Monday, October 13, 2014

Hot springs and bluegrass and lightning, oh my!

   There's a theme developing here.  This has quickly become the brewery and hot springs tour of North America.  The day we were "scheduled" to drive the Beartooth Pass, a storm was heading that way too.  Being at 10,000 feet during a snow storm didn't sound all to appealing, so we decided to head to the Norris Hot Springs instead.  It seems to be a bit of a Bozeman institution.  On weekend nights, there's live music next to the springs.  Throughout the day, they serve a varied menu of fare that's often grown on site and is otherwise organic and locally sourced.  And of course they have a bunch of local beers on tap.  The hot springs itself isn't all natural like the ones we'd soaked in up in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park and the Boiling River.  But nor was it a gross cemented pool like many are around the country.  Rather Norris is lined with smooth wood boards, forming a 4' deep pool that's just large enough to comfortably accommodate the 25-30 men, women, and kids that were going for a dip when we were there.
    We spent pretty much the entire day there, soaking and enjoying a beer for 45 minutes, drying off and reading for an hour, eating some sweet potato burritos and potato-kale soup, soaking for another 45 minutes, drying off and reading, and just waiting for the music to start at 7PM.  We spent about 6 hours at that place with the plan to sleep in the car down the road afterwards.
    At one point while I was composing the previous blog, actually, some rain started trickling down.  We were undeterred.  Being in the hot springs during rain would actually be really nice.  Finally, 7PM rolled around, and the bluegrass started.  We hopped back in to relax to the music.  The rain started coming down a bit harder.  In the distance, there was a flash of light.  Valine was really worried, but I kept pointing out that we're only seeing flashes and not hearing thunder.  That meant the lightning was striking really far away.  Of course, I was saying that while there was live music being played and rain was falling around us.  I'm not entirely certain that the thunder wasn't muted by all of the noise around us.
    Valine wasn't comforted by that in the least.  More flashes.  Valine was ready to get out.  A woman next to us said they were really strict at Norris Hot Springs, that they'd definitely kick us out well before it became dangerous.  Another flash, and maybe some faint thunder.  I'd noticed some signs up around during the day--we were there for 6 hours after all!--one of which said that if thunder is heard less than 30 seconds after lightening, that the pool would be closed.  I figured that meant the woman was right, that they'd be closely monitoring that storm.  Another flash in the opposite direction.  That finally made me nervous because that meant the storm was all around us.
    We finally started making our way to the side of the pool at about the same time that an employee came over to announce that the pool was closing.  Everyone else started making their way to the stairs at a leisurely pace.  Valine was at the front of the group because we'd already made the decision to get out, and I had gone over to the side to get our water bottles (one of which was filled with cheap wine).  Suddenly the place was lit up with bright blue light and deafening thunder.  A bolt had struck somewhere very near.  That was my first experience in my life with mass panic.  Some people screamed.  I was sure that some little kids would get stepped on by the mob rushing out of the pool.
    Valine was the first out and she ran over to our stuff.  This was really her first experience with lightning, being a native Californian.  Imagine a southerner experiencing an earthquake for the first time.  That was in Panama for me.  I was awaken in the middle of the night by what I thought was the 4 story termite-infested apartment building crashing down.  All I did was grab my bed to hang on for dear life.  My second time was on Easter Sunday down in San Diego back in 2010.  I was working that day for the lack of anything else to do.  I happened to be talking to Valine on the phone when the building started shaking violently.  "Uh, there's an earthquake!  I got to go!" I said before hanging up.  One of my coworkers was there that day too.  He started running down the corridor and cheerfully yelling, "earthquake!  Earthquake!"  I didn't realize he was heading for an exit.  "What do I do?" I shouted back to him.  "Get out!"  When I made it outside with him, he told me that he teaches a class over at UCSD on the natural hazards of San Diego County.  Apparently, ironically, the building the USGS is housed in is built on dredge spoils.  That's pretty much one of the worst places you can be for a major earthquake, that one being a 7.2 with an epicenter 100 miles away in Mexico.  Actually, the worst place you can be is up in the observation tower at Sea World, which is also built on really soft substrate.  I wasn't planning on going to Sea World anyway, but upon learning that I knew I'd never be going up into that tower.
   When I got over to Valine, she had the same reaction as me that Easter Sunday.  "What do I do?"  I suggested that we go inside the building.  She scooped up her stuff and rushed over to the packed lounge.  We could barely fit into the door.  Valine pointed at a water bottle and asked, "is this ours?"  We realized she'd not only grabbed someone else's bottle, but she'd grabbed someone else's clothes too.  I asked her if she remembered shoving a kid out of her way on her way out of the pool.  I was just kidding, trying to make her laugh.  I grabbed the water bottle and clothes and just put them back out in the area where they were.  I was going to apologize to whomever the owner was, but the lightning was coming down pretty regularly and that point and not too far away.
    We waited in the lounge until the lightening died down.  The policy was that everyone had to stay out of the pool until at least 30 minutes after the last lightning.  We decided that our hot springs fun would be over for the night.  Valine wasn't about to go back into that pool.
    Yeah, I'm not sure I wanted to experience another earthquake in my office again either.

Hot springs and nighttime hikes and bears, oh my!

   Somewhere buried in my many blogs from Australia is the comment that national parks there place peoples' lives into their own hands much more than in the US.  My comment was something like “this would never happen in the US.”  It was inspired by a hike Ingrid and I did in New England National Park, I think.  At the apex of the hike, we had to scale sheer rock to finish it up assisted with only a rudely secured rope.  It took a moment for me to work up the courage to make that last push, to decide I wasn't going to fall to my doom among the rocks 100 feet below.  I said out loud to Ingrid that I didn't think there would ever be anything like that in the US.
   Well I retract that statement.  The National Park Service officially makes your life your responsibility just as much. My eyes were first opened to this 5 years ago over Thanksgiving.  My friends Dan and Kristen and my (new at the time) girlfriend Valine went up to spent the holiday in Klamath Falls, Oregon, at Dan's family's vacation home.  We spent one day at Crater Lake in all of it's 10 feet of snow wintry glory throwing some snowballs and not hiking anywhere for the lack of snowshoes.  The next day we traveled down to Lava Beds National Monument in northern California seeking some adventure and hiking.  All I knew about the place was what my friends said, that there were some caves to see.  At the visitor's center, we were given the standard park map with the black trimming and white letter graphics common to all of the National Park Service.  We were told that we should wear good shoes, consider wearing kneepads, and directed to where we could purchase a book of maps of all of the caves.  And that's it.  It was our responsibility to have lights.  It was our responsibility to navigate our way safely around those caves.  And it was our responsibility to survive.  I highly doubt some dutiful park ranger searches the caves each evening for lost people or, you know, anybody who's headlamp may've died. That was a surprising revelation in this country that values personal responsibility so little.
   Other examples have cropped up during our travels of late.  The lack of protective roadside barriers in Lassen National Park to prevent cars from tumbling over the side like Toonces the Cat was at the wheel.  Same along the 6,500 ft Going to the Sun Road in Glacier.  The hike down to Crater Lake where you're discouraged from loitering for the common rockfalls.  So basically moving reduces the probability you'll be in the crosshairs of a giant boulder; but there're still giant boulders falling commonly enough along that path to warrant that warning!  And then this: when asked about a nighttime hike to the Boiling River hot springs in Yellowstone a few days ago, the park ranger responded with a cheerful, “just make a lot of noise! There's been some bear activity in that area!”
    I'm not sure what I've been expecting.  Maybe a bear spray requirement.  Maybe trail closures where grizzlies have been spotted.  Maybe anything other than encouragement to make noise. Glacier, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone have been uniformly blasé about the subject of bears, at least to this inexperienced bear country traveler.  Just make some noise. I noticed that the park rangers in Glacier sure as heck carried bear spray with them.  But for us nighttime hikers, we're suppose to make some noise.
   With that advice, we ventured out onto the moonlit trail with really no clue as to where these hot springs were, just that somewhere along the path we'd see some steam rising next to bank.  That's where the blistery Boiling River would be pouring into the icy waters of the Gardiner River.  Along the way, just make some noise and we wouldn't get mauled by a bear.  I should mention this was only my second adventure in grizzly bear country, the first being our visit to Glacier only a few weeks ago.  It was sure as shit my first time doing it at night.  The allure of that hot spring was just too much to resist, I guess.
   Singing, talking loudly, and giving the occasional wildfire-fighter “whoop!” that I learned from Denise along the way, we worked our way upstream to the springs. Valine's headlamp darted forward and aft checking to make sure both that we'd not stumble into a bear and that one wasn't stalking some late night treats. Mine probably would have too but chivalry forced me to give her the only headlamp that shined farther than a few feet before your face. We made it down to the hot springs un-bear-scathed in only about 10 minutes, and it was amazing. It was the night of the blood moon, so the landscape was glowing around us. We were often enveloped in steam as we soaked in water that ranged from ice cold to scalding hot to occasionally and mercifully warm. Where the moon wasn't blindingly bright, a blanket of stars stared down at us from all directions. It was definitely worth it, definitely an experience that we'll always remember.
   Then we had to walk back.
   The park service told us we could be ticketed if we weren't out of there by 9PM. So we set our phone alarms for 8:40, hoping that'd be plenty of time to dry off, get dressed, and get back to the car. After all, I've already had one ticket in Yellowstone.  Hot-footing it back to the car, Valine and I created a song to keep bears away based upon TLC's “No Scrubs.”  “No-oo-oo....bea-aa-aars....a bear is a mammal that can't get no honey from me!”  And so on.  And no, we weren't drunk.  We strictly followed the signs that said bears can be attracted to food, scraps, and even water bottles, and we figured a bottle of wine might smell just sweet enough to lure one in.  We sort of regretted that choice when another obviously Boiling River-experienced arrived with a Nalgene full of something dark that they continually swigged in the hot springs.
   But a completely sober mind was probably a good thing when Valine cast her light towards our left, away from the river, and said, “oh my god, I see eyes.”  Valine and I are opposites when it comes to jumpiness.  I probably don't react as quickly and dramatically as I should, and she, well I've been saying for years that she's got jumps like a kangaroo.  I learned early on that my angry reactions while watching Carolina sports needed to be more measured so as to not give her a heart attack—that was a lesson I learned during a football game when I slapped the couch in anger and caused Valine, who was innocently reading in the corner, to toss her book up into the air like a spontaneous juggling session.  I felt terrible about it and have tried, TRIED, to stop reacting in those ways.  When dook beat us on a last second 3 point shot a few years ago, instead of pounding the couch with my fist as I would normally, I simply walked out the door.  And down the street.  I'm fairly certain I was down the stairs before the ball hit the court again.
   All that said, I was sure she was full of it.  Then she cast her light in the direction again and said, “do you see that?”  I did.  There were 2 large eyes looking back at us.  We both starting talking aloud about how you're supposed to just slowly walk away from bears, that bears aren't known to stalk humans, that people only really get attacked by grizzlies if they startle them or if they go and live among them like that idiot Grizzly Man dude.  I was worried about Valine's level of fear, so I suggested to her that it was probably just a raccoon.  I didn't believe it.  Those looked like bear eyes to me.  But what could we do?  There we were with the river rushing to one side of us, a huge cliff on the other, and only about 20-30 yards of bear real estate in between.  So we continued down the path slightly more quickly and continuing with our “No Bears” song and Valine's headlamp darting behind us ever so often  to make sure we weren't the unlucky couple who happened to get stalked and preyed on by a grizzly.  We weren't.  We made it out just fine.  So did the boozing couple behind us.
   In hindsight, I feel a bit Bill Bryson-esque for my squeamishness.  I'm pretty sure that was a grizzly, but I'm also pretty sure he or she didn't care one bit about us.  We'll chalk that up as yet another story that's fun to tell because we survived it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Northern Nevada is for Napping

When I'm traveling, I've got primary destinations just as anyone else; but my favorite memories are always those unexpected places I discover.  Badlands National Park isn't exactly random, but 13 years ago when my buddy Phil and I were on our cross-country roadtrip, we stopped in with zero expectations.  I had some vague memory of the Badlands registering into the "that'd be cool to see" list in my brain when I was a kid, a kid that read through an entire series of books about national parks.  Phil and I arrived there in the middle of South Dakota in the middle of the night.  We were young and dumb and did a lot of driving through the night during that trip.  We only stopped at the Badlands because we were tired and looking for a place to sleep (in the truck because we were young and dumb and slept in the truck a lot).  Driving through the park in the pitch dark, we had zero perception of what was around us.  For the lack of obvious places to park and not get scurried away by a ranger, we decided to head back out of the park.  While turning around, our headlights shined over what was next to use during our drive through the park:  a seeming bottomless abyss for how dark that pit next to us was that night.  We popped out of the truck and exploring the miniature Grand Canyon we suddenly realized was around us.  Rather than aiming for a hotel parking lot to sleep that night, we decided we needed to be right there for sunrise.  That turned out to be my favorite memory of that trip, a trip that included the actual Grand Canyon, the Beartooth Mountain Pass, Yosemite, the Pacific Coast Highway, Zion, and some good times around Bozeman, MT.

I don't think Balanced Rock State Park, ID, will be the highlight of my and Valine's present roadtrip, but it was certainly an unplanned stop in what's become a series of fortunate random stops.  Southern Idaho is farm country, essentially indistinguishable from Kansas or Indiana if but for the looming mountain ranges in the distance.  While making the slog across northern Nevada and Valine was taking her second nap of the day, I was thinking through our schedule over the next few days.  That night, we needed to make it far enough to have a full next day in Yellowstone.  Then we'd be hauling across Montana with the same goal for Glacier.  That schedule was nagging me.  Just 1 day in each of those parks?  Then it dawned on me that later down the line we were aiming to make this exact same slog across northern Nevada and that was enough for me.  When Valine woke up, I asked how she'd feel about changing our goal for the evening and aiming to get to Glacier a day earlier.


She's so inflexible.

The sun quickly setting, finding a place for the evening became primary concern number one.  I'd written down directions for another campground a ways down the road toward Yellowstone--yes "written" in this day and age of the cell phone!--directions that were now useless.  For some reason, both of our phones were ekingly slow out there away from Civilization, CA, and our searches for campsites were difficult at best.  We found something called "Twin Falls County Park-Balanced Rock Campground," but had the darnedest time finding directions.  We blazed by the location provided by my "Campfinder" app without seeing anything resembling a campground.  Then we saw a brown sign that simply said "Balanced Rock" with an arrow.  With zero confidence that we'd actually end up at the correct place, I made the turn.  Around us was midwest-esque flatness and fields for miles.  "Balanced Rock?"  Where on earth were we headed?

Valine plugged away on the phones trying to track down some better information, any information really on the whereabouts of this damn campground.  We kept going at the 40 MPH speed limit with the sun setting in the distance and nothing but tractors, farms, and barns in sight.  Then the road made a bend and we dipped 60 feet down into this idyllic red-rocked canyon with a beautiful creek and a sign that read "Twin Falls County Campground."  Well that worked out.

That was our first campground on this adventure, a free one at that.  Free campgrounds seem to be fairly abundant so long as you're willing to do without a shower, which we are in this cool Fall weather.  We awoke the next morning to the cooing of pigeons, little alien starling calls, and nothing that seemed to be produced by a native species.  The bats, muskrat, and screech owl we spotted or heard the evening before were lovely anyway.

From there, we crossed a bridge over the Snake River just north of Idaho Falls.  After we crossed the river, I asked Valine to pull over to the vista point--one of my mantras in life is to always stop for vistas points--and we took in an uber version of what we'd experienced the previous night.  I guess if water runs through the southern Idaho countryside for a while, it forms quite the beautiful canyon.  Other than the stupid golf course alongside the river downstream and the strip mall on the rim across from us, the Snake River Gorge is gorgeous.  This area was one of the primary corridors of the Oregon Trail (yeah, that actually existed outside of the pixelated floppy disk video game).  One could only image what settlers thought having crossed plains for days and suddenly being presented with this monstrous canyon in their path.  Actually, they probably thought, "God I hope there aren't any Indians or grizzlies nearby!"

Our next random find is probably not so random for a lot of people.  Our first day in Glacier, we really only had time to drive the Going to the Sun Road, which was an incredible experience.  Having slept in shower-less campgrounds the previous 2 nights and a suspected consumption of some allergen, Valine really needed a place to bathe.  We both got it in mind that we needed a hotel and I was convinced that in the off-season and during the week, we could find something cheap.  These were poor assumptions, but we ended up staying at Holiday Inn in Browning, MT.  With some time spent in the hot tub and swimming pool as well as some microwaved rice and beans in our bellies, Valine headed off to bed and I sat down to plan the next part of our journey.

One of the destinations I'd put into our cross-country plans was the Icefields Parkway, a scenic drive between Banff and Jasper National Parks.  I'd told a bunch of people that's where we'd be heading after Glacier, that I'd been interested in exploring the Canadian Rockies ever since I saw Legends of the Fall.  I'm a biologist, and there was the possibility of getting to see the Burgess Shale, a site of immense importance for evolution.  I'd written a friend from Alberta to request advice, and had an amazing list of very specific, awesome-sounding places to visit.  Sitting down with Google Maps that night, I realized we were a good long ways from that part of Alberta.  Then I read an email from my friend Michelle McClellan, with whom we were aiming to stay with later, that said she was 10 hours from the Icefields Parkway ("but beautiful," she encouraged me).

When we left Reno, we were supposed to drive 11 hours to get to a destination just west of Yellowstone to have the full next day there.  We drove 7 to Twin Falls, ID.  With our plans changed to aim for Glacier, we were supposed to drive 10 hours to get up to just west of that National Park.  We drove 7 hours to Hamilton, MT.  I think I see a pattern forming.  Thinking about just how much time we'd be spending on the road to get to more time on the road, albeit more scenic road time, I realized that we would have a much better time shortening our driving times and increasing our stops.  I emailed Michelle to ask if we could stay an additional, earlier night.  The Icefields Parkway, Banff, the Burgess Shale, and all of the gracious advice advice I received from Peter would have to wait for some future trip.  We were aiming for good luck with the weather up there anyway since it is so late in the season for those northern latitudes.

Just before we hit the road the next day--and we were hitting the road with 3 potential plans I'd drawn up the previous night--I received an email from Michelle saying we could stay and that "Whiteswan hot springs are totally worth it."  I quickly jotted down directions to that.

Two weeks ago, our journey was supposed to really start in California at Benton Hot Springs in the eastern Sierras, a cool looking little campground where each campsite has it's own hot tub fed with natural hot spring water.  Valine talked about how much she was looking forward to those hot springs for pretty much our last 2 months in San Diego.  On our way out of town, though, we arrived at the conclusion that our car, which chock full of extra stuff heading for storage, was in no condition for camping that'd be particularly enjoyable.  We were so packed in that adding food into the equation may've been the straw that broke the Prius' chassis.  Whenever we opened a door, we had to keep our reflexes sharp to catch the cascade of items pouring out of the vehicle.  Benton too had to be back-burnered.  So when I mentioned the possibility of hot springs to Valine that morning in Browning, she responded with an emphatic "YES!"

Okay, 3 plans designed the night before balled up.  New last minute plan now in place.

After spending the day in Glacier doing some short hikes, eating and tasting beer in Whitefish, and camping at Lake Dickey north of there, we set off for Canada with Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park in our sights.  I'd crossed into Canada several times in the past.  Whenever dealing with authoritative figures, I've always settled on honesty as my policy.  I've done this sort of thing in the past, no job, no home, just the road.  I've never had any problems before, not with Canadian border guards at least.  Mexican Federales, on the other hand....that's a story for another day.  This time, we were absolutely grilled at the border.

"Where are you going?"
"Where do you work?"
"Where is home?"
"Are your jobs going to take you back?"
"How did the 2 of you find your way into the same car if you're from California and he's from North Carolina?"
"How do you have friends in Nelson?"
"How much do you have in the bank for your trip?"
"Are you 2 trying to illicitly move to Canada and take advantage of our amazing health care system and other such progressive policies?"

Hmm, maybe that last question is the one I thought he should've asked.

Looking at our passports, after all of those questions, we were told to pull into the next spot and turn off the car.  After about 10 minutes, another agent came to us and stood next to the car with his arms crossed and a grim face.  After pretty much repeating all of the same questions, he asked us to step out of the car and to wait at the side.  He then proceeded to search the car in a mysterious way, only really looking around the driver and passenger seat areas.  I told Valine that I was so happy that our car was so loaded, particularly with the tent that we'd left drying in the open in the back.  We didn't have anything to hid.  I just enjoy being a thorn in the side of authority figures.  After about 15 minutes of searching for god knows what, he simply told us we were free to go.  Canadians being Canadians, he left us with a friendly "enjoy your trip!"

Whiteswan Lake, it turns out, is accessed via a 22km drive down what starts as an unpaved log-truck road (replete with lots of scary signs about the dire consequences of not paying attention) and ends with a terrifying, unexpected mountain pass without any sort of fences or signs or anything else that would assuage your visions of the vehicle tumbling down the steep slope like Wile-E-Coyote getting suckered off a cliff by the Roadrunner.  During that drive, it dawned on me why Michelle had described them as being "totally worth it."  Lussier Hot Springs is a series of pools created by rocks arranged to form a variety of combinations of hot spring and river water right at the edge of the Lussier River.  So gorgeous.  Val and I spent hours there.  I'd never experienced anything like it.  I'd only seen hot springs that had been turned into tiled or concreted pools that resembled nothing natural.  Even the ones at Benton were coming to be a bit artificial.  This was a different experience entirely.  Valine would've spent the weekend there.  Probably in the hot springs.

We headed over to Nelson, BC, after that to meet up with Michelle and her family.  She'd warned me in her emails that her house was still being built and that there were no doors yet.  She wasn't kidding.  Any number ones or twos had to be conducted there in the bathroom next to the living room with her and her kids with nothing blocking the thresholds in between!  Well, when in Nelson.  She'd also said in her email that if music and campfires were our thing, then we could attend a neighborhood party while we were there.  It's as though she knew us.  In our short time there, we did what seemed to be a very popular hike in town, drank beer at the brand new, good brewery, Beacon (with the only tasting room in town), strolled the main street, swam in the river, and attended the birthday party of an amazing musician, Cam Penner.  All the while we got to know Michelle, her husband Jonas, and their kids Tia and Elise a lot more too.

Finally we headed back across the border to Kettle Falls, WA, to stay with and see our friends Amber and Jason Jimenez.  We really had no idea what we'd be doing there, just that we'd see these friends and that we'd probably not stay in Kettle Falls ever for any other reason.  That's enough for us!  We drove up to this amazing country house with a wrap-around porch, and I was shocked.  Valine is Facebook friends with Amber and had some expectations, but I had no idea.  Back when they lived in San Diego, they'd lived in a one bedroom apartment stuffed with plants and jars of pickles, jam, salsa, etc.  The 2 of them really like making their own goods.  Well, they've found a home in which they have the room and ability to make their own food in spades.  As I type, a bunch of egg chickens are sleeping in their coop, 2 different gardens are turning soil, water, and minerals into tasty vegetables, and a freezer full of locally-raised meat is chilling.  About an hour after arriving, Amber told us that a potluck would be happening soon with the local Slow Foods organization, and that we could attend or just stick around the house.

We weren't going to miss that.  She brought a chicken she'd raised and slaughtered herself, cooked with vegetables she grew herself, and seasoned with salt Jason had collected from seawater.  Okay, that might seem over the top to some, but I love the idea of eating local and as close to the earth as possible.  It's really one of the reasons I'm vegetarian.  Turns out, in this sparsely-populated community, there are a bunch of people who raise goats for milk and cheese, vegetables galore, tons of fruit, and who are all very generous with sharing their products.  At this potluck, a local scientist talked about his bee awareness project, a local Americorps volunteer talked about a project that focused on getting good produce to need-based organizations, and a bunch of chefs tried to out-local one another with the descriptions of their dishes.  Pretty sure the consensus was that Amber won with her dish.

We asked Amber and Jason if there was anything we could do to help around their considerable property.  They quickly replied, "well, there's a veggie bed that we need to dig" and "the hops need to be harvested."  That's what we did today.  No driving.  No hiking.  No sight-seeing.  We played farmer Kelly and Valine and enjoyed every second of it.  I'd done this sort of thing in my life, but it's been a while.  For 3 years in high school, I was employed by a local tobacco farmer, and hence had the experience of working with plants and the inherent bugs and dirt that comes along with them.  I love beer, so I jumped on the hops first thing.  I really wanted the experience.  I wish I knew how many pounds I harvested, but it was a bunch.  I plucked their plants clean.  Then I went to relieve Valine, who jumped on the digging because she was actually excited about doing that.  Apparently, I arrived right in time, because she was exhausted.  As I continued digging the 2'' X 2'' X 9'' hole, she sat off to the side drinking a beer and telling me about all of the philosophical things she'd realized while digging.

Hopefully, we did enough work to warrant the food of Amber and Jason's we'd eaten and the booze we'd drank, because we've been treated like royalty here.  We'd come back to this little rural community any time.  Perhaps for another potluck......

On to the next random adventure.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Traveling--It's a Hell of a Drug (Valine's suggested edit: It's a Hell of a Bug)

   The first time I flew was at 23.  Where I'm from, people can go an entire lifetime without setting foot onto an airplane, and that was certainly the course I'd set for myself.  At 19 and 20, I twice convinced my fellow spring breakers to drive to Fort Lauderdale to board an awful cruiseship to the Bahamas (a 12 hour roadtrip followed by a 4 hour boat-trip) rather than taking what was probably a cheaper and most definitely a shorter flight (3 hours)--Wes Whateveryourlastnamewas, you still owe me $45 for your stupid phonecalls from the hotel that trip.  I would genuinely terrify myself just envisioning being in those metal tubes hurling along at 250MPH 25,000 feet above the ground.  It just seemed so unnatural.  And I'm a guy who to this day gets nervous in "tall" (read:  >10 stories) buildings.
    So when the opportunity to go to Panama was presented to me and I immediately recognized that under no circumstances could I possibly say no, I briefly considered driving.  To Panama.  Through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and 1/2 of Panama.  Did I mention that I knew zero Spanish at the time?  I accepted the offer and immediately began to dread the flight.  That dread stayed with me, weighing heavier and heavier on me as the flight approached.  My friend that took me to the airport that day thought I was ridiculous.  She had flown extensively.  I brought a little bit of bad rum with me to the airport in a Diet Coke bottle, inspired by my mother's story of getting nice and toasty before her first flight.  My friend disproved.....until she finally felt my tangible terror and pushed me to imbibe the liquid courage.  She left me in the security line with warnings of the noises I'd hear--a godsend because I would've shit myself if I'd gone into that experience unprepared.
     To this day, my palms get sweaty before and during takeoff (and while watching movies like Flight).  That day I probably could've filled a glass.  It was every bit as terrifying as I had always envisioned.  I just kept looking at fellow passengers to make sure nobody else was panicking, just waiting for that moment when it'd be okay to unleash that inner horror that the most recent mechanical sound resonating throughout the plane meant we were all done for.  Then the saving grace flashed through my brain, the thought that I have every single time I fly:  the pilots and flight assistants are human beings that want to continue living too.  With that thought and the plane reaching cruising altitude, I calmed and curiosity, as it's apt to do with me, overcame the fear.  I slipped off my seatbelt and slid over to the window (you'd better believe I was in an aisle seat initially!) to see the world in a way I'd never seen it.
      That first flight was RDU to Newark, NJ, and it was pretty much me, the pilots, and the flight attendants.  I guess nobody from dook was heading home for the weekend.  The second flight I ever took in my life was a 6 or 7 hour beast of a flight to El Cuidad de Panama, where I knew neither a single person or the local tongue.
      Little did I realize the disease I contracted.  That day, I caught the travel bug.
      Travel is all I can think about right now.  You know how whenever you get online, you have that automatic series you go through before you end up where you intended when you first logged on?  Gmail-->Facebook-->Twitter-->oh, yeah, I wanted to see what the weather is going to be like today.  I do it too, probably (definitely) with some Carolina sports message boards mixed in as well.  Hey, what's wrong with a 34 year old man obsessing over the decisions of adolescents?
     But there's another commonality to being plugged in, and that's having go-to pages.  For some, it's Pinterest, others Facebook.  For me, increasingly it's Help-X and MindMyHome.  Those are cheap travel sites, the former being for people who are willing to put in a little labor in exchange for a roof and some food and the latter for people who simply want to spend extended periods of times in random places.
     I'd say that pretty much describes me.
     Valine has the travel bug herself.  And I dont just mean the hookworm AND tapeworm she got in Ecuador.  She's just like me, a citizen of planet Earth and perpetually yearning to explore some new corner of it.  She's logged extended stays in several other countries and has the same insatiable yen to get to a different country.  When we've been in the US for what we perceive as too long, we both start feeling something that's perfectly akin to hunger, an appetite that can only be quelled by novel adventure.  This fall, we're giving in to our common affliction in a major way.  Personal belongings are going into storage or otherwise out the door, jobs are being left, a car is (likely) being sold, and we are hitting the road.  Then the sky.  Then perhaps some boats and trains in between.
    The plan is to travel for as long as the savings accounts will allow.  That's pretty much as much planning as we've done.  Everything else is mere discussion.  We know that we'll be starting in September with a cross country roadtrip, something that Valine's never done.  Europe is number 2 on the list, but with the roadtrip ending around December, heading to high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere seems foolhardy.  Personally, I'm hoping we find some amazing Help-x or MindMyHouse option somewhere in the Caribbean for the winter.
     In the meantime, friends and family, invite us over for a visit!  The schedule looks like west coast in September, Rockies (MT, CO, UT) in October, Chicago-Boston-NYC-NC in November, other south (ATL, FL) in December.  Hey Canadian friends, what's Ottawa like in November?
     Hmm, maybe then we should drive to Panama.....

Thursday, January 23, 2014

New Year's in the 3rd World

It seems strange to refer to Mexico as the third world considering how easy it is to enter the country.  You may as well be heading to Walmart for the lack of impediments.  You blaze down the interstate at 75 MPH, past the ridiculous sign warning you to watch for illegals with an image of a family running across the road, past the sign that says "Last USA Exit", finally past a few federales who could not care less about you, and, voila, you're in Mexico.
       And that's where things start to get a little different.  The transition between California and Tijuana forms the largest contrast in standard of living in the world.  Tijuana, or TJ, is a huge city with nearly 2M people, but without any tall buildings.  Sprawled over a series of sharp-sided hills, much of the city is composed of ramshackle housing and rough unpaved streets overlooking the highly manicured city of San Diego and its sparkling downtown skyline in the distance.  The moment you cross the threshold into TJ, you're forced to start driving more aggressively lest you suffer the ire of the locals who'll gladly leave you in their dust.  Jockeying for position in the traffic while watching for signs to the cuota, the turnpike that connects Playas de Tijuana to Ensenada, you can't help but to notice the seemingly hundreds of people who are living in utter desolation in the concrete Tijuana River.  Many of the homeless are apparently deportees out of the US, but are outcasts in the city because they're a long ways from their original homes in southern Mexico or Guatemala.
      Of course, the city isn't all dirt and homelessness.  It's a vibrant place with plenty of color and culture.  There are nice homes and renown restaurants, and plenty of people who proudly call it home.
      For Val and I, though, we were blazing through TJ and heading straight to Ensenada for New Year's Eve.  In theory, that should be an hour's trip down the 4-laned and fast cuota along the scenic Baja coast.  Leaving at 2:30PM from San Diego and getting into Ensenada before the immigration office closed at 5PM should be easy.  Unfortunately, little news from just south of the border works it's way into the San Diego mainstream.  Sure, we hear about the occasional crime down in Tijuana, but shockingly little gets reported from the other side of the border considering that we can see the city looming along a distant hillside from much of San Diego.  Had a Californian road fallen into the sea, it would've been headline news here.  Heck, if a North Dakotan road had fallen into a lake, it would've been headline news here.
      The cuota 50 miles south of the border falling into the sea in the middle of the night, triggered by an earthquake, some wet weather, known poor geologic conditions for a road that handles heavy traffic, and finally a huge cement truck, that news did not make it across the border before we began our journey.  It's a tailor-made sensationalist story too, with government agencies pointing fingers at one another for blame, a geology professor saying pretty much "I told you so," and a cement truck driver who experienced and survived a sudden 100 foot drop in the road beneath him at a point seriously called Salsispuedes, or "get out if you can!"  That news was only news to us later in the evening.  I'm not sure we would've taken a different route anyway, but we would've been more prepared for the sudden diversion off the cuota and onto the "libre" on our way down.  Certainly, we would've been more comfortable understanding exactly why we were faced with road cones blocking the road and a big, orange "Desviacion" sign forcing us onto the side road and into the countryside.
       The "libre" is a little different.  Wending its way through villages and inland to mountain passes, the two-laned "libre" is naturally a much slower road.  Mexican villages nearly universally have bumps across the road to slow cars down, many of which are frighteningly tall and scrape the undercarriage of small cars--I've passed over a few of these that I feared would high-point the car even and turn us into a really expensive see-saw.  There are also a plethora of incredibly old cars on the roads too, a product of being in a poor country, some serious ingenuity by Mexican mechanics, and the lack of organized regulations for safety and emissions inspections.  Those old cars just can't accelerate like they used to.  Then of course you have a ton of 18-wheelers on the roads taking advantage of NAFTA.  With the cuota out of commission, these too were forced onto the "libre" along with the rest of us.
      So I was not all that surprised to run into traffic in the middle of the countryside on New Year's Eve at about 4PM.  As we eked through the village, locals were standing along the road marveling at the sheer number of vehicles suddenly forced through their tiny town.  After about 1/2 an hour of bumper to bumper traffic in BFE, Mexico, we finally reached a point where people were pulling off the road, turning around, and most importantly communicating with an official who was very ably handling traffic.  Cars were sloppily parked on either side of the road and a lot of people were walking around and chatting.  I tried to listen in on the conversation this official was having with the car in front of us, a conversation in Spanish which I'm still not very good at.  I hoped by eavesdropping I could process some of the vocabulary before he was to speak to me.  Not catching any of it, I particularly anxious as we pulled up to him.  We hadn't been down that road before and really had no idea what to expect, a troubling prospect considering it'd soon be nighttime.  We were pressed for time and had a schedule to keep--one of the lessons of this particular trip to Baja was that schedules really should not be made.  And there we were on a tiny road that was suddenly a busy parking lot.  It was a taxing moment.
       And then that official said to me in a perfect American accent, "there was a big accident that's blocking the road.  It could be hours before it's cleared.  You can go get in line and wait or you can turn around, but you have to decide right now."  I blinked a moment to take in what he just said and considered the prospect of celebrating New Year's in traffic in BFE, Mexico.  "We really want to get to Ensenada.  Is there any other way?"  "Tecate," he responded simply.  That'd be an hour back to TJ for us, an hour over to Tecate, and an hour and 1/2 down to Ensenada from there.  Hours anyway.  Indecisive, we compromised and pulled off the road.
      I'm pretty hard-headed when it comes barriers such as the one in which we were faced.  Surely there had to be another road.  We eyed the dirt road trailing off into the unknown just across from us and wondered about it.  A Mexican guy who was wondering by the car mentioned to us that he and some others were talking about heading down that road to see if they could make it.  That seemed like a big risk to me, and instead I decided Tecate might be the best option.  I turned on the car and tried to get back onto the road.  "Sir!  Turn off your car and put it into park," the official suddenly told me, "we need to keep the road clear for the emergency help."  Alright, so no Tecate for a bit.
       Emergency help soon came along in the form of a large front-loader tractor with a few trucks behind it.  The driver of the tractor was flanked by two men standing on the sides, and nobody had any sort of official-looking garb.  I suspect they were recruited from a construction site, perhaps where the cuota was damaged.  This stirred up activity among all of the waiting cars in the area.  Some people jumped onto the road, assuming the tractor would soon clear things up.  Others responded to apparently local knowledge that the dirt road would indeed get us to our destination.
       We opted to follow this latter group down the dirt road.
       "I'm not sure your car can make it up there, sir" the official said when he saw us jump into that line.  Valine's really confident in her little Toyota Prius, especially in light of some off-loading that we've experienced in it with success.  Plus, she'd chatted with a guy driving another little sedan who'd chatted with someone else who'd chatted with a farmer who'd said the road would be fine for little cars.  Yeah, it was like that.
       We found ourselves in traffic yet again, this time on a tiny dirt road in BFE, Mexico.  Through fields, past the local trash dump and goats, chickens, and tiny concrete shacks, we shared the road with 18-wheelers, tour buses, and mostly SUVs.  The guy who was Valine's source drove just ahead of us, stopping next to numerous passers-by to have brief conversations.  I guess they never got the answer to their inquiry, which I was assume related to the conditions of the road ahead, because they kept this up with every vehicle they passed.  Either that or we got behind the most garrulous people in all of Mexico.  Cars and federales passed by in the opposite direction that we assumed had come from farther down the main road.  But then we saw a tour bus backing down a pretty steep hill and a lot of vehicles turning around.  I popped my head out again at one point to hear a conversation between a driver that had turned around and the car behind me, but it was futile for the language barrier.  A kid in one of the passing vehicles must've sensed my anguish and hollered out in English, "they opened it!"  Thinking about the official's warning about whether the Prius would negotiate the road ahead, about the prospect of reading an impassable point and navigating our way out of it with a ton of traffic in both directions, and about the quickly setting sun, I made the decision to wheel around and head back off the dirt road.
      As we returned to the main road, we thought we'd been misinformed.  Traffic wasn't budging.  Both of us really needed a bathroom break at this point--I always need a bathroom break, a habit that makes traveling Mexico slightly less enjoyable--so I headed off into the opposite direction.  The road was lined with little restaurants and tiendas, but neither of these are guaranteed to have restrooms in Mexico.  Instead, we popped into the local police station.  We asked the policeman about the status of the cuota.  "It's open," he said in Spanish, "but you have to pay."  Valine explained the diversion to him and asked if there was something going on down the road.  "Probably a rockslide," he responded.  Apparently, the news about the cuota falling into the sea in the middle of the night, triggered by an earthquake, some wet weather, known poor geologic conditions for a road that handles heavy traffic, and finally a huge cement truck hadn't made it to BFE, Mexico, either.  He did let us use his bano though, which turned out to be pretty much the nastiest facility we'd ever seen, and had the added bonus of being adjacent to some bleak-looking but mercifully empty jail cells.
      By the time we got back onto the road, traffic was moving along.  Only a few hours from the beginning of the incident, we were speeding our way to Ensenada again.  We never saw any wrecked cars or ambulances or anything of the sort.  No news about the accident seems to be available on the internet.  Hopefully, whoever was in it had been taken down the road to help.  I fear that the front-loader was simply used to push the wrecked vehicles off the edge of the road and over a cliff, but we'll never know.
      Having arrived safely in Ensenada, we checked into our downtown hotel, grabbed some dinner and drinks, and celebrated New Year's from a thoroughly well-appointed hotel room.  We'd inquired about fireworks and and mass celebrations while out on the town, but nobody seemed to know for sure where such a thing might be happening.  I think we figured out why at midnight when fireworks started going off.  Rather than a centralized event organized by the city, pretty much every home in the city launched their own fireworks show.  It made for an incredible scene, looking out over the sprawling city and seeing fireworks going off by the dozen all over.  A brass band blared Auld Lang Syne with a distinct Mexican flare at a restaurant just outside of our window.
    In the end, I think I really liked New Year's in the 3rd world.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Why vegetarian?

When I was a kid, my Mom (aka Mamma) swore that she thought I wouldnt even care if she didnt make any meat. Little did she know that I'd swear off of it just 6 months after she died. She would have croaked, to reference my Mom's lexicon, if I had gone fully vegetarian when she was alive. I didnt tell her, but I gave up red meat in general, shrimp, and fish well before she passed away. My only violations of this choice was at her dinner table. And when she did pass away, I had no more excuses. So, I had my last chicken tenders dinner from Bojangles, and swore off of it.

Seven years later, I'm still resolutely vegetarian, probably the first ever from Chocowinity, NC.

For me, the seed for vegetarianism was planted years before I took the leap. I read an essay by Moby in the album cover for Play (you know, back when we all used to actually purchase and hold CDs) about why he went vegan, and every single argument, shy of animal welfare, appealed to me. Here are the usual reasons why people go vegetarian, and I'll arrange them in order of importance to me:

1. Environment: The single best thing you can do as an individual for the planet is to have less kids. The second is to eat less meat. Forget biking the 5 miles to work instead of driving. Forget eating organic. Eat less meat, and you're saving habitat for and animals and you're supporting the release of far less CO2. I have never pushed anybody to go full-out vegetarian; but I have certainly tried to convince people that beef aint what's for breakfast. Some brilliant rancher discovered years ago that when it's light outside, a cow will eat. I learned this a few years ago after my friend Phil had his sleep disrupted all night long at a state park in west Texas by the stadium lights alighting a field full of cattle feeding at troughs. The average lifespan of a beef cow has decreased from 3 years to 2 years in the past century, and this is one of the methods that has been developed to maximize efficiency. How much CO2 release is this practice responsible for?

2. Human Welfare: Another important part of my development into a vegetarian was reading Fast Food Nation. A major point of the book is just how inhumane beef "factories" are for the employees. In general, the people working there are illegal immigrants, and have no rights or health care. So here you have a 100 human automatons making the same cuts over and over again all day long for breadcrumbs essentially--because we want McDonald's to offer 79 cent hamburgers--and doing so with blades sharpened to an extent that one foul move sends somebody to the hospital. And when you're whacking away all day long with the same motion, slip-ups happen. Good luck finding health care in the United States, Mr. Mexican/Guatemalan/El Salvadorean immigrant, we'd rather you pick up that left arm and mosey back home.

Yeah, I didnt really want to support that industry any more.

3. Personal Health: I've got a father who had a couple of open-heart surgeries in his 30s and early 40s. Then there's the uncle who died of a stroke, a grandmother of a blood clot, and plenty of other indications that my genetics will not be providing a clean bill of cardiovascular health for life. I've never been interested in smoking anything, really, so that part of staying healthy is covered. The other source of cardiovascular disease is high-cholesterol and high-NACl meat. It just makes sense to cut it out with my family history.

4. Assimilation Energy: When I was a freshman in high school, even at Chocowinity High School we learned that only 10% of the plant matter that a cow eats is available as energy to the next trophic level (you). So, that means that for every pound of cow that a person consumes, 10 pounds of food had to be served up to that cow. This could have easily been a subheader beneath "Environment," but it stands alone for several reason. Number 1, we are looking at a planet today with 7 billion people, only 1 billion or so of which is supported by a regular, farmed meat diet. If we really want to feed the planet and not have starving people all over it, we should probably dedicate our croplands to feeding them and not a bunch of freaking cows. Number 2--and this is where the redundancy with point 1 comes into play--that means 10 Xs more natural habitat gets reduced into monoculture if you're feeding the crops to cows rather than directly to humans. So, yeah, it's good that your beef is from a grass-fed cow. It's good that it's organic and local and "green." But you're still not eating in the most efficient manner for the planet.

5. Animal Welfare: For the reasons discussed below, this is at the bottom of the list. The point is not trivial, however. I've never been interested in veal, for instance, because of the terrible treatment that a calf must experience in their short, horrific lives for me to enjoy the delicacy. Chickens stuffed into a tiny barn, barely able to move around, and often bred to have breast muscles so large so as to prevent movement anyway is also an unsettling thought. Humans are omnivores though, and there're theories that adding high-calorie meat to our diets helped Homo sapiens develop especially large brains (our brains after all being very energy-hungry). I just think the way we go about using animals for your dietary "needs" now-a-days is way out of hand.

I realized a long time ago that when I pay for something, I'm casting a vote for that something to exist. Go to McDonald's, and you're absolutely supporting the destruction of habitat, humans, and animals. There're no two ways about it.

But I do eat meat. I still call myself vegetarian for brevity's sake; but if my friends go out and shoot a white tailed deer (an animal who's populations have exploded in the absence of predators and hence threatens the habitat of other species), I'll thoroughly enjoy some venison. If a fish is sustainable and caught in the right way, I'll certainly have some tacos with it. And I'm just waiting for the day that somebody goes out and takes a wild pig for bbq'ing up NC style. I do still love meat. I just dont want to support the industrialization of it.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Hola, Paraiso!

I probably should've written this about 4 months ago, but I dont like to be negative, and it honestly took me this long to obtain that appreciation for my surroundings that I invariably do. Over the past few months, I've fallen in love with yet another place on this planet. For those keeping tally, San Diego can now be counted alongside of Monterey, CA, Australia, Panama, Lafayette, LA, Texas, and, the creme de la creme, North Carolina.

It was only a matter of time.

Time it was, nevertheless. I knew I'd love Monterey the second I set foot on the campus at Hopkins Marine Lab. Knowing that I could work at a place at which I could walk out and see marine mammals and sea birds galore just outside of my laboratory door, much less the fantastic splendor of the rocky intertidal, was all the inspiration I needed to go to work there. San Diego, on the other hand, was a little murkier.

What do you think of when you hear "San Diego?" I would guess the sports teams would be first for most of the country, the movie "Anchorman" likely second. Then what? Beaches? Sunshine? Tijuana? Most scientists would know that one of the premier research institutes on the planet is also here, Scripps.

Well, there are a few myths about southern California that should be busted. Number 1, while the beaches are beautiful and variable, the ocean is C-O-L-D! It's simple: the water here circulates down from the Artic! As in polar bears, Sarah Palin, and ice bergs! All Californians that own surfboards have invested in good wetsuits as well. Number 2, it aint sunny all of the time. Not a single movie has ever shown southern California as anything but sunny. Not a single one. I'm fairly convinced that the California department of tourism has banned it from happening. Meanwhile, there are the phenomena of "May Gray" and "June Gloom" here. The coastline can be canvassed in cloudcover during these months, ALL MONTH. I've not seen the sun in several days here!

Sunny San Diego, my ass!

The primary reason behind my initial reticence about the city, though, is the fact that it is truly that: a city. Sure, I'm a well-traveled individual. But I grew up in a town of 1,000, went to school in one of the premier college towns in the country, graduate school in a town of 100K, and, largest of all, resided in a city of a million for a year, el Cuidad de Panama. But Panama was the 3rd world, and I didnt have a car there. San Diego stands alone as the largest city I've ever called home, and it's also home to the very definition of urban sprawl and traffic jams.

San Diego sprawls out over a series of peninsulas, plateaus, and valleys, interconnected to one another by bridges and the occasional freeway, usually running up and down harrowing slopes. In effect, the city is like a the fingers on a hand, with smaller capillaries connecting back to larger veins and arteries that in turn singularly connect back together in the hand. Rare is the road here that you can travel straight through a neighborhood without reaching an endpoint at a canyon or a body of water. When you have several million people living over a swiss cheese landscape, traffic is going to suck.

Lately, however, I've taken a liking to this town. My home is a beautiful place to live, being, as I've touted to many in the past, a 10 minute walk from the zoo and the rest of the grandeur of Balboa Park (Central Park:New York City::Balboa Park:San Diego), and an even shorter walk to thriving, but small downtown area. Since I've been here, I've seen a Johnny Cash cover band, a group of acrobats from Tanzania, a travelling Broadway show, an incredible July 4 fireworks show (actually, about 10 of them from our vantage point), a bunch of sunsets, a Padres game, tried beer from 1/2 a dozen local breweries (San Diego is apparently the top local brew town in the country!), and danced the night away in the Gaslamp District (Gaslamp District:San Diego::Franklin Street:Chapel Hill::Bourbon Street:New Orleans::Beale Street:Memphis::Duval Street:Key West). In other words, the cultural opportunities here are abundant. Of course, being in a wonderful relationship, one that was long-distance for my first few months here, helps tremendously.

In the past few months, life has been good. A bit cloudy, but good nevertheless. I miss Monterey, dearly. I miss my community there foremost. I also miss living in a place that is essentially a national park. My time there, unfortunately, was always fleeting. Such is my career.

Thankfully, mercifully, I've now come to fully appreciate where I live.

PS: "Paraiso" = "Paradise"

Friday, March 12, 2010

Au Revoir, Monterey

Three years ago, I was chatting with some friends while on a lunch break from a volunteer fieldwork position. We were near Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, surrounded by Eucalyptus trees, parrots, and kangaroos. I had just related to my friends the stories of how both of my parents, and grandparents, for that matter, had passed away.

"Must be hard," was one response.

I was incredulous. Must be hard? Here we were surrounded by an alien world that's practically a Mecca for biologists (which we all were) and, you know, just about everyone else who was born in Europe or the US. I just failed to understand how in the world that girl thought anything about life was anything but wonderful. And it is. I live a charmed life.

Right now, I'm composing this blog from my balcony, occasionally looking up from my computer screen to take in the grandeur of Monterey Bay and the rising sun on the horizon. Waves are crashing, birds are singing, and a gentle rain just set in a moment ago. I am nothing but a charmed man, personal tragedies bedamned.

Tomorrow, I take off for San Diego to start a new job, and, needless to say, I'm very excited. I'm going to be doing a population genetics study on the endangered California red-legged frog, a project designed to facilitate a future capture-and-release program to boost dwindling populations in hopes of preventing their extinction.

I seriously get to do this stuff for a living.

But I'm going to miss this place immensely, Monterey. People keep asking me if I'm excited about moving, excited about living in the country's 9th-largest city. Well, not really. If I could design my ideal living situation, being able to bike or walk along a rocky coastline a mile everyday, leaving from my apartment with a balcony overlooking Monterey Bay to get to work at Hopkins Marine Station, would be in the equation. Having a farmer's market, a movie theater, and amazing restaurants within a short walk would be in the equation. Being 4 hours from Yosemite National Park, 2 hours from San Francisco, and 20 minutes from the beginning of the Big Sur portion of the Pacific Coast Highway would be in the equation. Most importantly, being surrounded by an amazing, generous, and brilliant community would definitely be in the equation.

In other words, I would probably design my life as it is right now.

We had a despidida (Panamanian for "going away party") for me last night, and, I'm not sure if anyone counted, but I suspect there were 40 people there, at least. It truly knocked me down, the turn-out. And it is them, that amazing, generous, and brilliant community, that I'm going to miss the most about this place.

I'll repeat it again: I live a charmed life.

Why am I leaving this behind? Well, career calls, I guess. While it has been an honor working with Steve Palumbi, someone who's career I've admired from afar throughout my own career, my job has always been a transitional position. No one works as a tech in this lab forever. Beyond that, my personal ambitions (writing, analyzing, publishing, a career) were never part of the job description. These are things that were offered to me by the USGS. These are the things that I told myself would be the only way I would extract myself from this unique community. So, it's time to go.

So, I say au revoir, Monterey. I will miss you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Plight of My Generation

In a conversation with one of my best friends last night, I made the comment that "we're facing a completely different set of challenges than any of the generations before us. Different than 20 years ago, 40 years ago, 60 years....."

"I'd love to hear how life's so different than it was just in 1989," my friend countered.

"The advent of mass communication," I responded.

This is not exactly a recent discovery for me. It's an argument about which I've discussed with a number of my friends. People today face an extraordinary set of circumstances. Sure, mass communication and transit has made the world a smaller place; at the same time, however, I think it's made it a more complicated one.

I always go back to my parents. They wed at 16. At 18, they had their first kid. Throughout their lives, they regularly saw their brothers and sisters, partied with their cousins, and never lived farther than a few miles from their own parents. In so many ways, I envy their short lives. They regularly hung out with their family; and not just because they were related, their best friends were their brothers and sisters. There's just something so beautiful about that.

Here I am, a man of the world. I've got friends--not just friends, good friends--in countries the world over. I've been in 3 different countries long enough to say that I've lived in them. I'm a Southerner who's become vegetarian, a social liberal who was raised on Ronald Reagan and Philip Morris, and an entirely unprejudiced individual who witnessed quite a bit of racism in his formative years. I've shot off on a tangent from the normal arc of life for people born and raised in Chocowinity, NC; yet, I find myself regularly longing for the good old days.

The good old days. The easiest contrast to make is between today and 100 years ago. 100 years ago, I would be married to some girl from Chocowinity, North Carolina, and we would have about 5 kids right now. There's simply no disputing that. 100 years ago, there was no leaving your hometown, much less your home country. 100 years ago, people would get together, THEN find love, and develop a family. And it was that simple--you marry the girl in town who's your age. All of these attributes that cause us such debate today were of no consequence back then. Attracted? You'll develop that later. Sex? Ha! You didnt know any better anyway. Common interests? Your common interests were that you both wanted to get married and have kids, and that you lived in Chocowinity, North Carolina.

And that's why I think the plight of my generation is a unique one. We benefit enormously from what I've long designated the "instant information age"--we are never more than a few clicks out of communication from our loved ones; we are never lost; and we can stay "in touch" with minimum effort. However, at the same time, we are made to suffer from the exact thing that ostensibly makes us more advanced and happier than previous generations: choice.

I can choose to live in pretty well any country I please now. I can choose pretty much any career in which I might be interested. In essence, however, this ability to choose prevents me and many of my friends from leading what previous generations would call "normal" lives. Rare is the individual that graduates college today with a career plan in mind (Tom, I envy your focus and resolve). Relationships, 100 years ago a matter of convenience, suffer enormously from the array of choices we are presented with today. In the past 6 years, I've lived in 3 countries. How in the world am I supposed to maintain a relationship?

This ability to choose has confounded relationships throughout my life. Essentially, I've created an untenable set of attributes for a significant other. I'm incapable of thinking in simple terms. When it comes to long-term relationships, the women in my life have to be absolutely perfect. Otherwise, "choice" has created for me this veil of safety to which I can easily fall back, and I can always decide that "there's someone else better for me out there."

And this is a common affliction amongst my generation. Most of us lack direction because of an overabundance of choice.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Every US National Park has it's own personality, it seems. The Great Smokies NP is marked by dark and damp forest passages leading to misty vistas, and by crimson and saffron landscapes during the fall. "Otherworldly" is the first adjective that comes to mind when I think about the Grand Canyon. Even standing at the edge of the mile deep canyon and peering into it's grandeur hardly quells the impossibleness of its existence. Big Bend is a microcosm of all of the parks, with sheer canyons, desert landscapes, and high mountain hikes. It also affords a rare isolation from the crowds that plague most of the other parks in the lower US. At Yellowstone, everything seems to be alive. The rivers roils with rapids, the land boils mud and spews water, the sky explodes with lightning on the horizon, and the terrain is littered with charismatic megafauna.

So, when I went to Yosemite this past weekend, I really didnt expect to be so awestruck yet again. Majestic is the only word that does it justice. Though this place had inspired Ansel Adams and John Muir, I was really expecting just another park. I was expecting mountains and trees and waterfalls. I was expecting buses and crowds. But I definitely wasnt expecting Yosemite.

A mere drive down into and around Yosemite Valley along is worth the price of admission. Maybe it's my isolation from Yosemite as a born and bred Southerner, but I had only seen pictures of Bridelveil Falls. I had only heard of El Capitan and Half Dome. I knew that there would be giant sequoias because of its proximity to King's Canyon, where the largest (non-clonal) trees in the world call home.

Yosemite, though, is truly a special place.

Sheer, granitic walls are the distinguishing characteristic of the park. Glaciers carved their way through the park a million years ago, leaving behind a natural beauty that doesnt exist anywhere else in this country. Half Dome, a high outcrop that can be ascended by the hardy, hydrated, and non-acrophobic, is mirrored on the opposite side of the Valley by another outcrop, and it takes little imagination to envision that they were once part of one, contiguous structure. The lush, verdant valley below is dominated by a central river, fed by waterfalls that line the high, granite walls.

Unfortunately, as my grad advisor used to like to say, we're loving Yosemite to death. Most of the drive into and through the valley had bumper-to-bumper traffic. We hiked one of the more popular trails this past weekend, the trail to Half Dome. At no point were we truly alone (a quality I measure quantitatively by my comfort with using the bathroom close to the trail; if it's crowded, I've got to go real fast). And, while we weren't really considering hiking all the way to the top (a 16 mile, rigorous RT hike), we ran into plenty of fellow hikers who had done so. Apparently, the final push up to the top of Half Dome had a several hour wait yesterday. That's right, you could hike for 7 miles, ascending sharply the entire route, and a 1-2 hour long line is your reward.

That being said, even though we were rubbing elbows with fellow tourists during most of our hike, I've got nothing but rave reviews of the place. We all wish we could have the parks to ourselves. Guess I'd have to go back to Australia to have that.

But Australia's got nothing on Yosemite.

Monday, June 29, 2009


This past weekend was the annual Pride celebration. In other words, it's the annual weekend in which my boy Corey wouldn't be caught within 100 mile radius of San Francisco. For me, I felt compelled to be there. San Francisco is really a beacon for homosexuals the world over. The gay marriage issue is my generation's Civil Rights movement. As a complete social liberal, I definitely didnt want to miss an opportunity to support that community.

I also knew that the people-watching would be brilliant fun.

And boy was it.

To clarify, Pride is a city-sponsored celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. There are parades, concerts, educational events (though I would argue that for a straight man from Chocowinity, North Carolina, it was ALL pretty educational), speeches, etc, and it's all centered around City Hall in downtown San Fran. It's been going on for 4 decades now.

Unfortunately, I left my camera back in Pacific Grove during this trip; but, my pictures would probably cause my website to get banned anyway. I'm not sure Google would appreciate a picture of an old fart in a crotchless spiderman suit dancing outside of the San Francisco Health Department, meat and potatoes fully swinging in the wind, the same way I would. And yes, that happened. That was the very first thing I witnessed upon my arrival at the Pride festivities.

I also saw the director of Milk speak, along with Dan Choi (an outed Army veteran who'll likely soon be a representative of California), a few of Harvey Milk's compatriots, Cloris Leachman (who's apparently a huge LBGT advocate), and some of the city leaders. All-in-all, it was pretty damn cool to witness so many people, and the leadership of a major city for that matter, embracing a sector of our society that's still largely in oppression.

Anyway, that was my weekend.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Why I Love Carolina Basketball

I dont know how old I was. 7? 8? My earliest memory of Carolina basketball is of me sitting in the back of the living room watching a game with my family, far more intrigued by the fish tank beside me than the happenings on the t.v. My family cheered and jeered around me, putting their emotions on full physical display with each play.

I was an impressionable youth. At one point during the game, my attention was drawn from the fish beside me when I thought a Carolina player had broken out for a solo dunk. Following the lead of my family around me, I cheered.

I was sorely mistaken. That particular play was by a Demon Deacon.

My family's collective death glare sent the message: you dont root for the other team in this house.

My mom was a Carolina fan. My brothers are Carolina fans. My aunts, my uncles, my cousins. I had no other fate. I was born on August 15, 1979 in Chocowinity, North Carolina, and I was going to grow up to be a Carolina fanatic.

And boy did I. During the winter, I live and breath Carolina basketball. My friends well know my common excuse for not attending various social events: sorry, Carolina's playing. My ex-girlfriend once told me she was surprised that I was willing to walk away from it to live in and travel Australia last year.

Australia. I'm a biologist. Australia is every biologist's wet dream.

Maybe it's a commentary on our relationship. Or maybe it's representative of of just how fanatical I am: someone who was about as close to me as one can get thought I would rather watch the Heels than be in Oz, the land of wonder.

My obsession runs much deeper, though, has a much more vital role in my life. See, I was raised by high school drop-outs. Going to college was far less than a foregone conclusion in my family. One of my cousins was the first member of my family to go to college. One of my older brothers followed suite, needing to use the local community college as a springboard to ECU, a pretty good public school.

It became clear to everyone when I was pretty young that college was a very real possibility for me. Apparently, my 7th grade english teacher pulled my mother aside at my junior high graduation and said, "he's going to college" and offered to help my mom find financial assistance for me.

Not once during my academic career did my mom say a word about my grades. She really didnt have to of course--my grades were superior to my classmates by a letter for much of high school. Most semesters, I was the sole "All-A" student from my class, as listed in the local paper. For 2 years, I was the sole male in the Beta Club, my high school's honor society. I remember telling a group of interviewers during a Future Business Leaders of America competition that I was going to be valedictorian of my a sophomore.

Still college seemed daunting, a world away. My brother hadn't yet moved on beyond the community college, and my cousin's experiences were not shared with me.

Therefore, I had very little guidance for choosing a college, and I looked to the only source I knew: Carolina basketball.

The University of North Carolina became a reality to me during a Social Studies club trip to campus as an 8th grader. Before that, Carolina was just a team that we rooted for when they were on t.v. After, I started telling people that I was going to Carolina for college.

I'm not sure I actually believed it. Carolina was still in a different universe, a place that only the rich and brilliant attended. But, guided by my only source of guidance, I stuck to it. As a senior, I applied to only 2 schools: UNC and NC State. NC State, a pretty damn good school, especially for someone who was clearly interested in the sciences, was my back-up school. Actually, my application there was the fulfillment of a childhood promise, that I would attend school with my best friend, Gerald.

Probably fortunate for me (fortunate b/c I probably would've made a different decision in 1997), Gerald did not choose to go to State. I choose to go to Carolina.

It was my dream school. It also just so happens to be one of the best institutes of higher education on the planet. And I ONLY knew about UNC because of Carolina basketball.

That's the role Carolina basketball has played in my life.

So, when Carolina won the championship a few weeks ago, I was genuinely sad. I was sad because I wasnt going to get to watch this team play any more. I was sad because it's such a fixture in my life. I was sad because my mom wasnt around to enjoy the recent glories of the program.

And that's why I love Carolina basketball. I'm not just a fan. It's so much more to me.

Friday, February 13, 2009

In Honor of Darwin day....

The following is an editorial that my current employer wrote for the local newspaper. On the anniversary of Darwin's bicentennial, I thought it'd be appropriate to share it with my friends. Enjoy.


Steve Palumbi: Ignoring evolution invitation to danger
Evolution by natural selection may be doubted in some churches, but you certainly want your doctor to know that Darwin was right.    
If evolution was just a theory, then powerful strains of disease bacteria — virtually immune from many antibiotics — would not have evolved so quickly, or at all. One of the most deadly, Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, evolved over the past few decades and results in more deaths a year in the United States than does AIDS.  
An evolution-doubting physician might believe that staph infections were curable by penicillin. But a physician who prescribed penicillin and walked away without checking whether the staph was an evolved strain could have signed the patient's death warrant.  
There is no doubt that evolution by natural selection is an active, ongoing biological process. We can see it happening all around. Not only bacteria evolve, but deadly viruses do too. Insects evolve resistance to chemicals. Fish evolve thinner bodies to fit through fishing nets. Even humans evolve — a very specific gene helps Northern European adults digest milk. If, like me, you don't have these genes, then a big glass a milk before bed is not a welcome thought.  
It so happens that Northern Europe was one of the earliest places where cattle rearing was practiced, thousands of years ago.  
Did that cause selection for milk-digestion genes? A recent analysis of old bones from Europeans who lived before widespread cattle ranching shows few of these genes. Modern people in these areas now possess these genes in high frequency.
Charles Darwin was wrong about how fast evolution could happen. He thought of it as a process that consumed millennia or millions of years. He would have been surprised by the rapid evolution in species as diverse as butterfly bushes, big horn sheep and bacteria. But he correctly identified the basic rules for how natural selection can act to cause evolution. First, you need some variation among individuals. Second, the variation has to affect the likelihood of leaving offspring. Third, the variation has to be passed on to offspring. If these rules apply, then a species can evolve.

Evolution is a major part of our world. Understanding it allows us to create tools that enhance society—farm practices that allow pesticides to be effective longer, hospital routines that protect patients better. Denying our future doctors the knowledge of evolution would be like denying future engineers the knowledge that there were such things as hybrid cars and wind power. We would be hurting their chances to succeed in our currently technological world.

The science of evolution threatens no one. But ignoring that science is clearly a danger in a world where evolutionary changes are accelerating.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Australian Wildlife in Signs

--brought to you by Ingrid Pollet

Saturday, February 07, 2009

I'm Alive

I can't believe I've not written a blog since November. It's not as though life has been so uneventful as to not warrant my posting here--on the contrary, I've had plenty of blog-worthy experiences.


I spent Christmas this year in Eureka, California, which is waaaay up north. The plan was great, albeit rather naive. I was to spend a long weekend there, hike in Redwoods National Park, cross the Coastal Ranges to the interior to see Mt. Shasta (which I've been wanting to see ever since hearing my roommate back in 2002, Erin Riddle, laud it), and also to play some frisbee golf. Little did I know that I was driving into a winter wonderland. My first night there, I called Joey to get him to look up the weather for me.

"So, what's it supposed to be like in Eureka?"
"Cold and rainy."
"Huh. Okay, everyday?"
"Yep. Well, there's a chance of sleet and hail too."
"Fantastic. How about Mt. Shasta?"
"Snow. Lot's of snow."

I'm an idiot. I had NO clue that northern California would be snowy in the winter. "Well then," I told Joey, "glad I brought a sweatshirt."

My first day, I drove up into the Redwoods National Park. Along the way, I passed by the road that I'd planned to take over to Mt. Shasta the next day. There was an electronic billboard that read, "Snow chains REQUIRED." Guess I'll have to see Mt. Shasta some other time. A little further down the road, another billboard suggested that snowchains be used ahead....on the road that I was driving down.

I should point out here that I'm a rather recalcitrate individual when I'm driving. I WANTED to see the mouth of the Klamath River, damn it. Onward, I my 2008 Honda Fit without 4WD, snowchains, or a lick of clearance.

I really am an idiot.

But I made it just fine, albeit rather slowly. Regardless, I saw snow on Christmas again this year. While it wasn't quite as surprising as last year (it was mid-Summer in Australia, after all), it was a pleasant surprise nevertheless. It was well worth the risk. The snow-covered redwoods were beautiful. And, even though I had to fight through freezing rain and hail to get out to the vista over the mouth of the Klamath, the view as awe-inspiring. I highly suggest checking out the pictures. Northern California is a wonderful, wild place.

Northern California is also apparently home to "all of those weirdos" that my Aunt Margaret Ann warned me about when she found out I was coming to California. Eureka seemed to be populated by a thriving contingent of crazy people. In front of where I was staying was a fountain encircling a gazebo raised up a few feet with a circular walkway leading up to it. The whole time I was there, an old homeless man walked up and down that walkway, pausing only to harass passers-by on occasion. There was a guy on the main thoroughfare, 101, giving the middle finger to everyone he saw, hollering "f#$k you! F#$k you!" I kind of wish I would've taken a picture. On Christmas day, I stopped at a little shop that specialized in items made from redwood. The store operator obviously had fried his brain with meth, and could hardly communicate with me. Those are just the examples that stuck with me. I feel like I ran in to quite a few more characters.

My second day there, I went out to play frisbee golf at a couple of local courses, including one on campus at Humboldt State. Now, I should preface this by pointing out that frisbee golf tends to draw a hippy-ish crowd. I should also say that Humboldt has a particular reputation for being a "stoner school."

Well, boy did it live up to it's reputation. Within 40 seconds after getting out of my car there, I had the following conversation.

"Hey, you wanna hit this here pipe?"
"Uh, no. But thanks, really. That's awfully generous of you, perfect stranger, to provide me the opportunity to share whatever the hell's in that there pipe."

I shouldn't be so harsh. Stoners are generous, at least.

The course was definitely designed by somebody on drugs as well. The tee for hole 2 was a redwood stump, involving a 7 foot climb on a perpetually-moist and slippery surface. Fun stuff. I should also mention that the course design made zero sense, at one point requiring a 10 minute direction-less hike (I decided to start following a group who seemed to be in the know early on) to a completely different part of campus. I ended up just following a group around. But, it was well worth it for the overall experience, undoubtedly.


A few weeks ago, my friend from Chocowinity Candice Creasman came out to visit--the first of my friends, by the way, to take advantage of my mass invitation a few months ago. Her visit was mostly comprised of a long, long visit to the aquarium, a hike that nearly killed everyone involved (really not all that eventful, it was just a really arduous hike), and a lunch beside the Pacific Coast Highway. Reason number 1,032 that I love California: whales. As we sat there scarfing down our lunch and resting after the aforementioned nearly fatal hike, no less than about a dozen pairs of whales, probably gray, passed within eyeshot.

I think Candice had an educational experience here. She seemed to have learned that she'd much prefer strolling down 5th Avenue than hiking up the Appalachian Trail. I'll not judge her for it.


In the meantime, I've been working my tail off. I've added no less than 3 side projects that command my attention off the clock. It's pretty overwhelming, but exciting nevertheless. Those are 3 side projects that could turn into publications. Hopefully, I'll get to make some time for more adventures in the near future.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ticking Another Box

Today I went whale-watching. In my ever-expanding personal bucket list, seeing living whales in the wild has been an elusive goal. I traveled Australia in the exact wrong time of the year to see any there. On a NE roadtrip last year, I made a pretty dangerous overnight trip from Boston to Bar Harbor, ME, to try to catch a 7 am cruise that was later canceled for bad weather. Just this past summer, on my visit here to Monterey to meet my current labmates, yet another attempt was futile. Weather, again.

I told myself that I would absolutely take the first opportunity that arose during my tenure here in Monterey. That opportunity presented itself, and boy was it worth the wait.

When I signed up to head out for it, I really had no idea what whale-watching entailed. To me, it seemed like a grandiose idea, trying to track down animals that spend most of their time underwater, only occasionally breaching the surface to breath, somewhere out there in the huge expanses of the open ocean. I guess there are some patterns as to their migratory routes, their breeding grounds, and their feeding grounds; but this still leaves a lot of search space.

Apparently, whale-watching entails leaning over a boat's rail for several hours (1.5, in our case) until you see a spout, the jet of water that a whale sprays skyward after it breaches to gasp for air. Apparently, they'll take several breaths, then head back down again. Spouts can be spotted from miles and miles away.

It only dawned on me when we were out there that the same tactic with which we were tracking them down was--how does one say "is" in Japanese?--utilized by whalers back in the day. Hence, "thar she blows!"

Had I ever read Melville, I guess I probably would've learned that.

Anyway, spout spotted, the captain of the ship gunned it to their general vicinity. We waited in a hushed silence, bobbing up and downing in the seas while craning our heading back and forth, trying to anticipate where the next spout might appear. We waited quite a while, it seemed, when finally they appeared only a couple of hundred feet from the boat. Again the captain gunned it towards them, only to have them dive again.

The next time they appeared, they were directly beside and beneath the forward hull of the ship, right below me. Both humpbacks came over to the ship, spraying the passengers several times with their spouts of water. We were told that some people think that they'll use a stationary ship as a back-scratch. I'm having a hard time picturing any sort of selectionist mechanism for such a behavior; but they were definitely very curious. They stayed with us for about 10 minutes before getting bored and swimming off.

In the meantime, I learned today that whales have bad breath.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dear Mr. President-

First of all, congratulations. No matter the outcome of your presidency, your name will forever be recited with the some of the giants of American history. Nat Turner, John Brown, Frederick Douglas, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Emmitt Till, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama--you have already secured a place amongst this hallowed group.

But that is not good enough.

Your presidency will rank amongst the most important in our country's young history. You have the opportunity to make us remember you for not only breaking the color barrier to the presidency, but we may one day speak of your actions alongside those of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. The problems we face as a society are that profound.

Our beloved country is in dire need of change. We need to return to that bold level of freedom upon which our country was originally established. We need to rebuild our economy in such a way as to meet the demands of the environment, become financially and energetically self-sufficient, and to allow reasonable and sustainable future growth. And we need to regain the confidence in our government to trust that our leaders are reliable and capable, transparent in their actions, and just in their motives.

Clearly, the economy is your first order of business. We have a $600 billion debt with China, a budget that is ever-increasing that debt, and 2 wars that are constantly demanding more funding. Clearly, the previous administration left their calculators in Texas, and the American dollar is in shambles because of it.

I think, Mr. President, that we need to bring manufacturing jobs home. The Walmart-ization of society has pushed mass production of low-cost goods pretty much completely beyond our borders. We all know the consequences: unsafe products, child labor, and the increase of pollution for the lack of environmental regulations in these countries. The rise of global transportation and communications has allowed multinational corporations to, in effect, select which laws to which they want to subject themselves. Heck, they sometimes decide to change laws to better meet their needs either by powerful suggestion (e.g., threatening to move on to another country) or blatant intervention (e.g., funding the assassination of government leaders). Meanwhile, Americans are finding themselves out of work and out of money. But hey, there's a sale on widgets and gizmos at Walmart! At least there's one place we can spend the last $20 to our names.

Bring manufacturing jobs home, and the prices of these items will rise, undoubtedly. But we know that current prices are artificial. They do not in any way reflect the actual expenses incurred by society and the environment for their production and transportation. Furthermore, a quiet revolution is already happening across the country. The deaths of thousands of pets the world-over has caused Americans to better consider what is going into dog food. The fear of cancer has elicited the explosion of the organic food industry. Even with the economy reeling, Whole Foods is thriving. The discovery of toxins in children's toys made in China is making parents across the world regard their purchases with a greater level of diligence.

I think American society might be in a position to pay a little more for greater quality, if not for the betterment of the environment and society.

One might suggest that the American worker is beyond manufacturing jobs, that white collar jobs are the way of the present and future. I would point out that in Beaufort County, North Carolina, where I am from and a good representative of rural American society, the average annual salary is $17000/year. The widget and gizmo industry would be welcomed there with open arms.

Bringing manufacturing jobs home would help to solve many of the problems faced by Americans today. It would re-mobilize an American workforce. It would decrease planetary CO2 emissions by eliminating trans-Pacific shipping and forcing manufacturing plants to be powered by energy sources that are subject to American environmental standards. It would also slow that looming and ever-growing shadow of Chinese hegemony that is reshaping the nature of the geopolitical climate of the planet almost as quickly it is the rest of the climate.

How could we do this? In my mind, it is simple: enforce the laws that are in place. Enforce the laws for which Upton Sinclair and Thomas Nast fought. Enforce the new environmental legislation that you will assuredly put into place, legislation that finally makes sense and takes our future into account. Enforce the Taft-Hartley Act to decrease the near-monopolic power of Walmart. If products are sold on our shores, the companies responsible for making them and those selling them should be subject to our laws.

The rampant irresponsible corporate libertarianism allowed by the current administration needs to come to an end and soon.

Then perhaps our beloved country's economy can boom again, but this time with a tone of responsibility and sustainability. I think we are ready for that.

Thank you-

Kelly Barr
A Concerned Citizen