Friday, April 30, 2010

thursdays at belmont

How far the mighty have fallen. Last night I did the Belmont "race" for the first time in I don't know how long, I guess a couple of years.  I left work at 3, I spent an hour in traffic to visit my dad at the hospital, finally made it home and rode out into the woods towards the start. I knew my technical skills had suffered since the shoulder surgery in December, and also from the last couple of seasons of injury, heart surgery, collisions with trucks, etc, but Belmont had always been my favorite place to ride and I could, at one time, pretty much nail every rock, root, tree and stream crossing in the place.

Well not anymore.  I started at the back and elites had to do three 3-mile laps.  Sounds pretty easy, right? It was not an easy lap for me as I felt myself having to hit my brakes too much to navigate the twisty turny bits which was a total waste of precious momentum.  I even had to dismount several times because of gnarly tree trunks or crudely-hewn logovers which pissed me off.  I had no "flow."  I was felt like a clumsy Sport rider. Granted it had been a long week of training and with trying to get to the hospital every day, I was tired, and I'm not an XC racer anymore....but still I finished about 20 minutes after everyone else, by my reckoning, although I could not be sure.  Harlan was 3/4 into his second beer by the time I set my bike down and sat in the grass next to him, the smell of cigar and weed intermingling in the evening air.

So even though I knew it was going to be hard to claw my way back into form, I was feeling a bit discouraged.  Harlan tried to get me to race Michaux on Sunday with him so we could drive out together but I don't think a 40-miler at Michaux should be my first race in 2 years, especially after how I rode tonight, and besides I had no one to camp with.  So late last night with 20 minutes to go before pre-regging was over, I signed up for the 4-hour enduro at Granogue instead, even after looking at the confirmed rider list and realizing that the women's open enduro was much more competitive than the 40+ XC.  Oh well, I could finish at the back and at least get the training in.  I'm not going to get any faster if I spend another weekend riding the same old trails in the Wiss.

I just wish this constant trudging uphill came with some clarity of purpose, some mantra I could play over and over in my head on those long painful climbs that would give me the strength I needed to dig deeper.  Perhaps I will find some when I get out there and come in dead last.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

the 40th anniversary of earth day

April 22 was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and it  has special significance to me. It was founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970, the year of my birth.  It was the beginning of a decade where antiwar protests started to take hold all over the country, and young people used that same model of protest to grab the headlines regarding environmental causes. Last week I saw a screening of WHYY’s documentary Earth Day,  which chronicled the growth of the environmental movement in this country. The documentary was a little slow at times, but painted a honest picture of the triumphs and setbacks of the pioneers of this movement, starting with the Mother of the Environmental Movement, Rachel Carson, who published Silent Spring in 1962. A 40th anniversary edition was published in 2002 and is available on Amazon.

The founder of Earth day, Gaylord Nelson, was a passionate advocate for the environment throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He knew that A modern environmentalism had to include federal regulations and protections for the nation. He called for sweeping, immediate government regulation—including bans on pesticides, the end of the internal combustion engine, bans on ocean waste dumping, and even a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that "every person has the right to a decent environment."

A new website launched for the Earth Day 40th anniversary, Gaylord Nelson and Earth Day: The Making of the Environmental Movement, describes how the idea of a national celebration of the earth came to pass:

As a senator, Nelson contributed to important liberal reforms but struggled for years to interest his colleagues in environmental protections. So he turned instead to the people, proposing April 22, 1970 as a day for Americans to speak out about the environmental crises they faced. Earth Day's massive public support forced politicians to see the severity of the problems and the extent of public concern. The first Earth Day galvanized Congress into creating some of the most important U.S. environmental legislation. Gaylord Nelson earned environmentalism a lasting place in national politics.

As for me, have always been very concerned with the negative effects of pollution and overpopulation on the planet’s interconnected ecosystem. When I was barely ten I had a membership to the National Wildlife Federation and I read their rather dense magazine from cover to cover every other month. James Fennimore Cooper’s lush descriptions of this country in the days when the east coast was still the birthright of many flourishing Indian tribes always enthralled me; but the books also filled me with a wistful melancholy, as if I were born too late to understand the full majesty of this continent before our American corporations had a blank check to deforest the mountains, poison the streams and rivers, and smog up the atmosphere in an effort to supply us with the good and services we were rapidly consuming in the name of the American Dream.

The documentary was interesting because it was told from the perspective of today’s leading environmental activists, who described, with the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom that age brings, about the mistakes that were made in the movement’s infancy that prevented them from capitalizing on all of that early enthusiasm after the first Earth Day. At that time, lawmakers had to respond to their constituents who were loudly protesting as they realized that we were poisoning ourselves. The large corporations and the local governments were not going to take care of us, we needed sweeping regulations to protect us from this unfettered rape of the landscape and its resources. President Jimmy Carter was a strong advocate for the environment, but his successor Ronald Reagan campaigned on a platform to make America strong again after the recession, and when he won by a landslide a stake was driven into the heart of the movement. He weakened or removed many of the regulations that had been put in place in the prior 10 years, and once again, corporations were free to pollute and rampage with impunity. As Stephanie Mills put it in Earth Day, when Reagon was elected, “we lost 30 years.” Interestingly enough, Gaylord Nelson himself lost his reelection bid in 1980, the dawn of the Reagan era, as did many of his liberal colleagues.  Although he did pass some environmental legislation, during the Reagan era, the EPA was cut to 44% of its 1970s budget and many of the existing laws were weakened in the pro-industry boom years of the 80s.

Again from the Nelson website:

Earth Day was a watershed moment for environmental politics, kicking off what is now termed the "Environmental Decade" of radical legislative reforms. After struggling to pass legislation through the 1960s, which he did but without widespread public support, Nelson was now deeply involved in many of the most important environmental protection legislation: the Clean Water Acts, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Federal Pesticides Act, the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Education Act, the National Hiking Trails and the National Scenic Trails Acts, and the establishment of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
Fast forward forty years and here we are. The Green Movement or whatever you want to call it, has gone global in a way that those early pioneers could only have dreamed. Today many ordinary folks regularly recycle, purchase organic local produce, and think before keeping extra lights on in the house. They think about gas mileage before they purchase a car, and not just to save money. Many have even, as I have done, eschewed meat altogether in an effort, to remove themselves from one of the greatest sources of global climate change, methane from cow flatulence due to their modern diet of corn rather than the one they were evolved to thrive on: grass . Add to that that there are too many cows grazing on land that should be growing staple crops to support hungry people throughout the globe, and the Western Diet of abundant meat is not only polluting, but starving, the planet. I could not find a way to justify its consumption in light of those reasons and also because of the way the animals are bred, housed and slaughtered, so I chose to opt out and become a vegetarian.  Large scale industrial farming has also made our food supply unsafe, whether you eat tainted meat, or tainted spinach grown downstream from the industrial farm, for more on this, read this fascinating article from The New York Times. 

I went to school in Boston in the 90s and worked at Harvard, so I spent a lot of time in Cambridge which was far ahead of the curve in terms of the environmental movement.  As an extension of concern about our effect on the planet, is a concern for what we ourselves consume. Again, its not just how your food and cleaning product choices affect the interconnected ecosystem, but more directly how those choices have immediate and long-term consequences on your health. After I graduated, my roommate, a somewhat reclusive lesbian who also worked at Harvard, taught me a lot about thinking before you throw something in a landfill. She was a very resourceful re-user and recycler, but the massive stone rental house was filled to the gills with her stuff.

These days I counsel friends that when you buy something, whether it be a shake at McDonalds, a razor at CVS, or take-out from a restaurant, you have created the need for packaging that you now own and are responsible for reusing or recycling. You can’t just throw it out, at least if you want to be invited back to my place for dinner. When we throw stuff out it does not just disappear. Even more resources are used carting it off to a dump where it decomposes and often creates polluted runoff or releases VOCs into the air. Not only that but we are running out of places to put this trash. It becomes a problem for not only us but for future generations. It can take 450-1000 years for your plastic container to decompose. Think about it before you buy that bottle of water.

In the early 90s I shopped at Bread and Circus and Fresh Fields and experienced how much better I felt consuming organic produce and products without refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup. The first Fresh Fields stores did not even carry any products containing refined sugar but when they were bought by Whole Foods in 1996, the standards were relaxed a bit to make room for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and some other darlings of the organic movement. I had to wait a number of years after I moved back from New England in 1995 for those trends to pick up steam in the City of Brotherly Love. And as it were there was a lot more of us Philadelphians to love, as it was one of the fattest cities in the US, and still is, though we have gotten much better. It seemed that there were no convenient ways of finding healthy options, and I was engrossed in bodybuilding at the time and thus obsessed with food. Eventually the movement caught on even in Philly and I was able to find better food choices, and of course make my own. I converted many friends and lovers over the years to understand that these choices are not only better for your health but better for your palate as well; that is once you wean your taste buds off excess sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed grains so that they can appreciate the true flavor of high quality ingredients. It gets to a point where you can’t even eat that crap again, and wonder how you did. Ask Michael Pollan.  Or Mark.

I became the recycling Nazi, known to open trashcans and pull clearly recyclable items out of them with a calm admonishment and instruction—the first time. At work I have set up a menagerie of recycling bins in the kitchen so I can take my coworkers plastic (#1 #2, and #5 for the time being), cans, paper, and used batteries to the appropriate locations for recycling. I am in the process of ordering biobags to replace the plastic and insist that our cleaning company use only biodegradable earth friendly products. My obvious zeal for conservation prompted some talk in our last company meeting.

I pointed out that I had switched the toilet paper to a better brand so we could use less of it, to which Jeff quipped, “You use toilet paper? I thought you used leaves.”

“Only when camping” I shot back, over the laughter of my co-workers.

But it does illustrate one point I have learned from doing this for years, you can’t drag the ignorant kicking and screaming into this arena. I work in the field of construction, and ignorance and apathy about the effect of our industry’s practices on the earth run rampant, especially since it is a male-dominated field and throughout history it is the men who have done most of the rape and pillaging, you can’t argue with history. At the meeting where I introduced the new recycling options; Matt, who makes a career out of trying to expend the least effort possible in whatever he does, stated loudly, “I can’t be bothered to recycle, that is such bullshit and a pain in the ass!”

This really pissed me off, especially since I was the one carting his crap away in my car. He only had to find the correct bin and drop the freakin’ bottle from his clammy little hand.

“Not when someone if offering to take your recycling out for you! I make it really fucking easy for you Matt!” I yelled, staring right at him. At that point everyone shut up and Matt stood down.

Office meeting confrontations notwithstanding, the uninitiated need to be coaxed, not pushed, towards enlightenment. It’s not always easy, but I take a piecemeal approach. I have succeeded in ending the delivery of water in single serving plastic bottles, gotten everyone recycling, and procured a cardboard recycling dumpster, but we still have along way to go. Look at the current contents of our regular dumpster (right). Carpet is a energy intensive product to produce, which means that it is an important product to recycle. However most of the textiles that are ripped from our customers floors to be replaced with new are still dumped into landfills. And the plastic sheathing around them is dumped beside them, to spend 1000 years in a landfill or in that huge plastic floating island in the middle of the ocean. I take plastic bags to whole food regularly but I don’t know of anyplace that takes large swaths of think plastic sheeting, if anyone has any info on this please send me an email.

Another item I struggle with, that you will be hearing about more and more in the coming years,  (on thr cover of Mother Jones June 2010 issue) is the overpopulation issue. People are just having too many damn babies. My father’s side of the family is half Irish, and 100% Catholic. The women get married and just keep breeding, I can’t even keep track of all those children. His brother has 9 kids and they have gone forth and multiplied exponentially. For a time, it seemed like there were baby showers every 2 weeks, thankfully they were always on weekend mornings when I am out riding my bike. I don’t think there is anything more boring than a baby shower, although bridal showers are pretty bad in my book too.

Stephanie Mills, the valedictorian of her high school class and one of the pioneers of the environmental movement featured in Earth Day, chose to use her commencement speech to warn her classmates about the problems of overpopulation which she read in Paul Ehrlich’s best-selling novel, The Population Bomb. She said that the best thing they could do to express their concern for the planet was not to have children, and she never did. The speech sparked a national outcry. And forty years later, this article in The Huffington Post lists 7 Things You Can Do for the Earth That Actually Matter  and number 6 is  not to have a baby.

I have many reasons for not wanting children, at least right now, but biology has forced me to wrestle with this topic a bit more lately. One of my objections to the whole idea is that as someone who cares very deeply about reducing her carbon footprint and leading by example to coax others to do the same, I feel as if it would be wrong to produce an heir that will multiply said footprint for generations to come. Besides, my high school classmates are making enough babies for all of us, including a good friend of mine who is in the environmental industry (she does remediation consulting) and who is now having her third baby. I was horrified when I heard. Enough already! Nurture your own self and make yourself a better person. The more children you have, the less resources you have in terms of time, love and money to lavish on your existing children. It’s pretty simple math. I swear many couples just keep having babies because they have nothing else to do, nothing to inspire them. I am struggling with the Ennui of encroaching middle age myself, but my answer is to nourish my soul with new hobbies and interests (and maybe even new geography) like yoga, writing, and meeting new like-minded friends, some who don’t even know how to ride a bike! Imagine!

Not only that, but those who have even one child have a special responsibility, in my book, to do as much as they possibly can to reduce their use of non-renewable resources, and to instruct their children to do the same. I don’t see this, certainly not with my older sister and her brood, who are more like little macroconsumers-in-training than eager students of the Green Movement. William does collect bugs, but I'm pretty sure his father has not explained to him about global climate change and loss of habitat for these l'il creatures.

This article from ABC news gives a really good overview of the scorecard of the environmental movement in the US. We have come a long way recently but some say it’s too little too late, that we are past the tipping point.  I am not sure about this but I have to say that I am not so optimistic about the prospects for my child, if I were to have one. The GDP of the United States is 70% comprised of consumer spending. And consumer spending, measured by the Consumer Price Index, is still largely on crap made in china and automobiles and computers manufactured unsustainably and disposed of in landfills. I of course have purchased and still purchase many of these products, it is impossible not to, unless I want to live off the grid and reject most of the goods that make my life easier. (Or more complicated, as a Buddhist would say)

It’s hard to imagine that enough change can take place in first world countries and in developing nations that could turn the tide before global climate change makes this planet inhospitable for a number of species, including us. But we will never know unless enough of us join together to live greener every day. Never stop trying to live a better life. Complacency is the mother of boredom and vacuity. Bring mindfulness into your life by nourishing yourself and our ecosystem. You will bear the fruits of your efforts, as will your friends and descendants.

Ok, I’m down from my soapbox now.

Links for more reading:

For a very interesting and comprehensive timeline of the environmental movement, including such notable disasters as the burning of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, Love Canal and Three Mile Island, click here.

For some suggestions on how to eat more sustainably with properly nourished and humanely treated animals, click here

For a scorecard of polluters, click here

For a look at what happens to all of those plastic bags: here or here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

the mommy question

So today my therapist and I discussed having children, (that is me having children as hers are now teenagers.) I said that despite the fact that I had been talking about it lately and I had expressed my interest in finding a potential partner that would be at least amenable to the subject, as well as biologically appropriate (read = sperm is viable) and age appropriate (read = young enough to be able to deal with them when they are 15 before we kick'em out) -- I really have no desire to be saddled with a baby right now. Ok, that is putting it mildly. Truthfully the thought of being pregnant and then having to deal with trying to whip my body back into shape with this needy little thing perpetually trying to suck on my sleep-deprived nipples, well, it's about as appealing to me as a colonoscopy.

"But at your age you need to start thinking about it, " she reminded me, the same thing the endocrinologist said at my appointment last week. [Speaking of that when I called for the appointment the receptionist asked me if I had been trying to get pregnant. When I replied, "hell no" and seemed puzzled, she explained that most health insurance plans would not cover the use of exogenous hormones to optimize fertility until after a woman has tried (and tried) the old-fashioned way, without supplementation. I explained to her that fertility was not the reason for my visit, and I was granted the appointment.]

At Easter dinner I drove to my mother's house, alone, and this made me sad. It was my own doing as it were, but it still made me feel like something of a failure. I was feeling overwhelmed by this and getting teary-eyed when I turned my old Jeep into the driveway and this is what greeted me:

After dinner and some time playing with my nieces on their scooters, I decided that perhaps motherhood would not be so bad after all. I just can't imagine having the time to raise children with my hectic life, and yet I feel as if don't have the means to change that right now. (A zookeeper, after all, is not a mommy, so she can get away from her charges when needed) At any rate, Alessandra's greeting definitely made me feel loved and welcomed, at least from the generation that did not judge me by the fact that I was single and childless at my age.

Then again, at Christmas 7 year old nephew William did ask me, exasperated, "are you EVER going to get married?"


One step at a time. I have no idea how that chapter is going to play out but in my more serene moments I believe it will all work out in the end, no matter if my children have four legs or two.

Monday, April 19, 2010

the keeper of the animals

Last weekend I had a dream about Mark and Annie. Mark and I went to visit Annie and we were driving in a car near the seashore and we were skirting the water, and then we were driving across a bridge, and then we were in the water, it was terrifying, but I reminded myself that cars were designed for this. (I seem to have recurring dreams about driving in a car and trying to stay on a very high bridge like a drawbridge that is opening, or on top of the surface of the ocean, terrified that I am going to end up drowning, but then I am the water-bearer so I guess it makes sense)

Something happened to Mark; he was gone. Suddenly Annie and I were in a very large house with hundreds of rooms and people everywhere celebrating some holiday of which we were unaware. We had to get through the house somehow. We traversed a long corridor and it was slow going because I was riding a bike and also carrying Mark's bike with me. There were barriers across the corridor every 2o feet or so and I had to jump over them on my bike while holding Mark's bike in my left hand. The laughing torsos' of the merrymakers could be seen spilling out the windows as they drank and shouted, and there was loud music. Somehow I accomplished this task and we got through; those mountain biking skills sure do come in handy.

Then I am in a large waterbed with Mark and there are animals around us and a new animal is curled up next to me, just like Madison and Chloe. Mark looks at it, surprised, trying to identify it.

"It's an aardvark," I said ruefully, wondering where in God's name I was going to be able to buy some ants to feed it. Then I went off to find food since all of the animals were hungry now, and needed to be fed. And it was going to take me a while to find enough ants.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

severing metaphor notwithstanding, sometimes you need to see the real thing

Today Mark amputated the feet of a man with trench foot that had progressed to the point of gangrene. Trench Foot occurs from prolonged exposure to damp, cold conditions, and he was a homeless man who was in and out of shelters in all manner of weather conditions. The first time he saw the patient, Mark walked into the room to an odd scene and a bad smell. The man had taken off his shoes (he had walked on these feet to the appointment, painfully) to reveal a left foot that was actually dry and mummified and resembled a piece of charcoal. The right foot however had gas gangrene, which is a serious infection. The clostridium bacteria byproduct was bubbling under the skin and the skin was sloughing off. Needless to say it was super gross. Mark explained to the patient that his feet needed to be removed immediately or he was risking his life, and the man said he would think about it; then proceeded to put his shoes on and walk out of the office. Fifteen minutes later and Mark walked outside to get some lunch and there the man was, standing on those feet, nonchalantly waiting for his ride. Unbelievable.
He waited 3 weeks to return, and unfortunately that cost him another 3 inches of his lower leg. So Mark performed the surgery today (paid by Medicaid HMO) and in another couple of weeks the patient will return to have the second phase of the operation where the permanent cuts and wounds will be made (today was more about removing dead tissue)
yeah I know, gross, but if you are wondering why people have limbs amputated in the year 2010, now you know. Although it's hard to tell from the pictures, this man is actually caucasian. His skin has darkened from a hard life living outdoors.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

happy dog meat day

Today was a beautiful spring day, and I made the most of it, mostly because I took the day off from work. Got up and did my normal morning chores and then some more, went to the chiropractor, and then to the gym for a quick upper body and core workout. The sun was out and it was getting warmer and warmer; I was gleefully running around in yoga pants and a tank top. Got gas, got cash, and then met the "dog meat truck" in the parking lot of Michael's Arts & Crafts in Conshohocken.

Since I feed my dogs a "biologically appropriate" homemade diet consisting of raw meat, some grains & supplements, I needed a cheap source of beef as I have three 60-lb dogs that eat 12 pounds a week. The Volhard list-serve recommended a supplier in New York, and myself and about 20 other Philadelphia-area raw feeders meet the truck in said parking lot every eight weeks to get our two-month supply of frozen meat and liver tubes. Anyway, I have to be there at 12:30, and then lug the meat back to my house, up the front stairs and then down the basement stairs to the extra freezer in the basement I bought years ago for this purpose. It is ok in the winter, but in the summer the outermost layer of meat starts to defrost and the blood attracts flies and can stain your clothes and attract the dogs who are perpetually in the way as you drag this stuff though the house.

At any rate, I think I've spend enough time on this blog post justifying why I take the first Thursday of every other month off for "dog meat day." At work that is how it is known. Since I ride my bike to work, race mountain bikes, am a vegetarian, a raw feeder, and have a fully functioning brain, (not to mention that I am female), I stick out anyway working in a construction company, so no one bothers to tease me anymore. Except for last Monday when I showed up at 9 am, well, that was just too much for them to pass up.

I stopped at Holod's and bought some pansies, drove home, ate a plate full of vegetables, did some sweeping out front with the meat tubes glistening on my porch floor and the dogs looking longingly at them through the glass door. I finally unloaded the meat and got my kit on. It just so happened that dog meat day this month fell on April 1st, which was the day that Dr. Glaser said I could get back on my mountain bike after being off since December 13th. Perfect.

So I checked the shock, the brakes, the tires and headed off. It was quiet in the park; I mostly passed a few hikers with their dogs. There was special significance to the place today, partially because I had not been there in so long, but mainly because it was spring and the brown decay of winter was being gradually supplanted by new growth. The harbingers of summer were appearing everywhere: a few intrepid insects showed themselves, the ferns were still just tiny unfurling fiddleheads, the spent leaves were melting into the landscape and fertilizing the new shoots and leaves. I heard only the insistent tapping of woodpeckers, the chattering of songbirds, the sound of water splashing over rocks in the creek, the whooshing of my tires through the packed leaves and dirt; and, if you listened closely, some muted sonic reminders that "we"--birds, insects, fish, and myself--were actually in an urban park. Beyond this bucolic oasis there were cars, trains, buses, and the anxiety and hardship of a large city in a country struggling to finds its way out of a nasty recession.

I was riding steady, just taking it all in. I had to get used to riding off-road again, handling the bike, shifting with the 2 x 10 gearing, climbing on gravel, jumping over logs, descending without braking on rocks, the whole bit. It felt great, I had only one water bottle and a small pack and I felt pretty light on the hills. I was shifting my weight not-quite-expertly, my timing was a little off, my technical skills a little weak, but for the first ride back it was just fine. Most importantly I really enjoyed it as I was not analyzing and criticizing, just having fun. The way riding used to be.

The funniest part was that I fell, three times, but never while I was actually riding the bike. For instance, I was standing in the middle of a rocky steep uphill on the Indian Trail and I turned to survey the view, smiling because I had ascended the difficult part well, when I lost my footing with one leg in my pedal and the bike and I keeled over. I face-planted into a six-inch deep mudpuddle. No joke, but I came up laughing with grit in my teeth.

I suppose that's the take-home message here, if you come up laughing with grit in your teeth after a face-plant into a puddle, you are either:

a. a naive dim-witted glutton for punishment, a la Candide OR
b. a cynical, critical, been-there-done-that type-A ex-bike racer who has just undergone an extended period of bad luck, and refuses to sweat the small stuff anymore.

I will go with option b. (I reserve the right to sweat the big stuff sometimes though)