Sunday, April 24, 2005

Full Moon, Full Day

Full moons are magical. Moon light becomes a transition between daylight and darkness. Night shadows play surreal patterns on everything. The moon bathes surfaces in luminescence while the hidden surfaces are cloaked in empty darkness. The juxtaposition is breathtaking.

The night animals prowl waiting, while day animals dare to tread into the false light. Owls taunt animals that otherwise cling to cover, and coyotes yip and play in packs. The night becomes busy and alive.

Gazing upward, searching the lit globe to discern large craters. Realizing that the body of mass orbiting our home is only reflecting the light of our source of life, the sun.

Day breaks with no clear delineation. And the tide of dishevel begins.

One tire is flat on the tractor cart.

The new hose doesn't reach the fence post holes. Have to haul water by buckets.

The stillcock spurts more water than flows through the hose bib.

The toilet won't stop running and the fill hose bursts spraying water all over the floor, the walls and my face.

I find more canine turds in the driveway.

The carefully-laid fence posts by their holes have to be moved to the back line: about 300 feet. One by one.

The mosquitoes are ravenous and I am their meat.

Three posts are set in their concrete beds and they stand tall like the soldiers that they are. They are perfectly plumbed and should cure to resist rubbing by horses, cows and deer.

The cattle egrets are becoming brave and waddle by me with their necks swaying side to side. They give me an odd joy.

BBAB lays down with his women and the calves play hop-scotch.

A great white heron lifts up from my pond, stopping by for a brief visit.

The long-eared owl sitting on the top branch over the pond is silhouetted against a pink and darkening blue sky.

It rains.

And all is good.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Anatomy of Life

A Canadian coldfront snuck in last night. It's windy and cold - in the 50's. I'm procrastinating starting work outside on the ranch by gazing out my window as I sit here caressing my hot coffee cup (ahhh, the elixir of coffee....)

I'm watching the white egrets on the grass. There are dozens of them, several under my window. Their heads and necks bob back and forth and sideways. Suddenly the head and beak dive down to the grass and grab an insect (I hope they eat fire ants). Gotcha! Waddle and bob on to the next victim.

While observing them so closely, I tried to imagine their musculoskeletal system as if I had x-ray vision. Do they have numerous tiny little vertebrae throughout their neck? Their necks flex side-to-side and undulate like a snake. I wonder what the shape and insertions of the neck muscles look like to facilitate the undulating flexibility. When the wind gusts, they draw their necks down close to their pectoral (chest) body region for balance. Conversely, when they run, their necks are extended up and out to balance their forward motion.

They are such interesting and pretty little creatures. I hesitate to disturb their meal gathering, so I'll procrastinate a bit longer.

At the other end of the scale, I had the opportunity to personally introduce myself to BBAB (BigBadAss Bull) living next to me. As I picked up my mail on the main road, BBAB grazed next to the fence separating my private road from his pasture.

What a supreme example of muscle! His reddish-brown coat shines tautly over his musculature. A real-time movie of muscles under the skin reveals the form and function of muscle, tendon and skeleton. The left glute and hip muscles contract while the left rear leg extends forward, the synchronous contraction/extension of the spinal and torso muscles, a brief pause before the left shoulder and neck muscles extend the front leg. The dance of muscles and bone during his gait.

The effect of his size and potential strength and power is almost hypnotic. I stood there and watched in awe as he slowly moved towards me, only once gazing up, chewing, to note my presence. At that moment I was very glad to have several strands of barbed wire between us. But I also realized that it would not stop him if he insisted on going through.

Yes Sir, Mr. BigBadAss Bull. You may have all the space you want. In this time and reality, *you* are Mr. Macrobe.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Doomed by DOMS!

(Introduction: The Blog Experiment is primarily to help me overcome my writer's block. I write free-lance articles on fitness, sports and biology and have been working on a book project. But I have suffered a serious case of the infamous Writer's Block (TM) over the last four months. I was inspired to write this recently.)

Doomed by DOMS

My forearms ache; I can’t grip or squeeze. Typing makes me wince.

Yesterday they were sore, today I’m doomed; doomed by DOMS.

What is DOMS? No, it’s not a demented onset mental state. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is what most athletes and Weekend Warriors experience after participating in a new exercise, a long marathon, or the first weekend of the season in the garden. Generally, 12-48 hours later, muscles are typically tight and sore, joints are stiff, and some swelling may occur. This time lapse is why it was named “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS. The severity and duration depends on the individual’s basic conditioning and the nature and intensity of the activity.

Although I am a recreational and competitive weight lifter, I have a bad case of DOMS in my forearms, lats and traps. But not from picking up a loaded barbell. Instead I spent five+ hours stabilizing a tractor PTO-driven auger to drill holes in Texas clay soil. Then rocking it back and forth and helping to pull the auger up out of the bottom of the hole after it cratered itself. The two of us were exhausted after 28 holes.

As a scientist that researches skeletal muscle biology and pathology and a weight lifter, my interest in DOMS could pass as borderline obsessive. What causes it and why? Why are some athletes always sore while others rarely experience soreness? What mechanism(s) reduce soreness from subsequent bouts of activity? How does all this relate to adaptations in strength, endurance and size? Is there a gender difference in DOMS?

Over many years, these questions prompted me to read as much literature on DOMS as I could find, starting with the first hypotheses and models proposed by several authors during the 1980’s and ‘90’s. An accepted ‘theory’ was considered the classical model for DOMS: damage to the cell membrane (sarcolemma) and to the contractile units (called sarcomeres), followed by a series of events that ultimately result in tissue regeneration.

Leakage of proteins from injured cells into the immediate areas outside the cells and into the circulation induces the next stage, inflammation. Immune cells invade damaged cells, clean up debris and also release chemical signals. Thus starts the cascade of steps that repair and regenerate damaged tissue.

The sensation of soreness is thought to be caused by several factors. First, some of these various chemical signals sensitize and activate nearby pain receptors. Secondly, fluid leaks into the damaged area and causes the tissue to swell. Blood is pumped into the tissue, all increasing the volume of the muscle inside its surrounding cocoon of connective tissue. Thirdly, connective tissue also has pain receptors. When tendons and ligaments are traumatized, even stretched too much, it hurts. These all contribute to the soreness sensation upon palpitation and use of the muscle.

Because of misinterpretations of earlier studies (especially extrapolation from animal models), this ‘theory’ has been stretched to fill in holes lacking answers associated with muscle and exercise adaptations to stresses.

“Increases in muscle size occur only when the muscle cell is necrotic (dead) or severely damaged.”

“Damage to the muscle membrane is a prerequisite for increases in muscle cross-sectional area [size].”

“People should not train or exercise again until they are no longer sore.”

“Soreness means poor recovery.”

“A weight trainee will gain more strength and size if he/she lifts to fatigue at every workout.”

“Train ‘till you are sore! No pain, no gain!”

Interpretation: The messenger must be injured or killed in order for the message to be delivered and read.

In many cases, the classical DOMS theory has served as a thumb stuck in a dam in which a crack allows unanswered questions to leak out. But it doesn’t seal the crack. With several recently published studies, specifically from two research groups, that thumb is being extracted and good silicon caulking is being used to seal the crack.

I’ve always had my doubts about the validity of this accepted hypothesis ( I was skeptical despite its universal acceptance, so I always referred to it as a ‘hypothesis’ rather than a ‘theory’. It’s all relative to my Reality, right?)

Imagine my excitement when I read, and reread five papers and a PhD thesis over the weekend that challenges this model and the reductionist interpretations and conclusions in dozens of exercise studies. All while my forearms and lats are stiff and sore.

A series of published studies from labs in Sweden and Denmark demonstrate that muscle cell damage is NOT a prerequisite for muscle cell regeneration and adaptation. These elegant imunohistological and immunocytological studies demonstrate that satellite cells and the contractile ultrastructure are activated and increased, respectively, without necrosis, inflammation, and membrane damage. Satellite cells, the muscle cell precursors required for muscle repair and regeneration of muscle tissue, proliferated after mechanical stress in the absence of cellular damage after one bout. Even after 210 repetitions of lengthening contractions, considered the most damaging to muscle tissue, there was no membrane damage. An extensive series of histology and cytology studies demonstrated that new proteins are synthesized and incorporated into the cells’ contractile machinery in the absence of cell damage. The authors propose that the term ‘remodeling’ be used to replace the historical ‘damage’ based on the lack of evidence for the latter. These studies also offer mechanistic evidence for the Repeated Bout Effect (the observation that muscle soreness is alleviated and eventually disappears during sequential bouts of the same activity).

This is indeed exciting!

Regardless, many questions remain:

How does this relate to total and myofibrillar protein synthesis and degradation? New contractile-associated proteins are incorporated into the additional sarcomeres, but does this correlate with hypertrophy (increase in muscle cell size)?

These studies were performed in subjects unaccustomed to the exercise stress. Does training status alter this process in trained subjects?

In relation to the previous question, what is the temporal nature of this process during and after subsequent bouts of the same stressor?

What chemical signals are involved?

Do protein level changes correlate with those of their corresponding mRNA?

Is this process the same across all exercise modes: resistance and endurance?

All these studies used lengthening contractions only compared to shortening contractions. Is this process altered in movements that involve both types of contractions, which better reflects the ‘real world’ of athletes and recreationally active people?

What is the threshold intensity where morphological damage is induced and how does the same process compare to lower intensity or volume with no myofiber damage?

Can we extrapolate anything useful from this to the loss of muscle tissue in denervation and atrophy?

Oh, so many more questions. Perhaps we have only traded thumbs.

Meanwhile, I’d like to be the smallest nanoparticle equipped with a miniature video injected into my forearm muscle to watch and record what happens over time.

And if I eat my spinach, will I have forearms like Popeye?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Mr. Bull with white cattle egrets. Posted by Hello

Conversations With a Bull

Macrobe:"Hey, why don't you stay home? This isn't your home!"

Bull: [looking up slowly, chewing]"There's green grass here. I like it here. You gotta problem with that?"

Marcrobe: "Well, yes. You're leaving cow pies all over the place. They'll be petrified cow frisbees and smother the grass underneath."

Bull: [still chewing]"So. What goes in, comes out eventually."

Macrobe: [sighing] "Hey, you're shedding. You look like you have a skin disease or something."

Bull: [reaching back to scrath his side with his teeth]"Yeah, I itch. Oh, I was scrathing myself on that fence post over there and pushed it down. Sorry about that."

Macrobe: [rolling eyes and big sigh] "Great. I've been renovating an acre of fencing and you have to contribute to more repair needs. And don't scratch yourself on my trees; you'll push those down."

Bull: "Hmmsshss...sshdeessshh...." [emitting glutteral sounds while chewing off my grass]

Macrobe: "What's with these big white birds hanging around you? Are they your buddies, or your stooges?"

Bull: "They're cattle egrets, silly human. My shuffling feet stir up insects in the ground and these guys eat them as fast as they appear. The slower I move, the more they like me. They eat mice, too, so don't complain."

Macrobe: "If they eat fire ants, I'll pay them. Or you can stay here forever."

Macrobe: "I'm not complaining. I find the companionship fascinating and even pretty, considering the stark whiteness of the birds against the dark grass and color of the cows."
[whispering so as not to offend the nearby egrets]"Why do they sway their heads back and forth when they follow you? Are they dancing? or have mites in their ears?"

Bull: [sighing] "No, silly human. Look at how their eyes are placed. Insects are fast. Swaying their heads not only helps them see but, according to one wise egret years ago, it also helps their balance."

Macrobe: "Okay. Well, lets agree to respect each other's space. You stay there, and I'll go about what I have to do."
"Oh, and by the way, I highly recommend you stay away from the cows next door. The bull that lives there is nearly twice as big as you. He will kick your ass."

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Macrobe and counting

What's in a name?

“Speech is a form of human activity and, like every other human activity, is subject to change and modification. It is not more surprising to find changes in our speech than, let us say, in our fashions in dress or our method of dancing, which we can see developing new features from year to year. Speech, which reflects life, has to keep pace with life...." - Henry Alexander, liguist (from The Story of Our Language, 1969)

Names are part of our language. They serve as identifiers. We all have a name, maybe more than one name. Our name was given to us by our parents or similar persons serving in that capacity. Names hold power: they may be a connection to a family member or treasured friend. The name given to a child may be in honor of a well-respected person. Whatever it is, we all have names.

All objects have names. Even 'things' have names, although they may elude us for the moment. Hence the common usage of 'thing':
"You know, that 'thing'".
Sure, I know what you mean, but I called that thing over there 'thing' yesterday and they aren't the same thing, so are you stealing my name or making fun of me?

My name, here in this reality, is 'Macrobe.' Why 'Macrobe'? Because 'Mircobe' is already taken.

No, I am not a new-age earthling who eats a macrobiotics diet or hugs trees. But I am an earthling. I'm not the smallest, and certainly not the biggest.

One of the smallest earthlings is called a microbe. In case you haven't met microbe, allow me to introduce you to Hilaire Belloc's description of the Microbe:

The Microbe
The Microbe is so very small
You cannot make him out at all
But many sanguine people hope
To see him through a microscope.
His jointed tongue that lies beneath
A hundred curious rows of teeth;
His seven tufted tails with lots
Of lovely pink and purple spots,
On each of which a pattern stands,
Composed of forty separate bands;
His eyebrows of a tender green;
All these have never yet been seen --
But Scientists, who ought to know,
Assure us that they must be so...
Oh! let us never, never doubt
What nobody is sure about!

- The Bad Child's Book of Beasts, verses, 1897

I'm much bigger than a microbe. I am unaware of the threshold size that delineates a microbe from a macrobe, but it must be smaller than I.

Size is relative. "Larger than a bacteria, I am, but smaller than an elephant I be." (in my best Yoda voice). The parameter of size is body mass.

Now, let's look at position on the evolutionary food chain. I can eat a microbe, I can eat an elephant (not that I want to), and I can eat the largest mammal on this Earth, a whale. In that context, I am *the* macrobe.

If we classify all living things according to these criteria, with an arbitrary threshold body mass size of 5 feet and position on the evolutionary food chain, any living entity over 5 feet that can eat any other living entity (without gagging) is a 'macrobe.' This is, of course, relevant to my own reality.

So I assume the name of the classification in which I belong: "Macrobe."


Shit, scat, feces, frass, whatever you want to call it, everything has it. Why are we so fascinated with it?

As the proud new parent of five acres in Rural Texas (versus Urban Texas, the 'other' habitat), and an ex-grandmother of a 20-A sheep/horse ranch in Oregon, I keep and eye out for..... yes, shit. Am I sick? No.

An animal's feces reveals alot about the excreter (is that a new word?). Sheep normally excrete perfect little balls of brownness. They pop out like little underpowered bullets, falling to the ground in a indiscrete mound of round little pebbles. A sheep eating lush green grass, as Oregon is best known for, excretes blobs of runny greenish-brown poop. Not that dissimilar to that of a small calf. They also retain a small portion of that on the wool under their tail and on their butts if it is not sheared away. When it dries it forms poop-cement. There's nothing worse that trying to pry away a lamb's tail that has been cemented to their butt by runny poop. In some cases if it is left to build up, it can actually plug up their anus and they become constipated.

Because I have an insatiable curiousity and I'm a scientist, I asked my fellow organic chemistry buddy, who was also a sheepwoman, why sheep feces is excreted in perfectly round little pebbles. After one of her weird looks at me and shaking her head (anyone else, she'd expect they were being silly, but she knew me better than that), she thought about that and offered a hypothesis: sheep have evolved to extract as much fluid from their food as they can. Possibly, as the undigested portion moves through the colon it is compacted into little balls by smooth muscle action. It certain seems easier to excrete.

Then why haven't cows evolved the same? Or horses? I would ask my vet but she's an exceptional vet and I don't want to scare her off.

As any land owner out in the country can relate to (or any veteran backpacker in the wilderness), feces on the ground can tell you what and how many animals (or birds) have been in the area. The area around the ranch in Oregon was overpopulated with coyotes. Sheep are a favorite coyote food item. I always looked to see if there was any coyote scat near or inside the pastures and always found it around the perimeter. "Hmm.. lots of seeds; they're eating the blackberries." "Wow, look at all that hair; that one ate a rabbit."

I recently met my new neighbor: a red Angus bull. Since I tore down one of the perimeter fences, he visits every day, eats my grass, and deposits cow pies everywhere. "Well, at least he's fertilizing your ground," a colleague said. Well, maybe, maybe not. Here in Texas, everything dries out quickly. Unless rain leaches the nitrogen out of the cowpies, the only thing they are good for are cow frisbees. They dry hard. Unless I use them as fuel to cook my dinner like they do in Africa, they are only token "Thanks for letting me eat your grass, human."

What prompted this story? As I got out of my truck today, I found two canine-like turds in my driveway. I don't have a dog. Where did these come from? Is there a dog visiting me, or did one of the elusive coyotes decide to leave a deposit? Other than the prolific deer droppings, and the more recent cowpies, this is the first scat I've seen with no explanation.

Hmm..... will the real pooper please sit down?

To Blog or Not to Blog....

what was the question??

I'm a writer. I've had the dreaded writer's block, with a deadline looming. I sit there and look at the monitor and nothing happens. It's like "I have no mouth and I must scream." I don't know how to overcome this.

I carry on a running dialogue in my head most of the time. When I'm asleep, I live another life. After recounting one of my recent 'in-house' dialogues to a friend, he suggested while shaking his head "Dude, why don't you start a blog?". I looked at him like he was insane. He said it would be good therapy for the block in my head.

Blogs, like tattoos and pierced eyebrows, seem to be the new 'in' thing these days. Like TV reality shows, I never understood the fascination with them. People hang out their laundry and wear their hearts (or other body parts) on their sleeves on blogs. I don't see the fascination of parading your private life on the Internet. I suppose it has some therapeutic benefit for some, much like group counseling. Or maybe it serves to fill an empty spot in an otherwise empty life. Perhaps it provides a public canvas for would-be or wannabe writers to paint with their words.

Ironically, I read one blog this year which altered my perspective of blogs. It belongs to a soldier serving in the war in Iraq. For the first time I looked through someone else's eyes on what transpires over there: uncensored, unpolished, and unpolitically correct. It was a personal and observational account that is not available from any public media source. *This* is what blogs are for.

A close friend and colleague recently started a blog. She's enjoying it and I read it weekly. I enjoy reading it. I see a part of her that is full of wonder and life, despite the daily trudging through various levels of dirt and grease (another definition of life).

So why did I start one? I'm still asking myself that. I'm a macro-microbe on this planet. A singular soul who has no claims to fame (and doesn't want any), a relatively private and reserved individual; the only war I'm a veteran of is 5 decades of life, and is probably only writing for one audience: myself. Because I like to write, and sometimes read.

We shall see how this experiment progresses.

BTW, do these things have spell checkers???......