Decade/year in review part 3 – embracing and enjoying a new life

LISA BRAINARD/BLUFF COUNTRY READER Try to see each day as a positive in this new decade. For example, even when I had two appointments at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester last month, I do things like taking pictures. Here, I managed a selfie with the historic Plummer Building in the window. At other times, I’ve zoomed in on its gargoyle statues.
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Here we are. It’s 2020. And this will be the third and final installment of my personal Decade in Review. For a brief recap, I had a bad accident Sept. 5, 2012, followed by a stroke during recovery from emergency surgery for a torn aorta.

Find further details of the incident and the road to recovery in the first two review installments, Part 1 at, and Part 2 at

Getting back at it

It’s been a long haul of a recovery. But I’ve certainly made strides – 99 percent of the time with cane in hand – to embrace life again in my new, somewhat restricted physical reality.

As I went from taking steps onto curbs or, even worse, a whole flight of stairs, to getting out again on my own, small acts have built confidence. As to the stairs, any stairs, they need to have a hand railing for me to be more at ease. One railing will work most of the time, but one on each side is better. My left hand, fingers and arm are tight, move stiffly, and shake when I’m stressed or nervous. The left hand can’t hang onto things. So, I need to grasp the railing with my dependable right hand. It can get interesting and uncomfortable with just one railing and the need to reach across in front of me, whether it’s going up or down.

For steps, sometimes I walk in normal fashion. But most often, I need to move one foot to a step and then the other foot to that same step before proceeding up or down in similar fashion.

Eyeing the future

The loss of left peripheral vision in both eyes keeps me turning my head left to scan the whole horizon. Things close to me, especially that I’m unaware of, have come up behind me and beside me into that area, often seeing me react with a slight jump at the surprise. I’ve joked that I should have some kind of flashing red or yellow light on my left shoulder saying something not quite this wordy, but like “ALERT. No left peripheral vision. Announce your presence slowly. DO. NOT. SURPRISE OR SNEAK UP!” Hmmm… maybe there’s a market for something like that, and it could be my great post-stroke contribution to the world??

People tell me I can be an inspiration to them. Oh my gosh. I take exception to that. They don’t see the days of aches and pains when I don’t want to get out of bed, yet have major trouble sleeping due to the tightness. Tears and a “why me?!” often ensue. But each and every person has life issues of some type. However, we adapt and enjoy doing what we can. After all, that’s what life is – navigating the hills, valleys and cliffs. It’s a moving target – our beautiful world.

Decade’s best

Let’s get to the highlight of the decade. Regular readers of this column have probably already guessed it, the three-week road trip that included the total solar eclipse in August of 2017. It was fun to drive backroads to scout a place to watch it away from crowds in another favorite haunt of mine. That would be northwest Nebraska, in the Pine Ridge vicinity as it’s known (like our area is Bluff Country or the Driftless region). It’s a continuation of the Pine Ridge Reservation’s gorgeous, pine-studded topography that crosses the state line and extends around Crawford, Neb.

The total solar eclipse was totally amazing. I still can’t adequately describe it. I’m so happy I made it beyond my physical tests to be able to be there. Meeting the ranch family to whom we paid a small amount to watch from their land was neat, with interesting area ties to pioneer author Willa Cather.

The rest of the trip included visits to the Niobrara and Missouri river valleys; Niobrara and Fort Robinson state parks, and Toadstool Geologic Park, plus Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Carhenge, and Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Research & Visitor Center, all in Nebraska; Spirit Mound Prairie Historic Site, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and the Black Hills in South Dakota; Devils Tower National Monument and Medicine Rocks State Park in Wyoming; both South and North units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a bit of the Bakken oil boom, and Knife River Villages National Historic Site, all in North Dakota; and finally, Minnesota’s Maplewood State Park.

What a trip! Thanks go out to my fellow traveler Mark Dauble for making it happen. I did nothing too strenuous, but took it all in. And camped in many sites, sometimes in a tent, other times in the back of my topper-covered truck bed.

A few other highlights of the decade were a motorcoach trip with Historic Adventure Travel Tours to the Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, area in 2017; always the National Trout Center of Preston’s annual fall geology motorcoach tour; and camping at Yellow River State Forest in northeast Iowa, while meeting archaeologists and others sharing history and thoughts on the mounds in 2019.

To summarize

The decade proved that pretty bad things can happen, but life goes on if you choose to attempt a positive mindset to let it. Most days when I get out it’s solo, to drive the Driftless and take short hikes, looking to document its beauty by seeking out scenes and taking photos. It’s just as satisfying in its own way – and not near as tiring or stressful as a big trip.

But it’s a new year. My trip-planning hormones are kicking in. I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds for all of us.

Lisa Brainard still enjoys lifelong pursuits of the outdoors, history and travel as able following a serious accident and stroke in September 2012. She’s written this Journey vs. Destination column weekly for over 15 years.