Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I’d be willing to bet that few of you know that if you have had your number 12 (upper left first bicuspid) tooth pulled and have no falsie taking its place, that it is a perfect place for green peas to get stuck. I have become aware of this and numerous other facts since my September 24th extraction. There is, of course, a story for this.

While I was in California, friends of mine leant me the use of their house at Tahoe Keys for a few days of R and R in the middle of the time period of my stay in Sacramento. Abner and I drove up to the lake on August 14th and were expecting company on the 15th, so I decided that for that first night alone, I would pop into Raley’s Grocery at South Lake Tahoe and buy some easy fixings for a dinner at home. I hit the deli for some ready to go salads, and bought a boneless rib eye steak and a potato. I figured that this would be the easiest possible meal at home I could make. Back at the house, I fired up the barbecue and grilled the steak to the level of medium rare that I consider perfection.

Dinner went fine until about 2/3 of the way through the steak I bit down and got a jolt in my number 12 tooth. Truthfully, at that point, I wasn’t sure which tooth I had injured, or even that I had injured a tooth at all, and I certainly couldn’t have told you which one number 12 was. It was a little sore but not bad, and I finished the meal.

For the days that Jim Sundquist visited with me at the lake, nothing too much happened that would have lead me to believe that I had done anything major. I decided to see if after a few days, it would go back to feeling normal. Well, as it turned out, the pain went away very quickly, and there was nothing visibly wrong with the tooth or its neighbors. I flossed like crazy though because I could feel that something had shifted in my bite and that felt very weird.

After about 10 days, when I had no discomfort and no clear sign that there was any damage, but I still had the sense that the teeth weren’t hitting each other correctly, I called my dentist in Asheville, Adam Hodges, to describe what was going on and see if he thought I should seek help while I was still in Sacramento and knew dentists.

Adam was very reassuring. He told me that I had probably either broken the tooth or my jaw, and that in either case, the only harm in waiting to deal with it until I got home was that I might have some pain to deal with. He told me that if, while I was on the road, it really started to bother me, he could call in pain meds for me and that I could make it home with no problem. Armed with this information, I ignored the odd feeling of a messed up occlusion and continued on the trip. Around the time I was in South Dakota or Minnesota, I called Adam’s office to book an appointment for a day shortly after my return.

By that point in the trip, the gums around the tooth were puffy and occasionally bled a little. Since I have been pretty obsessed with gum health my whole adult life, you can imagine how distressing and mystifying this was. When I finally got home and went in to see Adam, I told him that my diagnosis was that there must be a splinter or shred of something from that damned rib eye that was stuck in between the tooth and the gum that was causing the irritation and the sense that the teeth had moved. Sadly, Adam had other ideas. After x-rays and various observations, Adam concluded that the tooth had a vertical crack going right down the center of the tooth. The gum irritation was caused by what was by then more than 5 weeks of bacterial action navigating down through the crack. What he told me was that the only solution was to pull the tooth and replace it with an implant. My first reaction after the shock of realizing that, at almost 60 years of age, I was going to lose a tooth, was “what does this entail and how much will it cost?”

The short version of this is that with all the temporary stuff that normally goes with losing a tooth and replacing it with an implant, the price tag comes to just about $4,500! Expensive goddam steak! As it turns out, it also takes at least a half-year to get through the process of having one of these precious devices installed in your mouth. First there is the 6-week wait after the extraction during which time the bone heals and fills up the space where the roots of the tooth used to be. Then you have to go to the oral surgeon who will install the titanium base for the new tooth so he can decide whether or not you are ready. Some people have to have a portion of their sinuses filled with cadaver tissue if there isn’t enough bone between where the implant will go and the sinus. Then, there is the wait to get on the schedule to have the work done (an additional 4 weeks in my case). Once the little titanium bolt that will form the base of the tooth is installed, there is roughly another 4-month wait for it to get firmly secured in new bone tissue. The dentist or surgeon then can open your gum, below which the titanium is hiding, determine that it is firmly secured, and attach another piece of titanium inside of it to make impressions for the underside of the crown that the lab will make. The gum is then closed back up temporarily while the final crown is constructed, only to be reopened for the final attachment of the porcelain crown on top of the two pieces of attached titanium, by now firmly anchored in your skull or jaw.

Yesterday, I had my consult with Eddie Rodgers, a dental resident at the School of Dentistry of the Georgia College of Medicine in Augusta. There are certainly surgeons here who can do this kind of work, but Adam said he knows Eddie well and that he has done at least 3 dozen of these implants and is training under a director who has done zillions. Apparently the technologies used in the schools are the state of the art, whatever that is at any given time, and the cost of the work is dramatically lower. Sounded good to me.

Eddie is a very engaging gregarious South Carolinian in his late 30s, who took the time to not only thoroughly explain the process to me, but to show me every part and piece involved in the procedure and to even show me mockups of various people’s mouths with implants in varying degrees of completion. It was actually very reassuring. I think if he said he had a cancellation yesterday afternoon and that if I could stay an extra couple of hours he could do it then and there, I would have gone for it. Unfortunately, I am scheduled for early December instead. I guess they are pretty busy. I have no doubt that as this project progresses, there will be more to tell.

Sunday nights are turning into my favorite time in downtown Asheville. Abner and I walk every night for about 40 minutes on a variety of routes in downtown, and I have to deal with the questions of passersby that I have written about in the past with frustrating regularity. Since the heavy tourism season in Asheville is slowing down, things are generally getting better. I still have to count on fielding the usual assortment of corny remarks about saddles and ponies and an equal number of polar bear cracks, but the simple reduction in the number of people on the streets helps cut the encounters down to a more tolerable volume. Still, Friday and Saturday nights are big nights downtown, if for no other reason than the popularity of a lot of the clubs and restaurants among locals. Sunday, though, is amazing. We can head out of the condo around 9:00 or so and pretty much walk almost without incident for the whole 40 minutes. There are blocks where we literally don’t see a soul. It is on these quiet evenings that I have started really checking out the store windows. Abner still feels compelled to pee on pretty much every vertical surface in town so there are annoyingly frequent sniff-n-pee stops, but having a chance to really check out Chocolate Fetish, Mobilia, Three Dog Bakery, Malaprops, Sensibilities, and so many other places that I simply cruise by during the day, is really enjoyable. I love looking into the art galleries at night too. Several of them light the art at night but generally keep the spaces dark. This is a very dramatic way to see the art, and I have to say, if I had any money and any space for more art, I would probably be buying some of the work I have seen at night.

There still is this problem of smokers. The sidewalks are lined with smokers a lot of the time we walk. Many of these people are either workers or customers of the restaurants and bars that flourish downtown, and they aren’t allowed to smoke inside so they are forced out onto Asheville’s small-scale sidewalks to indulge in their habit. Having never been a smoker, I find it particularly repellent and try to avoid these folks when I can because the smell is so foul to my sensibility, but sometimes it is impossible. A lot of these folks are perfectly nice people and they often want to pet Abner or stop me to chat and it is tricky getting past them quickly without seeming rude. What is really disturbing though is the habit most of them seem to think is perfectly OK. . .finishing the cigarette and them simply throwing the butt on the ground, sometimes without even putting it out. I don’t know why anyone thinks this is any different from any other kind of litter. They simply fling this smoking stinky paper and tobacco stump slathered in saliva on the sidewalk like it doesn’t matter. It’s disgusting.

Surviving the election season was different this year than in the past. As almost everyone knows by now, for the first time in ages, North Carolina was actually in play and hotly contested, not only between the presidential candidates, but in the senatorial and gubernatorial races as well. The Dems did really well here this year but not as a result of a quiet or polite campaign. I think Liddy Dole didn’t know that she was actually going to have to campaign for her seat until about two months before the election and when she started, the shit really hit the fan. Hers was pretty much the ugliest of the campaigns. We were subjected to almost relentless robo-calls in the waning days of the campaign as well as TV spots during which you would thank God for a mute button and the lack of smellovision. The day before the election I received 14 robo-calls, 9 of which came from the Dole campaign. One was from the Obama campaign, 3 from McCain, and one I think was from the RNC on behalf of the poor guy who ran against Bev Perdue for Governor. On Election Day I got another 8 from the lugubrious Ms Dole and one from John McCain himself. . .at least that is what the voice said. I am going to suggest that the State make some kind of arrangement whereby if you vote early, like somewhere in the range of 30% of the electorate did, the campaigns can get daily updates so they can remove us early voters from their databases. I voted on October 16th, the very first day it was allowed, and still was pelted for weeks by these calls. There should be a way to stop it.

I have resisted making any kind of political statements on this blog in the past, but this election, particularly in North Carolina, was a dramatic one. As for the results of the election, I have to admit that my greatest joy was seeing Elizabeth Dole beaten by far larger numbers than McCain. She cannot delude herself into thinking that she lost on Obama coattails. She lost because she completely ignored the electorate in the State she was supposed to represent and acted like Bush and the Republican Party were the only constituents who mattered. I hope Kay Hagen learns from this and when she goes to Washington, pays some attention to the people who sent her there. Neither party and no President deserves unquestioning loyalty. In my opinion, if there was a single overriding error the Republican Party made while they held Congress and the White House, it was rolling over to the will of the President instead of performing their duties as one of the three independent branches of the Federal Government. I am hopeful that Barack Obama makes better decisions than those of his predecessor, but if he doesn’t, it is the responsibility of Congress, including the members of his own party, to correct him. If we wanted a king we would be in Saudi Arabia.

Fall color here, while maybe not as spectacular as in 2006, was quite beautiful and lasted over what seemed to me to be a longer period than in previous years. There was actually a subtlety to the colors on the large mountainsides this year that looked even more like they had been painted. Hopefully some of it will be discernable in the pictures I post.

We had a brief visit in October from Greg Jackson, Rex and Anne’s nephew, and his GF Jenna, who are on something of an odyssey. Both are Harvard grads, although Jenna is pretty freshly minted. Greg graduated a couple years ago and is an aspiring writer. He is writing journal that he emails to friends and family, and when he and Jenna stumbled into Asheville and discovered some of it’s appeal, he drafted a wonderful email to family members that Anne forwarded to me. Within a couple days we arranged to have wine and dessert together. It was fun for me although spending time with people in their early to mid-20s is definitely a good way for someone my age to be reminded of the difference. We talked about travel, my recent experiences of 8 weeks on the road with Abner fresh in mind, and about blogging. Jenna is hoping to start posting to a blog, but has some trepidation about it. From my experience, it is best to write in much the same vocabulary with which I converse. Since I started the blog with the expectation that it would be read by old friends from Sacramento, it seemed to make sense to have it sound like a letter from me as much as anything else. Probably if I made more of an effort, it could come across as something more literary, but I don’t seem to be making that effort. Greg’s writing, from what I gathered from the one email I received, is much more descriptive.

During the course of the evening, I urged them not to venture out from the South without hitting Charleston. I think the biggest selling point was the bowl of PEI mussels at Slightly North of Broad that I described. Still the best I have ever had. Jenna seemed to respond to my description and the last time I heard from them, they were in Charleston and wanted a reminder of where I had sent them for mussels. Can’t wait to hear the review.

The weather is finally starting to give clues to the winter that is coming. It has been sunny for weeks and remarkably mild but cold at night. I think today will be the first in quite a while where the high for the day may not hit 60. Most of the leaves are getting dull now and many of the trees are down to their wintry skeletons. I am due to drive up to my land to check out my view again. I still agonize over whether or not to try to build the house up there. I have liked some aspects of downtown condo life, but have come to the conclusion that as long as I am living with Abner, it really won’t work over the long haul. He needs to be walked every morning and every evening, and of course, we hike in the middle of the day. The morning and evening constitutionals though are rarely peaceful walks for me. With the crowds downtown and the magnet that Abner is for attention, I tire quickly of talking to strangers about him. I used to think that I was an extrovert, but I now am beginning to have my doubts. The life I am living here and the encounters with the multitudes of people downtown has led me to conclude that I am better off in a quiet residential area where even if people are curious about Abner, there simply are far fewer of them on the streets.

Biltmore offered a perk this fall for passholders that I was lucky enough to be able to try. Because they are planning a new outdoor activity for next year, they tried it out as a freebie for us this fall. It is a wildlife river float trip down a section of the French Broad where it cuts the Estate in half. The guide, in our case Jesse Ivan, the enormously talented nature photographer whose work I have mentioned before ( if you are interested in seeing Jesse’s work), sits in the back of a comfortable blue inflatable river raft with a paddle and slowly paddles the passengers downriver while spotting wildlife on the banks and in the river. Gliding down the French Broad gives the passenger a whole different view of the estate. I have walked the entire length of the east bank so many times I have long since lost count, and actually a few times on much of the length of the west bank as well, but it still looks different from the water. For one thing, you really feel the shallowness of the water. You can see lots of rocks either breaking the surface, or just below. Jesse pointed out footings of an old bridge that the George and Edith Vanderbilt used when they lived here. There are also places where rocks are closely spaced and near enough to the surface that they have become a crossing point for deer that live on the west side but like to chow down on corn in one of the big fields beside the river on the east bank.

About 2/3 of the way downriver we stopped on the west bank for a short hike on one of the trails that follows the edge of a large cleared field. Jesse and his colleagues have built a bamboo blind with viewing slots in case there were deer or other animals grazing or cavorting in the field, but there were none when we visited, so we just strolled the trails and looked at footprints of coyotes and deer that had been there recently.

I believe Biltmore is planning to institute these float trips next spring as a special activity available to day visitors. If you are there at a time when there are animals to see, it is a very pleasant way to spend a couple hours. It was particularly pleasant having Jesse as our guide.

With all the leaves that have fallen now, there is a sweet fecund stink when we are walking on some of the trails along Bent Creek. I remember that I used to find this odor offensive but now there is something about it that appeals to me. I guess it is one of those harbingers of season change that in my former life of working in an urban environment I never noticed or had the opportunity to attribute to anything. Now though, after almost 4 years here of walking in the woods, month after month, it has become something like a seasonal migrating bird or the annual display of mushrooms that I am largely sparing you this year. . .a familiar returning memory. The birds, by the way, are certainly making the scene again. Today on our walk, we were on a secluded section of the Bent Creek Trail in the NC Arboretum when there was rustling in the shrubs on the far side of the creek that could only come from a very large animal. Both Abner and I were visually scouring the bank when an enormous Great Blue Heron took off not 15 feet from us. I think this is the closest I have ever gotten to one of these guys. . .they tend to be pretty careful with humans and big white dogs. It was magnificent. They are so big it looks like they shouldn’t be able to take flight. This one was huge and his blue markings with white contrast were dramatic and unmistakable up close. Unfortunately, the sighting and his departure by air happened so quickly I was unable to get a photo.

Anyway, fall is winding down. The streets are quieter and people are mentally getting into their winter mode. I am looking forward to a few quiet, clear, sunny, cold months during which I will hike with Abner, have coffee, lunch with friends, read the NY Times, agonize over the economy and try to figure out what to do about my housing situation for the long haul. For those friends who have been threatening or promising to come for a visit, winter is lovely here. It’s different, but lovely.
In some places, the color is almost blinding. The contrast from the green grass, to the red-orange leaves and then to the pale gold ones seemed unreal in this stretch of woods. The group below was a guided trail ride on the estate. Abner is fascinated by the horses so I always have a chance to photograph them since he just sits there and watches them go by.
The shot below is Wolf Branch Creek in the Arboretum right before it flows into Bent Creek. At this time of year, the carpet of leaves is so thick that the edges of the creek are hard to determine. Abner has, on occasion, stepped into the water unintentionally because he thought he was still on terra firma.
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These four pictures were all taken on a warm November afternoon when Abner and I walked from the lagoon to the outdoor center and back along the river and bike trails. The color contrasts were really wonderful in the late afternoon sun. The couple on a horse-drawn carriage ride just added to the pleasure of this hike.

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Sometimes the fall colors here are simply shocking in their intensity. The first shot is one I must have taken 4 or 5 times over the course of the fall, and the tree's leaves just kept getting more and more vivid. The Canada Geese below near their island on the Bass Pond seem to be a pretty large group this year, and largely indifferent to the human visitors nearby. Occasionally they will swim over to the boathouse or the dam bridge for scraps of bread thrown by estate visitors.

The Japanese Maple above is another tree that you simply cannot believe is real, even when you stand there looking at it. The color simply doesn't seem to be something that nature could produce. This one is right by the entrance to the Italian Garden. The shot below is from the meadow above the bass pond. The surrounding trees look like someone has been painting them.
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As much as I enjoyed the wildlife float trip down the French Broad, I didn't get a lot of good photos to show for it. The Great Blue Heron in the shot above was very aware of our proximity and every time we got close enough for me to compose a decent shot, he would take off and fly further downstream.
Biltmore House definitely looks different from the river. The shots below look downstream and then upstream from our raft. This is a really pretty time of year to be on the river. The upstream shot shows the tea house at the end of the bowling green from downstream on the river.

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You can just barely see the roof of Biltmore House above this field of corn in one of the large fields along the French Broad River. Raccoons and deer apparently are feeding on this corn now once people aren't around after the Estate closes for the day.
The Bass Pond is one of Olmstead's great successes on the estate. I find it particularly beautiful and serene in the gall when the individual species of trees and shrubs start to turn so many different colors. You really get a sense of depth.
The trees below are in the parking lot at the NC Arboretum. They are so brilliant and have such perfect shapes they look like a row of red-orange lollipops.
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The wooly worms didn't seem as abundant this year but the above critter was particularly interesting as he slowly worked his way up a limestone column at Biltmore. I was told later that this particular type of caterpillar has a very nasty sting. The butterfly below seemed to be hanging around awfully late in the season but obviously had a good sense of color coordination with the flower on which he perched.

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I swore that this year I wasn't going to obsess about the amazing variety of mushrooms that appear each fall so I am posting just a few favorites rather than pages of them as I did last year. I loved the ones above that look like a mini-forest.

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