Tuesday, 29 December 2009


I love the canyons here. I love the mountains that they wind through and I love the views they allow.

Today I walked along the Ocean Avenue park in Santa Monica. It's a narrow park that lies between the Ocean Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and affords beautiful views of the ocean, sunsets, and the coastline. On the PCH side of the park, there is a cliff. Erosion is the word. The cliff rises about 50 feet above the beach. I regularly take the California Incline, a road that cuts up the cliff and takes you from sea level to look out.

I met a friend for a walk and some tea. Originally intending to go for a hike, we downgraded our adventure to a leisurely stroll through the park since we were both recovering from illnesses. It didn't feel like much of a sacrifice since it was so beautiful. The sky was blue, the sunshine was warm, and the air was fresh.

From the park, you can see a few of my favorite views: the sun setting over the ocean, the coastline up to Point Dume and the green ridges of the Santa Monica Mountains. (Sometimes they're more brown than green, but thanks to recent rains, everything is green and growing here. It's like spring with less flowers.)

Home for me is on the other side of those mountains. There are a few ways to cross them, but my favorite is coming down Topanga Canyon. That's my canyon. I grew up seeing it. I used to be afraid the car would fall down the cliffs when I was a kid. I remember my brother picking me up from the airport a few years ago after I'd spent some time in Australia and was a little reluctant to come home. He drove me home through the canyon. It was June. Orange poppies and other wild flowers lined the road. It softened the homecoming. For over a year, I drove that canyon to and from work 5 days a week. I've driven it at all hours of the day and night. I've seen bad accidents. I've been held up at road works. There's a man who runs down the canyon every morning. He looks dirty: his hair in dreads, his face brown. His clothes: always a jogging suit of types, either blue or pink, covered in a layer of dirt. The cars you see time and time again. The stop light they put in. The changes to the stores in the little town of Topanga. The shimmering sign at Froggy's that lights up in neon green at night. The Hidden Treasure: a shop which seems to sell a wide variety of what someone considers to be treasures. The post office. The day laborers that line the road side in the morning. The occasional hitch hiker. The lumber yard, perched on the side of the canyon. For a while, I tried to be a hyper-miler and drive from the Top of Topanga to PCH in neutral. If the traffic was right, I could do it. If the traffic was too heavy or the person in front was new to the canyon, I had to switch into drive near the mouth of the canyon. And then there was the ocean.

I'd wait at the stop light at PCH and stare at the ocean. Most mornings there were surfers out there. Some mornings I'd see paddle boarders. On the mornings when the ocean was so still it looked more like a lake, the paddle boarders were the only people I'd see. Some mornings the fog would be thick and sitting on top of the ocean. Some mornings, it'd be so clear you could see Catalina Island. A few times there were dolphins. Sometimes there were pelicans. Always there were seagulls.

My friend and I walked up and down the park. We looked around and we felt lucky. For all of the negative aspects of LA, for the traffic, for the pollution, for the industries, for all of its weirdness, we felt lucky to be standing right there, two days after Christmas, outside, by the ocean, warmed by the sun.

We're both a bit transient. Her a bit more-so than me, especially at present. I at least have a room to pay rent on, even if it's in temporary university accommodation. She is without an address, without rent or a mortgage or a property title to her name. We're both good at making home where we are. We're capable and confident of being able to get by in any situation. But there are some things that make a place feel like home. She said, for as much as she wanted to leave LA a year or so ago, she was thrilled to be on a plane coming back to it. I feel that. Some trips more than others.

I thought about that as I drove home through the canyon. I thought about how much of this place I have yet to explore. Someone told me recently how Aimee Bender describes LA: a shy girl who you think is a bitch but the more you get to know her and she shares all of these fascinating and beautiful parts of herself with you you realize that all along she was just shy. It could be true. LA is a weird place. Hard to get to know because it's so vast and fast. But there are pieces I know and love and that I'd like to get to know better. In some ways it's like a relative: they're family, it's in your blood, it just is, whether you like it or not. But you can choose to get to know her, to befriend her. It's effort, but it's rewarding.

I was feeling grateful for friends, for sunsets, for beauty when a coyote ran across the road in front of my car. I slowed for it and watched it sleek, grey-brown figure glide across the road. How wild.

California is my home. Los Angeles is my home. Topanga is home. Mullholland Drive is home. Oak trees and eucalyptus trees and pepper trees co-habit here with me. I know their smells. The coyotes that howl on summer nights, the white tailed rabbits, the birds (all kinds), the lizards, the snakes, the rattle snakes. The dirt roads that guide me. The hills surround me. Mountains are the boundaries and the canyons cradle me. How ever far I roam, how ever long I may be gone, no matter how many street names I forget, I will always be a Californian. This will always be home.

Monday, 28 December 2009

I <3 Edward Abbey

"A man could be a lover and defender of the wilderness without ever in his lifetime leaving the boundaries of asphalt, powerlines and right-angled surfaces. We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. . . . We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope; without it the life of the cities would drive all men into crime or drugs or psychoanalysis."

"Lying within the bounds of a national monument, these rocks and artifacts are protected by law. That is, you are welcome to look, to pick up and examine but not to remove. And justly so. For without such protection the area would soon be picked clean by souvenir hunters, acquisitive rockhounds and the commercial merchandisers of stones. For my own part, I seldom take rocks home, no matter where I might find them; in my opinion they are best enjoyed in situ, where God Himself, so to speak, and the leisurely economy of Nature have seen fit to deposit them."

Manhattan Beach Pier

Today I watched the waves crashing under the pier. The surf seemed unusually high. No surfers in the water. I'm not sure whether that's due to the conditions, the time of day (mid-afternoon), or the beach. The waves stacked up pretty evenly. The big waves that broke further out would crash onto the pylons of the pier in a white splash. To either side of the pier, the waves would reveal a little aquamarine as they rolled over. In some places they just looked brown. At one point, in a spot parallel to the pier, it looked like there was a wave going backwards, out to sea. A crest fought its way from the shore, to the end of the pier. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I really ought to learn more wave and ocean terminology before I write more about oceans.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Long Addresses and Magical Places

Last night I was at a Boxing Day party. One of the guests and I got to talking about England. She said she went to school there when she was young, at a campus in Sussex. It was called something like the American International School. The school building has since been converted into a hotel. The hotel was the site of a poisoning of a Russian spy not long ago.

One thing of note is the British ability to re-purpose and maintain buildings. It's a fantastic quality and it means that ancient structures from the 6th century are still in use today. I'm not a huge fan of London, but I do really enjoy standing somewhere like along the bank of the Thames and looking at the skyline. There's such a mix of architecture in London. One of my favorite spots is near the business district where you can see skyscrapers including inside-out Lloyds Bank building with the piping on the outside and the Gherkin right up against an old flint church--St Mary's? Looking at St. Paul's cathedral from the bleak factory shape of the Tate Modern. The ornate, Gothic look of houses of Parliament across from the heavy, formidable columns of County Hall, and the gigantic spoked wheel of the London Eye.

Anyway, this party guest went on to talk about the school, her fond memories, and how awesome it was that their address was actually the name of the woods in which the building was located. They have the longest address, she says. It's true. Sometimes they're five lines. I've always found it charming that houses have names and that you can send something to a name of a place. How does anyone find that? Well, they also have this cool postcode system which I'm sure helps. (Speaking of post, I love the iconic red post boxes and that you can tell what time period their from by a symbol on the box.) I want to know if the house name has to be old, inherited, passed down from a certain time, or if you can name new houses.

One word she used to describe England stuck out because it's been a word I've that keeps popping up in my own head: Magic. England is magic. Maybe that's just for us yanks, but I don't think so. Certainly that it's 'foreign' gives it a certain mystique, an allure. That is added to by the way it's painted in our heads from early ages through nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and history. In many ways it feels like the home country. None of my ancestors are British -- okay, my grandfather was born in Manchester amidst a move from Poland to the US, but he's 100% Polish -- I have no claim to citizenship, no English, Scottish or Welsh blood in my veins. So maybe it is all through history lessons in elementary school, stories of the founding of the United States, that have produced in me this fictional link to England. Whatever the reason, it still exists. And it exists along with a familiarity and curiosity about the language and the literature, art, personalities, rock music, and movies. I dreamed of England as a little girl. It might have been due to Shakespeare but probably more likely due to Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. It might have been due to movies or art work or whatever else I was reading. England, the British Isles, is a landscape of my dreams. I longed for that lush green country side, the rolling hills right alongside the ancient forests.

Then this lovely lady went on to talk about England in summer. I've lived in England before and visited several times but never in summer. 2010 might be the year. I look forward to warm, long days and very short nights. I look forward to doing outdoor activities with a single layer of clothing and maybe a pair of flip flops. It'll be a chance to experience England in a new way, in a new light and hopefully a chance to experience more of it. On my list of places to visit: Sherwood Forest, any loch in Scotland, Findhorn Eco-Village, anywhere beautiful, anywhere with walking, anywhere with trees.

More Walks

Walking from Big Ben to Brussels (okay, I only did about half of it, but still) gave me a new found appreciation for Lee's journey (www.madridtokiev.com) from Madrid to Kiev. In rewatching the film, I heard new bits, saw scenes I didn't remember, was reminded of the walk I just participated in, and really related to it when he said that he missed the walking when it was over. That afterward, he fell into a depression.

My experience of the end, though on a completely different scale in both time and distance (his being 3000 miles, 7 countries and 6 months on his own; mine being about 100 miles if that, 3 countries and 12 days in a group), was the same. I missed it when it was over. I missed walking up in the morning and walking until I got to the destination. I missed having nothing to do all day but walk. I miss that tired feeling, that's not drained, but used. I miss moving. I miss seeing new things every day. I miss the sense of adventure. I miss the exercise. I miss the sense of accomplishment. (Which is probably more a reflection on how I'm spending my time not walking.)

It was a good routine. Wake up, get ready, have breakfast as a group, gear up and head out. Then walk all day, through different scenery, in different pairings, having different conversations, getting to know the people I was sharing the journey with.

In addition to having the awesome experience of walking in three countries and learning how to walk through England, I had an incredible experience of getting to know four amazing women and getting to be a part of something. For me, the walk came along at the just the right time. I was feeling isolated in my dorm accommodations, removed from the real world and a sense of community and purpose. I mean, all I'm meant to do all day long is to read and to learn with occasional essay writing. I miss working, producing, being a part of a team, feeling like at the end of the day, I've put in my time and made something. This walk was the opportunity to feel a renewed sense of purpose and community.

Women are tricky. So often relationships with women go sour, involve cattiness and egos and insecurities projected onto one another. I wasn't sure how this group would work out. There were four women who were officially going the distance, all 250+ miles of it. There was a fifth who was making a documentary and joined for parts of the walk. And there was me, the sixth, unofficial, just along for a weekend between classes, super excited addition. It turned out to be better than I could have imagined, especially for a bunch of strangers. The two who knew one another best were Laura and Jane -- they had kids of similar ages and had lived in the same town of Steventon, Oxfordshire until Laura moved to another Steventon in a different shire. The one thing we had in common was that we all knew Roz. Or at least had met her once. Actually, it's possible that Jane never met Roz at all before starting and that her husband had met Roz and volunteered her to map the route. Whatever the case, it was a fantastic group. We worked really well as a team. I feel a bit awkward saying we since I didn't go the full distance with them, but they adopted me and I'm grateful for it.

. . . To be continued

Going Solo

I was watching More Shoes with my mom. It's a documentary about this guy Lee's journey to become a filmmaker, a 5000 kilometer journey on foot from Madrid to Kiev. (It's beautiful, you should check it out: www.madridtokiev.com.)

There's one part in it where he talks about traveling with other people. He meets up with a guy who's biking around Europe on his own. Lee asks him if he gets lonely. He says, yes, but lonely travel is free. You don't have to worry about your travel companion(s) wanting to do something else, about when you're tired or hungry or what you want to eat. You can just go and be and see.

My mom asked me if that's why I like to travel alone.

It's a definite benefit, but it's not really why I've traveled solo so often. See, it's not that I prefer to travel alone, it's that I prefer to travel. I've found it hard to find people with whom I get along well enough to travel with, but also who are interested in going the same places I am, at the same time I am. I think if you wait around for other people to do the things that you want to do with you, you could spend your life waiting. So I go.

There are downsides to traveling solo: loneliness, not having someone to watch your back or being able to say hey watch this while I go pee, that feeling of wanting to share a particular experience with someone else to make it more real. I've found that the benefits definitely out weigh the drawbacks. It's better to have seen, to have lived, to have gone, to have explored than not to have done any of it. And while with the right company, sharing the experience of staring at a white wall so long as you're doing it together might be preferable to or as exciting as venturing out into the scary and amazing world by one's self, I sometimes think about regrets. I think about not wanting to have them now or when I'm old. I think about getting old, too old or broken to hike up mountains or fly around the world or go on a three day sailing trip. Too old to see the natural beauty of a place. Or maybe not even too old, just too dead too soon. I can stare at a wall when I'm old. I can tell stories and look at pictures when I'm old. I hope to have incredible memories. As for the company, as for the people I love and have loved and have yet to love, I hope they'll either join me or be there when I get back, excited to hear the stories, and hopefully persuaded to join me next time.

Fresh air

I took my first walk today in over a week. It was the first since the last one through the snow from A&E to the medical clinic at 3am feeling very short of breath and right before being diagnosed with pneumonia. This one was much more enjoyable and I had company. After a delicious brunch, my friend Maria and I went for a brief walk through the streets of the Hollywood Hills. It wasn't the hike up the fire road that we'd both hoped to do, but it was up a hill and it was about all my recovering body could handle today. I wasn't even sure it would go as far as it did, but it's incredible how far you can get just putting one foot in front of another. I didn't think I'd get very far, but I was ready to go, ready to be outside, ready for fresh air. And it felt like fresh air, despite being in LA. Up in the hills there are trees. Tall, beautiful, leafy trees that produce good clean oxygen.

I have missed trees, almost as much as I've missed mountains. And I've been feeling a little short on fresh air. I've been spending too much time inside, not enough time outside. Maybe it was the 13 hours on a plane earlier in the week, but I think mostly it's been being sick and staying inside where it's warm. Inside where the heater is on, drying out the air. Inside where the air just circulates and there's no infusion of freshness.

It was wonderful to be outside and walking. Even if it was only for a short while, it was needed and I feel better for having done it. I need to recover quickly now so that I can spend the rest of my time here climbing hills, roaming the canyons , being outside in the fresh, warm by comparison, California air.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Snow, ice and pneumonia (With a special guest appearance by a fox)

That just about sums it up. But for the sake of word count, let me elaborate.

It's been getting colder here. The winds have definitely shifted. The clouds are no longer coming from the south, but from the north. The winds are bringing cold temperatures with them. It's snowed! Yes, several days this week. Several times without sticking, and then it really started to come down in the most lovely of ways. Snow flakes, the size of dimes but the weight of cotton, floating through the air, being whipped around on gusts of wind, by passing cars. It laid on the ground until the grass was no longer visible, until the paths were no longer distinguishable. Everything on the ground was covered equally in snow. It was lovely.

Thursday I started feeling a little unwell. Not unwell so much as drippy in the nasal sense. My nose wouldn't stop running. I was sneezing. I wondered, is this allergies or is it the start of a cold? I had a cold right before I left for England and it started in a similar way. (There was so much snot, I repulsed my then-boyfriend -- not the best thing to do before leaving for three months.) I was feeling fine except for the runny nose, but I had a feeling something was coming so I drank a big carton of orange juice and lots of water to flush the system, took some vitamin C to boost my immune system, ate hardy meals to give myself the energy to fight it off, and even took an allergy pill--just in case.

Thursday night, when the snow came, it kept coming for hours. I had Anna and Paul over for dinner. I made pasta--washing my hands frequently to avoid sharing whatever germs I may or may not have had. A simple meal, but well received. Then we went off to the Wivenhoe Football Club for a Funny Farm comedy show. The heat wasn't working in the building. I lost feeling in my toes within 5 minutes. They served tea, which was delicious, and had biscuits on the tables. The comedy was okay. But it was great to go to this event which I've heard so much about and to see Anna's friend Hazel on her last night. She's put on the events for the past four plus years. She did a short set in the middle of the show.

Paul was a bit nervous driving there because of the risk of getting stuck, but he braved it. Three and a half hours after parking the car and a full pocket pack of tissues later, we went out to find the car all covered in snow. It had a good 4 inches on it. There was plenty of untrampled snow to play in. Paul made a snow angel that didn't look very angelic but I appreciated the attempt. I was too cold for playing in it. I was looking forward to morning, to a walk along the river, to taking pictures of my little world covered in snow.

Paul started the car and I sat inside, bundled up, watching as he scraped the snow off the windows. Anna and Hazel were still inside the football club. Paul turned the window wipers on and I giggled watching them struggle against the weight of the snow, moving a little bit up and back down. Watching the snow crack. He sprayed some anti-ice solution on it and it started to move with more ease.

Windows cleared and all bodies piled in the car, Paul ever-so-kindly started to drive me home. It was out of his way and I offered to call a cab, but I was very grateful for the ride and the company.

Snow looks amazing in headlights. It was slow going on the way home. The roads were icy. I enjoyed the chance to look out the window and see everything in a new way.

I didn't sleep much Thursday night. Friday I didn't feel too well and it got progressively worse. I went on to campus, spent a little while in the library, went into town to the chemist and to pick up some food. It was freezing. Everything was snowy or icy. The bridge to campus was covered in ice. It made for slow walking. And even slower buses.

Breathing became harder as the night went on. There was lots of coughing and soon I couldn't get a full sentence out without gasping for air. I talked to mom who urged me to go to the doctor. Tomorrow, I said. I'll go tomorrow. It was already getting late.

We kept talking. She kept calling to check in. She was worried by what she was hearing. I wasn't thinking much of it. I figured it was just a full blown cold.

Around 1am, she asked me to go to the hospital. I'm not one to make a fuss over things and I didn't want to go out, but I didn't want her to worry. I called the 24 hour line for the North Colchester Medical Center and was told a doctor would call me back within the hour. I didn't want to go to A&E unless necessary and a doctor would know. So the doctor calls back and after hearing my symptoms says yes, come in. I start calling around for taxis. First, I call the security desk on campus and ask if they can help me get a taxi to the medical center. The guy says, no taxis til 9, sorry, and hangs up. Not what I was expecting, but okay. So then I call all the taxi numbers I have in my phone, without any luck. Some are saying 8:30, some 9, some not until 10:30. I finally reach one that says, yes, am I ready? I'll be ready in 2 minutes, I say, and pile on clothes, put things in a bag and make my way to the laundry room. The laundry room is fantastic in winter. It's open 24 hours a day. It's warm. And it looks out on the road so you can see buses and taxis coming.

The taxi arrived within twenty minutes. All the way to the medical center the driver talked about the weather and the roads and how long it took to defrost the car and the cars that were stuck and how it's rate and a half due to the weather. Turns out, England--at least the Essex part of it--doesn't get weather like that often enough to invest in the infrastructure to maintain the roads. So when it's cold, icy, snowy and the roads need to be gritted or salted or plowed, you just have to stay home, or walk, or wait ages for a taxi. (Just my luck to need a taxi at a time like that.) He talked about how they're not making reservations for anytime before 9 am, but he was going back to the city to try to pick people up and make some money. As we approach, he asked if I wanted to go to A&E, I said I have an appointment at the clinic. He says it's not open, I must mean A&E. I said, they told me clinic, but I don't know the medical center at all. He said, it must be A&E and dropped me there.

In A&E, I wait for a few minutes for someone to come to the desk. When she arrives, I say I called and they made an appointment and I'm there. She says oh you must mean the clinic. I said the driver told me the clinic was closed. She says yes, in general, but they have someone on call and that's where I want to go. I ask how to get there. She says are you driving? I say, I took a taxi, but the taxi left, so I guess I'm walking. She hesitates. I'm fighting tears. She says you have to walk back out to the main road, then down the road to the second drive way.

There was a man in the door way, wearing a hospital gown, smoking a cigarette covered in blood.

I walked 1/2 a mile in snow that covered my shoes. I huffed and puffed the whole way. It was freezing.

On my way to the main road, I saw a fox crossing the parking lot. I was really excited. What a magical sight to see that shape, that silhouette, that bushy tail that could only be a fox's. I saw it and expected to see it again, but didn't. Then I wondered if foxes are dangerous. Are they like coyotes? Should I be worried? Should I be worried that I was walking across fresh snow with no clue what was beneath it? Hopefully there were no water features to the campus.

When I got down to the main road, there was side walk and road and I stayed on the side walk for safety, but it was all ice. Slippery walking.

I was so relieved to get to the second drive way and see a sign for the place I was going. Then to see the right building. Then to ring the bell and be let in to the warmth and told I was in the right place. Seeing the doctor took all of 5 minutes. She already had antibiotics on her desk for me. She told me it was a lung infection. I asked what kind, she wouldn't elaborate.

I asked if I'd make it on the flight I had on Monday. She hesitated but said I should be able to. Then she asked how long the flight was. I said 11 hours. She said, oh. Do you want steroids? I asked what they'd do. She said they'd make me better faster. I said, please, I want to be better faster. Will I make the flight? She said, if not, your GP can write a letter to the airlines so you won't be charged. Not very reassuring. The doctors visit took about 5 minutes.

I went back to the waiting room, popped some antibiotics and steroids and started calling around for a taxi. One operator said the earliest she could send one was 9:30. I said okay. She said that's 4.5 hours. I said, if that's the earliest you can send it, I don't have much choice do I?

I kept calling, hoping for something sooner. Hoping not to spend 4.5 hours in the waiting room. I finally reached the company that dropped me off. They said, is this Mary? I said, yes! They said, we'll send someone right over. It'll be 30 minutes. I said, great. I'm at the clinic, it's icy, I can walk out to the street if your driver doesn't want to come down the road. She said, honey stay where you are in the warmth, I'll send my driver. Aww, some kindness! I cried. (Pathetic, yes, but in a weakened state. My body ached, my head hurt, my back hurt, my lungs hurt, I kept coughing and my nose kept running. I hadn't slept more than 10 hours in two days. I was done in.)

An hour an half later, no taxi.

I called to see if maybe they'd forgotten about me. Is that Mary? the guy asked. Yes! We came but you weren't there. I've been sitting here the whole time, I said. He said, where are you? I said the clinic. He said, we sent someone to A&E. I said, Oh. I wish you'd called. I could have told you where I was. He said, I'll be right there.

And he was, within 20 minutes. I was so relieved to be going home, to be going to bed. Whether I could sleep or not, I needed to be horizontal.

I called mom to let her know I was home safe, with drugs, and was going to sleep. I saw the sunrise. I saw more snow fall. Eventually, sleep.

Under different circumstances, that walk in the snow would have been a lot of fun. Under different circumstances, I would have crouched down and watched the fox. My first wild fox! But I also know that I wouldn't have done either if the circumstances were different. And while I was crying my way across the medical campus from one place to the next, very short of breath, I was also aware of how beautiful my surroundings were. Everything quiet, in the still of night, covered in white, it was quite literally breathtaking.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


I've never lived this close to a river before. I can see the Colne from the kitchen window. Well, not directly, but if I lean out and look right, there it is. I can monitor its tides from the warmth of the kitchen. I can see the occasional swan, magical animal, drifting along on it. When I walk out the door, it's about a football field away. There are paths on either side of it I can walk.

When I lived in Washington, DC, the river was there. It was a metro ride or a good walk away. I loved being that close to a river. I loved renting a kayak and going out on the river. I love the perspective of being lower on the water. The trees towering on the shores. Jumping fish. Floating turtles - sometimes just in the water, sometimes on logs. The birds. The curious and opportunist ducks. The peacefulness.

I haven't been on the Colne yet. When the weather improves, or when it freezes over, I hope that change that. I want to visit the houseboats, go on the boat, learn to sail, kayak, canoe, float. I've heard that if you get it at a particularly low tide, you can walk from one side to the other. My love of short cuts and my new found affection for mud have me hoping to try that.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Walking for a Broken Heart

Have a recent heart break? Help put it on the mend with a walking routine. You can exercise your broken heart, bring fresh oxygenated blood to it to help it heal. You can pound the ground. You can count steps to keep your mind focused. You can set your legs on autopilot and let your mind wander. You can walk next to a river, and watch as its tides ebb and flow and meditate on the tide as a metaphor for love in your life. You can walk until your body is so exhausted you can finally sleep. You can find solace in the rhythm of your footsteps. You can walk in a quiet forest. You can walk through bustling cities and be amused by the conversations you overhear. You can think about the twinge in your knee, the jarring on your feet, the pace at which you travel. Notice that it can vary based on the thoughts you're thinking. Feel free to laugh at yourself. Or cry about it. Don't forget to breathe. You can jog. You can run. You can stop in your tracks and stay there. Any sticks found along the way are fair game for throwing, as are pebbles and mushrooms for kicking and puddles for stomping. Mud is good for a slow and concentrated journey. Rocks are okay to sit on. If you stop, you must, at some point, resume walking. If it's cold outside, don't let that stop you: sometimes it can shock some sense into you. Hot? Sweat won't hurt you. Raining? Good. Snowing? The quiet will soothe you. Where ever you walk and however you walk, don't forget to look around. Don't forget to notice the world in which you're walking. A world which is beautiful and continues, forges on, doesn't care whether you're in it let alone about the state of your heart. Decide, when you're ready, to be a part of that world, to be worthy of it, and to do something in it that's worth remembering, worth caring about, worth the effort. Your heart will be fine.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Trashing the Colne (and beyond)

On Friday, I walked along side to Colne from the Hythe to Wivenhoe. It's been a couple of weeks since I last made that walk. It's still the same river, still the same mud, still the same buildings on the dock and in the distance. Some of the purple and yellow flowers that had been out last month are gone now. The sloe berries are disappearing from the bushes. (Hopefully they're being eaten by birds--migrating through or otherwise--and not all being harvested for sloe gin.) A few of the trees have less leaves on them. These changes I had expected. I was even excited to take notice of them because it means that I've been paying attention and getting to know the river. The unexpected changes, the ones that stood out and weren't at all subtle, were the new pieces of brightly colored trash that floated down river, sat in their bulk on the exposed river bed or in the reeds. Had the recent rain washed it all into the river? Had it been thrown in by thinking human beings?

When we got to the Netherlands on the Big Ben to Brussels walk, several of the walkers remarked they were impressed with how litter-free the paths were. Were the Dutch really that aware? That tidy? Or were the areas we were walking through just that desolate? Or was it those on-shore winds that swept everything east-ward? Well, I'm not sure what the real answer was, but I can tell you that the metro stations in Rotterdam were not without their litter. We saw more on the walk as we passed into more densely populated areas.

I know that the trash in the river isn't just accidental. If may be on the majority due to run off, but people are still throwing their trash in the streets. I see it a lot here. And it surprises me. It's not like the Brits have an immense expanse of land that they can think oh this bit doesn't matter, but that bit over there does. It's all so tightly knit. On my walk to the grocery store the other day, I saw at least twenty crumpled and dropped bus tickets. I see plastic wrappers from cigarettes and other products. I see cigarette packs, discarded lighters, broken glass, empty plastic bottles, scraps of paper (especially those little slips from ATMs) and a smorgasbord of other things. No wonder Bill Bryson wanted to start an anti-litter campaign when he joined the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. It's called Stop the Drop. I'm not sure what they're doing with it, but I think it should be in place in each city, each county council, each school, each university. I'm regularly disappointed by the students on this campus who just throw their litter to the ground. They're meant to be educated and aware of the world. How is it that this educated population is so uneducated about the negative impacts of their litter?

It's not that this problem is so unusual or so extreme here. The worst litter problem I've seen, is probably along 6th street as you're approaching downtown LA from the west. In the mornings, possibly before the street cleaners (machines and men) make it out to the curb), the street is literally covered with trash. Pieces of paper and plastic bags are lifted and moved around by passing cars. The sidewalks are mosaics of bits of litter. Why? How can people live like that?

How can someone throw his trash into the river and be so disrespectful? So short-sighted? There's TV that is suck in the mud. I saw a mini-fridge floating down the river a few weeks back. There are plastic bags in the reeds. Various bits and bobs of who knows what: bottle caps, bit of wood, bits of building materials, electronics, wires, what about toxins? Research to do. Maybe if I weren't afraid of being where I shouldn't be, getting wet and getting stuck in the mud, I'd go in after the trash. Maybe one day I will. Let's plan a river cleaning.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Do Something

This week I watched a film called 'Invisible'. It's about the toxins that were found in the breast milk of Inuit mothers. The milk was collected in an effort to obtain a 'control' sample, but was soon found to contain more toxins, chemicals, endocrine disrupting substances than found elsewhere on Earth. The experimenters assumed that the people of arctic would be free from the toxins found at lower latitudes because they were removed in space from where the chemicals were being emitted into the atmosphere, the water, the soil, the food. Instead, the Arctic is where these chemicals go to die. They travel thousands of miles, carried through the air, into the lungs of the people, in the furniture they have in their houses, in their clothes, in the food that's imported, and it's concentrated and nicely preserved in the country food that they catch. Yes, the perfect place for collecting these man-made chemicals is in the fat of seals and whales that the Inuit catch as part of their cultural traditions.

This story was simply one of many like it that I've heard over the past few weeks. As I watched, I wondered how it is that we're not simply outraged, how are we not up in arms, protesting, screaming, overthrowing companies, displaying that we are simply fed up with and we're sick and dying from the way things are being handled. And then after the film, one guy responded that it was a good film, but what are we supposed to do with that information? It's not like we can do anything about it, so we should just do our best to be happy.

I simply cannot accept that there is nothing that we can do about it.

I finally sat down and read the full text of a speech the Maldive's President Mohamed Nasheed delivered at the first Climate Vulnerabile Forum. 'As a person I cannot accept this,' he says. That's how I feel. He, as president of one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, is talking about the need for a real, science-based and binding treaty on climate change. Just as many of the conversations I've had over the past couple of weeks have talked about the need to move away from talking about climate change as if it were the sole issue to talking about sustainability, safety, not doing damage, and a more holistic approach. As one of the books I checked out this week clearly points out in its title 'Climate Change, Ozone Depeltion and Air Pollution', there's more than one point for concern, and it doesn't stop there. It includes water pollution, soil degradation and pollution, toxins, chemicals, pesticides, biodiversity loss (plant and animal), deforestation, war, poverty, hunger, genocide, peak oil . . . the list feels endless at times.

It's all of these issues and more that I think of when I read President Nasheed's statement. And I want to stand up and cheer as I read it. 'We will not die quietly,' he says. 'I refuse to believe that it is too late, and that we cannot do any better.'

The world is in need of more leaders like him. I wish President Obama were as courageous and outspoken. I wish the US were leading the way, not just shining a light into the dark, but constructing the tunnel and harvesting renewable energy to power the lights in it. For now, I just have to hope that the sentiment of Mr. Nasheed's statement and his voice is reverberating throughout the world, inviting people to join in, to partake a survival pact, to do what's best for the planet and work together to solve the problems we face.

'I believe in humanity.

I believe in human ingenuity.

I believe that with the right frame of mind, we can solve this crisis.

In the Maldives, we want to focus less on our plight; and more on our potential.

We want to do what is best for the planet.'

His full speech can be found here: http://www.climatevulnerableforum.gov.mv/?p=94#more-94