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So apparently there was an abscess in my tooth, but it was too small to see on February 20 when I went to my regular dentist. A week later, when I went to the endodontist, it was clearly visible.

So, yesterday (March 2, 2017), I had a root canal. My mouth is still a little sore. It’s more or less like a bruise, where it only hurts when I bite down on it. I’m mostly treating it with ibuprofen and soft foods. It looks like it could hurt for another few days. Maybe a week.

Apparently, if you hurt before you get the root canal, it increases the possibility that you’ll have pain afterwards, because it takes a while for the area around the tooth to adjust to the new status quo.

I’m still going to be visiting parks and things while I convalesce because moderate exercise can help wounds heal faster and I have a doozy right now. Someone just scraped out the entire contents of my tooth and filled it with porcelain, after all.

Also, I’m out of eggs in Pokemon Go and I need to replenish my supply.

I was about a hundred words into my next My Travel Memories post (on Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta) when I, well, let’s start at the beginning.

In July of 2016, I had pain in one of my molars (#19, for those who care about such things). I had just gotten dental insurance for the first time since 2009 but I didn’t have a relationship with a dentist yet. After this, I got a dentist. She x-rayed the tooth and didn’t see any kind of infection or anything like that, so she decided that it was probably referred pain from tension in the masseter.  She recommended that I take 800 mg of ibuprofen and see if that helped. It did.

Fast forward to his past Saturday (February 18). I was eating apples and almonds for lunch when the pain came back. This time, though, the ibuprofen didn’t help. Sunday night the pain interfered with my sleep.

So I called my dentist to see if she could fit me in for a quick exam. There still wasn’t any sign of an infection, so she concluded that I probably have a cracked tooth and gave me a prescription for painkillers and the phone number of an endodontist so that he can pull off the crown on that tooth and examine the tooth for cracks. She also gave me a prescription for antibiotics, because sometimes a crack can have bacteria in it and the bacteria can cause pain. I discussed it with one of my pharmacists because I didn’t want to take it if I didn’t need to.

The next appointment they had was a full week later. So I got more painkillers and, when on Wednesday night the pain spread up to my ear and was just excruciating. I decided that perhaps the time had come to fill that antibiotic prescription. I took my first antibiotic on Wednesday night and by Thursday morning I was feeling 500% better.

Then I noticed a small swollen area on my gum on that side. So apparently there were bacteria in there, but not enough to show up as an abscess on the x-ray.

I’m feeling much better now, so hopefully I can go back and finish that blog post.  I haven’t decided if I am going to leave those first hundred or so words, or if I’ll rewrite it. Let’s see what it looks like when I tackle it tomorrow.

As an aside, in my paying myself to study foreign languages project, I hit the $100 mark this week. I’m going to add that money to the next CD that I purchase, so that I can continue keeping track of my income from this project. If I were to put it on the stock market it wouldn’t increase at an easy-to-track pace.

Rain Forest for Sale, by Scott Wallace photographs by Tim Laman, Ivan Kashinsky, Karla Gachet, David Liittschwager, and Steve Winter

Wow! That’s quite the listing of photographers. Each photographer was assigned a particular subject area to photograph. Laman photographed primates and birds, Kashinsky and Gachet photographed people, Liitschwager photographed the “microfauna” (which apparently means bugs and things in this case; microfauna usually means things like protozoans and tardigrades) and Winter photographed the people.

Rain Forest for Sale is about the exploitation for oil of the national parks of Ecuador. Wallace and the team of photographers traveled to Ecuador to capture the lives of the people and fauna of the region so as to bring awareness of the plight that the indigenous peoples of the region are in.

One of the things that is highlighted and that particularly appalled me (so obviously their highlighting of the issue worked the way it was intended) is that the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, offered not to exploit the oil in part of this sensitive area if the people of other countries would give Ecuador $3.6 Billion. My initial response was, “Nice park we have here. Shame if something were to happen to it.” I don’t think that’s how a protection racket is supposed to work. I think you’re supposed to protect your own natural areas, not threaten to destroy them if others won’t pay you off.

It didn’t work, by the way. In September 2016, they started drilling for oil in that area of the park.

Into the Unknown, by David Roberts, photographs by Frank Hurley

In 1912, an explorer, Douglas Mawson, sent out eight teams of three men to explore Antarctica. They weren’t trying to get to the South Pole, they just wanted to find out as much as they could about our southernmost continent.

Mawson’s team fell into trouble about a month into their part of the expedition. A sinkhole opened up behind Mawson’s sledge and one of their team members, half of their dogs, their tent, all of the food for the sled dogs, and most of the food for the humans. So, of course, the remaining two members of the team, headed immediately back to their home base.

As they traveled, they lost their dogs one by one (they euthanized each dog with a bullet and then ate the dogs to preserve the remainder of their food). Then Mawson’s human companion died. Mawson buried him in the snow and kept going. As Mawson’s body began to fail, he began to despair, but he kept moving. Finally, he returned to the base camp and found that, while their ship had left without them, some men had stayed behind to look for Mawson’s team. It would take another ten months for the ship to return.

Mawson and Mertz had to get rid of any unnecessary equipment that they carried, which included their camera.

Mawson died in 1958. Frank Hurley, the photographer for this article, was also on the 1912 expedition and, near as I can tell, these are his photos from that expedition.

London Down Under, by Roff Smith, photographs by Simon Norfolk

Okay, so cities build on top of the remains of previous generations.  In London Down Under (more on my reaction to that title later), we are told that the old layers of London go down 30 feet.  I would assume that the materials the higher levels are built from came from outside the city and thus the city itself is getting more prominent. If this happens in all cities, would the planet actually kind of start getting bigger?  You can tell I didn’t sleep well last night.  I’m still a little loopy.

London was always one of the places I’ve wanted to visit, and when I had my cancer, I didn’t want to die without having been to the UK, London in particular, so we went.  It took a toll on our credit cards, but it was worth it.  I loved London and would love to go back someday.

London Down Under is about the archaeological digs that they are doing in London, the things they are finding, and how, contrary to what you might have expected, the dampness of London is actually protecting the artifacts. One of the archaeologists that Smith interviews, Sadie Watson, says that items that would have rotted away centuries ago. I’m trying to figure out how that would even work. I can find references to how salt water preserves artifacts, but not fresh water, like that of the Thames and the underground rivers such as the Walbrook. The water would make an anaerobic environment, but that would still leave anaerobic organisms, and anaerobic organisms can break things down.  That is the source of fermentation, after all — fungi breaking down carbohydrates in an anaerobic environment.

Now to my issue with the title.  “Down Under” generally means “Australia,” or, rarely “New Zealand” or, even more rarely, someplace like Chile, Argentina. I haven’t been able to find one dictionary that defines the term as “subterranean.”

The Changing Face of Saudi Women, by Cynthia Gorney photographs by Lynsey Addaria

Gorney and Addaria travel into the world of the women of Saudia Arabia. And I use the term “world” intentionally. Saudi Arabia is one of the most, if not the most, sexually segregated countries in the world.  Women have different places to sit in restaurants, different lines at the grocery store, and entirely separate areas of the shopping mall.  Not that men are forbidden entirely in some of these places but the only men who are allowed there are husbands or immediate family members of the women in question.

Apparently, some of the women of Saudi Arabia, at least, don’t see their segregation as creating a female ghetto but rather as a safe space rather like women-only colleges and universities.  Women got the right to vote in 2015, the same year that women were first allowed to be members of the Consultative Assembly, which is, from what I can tell, more or less like a combination of Congress (in that they draft laws) and the President’s Cabinet (in that they are merely advisory and don’t make the actual decisions) in the United States. But Saudi women still cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.  Some women drive outside the country, and it apparently is pretty common for cars to stop just over the border into Bahrain and for the woman to take over driving.  So, when women do get the ability to drive legally in Saudi Arabia, at least some won’t need to be taught.

For the entertainment value, I went to look at the King Fahd Causeway, which links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, on Google Earth to see if I could see any cars doing this, and there definitely appears to be a car on the shoulder just past Bahrain Passport Control. Maybe that car wasn’t switching drivers, but just maybe it was.

Midnight Slalom, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Oskar Enander

Midnight Slalom is a short piece with accompanying photographs about a 2014 nighttime shoot of skiers on the slopes of mountains in Alaska and British Columbia. The pictures are breathtaking.

I know that getting a consistent 10,000 steps per day is not really likely to happen in my life at the moment.  I walk a lot, but I just stand still for even longer and standing is exhausting in itself.  So, when I first started using the SHealth app on my phone, I counted my steps for a couple of days and then added a couple hundred more to push me a bit harder.  The total I came up with for the day was 8,200.  And, over the first year and a half that I used the app, I got so that having an average of 8,200 steps per day for an entire month got to be pretty easy. I didn’t necessarily make it every day, but I did more days than not, and was able to make up the excess so that I got the average nearly every month.

Then May 2016 happened.

I got off to a kind of weak start because May 1 was a Sunday and I generally don’t work Sundays.  Alex and I went to see a movie and then walked for about 20 minutes, which works out to about 2,000 steps.  So that’s an average of 2,000 steps per day for the month of May.  Then I was off on May 4 and didn’t get an early enough start to do much walking.  By the time I got my act together, it was starting to get too warm to walk.  On May 7, I worked the municipal election, so I didn’t get my full steps that day, either.  Then I came down with some kind of virus on May 16.  For the next week, it took a Herculean effort to even hit my goal for the day, much less start on the shortage.

So now it’s about bedtime on May 25 and I only have six days left in the month.  I also am still 47,000 steps short for the month, which means that I need to average 7,800 steps per day for the next six days.  Two of these days are my days off, though.  If I don’t do any walking on either of those days,  I need 12,000 steps per day on the four days that I’m working.

Will I make it?  If I remember to do so, I will post on June 1 and let you know.

Sea Wolves, by Susan McGrath, photographs by Paul Nicklen

Sea Wolves is about, well, wolves that live near the sea. Apparently, scientists generally considered the wolves that they saw on the beach of the coast of British Columbia to be ordinary forest-dwelling wolves that were searching for food at the beach.  But recently, scientists have begun studying the wolves that they see near the shores and they have discovered that the wolves never really leave the shoreline. They live on barnacles and dead whales, but during spawning season, salmon can make up to 25% of their diet. The shore-dwelling wolves also mate pretty much exclusively with other shore-dwelling wolves, so the populations are totally distinct from one another and are likely to become more so.

Of course, the local residents had known most of this for years.  It just took a little longer for the scientists to catch up, apparently.

Abstraction Finds Beauty in Beasts, story and photographs by Michael D. Kern

Yep, that’s the title.  Don’t ask me.

Kern is a photographer who has always has liked reptiles and invertebrates and other “icky” animals.  He first takes a photograph of said animal and looks for patterns, colors, shapes, and so forth.  Then he uses that to build an abstract photograph of the animal in order to show off the beauty of the animal.

In this article, we see Kern’s original photographs and his abstract art based on those photographs for a bird, a snake, a tarantula, a millipede, a mantis, and two different species of chameleon. I think the millipede is my favorite.  The original animal has red legs and black-and-white stripes on its shell.

I have a very high tolerance for bugs and things.  I’m the only person I know who, when asked, “Would you like to (hold/touch) (name of “icky” creature)?” almost always says “yes.”  I’ve been able to hold, touch, and/or pet several species of snake, a tarantula, and a bat, among others.  For anyone reading this who is worried about my rabies status, the bat had been confiscated from traffickers and it was impossible to repatriate it, so it was given into custody of a trained professional bat-handler.  She had had custody of it for several years by then, so I knew that it wasn’t infected with rabies or ebola or anything. The fur was, by the way, incredibly soft.

Technically, I guess, I should be profiling Grant Park first, since Grant Park is older, and larger, and more important to the city’s history.  But I’ve been researching Millennium Park recently, so I’m going to profile it first while it’s fresh in my mind.

When Millennium Park first debuted, I had been in San Antonio for more than a decade.  All of the reporting on it was of the same vein as the official city website’s statement, You might never guess that Millennium Park, recipient of the 2009 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, was once an industrial wasteland.  I am well aware that human memory is flawed, but for the life of me, all that I could remember on the site was a grassy area with a colonnade and a row of trees backed by a low wall with some kind of decorative columns on top.  Despite articles praising Millennium Park for saving us from unsightly boxcars, I couldn’t remember a single dam boxcar. Additionally, several articles talked about the new colonnade that was in the park, and as I said before, I distinctly remember a colonnade on the corner of Michigan and Randolph.

Finally after one too many articles, I finally went digging through old photographs and realized that the boxcars that people were worrying about were there, but they were below grade, meaning that if you weren’t looking at them from above, you can’t see them.  And I wasn’t in the habit of looking out of really high-up windows down at the street level in that direction in that area.  From the Sears Tower, yes.  From the seventh floor of Marshall Field’s, sure.  From the third floor of the Chicago Cultural Center towards Washington Street, even. But I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when I was in the buildings that front on that area (including the Prudential Buildings, the AON tower, or anything of that sort), and could see down into that ditch.

You see, most of downtown Chicago has been raised.  When Chicago was founded, the area which is now downtown was on more or less the same level as the lake, which meant that there was nowhere for the water to go, and the city was a swampy mess. In the 1800s, the city decided to put a system of drainage ditches where the current roads were, then build new roads on top of them.  Then they would raise the buildings to the new street level.  This new higher street level carries through all of the Loop, but farther north, you can still see some buildings that are at the original grade.  If you stand at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Illinois Street, you can see what I’m talking about because while I used the term “intersection,” the streets don’t actually intersect.  Illinois Street is a good ten feet or so below the level of Michigan Avenue.

So now we’re going to leave this and come at it from another direction. Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan is in large part why it became the major city that it is. Ships would come up the St. Lawrence and through the Great Lakes to Lake Michigan, then would load or unload cargo, or both, then go back out.  Because the cargo needed to get to and from the ships, Chicago became (and still is) a major railroad hub. Because of this, there are rail lines and even rail yards in the downtown area. I’m trying to find the article I read where they talked about how the tracks that are meant by the words “industrial wasteland” above, property of the Illinois Central Railroad, were inviolable.

Those tracks, as well as a parking lot, are still there under the park. The city got airspace rights to the area over the railroad tracks and parking lot, and constructed the park there at current street level.

Millennium Park is likely best known for its artwork.  The two most notable pieces are the Cloud Gate, which is a large bean-shaped sculpture made of reflective plates of stainless steel and the Crown Fountain, which is a black granite area that has two gigantic glass screens, one at either end.  The screens show photographs of the faces of Chicagoans.  The faces smile and things, and then mouths of the faces pucker and water emerges in a, well, fountain from the center, making it look as though the water is coming from the mouths. While it was not part of the intended function of the fountain, the Crown Fountain has become a sort of water park, with people (generally, but not exclusively, children) standing under the stream and playing in the basin.

Millennium Park also has the five-acre Lurie Garden, a new colonnade which surrounds yet another fountain, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (a concert and event venue), the BP Pedestrian bridge and an outdoor public skating rink, all within a 24.5-acre space.  The City of Chicago website says that all of the amenities of Millennium Park were designed to be handicap accessible.

So, today one of my co-workers said, “There aren’t any good parks in this part of the city.” Well, one of the things that Alex and I do on our weekends is explore city and county parks (and parks beyond the city and county), so I took that as a challenge.

At first, one of the pharmacists suggested Friedrich Wilderness Park (one of my personal favorites), which is up a ways on Interstate 10.  I then asked what my coworker considered to be “this part of the city,” and she said, “north of downtown.”

I then listed Government Canyon State Park and Hardberger Park and Walker Ranch Park and Denman Estate Park.  The other pharmacist said, “There’s one on Bandera, isn’t there?” This is Schnabel Park.

Finally, before I got too out of control, I said, “I can do this all day, but just one more.  Eisenhower Park, which is straight up Northwest Military until you run out of street.”

I didn’t even get to mention Guadalupe River State Park, or Crownridge Canyon Park or the Cibolo Nature Center (which is in Boerne and the last time we were out there, there was talk about making the other side of City Park Road a park, and they might just have done this by the look of things) or Stone Oak Park (which was not as wooded as Google Maps made it look, so Alex and I promised to come back once the weather was cooler) or any of the probably a dozen other parks I’ve visited in the last couple of years. I even found another new park while I was writing this post — Panther Springs Park.

I really can do this all day, but it’s my bedtime now so I’m going to stop here.  However, since you are not a captive audience and can leave whenever you want, I will be writing up all of these parks (and probably some more that I can’t remember right now) as individual South Texas Destinations posts in the future.

Before I go to bed, however, one more thing. I had two problems with essay questions when I was in school.  One of these was that I have some sort of motor coordination disorder.  I’m not actually handicapped so you’d notice, but I have always had poor both fine and gross motor skills (this may be part of why walking is my major form of exercise — I know I can do it successfully). As a result of this motor coordination problem, writing by hand is very tiring for me.  I’d get tired long before I ran out of ideas on essay questions (I also never knew that other students didn’t have this kind of hand fatigue from writing — I always sort of assumed that the pain and fatigue was part of the test).  The other is that it never occurred to me that the point of essay questions was to just dump whatever you can remember onto the page.  It seemed that they should be written well.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be an essay so much as a bullet-point list.  As a result, if I couldn’t make an idea fit into the flow of what I was writing, I would just leave that idea out, which led me to often only listing part of what I knew.

All of this is in aid of me sticking in an idea that I can’t make flow with the rest of this post. Back about eight years ago or so, San Antonio came out really high on one of those “fattest cities” lists.  One of the websites reporting on it, possibly the originating site, blamed at least part of it on having a very low number of parks per capita. While I was writing this, I found one article, from 2009 (San Antonio was #3 on this list), but I don’t think it’s the one I was thinking of (I swear I remember my ex talking to me about it and we split up before 2009). The number of parks in the 2009 article was 214.  It seems like every street corner has a park these days.  I wonder if some of the parks that I’ve been visiting, and that I will write about, were created after 2009. The Howard W. Peak Greenway System, which are paths that follow the creeks, was approved by voters for the first time in 2000, but I don’t know when the first trails opened.  I think that I may make a note on my posts on city parks what year they were founded, just to see if my perception that many of these parks date from after that checks out.

As to whether these kinds of rankings actually mean anything,  I found this article at PubMed, which I am linking to so that I can save the link to read in the future. Maybe I’ll read it tomorrow, while I’m on my lunch.

The Unexpected Walrus, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Paul McNicklen

I am unclear on what is unexpected here.  The Unexpected Walrus is a brief sort of biological sketch of the species and the effect that human activity can have on their numbers.  Walruses’ whiskers are apparently very sensitive and they can hoover up food from the ocean floor like no one’s business.

It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good, however, and apparently global warming is exposing more clams, which are a main source of food, than the walruses would normally have been able to get to.  So as difficult as humans have made the life of the walrus, at least the walrus is finding food more plentiful than in the past.

The Weed that Won the West, by George Johnson, photographs by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

The Weed that Won the West is a quick read about the history and lifecycle of the tumbleweed, more formally known as “Russian thistle” and also of Johnson’s history with said plant. Johnson, who has been fighting tumbleweeds ever since he and his wife bought a horse ranch in New Mexico, compares the tumbleweed to a The Outer Limits episode, “Cry of Silence,” in which a young couple are menaced by sentient tumbleweeds.

Turns out tumbleweeds don’t actually need sentience to be menacing, because they are pretty much optimized* to reproduce.  As tumbleweeds tumble along, they are shedding seeds.  Then the seeds can lie dormant for years, but can germinate in as little as 36 minutes. The plant also has a taproot which can reach a depth of six feet.  This means that you can pull all of the plants out of the ground and it can still grow a new plant from the taproot.  And even after you think you’ve gotten all of the plants off of your property, there still can be seeds in the dirt waiting to sprout. The only defense I have been able to find is that the seeds cannot germinate in packed dirt, which is kind of impractical.  In order to use this defense, every square foot of land in the area must somehow be packed down perfectly and remain packed down until all of the seeds have lost their ability to germinate.

Before I moved to San Antonio, I imagined that it looked like an old west city, like Dodge City in the old movies, with tumbleweeds tumbling down the streets.  Thank goodness it isn’t. I have enough fun trying to keep on top of the runners that my live oak trees put out.  I don’t want to have to wrestle with tumbleweeds on top of that.

*You have no idea how much time it took me to find the word “optimized” — I almost went with “maximized,” because it was pretty close.  I also researched “tribbles,” even though I’m not terribly gung-ho on Star Trek (I’m more of a Babylon 5 girl, myself) in hopes that I’d stumble across the right word.  Finally I stuck “maximized for reproduction” into Google and the second hit was titled, “Optimal Reproduction Tactics,” and the rest was history.

I’m in no way a National-Geographic-quality photographer (though I am trying to learn some secrets to taking better photos), but I do enjoy taking photographs. 

When I was little, my folks had a black-and-white Polaroid Swinger.  Cameras were pretty expensive back then, and I was really young, so the camera was my parents’ property and I wasn’t allowed to use it at all.

When I was maybe 11 or so (I’m sure I’ll pick out the exact date as I find more of my family’s old photographs), my dad got a Polaroid SX-70 camera.  For those who are unfamiliar with Polaroids of the 1970s, this was the first camera where the film auto-ejected and the picture would develop as you watched it.  When my dad got this camera, I finally got one of my own — the old Swinger.  So I think that every black-and-white photo in the albums after this point is likely to be mine.

My mom sent me to Girl Scouts for years.  The first few years were pretty good, despite the sexism in a lot of the materials (A “housekeeping” badge?  Really?).  Later I got into a group that were mostly strangers and all of my friends dropped out.  This was the beginning of the end of Girl Scouts for me.   In that era, we had a project on photography and the theory was that we were going to get a chance to develop our photographs in a real darkroom, so I had to buy black-and-white 35mm film and borrow someone’s Kodak camera.  I ended up needing to take my photos in to be professionally developed.  I cannot remember if we ran out of time or if I was sick the day that we developed them, or we had some kind of family event planned and I missed it.

In what I am pretty sure was now 1981, my mom got a Kodak (I keep wanting to type “Kodiak” for some reason) disk camera, which she allowed me to use.  On our 1988 vacation, I think I took as many pictures with it as she did.

I got married in 1991.  My (now-ex) husband and I each got a cheap 35mm camera.  We used those things for years. I think I have three of them around here because one time (I think it was our trip to Wisconsin) one of us left ours at home and we had to buy another one. 

In the late 1990s, my ex-husband started buying digital cameras.  I was allowed to use them, but they were primarily his.  At this point, I mostly used those cheap disposable cameras.  We upgraded digital cameras twice before we split up in 2008. 

Once I was on my own, I went out and bought my own digital camera (then a year later I ended up getting a job at that same Walmart).  I needed to keep it inexpensive, and ended up with a Nikon Coolpix.  I still have it and use it a few times a year.  I use my Galaxy S5 phone as a camera more often, simply because I have it with me.  During our 2014 trip to Italy, I took probably close to 2,000 pictures, around 700 of which were with my Nikon.

By the way, I get a real kick out of the Google “Auto Awesome” feature.  It has taken some of my best photos and made them better.  It has also taken some of my more . . . interesting photos and made them, well, more interesting.  In 2014, I took a picture of a pigeon in Newark Liberty International Airport and for some reason, that is the picture that Google decided to “Auto Awesome.”  I can’t explain that one.

(originally posted May 14, 2015; edited July 9, 2015.)