Author Archives: cwheels62

About cwheels62

I’m Camille Wheeler, a veteran newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, a nature lover, a wanderer of mountain and desert roads, and a chaser of light. Since 2012, my writing research has been focused on the most exciting new frontier in light research: the exploration of the eye’s amazingly old and amazingly powerful nonvisual light-sensing system. I am a journalist and a layperson. My journey, like that of the scientists whose work I am following, is a never-ending process of discovery. And the findings don’t get any bigger than that of a new photoreceptor system in not just the human eye, but in the eyes of all mammals. This ancient system, officially discovered in 2002, performs a most important job: It detects the wavelengths of light that drive our biology and behavior through the resetting of the master 24-hour — the circadian — clock in the brain. The workings of this nonvisual system are shaping health and light research around the world, from long-duration space travel, to medical technology in hospital and healthcare settings, to lighting in professional sports stadiums, to comfort in our homes. I am particularly fascinated with the work of a flexible lighting design team, composed of neuroscientists and light and sleep researchers, which in collaboration with NASA is developing and testing an astronaut-friendly LED lighting system for the International Space Station. This highly sophisticated LED technology is designed to improve astronauts’ sleep, vision, safety and work performances. A talk I gave in August 2014 at the Better Lights for Better Nights Conference in Dripping Springs, Texas, focused on this groundbreaking research that holds huge implications for lighting applications on Earth. In the world of natural light, I am especially enamored with the light-seeking African dung beetle. A Swedish research team has discovered that on clear nights when there’s little to no moonlight, this dung beetle avails itself of another GPS device: the glowing disk of the Milky Way, composed of millions and millions of stars. This research, published in 2013, provides the first documented use of the Milky Way for orientation in the animal kingdom. But this isn’t solely a scientific and technological site. My blog title, “The Light of the Road,” also covers artistic and spiritual ground. I am mesmerized with the art of light as seen in the extraordinary work of contemporary light installation artist James Turrell and the pursuit of light and darkness via the genius of Vincent van Gogh. I am enthralled with the art of light in connection with the art of relationships: our relationships with each other, with the natural world and the animal kingdom, and how all forms of co-existence can be elevated through the application of light-filled love and compassion. I am enchanted with the nocturnal Eastern screech-owls that in the spring and summer live in a tree cavity in my urban backyard. As daylight fades, they perch on the cavity’s edge, waiting for the soft-light summons of dusk. (See my related Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine story at www.tpwmagazine.com/archive/2015/may/LLL_owls.) A little bit more about me: I am an Austinite and native Texan who could live on hot sauce, jalapeños and brisket. My favorite spot on Earth is Big Bend National Park, where I hope to someday photograph a mountain lion in the wild. In my living room hang two framed photographs, both taken in far West Texas by one of my favorite photographers, Woody Welch (http://woodywelchphotography.com). One photo is of the Milky Way stretching up into the night, arching its back over McDonald Observatory high in the Davis Mountains. This photo accompanied my December 2010 Texas Co-op Power magazine cover story (www.texascooppower.com/texas-stories/nature-outdoors/starstruck) that explored the quest to protect West Texas’ dark night skies — some of the darkest in the world — from rapidly increasing light pollution. The other photo is of a fleeting moment of light in Marathon, 70 miles north of Big Bend. It is twilight, immediately following a summer monsoon, and rain glistens on a train, its headlight on as it rolls through the tiny town. In the distance, the red, yellow and purple hues of sunset illuminate the contours of the Del Norte Mountains, the final rays of the day seemingly laid down in patterns of silk. Somewhere between these two scenes lies my relationship with light. It is to such a spiritual place that I hope to take readers — a destination of mystical, transformative light.

The Noise of the Night

DSC08897Souped-up Harley-Davidsons are really cool. And really, really loud, as this young girl demonstrates during recent Republic of Texas Biker Rally festivities on Austin’s Sixth Street.

When Eyes Meet

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One recent evening on Austin’s Sixth Street, this young homeless man and I locked eyes. He wordlessly allowed the taking of his photograph and then commented on my T-shirt: forest green, with a design of generic leaves that could be from any tree. At least that’s what I thought it represented. Your shirt has pot leaves, he said, catching me off guard. I looked down at my shirt. Did it? I laughed. Sure had never seen it that way. Things aren’t always what they seem, I guess. This is what I love about Sixth Street. Conversations you don’t see coming.

Passing Time

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I met this man on a recent afternoon walk around downtown Austin. He was sitting on a bench on the north side of Fourth Street, across the street from a Capital MetroRail station. I asked him where the train went, and he said, get on and find out. He smiled. He said he couldn’t afford to ride it. We chatted for a while. He said he used to paint with Art From the Streets, a free and open studio in Austin that serves artists in the homeless community. I asked why he quit. He shrugged. I encouraged him to start painting again. We chatted some more. And then I went on my way, turning to wave at this friendly stranger.

Fighting Back Against Parkinson’s

Coach Kristi Richards completed Rock Steady Boxing coaching certification training in September 2015 as one of the final steps toward her dream job: coach and founder of Rock Steady Boxing Austin, which held its first class on Nov. 4, 2015. Richards scans the gym during classes, watching for the first signs of those who need help. She’s quick to offer a steadying hand, help someone glove up between workout stations — Meridith Devine, left, in this instance — or plant herself beside boxers, reminding them of punching sequences: “Jab, hook, uppercut. Jab, hook, uppercut ...” Described as “electric and positive” by one of her boxers, Richards draws upon the Rock Steady Boxing curriculum and her background as a senior fitness group instructor to offer diverse workouts. “Just going to a regular gym, sure it’s great for them, but it’s a whole lot more fun to hit stuff,” she says of her boxers, all of whom have Parkinson’s disease.

Coach Kristi Richards completed Rock Steady Boxing coaching certification training in September 2015 as one of the final steps toward her dream job: coach and founder of Rock Steady Boxing Austin, which held its first class on Nov. 4, 2015. Richards scans the gym during classes, watching for the first signs of those who need help. She’s quick to offer a steadying hand, help someone glove up between workout stations — Meridith Devine, left, in this instance — or plant herself beside boxers, reminding them of punching sequences: “Jab, hook, uppercut. Jab, hook, uppercut …” Described as “electric and positive” by one of her boxers, Richards draws upon the Rock Steady Boxing curriculum and her background as a senior fitness group instructor to offer diverse workouts. “Just going to a regular gym, sure it’s great for them, but it’s a whole lot more fun to hit stuff,” she says of her boxers, all of whom have Parkinson’s disease.

Stephanie Combs-Miller

Stephanie Combs-Miller

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder for which there is no cure. But a growing body of work from University of Indianapolis researcher Stephanie Combs-Miller reveals something remarkable: Parkinson’s patients participating in Rock Steady Boxing’s noncontact boxing training are seeing significant improvements in balance, gait, mobility and mental outlook as they regain quality of life.

Rock Steady Boxing, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit organization, was founded in 2006.

See my Austin American-Statesman story about one of Rock Steady Boxing’s newest affiliates, Rock Steady Boxing Austin, at www.mystatesman.com/news/lifestyles/recreation/rock-steady-boxing-austin-helps-people-with-parkin/nqtGS.

Cornered

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Night action is a blur around a man named Alexander at the northeast corner of Sixth and Brazos streets in downtown Austin. For much of a recent evening, Alexander belted out what he called a bastardized version of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” for any passerby who would listen.

Man vs. City

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I shot this photo of David, a young homeless man living on the downtown streets of Austin, Texas, near dusk on a recent Friday evening. I asked David if I could take his picture, but I didn’t ask him to pose. He instinctively adopted this somber, pensive stance against the backdrop of a hotel development on the northeast corner of Seventh Street and Congress Avenue.