearing and merging into unexpected patterns.

He would have loved her.

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