Friday, September 28, 2007

I recently heard on NPR that America uses 1.2 million plastic bottles a day because of our obsession with bottled water. Plastic – bottled forms or those infamous plastic bags we get at our favorite stores – are all made from petroleum. And Styrofoam – that’s even worse. It takes something like 4 billion years for one Styrofoam cup to decompose naturally, and burning it releases various forms or carbon into the air, which turns into greenhouse gasses, which is responsible for Ozone depletion, global warming, etc. etc. You see where I’m going with this. A huge percentage of this stuff ends up in landfills. (Without a good reference, if I had to guess, I’d guess probably about 90% of it ends up in landfills.) But my point of reference might be skewed by this past week. Here’s why.

During the course of this five day training, we were bombarded with beverages in plastic bottles, mostly bottled water, but also Styrofoam cups for coffee and countless cans of soda. Mindful of the waste of these products, I took every bottle I used and saved them (in a plastic bag from Target, ironically) all week, so by the end of the week, I had accumulated a full bag. Determined to find someplace to recycle it, I toted the red and white bag down to the check out counter at the hotel on Friday morning.

“Do you have a place to recycle this,” I asked the attendant.

“No, we do not,” he responded.

Up in the room, there was a sign posted next to the towel rack in the bathroom that said something about their being concerned about conserving water and to please reuse the towels. While water conservation is a problem, so is recycling plastic bottles!

So I lugged the bag with me on the 45 mile drive to the Boston Logan airport, certain there would be containers set aside specifically for this purpose there. But all I found was trash cans.

I stopped by a Starbucks. They market themselves as eco-friendly and mindful of the impact of waste on the environment. On the side of every cup holder is written, “ Starbucks is committed to reducing our environmental impact through increased use of post-consumer recycled materials. Help us help the planet.” Certainly, they would be sympathetic to my plight.

I approached the girl behind the counter. She wore Muslim clothing, complete with burka, and spoke broken English.

“Do you recycle?” I asked and held up the bag for her to see.

“Yes,” she replied. And for a moment, I was relieved. Then she said, “Trash? There are trash cans out there,” and she pointed out into the airport.

“No,” I corrected. “This isn’t trash. It’s recyclable.”

She looked puzzled. “No, we don’t do that here.”

Furious, I sat down to pull up my blog, my favorite place to spout off. Although I was connected to the Airport’s WiFi, I was told I had to pay a one-time fee of $7.95. I disconnected and called my husband. He then informed me that if I tried to get on the plane with a bag full of empty plastic bottles, it would be cause for being searched extensively, padded down, etc and that I should give up and throw the bag in the trash. I finally succumbed, out of fear of being strip searched or labeled and eco-terrorist.


In every instance, when I asked someone to dispose of the plastic properly, I was looked at as if

I had three heads and spoke Martian. Why are we so wasteful? Do we think we are invincible, capable of outliving our resources? I sat in the airport watching all the consumers walking around with their bottles of beverages, and thought about how every single one of them would end up in a landfill. That’s a lot, when you consider I was in a huge metropolitan area in an international airport.

It is things like this that make me ashamed to be part of this culture. We are gluttonous, live way beyond our means, eat too much, drink too much, live to excess and yet our attitude is such that we think we’ll live forever. I am guilty of this gluttony too (I’m in debt up to my eyeballs), but damnit! Things have to change!

I can’t wait to get on the plane, go home and see my dogs and my family, build my dog box and head for the U.P.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Day four: BAH-ston "This is not my town and it will never be..." - Kathleen Edwards

I am fascinated with the way people talk in New England. I think Ohio and most of the midwest have the least amount of dialect or accent anywhere in the U.S. Everything about the midwest is bland: the food, the dialect, the diversity... unless you're of a different ethnicity. But here, the air is rich with sounds of long a's and missing consonant sounds. Except for "w's" which seem to be over-exaggerated.

Take for example the town I am staying in. It's spelled Worcester, which I mistakenly assumed was pronounced WOR-chester. Not the case. It's actually pronounced WO-ster. What, you may ask, happened to the R and the C? It would seem New Englanders have missed a few consonants. That, or as a colleague from New Mexico pointed out to me the other night over a few beers, "perhaps they were drunk when they decided how to pronounce it." Incidentally, we were drinking ourselves when we came up with the theory.

So here's a short glossary of terms, complete with pronounciations, via the infamous New England dialect:

Boston = BAH-ston

Discouraged = disCAHRaged (long a as in "car")

Water = WA-tah

Car = CAH

I guess it's a carry over from London...or is it? I've not met an Englishman who talks like this. In fact, it would seem to me that proper English, as in London, the inflections are even more pronounced. So what happened?

In graduate school, I studied linguistics (not because I wanted to, but because I had to in order to finish my degree). I'm sure there's some explanation for this particular dialect, but I was sleeping half the time in linguistics so I can't tell you! I find it fascinating, nonetheless.
* * * *
Tonight, I wandered through a bookstore looking for a couple certain books that I, of course, could not find. I ended up flipping through a few books on Alaska, and became suddenly homesick -- not for Ohio or my family, but for the cold and the land where I belong. I do not feel at home here in any way. They say Alaska is where you go when you don't fit in anywhere in the lower 48, and I feel that way.
Now, I don't know if Alaska is where I'm "meant" to be. I think there are lots of places I could happily call home, and I know that home is largely what you carry with you inside your heart. But I feel really alienated here. This is not a place I would ever want to vacation or learn about. The people I've met here seem very upity, not the sort of people you could hang out with over a campfire or talk about life with. They seem very materialistic. I saw a person walking yesterday with shorts, a tee shirt and a scarf on! Very "Ivy League."
I am ready to go home. And I will start building my dog box for my truck, building picket lines and outriggers, ordering my winter parka for the upcoming season and send in my entry form for my races. In less than two weeks I will make the trek with Sophie to the U.P. once again for training weekend at the Shaw kennel and then the Stielstras. I'll be out under the stars, in the cold with people I can relate to. And I can't wait.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Oxford town, Oxford town, don't go down to Oxford town...."

I found a Target yesterday and walked around for about an hour inside. It's amazing and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit how comforting these silly familiarities are when you're alone in a strange (and fairly large) city.

When I got back to the hotel, I had a glass of Riesling with a grilled veggie sandwich and sat at the bar for a couple hours. One beer followed another, and before I knew it, I was quite tipsy. There are advantages to traveling alone. Anonymity is one, being able to go back to my room and pass out at 9:30 another. :-) Being able to peruse the isles of Target undisturbed without anyone rushing me to leave or clamoring for something is yet another.

I am ready to go home now. This is a nice place to visit but I would never want to live here.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Defragging in Worcester

After a very long day filled with lingo like "gaba agonist" and "dopamine receptors," I took a much-needed jog around downtown Worcester, home of U Mass Medical School who is hosting the training I'm here for. History seems to be etched in every corner of this place. Alley ways opened by giant wooden doors, revealing what I expected would be cobblestone streets and, at any second, a gallant Paul Revere would come galloping through the alleyway shouting "The British are coming!" It is beautiful here, full of Ivy-league educationals seeking truth through science, rich with history; indeed, it is the oldest part of our (still young) country....but I wouldn't want to live here.

The most pleasant thing about this trip so far is being able to come back to my room, take a hot bath, and relax alone with only myself to care for. Everyone should take some time to recharge and sit in solitude. I have not had the chance to do that for any significant amount of time for a long, long time. This hotel is nothing spectacular, and as far as I'm concerned, you could put me in a box. As long as I had a pillow to sleep on and some much-needed quiet time, I'd be grateful.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

In an airport with dark chocolate covered espresso beans

I'm sitting in an airport eating dark chocolate covered espresso beans and drinking diet coke awaiting a flight that will eventually take me to Boston. Then I will rent a car that will take me to U Mass Medical School, where I will sit through five days of intensive training, to become a board certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist.

Really, I'm more interested in the diet coke and espresso beans than some prestigious school's certification. Really, I'm already missing my dogs and my family.

I'm trying to coolly ignore the announcement overhead that the office of homeland security has just raised the security level to orange. I'm trying not to think about much of anything. I don't like flying. It's not natural, and flying gives one no appreciation for the vast expanse of this country.

Boarding call...time to sign off.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Death in the family

Oliver, the beautiful cat to the right in this picture, has died. He was born on August 13, 2001 -- a Friday the thirteenth, which always amused me, because he had two strikes against him: he was all black, and born on Friday the 13th. Despite his color, he was half Siamese, and so, was very vocal, holding entire conversations with us at times. He was very sweet and affectionate, a cat who needed people. We found him dead in our basement today. We will miss you, buddy.

When we buried him tonight in the back of the backyard, Chris was crying, but I was just digging. Somehow, I can never grieve immediately. I was the same way about Kahlua, our dog, and about my grandmother dying. Two years later, I'm trudging through the cemetary looking for her grave, crying. And I think about Kahlua every day, and cry often for her now too. But in the immediacy, I'm frozen.

Working in hospitals for the last seven years has somehow taught me how to compartmentalize emotions. I've seen such sad things, working at Children's, and have only begun to get a glimpse of the sadness of the adult hospital I now work in. I've learned how not to react immediately, how to treat even horribly sad things as common place. It's not that I don't feel, that I don't react; eventually it comes out....usually here.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"...The winter! the brightness that blinds you,/The white land locked tight as a drum,/The cold fear that follows and finds you,/The silence that bludgeons you dumb./The snows that are older than history,/The woods where the weird shadows slant;/The stillness, moonlight, the mystery,/I’ve bade ‘em good-bye – but I can’t./It’s the great, big broad land way up ‘yonder,/It’s the forest where silence has lease;/It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,/It’s the stillness that fills me with peace." -- Robert Service, excerpted from The Spell of the Yukon.
Cool nights pull me outside. The huskies prance again in the yard at dusk, so happy to have cooler temperatures. I am probably one of few people in this area happy to have these nights below 50 degrees. I have yet to hook up for the first time aside from the occasional bikejor, but I can't wait.
The above picture is from Tom's trek to Alaska last spring. He and I met for supper the other night to develop our plan of attack for sponsorship, plan for winter, etc. Sophie and I will make the journey to the U.P. in less than a month for a training weekend with the Stielstras. The cold beckons like an old friend. It is in my blood.
The last two lines of this poem above by Robert Service hit me hard. Anyone who understands my love of silence and the woods -- that Thoreauesque transcendentalist love of nature -- will understand precisely why those lines hit me. Especially that last night, "the stillness that fills me with peace." Life has been so, so hectic lately. My "to do" list is super long and divided into four categories! I feel like my head is spinning lately, like I can't focus because I have so much to do, my mind keeps jumping around trying to tackle it and keep track of it all.
It is only the stillness of the woods, especially stillness of wintertime, where I find peace. The daily grind of life makes me nuts. In the snow, I can regroup and connect with quintessential, life-giving stillness.
I can't wait for snow. I need to defrag.

Friday, September 7, 2007


Yesterday, when I stopped by the cemetary after a meeting to find my grandma's grave, which I haven't yet seen since she died (it'll be two years ago in January), I became frustrated initially because I couldn't find the damned thing. But then I thought, "what the hell. She's not here anyway. She lives inside me, because I am part of, she is really with me. To search for her, I only need to look inside and be quiet."

What was buried in that coffin that cold day in January was just a symbol, something I recognized as my grandmother. But her essence: her memory, spirit, live on in me. In the ground I walked on yesterday, her body lay somewhere, decaying, in that blue dress she wore to my wedding, which she also wore to her own funeral. A bronze marker sits on the ground with her and my grandfather's names on it. Down the hill is a similar marker with the names of her mother and father.

While I was trapsing through the grass looking for the bronze markers of my family tree, the whole process seemed downright sick to me, to be walking over decaying bodies all lined up in a row. How morbid! And I thought, screw this! I'm going running! And I ran, and ran, and ran, thinking the whole time of my dead grandma and my own absolute fear of death.

What is it that scares me about dying?

It's turning into nothing, becoming a pile of stuff for someone else to root through. Really, all we are is stuff. When my grandmother died, my family couldn't believe the amount of stuff in her little apartment. And in the end, most of it went into the garbage.

Every month when we pay our mortgage...I think about this....think, "why?" Because this house is not really "ours" per se. It's the bank's. And even when/if we ever paid our house off and it was "ours," it would be turned over to someone else eventually anyway, to start all over in the economic cycle. Nothing is ours. All those things that mean so much to us in life, ultimately, mean nothing. The differences, the stressors, the deadlines, the arguments: none of it means a damned thing. The only thing that matters is leaving a legacy for younger generations of family, so I work hard at teaching my kids to fish, to play, to enjoy life. And I hope they remember this when I am dead.

To end suffering, end desire. To hold on to stuff is to suffer.

Monday, September 3, 2007

happy campers

"Soon, silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day, he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation. Tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding and trilling bolster his ego." -- Jean Arp
We went camping this weekend. I had a nice big entry typed up, but then my laptop died. I am borrowing Chris's computer to upload these photos, which hopefully will be worth the thousand words I had typed up.
One thing I thought a lot about this weekend, though, is why being outside means so much to me. Chris can't understand my need to be out, my longing for nature. His idea of relaxing is being at home connected to gadgets like cable t.v., wireless internet, CDs and DVDs.
While these things are nice, for me, being in nature in solitude soothes me. It's the only time I feel at home. I am more at home under the sky, stars and canopy of trees than I am in my own home. All the activities of modern living remove us from nature and from our connection to life. While the internet and television certainly enables us to connect with things not possible before in the blink of an eye, it's through my connection with nature that I truly feel alive. It might be running with my dogs, teaching my kids how to fish or make a fire, it might be hiking and showing my kids different mushrooms or leaves on trees or insects; but it is through these simple activities that I remember what's important, and what connects me and those I love to the universe.