Thursday, April 28, 2011

I Am

How many ways can we define our self?  Mother, wife, sister.  Forester, artist, nurse.  These are the old ways.  They are part of the old paradigm.  Each of these roles exist in the space and time continuum occupied by our physical bodies.  The Internet and the world wide web expand the possibilities.  I can exist in virtual worlds whose dimensions are timeless and boundless.

A stunning illustration of the potential of virtual being was posted today.  Eric Whitacre, composer and musician, offered the opportunity to any singer who wanted to join his virtual choir.  On his web site were the music, scored for three women's and four men's parts; an audio piano recording of the piece, his original "Sleep"; and a video of himself conducting.  Members of the choir selected themselves for the role.  They learned their part, and uploaded a video of themself singing their part.  The result is breath taking.

In the unique musical world created by Whitacre, 2,052 people from 58 different countries can say, "I am a member of a virtual choir."  Look at their faces and listen to the music.  What next?

Monday, April 25, 2011


Twenty five years ago my Alaskan husband came courting.  He suggested we go fishing during the King Salmon Derby in Ketchikan.  We did, in his "skiff" - a 12 foot welded aluminum boat with three plank seats, powered by an outboard.  I was a city girl.  This was my first such experience.  I objected to the sound of the outboard.  He was determined in his pursuit. He rowed.  He took playful revenge by telling me that I could only win the Salmon Derby if I baited my own hook.  The derby prize for biggest fish was $10,000.  I was equally determined and that's how I ended up with a frozen herring and double-hooked leader in my hands.  I did not win the derby, but we did catch a fish, and so began a great romance.  Not ours - that was already well underway.  Mine with fishing.

If you don't like to fish, stop reading here.  If you do, we can think together of fiddling with the lures and weights, calculating the depth, baiting the hook, paying out the line, setting the drag - and waiting.  Waiting in fishing is the reward.  If you don't get that, then you don't really like to fish.  The combination of anticipation and stillness is seductive.  Don't move away now - there might be a bump on the line, the slightest tug, the fish ready to take the big bite.  Or, not.  Fishing is not catching.  Catching is fun, too.  Fishing is sitting perfectly still, attentive and relaxed, lost in time.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Women Whose Names We Don't Know

Yesterday I gave a presentation to an assembly at USEPA.  It was originally scheduled for the month of March which is National Women's History Month.  I thought you might be interested in what I said.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


On Sunday a 16 year old girl jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.  She intended to kill herself.  Every 17 minutes a suicide succeeds in the United States.  Hers did not.  She was extremely lucky.  A sailboat came to her aid and the skipper jumped in to hold her face out of the water until the Coast Guard arrived.  She is expected to survive her injuries. The few who do say they knew right away that they wanted to live.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 - 24, the eleventh leading cause for all Americans.  Each suicide intimately affects at least six other people.  One out of every 64 Americans has lost a loved one to suicide in the last 25 years.

Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.

I used to listen to Garrison Keillor's popular program, A Prairie Home Companion.  His monologues can be very funny - laugh out loud funny when you're driving somewhere with the radio on.  One day his monologue segment was about Prozac.  Prozac is an antidepressant.  It is not a tranquillizer, not a narcotic.  It does not give you a quick "high".  It works to achieve balanced brain chemistry and relieve the helpless and hopeless symptoms of depression.  Keillor's segment was cruel.  It portrayed a suburban clique of elderly people trafficking in black market Prozac to take advantage what he called the weak-willed market for drugs.  Mr. Keillor apparently  did not know that there has been a significant increase in the suicide rate in the over 75 age group.

I wrote to Mr. Keillor.  I told him that in my view he had contributed to the stigma that prevents many from seeking help for depression.  I provided information and expressed surprise at his ignorance.  The reply I received was a form letter thanking me for listening to his program. I don't, anymore.

Please learn the facts.  Visit the Suicide website.  Put their hotline number in your phone directory: 1 800 784 2433.  In the time I have taken to write this post 2 more have died at their own hand.  Take the offense against this tragedy.  Stop the stigma. 

Friday, April 15, 2011


I am in Anchorage, Alaska visiting my daughter and her family. If you have lived in a northern city you know what I mean by "breakup". The temperature is in the 20's overnight - still well below freezing when my grandchildren are out the door to catch the school bus. It is what they are wearing that marks them as true Alaskans. Wool hat, light weight windbreaker, shorts and BF Goodrich "Xtra Tuffs". Xtra Tuffs are sturdy brown rubber boots. They are essential in every Alaskan's wardrobe. With these boots they can easily kick in the sides of the rotting snow piles still encircling the bus stop. They can jump on the ice covered puddles hoping to break through. By recess they will have shed their hats and will play outside where the sun reflecting on the snow feels warmer than the mid-thirties temperature. They come home in t-shirts, still wearing the Xtra Tuffs to slosh through the snow melt that puddles everywhere. 
There is a great horned owl in the trees where my daughter and her family live. At night he fills the hillside with his courtship calls. The State Department of Fish and Game has posted warnings to take down birdfeeders in anticipation of the arrival of bears. The Chugach Mountains tower over Anchorage, safe haven for moose, bear, wolverine and all the plants and animals that they eat. Moose tracks show clearly in the snow alongside the road.

I went to an assembly at my grandchildren's school. Martin Buser, four time winner of the Iditarod sled dog race was there with his lead dog and puppies. He talked about safety in the extreme conditions of the north. The kids listened. They need to know.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spend Five Minutes at the Opera

Even if you have never liked opera, I recommend this short excursion.  Much of the image of opera is formed by the sopranos and tenors whose coloratura brilliance is easily admired.  But there are other voices, too.  In Mozart's Magic Flute, sings Sarastro, the sorcerer and embodiment of light.  The plot is simple - a battle between the forces of dark and light.  There is a Queen of the Night, an innocent daughter, a gallant young man and an evil high priest.  And there is Sarastro - a character whose rock of Gibraltar presence translates across language barriers and down through the centuries.  Sit back, click on this link and listen to Sarastro.  This is his aria "Within This Hallowed Dwelling". The very deep bass.  Who would not be comforted. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Take me for a ride in your Car-Car

Peter, Paul & Mary memorialized the Woody Guthrie song.  Take me for a ride in your Car-Car.  For teens it is a dangerous roll of the dice.  Last Sunday, shortly after 3 in the afternoon,  a young man died when his girl friend lost control of her new car and slammed into an oak tree.  According to CDC statistics, seven other teens died that day, too.  Please look at the photograph of the car.  Please show it to the teens in your life.  Remind them that they are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.  Car crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens.  There are well known factors that contribute to the risk.  The incident in the photograph included several:
  • teen drivers are more likely than older drivers to speed. 
  • The presence of a male teenage passenger increases the likelihood that the driver will speed.
  • Half of teen crash fatalities occur between 3 PM and midnight.
  • 56% occur on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
Please don't call this an accident.  Most death at the wheel is preventable.  It is possible to increase the safety of our behavior by understanding the risk factors in our lives, and taking action.  In even the deadliest occupations such as logging and fishing, fatalities have been dramatically reduced through the rigorous application of safety training. We can save the lives of the eight teens statistically scheduled to die tomorrow if we address the risk factors and manage access to the ignition keys.  If we can make the Bering Sea safer for crab fishermen, we can do the same for teens at the wheel.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hold Your Applause

In our corner of North America the flowering fruit trees are in full bloom, as always accompanied by oh's and ah's.  For my taste, their blossoms are a bit gaudy.  I am waiting for the dogwoods.  To my eye there is nothing in bloom as beautiful as the creamy flower of the dogwood, dancing like butterflies at the edge of the woods.  Several years ago at this time of year we were in the Appalachian Mountains, driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The dogwoods flashed like the petticoats of dancers in the soft spring breeze.  They don't need to shout "look at me" as do the plums and cherries.  They are lustrous and rich.

The dogwood offers tight-grained wood, used where strength matters.  Loom shuttles, tool handles, early laminated tennis rackets  and golf club heads  were fashioned from dogwood.  Dogwood twigs have been used for centuries to clean the teeth - bite the twig and scrub.

I planted three dogwoods outside my office window and I see the first leaves forming today.  The cherry blossoms have littered the sidewalk.  I will hold my applause.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I Solemnly Swear...

In May we will travel to North Carolina to hear our granddaughter take the Veterinarian's Oath.  New this year will be an addition to the oath approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association late last year.  Four words were added that make clear that veterinarians will play an active role in preventing suffering and promoting welfare as well as treating disease and relieving pain.  That small change may shed some light on the big change in the practice of veterinary medicine.

Fifty years ago veterinary medicine was a man's work.  Large animal care dominated the practice.  Physical strength and a high tolerance for muddy fields and drafty barns were required.  Less than 5% of the vets were women.  Today women are the majority in the profession.  At the 28 academic programs in the United States,  70 - 90% of the students are women.  These women are smart and disciplined, and they also share the traits passed down  from mother to daughter to nurture and protect the helpless.  The new oath places vets on the path to advocacy on behalf of animal welfare - a broader and more complex role than the difficult but focused delivery of a breech calf.  Did the ranks of women who have entered the profession drive the change, or did the emerging agenda of welfare protection and prevention of suffering appeal to women candidates?  I guess it doesn't matter which came first.  Our granddaughter will be right at home with the mission.