Hiking with Euclid

Sharan and I are in our second week at the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival. Yesterday we went for a half-day hike on the Appalachian Trail. Views into the Shenandoah Valley were magnificent.

Because the trail was rocky and uneven, for me walking was awkward and occasionally quite challenging. In the steepest parts I resorted to using all fours (not elegant, but effective). Every fifteen minutes or so, my swift trail mates waited for me to catch up.

Our hosts offered me a walking staff to use for the hike. I had never tried one before, but discovered a third “leg” was helpful in traversing uneven ground.

Early on, it was a fun toy. Initially, I held it in my strong right hand, but soon I practiced coordination skills by holding it in my (stroke-affected) left hand.

Challenging my disabled side always results in a change in consciousness, which opens doors to new insights and thinking projects. Yesterday I found myself playing a really quick game about triangles. I imagined my two feet and the tip of the walking stick as vertices. The triangle constantly shifted and inverted as I walked. And (because I was only conceptualizing in two dimensions) with each step the point momentarily become a line. It was difficult to follow the changes, especially if I tried too hard (in which case my thinking become labored, clumsy, and muddled).

I continue to do visualization exercises to strengthen my mental focus and imagination, often with color, sound, and shifting geometric figures. This game was new and fun. Since I could only hold the requisite attention for short periods of time, I played in installments.

As the hike progressed and I tired, my general coordination started to fade. I eventually came to realize that I was becoming overly reliant on the staff. So I stopped using it.

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