Trail Talk: When Pain Becomes a Flying Mouse

My husband and I often talk about zany things when we’re hiking a trail even if we’re more likely to hike in silence, admiring the general splendor of the outdoor world. Our hike up to the South Rim in Big Bend National Park started as a zany day.

I had lurched my backpack around to my left shoulder and grimaced; my husband watched my pained expression with a grim look of determined concern. We had not been backpacking in over a year and a half, well since I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in addition to my routine problems with my lower back. He immediately offered to carry more of the weight from my pack. He was already carrying 11 liters of water (about 22 pounds of just water) and for our stay at the rim while I carried only 3 liters. He also carried all of our food and heavier gear; I carried sleeping bags and clothes. To hell he was carrying anything else of mine.

I explained that I had a tweak in my neck from sleeping poorly and insisted that I’d be fine. What wasn’t fine, though, was how the chest strap coupled with the shoulder strap of my backpack were lying directly on top of the angry little monster of pain that lives in my left chest, somewhere below my collar bone and wrapping around to my side. This little demon causes such pain that driving is unmanageable as is holding a book for the duration of a synagogue service. This little beast, in short, dramatically affects my life with its constant, querulous pain.

As my husband helped adjust the straps, I asked, “we should name this monster of mine, don’t you think?”

He laughed and continued helping to adjust my straps.

“Any ideas?” I asked. He always has good ideas.

“Something German,” he suggested.

“Schadenfreude?” Rejoicing at someone else’s misfortune didn’t seem quite right, but I’m sure the little demon is perfectly content with me being in constant pain. Symbiosis and all.

“No,” he said (though he still laughed).

“Umlaut?” I asked. I’m quickly running out of German words, which is why I probably reached for umlaut. No way is any kind of mark to indicate the length of a word appropriate.

He shook his head while I indicated the pack was fine. We started hiking out on the trail.

“I really only know Opa and Oma, and it doesn’t seem right to name a monster after a grandparent.” Pain should not mix with people associated with movies, cuddles, and pantries stocked with the best kind of treats.

“Hut?” He offered and then explained it meant hat.

“This pain is absolutely not a hat,” I scoffed.

“What about regenschirm?” he suggested. “Umbrella.”

I made a face. Luckily, he couldn’t see it because I was walking in front of him.


“Fledermausen. It means flying mouse.”

“Flying mouse?”


I considered this option. Quite seriously. More seriously than you should be able to consider naming your pain just after sunrise with a pack strapped to your back and facing a steep series of switchbacks.

“Fledermausen could work… Mice are pests and awful little creatures that gnaw away at valuables. One day, I’d certainly like it to fly away.”

So would my physical therapist. She always beelines for that area at almost every session. Apparently, she can’t help herself; it just screams out to her. And me. The pain is deep in the muscles, fascia, and other tissues in that area. As I contemplated fledermausen, I recalled that the word for muscle is derived from the Latin word for little mouse presumably because the muscles of a human body look like small rodents moving below the skin. How charming. The Latin etymology sold me on fledermausen. Good thing too:  we’d certainly exhausted our knowledge of German.

For the rest of that hike up to the glorious South Rim, our vacation in Big Bend, and our trip home, fledermausen has stuck.  Of course, I couldn’t help but google the word (not only to learn how to spell it), but also to verify the definition. Fledermausen doesn’t mean flying mouse so much as it means bat. However, in one of the best etymological twists, the word means bat because bats are essentially fluttering mice, and German is rather fond of using compound words to create new ones. Ergo, fluttering mouse means bat in German, much like a muscle is a little mouse in Latin.

Fledermausen is absolutely perfect, though I still wish it would go away.

Me and my husband, my own personal and literal aquifer, which means bearing water, at the junction to Emory Peak en route to the South Rim. Yep, he hauls 22 pounds of water up all those switchbacks (nevermind the gear) and is still devilishly handsome and happy.

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