the end of amnesia?   23 comments

Posted at 4:13 pm in Don,loss,photography

Gray Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens)

To reduce confusion for those of you who haven’t been following my blog for awhile, the most recent posts have been lagging “real time” by at least a couple of months. Consider this to be the first of my Arizona writings for this winter. I’ll be dropping the odd piece in between the travel writings over the next few weeks. It actually seems a little awkward for me to write about past rather than present events. If you’re familiar with my older nature blog, Burning Silo, I wrote almost daily, and most of the posts were about sightings that had occurred within the twenty-four hour span of time between those entries. That schedule gradually disintegrated while I cared for Don during his illness. After his death, I decided to abandon posting to that blog and start something new, which is how Journey to the Center came into being. Its structure was intentionally different. It would be about my travels and nature observations, with posts occurring whenever I had the time or inclination to write, or an available net connection to upload photos to my website. That’s the front story, but there’s more to all of this than meets the eye.

Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus) – dorsal view

The back story is that several odd things happened during the months when I cared for Don. With each passing day, the time I had available to shoot photos, rapidly diminished. I could no longer spend an hour or two a day roaming the garden and fields at the farm as it became increasingly unsafe for Don to be alone in the house even for a few moments. I never resented the constant demand on my time. I did not want to be anywhere else than at his side during those final difficult weeks. However, as I’ve mentioned, odd things began to happen. I no longer cared much about my photography. Requests for photos for publications would come in by email and it was all I could do to force myself to reply or dig up an image file to send to someone. I know that a few of those requests went unanswered if they seemed too complicated and nit-picky. There were just so many hours in the day, and I had to choose where to allocate my time. The decision wasn’t too difficult.

The other thing that occurred during this time is what I can only describe as the beginning of a very disturbing form of amnesia. In the years leading up to Don’s illness, I knew the scientific and common names of most of the creatures that I photographed. Some names were as familiar as my own – Argiope aurantia, Anatis mali, Erythemis simplicicollis…. well, there were dozens and dozens of them. In the weeks after we began our fight with cancer, those names would gradually be replaced by the names of chemo agents, bones requiring radiation treatments, drugs available under clinical trials, and so on. Gradually, over time, it was as though some strange cloud of selective amnesia descended upon me. I would look at photos of creatures in my nature galleries without being able to recollect the scientific, let alone common names of any of them. It was a very strange and disorienting sensation — one that I have now lived with for close to two years. Even as recently as a month or two ago, I would try to talk about an insect which I could picture well in my mind, but the words would not come. I would struggle to think of the names, but the best that could be managed was a puzzling blank-out that actually triggered an unpleasant twitching sensation in some part of my brain. It was as though some part of my “hard drive” had been disconnected, its USB cable unplugged and dangling in the wind.

Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus) – specimen under UV light

Fast forward to a couple of days ago. Standing in a hallway, speaking to a fellow naturalist, the name Argiope aurantia surfaced after a few moments of awkward silence. It was one of those weird Eureka!!! moments. If one name can be remembered, perhaps there is hope for more. In fact, I’ve been attempting to remember more names, and they seem to be *sticking* now — something that did not seem possible until even two weeks ago.

The other thing that has happened is that, little by little, my interest in the natural world is returning. In truth, it was never really *lost*, but unless a spider or bird or javelina practically fell out of the sky, it was difficult for me to care enough to take its photograph. Oh, I made concerted attempts, but they felt half-hearted at best. I was rarely pleased with the photographs, and to some extent, that spark that existed between me and whatever I was photographing, still feels a little weak. But perhaps it will return along with the missing names. I do try to make a good effort, even though it still feels like I’m going through the motions. I hope that will change in time.

A couple of months ago, I was stung by an Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus) during the middle of the night (see two above photos – click on all photos for larger views). The resulting pain was unpleasant, but not intolerable. The event was enough to tweak my interest in scorpions to the point that I purchased an inexpensive UV-LED flashlight so that I can blacklight for them as soon as things warm up a bit. Scorpions glow under the light of a UV lamp, so this seems like an opportunity for some cheap entertainment while I’m here in the southwest. I also bought a very inexpensive motion-activated infrared game camera, and have been setting that up in various locations around the lane and garden. So far, my main captures are Javelinas (see below) and the odd lost tourist turning around in my yard. However, as with so many other aspects of my life, I’m doing what I can in the hope that one thing will lead to another and the spark of interest will grow to be something more.

Javelina – as photographed by infra-red game camera

Written by bev on January 31st, 2010

23 Responses to 'the end of amnesia?'

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  1. Your description of replacing long-held memory of the scientific names of things with the names of chemotherapy, therapeutic drug trials, etc is so interesting, it sounds like the beginning of a research trial itself. I’m sure it has been studied, but if it hasn’t it should be, that replacement of memory with other more current things. I remember reading a while back, maybe when I was still at the university, about how old informtion memory drops off as new information memory is introduced. It tends to be more subtle than what you described, but the rapidity of what you experienced is so dramatic, it makes me want to learn more about what happens in the brain, and how your old memory came to be recollected again. Truly fascinating stuff, Bev. I’m really glad you have that old hard-drive back!

    Love the photos of the scorpion. What a great looking creature. About game cams, I searched through our old correspondences and can’t find the make of the camera you got. Now that we’ve had our first good snow, it became obvious that many mammals are walking through the yard at night. We sure would like to take a look at them.

    I’m looking forward to what you are seeing there with your renewed interest in this beautiful, old world.

    robin andrea

    31 Jan 10 at 5:32 pm

  2. robin – All along I’ve secretly hoped that the problem had to do with replacement — sort of like having too much data going into my brain – beyond storage capacity – and that some thing just had to be deleted. I didn’t know if that was for good, or what. I have a feeling that what I knew may be gone, but that know that I’m no longer plowing through webpages filled with medical stuff, I’ll gradually be able to make the switch back to biology. The weirdest thing about all of it is that there’s a strange physical sensation attached to this kind of memory glitch. I’ve read that people with certain kinds of brain damage have weird sensations when they are struggling with a memory, so I suspect there may be some odd connection. Whatever, I’m glad to be feeling more interest once again.


    31 Jan 10 at 8:28 pm

  3. I too have experienced the ‘amnesia’ you speak of Bev- I used to know the taxonomic names for almost all birds in my area and most flora, butterflies and dragonflies.. then came moths. Then came overwhelming ‘life stuff’ that seemed to cause more than a few short circuits in the memory department. I really haven’t given it much thought except to wonder if it is some sort of sensory overload. For example, I once knew (on some level) that scorpions glow in the dark from my years spent in the Mojave desert, but had someone asked me this, I probably would have said I had no clue. Your post just jogged a few old memories for me. Strange eh? (and I can relate to that ‘twitch’ you describe.. I’ve never spoke about that to anyone before , it’s really an odd sensation. We’ll have to talk about this more someday maybe) In regards to the photograph, I love the colors and details you captured – they’re really quite fascinating, although I can’t say that I miss them 😉
    Whatever it is, I’m thrilled to see your interest in the natural world peaking again. I hope I can help you explore your area even further by finding that blasted moth light that I know I have, but have no idea where it got stored. I’ll find it yet though. (And I’d really like to know more about the wildlife cams you’re using, as I’ve been wanting to put a couple out around our property to get better views of flying squirrels and other critters that I usually only get a quick glimpse of, but am reluctant to drop $200 for a birdcam)


    31 Jan 10 at 9:56 pm

  4. […] Journey to the Center Some names were as familiar as my own — Argiope aurantia, Anatis mali, Erythemis simplicicollis…. well, there were dozens and dozens of them. In the weeks after we began our fight with cancer, those names would gradually be replaced by the names of chemo agents, bones requiring radiation treatments, drugs available under clinical trials, and so on. Gradually, over time, it was as though some strange cloud of selective amnesia descended upon me. —- This entry was posted Sunday, January 31st, 2010 at 11:32 pm and is filed under Smorgasblog.  Print […]

    Via Negativa

    31 Jan 10 at 11:32 pm

  5. Cindy – Thanks. Yes, we will have to talk about the “twitch” thing. I experienced it frequently for the longest time, but it seems to be subsiding now. Weird sensation. No great rush on the moth light. I look forward to doing some mothing soon, but a couple of more weeks won’t make any difference. Oh, about the game camera. Here’s a link to the one I bought. I ordered it from Amazon.
    It takes pretty decent photos and didn’t cost too much. I was reluctant to spend much in case it gets stolen as it’s often in a spot where people occasionally pass by (not likely, but it could happen). It cost about $77.00. The set up is pretty easy. You need to buy batteries and a 2 GB memory card, but that’s about it. It does have it’s own memory as well, but I find it easier to just bring the card in to be read by my iMac each morning.

    Dave – Thanks for the link on the Via Negativa Smorgasblog.


    31 Jan 10 at 11:49 pm

  6. Bev, I’m struck by the fact the after being by the rscorpion you became more intrigued. Pain often has us turning away, and running in the opposite direction. The amnesia you speak of is sensory overload, I know that feeling. I’m please that you are slowly regaining your interests and bank of knowledge.

    Your scorpion, like death, has hidden beauty. Going through the cancer-chemo journey is quite familiar to me. By the end of it I learned to see what it was illuminating as well. I realized what an honor it was to participate in my partner’s death. This new perspective was not unlike your LED-flashlight. It brought out unexpected beauty.

    I suppose you don’t come through a life experience like ours without something to gain from it. In time we will all see our prior interests, or new interests, that much more defined.



    1 Feb 10 at 12:21 am

  7. I think that until you’re about 40, learning stuff is like pouring liquid into a partially empty container. It may help to keep your memory free from frivolous details of baseball statistics and popular culture, but after you’re 40 you have to push old data aside, or reorganize it, in order to accommodate new kinds of information. The old stuff isn’t lost, but it’s not readily accessible.


    1 Feb 10 at 8:15 am

  8. Dan – Interesting that you should mention about my reaction to the scorpion sting. I’ve been thinking about that and I guess it’s my usual reaction to something that hurts, scares or intimidates me in some way. I’m referring mainly to creatures, but it applies to some other situations such as travel into unknown places. I find that if I study, photograph, or research that being, object, or situation, I soon lose any apprehensiveness.
    The scorpion actually seems quite beautiful, at least to me, when greatly magnified. I agree, there is a beauty in death – and again – it’s after you become more familiar with it. I have experienced this intimately, twice – first with my father, and then with Don – as I was the primary caregiver for both of them.
    I do believe you’re right about how these life experiences have some influence over us – it’s not all negative, or positive for that matter. What I think can be said is that we do learn something – perhaps about what it is that matters most – and learn not to waste time on that which has no real meaning. That, in itself, is a gift.


    1 Feb 10 at 9:00 am

  9. fred – It’s very true that learning – and retaining – information seems to grow more difficult as we age. Information that we use every day seems to float at the top of the heap, but once submerged, it sinks pretty fast. The scientific names are really just another language – one that become rusty just as quickly as Spanish or Swahili if it isn’t in regular use. I hope that it hasn’t gotten too far gone and that I can brush away the cobwebs and put it back to work.


    1 Feb 10 at 9:06 am

  10. Argiope aurantia!

    That’s a breakthrough for sure, bev. Sure does sound like the beginning of the end of your amnesia.

    Good to see your photos of the grasshopper and the scorpion. I keep hoping that you will see a Dactylotum bicolor:

    I remember that I loved your photos of the javelinas from last year. Will be interesting to see what else the infra-red camera senses in the desert night.


    1 Feb 10 at 8:18 pm

  11. am – Yes, it does seem like a breakthrough, doesn’t it? I would love to see a Dactylotum bicolor. Apparently, they’re around my place, but I guess I’ve arrived too late in the season to find them. However, I’ll be here a little later this spring, so perhaps I will find one around. I should check into their life cycle to see if that’s possible. I found a couple of very small grasshoppers that may have been that species in Nov. 2008, but they were juveniles. I keep setting up the camera each night hoping for something new – and I’m sure that I’ll see something other than javelina as the weather warms up. Believe it or not, the biggest problem I’ve had lately is nightime dew fogging up the camera lens! January was wetter than usual and the air has been damp in the mornings – definitely a change from last year!


    1 Feb 10 at 10:33 pm

  12. I think I understand what you experienced with your memory because I think I have experienced it to a lesser extent and for a shorter time. I would be very interested to learn exactly what’s happening in the brain. I can imagine a kind of saturation, with the current pressing events just sort of overloading the brain’s cognitive processes and taking over.

    I note that at least one web site lists Centruroides sculpturatus as the most venomous scorpion in the US. Our scorpions in the southeast apparently are of a lesser caliber. I was stung twice when I lived in Alabama, once by one that dropped from a cross beam in the living room right between my legs, and once when I rolled over in bed. Both stings were less painful than a bee sting, but it took a long time for me to stop checking between the sheets before I crawled into bed.


    2 Feb 10 at 6:23 pm

  13. Mark – I wonder about the memory thing too. I suspect there is actually something physiological going on – especially as I get a weird feeling when I’m trying to remember things – it can best be described as almost like when you rub a tiny sliver the wrong way. It’s always in roughly the same spot in my head.
    Yes, apparently the C. sculpturatus has about the worst sting – most painful – and for some people, it can be a very serious thing. I probably should have written a bit more about the sting. It was extremely painful for the first hour, less so in the next hour, and then gradually diminishing. It was a different kind of sting that a wasp or bee sting. This was more like electric shocks that were in time with my pulse. I tried putting ice on the sting, but it didn’t help greatly as the “shock” feeling seems to be deeper – I suppose right in the nerves going to the site of the sting. I was stung on my side right at my waistline, so it was kind of an annoying spot. The pulsating electric shock feeling kept up for over a day, but not nearly so strong — but noticeable. Although the sting swelled only very slightly around the actual puncture, there was an odd thing that happened and lasted for about 2 days — an area about 6 inches in diameter around the sting felt weird under the skin – sort of hard like plastic. If I pushed on that area near the center of where the sting occurred, that was quite painful. Interesting experience, but I’d rather avoid similar encounters in the future!


    2 Feb 10 at 9:20 pm

  14. I certainly am losing (or have lost) the names of things, Bev, and great chunks of “stuff” go missing from time to time. If I am patient, then the correct name or expression sometimes floats to the surface a while later – never if I am actively trying to retrieve it though. On chemo days, I can’t remember a thing.


    6 Feb 10 at 8:41 pm

  15. I forgot to say that I loved your grasshopper photo.


    6 Feb 10 at 8:42 pm

  16. Oh Bev,

    How I understand what you’ve been through. Grief is a dark vacuum. Things disappear there. Joy, simple pleasure, our life as we had known it prior to the hell of losing someone in a long painful battle.

    You didn’t relinquish two attributes to that vortex – your good heart and your great courage.

    May hope continue to warm the soil around the seeds of your new journey.

    BTW – on a ‘lighter’ note:

    How the heck did you know what bit you? I’d have died of a heart attack just worrying about teh type of scorpian that stung me?

    Cathy Wilson

    8 Feb 10 at 10:35 am

  17. Cate – When Don was doing chemo, taking meds, etc… he kept a journal to keep track of everything. We both found it essential as we couldn’t remember things from one minute to the next. Stress sure does seem to swallow up a huge part of our memory banks.

    Cathy – Yes, you’re so right. Grief is a dark vacuum. Sometimes it seems that you are immune to its pull, but then you find yourself falling into the black hole once again. I think it would be easier to deal with if, after you dealt with all of the sadness and complications, life actually went back to some semblance of the way it was before, but instead, you seem to just arrive at another place that doesn’t make much sense. Oh well. You just learn to keep trying to go on.
    Regarding the scorpion sting – I was fairly familiar with the description of how it feels to be stung — the “electric pulse” sensation is very characteristic – I guess you could call it the signature of a scorpion sting, so I was pretty sure. What was less certain was which species it would have been, but the Arizona Bark Scorpion is what I have found here before, and they also deliver the most intense sting of all species in this region. This sting was definitely “intense” as stings go. I did check online immediately to try to get some sense of how dangerous the sting might be and determined that it was probably okay to just wait and see if I had a severe reaction. I tend not to react to most stings any more than the usual, so I wasn’t too nervous. If I were the kind of person who reacts badly to bee and wasp stings, I definitely would have gone to the ER rather than wait to see what happened. All of this stuff is a lot more complicated when you are alone as you don’t know what you would do if you actually did have a reaction. Who would take you to the ER?


    8 Feb 10 at 1:48 pm

  18. […] my last post on the end of amnesia, dated January 31st, one might well be wondering if I’d regained my memory only to forget […]

  19. Bev, that is exactly what I do now – carry a small black Moleskinerie notebook (received several for Yule) in one of my pockets and write everything down as I go along. Otherwise, I am always forgetting to attend to matters which really need to be dealt with.


    27 Feb 10 at 9:57 pm

  20. […] is a follow up to my previous post concerning, among other things, my foray into night photography using an infrared game camera. As you may remember from last year, there is a population of […]

  21. Super informative witring; keep it up.


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