Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Link herd

This seems grossly unfair, but I'm sick again. I don't usually get sick often, but the last month has been dreadful. I think I've caught everything coming down the pike -- and living with a little blonde petri dish, that's a lot. But enough of that. Here we go on our first new and improved, now-with-more-optimism-and-less-death-and-destruction link herd.

First up, don't miss Mothers for Alaska, whose author left a comment here the other day. Just last night Mr. T observed that perhaps nothing will be done about the climate crisis until people start feeling the effects of it close to home. If you think about it, it makes sense that the effects of global climate change should be felt more immediately closer to the earth's poles. Reading this blog, I was struck by the fact that it's happening now. Fortunately, Mothers for Alaska is chock full of information and activism.

Lookee! A car that runs on compressed air!

For those of us with cars that don't run on air, here's a neat article on "hypermilers." These folks are obsessed with squeezing out as many miles per gallon as possible, and its really cool to see how they do it. They even have competitions. Turns out that backing out of parking spaces is a big gas-sink. There are lots of other interesting tips for making the most of your petroleum use. Just, ahem, use the safe ones.

From Grist, how to talk to a climate skeptic. Also just a good source for the science.

Manual lawnmowers are making a comeback. Guess what? I have one. I love it. My Portland yard isn't very big, and it gives me a quick little upper-body workout. Plus, it's fun and there are no smelly gas fumes.

Fear fatigue, the maternal anxiety level and the climate crisis

My son is four years and eight or so months old. He's a platinum blonde blur, dashing here and there to see this or that, and always dragging the dog along with him. He has my strong, stubborn will and his dad's sense of action. He has a talent for drawing and painting that took me completely by surprise, and a facility with language that didn't.

Although really, he's been surprising me all along, starting with the discovery of his existence in the first place. As I've stumbled along in the last five years, screwing up regularly alongside getting a few things right, one thing has become clear: the result of attaching so fiercely to another human being has come to animate everything I do. He is the axis on which so much of me turns. He has strengthened parts of my worldview, and totally retrenched others.

I've never been remotely comfortable with vulnerability, and the realization that a significant part of my emotional fate was in hands other than my own introduced me to an anxiety that never completely leaves. It's always there, lurking just close enough to the surface that I must constantly ask myself whether any action or inaction is an attempt to protect myself, at his expense, from the possibility of pain. (And sometimes, I'm pretty sure I either forget to ask the question or I don't answer it honestly.) I wrote a little bit about that here.

This isn't all bad, of course. While certain things terrify me more now, this probably makes me a better citizen. Before him, my environmental concerns were mostly about wilderness and open space -- the issues that bore directly on me and my next backpacking trip.* Now they revolve more intensely around climate change, which will directly affect his future and thus looms large in my thoughts. This is why I write about the issue, attend rallies, participate in an environmental reading group, and badger friends and family to watch An Inconvenient Truth.

But you know, sometimes I just need to get the hell away from that godawful drumbeat of doom. And yet sometimes it seems there's no end to it. We have ten years till we're irrevocably screwed. Meanwhile, the United States has rejected the overarching emissions goals of the European Union, saying that we prefer to focus on "specific sectors." Mmm-hmm. Then there's the University of Alaska economist who estimates that global warming damage could cost Alaska up to ten billion dollars over the next few decades.

And on and on and on.

It's a perilous line to walk, between sticking your fingers in your ears and saying "la la la la la!" and knowing what the score is and just needing an occasional break from the worry. But for the near future, here's my line: If we don't change dramatically in the next ten or so years, the next generation is going to live in a very different world, and it'll probably be pretty grim. Period. But for awhile, I'm going to try and talk about the good news instead of offering up a relentless parade of horrors about which Antarctic ice shelf cracked up and which species is on the verge of extinction. My mental health requires it just now.

But, uh, if you haven't seen it, you really should watch An Inconvenient Truth.

*One non-commenting reader of this blog may remember a discussion over burritos one day, six or seven years ago, in which I casually dismissed the issue of fuel economy. I hope she's kind enough not to abuse me for such a silly position -- she has been so far.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dipping a toe back into the blogging pool

Yep, that's an alpine lake your eye has deftly discerned in the corner of the photo, along with a footpath lined with glacier lilies.

It gets more and more difficult to go back to the burbs -- even the burbs of a wonderful city like Portland -- every time I am compelled to do so. At the risk of saying too much too soon, that may become less of a problem in the coming months.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Streptococcus pyogenes

Doesn't look like much, does it? And yet it knocked me and my husband flat for the entire week until we dragged ourselves to the doctor and each obtained a course of antibiotics. Though in most cases your own immune system will take care of our good friend Streptococcus, in a small but frightening number of cases this vicious little microbe can wreak havoc on your health.

Sometimes it causes rheumatic fever, which can permanently and gravely damage your heart valves. Though rare, untreated strep can cause deep tissues to become necrotic, or can cause lung injury or even kidney failure. I'm no antibiotic abuser -- I'm very aware of the social problem presented by profligate use of these drugs. But the risks of leaving strep untreated seem like a kind of inch-wide-mile-deep issue. The risk of these complications isn't overwhelming, but the consequences are. "We aren't treating the sore throat," remarked my nurse. "We're treating to prevent some fairly serious potential complications."

Well that, and I felt better within hours of taking my first dose. This isn't the sickest I've ever been -- I reserve that for our bout with influenza in which my extremely sturdy husband ended up in the ER -- but it runs a very close second.

We're taking it easy. We're planning to leave for Montana tomorrow instead of today.

Friday, May 11, 2007


My northwestern Montana road

I'm taking something of a break. This spring has been unusual in that I've been less able to get out on the trails and waters than the previous few years. Urgh. This is happening for a number of reasons, not all of them bad by any means, but the outdoors is mostly what I like to write about and without it, there isn't much to blog, as I see it. (Or really, I'm too grouchy to want to blog about anything else.)

I am, however, doing a bit of reading. I tore my way through The Omnivore's Dilemma this week, and it's a gem. It really just knocked me flat, and will probably change the way I eat. I think a few posts on that would be valuable, but I want to let it sink in for awhile.

I've also been working on this:

Never thought I'd be a quilter, but there you go.

We're leaving for Montana next week, and we'll be coming back on Memorial Day. I half suspect that our time out there will get the blog juices flowing again, because I never know what I'll see in the way of wildlife. I'm looking forward to fresh trout dinners (assuming Mr. T has some luck) and digging last year's remaining huckleberries out of the deep freeze. Since we haven't been there since January, I'm also keeping my fingers crossed that no pipes have busted this year. Montana winters aren't a garden party, and the first spring visit is always a mess of repairs.

There's no internet access at the house -- at least till I resign myself to paying eighty bucks a month for a land line and DSL that I'll use rarely at best. But since it looks like we'll be spending more time there this summer as well as having guests, I might hold my nose and do just that, but probably not this time.

It's funny, as soon as I announce these breaks I want to post again the next day. But if I don't, no need to send out the cavalry. I'll probably be back eventually. Till then, have fun and raise lots of hell.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A long and disgusting way to explain that my kid is sick and therefore I accomplished nothing of importance this weekend

Almost twenty years ago (yeesh) my second cousin was working as my dad's legal secretary, and I was a freshman in college. I'd stop in at the office fairly frequently, typing up papers there or what have you. One afternoon I was doing some studying at the office and I was feeling sort of yurpy. I went down the hall to the bathroom, where I spent the next twenty minutes trying not to throw up. I'm terrible about this -- I'll fight it and fight it even though I know I need to -- my stomach is begging me to -- throw up. Well, my cousin wandered down the hall after awhile to check on me. She walked into the bathroom, I took one look at her and promptly barfed into the toilet.

It was an in-joke for awhile, that the very sight of my cousin made me lose my lunch. But since then, I've noticed a similar thing happen all the time. Last year when I was fighting food poisoning in China, I managed to keep myself from throwing up during a car ride from the South China Sea all the way to our hotel 45 minutes away. I kept it together through the excruciating process of checking into a hotel where no one understood a single word we said. I kept a lid on it all the way up to our room, and even for 15 additional minutes on the floor of the bathroom.

But the husband walks in to check on me, and blat. There goes the bad seafood.

This morning I was on the other end of this phenomenon. Trailhead Kid started complaining about his throat yesterday afternoon, and by 2 a.m., he was throwing up in our bed (nice, huh?). A look into his throat with a flashlight revealed those dastardly white spots, so I think we're on our second round with strep for the year. I was on duty in the middle of the night, so Mr. T took over at about 5 in the morning and I slept the rest of the morning. I wandered downstairs about noon, and could hear the little one whimpering and Mr. T comforting him. I walked into the living room, Trailhead Kid looked up at me and promptly yakked all over the chair.

Today was supposed to be our hiking day, but instead I cleaned up the chair and wrote a post about blowing chunks. All things considered, I have to say I would have preferred the hiking.

And so, I am guessing, would you.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Another spring ritual

The annual plowing of the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park has begun. Take a look at the photographs here.

The one of the grizzly track got my heart to thumping. They're coming out of hibernation. We'll have to watch for the blackies when we get up to the house later this month.

Memories of a January day

"Git," says my cousin as she waves me off toward the water. "We're digging a Big Hole." It's early January, and we're on the beach. She grins. Our opposite life stages dovetail conveniently in this moment. I'm craving time alone, away from my four-year old son. Her son is nearly thirty and making his fortune in Japan. She wants to remember what it's like to make Big Holes in the sand with a little boy.

So I walk, taking into my lungs the grace of being on a warm beach in the most desperate part of winter. By rights, I should be struggling through a drizzly, dark grey Pacific Northwest day, the thermometer hovering in the low 30s, the leftover Christmas cheer draining from my outlook. Instead, I'm strolling along warm sand, venturing into the surf at regular intervals to keep my feet accustomed to the water temperature. It doesn't take long at all for the mild chill to become warm on my toes.

Every possible phase and flavor of life is represented on the beach. There are surfing teenagers. There are people in their twenties, no doubt with jobs, but less tethered than those of us with children. There are parents like me with kids dashing back and forth to the water. There are three women in their seventies walking toward me with bare feet and the confidence that comes from not giving a crap anymore.

There's my cousin, in the prime of her life at 51. Her child is gone, but now she's the primary caretaker for her declining mother-in-law. She speaks of the present time as a place to stop and consider. She's beaten back Stage I breast cancer, and she's no longer willing to just push forward blindly. She demands a solid reason for being in any given situation.

It's different for me. Like so many of my friends, I slid straight from a quarterlife crisis into my thirties without ever having resolved the issues to my satisfaction. I love nature and the outdoors infinitely more than the law, but I find myself with a family and a mortgage and student loans, all those things you disdain before you sheepishly find yourself saddled with them.

I think this is where so many of us give up. Isn't it enough, we ask ourselves guiltily, to walk on a warm beach in January? Must we be fulfilled by our work as well? So many aren't.

Well, the other half of myself responds, perhaps it is enough, but only if you're not just telling yourself so. And I think there are lots of people who don't have to tell themselves so; they've found the right niche. But there are many more of us who haven't.

It's in this way that we're different from most of our parents and grandparents, I think. More of us are daring to change. A friend of mine hated her legal career, but it took a few years of anguish before she made a dramatic and successful switch to a different field. She told us about trying to talk about her situation with her grandfather, who had survived the Depression. They're still payin' ya, aren't they? he asked in a no-nonsense manner. Ouch. I think that question alone might have accounted for another six months of trying to live with her career.

When I think about the people who have no choice, who can't make a daring leap to try to satisfy some ephemeral need for fulfillment, I've come to have a different reaction from those who respond by feeling guilty and frivolous about pursuing their pipe dreams. It has started to feel more like a duty to take risks and reach for things, to pick through the clouds of depression and uncertainty and make an effort. To not do so, when one has the means and ability, seems like a loss.

This is a separate issue from the fear of it all, but it's a good first step.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

In light of my current inability to string two meaningful words together, I offer you alpaca butts

I have a post that wants to be written but I just can't get it from brain to keyboard in satisfactory form. Perhaps it needs to cook a little longer. Or, it could be that my mental wires are a bit tangled due to my recent attempts to quit coffee*.

So I'm afraid I must rely on my alpaca friends again:

*Sheer misery, I tell you. I'm completely addicted, and it's been hell. It's not even the caffeine I'm not allowed to have, it's a chemical in the coffee itself.