Tag Archive: travel

Contending with My Carbon Pollution

Here in Chicago, it’s hot today. It’s the HHH trifecta, actually: hazy, hot, and humid. Not exactly what Ol’ Bing was referring to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMwZ6LvY7NM

As the climate news becomes ever more dire, people around the world, and the country, and the region, and the state, and the city where I live, are forced to confront the real impacts—and considerable costs in money, resources, time, health, enjoyment, etc.—of climate change, despite what the many ignoramuses in leadership say to the contrary. Climate change is a crisis, one that builds more rapidly and gets more severe with every year, it seems.

I have done some reading about ways in which to mitigate my carbon pollution, and I make decisions and take actions everyday to lessen my environmental impact. I buy only environmentally sustainable and cruelty-free cleaning supplies, sundries, etc. whenever possible (my under sink cabinet is full of Seventh Generation products (https://www.seventhgeneration.com/home). I’ve gone so far as to buy their most concentrated laundry detergent (https://www.seventhgeneration.com/easydose-ultra-concentrated-laundry-detergent-lavender_), which uses only 2 teaspoons per load. I wash my clothes in cold water in my high-efficiency washer. I almost never machine-dry my laundry (My mother, who rarely visits HATES my scratchy bath towels. My Nana and Poppa didn’t even own a clothes dryer. They hung all their laundry on a series of clotheslines suspended from the ceiling of the cellar in the East Utica home, and so Mom grew up with—and developed an aversion to—line-dried towels. My father has his own pet peeve: Grandma used to take the little stubs of bar soap that were too small to use, and press them together into soap Frankenbars. To this day, my father will not use a piece of soap too small to produce its own bubbles!). I use the air dry setting in my dishwasher. My air conditioner doesn’t come on until the temperature hits 84º inside, which, thankfully is rare here. If the night will be cooler than 84, I open all the windows in the evening. I walk and bike to as many appointments and errands in town as possible. You get the idea.

But I still pollute a lot.

For quality-of-life reasons, I’ve chosen to live in a neighborhood 16 miles from my work. Despite telecommuting at least one day a week, I still drive more for work now than I ever have. It’s too far to bike all the time, and too time-consuming to take public transportation most days—and, when I had a dog, I wanted to bring him with me to the office. I also live farther from my family—and my husband—than I have in a very long time, so I take more long-distance trips than I used to.

My carbon footprint is substantial.  I’ve read about purchasing carbon offsets, but the reviews of the merits of purchasing offsets are decidedly mixed (e.g., https://www.nrdc.org/stories/should-you-buy-carbon-offsets). Briefly, they’re not always effective or trustworthy. Read the linked article for more information.

I’m considering making annual donations to one or more land trusts equal to the value of my transportation-related carbon pollution. If my contribution can eliminate the risk of developing land that is wild or agricultural, it may be a good long-term solution.

Therefore, choosing where the money goes could be as important as the donation itself, so that it is most likely to preserve land at high risk of development (rural CNY, where I grew up, may not be the most strategic choice, e.g.).

Surprisingly, the carbon cost of my driving 15,000 miles year is only about $150, based on current market rates for carbon (http://calcarbondash.org). I estimate that I average 25 MPG of gasoline, and each gallon generates about 14.3 kg of carbon dioxide. I haven’t calculated flights yet.

I share this to encourage you to find a way to help mitigate the effects of carbon pollution you may not be able to prevent. And also, to empower you to make choices to live more efficiently. I don’t know what your air conditioner’s thermostat is set for, but I bet you could bump it up at least a couple degrees.

What are your thoughts about my ideas? Any suggestions on where my land trust donations should go to spur the greatest positive impact?

I’d love to hear from you.


High-Acreage Curiosity

I’m getting ready to take Putney (my dog, for those who haven’t met him) to Camp Clough (AKA my parents) for the summer. I’m leaving soon for 20 days, part of which is a liturgy conference at Yale.

I’m expecting a house guest for two nights, immediately before departing. I haven’t had an overnight guest for months, and the guest room is the staging area for storing winter clothes and disposal of things I no longer need.

Behind my piano is a pile of music: ten volumes of piano rags and French romantic chansons from the Chicago Public Library, a tote bag of choral octavos from Ellen Fisher, a borrowed collection of Schubert piano duets.

Behind my couch is a basket of issues of Maine: the Magazine, Vermont Life, National Geographic, unread, awaiting reading.

My refrigerator is packed full, most of its contents a large collection of sauces, relishes and other accompaniments I’ve picked up in stores trading in local and artisan foods. They keep well, but get used in exceedingly small quantities. On the kitchen shelves is a similar collection of unopened toppings. There are five jars of different kinds of mustard from Raye’s <www.rayesmustard.com> in Eastport, ME . One is open.

Mustard jars

I live alone.

And then there are the books.

A friend of mine popped his head in my office last week, and said, “It looks like a dorm room.”

Scattered about therein are more books and scores.

I need to say right now that I am NOT a collector. In my twenties, I realized that the few collections I had collected for the sake of having collections brought me no joy. There was remorse for spending money on things that had no utility. I committed to no more collecting. No thimbles, no bone china plates of exotic places. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

In tidying for my guest’s arrival and my departure, I see the problem, arising from my being a curious person. Working with a life coach <www.purposeatwork.com> a few years ago, I articulated a life purpose that is, briefly, to guide others to uncover their own curiosity to lead them to discovery and learning. My life purpose grows out of my own attitude. I find meaning and joy in vacuuming up experiences, then letting them shape my perspective and choices. I thrive on exceptional sensory experiences. Five jars of mustard could tell you that (actually, there are seven jars, but only five from Raye’s) with a translator.

The musical scores, the magazines, the Mason jars. These are containers for experiences. They gather around me, offering adventures. But they compete with each other for my time and energy, and my space. They conflict with my desire to simplify, to live more like the Shakers I visited a few summers ago.

I am immensely blessed to know that curiosity will never, ever let me be bored in this too-short life.

But it’s taking up a lotta space in my apartment!

Not my childhood “Silver Bells”

“Silver bells, silver bells/It’s Christmastime in the city” plays on the radio as we head out of Port-au-Prince, Haïti, on the morning of Friday 9 November 2012.

“Silver Bells” has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs. When I was a little boy, I would often stay with Nana and Poppa in their flat on Rutger Street in east Utica, NY. They lived one house west of the intersection with Jefferson Avenue, and from the living room windows, I loved to watch the traffic light at the corner “blink a bright red and green” through the puffy lake-effect snowflakes. Just like in the song that I’m sure I asked them to play for me frequently until I was old enough to work the record player on my own.

How unlike that romantic vision of Christmas in the city, this dystopian nightmare. As we leave the capital for Jacmel on the south coast, I am finally confronted with a level of filth, poverty and chaos that, unlike our previous drives around the city, exceeds my worst imaginings.

“Children laughing/People passing/Meeting smile after smile…As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.” The sides of the streets, teeming with life—men, women, children, dogs—are still lined with countless vendors of produce, sundries, car parts, vegetable and motor oil in used soda bottles (Careful which one you buy for cooking.), but this main thoroughfare is somehow even more shockingly dirty than those I’ve seen previously. We drive through a section of more-or-less four-lane boulevard (traffic here doesn’t really stay in lanes, or even stay on the right side if obstacles suggest better alternatives.) with a median. But the median, instead of being filled in by greenery or capped by concrete, bubbles with a toxic brew of sewage, rotting food, leaking automobile fluids and Lord-knows-what-else. My instinct is to roll up the windows, but the car lacks air-conditioning, and it’s well into the 80s Fahrenheit (at least 30ºC) on this humid, sunny day. I hold back gags.

“Hear the snow crunch/See the kids bunch”. By the time we round the curve toward the south, “Silver Bells” has long since ended, but it keeps cropping up in my imagination. Here on the edge of the city, the thrum of pedestrian activity and street-side commerce thins out somewhat. After we pass a string of industrial sites and waterside events facilities, we see to the right a huge lot filled with piles of trash, some of it on fire, the acrid black smoke fouling our lungs and everything else around.

Will I ever hear “Silver Bells” the same way again?

Chicago Has No Hills

Turbine, Crow Hill, Bouckville, NYFriday 6 July 2012

I biked to Madison and Bouckville this morning. Those of you who know Hamilton and surroundings have figured out that I’m a pretty lame biker; rarely do I ride more than 20 miles in one go. It’s not because I can’t, but rather because I have many things on my bucket list, especially for the finite hours I have in Central New York. I hate to spend too much time away from the fam. If Mom or Dad or Christopher or Putney would ride with me, then athletic sight-seeing could be a social activity, and I wouldn’t fear missing funny happenings back at the Tanner Mansion.

While riding yesterday, I noticed a road out of Bouckville, Crow Hill, that I had never been up, so I checked it out, and learned that it would make a good and hilly 18.5-mile loop. I was going to leave at 6:30 AM, but it was 55 degrees outside, requiring a long-sleeve jersey to start, and then after a while I might be too warm. I headed out into a perfect morning when the temperature hit 60º.

Hamilton is in the Chenango Valley; from home, it is uphill almost everywhere. The climbs on this route aren’t steep or large, but Crow Hill is prominent. On the way up, I passed a small farm with a surprisingly large diversity of species: donkeys, goats, geese, ducks, chickens. When was the last time I saw a donkey on a farm? I couldn’t remember.

Crow Hill has attracted the wind energy business. Up there in the farm fields are several turbines, over 300 feet tall. The New York Times reported a few years ago on a huge wind farm on Tug Hill. Some neighbors complained about the noise of the windmills. Atop Crow Hill, I stopped to listen, and barely heard anything. On the plus side aesthetically, the slow, silent spinning of the huge blades evokes a Zen-like calm. The down side is that the towers are so huge that they make mature trees and the area’s grand hills look like the topographic equivalent of toy poodles.

I saw only one person while up on the hill, driving. Biking in vacant areas makes it easier to find solitude. Biking in vacant urban areas can sometimes lead to a hold-up at gun-point followed by being chopped up into bite-size pieces and tossed in the river. This morning’s fresh-air pee is a perk of rural living.

Chicago has no hills. A parishioner at my new church job who regularly walks several miles around Hyde Park commented on the hill at South 47th Street on the Lakefront Trail. I said nothing, because I really like this woman, who is also from the East (where there are real hills), but that “hill” (the approach to the pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive) is about 30 feet high.

My legs, too, have been forgetting what’s required to gain elevation. Today’s ride is the reminder that, while here, I need to climb hills. Lest legs forget.

…and about 10% black bear

21 August 2011

I walked down Shore Road from Bayside toward Lincolnville on the shore side, and divided my visual stimuli pretty equally between views of Penobscot Bay and of the interesting assortment of cottages along its shore. “I could live there. Or there. I could spend the summer there.” Some of them are pretty drool-worthy.

I walked about two miles, and after making a brief stop in the woods where there were neither cottages nor people to be seen, I turn back northward toward Bayside. Walking on the inland side of the road now, I am intrigued by my instinctive behavior. Despite the presence of ocean and cottages to delight the eyes, I can’t stop scanning the roadside for berries. Walking along at a brisk pace, my antennae are attuned to that deep-as-black purple of blackberries and the wine red of red raspberries. If I look across the road at the ocean, within seconds, I am, without thinking, again scanning the shoulder for berries.

When I go for bicycle rides in the summer near my hometown of Hamilton, NY, my pace is adversely affected by the same obsessive quest. Few things in life, it would seem, can bring me greater satisfaction than finding and eating wild berries. I can’t remember if I heard it or made it up, but I say of Putney (and, generally, all dogs) that found food is the best food. In my case, it’s specifically found berries.

I’ve also thought since I visited Norway in 1998 (when I read that Scandinavians are big berry-lovers) that I must be a closet Norwegian. If you ever find me drunk on a park bench, look around to see if there’s an empty bottle of Chambord nearby.

I know that I’m one quarter Italian, from my maternal grandmother. From my maternal grandfather, I’m a quarter mix of Irish, French and Canadian (mostly). My paternal grandmother brings a generous helping of German into the gene pool. My paternal grandfather was mostly English and Scottish, with some native Canadian. We used to say Canadian Indian, but for reasons of cultural sensitivity, I think now we’d say First Nation. That probably makes up about 10% of me.

I think they got that tenth wrong, though. Based on the berry thing, I think I’m about 10% black bear.

Down East Discoveries

Bar Harbor, ME
18 June 2011

A trip to Maine always reminds me of my aunt, who first introduced me to some of the best of the Pine Tree State twenty-five years ago. We camped at Camden Hills and wandered the coast from Boothbay to Lubec. Breathtaking scenery, even for a teenager.

But since those formative trips, I’ve visited places the family avoided (Shall I name them?). Bar Harbor is one of those places. Actually, on that first rip in August 1986, we detoured through Bar Harbor. Before we crossed into the village, though, we rolled up the windows and locked the doors. We never stopped. We just cruised through, gazing at the touristy shops and the tourists much like rich suburbanites pass cautiously through the ghettos, as if to scare the kids into obedience: “This is what happens to bad teens who drink beer before turning 21…” In our case, it was the fate of those who stayed in city hotels instead of rural motels with asphalt front lawns and “vintage” aluminum deck chairs outside each unit.

This time, I found Bar Harbor rather charming, if not yet overrun by summer hoards. Many schools are still in session, or finished yesterday. Even wanderlusty parents couldn’t pack the kids that soon after the final dismissal bell rings.

Poppa was a brochure man. He picked up tourist pamphlets all over the place, or sent away for them. Maybe that’s where I got it. I pack too much to read before leaving home, then amass a library of brochures, local weeklies, new books and slick magazines, none of which I ever have time to read, compulsive as I am about exploring from dawn to dark everywhere I go.

Today, reading guidebooks and studying maps and looking out over blue water, grey rocks and green hills makes me long to see more, to stay longer. I want to chain myself to a tree in Blue Hill, eating Nervous Nellies Jams & Jellies with my hands, fingers cupped like a primitive spoon for scooping sweet blueberry preserves out of jars and right into my mouth.

My sister served steamed lobster and clam chowdah Wednesday night. That was yummo. Last night, we had lobster “subs” at Roy’s in Auburn. Big helping of shredded meat with too much mayo. Described as a sub, I expected lettuce & tomato. My traveling companion asked for coleslaw with his. “We only have fries.” There was — literally — not a single vegetable in the place, except for relish. The clientèle, all locals, looked like they weren’t much for veg. I guess you play to your audience.

We had an EXCEPTIONAL meal of local food at Cleonice in Ellsworth last night. The 1930s-era ice-cream parlor has booths with original wooden arches setting each apart like a little room. The long counter is still there, but the shelves are lined with spirits, some of them local, memorable. I plan to slip away today to go up to Bartlett’s Maine Estate Winery in Gouldsboro. That French white oak-aged dry blueberry wine is worth the detour when one is so close already. And now they make brandy.

Who has a scheme for how to stay the summer?

“Gas Land” at 34 000 Feet

Gas Land at 34 000 Feet
Thursday 26 May 2011

Returning from Germany today on a high-carbon diet, I decided to watch Gas Land, a 2010 documentary about the natural gas industry, the process of hydraulic fracturing (AKA “fracking”) used in natural gas extraction, and the health and environmental crises rippling out from the increasingly-pervasive gas wells sprouting like weeds around the USA. Do Washington’s Metrobuses, proudly proclaiming “powered by clean natural gas”, lie to us?

Energy has been on my mind throughout the past nine days, as I have wandered the streets of Munich, where gasoline sells for the equivalent of US $9.00 per gallon and where bicycle lanes and public transportation are ubiquitous and popular; noted from several train windows tile roofs overlaid with solar-panels all over the Bavarian countryside; ridden a jet-powered tour boat up an unnaturally fast river in Salzburg; and read of a glacier in the Alps covered by an enormous tarp each summer the past few years to minimize its accelerated wasting as our little ball of a home warms up.

The young filmmaker, Josh Fox, responsible for Gas Land lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania, not far in miles or culture from my homeland in central New York – a rural, hilly, green-in-summer, white-in-winter, economically-struggling area populated by diverse people who love their homes yet face difficult choices to earn a living where progress has yet to arrive or has already passed by. The scenes of forests and streams that bookend his travels through Gas Land – all around the central and western United States – made my heart beat a little faster. We both grew up atop the Marcellus Shale, a huge rock formation stretching from central New York south through several states, and one of the richest repositories of natural gas in the world. He, like I, probably had no idea about this mother lode of fossilized energy until recently, when the “FRACK NO” signs began appearing on neighbors’ lawns.

As the film advanced and the toxic effects of the drive to slake our unquenchable thirst for fossil fuels became more vivid, I felt sick: both heartsick and slightly nauseated, hearing person after person talk about how they and the ones they love, exposed to toxins by the gas industry, have lost their sense of smell, their ability to taste food; how they have suffered dizziness, mysterious pains all over their bodies, or neuropathy; how birds, frogs and rabbits have died from exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) bubbling up through stream beds since fracking began nearby; how wells have sprung up on their land because they don’t own the mineral rights to what lies below their homes; how cattle drink contaminated water and eat grass poisoned by chemicals illegally dumped on the ground or rained back down on it from evaporating tanks. The ranchers’ herds and livelihoods risk cruel and selfish death. Contaminated wells are supplanted by reverse-osmosis filtration systems or deliveries of water by truck, presumably at great cost and yielding yet more air pollution. The cattle, the wildlife, however, have no trucked-in water supplies. How will they fare?

This blog sprang mostly from my cultural curiosity, an explorer’s lust to see the world and know its inhabitants and their distinctive approaches to surviving and thriving. But my travel is a costly luxury, and much of its cost is, or will be, borne by those whom I will never meet. Do the traveler’s and the host’s increasing understanding of, and appreciation and compassion for the other exceed the environmental cost spread across the globe? The now-famous polar bear, starving as the Arctic ice melts beneath this jet’s contrails, doesn’t have a voice in that calculus.

As I jet across the Atlantic, how can I take responsibility for the thousands of gallons of fuel I am passively consuming? How can I repair the damage done by the tons of carbon dioxide pouring out of these enormous engines? How much of the blanket spread over that ancient glacier in the Alps do I own?

I am stopping off in Central New York, my homeland, briefly, en route to where I live, and as always I will want to stay longer where the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches reconnect to something deeply spiritual within me. During Gas Land, I though with frustration and anger of how much pressure the energy industry is putting on New York State and its communities and its citizens to develop the huge gas reserves below my home. Those streams and trees in the film look just like the ones I have walked and biked and waded and hiked and picnicked and skied and sledded by and through throughout my life, and I was saddened to envision them fouled by greed.

Some of our neighbors see dollar signs in the rock beneath. As an undergraduate geology student, I learned about the Marcellus Shale, about its ancient secrets, its record of the previous “landowners” and of the effects of wind and water on the land: sediments, ripples, fossils. I don’t recall a single mention of natural gas. Now, it seems that it’s the only thing that matters about the Marcellus Shale.

I fight back a few tears as I think about how friends and family and neighbors in Central New York will be affected by the toxic stew that will bubble up from the earth, spoiling the pure water, fouling the clean, sweet air. In a landscape still populated by more cows than people, where old wooden barns and houses call out to painters and poets to tell their story of melancholy and beauty intertwined in sweet, sad marriage, I ask, is this not worth nurturing until we can fly, drive, heat, cool and cook more gently?

18 Pockets Teaser: The Italian Job

Hi, friends and readers! You’ve read about my recent accident. For a little while, I was afraid that it would put the kaibosh on my upcoming trip to Italy, but the doctors said that I’m fit to travel. I’m leaving for Rome on Wednesday, where I will spend four days and attend an Italian wedding, tour the Vatican necropolis and maybe even meet up with my Italian cousin, whom I barely know. Then, it’s off to Sicily on the overnight train for ten days of exploring, including Mt. Etna, Catania, Siracusa, the Greek temples at either Agrigento or Selinunte, Trapanì, Erice, and finally my first return to Palermo, where my first-ever non-North American travels deposited me for three weeks in the summer of 1989 (I was 5…). I can’t wait to see how the city has changed, and my impressions of it, too, half-a-lifetime later. If you’re very good, I’ll write a couple-few entries as I go. Anyone care?

When enough people had said, “You should blog about that”, I began slipping slowly into a pop-author-like delirium. Of course, the only logical next step was… to buy a book about blogging.

Weeks passed. Months. No blog.

I bought another book about blogging.

Still no blog. *sigh*

Casual descriptions of my dream to cultivate cultural curiosity by offering food-forward active adventures to a curious clientele prompt responses like, “If you offer a trip like that, I’ll go!” and “Sign me up.” Launching an international tour business from the organ bench seems like a logistical impossibility (one lacks time and money enough to support it, and how does one learn not to be an organist?).

Poppa never traveled much. Nana refused, for the most part, and after she departed this earthly life, although travel became more possible for him, there were still limits imposed by seasickness and pteromechanophobia. Mostly, the armchair was the vehicle of choice. Tickets for passage, foreign and domestic, could be found in magazines, books, television shows, supplemented by occasional car trips with family and frequent self-guided ramblings around Central New York.

I hold my Poppa in high esteem. “Why go, when one can blog?” “Blog” spelled backward is “go[lb]”. Drop the last two letters, and find your mandate: Go when you can; the rest of the time, blog.

I remember Winnie-the-Pooh and friends went on “explores” and “expotitions”, and, since the two Pooh collections are my most enduringly-beloved books, I think that perhaps Christopher Robin’s adventures infected me with wanderlust from childhood. I go on an “expotition” through the books, looking for an emblematic “explore” to illuminate my mission to my readers. Success eludes me.

Next time: The Revelation of 18 Pockets