Maundering of an octogenarian

Posted Jan 26, 2008
Last Updated Apr 6, 2008

Warning!  Warning!  Old person/author reporting on medical problems, the weather, and the long ago!!!

    I haven't posted here since January 12.  Sorry.  I've been  on a push toward finishing a draft of a historical novel of the Great Northern War.  To be more precise, of the Armfelt campaign into Norway in 1718, and the roots of Swedish neutrality.   For sample chapters, visit

click on projects, then  on Armfelt.

    Obviously I haven't learned to make links with this system yet.

    It's been wintry here in Dublin, but not quite down to zero.  As I write this, we have only about half an inch of snow on the ground — the same half inch that fell a week or so ago.  Could be a lot worse.  I used to exult in winter weather, and wondered why old people wanted to move to Florida.  Ha!  Better Hawaii!  But if I were young again, I'd probably choose the Lake Superior/Lake Agassiz country which I so loved, on Minnesota's border with Manitoba and Ontario.
    My chronic asthma has been kicking up the last month or so — since I took the lid off my frying pan while frying bacon, and got a faceful, and lungs full, of oily steam.  It must have happened to me numerous times as a youthful bachelor, but no problemo then.  Meanwhile that puff of steam started me coughing and sent me to the doctor.  Now I go out in the cold only briefly, as air much below freezing worsens the asthma and gives me coughing fits.

It's a lot different from the acute asthma I'd get occasionally as a young man, that had me gasping for air.  Got me a couple of ambulance rides.  The asthma I get now doesn't affect my breathing nearly as much, but the coughing is a nuisance, and hard on the lungs.  So of course I'm on a couple of medications that are physiologically potent, and bear watching because of possible bad side effects.  Meanwhile I keep on working out, and writing etc, and don't feel bad at all except for that pesky coughing!!!

My doctor, who specializes in old people (I'm 81 now), tells me part of my lung problem derives from abusing them when I was young.  Hand-firing ships' boilers was one abuse.  When cleaning fires you breathed big bursts of steam filled with powder-fine ashes, and air rich in sulfurous fumes.  And when a ship took on a cargo of wheat...on one such they had an ambulance waiting for me when we pulled into the Soo canal.  And of course there was hand logging — heavy labor with much heavy breathing — in temperatures often in the minus teens, 20s, even minus 30s — on the Canadian border in Minnesota.  The coldest day dawned with a –52, though it warmed to –26 that afternoon; the sort of day that comes once in 20 years or so. 
    And of course I smoked for 30 years.  Not heavily; eight or ten a day, but..
    A decade later found me on snowshoes three and four days a week from late Nov to late April in northern Wisconsin.  Often, from December to February, the day would start out in the minus teens; as low as -32.  Did a lot of deep forceful breathing, snowshoeing across open bogs (we had a lot of those), where even on snowshoes you'd sink to your knees.  The stiff sedges and dwarf shrubs kept the snow from settling, and crossing a stretch of open bog was strenuous!
    I felt strong then, like nothing was too much for me.  Then, at the end of the day, Manny Stein (my partner) and I would race back to the pickup, on snowshoes, to arrive sweating and laughing. 
    But even while building a strong constitution, I suppose deep breathing on the colder days caused cumulative small damage and lung scarring.

    On the other hand, one can overdo being careful.  Like the guy who spent his life in bed to avoid injury.  He died at age 30 of infected bed sores.  (John, you lie!  You made that up!)

    Actually I find old age highly agreeable.  And I have taken up refurbishing my crude Minnesota bondspråk by talking it to myself at home, turning to my English/ Swedish dictionary from time to time.
    (Minnesota bondspråk is the now dead version of the American Swedish of a century ago; not an actual language, maybe not even a dialect, strictly speaking, but a corrupted amalgamation of the various dialects of peasant Swedish that crossed the Atlantic, got stirred together in America and seasoned with American [and sometimes Norwegian] words — and American idioms spoken with Swedish words! 
    It persisted — even thrived, with newspapers, books, and finally radio programs — as long as there were enough Swedes who arrived knowing no English.  It required constant and adequate transfusion of new immigrants, and succumbed to the combined effects of dispersal out of the immigrant neighborhoods plus intermarriage, complicated by radio and TV.  A sort of linguistic entropy.  It finally died as a vernacular when there were no remaining grandmothers who'd learned little or no English.)

    Speaking of linguistics, I've been reading a book by Joel Davis, a long-time friend of mine, on how humans create and learn language, including rather detailed discussion of many decades of research into the brain — a remarkable and interesting story of neurological detective work.  The title is MOTHER TONGUE: How Humans Create Language.  It clarified for me what my wife, Gail, was experiencing in reverse, in her last year of life (one small stroke after another), especially in her final weeks and at last her final days.  Spending so much time sitting by her, I'm convinced she had come to terms with it.  As long as she could show her feelings, she showed no sign of struggle or agitation, just intent attention.  She was beautiful.

    Next month I fly to Pasco, Washington for RadCon, a sizable science fiction convention.  (Sizable?  That spelling doesn't look right, but when I inserted an e after the z, which  does look right, my spell checker yelled "TILT! TILT!"  And my Webster's Speller/Divider gives it preference.  I'd say to heck with them, except that dropping the e makes sense.)  Incidentally, RadCon is like a giant family reunion, constantly being added to, where the relatives are all fond of each other, and remarkably civilized.

    Thanks for visiting.

Joel Davis

Mar 23, 2008

Thanks for the mention of "Mother Tongue", John. Appreciate it! Your blogger respondents should know that the book is OP, but still available via Alibris and Amazon from various private sellers. (And I have a few copies, also.)

More to the point--even though I wrote that some years back, i continue to be fascinated by lingistics and especially by the origins of language. I'm currently doing some poking around at a possible article on this topic for "Analog". We'll see what develops!