31 March 2008

E.O. Wilson or Meeting a Personal Hero

It was my birthday this Saturday but the best present of all happened a bit earlier in the week, when I was working as a bookseller for a conference. There were a lot of big names at the conference, not to mention a few people I had worked with in the past. Although I didn't see or hear much of it I got to chat with many people as they passed through our made-for-the-occasion bookstore. One of those people just so happened to be E.O. Wilson. I'm guessing that many of the scientists reading this will know exactly who he is. But for those of you who don't he is a biologist (primarily an entomologist) who has been an active voice for conservation (he must be about 80 now).

I actually got to see and hear his plenary talk (thanks to my supervisor!) which was set up like a fireside chat. it was a wonderful talk. The most memorable moment for me was when he discussed how important he felt it was that children should be able to explore the natural world on their own terms, that zoos and botanical gardens are great places for children if they get to explore but if they go to see the labels on the specimens and animals it is the worst way for them to experience it. And then he said "I think the largest enemy of the natural world are soccer moms [who over schedule them and do not let children discover for themselves]". This got a lot of laughs from the audience and later a woman started her question by saying "I'm going to overlook your snide remarks about soccer moms...." Wilson replied "Oh, don't! Stay angry and mull on it for awhile". And that is the part of the quote that I savor because isn't it true that too often we are soothing ruffled feathers to the extent that we don't think through whey something makes us angry or if it should make us angry? I hope to use that quote in the future.

Later, after his plenary, E.O. Wilson came down to the bookstore to sign books. He had a huge line. At the very end was me, an armful of books that other people had asked me to have him sign because they had places they had to be (although I must admit that I don't really understand that point in having your book signed if you don't get the opportunity to chat with the author). As I was the last in line we had time to chat and he was very gracious. He talked about how when he flies anywhere he always tries to calculate how far a child would have to walk from any subdivision or housing unit to the nearest thing resembling wilderness. I had a book of my own I wanted signed and we had been chatting for awhile and I had mentioned that I was an -ologist so when I put my book down and said, "and this one is for me" he announced, "ah, well you, you get an ant" and not only did he sign my book but he drew me an ant (he is very well renowned for his work with ants) in it and then a conference organizer snapped a photo of us!

27 March 2008

The Marlboro Man

Yesterday we were to be besieged by visitors, a dear friend from my Fairbanks days who is now in Portland flew out so that we could celebrate our birthday together, a day that we share, and my sister and her family were to join us as well in celebration of their wedding anniversary. My friend arrived safely, a joyous, laughing bubble eager to explore and do new things. From my sister however came an odd phone call, another drop in the family worries. Her step-father (we are half sister's, really, through my father, although to us there is no half about it) has been ill for some time. You may have heard me refer to him before, he is an old time Coloradan cowboy and was one of the original Marlboro Men. He had a stroke last fall from which he has hardly recovered and yesterday his doctor called to say that they had found cancer. He is an old man, we just celebrated his 80th birthday, and I wonder if he will not just decide to go back to his Marlboro Man days and re-take up his vices until he submerges and expires. But I doubt my sister will let him. She, and her family, are currently living with him and it is hard to let the people we love go, even when it might be kinder to do so. We shall see her and her family, her husband and my niece & nephew this weekend but they have taken some time to be with Clyde and ease him through the news and I have this odd feeling that the traveling should be reversed - I should be going there. And so I shall, soon, as well as to Ontario where my Oma is still doing poorly, but for now my friend and I shall have a celebratory weekend and take what joy is to be found in friendship and aunt hood and home baked pies.

Until the weekend I find myself, surprisingly at a National Geographic event on the environment, selling books. This is a surprising turn of events and I hope to take advantage of it as there are some very respected names here and a few of people I know. Scientists as well as activists, attempting to present the pitfalls of global climate change and potential solutions to insurance agents and business persons, the people who seem to just be catching on that this may be an issue that will directly affect them. Luckily the talks are piped into the book-room and I hope to get the opportunity to circulate during the breaks. I must continually remind myself not to buy any of the delicious books on science & the environment that arrayed in front of me. So tempting!

25 March 2008

Of Dreams

Sometimes the tiredness falls off me like rain. And then I can no longer do anything other than retreat, go to bed, to the soft cocoon of the blankets and sheets and hope that sleep will come, rise above the anxieties and overwhelm me. I dream a lot of startling things these days. I remember how when I was prescribed malaria medication I was warned that a side affect could be vivid dreams and I remember wondering how would I ever know? My night mind dreams up fantastic science fiction novels and battles between good and evil and it dreams of the wings of birds rescuing bits of light from beleaguered people. I have always had vivid dreams and often periods of my life have been marked by a recurring dream of some sort and after the ending of particular chapters, it is as if my sleeping mind regurgitates all of the things it has forgotten, downloading all of the details of that time period into a new time continuum; people I have forgotten, events, random details such as mathematical formulas or the particular stitching across a piece of fabric or the way a place smells come tumbling in. Right now I sleep the sleep of the dead, I do not even disturb the sheets at night although in my dreams the world unfolds most peculiarly and I am left with imprints and impressions, dream fingerprints on my waking days.

21 March 2008

The River & the Guitar

Ah, and still things are a bit chaotic. I spend my lunch (sometimes it's dinner) break by the river, a real mountain stream, frothing with snow melt and mountain mud, burbling over rocks, and swollen at it's banks. Here I contemplate the things I have experienced recently and then I let it go, let it swirl away down river and watch with joy the jump of a juvenile rainbow trout, nosing it's way towards the elusive spring insect, or listen to the mating trill of the water ouzel (who has sadly been renamed the practical but unromantic, unpoetic name the American Dipper) or watch the blue winged flight of the Kingfisher. My new co-workers are sure I'm mad because I go out whether new snow lies in thick inches on the ground, if it's raining, or the winds bringing the ever changing spring weather are keeping everyone else indoors. I figure that's what coats & hats were designed for and no weather can keep me from this place that centers me as I sit in a maelstrom of family illnesses and career anxieties. I love the way the light plays over it, the way it sounds, the way I can be there for 10 minutes and feel like I've been there forever.

The Disreputables are all recovered, as is the Parental Dog. The Parental Cat, Mr Nibbs, needs a lot of care and will continue to until his death. My mother made it safely to Ontario where she is now with her mother and her mother's husband and managed to make Tante Laura's funeral. Her mother, my Oma, is very ill, but the extent of the illness is unclear at the moment. I worry about my mother as her relationship with her's has always been very fraught, and it feels as if any minute my father or I will be flying out to join her. Meanwhile, she misses spring in her most spectacular of gardens and in her garden house where it seems I am endlessly watering and bringing in a string of just bursting to bloom amaryllis and other spring bulbs (and I am trying to photo document them for her - two examples here). My father keenly misses my mother but he doesn't want to make her more anxious by expressing it so I find myself passing along the messages.

Can I say, how wonderful it was to get all your messages even though I had been gone? Even though I have been a bad visitor myself lately? It was a balm, to see them. And yes, I have taken up the guitar, the classical guitar. I'm actually learning on a Russian 7 string guitar that was my Oma's but at the moment I've only got it strung for 6 because I can't find a instructor who knows about 7 strings. I've always wanted to learn and I figured, prior to all the family excitement, that this would be a good time. The instructor asked why I wanted to learn and I told him "so I can play around the campfire" which is really what it's all about for me, since I usually spend about half the year around a campfire. And my dad is learning, at age 65, to play the piano, so maybe we'll learn to play something together one of these days. Oh - and we had some good family news - a new baby on my father's side of the family!

20 March 2008

In Memoriam: Jurgen

We found out, almost a week later, that my mother's cousin had passed away on the same day as Tante Laura, unexpectedly. I didn't know Jurgen very well, I only met him once or twice as he lived in the former East Germany, a place that was difficult for us to visit and from which he could not come to visit us until very recently. I know that he suffered from depression and that he died relatively young and that he and my mother had a deep bond.

16 March 2008

In Memoriam: Tante Laura

My Tante Laura was an amazing woman. Not only was she, like my Oma, a woman who was born in a German speaking Mennonite in a Yiddish village in the Ukraine, Russia at the start of the 2nd world war (a bad place to be) but she was a woman who, having lived through unspeakable horrors, managed to hold historical perspective on it all. When I talk to my Oma the stories of tragedy always seem to jumble out and tumble up together to the point that a) one can't tell what's real or not and b) it seems as if there has never been any peace in her life. My Great-Aunt (Tante) lived through many of the same horrible events but she remembers the name of every person in the village and everything that happened to them afterwards, if it was known (which is not altogether often), and also was able to chronologically sort these memories. She had an amazing photographic memory and an insatiable desire to read. She went blind many years back due to reading. She had at least 4 children, two of which she fled across continents with and the wide Atlantic to the safety of Canada's shores. She died of a stroke, just shy of her 90th birthday.

Unplanned Break

I've been on an unplanned break from the blogosphere; I don't even know now if it's been one week or two weeks. First my mother's aunt & her mother were hospitalized, her aunt died, my mother took off on a sudden, unplanned, and uncommunicated road trip from Colorado to Ontario, the Parental & Disreputable Dogs both came down with a doggie virus they caught from a dog they play with (I love it when an owner starts telling me how the vet said it is urgent for them to get their dog in while its playing with mine), the Disreputable Cat came down with some unknown nose problem (bacteria, allergy, or mold?), and the Parental Cat, Mr Nibbs, who is quite elderly suddenly degraded immensely with kidney failure & blockages, and vomiting and continual visits to the vet. Meanwhile I started working full time at a independent booksellers (oh, to not spend my paycheck there!) while still working full time at the last "cash" job which was at a green building center and I've taken up the guitar. In between all that I've been trying to make deadlines for various ology jobs, doing my taxes (oh, criminee! 3 countries!) and have been using every spare moment to walk the dogs or to go running to keep myself grounded. I've really wanted to be here and especially at your places, reading, and seeing what's going on in your lives and I'm afraid to open my bloglines and see how many I've missed, but there was no doubt there were other things that took priority. But I'm back, and soon I will come visiting (and I believe I have a meme or two that I have been tagged for that I will do soon too).

Oh, and while I was gone the Iditarod came to an end with Lance Mackey winning. It was a great race in that you never knew until the very end who was going to win.

01 March 2008

The Iditarod Starts

I don't usually post on weekends but today is the start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, also known as the great serum race...probably the most famousest of sled dog races out there. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this race it is a 1150 mile race from Anchorage to Nome. From the Iditarod web-site:

The Iditarod Trail, now a National Historic Trail, had its beginnings as a mail and supply route from the coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the interior mining camps at Flat, Ophir, Ruby and beyond to the west coast communities of Unalakleet, Elim, Golovin, White Mountain and Nome. Mail and supplies went in. Gold came out. All via dog sled. Heroes were made, legends were born.

In 1925, part of the Iditarod Trail became a life saving highway for epidemic-stricken Nome. Diphtheria threatened and serum had to be brought in; again by intrepid dog mushers and their faithful hard-driving dogs. The Iditarod is a commemoration of those yesterdays, a not-so-distant past that Alaskans honor and are proud of.

This race is a bit different then then the Yukon Quest in that there are more checkpoints and it goes through more communities, i.e. mushers don't have to rely so much on wilderness camping. This year there is a record 96 teams in the race. For both the Yukon Quest & the Iditarod mushers must first qualify for the race through other shorter races. One year there was no snow in Anchorage so they had to hold the start in Fairbanks - two dear friends of mine (who took the pictures on this page) from Europe were particularly fascinated by the range of clothing you could see even at 40 below zero; everything from shorts & t-shirt, complete homemade fur get-ups (including a skunk hat!), carhardts and bunny boots, and military fatigues for the folks from the base.