Tag Archives: living

(In)convenient

20120620-195142.jpg

“Oh you poor girl… that must be so inconvenient.”

Convenience is something that we often shape our lives around. We take on so many things, we fill our days so much that we give ourselves a free pass when it comes to “the little conveniences” of life. It’s so easy to give in and just grab a quick dinner at the fast food joint, to pop something in the microwave, to order in for a sizzling hot cheesy pizza.

Two years ago, when I got my lab results back, I finally had to stop giving myself the free pass to all these “little conveniences”. Celiac (an immune reaction to a protein in wheat), in all of it’s inconveniences, has made me really think about my food, and my life, in a new way. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the quality of my food, where it comes from and how my body will use or be abused by it. Believe me, when an unknown food may make you sick for hours, days, or even weeks you learn to examine every bite with the care of a monk painting a holy script on a grain of rice.

Celiac is a unique gift. It has made me conscious of the many ways we view food- as pure fuel, as sumptuous pleasure and, in extreme cases, as a matter of life and death. I’ve learned to see food that is safe to eat not as a simple convenience, but as a goal to be striven for and invested in daily. Good tasting food that will nourish and not poison is not necessarily a given (for anyone).

Learning the rules for a celiac to healthy (not just safe) eating is a spotty process full of mistakes, setbacks and not a little bit of pain along the way. Trusting food made by others, with multiple ingredients is sketchy at best (beware potlucks!). “If it has a label it stays off my table” has been a good rule of thumb for me, a rule that has taken me solidly out of the realm of processed “convenience” foods. Yes, there are boxed gluten-free foods- but after examining the labels I can firmly say that gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy!

I cook mostly at home, or eat at a few trusted local restaurants where they know my needs. I almost always use whole food ingredients: tomatoes, peppers, greens, local pastured meats and eggs. I’ve even branched out and experimented with new foods I would have never considered before; tacos de lengua (tongue), liver, sweetbreads, herring, kombucha, new vegetables and greens… The list goes on.

Meals take longer to prepare now, are more “inconvenient”, but something interesting has been happening over the past two years. With less exercise and eating as much as I want I’ve lost over 25 lbs and increased my muscle mass dramatically. I’m never sick, rarely tired and my moods have evened out. My friends have all commented on the changes. I have a lot more mental and emotional clarity about what I want and the determination and patience to do what it takes to get there. I get more done in much less time.

Looking back to 2 decades ago I’m astonished. I’m far stronger, healthier, happier, and hopefully (I think) wiser than my twenty year old self. Yes, if you want to know, I think I could kick my twenty year old self’s butt in a race, hands down.

So is my lifestyle inconvenient? You be the judge.

Seasons Change: Fall Hiking & Backpacking

Fall Hiking in the Sierra NevadaFall. The days are still deceptively warm, but the night air carries a crispness that speaks of snow and ice to come. It’s the perfect season for hiking- that is if you follow a few tips that will enhance your enjoyment and safety.

Weather Woes:

A mild Autumn day hike can turn uncomfortably cold with the addition of a surprise storm. Air temperature drops about 3° to 4°F for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. Heading for Tahquitz Peak? With around 3,300 feet in gain, the temperature may drop as much as 13 degrees from downtown Idyllwild (not accounting for wind chill.) That means a simple drizzle in downtown Idyllwild could turn to biting cold rain or even icy flurries as you climb.

How to keep safe and warm despite the changing weather?

Hiking tips: heating up the trail

Stay dry: While you’re updating your pack for the colder weather ahead, make sure to pack your rain gear and additional dry insulating baselayers to change into. Clothing wet from sweat or rain conducts heat 25 times faster than air and can lead to a surprisingly quick loss of body heat.

Switch to higher-fat snacks: Calorie-dense foods like chocolate, nuts and nut-butters, and cheese burn slowly, keeping you warmer longer. I love those serving size packets of Justin’s maple almond butter and coconut butter. You can find a variety of single serving packets at our local Harvest Market.

Bring enough water and/or a water filter: Many of the water sources in the high country have dried up and sources that were fresh flowing may have become stagnant over the summer. Staying hydrated allows your body to regulate it’s heat stores much more efficiently.

Overnight tips: Keys to staying cozy in camp

Be picky about where you pitch your tent: Your camp-site choice is critical to spending a comfortable night. Pitch your tent well above lower-lying areas like gullies, meadows, and creeks where cold, damp air settles. Nighttime temps can be as much as 25°F warmer just 250 feet above the inversion layer!

Take the chill out of the wind chill: make use of natural windbreaks by pitching your tent behind thicker stands of trees, bigger boulders, and on leeward sides of slopes.

Downsize: Bring a smaller shelter. A lower-volume tent requires less of your body heat to warm it.

Snack yourself warm: Eat a snack and brew hot drinks while you set up your camp. Snack again just before bedtime; digestion will help raise your body temp.

Fat is your friend: Add oil and spices to your fall meal plans. Coconut oil is a quick burning fat,butter is just plain delicious (and has gotten a much undeserved bad rap) and olive oil can add great flavor to any meal. Eating spices like ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon can increase blood flow to the skin and make you feel warmer.

Delicious Brook Trout in Butter and Garlic
Delicious Brook Trout, skin on, with plenty of Butter and Garlic!

Remember: Seasons change, and so should you.

Getting Unplugged

Connect with nature, Cure Nature Deficit disorder

“People are meant to connect with natural places. It is good for the human soul for people to explore their relationship with the places where they live.”

There was a time not too long ago that I felt more connected to my iphone than to the wilderness. At work I spent my time on the phone providing tech support, or hunched over my computer keyboard designing logos for hours on end until my neck and back were on fire with pain. My obsession with my TV shows, tech gizmos, and structured “play” activities made it harder for me to truly allow for free time. Something was always demanding my attention, distracting me, offering the promise of cheap, quick and effortless entertainment.

Connected

I grew up in a different world. I was three when we moved back to the family ranch. We had no TV. I spent my days outside. I played as much with sticks and stones as plastic toys. I knew only knew about town life from short resupply trips.

We were always outdoors. My older brother and I built dams in the stream near the house; making our own swimming holes- then destroying them a few days later just to watch the swirling power of the water take everything away. We climbed the oaks for lookout posts, built forts in the trees and bunkers in the brush. It made me feel proud that we had made these things together. We had built them ourselves. They were somehow ours in a way that things simply given to us were not.

I was always in touch with and learning about the world around me. My father took me out and showed me the local snakes, animal tracks and scat. He told me how to tell them apart by what they ate, how they moved and how their lives (and ours) followed the seasons. I learned to look before I placed my foot, watching the ground and surrounding brush carefully for threats. I learned to respect my environment in its power and beauty. I felt connected.

In Girl Scouts we would stagger up the trail under the weight of old fashioned tents on multi-day camping trips. We were often short a tent and I discovered I loved sleeping outside under the stars. The cold wind would bite my cheeks as I stared at the night sky. I remember my first view of the stars from the mountains up near Idyllwild. The Milky Way was a brilliant white splash. I would lay awake for what seemed like hours making up my own constellations.

I felt like I was part of something bigger. Like I had a purpose.

The Disconnect

As a child I had run free with a light heart and an inquisitive mind. My relationship with nature as a young adult became gradually more structured and constrained. Although I never completely stopped my outdoor activites, they took on a different tenor. With my new University and then job obligations I felt I had to make an effort to spend time in nature. Living in the city, it seemed all so far away and harder to get to – any outing had to be planned- and it seemed I never had the time.

I rarely approached my now brief journeys into the wilderness with the same completely open and accepting attitude I had as a child. I had learned the ways of modern distraction. I was often thinking of the other things I had to do. I filtered my experience through my camera, by listening to music, by looking for connectivity with my “smart” phone to check my email.

It took me a while to realize that most of the barriers that kept me from connecting with my wilderness were of my own making. I had made the choice to make these limitations and barriers part of my life- and I also could make the choice to let them go.

Home Again

In the last couple of years I’ve looked back on my childhood relationship with the wilderness and resolved to restore our free and easy bond. Finding ways to connect despite my busy life have been key. Working with the Forest Service as a Volunteer Wilderness Ranger, with Search and Rescue and the Sierra Club as a WTC intstuctor have been critical to reconnecting me with my love of nature, with my love of life itself.

I believe that a life without a connection to nature becomes more sterile, somehow blander. It robs you of basic skills of self-reliance, creativity, spirituality, of a feeling of connectedness with the cycles of life.

Away from the easy distractions of technology you not only can, but are forced to hear the ebb and their flow of your own thoughts and become comfortable with them. Without this inner ear you are likely to become disconnected from your own sense of self and goals in life. You are more likely to float on the surface of life and less likely to truly live.

 

You Won’t Meet Charlie

Charlie: Traveling with music in your heartYou won’t meet Charlie if you speed on by.

If you book your regular cushy first class seat on the plane you’ll cruise above him at a cool 30,000 feet. Cruising along the Interstate you’ll blaze right on by without a moments thought. Even if you pull off the highway and do run into him, most likely you’ll look right through him – just one more hippie biker in Garberville, CA – just one more person you don’t trust enough to interact with and don’t really have time for anyway.

You’d be missing out.

Missing out on music that touches your soul. Just try it. Sit on a curb outside the 76 station. Breathe in the sensation of it. The curb is gritty under your fingers. Hear high notes swirling all around you– a man playing for the sheer joy of it. Close your eyes and take it in. The sharp smell of gasoline and grease, the slightly warm cement of the curb supporting you, feet in the gutter, your ears grasping to capture every sound. You lean into the music. No tickets, no crowds, no seats- your own private concert.

Video: Charles Ervin Keys: Traveling with music in your heart

I’ve noticed that it’s so damn easy to miss out on the good things in life. So easy to opt for the comfort of anonymity, of minimizing contact and risk, the convenience of speeding through our lives to get the the parts that we think matter. I’m not saying you have to give up these conveniences, just be aware what you are doing- and that you might be missing something of value.

My advice?

Next time slow down and wake up to your own life. Are you really living it or just speeding through?

Prescribed (heart)burn

20120621-134251.jpg

I live in a rural area that has about the same amazingly fire resistant properties as fluffy cotton ball tinder- on a hot, dry day…. with a butane torch held under it for good measure.

Our family ranch in Sage (on Sage Rd) is surrounded by large amounts of dry Sagebrush, dry chaparral, oaks (with dry leaves), occasional pines (with dry needles) and dry debris, with plenty of dry invasive grasses to add extra oomph to the potential conflagration. (Bonus! Now with more fuel!) This leads to conditions that might be generally described as “you’re f*^#ed!” when fire season comes around. We pretty much know each of the local firemen by name. We’ve run the fire prevention gamut: prescribed burns, backfires, helicopters dropping water and retardant in wide swathes like graffiti from giant orange spraycans across the land.

Each time a backfire or prescribed burn is suggested, my heart drops down into my stomach and panicked thoughts run through my head; what about the safety of the process? The possible risk to land and home? Will the animals make it out alright if something goes wrong? Will we?

Our family homesteaded this land. That’s pretty uncommon in California, with its big box stores, strip malls and cookie cutter houses. Here everything is new- anything over 10 years is considered dated. 20 is old and venerable and fifty is practically enshrined as ancient. Our family has lived here for over a century and a half. Most of the houses and structures are well over 100 years old and have housed several generations. That may not seem like too long on, say an evolutionary scale, but it’s plenty long enough to grow more than slightly invested and attached. Every time a fire passes nearby a chill runs down my spine. The suggestion of purposely setting a fire as a preventative measure makes me nervous- even if I see the necessity.

Several years ago, 3 adventurously dumb kids with motor bikes and a desire to avoid boredom in the most destructive way possible set a fire (by mistake, one sincerely hopes) near our property. The blaze proceeded to burn a large section along our Northwest flank, leaving the land resembling an unhealthy bald patch on a mangy dog.

The fire department took one look at the fire raging (ushered along by our good friend, the Santa Ana wind) and made the decision to let it burn through a section of overgrown, dense chaparral to remove the accumulated dry debris. In essence this was an accidental form of a ‘prescribed burn’. It was a nervous time for us- there is always the fear of the fire escaping the tenuous ‘controls’ and burning down everything that we’ve built. But as quickly as it had come, the darn thing decided to peter out. The winds died down, and the fire quickly followed…

Later next year, a much larger fire swept through the area again (not an odd occurrence in an area where we have a fifth season- Fire season), ravaging much of the land to our Northwest. We watched from (relative) safety as the fire block provided by the accidental “prescribed burn” from the year before protected our house, leaving us in a little island of our own.

Breathing in the air heavy with smoke particles (some of them so large I could swear that I could feel them rolling grittily down my throat and into my lungs…) Oddly enough, despite feeling a bit sick to the stomach and having a pounding headache from the smoke, I ended that day feeling rather good. Our home wasn’t a crisply charred black charcoal shell, my garden with its bounty of luscious tomatoes was still there, the old butchering oak and hammock with the view of Mt. San Jacinto still stood in place, swaying in the breeze.

I know that there are many obstacles that fire managers face when using fire as a management tool- The unpredictability of wind and weather, the issue of obtaining enough funding and crew with experience necessary to carry out the job, the need to make extremely quick decisions concerning millions of dollars of property and human lives that will later be judged by the general public are just some of the difficulties in fire prevention and prescribed burning.

I’ve been in this situation myself, and even though my heart was pounding the entire time and my stomach does flip flops until the last flames die down, I have been more than happy with the results. Thank you, Sage volunteer fire crew.