Sixty Years of Contact Lenses!

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my roommate in the dorm was from just west of Chicago.  We had a great year together, and one of the things I especially remember her for is the fact that she had contact lenses and wore them every day.  I was totally amazed and captivated.

Contact lenses were so new at that time that they were not yet available here in Madison.  I had been fitted with eye glasses in first grade when my teacher realized that I could not see what she had written on the blackboard.  After wearing them every day  since then, I could only imagine, with envy, what life would be like without having to wear glasses.

So the summer after that sophomore year, I went to Chicago to get fitted for contacts.  At that stage in the game, as I remember, the lenses were rigid and not gas permeable (as they are now and have been for decades).  I walked out of the eye doctor’s office with nothing on my face, no glasses perched on my nose, and, yet, I could see the individual leaves on the trees!

Never mind that it took patience to learn how to put them in and take them out.  Never mind that it took a long time for the contacts to feel comfortable.  Never mind that for days and weeks I felt like I had “sand” in my eyes.  Wearing them and being able to actually see without glasses was well worth all of it.

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At first, in addition to the “sand,” one or the other of the lenses spontaneously popped out fairly regularly, especially if I forgot and rubbed my eyes.  I remember my co-workers and I searching for one lost lens and finally finding it on the front of the shelf below the counter at the concession stand where I worked that summer.  Another time, one popped out when I was doing some early field work in a hospital; it was virtually  invisible on the terrazzo floor.  I learned then the trick to use a flashlight, and, sure enough, we found it under the bed as it reflected the beam.  And, there were many, many other incidents of a lens temporarily lost but, also, ultimately always found.

So . . . . nearly sixty years of wearing contact lenses!

In a few more days, however, the contact lens part of my daily life will be over.  I have cataract surgery scheduled for next week — first, the right eye, and, a couple weeks later, the left eye.  There will be no more contact lenses.  There will be no more carrying out the routines of cleaning and conditioning the lenses every night, of rinsing them and putting them in my eyes in the morning, of keeping the little case for the lenses scrubbed, of figuring out how best to wear or not wear them on the long airplane ride to wherever, of making sure I have the cleaner and conditioner packed for any days away from home, of dealing with a speck of something that has gotten under the lens and feels like a giant splinter leading to copious eye watering — all while I am up in front, giving a class lecture or conference presentation.

But, I have loved my contact lenses!  Once the “sand” problem resolved, I was lucky to be able to wear them long and well every day.  On more than one occasion in recent years, I have somewhat proudly told the eye clinic staff how long I had been wearing contact lenses.  And they have been unfailingly kind, reacting, of course, with total amazement!

The long familiar morning and evening routines will be gone forever.  From what I’ve heard, the colors in the world will be incredibly brighter.  I will be able to drive safely at night again.  It’ll all be good, right?  Wish me luck!

Once more, traveling Highway 12

I did a posting, on July 24 of this year, in which I began thinking about U.S. Highway 12, the road between Baraboo and Madison that I have been traveling my whole life.  I focused then on the magnificent quartzite outcroppings that are exposed in the Baraboo Hills — the remnant of an ancient mountain range that dates from an estimated 1,650 million years ago.

As I stated in my July posting, “The highway is, in fact, a living historical record of places, events and changes that have been an integral part of the region and of my life across these years.”

Traveling north toward Baraboo from Madison, just after crossing over the Baraboo Range, is a spot on the highway with significance to me.  Once, back in the late 1980s, my mother had been visiting us for a few days and I was driving her back to Baraboo.  We had made the long climb up and over the west bluff, had just started to coast back down the other side toward Baraboo, when my car suddenly went ‘dead.’  No response to the gas pedal, no sound of the motor, nothing.  I guess the brake must have worked, because we smoothly rolled over to the side of the road and stopped.  I was totally out of gas.  Never happened before in my entire life.  There was a farm house very near by.  I went to the door and shared our plight with the man who came to the door.  He very kindly filled a can with gasoline, brought it out to the car  and siphoned it into our tank.  My mother had the presence of mind to give him $10.  And we had a story to tell.  I never pass by that farm without remembering that event in our lives.

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Back to heading toward Madison again, looking east across the outwash plain, we come upon the final vestiges of the U.S. Badger Army Ammunition Works, built initially to help provide ammunition to the troops in WWII.  The “powder plant” as we called it was one of the largest in the country.  A village of houses and a school was built on the west side of the highway.  I remember staring out the car window at the guard houses along the highway and being able to see the guard with his rifle silhouetted inside. The plant was reactivated during the Korean War, and. to some extent, during the Vietnam War.  Gradually over the years, the buildings from the massive plant have been removed.  Controversy exists over the contaminated state of the land, and what it can be used for now that the plant is gone.  All that exists at this point is a museum, a rather lonely reminder of another age.  

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There are three small towns between Baraboo and Madison.  Prairie du Sac is one of them.  The name means “Prairie of the Sauk;” Sauk refers to a Native American tribe indigenous to the area.  The next town, close by, is Sauk City.  The county where Baraboo is located is Sauk County.  Wisconsin has many cities and towns and rivers that have names reflecting Native American origins.  Prairie du Sac is well known in the area for the large numbers of bald eagles that congregate along the nearby Wisconsin River during certain times of the year.  A viewing platform has been built right downtown, overlooking the river. to enable people to watch for the eagles. You can see the image of an eagle on the left stone pillar of the Prairie du Sac sign; you can also see a sampling of small town entertainment being advertised.                                                                                   

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Lastly, moving on toward Madison, driving up and over another of Wisconsin’s rolling hills (appropriately named Sauk Hill), a small gravestone used to be visible close to the highway, on the left, at the edge of a nearby woodsy area.  At some point in our many travels on the highway, we realized the gravestone was no longer there.  Ed and I were intrigued, and finally one day we stopped to explore.  We walked through the brush and into the woods and quite soon found a whole cemetery, with graves dating back into the 1800s.  “Oh, here’s a gravestone.  Oh, here’s another.  Oh, there’s a whole bunch of them!”   We had discovered a ‘secret’ cemetery.   Most of the epitaphs were in German, presumably from an early German settlement.  Such a strong reminder of an earlier time, before Wisconsin became a state, when early European people, in this case immigrants from Germany, were arriving in the area and settling down to make a new home.   I was on Highway 12 recently and was going to stop to once more find the cemetery in the woods.  But I was surprised to find the brush and trees so thick that I found it daunting to try to fight my way through.  A Highway 12 widening to 4 lanes that took place in recent years was obviously respectfully diverted around the area where the cemetery is located.  So, this ‘final resting place’ is presumably still there and still on the survey maps.  Rest in Peace.

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Ah — the Wild Things Again

I wrote a posting, maybe a year ago, about the presence of wild things in our urban neighborhood — a deer in the yard next door, turkey vultures roosting in the big spruce tree in our neighbor’s back yard on their way north in the spring, a fox making the circuit in our back yard one morning at breakfast time.  Our neighborhood blog includes sightings of coyotes, opossums, and raccoons by others in the area.  There is something life giving about having wild creatures right here in our daily lives. Such sightings are often moments of gentle excitement and pleasure for us (apart from the opossum, which is not a thing of beauty by any stretch of the imagination).

Well, here is another kind of wild thing.

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This little beauty planted itself in the depths of one of our window wells — a spot with very little exposed soil and little or no direct sunlight.  I noticed the flower and photographed it through a window in our basement (that’s the window sill on the bottom of the picture),

There is something very cheerful about this wayward plant.  We have some Corydalis planted by design in our backyard garden, but this little lady wanted to pick her own site, overcoming hardships of marginal soil and light to take root at the bottom of a window well.  A sign of an adventurous spirit and escape from the planned boundaries of the garden.  I felt a surge of “gentle excitement and pleasure” upon discovering it, and I have been daily finding enjoyment in its presence since.  A small example of the beauty that we can find in our everyday lives.  .