Desolation of Smog

gasmask

The World Health Organization just reported that 92% of people are breathing air that falls below the organization’s quality standards. This standard is basically whether or not the air has enough terrible stuff in it (like nitrates, sulfates, and black carbon) to kill you. A bit of that toxic material won’t set off their alarm bells, but once it gets to “will cause severe bodily injury” levels, they take note. If you agree with their non-death-inducing standards, that means nearly every human alive today is filling his or her lungs with harmful, dangerous air.

As a result, in 2012, six and a half million people died just by breathing. Breathing. I’m doing it right now. So are you, I’d bet. Don’t go holding your breath just to prove me wrong. But maybe do hold your breath to limit the amount of toxic air you’re gulping. I’m not a doctor, but it might work. Could we delay the air’s impact on our lungs by forcing our bodies to more efficiently use oxygen? Should we swim more regularly to up our breathing game? Should we breath into paper bags like we’re all suffering through a global panic attack? I feel like that last thing is going to happen either way, so let’s just embrace it as an attempted solution.

To be honest, I’m not sure working on our lung capacity will save us from this disaster. Scientists say we need to develop more efficient transportation systems, stop burning fuel and garbage in our homes, lay off the power plants filled with coal, and refrain from using so much energy to create a bunch of things we don’t need. That means those of us who are privileged enough to have options regarding those four causes should make better choices and those of us who are even more privileged—who have a few extra dollars to spend and give wisely—should do that. I know big problems are hard to solve, but we are literally poisoning one another and we can do better. I have a few ideas.

Buy less stuff. Give some money to scientists and inventors developing better energy sources for global communities. Ride a bike. Vote for representatives who believe in science. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Support organizations whose purpose is to grow sustainable infrastructure around the world. Pay attention to the labels on your food. Watch a video of an orangutan in Borneo and remember why we make these choices. Eat a vegetable grown near you. Get on the bus (literally and figuratively). Read about how families in other places cook their food and heat their homes. Feel lucky. Take a walk with a friend and discuss how even though you think you’re supposed to like Leonardo DiCaprio because of his dedication to the environment, he’s getting pretty creepy.

Some of these are probably more effective than others, but I think we should all just jump in wherever feels right. I’m going to start with the videos of precocious infant primates.

 

Risky Roasting

dangerousmarshmallows

When Dave and I were staying in Olympic National Park, we roasted a lot of marshmallows. I feel like it’s required on a camping trip, and I wasn’t about to skirt an honored American tradition. The problem was, unlike the forests I’m used to in Michigan, the rainforest of the Pacific Northwest didn’t offer any quality roasting sticks. We’re resourceful, so we made it work, but with varying degrees of success.

One night, I was looking around our campsite for a nice specimen. I didn’t spot anything, and I was feeling impatient, so I just grabbed something that looked about the right size. I brought it back to the campfire and stuck a marshmallow on the end. The stick seemed a little extra pokey, but it was dark and I was focused on the important task of roasting. It takes a lot of care to get it just right and then accidentally set the whole thing on fire.

At one point, I went to adjust the stick in my hand and noticed that what I thought were just sharp knobs were actually really sharp thorns. Like, really sharp. I didn’t stop roasting, obviously, but I tried to be very careful. I stabbed myself with a thorn approximately thirteen seconds later.

It got stuck, because rain forests have really intense plants. I pulled out most of it, but I could feel the sting of that choice for a week. The marshmallows tasted great though.

Sappy Sweet

maplesyrupaddiction

I spent this past weekend in Vermont for a friend’s wedding. On the drive back home, we passed a shop for a local farm with a huge sign boasting the sale of the greatest sugar known to man: maple syrup. We sampled their specialties, opened up the machine they use to boil the syrup, and peeked into the stockroom. While Dave learned about the process, I hatched a complicated plan to steal an armful of the sweetener. It was a poor strategy involving a messy distraction and a broken window, so I decided to just settle for visiting the store.

I’m particular about my syrup. I’ve never eaten a meal with fake maple syrup—that disgusting concoction made from corn syrup and artificial flavoring. Growing up, I had more than what I needed, but we didn’t have a lot of room for luxuries. We ate our share of store-brand cereal and carried last year’s backpack to the first day of school. Maple syrup, however—the real kind that comes from a tree and has only one ingredient on the label—was always in the fridge. My parents made plenty of sacrifices to get our family to the place we are now, but my dad wouldn’t make that one.

It seems small. That one little splurge didn’t break the bank. It was just a standard he’d set for himself, for us. And, really, you can’t back down on those kinds of things. A life without the little wonders isn’t worth living. Plus, how much syrup could we actually have been eating each month? Ok, probably a lot, because my sister used to douse every breakfast item on her plate with it. Still, it was a small indulgence with a major payoff. And it stuck.

I’ve annoyed plenty of waiters with my questions about the syrup served at breakfast joints. Many a confusing interaction has begun with my query of,” So, do you have real maple syrup?” I usually get a perplexed look from the waiter and a response about how they think so and that it’s just the normal kind. Once someone responded with, “Yeah, it comes from the bottle shaped like a lady.” Amateur. If the waiter doesn’t know the answer to this question, I assume they serve maple-flavored corn syrup. Then I don’t order pancakes because that’s disgusting.

This shop had the real deal—walls lined from top to bottom with gallons of it. Sometimes people ask me if I want to go wine tasting or get a flight at a brewery. I usually just nod my head and pretend I can tell the difference between each sip. At this tasting session, I was on top of it. I sampled each grade, carefully noting their hues and flavors. I was an expert. I’d been training my whole life for that moment.

Old Man Dodge

notignoring

When we were staying in Olympic National Park, we spent time at a few of the campgrounds. One of the early spots we stayed was Sol Duc, in the northwest corner of the park. While we were there, a couple came up to our site to talk with Dave. The woman didn’t say much and kept walking along after the man said hello. That’s how I like my strangers, friendly but impermanent. The man, however, didn’t have the same courtesy. He talked with Dave about our strange camper van, about how much his home had grown in value, and about nailing copper into trees. That part seemed particularly aggressive, but I guess people do it to keep trees from growing. Dave sent off a few typical end-of-conversation indicators, but this guy was not picking them up. He just kept on going and going. Eventually, I had to interrupt. I turned around (obviously my back was turned to them the whole time, because that’s how I roll in awkward social situations) and said a bit too loudly, “Ok, it’s time to go now.” Still, the guy didn’t stop talking. I repeated myself even louder. Nothing. Then Dave repeated what I said. That worked. I guess the guy couldn’t hear my little lady voice.

I was glad the interaction was over. We took a dip in the nearby hot springs to celebrate and I forgot about the stranger.

A few nights later, we pulled into a new campground—Kalaloch. Seven minutes after we pulled into the site, a face appeared on the other side of our car’s hood. It was his—his wrinkled, pale face under a flop of white hair. He said, “Looks like we’re following you.” He could not have said anything creepier. Yes, old man, I’d love to hear about how you’re stalking me in the woods. Please bring my nightmares to fruition by explaining how you have tracked me from place to place in a giant van.

After interrupting us, he pointed at his camper parked literally across the street. He could peek from his front window into our back window. Not something I wanted to happen. I also didn’t want to have to stand there and listen to him talk about nothing. I had macaroni and cheese to eat, so I had to pull out all the stops. And, by all the stops, I mean I had to turn around after he’d been talking for 56 seconds and pretend I had something really urgent to do. He persisted. I waited. Eventually he sighed and walked away.

I know I sound terrible. He wasn’t actually stalking us (I’m pretty sure). He was just on a nice vacation with his lady friend or wife or mistress. Probably not that last one because, as much as he chatted with us, he didn’t seem to say a word to her. We just happened to be in the same place too many times in a row. He also just happened to not understand reasonable social cues and be totally indifferent to other people’s feelings.

Don’t feel bad for the guy though. On my walk to the bathroom, I saw him accosting another couple on the path. And a different guy was stopped by his chatter on my way back. He was fine. I was also fine because after my masterful dodge, he didn’t try again. I guess not everyone escapes to the woods to get away from all of humanity.

Cold-Hearted

campaignpromises

I know I said I would post about my trip, but I have something else to get off my chest. (That’s a terrible pun you’ll get after reading a bit further.)

Ok, not that much further. I have a little cough. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s from being in the rain and not sleeping enough and flying on a plane. Nothing serious. However, it’s really helping me identify with our next president, Hillary Clinton. In case you haven’t opened your phone or turned on the television or been awake this past weekend, here’s the deal: Hillary is recovering from a bout of pneumonia and the whole world is talking about it.

The way the media is covering her illness, you’d think she was diagnosed with a tragic, terminal, mind-altering condition. People are saying she won’t be fit to lead our country, because she has the nerve to have human lungs. How dare she? Did she forget that all our past presidents have been robots, unfazed by the germs and viruses the rest of us fight. I mean, that’s why we elect them, right?

Also, everyone knows that if you go to work sick, you have to just take a few Advil and pretend all is well. It’s not her fault, but she’s broken the silent pact we women have signed to quietly, strongly continue on despite any physical or emotional discomfort. She was supposed to carry on unnoticed. To her credit, she tried. For days, she kept campaigning. She worked crazy hours. She attended a memorial event. She spoke with the public and the press. But then she had the nerve to request a short break and that’s really where we all have to draw the line.

Here’s the root of all this nonsense. It’s not because those presidents were robots or immune to all the world’s diseases. That’s just a weird sci-fi story I’m about to write about aliens who create robot presidents and send them to Earth to be elected in an attempt to rule the planet from the other side of the Milky Way. It’s because they were men. If Hillary was one, if the public and the media didn’t already have this presumption that she was just a little bit lesser than, weaker than, she wouldn’t be punished for having a chest cold. She would be praised for working hard while not feeling well. She wouldn’t be told she was unqualified for a job based on her need for a low dose of antibiotics.

I’m glad I don’t want to be president because I had to take a bunch of antibiotics this summer, so I’m pretty sure I’d be banned. I hate when experiences that literally every person I know has had get in the way of otherwise achievable dreams.

Giant Squirrels

marmots

It’s been awhile, I know. I wasn’t just eating cookies and watching Netflix this time though. I’ve been far away in a magical wonderland of fairies and marmots. Turns out, that’s the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t see any actual fairies, but I’ve seen Fern Gully and I’m pretty sure they were there. I did see a whole bunch of marmots, which was excellent, since as soon as I read that there were marmots in the area, I told Dave, “I better see a marmot on this trip.” I didn’t even know what a marmot was, but it was really important to me that I found one.

Luck was on my side, because I saw one on our first real hike in Mt. Rainier. I say real, because we did a test-run hike on our first night and I failed and made us turn back. I was not prepared. I’ll fill you guys in on that one later. This first real hike was a success though because I both completed it and accomplished my primary goal: spotting the elusive marmot. Also I learned they are not at all elusive. They were everywhere. We saw like ten of them waddling past us on the trail and laying out on rocks eating grass. When I turned toward another hiker to express my glee at spotting the first one, she just said, “Oh yeah, they’re out today” and kept on walking. She didn’t even care. She moved along like she’d seen a million of those fat squirrels. I hope I never lose my zest for marmots (and life).

Well, I really had no idea where this post was going when I started it, but I feel like that’s a good place to stop for now. In the next few, I’ll share some moments from my trip. Stay tuned for stories about how we managed to survive in a van nearly the same age as me, the old man that followed us from campground to campground, and the most dangerous s’mores ever made. Probably some other strange things too. Who even knows. I’m delirious from fake jet lag and too many marshmallows.

For now, let’s all toast to marmots. Those fat dudes know what’s up.