Category Archives: nature

Traveling in India: Toilet Terrors

Ancient Greeks had it rough but not that rough.

I have had some pretty interesting toilet adventures when traveling. Mexico City didn’t flush their toilet paper but had open garbage cans beside the toilet for people to put the soiled pieces into, which was especially disgusting. Singapore required you to squat in the right direction and if you didn’t flush they would fine you. Britain used something akin to parchment paper with the absorbency of stone. But India was perhaps the place where I experienced the most travails. I was there for two months and on top of that, contracting dysentery meant I had many intimate moments in the can.

Toilets (or ditches, troughs, or trenches) could always be found but if you’re of a culture used to sitting, the other style can be a challenge. Squatting is something that takes more work if you don’t continue to do it from childhood. The muscles and tendons shorten and it’s not as easy to even achieve a full squat without having the feet jutting out at 45 degree angles. In Nepal, while on the bus, we’d pass people on the side of the road, just squatting right down, arms wrapped about their knees and doing their business, watching the cars go by. I presume they used their hands to wipe as they do in some Arab countries but I never asked. And after seeing one man walking along and blowing a booger into his hand and then flinging it, I didn’t want to know, nor shake anyone’s hands.

On one trip, there was a little shack where they served up rice and dhal bat (some sort of lentil stew that I can’t eat because of food sensitivities.  Behind that brick shack was an old piece of cloth over a very short vestibule. At the back of this was a thin culvert (about six inches wide) of water running through. You squatted over that culvert of water and did your business. Toilet paper isn’t something the locals use and they probably shake their heads at our finicky ways.

My time in Meghalaya was fine since every home had flush toilets with seats and the Khasis tend not to squat at home though I’m sure they’re used to the squat version too. By the time I made to Delhi I was desperately sick with dysentery. I didn’t know if I would puke or have diarrhea or both at the same time. The worst version of toilet is the one that combines the squat with the Western style. These were porcelain toilets with no seats that people squatted over. It’s much easier to squat full to the ground, than halfway as if you’re skiing. And if you’ve ever been so sick that you just want to lay on the floor and hang onto the toilet, well, there was no way to do that with this style of toilet. The floors were filthy with everything including the grunge from using a toilet. And the porcelain rim, without seat was just as mucky. What to do (as they said in India). Try being steady when you feel like fainting and vomiting into the fecal void. I hated this toilet style most of all.

The most adventuresome one was taking a train from Delhi (it might have been Varanasi) to Calcutta. It’s a long train ride and eventually you’re probably going to have to use the toilet. I waited as long as I could, partly because I didn’t want to leave my pack alone. But eventually I had to go. I wore long skirts a fair deal in India because they were cooler and because it was culturally more acceptable. On the train, the toilet is only a hole in the ground, where you can watch the tracks shooting by beneath. In fact, you’d never want to walk along the tracks there because everyone defecates onto the tracks. I can’t imagine it being pleasant at all.

So here I am in this darkish metal box, bunching my skirt up about my thighs and squatting down. What does a train do when it moves? It rocks, so there was a bar to hang onto. But being a Western person I also used toilet paper. One hand is holding up my clothing, one is hanging on to the bar. How do you wipe yourself? It took some judicious bunching of fabric and balance. My fear was I’d fall onto the disgusting floor and contract a disease.

But I managed. And I brought my own toilet paper know it’s not something used by all cultures and it’s a good thing I did or I would have been using my hands. And after seeing the Ganges River, with ashes from the burning ghats, dead cows, marigolds, people washing clothes, themselves and doing spiritual ablutions, there was no way I was going to touch the water. I was raised in the cushy Western society and I’m not used to other styles of toilets. But if I had grown up in Asia  I would probably sport a limberness that aid me in other ways. I still wonder what happens when a person gets too old and rickety to squat though.

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Cornucopia List: July 26

I’m running out of time these days to write here. Which means I don’t seem to have time to write my fiction and I really really have to finish a story soon. So with the five things (since my last list) for which I am grateful, I will start with:

  1. Time–I am grateful that I have time, perhaps never enough but time is a great thing. I would love if time were timeless but although it isn’t it is endless. Time to breathe, time to sleep, time to love, time to think, time to have fun. Sometimes these times are not equal or in the amounts we wish but I’m glad I have time and I’ve had the time I’ve had. I also look forward to having way more time.
  2. Old Friends–I have lately reconnected with Kathy, who I was best friends with in high school. It’s been decades since we saw each other and a lot of life has happened. She reconnected via email a few years ago but we got to see each other in person for the first time this weekend. Sometimes such reunions can be odd or uncomfortable because the only things that people have in common may have passed on. And sometimes in a long interim it’s possible for what pushed people apart to resolve and for people to find they still have things in common. If it’s one thing I’ve learned, you can have good friends you don’t see frequently and when you do, it’s almost like picking up where you left off.
  3. Cherries–They are not my all time favorite fruit but the are one of them. And oddly I still haven’t had many this year. Cherries are like little flavor and sugar bombs, not too sweet and fairly thirst quenching. They have a nice little pit that you can easily chew around unlike grapes with all their little seeds.
  4. Water–Of course without it we would die. I have had people tell me they don’t like drinking water. I love drinking water, if it’s cold. It’s light and tasteless and quenching. Water is also an amazing medium that can be liquid or solid (ice, snow). It’s almost always moving and flowing in some way or another, carries vibrations, supports or submerges and is one of the great mysterious elements of life. Watch a pond, a pool or an ocean over a few seasons and you will see the mutability and changing temperament of water. I could watch it for hours looking at the patterns and colors.
  5. Heat–Yeah I will repeat some themes because I am constantly grateful for the sun and the heat it gives. I love being warm and tend to get cold easily. We’ve finally immersed ourselves in summer hitting the third week of hot. Now hot for Vancouver, is 25 degrees Celsius and 22 is comfortable. It means not needing a jacket and sleeping in a light sheet and wanting to drink cool drinks in the shade. Hooray for summer and the heat.

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The Cornucopia List: June 18

I think I missed my list last week of five things for which I’m grateful. I hit a really busy period so I’ll just list five things for the last two weeks.

  1. Pastoral Foothills–I drove to Osoyoos last weekend, a very dry part of BC, and even drier in Oliver where the large mudslide happened. BC is mostly the Rocky Mountain range from the coast to the border so much of our towns and cities are situated near mountains or in rolling hills. Osoyoos and area is rolling, humped hills, in shades of green with small copses of trees and a smattering of cows and horses. With the fluffy clouds overhead, interspersed with hot sun, it gave a dappled pattern to the earth. Truly beautiful.
  2. Happy People–Of course we’re not often grateful for the grumps but being around people last weekend just taking it easy, mingling, chatting and drinking made me realize I’d missed many of them.
  3. Illumination–I’m not talking about the light that shines from the sky or from electronic bulbs. I’m talking medieval manuscripts and the illuminated borders and capitals. The “illumination” in a scroll or manuscript was the laying down of gold leaf, which gave the piece  a certain brilliance especially in those tallow candle times. Those old pages, worked on painstakingly by monks for days and weeks on end can be truly astounding. I know people who do this and I have done such illuminations in the past though my skills pale next to what I can see some people do. In fact, some of them might have been seen as blessed by God in the good ole days. This illumination was taken from the Fitzwilliam Museum’s site: http://www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/
  4. Estate Wineries–I really want to do a wine tour through the Okanagan, but when I have enough money to actually buy some of the wines. We did stop at the Forbidden Fruit winery on the way back from Osoyoos as we didn’t have a lot of time. They had some ice wines (for $20 it’s much cheaper than you can get in the liquor store), a couple of ports, and one or two white and red wines. I bought a bottle of the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Plumiliscious ice wine (sort of an ice wine I think). They had about eight different types with cherry, apricot, apple, plum, white grape, peach etc. Maybe later this summer…
  5. Genealogy–It’s interesting and fascinating to see where our roots lead. My aunt, who passed away recently, had tracked one side of the family tree, the part I knew least about. I knew there was Danish and Italian in our family but I didn’t know about the Norwegian, a line that can be tracked back at least to the 1600s. My ancestors were part of Rovang Gaard, being the Rovang farm families. Good ole peasant stock, no special people except for everyone being special in their own way. I look at the branchings, all the surnames and all the people in those families and think about track the other three branches and how they  would branch and branch all the way back to the first awareness of self. It’s truly possible that we’re all related to half the world. When thinking about it this way it’s even more bizarre to think you could hate or be racist against part of your own family but then families don’t always get along, do they? Still, I’m fascinated by the names.

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The Cornucopia List: June 4

Sometimes it’s hard to think of just five things to appreciate in the week, whereas we can always think of a long list of ills, disasters and problems. But by concentrating on this it does take me away from the more dire thoughts. This week’s Cornucopia List includes:

  1. Mushrooms–Some people hate shrooms and consider them slimy, or get all squeamish about them being grown

    Irish shroom outside a Benedictine abbey

    in manure but the truth is that many of the vegetables that we eat are grown in some form of fertilizer made from cow, horse or fish excretions. That’s a lot of what earth is made of: decomposing waste in the form of leaves, bark, animals bones and wastes, and ground down rock. But mushrooms are just amazing in their variety of shapes and colors, are deadly poisonous or delicious, and can be found in many places.  They have flat caps or little pointy gnome hats, red spots, yellow stems, brown, grey blue. They grow round like puffballs (which I have yet to try) and ruffled like the chicken of the woods which grows on trees. And yeah, they are a fungus, unique in and of itself and reproduce through spores. There have been enough horrors stories spawned from this form of reproduction. And they do have a certain alien lifeform to them. But I like ’em, with garlic, in sauces or soups, or on their own, cooked or raw.

  2. Red Wine–Thankfully there are many brands to explore, some out of my price range for now. And of course there are different wines. I like Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and if at all possible, a Bordeaux though they’re hard to get. Wine is a bit of an odd duck in flavors. Not particularly sweet, usually slightly bitter or tannic, and made of rotted grapes, yet I do appreciate the subtleties of the flavor.
  3. Salt–We may be made mostly of water but we are of many degrees salt too and it’s essential to a diet to maintain aspects of health that I can’t even explain; electrolytes are one. When we’re dehydrated we need to take in salt and water, what all those horrid Gatorade drinks have in them (yes I find them gross.) But salt, on popcorn, or corn, or eggs, or turkey is a very yummy thing and sometimes it’s salt we seem to want more than the other flavors. My family used to abuse salt (my mother still salts pizzas) and when I hit my late teens I cut down and stopped salting cheddar cheese. But without salt many of our dishes would be a lot blander.
  4. That some people appreciate me–We can’t all be liked universally, nor even hated the same. Some personalities mesh, some people change and some people blame everyone else for their problems. Even if just doing part of my job, it’s nice to know that some people think I’m doing it well. A simple thanks can make a big difference. A word of appreciation to a stranger on their coat, or hat, or shoes, can just add an extra smile to the day. And it doesn’t to do it. I appreciate that people sometimes appreciate me. It lightens the day.
  5. Sleep–Seriously, I love sleep. Of course, we’d be zombies without it but I love drifting away in a restful world and then ending up in all sorts of worlds. I love waking up slowly, though my bothersome cat doesn’t always let me. Slowly coming awake (as opposed to the obnoxious eeeee of the alarm), registering the sound of people talking, dogs barking, birds chirping, cars moving, and then feeling the shift from darkness to a lighter gray behind the eyes is great and languorous. I wouldn’t want to sleep all the time but I do like sleeping.

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The Cornucopia List: May 27

(Some glitch happened with Facebook and this didn’t go out last week, so here it is a bit late.) I’m wondering if I need to differentiate the weekly titles or if it will get confusing calling them all the Cornucopia List. So I’ll start adding a date. The list of five things for which I’m grateful this week follows:

  1. Emotions–They are what makes us. Many animals (at least mammals) have emotions as well and this can

    From the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow

    be seen by their attitudes, such as contentment in cat when purring, or feeling angry or threatened in a dog by growling. There is a range that we may not even quite grasp in animals because we can’t truly ask them. But with people, yeah, emotions can run helter skelter, causing chaos, trauma and tragedy. Without them though we would be mere androids, with less attitude than Spock. I like that we can feel good or bad. With the bad we would not appreciate the happy times and everything would be pretty boring. People whose emotions are out of control can be scary but I like that we can change and feel a range of things. I’d rather a world with the vagaries of emotion than a world of robots. (I took the above picture while in Scotland.)

  2. Sun–Hello, Sun! It’s been somewhat sporadic for a mostly chilly and wet spring, but boyoboy do I love the sun. I don’t love it beating intensely down upon me. I have to move in it. But I love the way it will play light over things, making water sparkle, leaves adding shadows, warming the earth and giving us flowers and life overall, of course. It also takes us pasty white people to a color a little more robust. I wouldn’t want to stare at the sun, nor actually visit it (unless it was completely safe) but I do love the sun and I quite understand  how people would see it as a god.
  3. Limbs–As in legs and arms. Not everyone is born with them and not everyone gets to keep theirs and many people have ones that stop working. So I truly appreciate that I have two legs and two arms (though sometimes I wish I had three arms). They ache sometimes and they may not be the most beautiful out there but they’re functional, giving me a fairly normal range of movement and working in tandem with my mind. I don’t have to concentrate to move my arm; it will just go as I decide to pick something up. I don’t have to put each foot forward in a laborious process, I just do it. Limbs let me move faster, sometimes elegantly and I can crawl under things, or climb over them. I have known people who had limited to no use and those who were born that way adapted well but it made me more grateful for the ease in which our limbs work with us.
  4. Shells

    –They all begin as homes and exoskeletons for sea creatures and they are beautiful pieces of nature’s sculpture. The shapes are myriad and the color diverse. We make them into sculptures, jewelery, food and supplement sources. The ocean’s floor is a foundation of ground stone and millions of shells, corals and other aquatic debris. They hold the secrets of mollusks and of the sea and are worn as lingerie by mermaids.

  5. Babies–I’m fortunate enough to work in a place where there is always a baby or two.  I’ve come to learn much better the stages of development by watching the babies grow. And it’s fascinating to see how much of an individual personality they have from day one; everything from calm to fretful to mischievous to coy to angry. Babies are full of uninhibited joy and use their whole bodies to express their emotions, squealing in happiness, turning red and tense with frustration. They’re very pure, not yet formed by society’s culture and moires, not yet tamed or shaped by conventions and fads. Sometimes it would be nice to be able to attain this state again, but really only in the happy emotions. People do not take well to adults displaying rage and having temper tantrums, so yes we are constrained by society and manners, which isn’t always a bad thing. But babies are a true natural joy of the world.

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The Cornucopia List

Here are this week’s list of five things for which I’m grateful. In the future I imagine I will repeat some things as it will be that which makes me grateful that week, but for now there will be larger items, like life and chocolate. 🙂

  1. Thunderstorms–They’re not as frequent here in Vancouver as they were in Calgary where you could get super hot days and super cold rains. When a thunderstorm was imminent my mother would unplug all the electrical appliances, a very smart thing before power surge protectors when a lightning strike could travel into your appliance and kill it or start a fire. We would then all go down to basement and hang out, without the lights on, just in case of an electrical surge there. The sky would be vein with white light and the loud tumultuous clash of gray, broiling clouds. It was magnetic, dramatic, exciting! I remember one, while still living in Calgary down by the river. My boyfriend and I were watching the thunder and lightning outside our balcony window when there was an electrifying flash and smashing crash of sound that vibrated the building. Instinctively we had both run away from the window and were halfway across the apartment by the time we realized what we had down. That lightning strike hit on the hill not a mile behind our building. Today they warn that we could have a thunderstorm in Vancouver. I hope so.
  2. Turquoise–this is my absolutely most favorite color though I do like the whole range of greens (except for maybe puke green). Turquoise can be blue-green or green-blue, called peacock as well. I tend to like my turquoise on the slightly greenish side of blue, and I love it. I can’t explain but it is almost a visceral hunger to swallow, touch and taste this color. Contrary to what you might believe I don’t swathe myself only in this color though I tend to have more green clothing than anything else and one wall in my bedroom is turquoise.
  3. Cats–besides giving us an excuse to talk out loud without looking crazy for talking to ourselves, cats are lovely companions. They fill a space with energy and fur, they purr and express love for you, even if it is only cupboard love. They warm your feet and make you part of their family. And they certainly have unique personalities. From my first cat Beko, through Ming, Tiger, Banshee, Mango, Figgy and now Venus, they’ve all given certain traits and opinions. They can be a big pain in the ass, getting underfoot, knocking things over, scratching the wrong thing, howling to get in, in fights with other cats, clawing your leg on accident or purpose, demanding food, but hey, humans do much the same (except maybe clawing your leg). So yes, I am extremely grateful for the companionship of cats especially when I’ve been down. Venus, pictured above, is the epitome of a love cat, with people at least.
  4. Being female–Yeah, we have little choice with this unless we want to go through and expensive operation and face ostracization and social isolation. It’s very hard on people who feel they are the wrong sex in a body. And there are women supposedly who experience “penis envy” though I think that was more of a Freudian era than real, though there are women who feel they must act/dress like men to be respected or get a certain job. And unfortunately there are men who feel women are chattel, property to be dictated to, owned and wrapped and hidden away except for their own viewing. And of course, the Catholic church has long blamed women for leading men astray because gosh, I guess men can’t think for themselves. But still, I like being a woman and I feel that I am pretty empowered. If I chose I could give birth and I get to wear a way larger range of clothes. No wonder some men, who are truly heterosexual like to wear women’s clothing once in a while. I’m grateful I’m a woman comfortable in my body most of the time, with all my bumps and curves.
  5. Shoes–yes shoes. That I can afford them, that I have more than one pair (even though I do have foot issues) and that they come in such funky styles from stiletto with pointy toes, to round toes and wide heels, to flat shoes, to platforms, to straps, to slip-ons, to buckles and ties. A myriad of colors and materials of designs and patterns, and even of comfort, but I like them. I had a boyfriend once long ago who really liked shoes and maybe it was a shoe fetish but I developed a love of shoe styles through him, and they can completely ruin an outfit if not right. I have runners (tennis shoes or whatever they’re called in the US) but I only wear those for working out or hiking. They’re not for every day. But yeah, I’m grateful for shoes.

And there we go, from nature to fashion, my Cornucopia List for this week.

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The Cornucopia List

If you happen to be reading this (why, even if you’re not), tell me what you think of my blog. Should I change anything, add or delete something? There are other designs and I’ve been using this one for two years. But perhaps I should tweak it or rearrange elements.

But it’s now time for the Cornucopia List for this week, listing five things for which I am grateful, or that are beautiful, but in some way positive, to negate the dire aspects of weekly media and the state of the world.

  1. Irisesthe flowers, not the eyes. There are small ones, which don’t have a scent, to the large ones, which do. This scent is used to flavor Bombay gin and some perfumes. It’s the reason I love the irises

    from Wikipedia

    as my favorite flower. The scent is sweet yet lemony, and the intriguing shape of the bloom is complex and lovely. When I was a kid, we only had the purple ones and the pale yellows. Now there are many more. Yellow irises are also used for filtering pollutants out of water. Last night I stopped to sniff the two-town purple irises. There was also a mauve colored one with rippled edges. This one tends to smell sweeter but it is that tangy lemony scent that I love most.

  2. Life–this is diverse but in this sense I mean my life. It has had its traumas and tragedies, downfalls and failures. It’s not perfect, not what I thought it would be but it is my life. And I have had successes and love, accomplishments and beauty. No matter how terrible it has been I choose it over the alternative. I would rather experience the hills and valleys of living than live in blissful ignorance. I don’t always live my life to my fullest but I try and I love it dearly.
  3. Dance–I never tried anything professional with this and discovered a bit too late that I have a natural ability. I still have to work at dance styles but I can put a dance together intuitively and remain graceful. It’s one thing where I don’t usually tend to worry about how people judge me and I just dance with confidence. I bellydance and do freestyle dance where I can be expressive. I took a tango class last year and that took some work as I’m not used to following. It would take many lessons yet to be really good at it but it’s very intriguing with the different moves. It allows me to be truly expressive, joyful and exuberant. I don’t think I could live without dancing.
  4. Thai food–if I had to be stuck with one food for the rest of my life, it would be Thai food. I am extremely grateful to be able to have this whenever I want. Of course I don’t because that yummy coconut milk is very fattening. And it’s a good thing I can’t make this stuff easily or I’d be three hundred pounds. But the blend of lemon grass, lime, chilies, coconut milk and other secret ingredients makes this a palate pleaser for me. I like complexity in my food.
  5. Silver–not the price of nor the monetary worth but the look. I like silver jewellery far over gold and find something as pristine and bright about it as I do with water. Silver is shiny and it’s what we as humans love, shiny. I’m grateful for this metal for giving me forms of ornamentation. It can be beaten, soldered, smelted, molded, twisted into a variety of objects and I like a great many of them. And it’s not toxic to wear.

That’s this week’s list. Items or things for which I’m grateful.

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The Cornucopia List

Bridge in Trim Ireland

In the continuing effort to battle bad news and dire prophecies of the future about rising prices and taxes and population, wars, defects, ill will and political rivalries, I have my second installment of the Cornucopia List.

I will be continuing the list once a week with five items, ever expanding it and making me more of a shiny happy person. It will encompass everything inner and outer, physical and spiritual, visceral and ephemeral that I cherish in my life. Here are this week’s five things for which I am grateful.

  1. My Aunt Elsa, who is very ill right now. She reached across a family rift that happened when my parents divorced. Being one of my father’s sisters there was little contact with that side of the family and because I never saw my father from that day forward, the contacts disappeared. But my older brother kept in touch and one day Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred called me up, as they still lived in Vancouver then but were about to move away. I met all my cousins but have really only seen them once. Aunt Elsa and Uncle Fred came to town from time to time and we’d get together for lunch or dinner. Elsa gave me the Anderson family tree, which I have just found. And my aunt and uncle were the only people to attend my university graduation (it being during a work day and most friends working and family far away.) Elsa has always been gentle, humorous and nonjudgmental, and I cherish that.
  2. Birds: many of them are annoying little buggers and some are downright scary beasts. But birds remind us that we can soar, that we can leave the earth. Albeit we must do it by means of devices (planes, gliders, parachutes, hot air balloons, Apollo missions) but we can do it. And even if it is only this way that we can unshackle ourselves from an earthbound existence birds help us see farther and indeed gave humans the idea of flight. They come in a range of sizes and colors and purposes from hummingbirds to condors and ostriches. They have feathers where we have skin or others have scales or fur. They are related closely in some ways to our dinosaur history and they add a natural chorus of song to nature’s backdrop.
  3. Chocolate: Yes, yes, I’m a chocoholic. I’ve done month long elimination diets and the only thing I craved throughout was CHOCOLATE! Where would we be without the ancient Mexicans (the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs) and all those folk who had the cacao bean. The world would definitely be a lesser place and the Dutch and everyone else would be diminished without it. Definitely a food of the gods, the darker the chocolate the better it is, and toss in some chili or orange or nuts and it’s even better. Yes, I’m am smitten by and unequivocally grateful for chocolate. Just imagine what life would be like without it: no chocolate cake, eclairs, sauce for ice creams, chocolate bars, hot chocolate, cocoa, etc. A dull place I tell you.
  4. Writing: without it we would not be able to share our thoughts, except with a small group of people and not in a long term way. There would be an internet of pictures only. But more than that the many worlds that people imagine, the histories of nations, the stories of our lives, the workings of a myriad things would be mostly lost to us. Our history would be thinner and not as longlasting and fewer people would know of much. I can learn of events, places, things and I can curl up and get away with a tale. And I am of course grateful that I have a little bit of a gift and a lot of hard work and can write to some degree.
  5. Stars: One of my very first blog posts was about being a kid, growing up near the edge of the city and going to this empty lot to lay in the weeds and grass and stare up at the millions and millions of stars. There was less light pollution then but stars are amazing from what we can see from this angle of the galaxy. They range in sizes and colors and types. Stars make our night world brighter and mystifying, adding questions and searches to our lives. I love stars for bringing out my imagination. And no matter what we do to our Earth, there will always always be stars by the billions.

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The Plastics Revolution

I got to thinking about plastic and  when it started to inundate the world, to the point that oceans and beaches are being clogged with bags and containers, our landfills are becoming toxic dumps and we’re looking at ways to get rid of these beasts that have a relatively long half-life.

Plastic is not found naturally in nature. Trees and even papery aspects of them in certain barks or wasp and hornet nests are. Glass in the form of a volcanic residue such as obsidian is found in nature. Sand, the basis for glass of course is. Gum and shellac were early natural plastics. Next came the chemically modified plastics starting with celluloid, developed in 1855 and was used as an ivory replacement and in photographic and movie film. But it was highly flammable. Collagen and rubber were a few of these. Later came the fully synthetic, not found anywhere in nature, plastics such as epoxy and bakelite.

I’m trying to remember the plastics of my childhood. I vaguely recall milk in glass bottles, and later waxed paper cartons. There were no plastic jugs for milk but there were for making Koolaid and other nutritious drinks like Tang. I think cottage cheese and the like might have come in waxed cardboard containers but I really don’t remember. There were the melamine dishes, often used for camping and very similar in denseness to the bakelite of old. I have one bakelite button that is put on like a buttoniere and has a screw back. I think it’s from the 30s.

There were of course plastic bags for things like bread but grocery bags were still paper. I can’t think of what we used for a garbage bag. I think it was paper and then tossed into the large green Glad bags. Saran wrap and other food wraps were around and even Ziploc bags but waxed paper and aluminum foil were just as likely.

Dolls were plastic, as were other cheap toys. But many toys were still metal. And things like shampoos, lotions, detergents seemed to always be in plastic containers of a type that could grow brittle if you had them for a couple of years. Pens and binders were always plastic too. But plastic wrapped things, shrink-wrapped items, equipment sold in blister packs or sealed in a stiff transparent plastic, those we did not have…much.

Now they’re everywhere. Plastic bags ooze out of ever garbage can. Clothing is made of recycled plastic and we worry about birds and other animals eating discarded bits of plastic or getting entangled. Vancouver is thinking of banning plastic bags. Stores would have to resort to paper or you bring your own cloth bag. The problem with banning all plastic bags is what do you use for your garbage can? Then you’d have to buy bags as opposed to re-using them. But then Vancouver is about to start curbside composting so garbage cans won’t have to be lined. But what do you pick dog poop up with?

And speaking of poop, what would happen if everyone went back to cloth diapers. Disposable (a misnomer if there ever was one) diapers cause huge strains on landfills. I remember my mother holding my little brother’s cloth diaper over the toilet and flushing the chunky bits down before tossing them in the washing machine. Many of my friends have used diaper services where you just toss soiled diapers, chunks and all, into a pail and the service deals with it all. It turns out to not be any more expensive than buying the disposables and probably better for baby’s bum too.

Look around and you’ll see how much plastic is on you or surrounding you. Plastic shoes, soles, purses, wallets, buttons, nylons, phones, furniture, etc. All of it. And most of it will take a very very long time to break down and will not add anything beneficial to the environment. Plastic like air pollution, has increased exponentially in the last century and it’s a huge problem. There are countries were you can walk the beaches for the plastics and animals are dying, at the rate of extinction for some. Next time you buy those prepackaged handy lunch packs in a plastic container and then shrink wrapped, ask if there would be a better way to do this, such as buying or making something in bulk and having reusable containers that you can use over and over. I think it’s more pervasive than we realize and is a large contributor to what’s causing our overflowing and toxic landfills.

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Meanderings of a Long Weekend

I took the opportunity for the long weekend of going to Galiano Island, one of the Gulf Islands on the west coast of British Columbia. It’s a long finger of island that butts up to Mayne Island. Sturdies Bay is where the ferries dock, a one-hour trip from Tsawwassen terminal.

My friends aren’t far from Sturdies Bay, a five-minute drive, and their place looks out over the water to Little Gossip Island. There’s a little bit of rocky outcropping that’s submerged at high tide and has various birds from herons, cormorants, gulls and merganzer ducks visiting it. Little Gossip acts as a windbreak to that part of Galiano and when the winds were whipping up to 140 km/h on the ocean, it was a bit calmer where we were. Still, ferries were canceled, trees were downed and the power flickered on and off.

We worked out at the little community gym on Friday and although it’s small it’s quite well equipped with several nautilus machines, rowers, one elliptical, one stair master, one treadmill (broken), mats, balls and free weights. The power went out while were there but there was enough light that it didn’t matter. And lucky for us, we managed to get back before the rain began and the really strong winds. Trees whipped back and forth in the strong winds and parts of the island lost power as line were downed by falling trees. We heard a few things knocking about the place and the rain poured out of the eaves but we were dry and warm. Wood fireplaces are very handy.

Saturday we went for a five-mile hike along a lot of the road around the fatter part of the island and up to the Bluffs that look out over the strait. The day was slightly cloudy, with some sun and a big on the cold side so it was good that we walked fast to warm up. I work out three times a week and teach dance but I couldn’t keep up with my longer legged friend who does and hour walk every day during the work week. And I did get to find out which parts of my body are still not working right. My flexors (that join at the front of the thigh from hipbone down) were killing me by the end of the two hours.

Still it was a good hike which was mild as far as hills and gave me more of a sense of the island. Bill Richardson, humorous writer and past host on CBC radio was giving a talk at the town hall after their AGM. We were going to stay but instead did the hike. Lucky for us we did. We weren’t back and hour when it started to rain again. The winds picked up once more and at one point we even had hail.

The good thing about all that churned up water is that I thought I was seeing an odd-looking dog running by the house when I realized it was a sleek black otter that had come up from the shoreline to hunt around. As its pointy black tail went over the ridge I pointed it out. A few minutes later we saw it in the water and as it dove its tail popped up. I’m told they’re river otters and they’re definitely longer than a cat and like a smallish dog. I also got a chance to see a seal in the water and with the help of binoculars it wasn’t hard to see details.

I spent most of one day catching up on background notes for my novel. Because it’s on a different world I’ve had to do some extensive world building. I already have maps of the continents, rivers, marshes, forests and some towns, but I now had to actually figure out distances because my army is on the move. I had to figure out how fast horses can go and how fast people on foot. I think there will need to be some adjustment but it took figuring out how big my continent must be.

Admittedly long weekends are meant for naps and reading and drinking a bit of wine so my pace was slow. We’d also taken in a trip to the bookstore and the freecycle spots, where the island recycles everything down to plastics and papers and puts whole magazines and books out for people to reuse. (It’s called the Redirectory.) But I did spend most of Sunday re-reading my chapters, fleshing out some characters, finishing one chapter and moving on to another one. I managed about 5,000 words for the day which is a pretty good average. I’m hoping I can keep up the momentum and work away on the novel.

My approach to writing this one is much different from the first one of years ago (unpublished and languishing on the shelf). I have three main characters here and after an initial 30,000 words, I’m reworking the plot and writing through one character’s story arc before I move to another character. I’m sure that means that once all the chapters are written I’m going to have to do so rewriting so that they flow properly but in the meantime I find it the best way to keep track of the conflicts of one character.

Overall, my weekend was productive and relaxing. I wouldn’t mind more four-day weekends.

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