An Orange Chicken, a Quirky Quercus, and a Scenic View of Scotland (AND a Free Photo)

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The Chapin trail snakes through a magnificent understory of ferns and saplings.

Hello friends,

It often pays to take a detour on to unmarked or previously unexplored trails (but not into the forest itself, please). Yesterday, I discovered an entire new wilderness preserve purely by chance. I was heading north on the Nipmuck trail, planning to go just past Gurleyville road and turn around. Right around the site of the old Chaffeeville Silk Mill, I noticed a white-blazed trail exiting on the road, and through trees I spied a Town of Mansfield sign announcing the “Coney Rock Preserve.” The sign warned of a “steep” ascent leading to a grand view of the Fenton River. I calculated the total distance of the trails (I wanted at least six miles of hiking that day) and headed up the hill.

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The very old white oak (quercus alba) found in the Coney Rock preserve.

The choice to deviate from my planned hike was well rewarded, as I found myself at first in an extensive hemlock grove and then breezy, silent deciduous forest appointed with a gorgeous understory. Along the hike, I laid eyes on two barred owls in the canopy and discovered one of the oldest white oak trees I’ve ever seen (see photo at left). From about 1830-1850, deforestation for agriculture was at its peak in New England, with some 60-80% of all native forests obliterated by human activity. Connecticut forest, thus, are fairly young, and it’s a wonderful thing to find a tree as old as this grand old lady, who clearly predates the most frenetic period of deforestation. (A sad note: after a dramatic falling off in the early to mid twentieth century, deforestation in New England has been steadily rising in recent decades.)

 

I took the most circuitous route possible and made my way along the Olsen, Woodland Road, and Mullane trails to eventually return to the Chapin trail, where the park’s eponymous rock is located. The parks and rec information kiosk hadn’t exaggerated the view; it really is quite a magnificent west/southwest view of Scotland Connecticut. Unfortunately, the remnants of tropical storm Hermine have been cluttering our skies with low, grey clouds these last few days; I’m sure the view would be even better on a sunnier day.

As I left Coney Rock I took a photo of this gaudy mushroom – the Laetiporus sulphureus, also known as the “sulfur shelf” and “chicken of the woods.” August and September are great months for mycologists as many of our native species appear during this period; the Laetiporus is one such example. They grow in large fan-like clusters called rosettes at the base of oak and beech trees (but typically not conifers) and have a pleasant aroma. As you can see from the photo (below), they also have a shocking salmon hue, very bright and hard to miss if you see one. I don’t generally eat mushrooms, but those who do report that the edible Laetiporus has a lemony flavor and tastes a lot like, well, chicken. (N.b., while that links to a recipe for cooking the chicken of the woods, always consult an EXPERT mycologist on the proper identification of mushrooms you find in the wild. Many species are toxic and possibly fatal if ingested!)

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The shocking, orange/salmon colored “chicken of the woods” growing at the base of an oak tree.

 The free photo of the day is found as the featured photo for this article. That’s Chaffeeville road passing over the Fenton River, just at the ruins of the silk mill site.

Have a great day, friends!

 

The Incredible Shrinking Pie (and Free Photo of the Day 9/4/16)

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Mansfield Hollow, September 2014. Free to use with attribution to Jace Paul and link to this site. 

Hello friends,

Have you ever noticed that working in America is subject to the law of diminishing returns?

Yes, once upon a time you got a lot more for your, well, time. Forget about pensions, which long went the way of the Dodo. Raises are smaller, benefits leaner. We all know the one percent have been squeezing the lower- and middle-classes for every drop of sweat they can get, and the money flowing to the top means less of the pie for the rest of us.

I listen to the nursing staff at work, and they talk of halcyon days when every employee got a mandatory wage increase every six months. They speak of holiday bonuses that became a holiday turkey, then a holiday gift-card, then nothing at all. They remember when working Christmas meant double pay. These days it’s time and half – if you use your personal time and work the holiday at the same time.

The scarcity should unite us against the oligarchy, but instead it inevitably puts us at odds with each other. Morale has been low at work, and I wondered to the charge nurse why the aides and nurses were practically screaming at each other. “We’re always working short,” she said. “People are working eight, even nine days straight to cover the shifts. Every year we’re asked to do more with less.”

We’re all increasingly desperate. Wages are stagnant while cost of living rises. In Connecticut, taxes are raised repeatedly as services are cut – the local court that handles family and DSS matters is closing, the Department of Motor Vehicles is slicing hours yet again, the DEEP was forced to close three state campgrounds. Our local vocational school may close. The hospital lost 1/4th of its staff, and statewide health services are facing a nearly half-billion dollar budget cut.

All this to say the obvious – the working person’s share of the pie is getting smaller. Even the crumbs are running out.

When will we demand change?

Getting It All By Giving It Away (Free Photo!)

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Free photo of day! (Attribution: “Photo by Jace Paul, 2016.”)

Hello friends,

Whenever we lose a patient on my unit, I try to take a second to whisper, “Thank you.” No, not “thank you that it wasn’t me,” but rather for that person’s life, witness, gifts, and all they gave to the ones they loved.

Maybe it was the sun shower that hit just as I left work, maybe it was the date I went on last night with a girl that made my heart sing, but today, as I came to a field bursting with black-eyed-susies on my hike, I decided to shout my gratitude out loud. I spread my hands wide, let the wind and butterflies twist around me, and just let my voice speak for the mass of my soul: “Thank you!”

Working in healthcare, I see death often enough that it’s honed my sense of urgency about the whole “carpe diem” thing. Perhaps it’s a shuffling of priorities. So much of my life has been spent in the pursuit of Truth that I have often forgot that other aims are more important. Life presents opportunities for us to be right and kind – but sometimes it gives us a choice to only one or the other. Insecure, unhappy, and overly-educated, I have all too often chosen to be Right and not kind. I’m glad that, in recent years, I have learned to be kind more often.

At an in-service for work today, we took the new hires on a tour of the building. Our wonderful Infection Control/Safety Compliance Officer, Jane, stopped to talk about responding to a combative patient. The question was when it’s right to argue with an angry patient, and when it’s better to avoid an argument. When safety or health is at risk, she said, it’s important to be right. But if these concerns aren’t present, it’s better to be kind. If a dementia patient thinks it’s 1945, let them think it. What good will come of trying to convince otherwise?

“As often as possible, choose to be kind over right,” Jane said to cap the conversation.

A patient in a wheelchair, on leave from long-term care (the unit for people who won’t, most likely, ever be going home) suddenly spoke up.

“That’s very good advice,” she said. “I’ve seen people who spent their lives trying to be right and not kind, and let me tell you…they don’t get many visitors.”

We touch down on this earth and barely find our feet before the ground disappears below us. The sliver of time we occupy in the greater lifetime of our cosmos is such a small space within which to move, to learn, to create. How do we want to use that time?

It’s a question that is never fully answered; or one that dips below the horizon of our awareness as we become focused on the immediate, the logistical, and the mundane. I try to bring it forward each day and use it to stay focused on the things that really matter – those virtues and choices that will mean more meaning, more love, and – yes – more friends and loved ones at our side when time runs out. 

My friends, don’t listen to the pragmatists or cynics. Give away the “stuff” you think you need and become rich with freedom and peace. Love wildly and impulsively. Believe in gods or good people or fields stuffed with flowers.

Say it with me: “Thank you.” 

Free Photos of the Day 4/28/16

Hello, friends!

I think it’s about time I shared a few new photos with you all! I’ve been busy keeping up with my exercise and staying fit since surgery, I’ve completed a CNA course to keep busy in the medical field while I wait for nursing school at UCONN to start, and – of course – spending as much time as possible with my precious daughter. I’ve also kept up with my hiking and photography; in fact I’ve hiked well over 100 miles since the beginning of this year!

My hike today was at the beautiful Salmon River trail in Colchester, CT. The weather went from warm and sunny in the morning to cold and grey, but I managed to get some decent shots of the Comstock covered bridge, the Salmon River itself, and Day Pond falls. Also, a flower that I must confess I’d never encountered before – a beautiful royal purple specimen with broad, pungent petals and three distinct broad leaves. The Connecticut Botanical Society and some hunting around identified it as the Trillium erectum, also known as the wake-robin, purple trillium, and stinking Benjamin. The leaves, in maturation, are said to give off the scent of rotting flesh, and the flower, leaves, and stem contain calcium oxylate (CaC2O4), a poisonous compound that can cause skin sores, general numbness, and even death. It’s the same compound found in rhubarb leaves. A beautiful plant with deadly potential!

The shot I captured of the trillium is included as a Photo of the Day which means, as you know if you’ve been following this blog, it’s yours free under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license. In plain terms, you are free to use it for any creative or commercial purpose provided you include prominently the words  “Photo by Jace Paul” and a link to this blog.

As a bonus, I’m also including a photo of Day Pond Falls below, also free for your download and use!

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Hope you had a good day, friends, and enjoy the photos. Stay positive!

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Depression: Doing It (Mostly) Right

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I felt the darkness trying to swallow me around the third week of August.

We all get stressed and a little melancholy from the ups and downs of life, especially when the downs keep coming and the ups are far behind. But some of us know a certain form of sadness, a very consuming despair, quite well. I’ve survived with clinical depression for twenty-five years now – sometimes handling it well, sometimes…not.

For the last two or three years, however, I’ve handled it well. Depression isn’t something you just “get over,” of course. I didn’t become better at managing it spontaneously or through great luck; no, it took a lot of work. Namely: five years with a great cognitive behavioral therapist, group support, and a lot of personal time re-training my mind to react differently to the circumstances that used to send me into the abyss. I know exactly what to do if I start to feel depression coming on, who to engage for support, what to do to stay healthy, how to quash the distorted thoughts that want to damn with self-condemnation and loathing.

This time the noonday demon arrived suddenly and that made restoring balance a little more difficult.

Here’s what I got right (and wrong):

  1. I drank. So I don’t have a lot of friends who are local – much of my socialization is through social media – and I needed friends to go out and see a movie with, or have a pizza and talk to. Lacking this support, I reached for a bottle and got pretty drunk a few nights early on. Not blackout drunk, not vomiting all night drunk, but pretty crapulous, I must say. Drunk on weeknight, or “pulling a Jace” as my friend Lauren calls it – which I find flattering despite myself.
  2. However, I did reach out to family and let them know I was struggling. I talked to a few friends by e-mail and text. They kept in touch and offered support.
  3. I kept on exercising. Hiking is really the foundation of my physical and mental health, and even without a car I found ways to hike when I could. The increased blood flow, oxygenation, and natural endorphins are probably the best cure for depression. Even if I felt awful, I forced myself to put my feet on the ground and move.
  4. I focused on getting plenty of vitamin D in my diet. I continued to eat a good balance of leafy greens (I strongly recommend an organic spring mix with kale and herbs), tomatoes, avocados, fruits with a low glycemic load (cherries, berries, grapefruit, watermelon), and healthy proteins (Greek yogurt).
  5. I stayed in contact with my therapist. He was on vacation, but made time to check in from time to time.
  6. I focused on rewarding tasks. Thankfully, classes started shortly after the depression started. Spending time with future colleagues and amazing friends was a huge boost to my mood. (Shout out: Haley, Taylor, and Lauren – so much love!). Of course, the classes themselves are also a source of happiness. Learning about the anatomy of the body, blood typing, and doing chemistry experiments (especially successfully mastering the math) helped boost my mood considerably.
  7. Used a trick from dialectical behavioral therapy called “opposite of emotion” activities. So instead of putting on sad music and sad movies that edify depression, I put on my favorite upbeat songs and shows that make me laugh like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Arrested Development.

Within a week I was back on my feet. I’m proud of myself and the hard work I’ve done to get here. Depression is one of those illnesses that, I’m told, are never “cured.” We keep it in remission and, with diligence, hold it at bay. I feel no shame in being a little immodest about what I’ve accomplished over two decades – anyone who’s fought depression and is still standing has the right to be unreservedly proud.

Another important update – On August 24, I received some great news that I was accepted to the UConn CEIN Nursing program, too! Some of you have been following my progress for over a year now and know how important this goal is to me. So I’m extremely grateful for everyone who has encouraged and supported me along this journey.

I’ll be starting in January if I can come up with the considerable tuition. I still have a GoFundMe account for achieving this dream, and if anyone has enjoyed my posts, the photos, or just believes in dream of becoming a nurse and helping others, I would be so thankful if you made a donation. Above is another FREE photo that you can use for any purpose you’d like – put it on your website, your fliers or church bulletins, in a movie, in a book, CD – whatever! All I ask is you credit me and link to this page.

Stay positive, friends – and feel free to share your depression success stories (or challenges) below!

Free Photo of the Day 1/19/15

Hi friends!

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a free picture, but it’s a new year and a good time to start it up again. And, I’ve got a new campaign going to try to get this nursing school project off the ground. I’m very hopeful that I can still afford classes this spring and be on track for the accelerated BSN program at UConn.

The image above was taken with the T3i and the Super Takumar M42 screw mount lens I raved about in December. It was shot at ISO 100, f1.8, and 1/3200, and was taken at Mansfield Hollow yesterday. The reservoir is frozen over and I thought this piece of ice in the sunlight made a nice subject. The resulting image, with the shallow depth of field and star contrast, makes a nice surrealistic statement on this very cold winter.

Feel free to use freely, with credit if you don’t mind. And, of course, feel free to help me make my dream of a better life for me and River come true by getting me to nursing school!

http://www.gofundme.com/nursejason2015

Free Photo of the Day 7/21/14 & An Epigram

American White Water Lily
Canon T3i: 48mm; 1/320 sec; f/5.6; ISO 200

Hi friends!

Two updates today. The first is your free photo of the day, this one of an American white water lily (nymphaea ordorata). It was taken at the The University of Connecticut’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology plant growth facilities. I spent another day there with River last week and photographed a few of the gymnosperms currently in bloom. I also photographed two “sweet” plants that you might recognize. They’re posted below and the first person to correctly identify them gets, er, bragging rights!

The second update is an epigram I wrote called “Dairy Cow.” It’s a bit reminiscent of the late Ogden Nash. If you know a little bit about climate change and greenhouse gasses, the joke will be apparent. PLEASE NOTE: The poem is not offered for public use and is copyrighted for use in my upcoming book, “Where You Will Find Me.”

Enjoy, and as always please consider helping me with my goal of becoming a nurse. Thanks!

Dairy Cow

She gobbles the grass without knowing,

The gasses she makes are stealing the snowing.

 

Can you identify these plants? Good luck!