A World of New Possibilities

Posted by Tim Gilmer in Life After Paralysis on August 09, 2021 # Lifestyle

Tim GilmerWhen I left my small townhome in California after high school, I knew one thing for certain that I wanted to do — graduate from UCLA. Beyond that, I didn’t have a real clue. But I had three things on my Not-To-Do list. I never wanted to live in Portland, Oregon (I had driven past it on an elevated freeway during the summer prior to my senior year in high school); I didn’t want to teach for a living; and I did not want to have anything to do with farming or raising cattle, both of which went on all around me in the small town where I grew up. So I knew it was not for me.

That was in 1963.

Guess what? In 1980, I found myself living in Portland, teaching at Portland Community College, and I had just put a down payment on a small farm in the country where I would begin a new chapter in my life — farming and raising cattle.

So, what the heck happened? How did I end up doing the three things on my Not-To-Do list all at the same time?

Here’s my best answer: In 1965, when my life was upended by a tragic accident that paralyzed me, a new and completely different life began. At this time, I was even more certain that I would never do the three things on my Not-To-Do list. Even if I wanted to, I was no longer physically able to farm or raise cattle. Teaching, however, was now a temporary possibility, and Portland was where a teaching position had opened up.

By 1980 I had experienced prolonged Post-Traumatic Growth characterized by recurring setbacks, comebacks, depression and elation, all while trying a number of ways to simply make a living. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was going through what many people experience in coping with a life-changing traumatic event. Tedeschi and Calhoun, founders of the theory of PTG, put it this way (referring to one of the five domains of growth they have found to be characteristic of PTG): “Posttraumatic growth can also be seen in the individual’s identification of new possibilities for one’s life or the possibility of taking a new and different path in life.”

To be certain, many do not choose a different path following SCI or related experience. They pick up where they left off and somehow find a way to stay on track with their plans, usually with great determination, perseverance, some help and good fortune. But thankfully, for those who either don’t have a clear plan or who are no longer able to do what they used to do, there is a world of new possibilities to discover.

Here is the circuitous path I stumbled down on my journey of discovery — failed social worker, failed independent filmmaker, failed office worker, failed piano and organ salesman, failed jewelry maker, and finally, successful grad student, which led to a teaching opportunity. From there, good fortune kicked in, and I started purchasing a piece of land with an old farmhouse on it. All with the help and support of my wife. But how in the world would a paraplegic and his diminutive (115-lb.) wife run a farm?

Five years earlier, I had discovered that I could ride a 3-wheel all-terrain Honda cycle with a hand-operated shifter extension and a centrifugal clutch (no foot pedal needed). This, in turn, led to my discovering camping and exploring, which opened up the outdoors once again. I gradually realized that I could get around on the property and, with a few simple adaptations, open and close gates from my three-wheeler. If I absolutely had to, I could get down from the cycle and crawl or drag myself on the ground. And by having a mechanic add hand controls to two small tractors, I could actually grow vegetables.

So, my wife and I decided to open a U-Pick operation. We did, with one small problem. No one came.

Desperate, we started picking, picking, picking, with help from a few friends and neighbor kids. We ended up with a few boxes of snow peas to sell, but where and how? We went to the side door of the nearest Chinese restaurant and showed our boxes to a chef. It worked. Our first sale earned us a whopping $60 for 30 pounds of peas.

After a number of phone calls, I had a handful of restaurants that wanted our produce. By hiring hand laborers, the number grew to 30 over the years, and in 2010 our farm was featured in a national public television award-winning educational program, “Chefs A’ Field.”

So, what about cattle? As with veggie production, we started small and grew step by step. Leasing ground to others with animals, buying a few on our own, and eventually building a small herd of about 20 with a purebred bull. And it was during this time that I did something I had never envisioned as even a remote possibility. To save the life of a beloved cow in distress during labor, I rode out to where she was down on her side, unable to get up, with her baby calf’s hooves showing. If she couldn’t push it out, the calf would die and she would most likely be paralyzed from a damaged spinal cord (like me), but — unlike me — she would have to be put down.

I let myself down to the pasture, dragged myself through fresh cow poop, and got in position behind the mama cow. I attached obstetric chains high up on the ankles of the calf, and when the mama pushed, I pulled. After about 45 minutes of millimeter-by-millimeter progress, the calf slid free and slithered out on the grass between my legs. The mama cow stood with difficulty and began licking her newborn baby. It blinked. A new life had begun.

I had pulled my first calf into the world. Since that time, I have come to believe that a great deal of who I am and have become was pulled into the world of possibilities on that same day, and for so many of us, the possibilities keep growing.

(A video of me on my ATC giving a tour of my farm on “Chefs A’ Field” can be seen in the Awards section of my website —All You Need —)

Tim Gilmer graduated from UCLA in the late-1960’s, added an M.A. from the Southern Oregon University in 1977, taught writing classes in Portland for 12 years, then embarked on a writing career. After becoming an Oregon Literary Fellow, he went on to join New Mobility magazine in 2000 and edited the magazine for 18 years. He has published upwards of 100 articles, 200 columns, occasional movie reviews and essays. He and Sam, his wife and companion of 47 years, also own and operate an organic farm south of Portland, where they live with their daughter and son-in-law, four grandsons, and a resident barn owl. An excerpt from a memoir about his early post-SCI years, as part of a compendium of his writing over the past 30 years, can be read at his website — All You Need

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.