In My Bones

Long, long time ago, I spent a few months in Germany with my Mom, Dad, and younger brother. Dad was an exchange professor under a program set up in gratitude for the Marshall Plan, and he went on a lecture tour that included a stop in Freiburg. This is in the heart of the Black Forest, and while Dad did his science thing, Joe and I wanted to go walking in the forest.

A very nice old guy at the hotel’s front desk explained to us how to get to the trail head, and further assured us that though it was cloudy, the day would be lovely. His system for predicting the weather consisted of peering out a certain window through a certain hole in the trees at a certain hour of the early morning. After decades of collecting data, he had great faith in his system.

We did not get rained on, and the Black Forest is lovely, dark and deepl.

When I travel across country, I notice stuff: How are the roads? Are there any fancy new interchanges under construction? How many over-sized loads do I pass in the course of a day’s driving? When I finally, finally get to the hotel, is the parking lot nearly empty or crowded?

I’ve been doing this for decades, and my horseback survey generally points in the direction of the nation’s economic health. People don’t buy boats or new combines when times are hard. Hotels don’t fill up, major construction projects don’t get funded. A few years back, I was hearing a lot of headlines about economic recovery, but my roadtrip indicators said the recovery hadn’t reached the provinces yet.

We all have this kind of radar. As the mom of a school aged kid, I knew she was getting sick when her eyes were shiny, though I’ve never seen that symptom described in any medical literature. Often, Herself wouldn’t yet feel under the weather, but I knew she’d wake up the next day symptomatic.

As a writer, I love these kinds of details. I can convey to the readers, “lousy economy” by describing potholes and empty hotel parking lots without ever using words like recession, depression, or downturn. The sensation of a car hitting a pothole at speed–the sound, the inner wince–is universal. Four potholes is proof of either an awful winter or not enough budget for repairs.

The tricky thing is paying attention to the information that will clue us in, and ignoring the noise. The old guy at the hotel desk had the same shift, day after day, and only one window to look out of. Still, he had to go to the trouble of connecting the weather dots, testing his hypothesis, then refining it.

Do you have some horseback survey data that you’ve learned to rely on? A canary in the coal mine or weather prognosticator that’s unique to you and your experience? Have you ever had that kind of information and ignored it, much to your regret? To one commenter, I’ll send an advanced reader copy of “Too Scot To Handle.”

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29 comments on “In My Bones

  1. The corgis can sense a thunder storm about 30 minutes before it starts. If Beanie and Rose are outside they bark to come in. My husband says their bark has a different pitch. Rose hides in a corner behind my chair and Beanie jumps on the couch with my husband. I am if they hear the oncoming storm or sense a change in the air pressure. Beanie and Rose are quite reliable!

    • I wonder how many Corgi owners don’t ever connect those dots, and just roll their eyes when the dogs star barking, “for no reason.” The dogs notice the storm, you notice the dogs. A good system.

  2. I call it my “Spidey Sense”. And when it tingles (I can’t describe it but I feel it)when things are not quite right. Professionally, this means when someone says something or suggests something and I get Ye Ol’ Tingle, I know they are not quite telling me the truth or the situation is not as it seems. I have not trusted myself occasionally or my Hubby has told me I’m reading too much into a situation. In those cases, I should have trusted the tingle, much to my regret, because I’m right about 9 times out of 10!

    As a Mom, I can smell when my kids are not feeling well. They give off a sort of rubbing alcohol odor only I seem to be able to smell. They are adults and I still am able to tell when they are sick!

    • I wonder if you’re picking on ketones on the breath, a kind of nail polish remover scent. This is particularly likely when people aren’t eating enough, or not eating enough carbs.

      And yeah, that Spidey Sense… when I’m talking to children, I call it “the uh-oh feeling,” and they seem to know what I mean.

  3. I do have a health indicator. I have fibromyalgia. If my normal glass of spring water (usually delicious) tastes faintly of fish, I know that I will have a bad fibro day unless I take extraordinary care with myself. My taste is off on other things, too. Items normally yummy taste like metal or chemicals. Sometimes the symptoms happen the night before, and without fail I wake up to a pretty poor day.

    The benefit is with that forecast, I can plan a bit, and not be blindsided.

    • Wow. You wonder what on earth is going on there metabolically? Because if that symptom indicates a bad day up ahead, then something measurable is happening between bad days and good days.
      And I guess a little warning is better than none.

  4. Well, I do know that cats can tell time, because they know when it is time for their “special treats” every evening. If I should doze off in my recliner, they will wake me up to let me know it’s time. And they are right on the dot!

    All my life I could tell when I would run a fever because my skin get prickley before hand.

    During my working life, especially during stressful times, I found that if you simply paid close attention to what was going on around you, you could pretty well tell which way the wind would be blowing. Nothing magical there.

    • I forgot too – when I was a child we had to send our dog to live with my Aunt in the country because we moved to an apartment where we couldn’t have him. We kids would sometimes take the bus out to the farm and spend the weekend there. Somehow that dog knew when we were coming and he would go to the driveway and sit and wait for us for an hour or two. But if we didn’t come he would not wait.

      • Temple Grandin has all kinds of anecdotes like that, and pets pick up on the darnedest stuff–your aunt changing the sheets in the guest room, an extra jug of milk in the fridge. I know with horses, they know by whether you’re coming out to the pasture in your riding boots or your sneaks whether it’s a treat day or an exercise day.

  5. The Black Forest is gorgeous, isn’t it?!?! I went there about 7 years ago and loved it. So peaceful.

    My son was 2 1/2 when his anxiety attacks started and I learned very quickly that when he became quiet and fidgety, the internal anxiety levels were already reaching crisis levels. We learned to pay attention to his indicators and, whenever possible, avoid certain triggers. As he got older, his indicators have changed and I’ve had to watch him closely to figure out these changes. Whereas he used to get quiet and fidgety, he now gets stubborn and sarcastic. I’ve had several occasions where I either didn’t see or ignored the signs of an impending anxiety crisis and ended up dealing with it on a MUCH more extreme level than if I had intervened early on. As our wonderful therapist says, when a child has anxiety, the whole family has anxiety.

    • That is utterly bumfuzzling. Who would equate snark with anxiety, but… well, yeah. It does make a sort of sense. The deflector shields go up, and snark is a way to bat aside incoming stimuli.

      And anxiety is a wretched curse. You can’t think your way out of it, but you can think you way to managing the symptoms. Sometimes.

  6. When my children were growing up I too could see the glassy eyes or the hitch in their voice and I’d know without a doubt they would wake up with symptoms. It always happened with all 7. I think us moms develop an inner rader, along with just knowing our kids. 🙂
    Carol L

    • I do wonder what the shiny-eyes symptom is. Moms know it, but docs don’t seem to. My mother the nurse picked up on it, though I’ll have to ask my daughter’s husband if it’s something he can sense in her.

      What amazing creatures we are.

  7. This is meant to be about the quality of life in the USA and not political. My canary feeling is that I want my only child, currently in college, to finish his degree and emigrate. I don’t want to see him weathering the constant seesawing of living conditions in this country. I want him somewhere where there is affordable healthcare, and a safety net for citizens, like in most industrialized Western cultures.

    I also see a certain hawkish mentality and I don’t want my only child drawn into a war on foreign soil.

    I’d rather weather old age alone and see him and his family prosper somewhere else, than have him stay here.

    • I understand how you feel, and I’ve had a lot of uh-oh feeling in the past year too. I’ve never seen the free press drop the ball so egregiously, never seen gerrymandering this bad, never seen such a contentious election that just seemed to go on and on and on.
      If my only darling child were not here in the US…

  8. I don’t know that it is unique to me and my experience but the most recent time I ignored some signals from nature is memorable. I live in a neighborhood that is rapidly becoming an island of ‘nature’ surrounded by human development. A lot of fauna has moved in over the years. There’s a certain stillness (and aroma) in the area when a skunk family is around. Evenings in early June it happends a lot. A couple years ago, I noticed all the signs including my dog being extra excited to be out, but I was in a hurry to get my chores done. A tiny voice in my head, told me to get the dog and put him in the house, but I ignored it. I learned that night that skunk spray can stain a dogs fur. Honestly, I would have preferred to learn that lesson from anything other than experience.

    • Lots of Peppy Le Pews where I live, and golly days, is that one effective defense mechanism. I like a little hint of skunk on the summer night air, but up close… ye gods and little fishes. That compound–tri-ethyl-methly-butyl-mercaptan–is used at the parts per billion level to make sure people can smell a gas leak, it’s that distinctive and unpleasant.

      Once sprayed is once too often!

  9. I spend time with a seven-year-old whose speech is not comprehensible. She doesn’t miss much, and she is not deaf. She knows more than she should about her family.

    My head is a reliable predictor of changes in barometric pressure. (Migraine)

    When I notice some of the things you mentioned, a change in the maintenance in our daughter’s apartment block, the quality and availability of the cotton yarn with which I busy my hands, I go looking for ownership changes. They are usually there.

    Our son works as store security. When “normal” people (as opposed to God & Jesus, both of whom feel entitled or addicts of various ilks) begin shoplifting, times are hard.

    None of this is unique to me, however. There’s an old expression, “Who’s your rabbi?” When one knows who owes whom, what motivates, the direction of the prevailing winds? There was a reason for canaries in the coal mines.

    • Another odd indicator of hard times: Lots of merchandise left around the store where it’s not supposed to be. People decide to buy something, but change their minds on the way to the register, and just leave that pack of new undies among the fly swatters. Once you start watching that kind of indicator, you almost can’t ignore it ever again.

  10. My Mom had a health indicator that she passed down to me (and my siblings): whenever I accidentally bite my inner cheek, or the side of my tongue – usually when chewing something – it means I’m in a “run-down condition”. And I still find that to be true (and I clearly hear her saying it!). It doesn’t happen all that often, but sure enough if I reflect when it occurs I’ll find I’m stressed or trying to do too much.

  11. I have a picture of my hubby in a tavern in Freiburg, which is one of my favorites from our travels – Germany is one of our favorite destinations.

    The one thing I’ve learned (the hard way) is to trust that queasy feeling I get sometimes when I shake someone’s hand. Each time it’s turned out to be a person that has been untrustworthy in business or someone that has betrayed a family member or myself.

    • What an interesting warning. One of my friends could see auras, and she claimed that mendacious people tended toward certain colors or shades of colors. Makes sense that carrying around lies might affect us physiologically, but it must be very disconcerting to touch somebody and get a jolt of “Warning, Will Robinson!”

  12. Perhaps not “sense” but fact, in nursing there are obvious odors that earmark disease, infection, etc…and I have often wondered in Regency times and earlier, if “good” doctors and healers tapped into these…fruity/alcohol breath=fever, dehydration and diabetes…tonsilitis, inflamed glands and strep throat has its own odor…gangrene/pseudomonous wounds have a unique smell…once you ‘tune in’ to these it points the direction for treatment… But, I digress; I often got a knowing feeling when I was a nurse of approaching problem…and more times than not a trauma or cardiac attack showed up at the door…learned not to ignore it FAST!

    • As a matter of fact, one of few investigations a physician would make–other than interviewing the patient–was to examine the patient’s urine. The physicians typically did not touch patients, and if bleeding was required (do we have some screwy notions or what?) the surgeon was called for.

  13. Big Cranes. The more ginormous cranes over an urban area, the better the economy. They’re hideously expensive to use, and it means big things are being built, places where businesses will keep the next layer of economy churns, and people will live. Cranes mean lots of construction workers below, busy as ants on the hill; that architects & engineers were busy too. Cranes make me happy, even after nearly a decade away from the construction industry.

    • I would never have thought of that, though it’s not a long leap from road construction to high-rise construction. I also lived for a time in Kiel, Germany, where the HDV submarine and boatworks are. HUGE cranes (Krank is the German word). Now that you mention it, when those cranes were busy, the whole yard was busy.

  14. I think because I want to believe everything is fine, I don’t listen to my inner most feelings often enough. Especially when it comes to my two grown girls. Although I know things may not be perfect and since I tend to be one of those people who puts up with anything, both have shocked me – one with a divorce and another with a breakup after 11 years. What I do tend to be good at is recognizing manipulative people – especially women. I think that’s come with age lol.

    • If you have to have your radar fine-tuned in one regard, then avoiding the manipulators is a good skill to have. Those people are heartache on the hoof. I’m also less trusting than I used to be, though I’m still not all that good at sorting the clown from the jokers.