Sunday, June 30, 2013

Frogs Falling From the Sky


Periodic locusts are emerging from their 17 dormancy throughout the eastern United States this summer.  They have the longest developmental dormancy in the insect world and when they finally do emerge from their tree root homes, they keep to wooded areas and shed their protective exoskeletons.  There are also millions of them.  More than 1000 periodic cicadas can occupy a square yard of soil.  The cicadas are relatively harmless, they have no chewing mechanism so pose no threat to gardens or crops, what they do though, is make an enormous amount of noise.

The return of the cicadas reminds me so distinctly of the biblical plagues of Egypt.  The falling of frogs from the sky, the covering of the land with first lice, them, flies, and finally locusts.  In less scientific times we might take the rise of the cicadas as a sign, a periodic warning against greed, or sloth, or lust or some other kind of deadly sin.  But we do not, so we take our plague of sound as an indication of at one thing in the environment , amid the hottest year on record, holding steady and behaving exactly as expected, exactly when we expected it.  Let's hope we see the cicadas the next time around.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Post Service


This week, in spite of it being the 21st century, in spite of email and Twitter and Facebook and Skype, in spite of the US Postal Service raising rates and closing offices, I received a real, honest to god letter.  It was all the things a good letter should be, handwritten, on multiple sheets of paper, not just some printed-off picture of someones family or worse, a formal newsletter to friends and family detailing vacations, fifth grade graduations, and recent major purchases.  This was a letter to me, written for me, about the kinds of things people only used to take the time to write about when we lived in an era of taking time to do things.  It was a wonderful and important reminder to do just that, take time.  Intention and deliberateness are often pushed to the wayside in our contemporary rush towards innovation and development.  In the last decade in particular I feel we have put stock in all things new, without really considering the value of some of the things we have replaced.  I feel the loss of letters and worry about trading them in for the false connections and faker y of social media. Perhaps today is a good day to be old fashioned, walk, read a book, write a letter, cook a meal.  Slow down.

Photograph Courtesy of:

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Weekend Warriors


When the Forest Reserve Act was passed in 1891 the goal was to set aside timber covered land from private logging interests.  In the post-depression boom and car-crazy years of the 1950's American demand for accessible wild lands increased dramatically.  For the last fifty years the United States Forest Service has expanded to cover more than 192 million acres of land and employs more than 30,000 people.  The Forest Service, in conjunction with the state parks and other public land organizations has spent the last 30 years making much needed improvements to camping areas and hiking trails first constructed in the post-war era and revived in the economic boom of the 1980's and 1990's. These improvements were hard fought from state and federal governments that had little to no investment in the preservation of the American wilderness or the outdoor way of life.

In some respects though, we have missed the boat.   The facilities, interpretive services and signage that is present throughout at least the western United States is better than ever before, but parks are being closed and staff cut due to to budget constraints, lack of visitors or low traffic to formerly booming areas.  The rise of the sedentary lifestyle, the obesity epidemic, and our technology addiction must surely have something to  do with this.  Ironic, since outdoor recreation is a good solution to many of these ills, especially in times of economic recovery.  Using our parks and reserved lands is the best way to ensure the continuation of their funding.  Get out there.


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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kids These Days


I have worked with children for a long time in a lot of different circumstances, however most of the time my job has been to engage them in some kind of physical or outdoor learning experience.In the last three or so years I have made some generalizations and formed some thoughts about this new batch of children, those younger than 18.  Many of them are good.  This is about the rest of them.  Based on entirely anecdotal evidence and presented in full knowledge of the fact that I may well just be getting old and witnessing my own generation gap;

They seem to be highly medicated. They are lethargic, disinterested, and overweight. They are all going to have neck problems from never looking up. They drink caffeinated beverages.  They have a high rate of autism (I mean high in comparison to my grade school, which I am pretty sure was zero).  They do not play outside.  They are really hard to engage in focused activity.

Sometimes I feel like this is a real phenomenon, sometimes I wonder if this is how kids have always been just now we have names, diagnoses, and medications for it.  I notice also that parents seem to be somehow both more intrusive and ever-present in their children's lives, and also pretty checked out.  There are children I know who I rarely see look up from their phone or gaming device as they meander behind their parent.  

Perhaps these are just unfounded generalizations.

Perhaps I am just witnessing the adjustment to rapid, technology-driven social change.

Perhaps environmental quality and economic depression have taken their toll.

Perhaps children are like canaries and if they are, perhaps we should attend to their condition.

Photograph Courtesy of:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Across the Boderline


The pervasive and definitive role of genre in our culture has a way of isolating us from works of art and literature.  I find this to be particularly true in music where everything from playlists to concert tickets and radio shows is carefully sorted into tight categories.  There are entire music services, Pandora for one, that are based on giving the reader more of exactly the same thing.  Some of my favorite albums are out of genre for either my dominant taste or my generation.  I think music is an important way of widening our world view and range of experience.

In that spirit, today I offer you a track from the 1993 Willie Nelson album, Across the Borderline.  This album, while decidedly country, deals with the overarching theme of the American Dream, having and losing it, and the condition of being an American in a lyrical and accessible series of duets with everyone from Paul Simon to Sinead O'Conner.  Love, loss, and the dusty-booted west are the main characters in this album's portrait of the broken promised land.


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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Tear Down This Wall


This week Barack Obama gave a nuclear disarmament speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin from behind six inches of bullet proof glass, enough glass to make it hard to see him in clear focus.  I wonder about this choice, what it says to the world about American ideas on security, personal safety, and our trust in other countries.  During his speech Obama said that the kind of nuclear threat we face now is not like the one of the fifty years ago, that Kennedy faced when he addressed Berlin, that we live in a safer, more secure world.  Regardless of the undermining of his own words by the mammoth security wall in front of him, the world is not a safer place from nuclear weapons than it was fifty years ago.  In the cold war era we worried about just two nations, now, we are told not to worry because just two nations have more than 300 warheads.  Consider that. How many nuclear warheads does a country need to have before you worry about their chain of command and the decision making of their elected (or not) officials and their ability to make sound decisions?  How safe can we be in a world where the President stands behind his own private Berlin Wall?

To learn more about nuclear weapons in the 21st Century visit the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Website:

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Drones at Home


Somehow, between the renewed search for Jimmy Hoffa and the totally unrelated but curiously considered so story of James Gandolfini's death, the FBI has let slip that it has been using drones in domestic cases.  This for me goes under the category of "things we already suspected or knew in our hearts about our government but were simply relegating to XFiles paranoia".  Ultimately, we have no right to privacy and since we have a long history of believing these kinds of weapons to be useful against people in other countries, it is going to be difficult to argue why we should not use them at home.  Mostly though, I think the FBI deserves a pat on the back for the careful timing of the release of this information, just as gangsters and the mob are at the forefront of everyone' minds, just when we are all thinking about the difficulty of infiltrating or observing these tightly knit crime societies, the FBI slips this piece of information in.  Well played FBI, well played.

Photograph Courtesy of:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

With the Fishes


Yesterday, demonstrating an astoninishing lack of ability to prioritize with regards to public safety or funds, the FBI spent an entire day searching an abandoned field outside Detroit for the body of Jimmy Hoffa.  Oddly, they found nothing.  Meanwhile, the FBI's own "Crime Clock" provided us with this information:

A violent crime occurs in the United States every 25.3 seconds
There is a murder every 35.6 seconds
A forcible rape occurs every 6.2 seconds
A robbery occurs every 1.4 seconds

But the Jimmy Hoffa thing, it's really pressing, you know?

FBI Crime Clock


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Keeping Up With The Joneses


I have never really been a shopper or a collector of things and have never had the good fortune to be able to afford to conspicuously consume nor the bad luck to really want for things.  It has been at least a year since I have set foot in a shopping mall.  I personally believe that my car says no more about who I am or what I have achieved in my life than any other common object.  While I have always known about the American consumer culture and even had some idea of the extent to which it permeates our lives, it was only recently that I began to see just how invested people are in it.  Some part of me, while understanding the idea of car or house or clothing as a status symbol, was simply unable to understand the enormity of these things in determining the average persons sense of self, worth, and accomplishment.  But it really matters.  People go into enormous amounts of debt and end up losing their families and homes and ability to take out credit accumulating stuff and things.  People spend large parts of their daily lives shopping, preparing to shop, or thinking about the things that other people have accumulated while out shopping.  They sacrifice their family and leisure time for jobs they hate so that they can continue to afford to buy even more stuff and things.  They feel badly about themselves in the wake of other peoples stuff and things.

When was the last time you went more than 24 hours without spending money?  It's possible.

Photograph Courtesy of:

Monday, June 17, 2013

Have a Seat


While much time and attention is being paid to the obesity and diabetes epidemics, the nutritional content or lack thereof of American meals, and our sedentary lifestyles, an important piece of the puzzle remains largely swept under the rug.  As a culture, we are not taking time to share our meals together at an actual table.  According to surveys published by the Journal of American Medicine less than fifty percent of Americans eat a sit down meal at home on a regular basis.  Instead we eat in our cars, standing up, in front of the television, or simply not at all.  When we do sit down to a regular meal it is riddled with interruptions and iPhone. The era of the Donna Reed dinner is entirely over.  Walk into most homes today and find the dining room table either covered under a mountain of papers and laptops or missing entirely.    

The reality is that sitting down to regular meals cooked at home increases the nutritional content of your diet, decreases the cost of food, improves digestion, encourages communication, and provides regular quality time with family.  Meals are where we talk, laugh, plan, and listen to one another.  The importance of sharing a meal is historically ubiquitous and cross cultural, it is how we honor important events and people and the touch point for family life.  Skimp on television, miss out on your twitter feed, forget to update your status, but make room for making meals and eating them as well.  Not all the vestiges of by-gone eras should be cast assunder.  

Photograph Courtesy of:


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Western Wall


I notice a peculiar slant in the reporting of recent protests in Instanbul. While we could be framing these events as a Western, European nation struggling to maintain its long-standing traditions of personal freedom and democracy instead we seem bent on tying these events to the Middle East and the Arab Spring.  I think that this reveals our biases as Americans regarding Muslim nations.  I think that if this was the people of Canada or Great Britain taking to the streets objecting to a Prime Minister implementing policies outside of the democratic norm we would be up in arms; literally.  But because Turkey is a country that we associate with the Middle East, we assume that the people protesting are used to severe forms of rule, that they have no rights to begin with, and that their government is not an elected body.  Moreover, we assume that the Turkish people themselves have low expectations for quality of life, governmental behavior, and civil rights.  None of these things are true.  

Modern Turkey is a busy, vibrant, and democratic society.  It is a European country with a parliamentary democracy.  The Turkish people are generally outspoken about their role as a neighbor to the Middle East and do not consider themselves a part of the larger regional context or conflicts.  That the Turkish people have taken to the streets means that there is something not well in their government.  They are an important part of Europe that cannot be allowed to destabilize politically or economically and a stabilizing and charitable neighbor to the Middle East.  

The people of Istanbul have something to say and why not listen? They are saying it in perfect English.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

City Lights


Just when I think that I am able to wrap my head around the enormous extent of human impact on the planet,  I see something like this. Which I can only describe as a wall of people, power and their stuff in Hong Kong.  The good news is that it temporarily calms me about the new subdivision going in down the street from me.  The bad news is that it gives me Star Trek Borg-like nightmares in which tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents dressed in all American Apparel brand clothing storm the West Coast in search of clean drinking water, half acre tract homes and the last of the remaining

Photograph Courtesy of:

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Good Life


I think that life gets so busy and filled up with responsibilities, challenges, unexpected events, and planning for  future happiness that we forget that any happiness we may receive in our lives will most certainly happen in the present moment.  There is no great future event or epiphany or other life that we could be living.  Hard work and good planning are no guarantee.  The only time that we can be sure of our own happiness is right now.  

An early summer roll call of happy things:

Freshly planted vegetable starts
The longest days of the year
An evening glass of wine
Alpine hiking
The last of the Tiger Lilies  

Don't let things get you down.

Snoopy and Woodstock on life's frustrations, domestic bliss and best intentions:

Photograph Courtesy of W Magazine.  To see the entire collection:

Friday, June 7, 2013

Show Time

Ooh La La.

Ever wake up in the morning tired, puffy-faced and rough around the edges knowing that in eight hours you were going to have to conjure full showgirl to a crowded house?  Ever look in the mirror and think you looked just about as far from showgirl as is humanly possible?  No? Well, it goes something like this:

Ugh.  Swollen feet.  Distressing hair.  Cramping leg.  Bloated. Crawl to shower.  Make coffee.  Start building giant pile of teeny tiny articles of clothing.  Include odd arts and crafts bits, ribbon, feathers, paint as directed.  Do not weigh yourself or inspect yourself in front of the mirror in an attempt to not destroy self esteem or cause distress.  Try to touch my toes.  Fail.  More coffee.  These tights have a hole in the toe.  When was the call time? More coffee.  Must.  find.  Shoes.  Ignore both the part of my brain questioning why I am doing this and whether or not I will pull it off and the part that is telling me how important this is and how badly I want to do well.  Manage to touch toes.  Now tape them.  Why did I invite people?  Maybe I should run through it just one more time.... 

 At times I find there is some great distance between the realities of  life and the glare of the footlights.  At these times you have only one choice; sell it.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Work a Day


While much attention is paid to the unemployment rate, which has been slowly decreasing in recent months, very little thought is given to the employment rate, which has not increased and remains at levels closer to that of 1983 than the pre-2008 economic boon.  The unemployment rate is mired in it's own convoluted mechanics.  It only looks at people actively seeking employment in the last four weeks and it neglects the partially and underemployed as well as the disenfranchised.  The employment rate though, when you eliminate the effects of retirement by focusing on 24 to 54 age range, becomes a much better descriptor of the state of occupation in the US population.  

What the approximately 75 percent employment rate tells us is that one in every four American adults who could and should be a productive part of the workforce is idle.  I think this has a lot to do with the devaluation of trade and craft work, the lack of willingness of the younger workers to take manual labor jobs, and an increasing cultural trend towards laziness.  It likely also has a lot to do with inadequate education, government subsidies that have no employment requirements, deeply rooted and institutionalized discrimination against minorities, women, the alter-abled, and anyone with a criminal history.

I cannot help but notice, however, that at least anecdotally, there are a lot of competent, educated, and employable people out there that are just not doing anything.  I wonder at this.  I struggle to imagine an idle life, not having to be anywhere or do anything but also not contributing to the world around me.  I wonder about boredom, self esteem, and how these people face the idea of their own futures.  I struggle to imagine a life without occupation and fail to relate to anything these able mind and bodied people have to say about politics, social issues, policy, or just about anything else. 

I believe that the employment crisis is a primary indicator of our cultural unwellness.  We are a country built on hard work, it is time to return to that ethic.  You are not too good for that job.  Waiting for a better offer is not a good idea.  The time is right now.  Get up.  Get sorted.  Get moving.  Life is in the doing.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cover Up


The City of Portland has waged an eight year battle to preserve its open-air drinking water reservoirs despite a federal mandate from the post-911 era stipulating that all public water reservoirs be covered. This week, they gave up the ghost and declared plans to cover the city's beautiful reservoirs.  I consider this the worst kind of consequence of our modern era of fear and paranoia.  I grew up with these reservoirs.  They, to me, are part of what "home" means.  The reservoirs are where I go to retreat, walk, think, celebrate, and talk.  I cannot imagine what the city will look like without them.  My heart mourns.

That someone could put something in the water is true, but it has not happened in the history of the reservoirs and the erosion of public trust and the loss of our civic features and way of life is not worth the concrete symbol of our resolve to fight terrorism and dissonance.  Write a letter.  Suggest a design that keeps these areas as some kind of public water features.  Go see the reservoirs while you can.  Remember the good old days.

Photograph Courtesy of:

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Outside In


I love to take a neighborhood walk.  I think it is good for the body and soul and goes a long way towards building a sense of place, community, and the need to care for both.  I am, however, increasingly concerned about the lack of children in the street and out in yards, really the lack of any people at all.  I walk for miles through neighborhoods with carefully crafted and beautifully maintained gardens, miles of lawn, and thousands of dollars of outdoor furniture; I never see a soul.  I am alone in walking, alone in enjoying the fresh evening air, and apparently alone in believing that children are better off for being sent to play outside. This saddens and concerns me, but more than anything it leaves me confused.  Why bother with the nice house, the fancy yard, and the expensive barbecue if  you will not use or enjoy it?  Have we crossed so far into our consumer and electronics driven culture that even our verandas have become little more than status symbols?

Take a walk.  Take a meal outside.  Take a break from modernity and sit on your very own front porch.

Photograph of Mark Twain Porch Sitting:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Tiny Monkey


There exists a teeny tiny monkey, the pygmy marmoset, which is native to the Amazon Basin.  They remain less than ten inches long, not including their tails, throughout their lives.  They are super cute and part of the American trend toward exotic pets.  They are also, apparently, either mean or hard to house break since a new baby pygmy marmoset costs about 2500 dollars on the open market, but a Google search reveals tons of people who cannot wait to give theirs away for free.  

Maybe it's having to change all those teeny diapers.
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