Friday, September 30, 2005

On top of the world

An unfathomable amount of Peak District is dedicated to public pathways. You can walk up any hill you want to find this trail, which runs the length of the peaks on this side of the valley. To reach it, we crossed through a dozen fields; farmers here welcome local hikers, who apparently crowd the area in the summer. Open space is at a premium in England, something I take for granted in the Northwest.

The view from the hill

I'm really using this granite memorial to prop me up -- we had to use the rock by my arm to hold down our food. Otherwise, it would have blown straight across the plateau into the mouths of some overly friendly sheep. Don't ever let a sheep know you have food -- trust me.

Not just another pretty face

Look, you try smiling when the wind is blowing at 45 mph in your face. I dare you to keep your eyes open!

This is from the top of the peak -- the hostel where we stayed is in the valley to our right, just out of the frame.

You may encounter these in the daytime

The large red bull on the right just decided that we weren't worth head-butting into the stone fence behind me. Kind of him, really. Didn't want to be splattered along a granite wall just yet, particularly as we'd barely started our hike.

And this is what you run into at night

Dozens of sheep standing startled in front of the only gate that stands between you and the path home. Shushing them away doesn't work, nor, apparently, does anything short of physically prodding them out of the road. Not too bright, sheep. Supposedly, you can give one a local anesthetic and operate on her while she contentedly chews her cud and watches you mess with her insides. I'm all for promoting animal intelligence, but sheep are a hard sell.

Even the cameras wear beer goggles here

How better to celebrate the end of orientation than with a pint of extra-cold Guinness? Strangely, it's the only beer I consistently finish in one setting.

By the way, you cannot ask for an Irish Car Bomb in England. Unless, of course, you like watching bartenders slowly back along the counter. I actually did not ask - not officially. I tried to describe the drink to him; when that failed, I muttered its name and explained my hesitation to request it. Nevertheless, as soon as the words left my mouth, well, the service declined a bit.

Several Irish Car Bomb devotees, myself included, have decided that we will just ask the bartender to give us the ingredients. If he comes up with a name, great! If not, no one's the wiser.

Pictures from our scholar group's orientation in Peak District

So, my lovely proxy server here prevents me from doing anything useful: voice chat, Skype, and now Bloggerbot, which I used to publish pictures. Thus, I introduce the new, slightly less attractive format.

This is a view of one of Peak District's many valleys. I'd tell you which one, but I honestly don't know. To find it, locate the biggest peak you can find in the entire landscape. Climb said peak. After normal breathing resumes, snap photo.

Most of the area is like this - dotted with sheep that roam past ancient stone fences and buildings. I loved it the moment the area came into view.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Still here

Sorry - things are getting a bit mad around here as orientation begins...

In a day or two, I will post pictures of the place where we had our scholarship orientation. It was up in the Peak District, which is breathtakingly beautiful and very, very English: picture rolling, verdant hills dotted with flocks of sheep that graze next to crumbling stone fences.

I'm in awe of my fellow scholars. They are compassionate, warm, funny people who are genuinely committed to their work and who really believe they can do something good for the world. There's none of the usual scholarship-type b.s. It's all too good to be true...

By the way. If you come across a large herd of cattle while traipsing through a field, make sure none of them are de-horned bulls before you walk, cooing, up to the cute little fuzzy baby cow and his mama. Should this occur, back away very, very slowly from the hulking red beast with the rolling yellow eyes as it lowers its head in your direction. Find the nearest stone fence and quickly use it as an escape route. Furthermore, a homemade raft will sink when burdened with 11 people. Also, do not order an Irish Car Bomb in England. I did not actually do this; I discretely asked a bartender if they had a name for a drink I was afraid to request...and of course he immediately turned to his mates and shouted, "Did you 'ear wot this gurl wants?" Bloody hell...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Miss you

CB's gone.

There's a hole in my heart six inches wide.

I walked home with a "Missing CB" mix on my Ipod. When Snow Patrol's "Light Up" came on, scenes from his departure played in my head; I saw myself walking down the street and slowly, particle by particle, dissolving into the wind, scattering back down the road towards the highway where the bus rolled towards Oxford. At the end, all I had to do was flick my fingers to send the last pieces racing over Cambridge's soaring spires.

The song ended. I was still on the street, still alone. I know we'll get through this and that our fates could have been far worse...but god, it hurts. I've never felt this sense of loss before. It makes me realize how grateful I am for everything I have -- friends, family, memories -- that can help me get through this. It might take a little while.

Those low-hanging willows will kill ya' -- ask the guys in the boats around us Posted by Picasa

A view of my college (there's much more to it) Posted by Picasa

Croissants and espresso for breakfast? Lovely! Posted by Picasa

Photos from yesterday's excursion -- in reverse order, because I am an idiot.

Bryan, now the suave, sophisticated punter, easily sends us back up the river Posted by Picasa

King's College chapel Posted by Picasa

A very, very famous bridge in town Posted by Picasa

A view from the river as we pass between some of the older colleges (as in, several centuries older...) Posted by Picasa

This is NOT as easy as it looks from the streets over the water Posted by Picasa

Bryan embarking upon our punting journey Posted by Picasa

Our new discovery: a great French cafe in the middle of town Posted by Picasa

The college grounds Posted by Picasa

This is my flat! I'm around the back, on the left... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Aw yeah, first drunk night in England...shouldn't blog like this, but oh well.

Went punting this morning after indulging in too-delectable camembert-and-tomato croissants (hard to explain: picture large pole, cumbersome boat, lots of amateurs falling into the river while bemused spectators take pictures). Didn't fall in -- probably because Coalescent Boy steered -- but we felt like pros by the end as we basked in the sun-soaked river while ducks swam past.

Found WD-40 and shower squeegees: a triumph you cannot understand. The equivalent of discovering the Holy Grail.

Enjoyed a lovely trip through the official university shop: oh, wooly college scarfs, how I love thee. Am so embarrassed by what I'd love to purchase there.

Found an out-of-the-way, non-smoking pub in Camford which is now our second home. Spent hours playing Uno and Chess. Were the only Americans in the entire place for the duration of our stay -- I will go back time and again for this very reason. Curiously bitter tap beers, along with mysterious ciders and other ambers...

Love it. Lots of drunk girls in miniskirts and 3" heels staggering around Cam central as we went home. New Hall? Quiet as a mouse. :) Particularly enjoyed the guitar player in the garbage can, strumming out the bin as passerbys stared in wonder. Great stuff.

Have said "cheers" and "good on yeh" to more people than I care to admit.

Today was a good day.

By the way, it's kinda funny that people find me by using google UK to search for "lauden wainwright bbc."

Gotta love the internet. Gotta love English bitters.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The birds have it made on Broadway

Cheers to NYC for making the nights a little safer for migratory birds.

For years, birds have died by the thousands in our big cities: the bright lights and glass windows confuse them, causing them to get lost or to fly into buildings:

The combination of glass, tall buildings and bright light is extremely dangerous for birds, according to Daniel Klem, an ornithologist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. He says that a conservative estimate is that more than 100 million birds die each year from crashing into glass on structures of all types, even houses.

Now, the city's turning down the lights during the peak of the migration:

The Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center, the Citigroup Center, the Morgan Stanley Building and the World Financial Center are among the high-profile high-rises that have agreed to requests from the city and the Audubon Society to dim or turn off nonessential lighting at midnight.

Thus the city's skyscrapers will defer to nature at least twice a year: by dimming their lights in September and October, during the peak of the fall migratory season, and again in April and May, during the peak of the spring migratory season.

While the Empire State Building's lighting policy to protect migratory birds is decades old, and other buildings have used netting on glass windows so birds do not mistake reflections for sky, this policy will be the first citywide effort to protect migratory birds from crashing into buildings. The voluntary policy is aimed at buildings taller than 40 stories, as well as lower glass buildings that hug the Hudson and East Rivers, which birds use as navigational aides.

Seems like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and all of the other "green" West Coast cities should do the same, don't you think?

To be or not to be...

The latest travesty from the Vatican came out yesterday in the form of a proposal to ban gays from the priesthood.

The Vatican argues this will solve the sex-abuse problems. Anyone with half a brain can beg to differ: most abuse took place during or before the 1980s, when gay men were shunned by the church, forced into the closet or quietly driven out of the clergy. Since then, a more tolerant policy resulted in a rise in "out" priests -- and less abuse.

Never mind that straight and gay men abuse adolescent boys. Never mind that the best priests I've ever known are gay -- the ones who can relate to the isolation and rejection I felt as a woman in the church, since they, too, reside at the margins of the cathedral.

I'm not sure anymore. Between this thinly veiled bigotry and the ongoing, increasing push to keep women in subservient roles, I don't feel comfortable calling myself Catholic. I've stopped going to Church, but I don't know what that means. Am I a sinner looking for an easy way out by finding a church that agrees with my values? Or am I in the right: an angry, frustrated, overlooked part of an archaic faith that fails to meet the needs of its flock?

I wish I knew.

Rainy daze

According to locals, today was a typical day in Cambridge. First, it was cloudy. Then, it began to clear up -- but suddenly, fierce showers swept in from the north, bringing a bone-chilling subarctic wind along with them. This climate shift, naturally, occurred as Coalescent Boy and I slogged our way down the road on our first run in the city. On the way back, shoes sodden and clothes plastered to our bodies, the storm literally blew out of town and a spate of sunshine took its place. Now, it's cloudy, cold and dark.

My moods have been a lot like the weather: mercurial, shifting and generally unpredictable. I suppose that's the joys of culture shock and homesickness, but it's downright annoying to go from laughing over tea to snuffling in front of a picture album. Last night, I lost it because neither my phone nor my internet connection works worth a damn, so I have no reliable way to communicate with anyone outside my room (I'm in the library right now). For some reason, that was the last straw. I'm still irked.

I miss my friends a lot -- haven't heard from some, wish I could use the phone to talk with others. The insecure part of me worries that distance will grow between us, even though the rest of me knows that won't happen without intentional neglect. Now that I have amazing friends, I don't plan to lose them. Still, it's difficult: I don't think a week has passed in eight years where I haven't talked with my best friend in person or on the phone. That makes the last eight days an unpleasant first. I don't like it at all. I miss her so much, and she's going through her own travel woes as a graduate student in Kansas. All of us are in transition right now; so much of the future remains uncertain, and it feels like the rug's been pulled out from under our feet.

In two days, CB leaves for Oxford and I'll be on my own. I used to love being alone, but now it's not a prospect I relish. I don't like the "getting to know you" process -- it's long, arduous and emotionally trying. Kelli once described it as a lot like dating, and it's so true (although, perhaps only for girls -- do guys take as long to make true, intimate friends? Or does the definition of a good friend generally differ for men and women?)

Still, I'm convinced I'll meet some cool people here who can put up with my cultural foibles, weird schedule and quirky sense of humor. I'm looking forward to visitors from abroad, too; hopefully, more than a few will pass through town in the next three years. Three's long enough to seem impossible, but brief enough for me to know that I'll never get to do and see everything I want to. All I can do is take advantage of the time I have -- and keep running, no matter how busy I become. Whenever homesickness or stupid anxieties kick in, it helps to think I can run them into the ground. Or at least run myself into the ground, thereby making me too tired to worry. :)

Things learned in Camford: Lesson 1

Do not under any circumstances move, flex, twitch, sneeze, or even contemplate the above during an acupuncture session.

Unless, of course, you enjoy the sensation of searing pain shooting up your forearms.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Would you like curry with your Eminems?

I turned on my new radio last night while I set the alarm, only to hear "Lose Yourself" playing on warp-Chipmunks speed with a tinny, southeast Asian techno beat blaring in the background. I wonder if he knows he's been remixed by some bizarre, tone-deaf dj?

Bryan and I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. I can't decide if it's endearing or just sick. All I know is I never want to hear it again!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

No, actually, the right side of the road is the RIGHT side of the road

I don't like to make sweeping generalizations about other people's cultures, but I've decided this one deserves a broad brush stroke.

Driving on the left is insane.

I realize I lack any sort of actual evidence or justification for saying so, but I don't care. It's borderline psychopathic.

Or maybe I'm the nut, the one who spaced out a little today test-riding a bike and executed a neat swoop into oncoming traffic. Oops. Luckily, most people here are used to inept international students, so the bikes swerved around me and the car ahead slowed down long enough for me to u-turn hastily. My husband helped by yelling, "Wrong way! You're on the wrong side!" as if the sudden apparition of headlights hadn't signaled a judgment error.

To his credit, he was also polite enough to tell the stricken bike shop owner that we really were fresh off the plane -- and, I assume, to promise that we'd pay for the bike should it become embedded in the bonnet of a Volkswagen.

Seriously, biking around here requires serious skill, attention, and a healthy dose of "to hell with it"-ness. Picture narrow, 10th-century roads now overrun with double-decker buses, top-heavy lorries and cars going at least several times the speed of sound. Add in even narrower, 10th-century sidewalks which frequently overflow with pedestrians, who unexpectedly step into the three-inch strip of bike lane. It isn't the pedestrian's fault; more often than not, he or she is being forced into bike-and-car traffic by someone coming the other way, as medieval Brits apparently failed to foresee the wisdom of walkways where people could pass shoulder-to-shoulder.

Consequently, one would assume, helmets and bike lights would be the rule of the road. However, this is not the case. The far more interesting reality was ascertained in a random sample conducted by my statistician husband and I as we staggered the length of town with new room supplies protruding ominously from plastic bags. By our calculations, approximately 10-20 percent of cyclists wear helmets, and perhaps 60 percent use lights. The bike shop clerk actually seemed pleasantly surprised when I asked if he sold helmets. Of course, people here also ride in anything: miniskirts, or long, flapping trenchcoats, or stiletto-heeled boots. I've seen Yorkshire terriers balancing on bike baskets, grannies slinging plastic bags of groceries over their handlebars, and more than a few students riding what looked like buckets of spare parts stuck together with twine. I'm not sure why there aren't hundreds of bikers lying dead in the streets, what with the swerving to avoid cars, pedestrians, dogs, stray chip vans, and a motley assortment of trash bags, but it defies reality.

We've also learned why 1 of 3 Camford students loses their bicycle to thieves. Yes, there are bike robber barons roaming the worn brick streets, but it probably has more to do with a very simple fact: no one knows how to use a lock. In general, bikes are locked in one of three ways: to themselves, freestanding on the street; to a finger's-wide railing, with only the frame secured; or not at all. Most people seem quite content to leave their bikes on the sidewalks with the locks coiled around the seatposts, then can't understand why they disappear. If I were a morally ambivalent person, I'd probably have amassed a collection of dozens of cycles by now -- I could walk down the street and scoop them up by the armload. It's hilarious, but a little disturbing, as this is the Mother Country for many of us and thereby should be a beacon of logic and wisdom. Makes me glad I'm just a Guinness-fed Irishman.

So, I realize I'm going to look ridiculous on my beater road bike with a helmet, two LED lights, a hefty lock and reflective clothing -- but somehow I think I prefer "dork" to "curiously squishy thing on the windshield."

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Smoking, snogging and snacks

Unexpected but interesting things about Oxford:

1. Everyone smokes. I'm not talking about the huddled masses who lurk in shadowy alleyways along Seattle's late-night hotspots; I mean, every freaking person in the restaurant, pub, bus stop and college. Apparently, they only banned smoking on trains two years ago! It's a little unsettling to find out that there's a single smoke-free restaurant in town. In most cases, the "non smoking" area (if it exists) consists of a cluster of tables separated from another cluster by a two-foot high railing. 'Cause, you know, the smoke doesn't rise above knee level after you spew it out into the atmosphere. On the bright side, it's made my resolution to keep running that much firmer, as I'd hate to return from three great years abroad with wrinkled lungs.

2. PDA is definitely more acceptable here. In three days, we've seen several couples smooching, groping, and slobbering in front of graveyards, outside libraries, and in the queue at the bookstore. I've never really seen so many hands obviously placed on butts in my life. I've also determined that our general stodginess towards public foreplay is actually a good thing; nothing makes you set aside your brie sandwich faster than a 30-something couple swapping spit in the grocery line. I thought England was supposed to be stuffy??

3. Tofu. Tofu. Tofu. Just writing it brings a tear to my eye.

No one knows what it is. I asked three clerks at Marks & Spencers, a major grocery chain, and each looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. "Toe-fooo?" one girl asked. I tried describing what it was, which instantly caused everyone within hearing range to cringe. "No, I don't think we have that." Another clerk looked at me and blinked, so I repeated my request. In a gentle voice reserved for the harmlessly insane, he asked me, "Toad food?" I tried again. "Oooh, todfud, well, we don't 'ave that 'ere, I'm sure." For some reason, he directed me to the spice rack, which consisted of salt, salt and chutney.

Finally, after traversing three separate stores in desperation, I swallowed my fear of stereotyping and asked an Asian clerk. He, too, repeated the word, but more in wonder than in confusion. "You're the first person who's asked me for it," he said, smiling, and directed me to a small Asian foods market "somewhere by the train station, I think." My new goal in life is to find that store, then purchase all of their stock and start my own restaurant called Tofu!, in which I shall convert thousands of tuna-mayonnaise-and-jacket-potato devotees to my way of life.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Mission accomplished

We're here!

Sure, we slept until 4pm today (ah, the joys of jet lag), but we are safe and sound in Bryan's new town. Yesterday was exhausting, as we had to lug four suitcases, two severely bloated backpacks and one battered bike box from Heathrow to Oxbridge.

So far, we've managed to find an amusing assortment of products for his room (although we passed on the "Who's The Daddy?" you think they know it's supposed to be "Your?")...Best new product? "Kleenex for Men", whose only attributes seem to be its needlessly large size and somewhat masculine black-and-red packaging. Second favorite so far has to be "Love Your Bum" toilet paper. Best find? A small shop in the town's covered market which sells Real Live Skippy peanut butter!! I hated Skippy back home, but it's a thousand times better than the godawful, paste-colored excuse for pb they offer in Sainsbury's.

England is less overwhelming than it was on the first go-round, which makes me very grateful for spending that frigid January week traipsing around the country. We still quail in our shoes whenever we have to cross a street; last night, someone actually did speed up when they saw us in a crosswalk. Maybe it's like Cuba: drivers would rather kill you than maim you, because then they don't have to worry about injury lawsuits or hospital bills.

In either case, students here are nice and pleasantly drunk, at least on the weekends, so that's much like home. It's amazing how many of their first-year functions involve copious amounts of alcohol. Perhaps it increases the palatability of the food? Although we discovered a decent Italian place tonight, so that's promising.

Internet access will be sporradic for awhile, but I will try to update at least a few times per week. Cheers for now!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

This is it

The bags are packed, the friends are called (or will be tonight), and the boxes are ready to ship. Somehow, it just figures that my last days have been spent with the evil, evil "Hollaback Girl" in my head. I may nominate it for worst song of the century. Gwen, what did you do, girl?

London calling!

See you in a few days.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Last month's Mount Rainier trip

Sometimes wandering off the trail is a good thing... Posted by Picasa

THIS is why I have to live in Seattle someday... Posted by Picasa

Trekking up to Bellingham

Enjoying the late summer sun along Bellingham's marina. Posted by Picasa

More from Mount Rainier

The bumblebee triumphantly emerges from a tight fit inside a mountain flower... Posted by Picasa

FH and I at the summit of the Skyline Trail. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Coup de grace

Yeah, the posts are going to be a little sporadic between now and the end of the month -- we depart in four days, and then my orientation schedule becomes all-consuming to the point where I'll be lucky to write "I'm not dead!" once in awhile...however, I'm trying to transfer 311 albums onto ITunes, so I have time right now.

I can't believe this was my final weekend in Washington, at least for a little while. It was so surreal; the most routine things became cause for reflection, like, "Hey, that may be the last angry, slightly drunk young guy in a big, mud-splattered pickup who screams obscenities at me when I bike past him!"

Last night, my family took us to the Purple Cafe, a fabulously snooty wine bar that seems completely out of place in my corner of the state. Their baked brie is worth the price of my future firstborn. And that chardonnay? Somehow, I have to convince FedEx to start a hot meals program to the underprivleged UK; without real peanut butter, baked brie and good vegan food, I may perish before winter arrives.

Tomorrow, I face the challenging task of packing my suitcases: one is already stuffed beyond its capacity, zippers straining to accomodate mountains of clothing in vacuum-sealed bags (dear god, please let the TSA security personnel refrain from sadistically ripping into those plastic packages when they know I have no vacuum at hand to staunch the flow of clothes that will erupt from their innards...). I've also smashed in a handful of personal belongings, including my Che and Fidel figurines (oh, Cuba...), my stuffed Husky (which seems to have shriveled after this week's stunning football performance), and my tea which happens to resemble pot. The warm coats, underwear and pants may have to wait for a nice post office to deliver them -- hey, at least I'll make a lasting impression among my new classmates. I'm still trying to figure out how I can meet British Air's 11-pound maximum carry-on limit when I have a laptop, an IPod, a few computer accessories, a folder full of entry requirement papers, a book, toiletries, and a freaking gigantic, chiropractor-prescribed pillow to stuff into my little bag. Of course, it could be worse: Bryan has an entire bike to disassemble and stuff in with his possessions. Erm...

By the way, go read Ellington Way right now. I don't really care what you're doing because it can't be more worthwhile. You can get a month's worth of strips on the site.

'Ta for now, but more to come...

P.S. -- (New favorite word? Podagra, or "gout, especially of the big toe." Who knew there was a word for that??)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

More on pets and Katrina

Things are getting bad for pets who remain behind, and for the owners who refuse to leave them.

I know that FEMA has to think about people with allergies, etc, but would it kill them to have a coordinated rescue effort for pets, as well? It could be as simple as taking the pet to a designated shelter (e.g., pets from this part of the state go to Shelter X in Houston), giving the owner that shelter's contact number, and telling the person to call once they've been evacuated.

Or, we could further traumatize a highly unstable population by taking away their companions.

You pick.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Man's inhumanity to man

I've seen this on a few blogs, and I can't stop crying. I don't understand how people can be so callous -- the storm's already taken everything the survivors have, and officials are tearing their pets out of their arms?? Don't you realize the fragile emotional state of these victims? These pets are some of the only things they have left -- maybe the only family that remains -- and you throw them on the streets to fend for themselves? Animals are NOT property: they live, feel, fear, hurt and fight to survive. Domestic animals don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of making it on their own in such a screwed up place, and it's beyond cruel to leave them alone out there or to give owners an ultimatum: leave them, or starve with them.

This is so fucked up. Look at Cuba: they've been through equivalent storms, and for a developing country, they seem to fare a lot better than their northern neighbor. I can't believe we're rejecting their offers for help -- I can't believe they're even offering it, since we've done nothing but persecute them for decades. Before anyone calls me an out-of-touch socialist, I've been to Cuba. I've seen its upside and its downside, and all I have to say is no one can say anything about the country if they've never visited (and those of us who have still shouldn't assume we know much).

If judgment day ever comes, I hope we all sit before a council of animals who determine our fate. We deserve it.

Monday, September 05, 2005

So, that post I don't really want to write...

It's strange how easily we can deny the obvious. When all the facts lie bared before our faces, we suddenly focus on the shimmery horizon beyond them.

These are the facts I don't want to see, the ones that render me mute whenever an opportunity arises to bring them to the surface, the ones I wish I could shove back in the shadows:

1. My dog, Leo, is 13.
2. He is deaf.
3. He is going blind steadily.
4. He doesn't always know where or who he is. This is the only fact that could be fiction; it's impossible to tell, but that vacant gaze shows something.
5. He has a condition that's making him slowly, incrementally, agonizingly lose the function of his back legs. It's bad, bad, bad.
6. On Emergency Vets, they euthanize animals who exhibit symptoms like his.
7. Watching him try to lie down without putting any weight on his back legs makes me sick.
8. Having him look right through me makes me sicker.
9. There are days when he is scared, anxious and in pain. His vital organs might be fine, but nothing else is.
10. Sometimes I think he is only holding on because we can't let him go.
11. I don't want him to die.
12. I really don't want him to die if I'm not in that room with him.
13. Sometimes, when I come through the front door and he doesn't raise his head, I feel relieved. When he wakes up, I ache.

Ever since vets diagnosed him with cancer a few years ago, Leo hasn't been well. Surgery excised all traces of his disease, but it also sapped his energy; ever since, things have been deteriorating.

Leo is the first -- and only -- puppy I've had. I remember watching him steal a full head of romaine lettuce off the kitchen counter when he was a few months old; he triumphantly dragged it outside, all the way around our deck to the front of the house before exuberantly tearing it to pieces. Ever since, he's chosen lettuce over kibble and banana over beef.

When he was just a baby, he caught kennel cough, and we slept beside him on the kitchen floor as the husky gasps racked his tiny body.

In the 2001 earthquake, when I panicked and screamed for him to get in the downstairs bathroom doorway with me, he flew down the stairs roaring, every hair on his nape elevated, trying to kill whatever was scaring me. This is the same dog who wagged his tail and silently watched teens steal pumpkins off the front porch.

Traces of my dog remain, but they are fleeting and come with greater infrequency. For awhile, I didn't know if he'd make it to my wedding -- but when the day came, he was 10 years younger and pranced across the grounds like a king. Still, it took a lot out of him; the heat made him a little sick, and after he came home he slept for a day. I think that was one of the last times I saw my dog. Now, he's frequently underfoot, crying at nothing...and I realize he's probably doing everything he can to ask for his release.

I feel like a bad person because the part of me that knows he's slowly dying wants to be sure he dies in my arms. I don't want to get that phone call some evening. Of all the things making me anxious about our trip, this one might be the worst. It's unspoken, but we all know what we see. And I can't handle the thought of being away when he goes, or of letting him linger because his body won't die. The thing that scares me most is that he could live another two, maybe three years, and they would be the worst years he's ever endured. I'd always hoped he would die in his sleep, but I don't think that's going to happen. His heart is good, but he can't stand long because he's too stiff: why ask him for more? If this were a relative, a friend or me, I'd long for a choice to end the suffering...for Leo, we have one, and as much as I don't want to let go, it would be wrong to keep holding on.

Sometimes, I think dogs run away to die because they sense their owners can't ever let them go. I don't want to push Leo to that brink. He's given us his entire life: it's time for us to repay that gift as best we can.

So, we'll talk to the vet and then to the family. It's worse because lately, he seems better: he goes on longer walks, perks up when we're around, and responds to our commands. But there's a suspicious growth getting bigger on his eye, he's tripping over one front leg a lot, and I keep wondering how long his rebound will last. Right now, the family is in denial. I can't even talk to them about it without making them upset -- I will never show them this post, and I hope they don't find it. I'm worried that their insistence on his health will persist until something really bad happens. I'm worried that I'm overreacting. I need a sign, but all we have is instince -- and our instincts as a species are so damned lousy.

Before too long, we'll probably take him for one last car ride. God, he loves car rides. Deep down, I know this is the right thing to do, that we probably should have done it months ago. But it hurts. An empty spot by the steps where he used to sleep. Rugs we don't have to vacuum every week because of his incessant shedding. It hurts so bad to say goodbye, but I can't live with the knowledge that we're the only thing holding him back.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Rehnquist is gone

This is not good.

At best, we might get John Roberts as the new Chief Justice, a man who becomes less palatable by the day. At worst, Clarence Thomas ascends to the throne. Kiss the Endangered Species Act, Title IX, and possibly Roe goodbye.

With everything going on, maybe I am leaving the country at the opportune moment...

Well, my mouth's agape...

...At Agape Press, apparent bastion of offensive Christian vitriol. It's stuff like this that makes me embarrassed to admit I'm Christian (although I'm less and less so by the day, at least according to their standards).

Among their insightful commentary? This gem from Rev. Bill Shanks, who thinks Hurricane Katrina was a good thing. Y'see, the article explains, he'd long predicted a disaster like Katrina for this city of sin which dares to host Mardi Gras parties and an annual weeklong gay pride celebration. So now, he says:

“New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion -- it's free of all of those things now," Shanks says. "God simply, I believe, in His mercy purged all of that stuff out of there -- and now we're going to start over again."

Ah yeah. That's the stuff to which we Christians should aspire. How could anyone turn their back on the faith after hearing the reverend's wisdom?

Naturally, the site also has a lot to say about the Supreme Court (damn it, did you hear the news about Rehnquist??) and birth control. My favorite is a column by Jane Jimenez, in which she flagellates supporters of the morning-after pill and accuses them of being a bunch of immoral, lazy nymphos who can't keep it in their pants. Apparently, she says, the best way to avoid using Plan B is to stick to Plan A -- abstinence before marriage.

So, that's why my husband and I frantically went to the drugstore a few weeks ago when I realized I missed a pill during an incredibly chaotic month. Because condoms never break, no one misses a pill, and committed couples never need backup methods. Although I'm sure Jimenez would tell me I shouldn't be married in the first place if I don't intend to bear and raise faithful Christian children.

I'm sorry, but screw you, Agape Press! You know JACK about God's love -- your name is an insult. Please change it to "Hating in the Name of God" and get the hell out of our lives. I'd like to see Shanks tell some survivors to their faces that they deserved what they got, especially since the deep South is a stronghold of Christianity. I could call you more names than exist in the Bible, but you know what? I'm not like you people. None of my hedonistic, atheist, sodomizing, sexually active friends could hold a candle to your seething hatred, and I am so, so glad to be on their side. To quote the great Fiona Apple, go crawl back to the rock from under whence you came.


Within an hour of arriving home last night, my blissful, tranquil state of mind splintered. My room is a disaster. I don't know how I'm going to fit everything into my suitcases without taking a hammer to every three-dimensional object I own so I can pile all the fragments into the bags. My dog is old -- too old -- but that's another post, one I've written but can't bring myself to publicize yet, in case family members still in denial choose to read it. Hell, what do you do when your dog's fine one day but falling apart the next, only to swing back to "good" again?

And then there's the hurricane.

I was away for most of the aftermath, so I'm learning the extent of the damage now. What I cannot get over is the racial composition of the victims. Or the absence of discussion around it. Hey, America! There's a massive elephant stampeding through the room with renewed fury, probably because it's been cooped up with us for a couple of centuries. Could we please acknowledge and deal with its presence before I ever have to look at the television again and remind myself that I'm not viewing images from Somalia? The hurricane is a class issue AND a race issue -- it's a sickening reminder that everything is not equal in the USA.

I can't even write about it now. If the pictures don't speak for themselves, what will?

Friday, September 02, 2005

Slouching back towards reality

This time last night, I was leaning back into my chair at the dinner table, watching a handful of fishing boats head in for the night, lazily eyeing the last sip of a perfectly chilled rosé. The island was perfect: two restaurants, one general store, a post office and a handful of guest homes. Not a gas station, grocery store or video rental place in sight. I rented a mountain bike and cycled along its 18-mile shore; in two hours, I think I saw under 10 cars.

I didn't have a choice: I had to relax. There was nothing to do except spend hours wandering the beaches in search of sea glass, or trolling the shores with camera in hand, waiting for that perfect piece of weathered driftwood to photograph.

Tonight, I don't care how much lies ahead this week. It suddenly doesn't bother me that I don't know where I'll be living in 12 days (perhaps in a hostel? or at the train station?). I'm still on proverbial island time, lazily slurping down summer blackberries while ravens' calls scrape the sky. I'll blog about real life tomorrow; tonight, I'm going upstairs to close my eyes and imagine that the bedroom light is the September sun filtering down between high clouds while I drift away to the sound of the surf lapping the rocky beach.