Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fight or Flight

Weekly Kodiak Daily Mirror article-
Fight or Flight

In my line of work as a physical therapist, I  work with people whose bodies and brains think they are being chased by a bear. Quite literally. No, they don't come into me with sweat pouring down their face in a frenzy. Its more subtle than that. 

 Its the "fight or flight" nervous system response gone bananas and not turning off when it should.  This presents as a series of bodily reactions which typically occur under duress. We all know the feeling-if you are driving down the road and see a police car behind you turn on their siren and lights. They pick up speed and pull up closer to you.  This moment triggers chemical, organ and muscular reactions which help us quickly respond to this impending doom. Our pupils dilate, heart rate increases, adrenaline is released, blood is deterred from our digestive track, muscles contract. Our body is made ready to  be on high alert. 

This  "high alert" part of our nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. It works beautifully in short term stress situations.  These moments when we have to engage in combat, run or hide. It diverts blood from unnecessary immediate bodily functions (such as digestion of food) to more important areas (such as muscles). 

The problem is when the system turns on and doesn't shut off. It is active when it shouldn't be.  This is caused from prolonged stress, or very commonly-long term pain. The brain is made to believe that it is under continued duress, because of chemical changes which occur long term in the brain. Our brains and nervous systems are "on" too much and don't have a chance to breath. To heal. 

On  a daily basis, part of my job is to explain this to my clients. Unfortunately, sometimes peoples' pain has gone on for months and months or years.    I take notice  of muscular spasms. Shortened breaths. Difficulty relaxing. It is the sympathetic nervous system on overdrive. 

In our go-go-go, on-on-on culture, the ability to relax and renew has been lost. With phones and technology, our brains can't differentiate a stressful  text message from a bear chasing us  across a prairie. So that brings us to rest and digest-the other part of our nervous system which we ideally want to spend the bulk of time in. This is called the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Somewhere along the line, we've forgotten how to really breathe.  

Guiding my clients with cues for how to do  abdominal breathing, we often chuckle about re-learning how to breath.  Not the survival breathing-the short breaths which arise from our shoulders. That is the fight or flight breathing.  But rather the abdominal breaths which send a message to our brain that it is ok to rest and digest. If you've ever watched a young child breathing as they sleep, their stomachs rising and falling with each breath-this is the model breath cycle. 

 Each healthy breath triggers  hormones and chemical responses made for rest and digestion.  Muscle spasms quiet, heart rate slows.  The nervous system is brought toward  homeostasis. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Stuey's Animal Drawing Book

Last week Stuey attended 'Salmon Camp' here in town at the local USFWS Refuge Center.  At camp he kept a daily notebook and learned all sorts of stuff about salmon, plants and general outdoor 'science stuff'.  He'd come home and use words like 'predator', 'camoflage', and even 'ecosystem'.  Clearly he was learning a lot and having a good time doing it.

One evening we noticed him drawing and writing about different animals in a homemade notebook and assumed it was something brought home from 'Salmon Camp'.  The next day when Zoya was dropping  Stuey off at camp and she commented to the instructors about how much she liked Stuey's animals book.  They did not know anything about it - Stuey, inspired by Salmon Camp, had come up with the illustrated notebook all on his own!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Morning Photo Safari

This morning Stuey, Nora and I took the dogs and our cameras for a walk in the park - a photo safari!  Initially, the kids were way into close ups of flowers, slugs and raindrops, but in the park they started to take pictures of trees, rocks and the landscape.  Down on the beach we even took underwater photos in the tidepools.  Stuey got a great one of a baby sculpin, but it did not make the final cut because it was not in focus.

Back home we edited all the photos together and picked out the best 4 photos from each of us.  Patrick

Nora taking a close up of bark fungus

Stuey's 4 Photo

Close up of Mr slug - he reminds me of the snail in 'Spongebob'

Raindrops on spruce bough

Budding foxglove (digitalis) near the park entrance

'watercolor' filter of the spruce trees in the park

Nora's 4 Photos

raindrops on Fireweed leef


Pushki and bugs

The beach at the park

Daddy's 4 photos

Raindrop on fireweed



Wild iris (blue flag) by the lake

Friday, June 26, 2015

Close Up

I'm still loving my Olympus TG3's ability to take super close-up photos.  This morning at work I wanted to check the etched design in a 500 year-old incised pebble and I was amazed at the detail I could see in the photo but not with my aged eyes.  I even used the camera like a magnifying glass to examine my old site field notes and get details from maps I was entering into an Excel spreadsheet.  I guess I should be buying a hand lens, but hey, the TG3 does the job!

Then at home I went on a walk and took pictures of the various flowers I encountered.  The photo stacking feature is kind of amazing - how it keeps everything in focus.  It makes flower pictures easy.


Evil invasive hawkweed

Nootka Rose

Potato plant leaves from my garden

"Sweet ride"

Since I've started writing a weekly column at the local newspaper, I haven't been blogging nearly as much as I used to. There are moments, stories and kid quotes passing me by which I normally would've shared here.

Recently at summer camp, a dad pulled up to get his daughter, a fellow camper, on a motorcyle.
Nora said, "I like your motorcycle. That is a sweet ride!"

I chuckled and said to Nora, "Did you just say thats a sweet ride?" Nora so innocently nodded her head up and down and said, "uh-huh!". The teacher, the dad and I were all laughing over it. I'm really not sure where she got that phrase from. I can't imagine I've ever said that before! Gulp!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Kathy and Roger

Pork tenderloins and dogs on the grill

A couple of weeks ago we got a visit from Aunt Kathy and Uncle Roger.  It's an annual visit and while they are here it has become a tradition to cook pork roast outside on our firepit.  In the past they have visited and stayed in a converted van but this year they camped at Fort Abercrombie.  Roger took some excellent pictures of their visit.

Cousins playing in the waves at Surfer's Beach

Kathy and Roger's camping spot at Abercrombie

Fingernail decoration

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Camping with my scouts

By Zoya Saltonstall 

For two years, it was a moment I had been eagerly awaiting-taking my girl scout troop camping. My  daughter joined scouts in  1st grade and the following year there was a big need for leaders.  With the encouragement of a girl friend, I took the plunge and became a leader.  My biggest  fear was that the girls would discover that I hadn't been a scout myself in my youth.  This shouldn't have been a concern-it didn't matter to the girls one bit. 

 From the start, I was committed to keeping the "outing in scouting". This is partly because my few attempts at doing crafts ended up with me nearly in tears during the prep work. I'm not great with crafts and indoor kid projects. Being outdoors exploring was much better for me and all the girls.   I quickly discovered a little rain or high winds didn't deter the troupe-it just added to the excitement. 

                                                                                                                                                        _  _  _
The evening of my first ever girl scout camping trip was nearing to end.  We were camped at Fort Abercrombie in the glorious summer weather, just near the lake. The day had been full of setting up tents, campfire by the lake, singing songs and then nestling down for the night in very full tents. Snug as bugs in rugs is the only way to describe the scene.   

Two of the other leaders and myself  sat up with bug nets over our head re-hashing the day. Together at the picnic table,  we savored a jar of Nutella hazelnut chocolate spread.   The mosquitos  landed in the Nutella and crawled across it as they sunk in deeper.  Talk about a very, very bad day!  Death by submersion in Nutella. (That said, I can imagine much worse ways to die!)  Meanwhile, the scouts giggled  away in their tents. I knew  they really were trying  hard to go to sleep- it was just so much excitement. 

 I quietly crawled into my tent, in the 11 o'clock hour.  All scouts had been asleep for quite some time and the midnight sun was finally setting.   The scout sleeping to the right of me held a neon green glowstick in her hand. Even admist her deep slumber, she had a smile on her face.   I listened to the various noises of the birds and trees outside with heightened awareness-feeling the responsibility of being the troop leader. Sounds of snoring came from the other various tents-that is truly the sound of contentment and deep rest after a busy, fun day on the beach.   

Before leaving camp for a hike on our final hours together, we were all in a circle on the ground.   I asked the girls, "What was your favorite part of the camping trip?" The responses varied from "trying a variety of foods"  to singing songs by the campfire to making new friends. One leader mentioned how pleased she was with how helpful the girls were with gathering supplies, putting their tents away. This was our first camping trip and there are many unknowns about how the troop would handle the unknowns of camping. I was so thrilled to see the day and night together go smoothly. And my favorite, favorite FAVORITE part? Foil baked camp bananas-bananas cooked in a foil packet with chocolate chips and coconut in them. Those flavors will forever take me back to those moments together around the Lake Gertrude campfire.  My troops' first  camping trip. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

Journey Home

By Zoya Saltonstall 

Every career begins somewhere with a physical space and a set of people. Together, these make moments in time.   The several thousand square feet where I  spent the bulk of my first 7 years of my career as a physical therapist is  dark, as the clinic was recently re-located to another location.   If those now empty  clinic walls could speak, they would have stories of laughter, tears.  Of successes and disappointments. Good news of progress, of healing and health. And struggles- challenges which are so very real in this field of healing. Therapists digging to find the right words or the right cues. 

I grew up in Kodiak, volunteered at the local hospital in high school and decided then that I wanted to be a PT.  I didn't intend to come back home after college. It was an accident. Really.  Physical Therapy graduation came at a time when Medicare had dramatically cut their rehab re-imbursement which meant cuts in jobs for PT. There was a job in Kodiak, however.  It was a  start. I packed up my green subaru and drove 10 days across the country. My friend Ben came along and did the bulk of the driving. He had never been West of Buffalo New York and every mountain range seemed larger than the last. 

I cried spontaneously several times during that drive. The  beauty of the majestic mountains and returning to Alaska brought me me tears of joy.  They were  also tears of "what am I getting myself into?". I was already  missing the security  bubble of graduate school living.  What was I doing going home to Kodiak? Ben re-assured me that it was the right thing. And reminded me I was lucky to have a job. 

We took  the classic photos at the "welcome to Alaska" sign.  We had arrived.  Ben flew home to New York on a one way ticket, grateful for seeing Alaska and the new lands along the way. And me grateful for help with the drive. 

 Several years later, here I was practicing physical therapy. Surprisingly happy living back in Kodiak. Appreciating the moments in the parallel bars guiding  clients with the cues "lift knee...shift weight...." Helping people take their first steps after a stroke. Realizing the imperfection in the healing process. Learning from my mentors and co-workers.  Figuring people out. And figuring myself out. Going home and thinking about my next days case load. Putting in extra hours if needed. Feeling at times I should have done something differently.  Being a good worker bee that every new grad wants to be. Being humbled. Daily. 

Sometimes  I want to write my earliest clients apology notes. Seriously.   Every algorithm in the book can't fully prepare you for the reality of helping people heal. People are complex and unique.  There was patience on their part, on my part. Learning how to become a healer is a sticky business. Painful at times as you mess up, then grow and try learn from it all. And sometimes you look back and think about what you could've done differently. And other times, you just feel so blessed to have time with such amazing souls in the world. 

Walking by the vacant, dark space of what used to be a maze of treatment rooms and exercise equipment, I squint, trying to look beyond the darkness.  I still see faces and smiles of clients and co-workers in my mind. There are moments frozen in time. The lights are bright, and there is a younger me in a pastel shirt. I am  in the parallel bars working with a  client who is is re-learning how to walk.  My co-workers are cheering us on. Together we laugh and go forward step by step, hand in hand. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves black labs and chocolate.

Friday, June 19, 2015

First Salmon Berry & Garden at the Solstice

First salmonberry in Stuey's hot hand

When the salmonberries started to bloom way back at the very beginning of April (click for post) I thought we'd be eating berries by the beginning of June.  But spring did slow down, and the I did not see my first ripe salmonberry until today.  Stuey snatched it off the bush and after I took a few photos he gobbled it up.  This year I think there will be a bumper crop of berries.

The garden is also surprisingly sparse considering I've been mowing the lawn for a month and a half.  But lately with the super warm sunny weather it has finally started to ramp up the growth.  My garlic has been big from the start.  I'm wondering how I'll know when it is time to harvest it.

Carrots, beets, and Swiss Chard

Radishes, carrots, and garlic

Potatoes and Garlic

Carrots and mixed salad greens

Eying the berry

Monday, June 15, 2015

Quick trip to Afognak for subsistence reds

Eating dinner and watching for fish to hit the net

After work on Friday Stuey and I headed up to Afognak with Mike P to try our hand at catching some subsistence red salmon.  We went up in tandem in two boats and the trip was an hour and twenty minutes from town - a quick trip to Heaven!  Mike slept in his boat while Stuey and I camped on shore.  Not much beats cooking dinner with a spectacular view while waiting for fish to hit the net.

Mike and I like to bleed and ice our fish right away and we marked the 2 fish we did not see hit the net, and thus had pretty much died before we got to them.  Back home when we canned the fish the 2 marked fish were noticeably less 'glossy' and firm.  So clearly it pays off in fish quality to watch the net closely.  When you see the corks bobbing it's time to check the net!

By the time we were done we had caught 10 reds, and, much to Stuey's delight, 2 kings.  Our haul filled up 3 pressure cookers almost exactly - 40 pounds of canned salmon.

The only downside to the trip was the arrival at dawn Saturday of another subsistence group who apparently had their hearts set on fishing the exact set we had already claimed.  They tried to bully us into leaving by erroneously telling us we were fishing illegally and that they were going to call the troopers.  They even started to set up a bonfire and picnic on the beach directly below where we were already camping.  It was a bizarre and slightly ugly situation.  But Mike and I called the troopers ourselves, made sure that we really had done nothing illegal, and held our ground.  They threatened putting nets on either side of ours, but eventually moved off nearby, set their nets, and had their picnic on the beach.

Where do these people come from - what motivates them? It's not like where we set our net is the only good set in the area.  In fact, the evening before another group had stopped by, saw that we had already set up, and after a friendly encounter moved on up the bay.  The next day we talked to them when they were on their way home and they had caught 40 fish.  I guess common courtesy pays!

Anyway, it was still a great weekend.  Stuey got to go camping AND catch fish to help feed the family - a most enjoyable and productive trip.

Keeping warm with the Lucy lamp in the evening

And it's a king - not a red!

Stuey's first king


Afognak is Federal water so the fishing can start earlier and go later

Watching the net

Stuey killing time in the kayak

Checking the net

Stuey's second king

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Girl Scout Camping!

Last night I took my girl scout troop on our first ever camping trip! I was excited~and nervous~wanting it to go well. 

The weather was stunning, in the 60's. The scouts were thoughtful, energetic. We had a blast cooking around the fire, singing campfire songs...complete with giggling at bedtime until 10:30. 

I couldn't have been happier. 
For two years I've waited for this moment-my first girl scout camping trip. We're already planning up future camping trips... :)

Songs around the campfire. Leila led with her blue ukulele! 

The adults...Jen, Leila, myself, Erica and Roxann

snug as bugs in rugs!

Checking out the camp schedule

circle time the next morning

wildflower hike in the morning

My scout, Emma, who is moving next week. I'll miss her. 

Nora and I :)

Leila~girl scout extraordinaire! :)